There was about an hour to kill before the dinner. Alex and Carbon had made their way over to a waiting room and Carbon gave him the rundown on what would be expected of him. Nothing seemed particularly alien. He already knew how to use chopsticks and about how they handled toasts. Otherwise, all he had to do was wait for Eleya to start eating before he did and not make a fuss over anything.
Colonel Lhenan and the Sergeant arrived as Carbon was quizzing him about table manners. They had much more formal jackets on now, cut similarly to what Alex wore with a high collar. Carbon knew Colonel Lhenan from back when she was an acting Lan, their ships had been in a patrol group at some point and they apparently had catching up to do. Fortunately, Sergeant Zenshen was quite the chatterbox.
"It's humorous you should mention that. I have found that taking a casual demeanor with Humans, even those in your- their military, puts them at ease. Most curious indeed, as they all know that I'm military as well." She leaned back in her chair and gesticulated as she spoke, contractions slipping into her English after she learned that Alex wasn’t much for formalities.
“Really? That’s kind of surprising. I always get stink-eye when I act too casual.” Alex had shut his translator off, the delay annoying when he was talking to someone who spoke English well.
She took a drink of water and smiled, setting her glass down on the table between them. “From officers, yes?”
Alex drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “Yeah, actually. Enlisted personnel don’t seem to mind as much.”
“Is that not curious?” Zenshen glanced over at the Colonel and then back to Alex with a knowing look. “I’ve come to think there are many similarities between our people, more than most would acknowledge.”
“I’m inclined to agree.”
Stana rolled the base of her glass on the table, watching him intently. “That is good. There is dissent among the military about you... it is quiet, but it is there. Were you Tslao none would speak ill of you, but since you are not they feel it gives them an excuse to decide how the Empress should make decisions.”
Alex took his time digesting that. “And what do you think?”
“She did not become the Empress by accident.” She shrugged, taking another drink. “I also feel it deeply unwise to question someone once called Kshnevo, the butcher.”
“The butcher?” He was just a little incredulous. Certainly, Eleya was a bit cold...
“After the Emperor was assassinated, she killed the murderer herself. Stabbed him to death in the street with his own weapon, had the Keslon Shen all hunted down and executed. I am told the river outside the citadel was choked with blood after it rained.”
That certainly changed his view of Eleya. “Are you shitting me?”
“No, I would not.” She finished off her water. “Unless you ordered me to, then it would be my duty.”
“No... Just...” Alex shook his head. “I didn’t really see that kind of thing in her.”
“They were a blight on the western lands and her actions have always been just, before and since.” She considered her empty glass and shrugged again. “I believe her reaction was so violent because of grief. They were very close, much closer than many Royal couples before them.”
“Huh.” Alex felt like he should have more to say, but that was all he could really muster at the moment.
“Indeed. Do you want more water?” She indicated his glass, nearly untouched.
“No. No, thank you.”
Her head dipped in assent and she stood, wandering over to the bar nestled in the corner.
At least that explained why no one ever mentioned an Emperor, despite the marking that Eleya wore that indicated she was entwined. He had been curious about that, but had been preoccupied with his own life with Carbon. There had just been so much going on with them that he had forgotten to ask about it.
Alex’s introspection was cut short when Tashen opened the door and stepped inside. The attache looked them over and seemed relieved for a moment before he ushered Eleya in. Alex stood and flipped on his translator. Everyone was finally here, the event seemed to be ready to get underway.
“The other guests have arrived and are seated.” Tashen singled out the Colonel and sergeant Zenshen, directing them to the door that lead to the dining hall. “Honored military guests, please. You will be announced highest rank first.”
The two of them lined up as instructed, Tashen fussing over them for a moment before he sent them on their way. As they departed the waiting room the Sergeant giving Alex a nod and possibly a wink. If it was, he wasn’t sure how he should take it.
“Dearest niece," Eleya said. "Would you take a seat first? I think it would be wise to have the young prince be seen at our sides.” She was a smooth as she always was, any indication of the altercation between her and Carbon invisible.
“I would and I concur. It would be wise.” Carbon gave her a shallow bow and turned, a sly smile on her face as she glanced at Alex before disappearing down the hallway.
“Alex... Dear Alex.” Eleya closed on him, smoothing his jacket out and looking him over. “You wear this better than I had expected. I am pleased at that.”
Alex's mind wouldn't stop flipping between thinking about Eleya stabbing someone to death and her memory of gouging out someone's eyes. He laughed uneasily. “Yeah, it’s actually pretty comfortable. I was surprised.”
“This... This throws it off.” She shook her head and slipped his translator yoke off his shoulders, handing it off to one of her body guards before he could grab it back. The device disappeared as it was covered by the cloaking field. “That is much better.”
“But... I can’t, everyone is not supposed to know about-”
Eleya pressed a finger to his lips and smiled. “I told you that you would do things for me and this is one. Keep your secret, just listen. I am curious to know what others say when they do not know you can hear... Are you not?”