“I don’t know how much longer she’ll be, but if you wait…”
“That’s all right.” Weldon Layton, Krim’s assistant grid manager, put his calling card down in front of the receptionist. “Just tell her I stopped by.”
“No, wait,” the receptionist stood up. “I’ll just go see if her royal highness Elea Carlyle is free to receive you.”
“She’s probably just looking for a status update. You can tell her that there’s nothing new to report, and that I’m still investigating. I’ll be in my office if she needs me.” He buttoned up his jacket. “I’m sure its nothing urgent.”
Weldon turned and walked away from the receptionist. Since the last time Weldon had been in Elea’s castle several new portraits of her had been added to the main hall. One painting, easily six feet in length if not more — Weldon was not good with measurements — depicted Elea Carlyle on top of the hill overlooking the battle of Sangeries Castle. That was the previous day’s battle between the Armforge Guild and the Cult of Qualdir.
Elea must have had an army herself, an army of painters, to get the painting done that quickly. He walked closer to it and touched it with his finger. The paint was still a little tacky.
Well, whatever else people might say about Elea Carlyle, but she was certainly good for Krim’s economy.
At this rate, she might soon become the actual queen of Krim, not just honorary queen of the Royal Season’s spring 2121 program.
Out of curiosity, he asked the next guard where the bathroom was, and he was directed to a small room off a side hallway. The bathroom was decorated in Elea’s official purple-and-gold colors and there was a watercolor of Elea Carlyle hanging on the wall. She was nude, on a horse, with enough hair to reach nearly to the ground. What Elea really needed wasn’t the crown, but a good therapist.
Of course, half of Krim’s residents were on the grid because they were avoiding having to deal with their personal issues. Welton washed his hands and walked out to the main hallway.
The receptionist was there, talking to the guard who had given Ellison directions to the bathroom.
“And there he is now,” the guard said.
The receptionist ran up to Weldon. “I’m glad I caught you. Elea has just cleared her schedule so that she can talk to you. Can you please follow me?”
She led him away from the main hallway down a maze of ever-narrower passageways until she finally brought him to Elea’s private spa. They walked through an anteroom and then into a large steam-filled chamber where giant pots of water were heated over a fire while Elea lounged in a giant bathtub overflowing with bubbles.
Weldon didn’t know that Krim had bubble baths, and he should know — one of the things he looked over every week was the list of import and export applications.
A row of women stood behind the tub, holding stack of towels, robes, and a basket of soaps and sponges attached to sticks.
“Your highness,” the receptionist said. “Your loyal subject Sir Weldon Layton awaits.” She curtsied and stepped back.
“I’m not a sir,” Weldon told the receptionist. “And you’re not an actual queen,” he told Elea. “You don’t have to make them call you your highness.”
She wiped bubbles away from her face and then flicked them off her hand. “I wish I could stop them,” Elea said. “But most of my staff are medieval studies students and are terribly enthusiastic.”
The receptionist turned away from them but, as she did, Weldon spotted her rolling her eyes.
“I’m sure,” he said. “Finding good help can be so challenging.”
“Exactly.” She stretched out her hand and one of the women immediately put a small goblet of wine it it. “It’s exhausting.”
“Well, I’ll make my report and you can go back to getting your rest,” he said. “So far, I’ve…”
“Never mind all that,” she said. “You can drop your investigation. Something more pressing has come up, and finding a minor gossip is no longer my top priority.”
“If you insist. Are you going to ask me to work on your other problem?”
“What other problem?”
“The other pressing thing that you said came up.”
“No, it’s nothing that concerns you or the grid,” she said. “Just an internal issue with two of the Royal Season participants. You can stop all your inquiries now.”
“What if someone comes to me with new information?”
“There is no new information,” said Elea. “So there’s no need to talk to anybody.”
Weldon thought about asking whether he should put his fingers in his years and sing “La la la la” if anyone approached him, but decided against it.
“I understand. Krim appreciates your support.”
She took a sip of her wine. “You better. This grid was practically bankrupt before I showed up. You wouldn’t have the Royal Season or any of this…” she waved her free hand around the room.
“Our gratitude knows no bounds.”
“And that’s not even counting all the returnees I’ve found jobs for. Take Alice here.” She gestured with her goblet at one of the women holding the towels.
“Anna,” the woman said under her breath.
“Alice doesn’t have any of the skills she needs to survive in the modern world,” Elea said. “If she leaves Krim, she’ll probably have a heart attack and die the first time someone switches on a light.”
“I died in nineteen eighty-five,” Anna said. “I was an actuary.”
“Is that like a washer woman?” Elea asked her. “I understand that back in the old days, that was the only job women could have. Isn’t this so much better?”
Anna closed her eyes briefly and sighed.
“You can leave now,” Elea told Weldon. “I’ve got some strategic thinking to do.” She shooed him away and sunk a little lower into her tub. “Can someone come rub my hair?”
The receptionist held the door open for Weldon.
“Elea Carlycle can be a little absent minded,” she told him after they had left the spa and were walking back to the front entrance. “But she does so much good for Krim, and for all the returnees. You know, none of them would be here if it wasn’t for her. I’m so grateful to be allowed to work for her. Krim really should make her the official queen. She’d be good at it.”
Weldon grunted noncommittally. Elea had nothing to do with the returnees, other than exploiting them. The company that brought them back to life and found homes for them on Krim was Lifeworks, and they were there before Elea. In fact, so was Royal Season.
Elea had a habit of taking credit for things that were none of her doing.
Unfortunately, with all the money she had, people had to pretend to pay attention. At least she was out of his hair now. One thing you could say about Elea was that she had a short attention span.
“Listen, you work for the grid right?” the receptionist asked Weldon as they approached the main hall. “I mean, she’s on the board, right? So that kind of makes you her employee?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, you should know that something bad happened,” she said. “I know Elea told you not to worry about it. I’m sure she’s just thinking about protecting the grid. But maybe it’s something you can help her with. Just don’t tell her I told you.”
“Told me what?”
“Two of the Royal Season participants were kidnapped. Right in the middle of the circus yesterday. I heard a couple of guards talking about it. I know you’re probably not allowed to do anything. I’m sure that’s why Elea didn’t even ask. But can’t you just peek into the grid databases? Just this once? Check that they’re okay? Maybe drop a hint about where to find them?”
“That’s not how the grid works,” said Weldon. “We’d need a legal order to examine that data.”
“But maybe there’s something you can do? Just this once? For Elea? I mean, two people disappeared. They must be terrified somewhere. I know it’s killing Elea that she can’t do anything. She hides it, of course. But I know its tearing her up inside. Please help.”