In the future, when I post chapters that are larger than say, two thousand words, I will split them into smaller (mobile chunk sized) pieces. I will try and split the chapter up at setting changes (marked by a ***** in text) but sometimes a section is too long, at which point I'll indicate that the setting has not changed. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them.
Over a year before the present day...
A generous fire blazing in the hearth provided warmth to the chilly office. Cleo sat before it, spreading her toes in the fine fur carpet that anchored itself in the center of the rough wood floor. She stared at the leaping flames, daydreaming when a wiry voice roused her.
"Your father will not be pleased to know you had skipped your lessons to snoop through his private library. And now, to see you lounging in his study as though it is a mere parlor. Yes I imagine that your father will be rightly miffed at your insubordination."
Cleo disregarded the scrawny man for a moment before looking at him and stating, "You are not my father."
"As is evident. No child of mine would run amuck as a pestilent beast." The lanky man scribbled his sharp pen on a paper capping a mountain of various reports and folders that adorned the oaken desk.
"You must be the snootiest general to have ever served under my father."
Pallius contemplated some retort but stopped as he glanced out the grand window. "Oh, look. Here my lord arrives. I shall go out to meet him." He exited the study and quit the building to greet his master. Cleo leapt up and ran to the window. Looking down, her gaze passed from the manicured horizon through the endless ocean of sun-gold flowers that flanked the immense manor. More than a dozen gardeners and laborers toiled in the cool sun. Cleo spotted her father's carriage as it came to a halt in front of the auxiliary promenade to the manor. Pallius opened the carriage door and bowed as Cleo's father emerged into the sunlight, squinting, with a foul grimace pasted upon his face. Pallius began ratting to Cleo's father. She could see him nod and briefly glance up at the study window behind which she stood. Her father's gaze seemed to pierce through the mirrored glass straight into Cleo's skull.
The pair disappeared as they entered the manor below. Cleo shivered and took a seat in her father's armchair, stretching her short thin legs over the leather rest. Listening, she heard the conversation as he and the general approached the den.
"—is constantly pestering myself as well as her instructors. Something needs to be--" Cleo strained to hear her father's comment but could not. His voice, even in the moments where its tone sat unrivaled by the most fearsome tempest, held itself softly. "Yes of course my lord. I shall await your word."
Cleo's father opened, entered, and closed the door in one quiet motion. Ignoring her, he approached his desk and rifled through the stacked papers that decorated its polished surface. He furrowed his brow at some financial paperwork and gnawed on a fingernail. As per his routine, he retrieved, from a desk drawer, a box of thick cigars. Cleo's father promptly lit one and set it to burn in an ashtray never out of reach. Cleo gagged at the pungent scent of tobacco. Cleo cleared her throat.
"Back-talking your politics and government instructor. Calling your second-age instructor something that I do not quite understand –which made him cry. Skipping your self-defense lesson entirely to sit in the library and..." he looked up, his light green eyes roved over his daughter's face, "what exactly do you do in the library? All of those texts are first age, and in a meaningless language you cannot hope to fathom," Cleo's father said, shaking his head. When Cleo offered no excuse, he asked, "What am I to do with you Cleobelle?"
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