Jade and Ladon approached the palace, the clip clopping of their horses hooves ringing through the streets. Most people were inside, dining with their families or elsewhere in the city, and the street leading to the palace was almost empty. Those still out in the mid-day sun stopped to stare at the two gypsies, one official looking on a palomino, the other elegant and enigmatic with a resolved look on her face and decked with diamonds and emeralds riding a bay. The guards at the palace gates did not hesitate to permit the two entrance and the dismounted.
Jade held her flute tightly, grasping at one of the last remainders of the Jade she had been not two hours before.
"Peace," she heard Ladon mummer to her, and she realized that she had been holding her breath.
"Announcing, the high Gypsy Queen Jade LaRue, and her royal advisor Ladon Radetsky," a trumpeter declared as she and Ladon entered the throne room. Queen Elistora and King Therrin rose from their thrones and stepped down the three steps to meet them. The bowed low to Jade as was required and she inclined her head, showing much grace.
"Your majesty, you must be overwhelmed!" Elistora gushed. "In the span of two hours you have turned into a powerful ruler!"
"I must say, I am impressed by how you are handling it," the king said and gestured for them all to sit at a table.
The four sat, the king and queen on one side and Jade and Ladon on the other. A server came and poured dark wine into the goblets of Elistora and Therrin, but Ladon and Jade shook their heads, declining; gypsies do not drink alcoholic beverages. Therrin gave them a puzzled look.
"Does our wine not suit you?" he inquired, the slightest hint of hostility present in his tone.
"Not at all, your highness," Ladon said quickly. "It is only a gypsy tradition."
"The first Gypsy Queen swore her people off of wines and ales, for it changes the natural state of one's mind," Jade explained.
"Water, then?" the queen offered and signalled to the server.
"Yes, thank you."
There was a tense silence as the server returned with a pitcher of clear, cold water for the guests.
"I had forgotten," Elistora commented above the tinkling of the water. "How…natural gypsies are. It has been such a long time since we have entertained gypsy guests."
"Surely you were not rulers during the last Gypsy Queen?" Ladon asked, raising his goblet to his lips. Jade saw that his hand was trembling slightly and she clutched her flute tightly as she reached for her own drink.
"No, it was my parents who were king and queen thirty years past, but Therrin and I were married and as the crown prince and princess we were part of the happenings of the palace," Elistora said, sipping her wine. Therrin nodded.
"I remember her majesty Danaë well, may her soul be at peace among the stars," the king commented. "She was strong willed and determined, a good leader for her people. Her death was untimely and unfortunate."
As the kind said this, Elistora could not suppress the smallest of smirks, almost undetectable from behind her goblet. Ladon noticed and stored the information to tell Jade later.
"So Jade-" Therrin started, but was cut off by a cold look and the beginning of protests by Ladon and Jade. Therrin held up his hand.
"Many apologies, your majesty, but I thought we could begin your rule with friendship and familiarity." There was a cold silence.
"I have many friends, and such foreword remarks are not appreciated," Jade whispered, a faint reminder of the Gem Archers and the forest and river fold who were strong allies of the Gypsy Queen.
"But of course," the king said quietly.
The remainder of lunch was spent with Therrin and Elistora subtly attempting to move Jade into positions in which she would have to make some promise to them and trying to manipulate her into their confidence. The Gypsy Queen and her advisor neatly countered each new lead, raking their brains for excuses and replies. Near the end of their visit, Queen Elistora looked to Jade.
"Your majesty, I wondered if you would grace us with a melody before you return to your home?" she inquired, a commanding tone in her voice despite the polite request.
"Certainly," Jade said. "Would you play with me?" she asked of Ladon. He shook his head.
"I think I will sit out, your majesty," he said. Jade nodded and rose from the table. Crossing to the centre of the throne room, her soft shoes making almost no noise on the marble, she lifted her flute to her lips.
The room was silent as she inhaled, everyone holding their breath. The most professional musicians coveted Gypsy Music for there was a freedom to it that could not be grasped by any other kind. As Jade began to play, she relaxed completely, letting the golden room melt away. She was outside in her favourite clearing in the forest. She still felt that she was the Gypsy Queen, the most powerful and dangerous person alive, matched only by the political power of the Grand Duke in the south, but she felt it in a sense of calmness. She was the Gypsy Queen, and she could accept that when she played music.
The pure, silvery notes floated through the throne room, ensnaring Ladon, the guards and the servants. Only the kind and queen were not visibly affected, for they chose to not feel the music. They chose to cast it off as a pretty tune, nothing deeper. Ladon leaned forwards in his seat, a strange look on his face and the guards who could see Jade's neck noticed the topaz drop pulsing in the Sign.
As the last notes faded and Jade lowered her flute, there was a silence, then a sigh went around the room. Ladon smiled at her and she grinned back, no longer tense.
"Well, that was simply-" Elistora started, but was cut off by the opening of the heavy wooden doors.
A dark haired boy, only a year or so older than Jade, entered the throne room, his dark curls bouncing, his grey eyes wide.
"Ilax!" Elistora said, horrified. "How dare you enter in such a fashion?" Ilax ignored her protests.
"Why did you not send for me?" he demanded, his eyes never leaving Jade. She felt uncomfortable under his intense gaze. "Mother, you said I would be present to greet the Gypsy Queen!" Therrin stood from his chair,
"Ilax, this is unacceptable! Of all of the things you've done in your 16 years, this is one of the worst!" he said forcefully to his son. "You are embarrassing yourself in from the of the new Gypsy Queen!"
Ilax glared at his father for a moment, then turned back to Jade.
"Forgive me, you majesty, for my inappropriate entrance, but your music called to me and I knew it could only be gypsy music." Ilax bowed low. "I am Crown Prince Ilax Borellii, and it is an honour to be in your presence." Jade bowed slightly in return.
"And I am Gypsy Queen Jade LaRue and my advisor Ladon Radetsky. We are also pleased to make your acquaintance." Ladon rose from the table and bowed to the prince, who inclined his head.
"I am sure you are preparing to return to our camp, but allow me to offer my support in your rule. It must have been a fright to discover your world was about to be turned upside down."
"Yes, it was." Jade said softly. "And I thank you for your support." Ilax nodded, his eyes never leaving hers. Therrin and Elistora glanced at each other, their minds working quickly. Jade then turned to Ladon who nodded.
"I am afraid it is time for my advisor and I to return to our camp," she said, leaving no room for discussion. "There is much to be done."
"Of course," Elistora said, standing. "It was an honour to have you come. We will see you soon, I am sure." Jade simply nodded, not trusting herself to reply to the comment. It had frightened her, as she was sure it had been meant to, and she bade the royal family farewell and swept out with Ladon at her side.