Kesi had to enter the palace via an awkward lower entrance, but even there, where almost no one went, it was an unreal sight – bits of gold leaf and jewels and lightshows and trails of spelled fire moving in calculated patterns across its surface.

The Heir Foretold would not, of course, come down to the lower entrance, but would be waiting up at the main gate to welcome her. So accompanied by her entourage she made her way inside and was led by a chamber-slave through the mazy corridors of the palace.

As they walked, her eyes darted from side to side, in a futile attempt to look at everything at once. Mosaics, wall paintings, ceiling panels – there wasn't a square inch that wasn't decorated somehow. Most of it was either religious – and there were signs in some places that religious paintings had been hastily altered to depict stories relating to the Cycle rather than to the old gods – or designed to show off imperial glory. But Kesi only got a brief glance at all of this as she hurried after the chamber-slave.

It took twelve staircases to reach the upper entrance, and having to use the staircases added a lot of time to the journey: the staircases had only been added in the last twenty years or so, and had been placed wherever they could fit, which meant a lot of walking from one end of the palace to the other to reach them. But eventually Kesi saw the entrance come into view above her: enormous jewel-studded gates set into the top of the domed roof. They were open at the moment, and although no one was coming in or out of them Kesi noticed that there were several smaller doorways set into the ceiling all around them, and that slaves carrying letters and packages were flying through these. Presumably the main gate was reserved for important people.

It was another ten minutes before the Heir Foretold arrived, and Kesi stood and waited, listening to the odd whooshes of air on the move as people flew about above her, and the steady murmur of conversation between slaves in a baffling mixture of languages.

And then she was there, rising up through the hole in the floor with a procession of chamber-slaves and nobles behind her. Kesi knew very little about her: she was called Arelai, was currently seventeen years old, had been six – a little older than usual – when the soothsayers found her, and had been born in Lystet, one of the only wealthy cities in the empire that wasn't yet threatened by barbarian invasion.

Kesi looked at her thoughtfully as they exchanged formal greetings. Being Lystetian by origin, the Heir Foretold's skin was a shade darker than that of those who came from the city of Getica itself; the same nearly-black colour as Turanyans like Kesi. She had a Cycle tattoo on her upper arm, of course, and the imperial colours were represented by three ornate bracelets on her wrist. There were pieces of enchanted fire set into her elaborate braided hairstyle, and she was apparently a silverweed drinker, as her veins all glowed a bright glittering silver. She must have used magic on her dress, too; it curled up into impossible shapes, and looked almost like blown glass. Overall she was using her magic as hard as she could, to beautify and dazzle; it certainly made her look impressive, but it also somehow made her seem younger than she was. There was something childish about the unashamed showing off and the delight in pretty colours.

The Heir Foretold greeted Kesi formally, handed her a letter which apparently contained all the information she needed, and then instructed a chamber-slave to show her to her quarters, which were on the top floor – a privilege, but not particularly convenient for someone who couldn't fly. Still, Kesi was pleased; an honour like this was a sign that her plans to work her way into imperial favour might have a good chance of succeeding.

Her heart sank, though, as she saw the magical lock on the door: they worked by the owner of the room setting a password which would cause the lock to open whenever it was said. But Kesi couldn't set a magical lock; she had asked specifically for a manual one to be fitted. By the laws passed in 820, everyone was required legally to make sure the non-magical could enter and exit all rooms in all buildings, but failure to do so was still commonplace, even in the court that had passed the laws to begin with.

When Kesi expressed her concern about the lock to the chamber-slave, she said, "Oh, no, don't worry, Rhetorician, it's already been set for you. I was instructed to tell you that the password is the nineteenth word in the letter you received offering you the position here."

This meant finding the letter and painstaking counting of words, feeling like an idiot, a familiar stir of discomfort at not being able to do things for herself and having other people, believing that they were helping her, taking care of them for her.

When she had found the password, she leaned close and whispered it into the lock, and the door opened. Then she sat and read Quinas's newest work – a history of the wars in Civa in the fifth century – while the chamber-slave unpacked her belongings and put them away into various intricately carved wardrobes.

Then the chamber-slave left, and Kesi got out her records and made a meticulous note of what had happened so far that day and her impressions of the court so far. She had a very good memory, but its occasional faultiness irritated her and she made up for it as best she could by writing down everything of importance.

Once she'd finished writing she read through the letter she'd been given, which explained where the privies were, and what to do if she wanted a meal, and what time the Heir Foretold's lessons were to be, along with various other details. That read, Kesi lay back on the bed and went back to reading Quinas, enjoying her spacious new home and hoping that her life here would work out the way she wanted it to.