To be told goodbye suddenly left Katherine stunned for a second. She didn't expect he'd leave right after recovering. It was a shame, when they'd finally found a friendly basis with each other. Now he had to go and it didn't look like he planned to come back. "I thought you and the earl were brothers. Won't you visit each other?"
"We usually don't have much contact." Was she sad she wouldn't see the patient again? She would still see him as the earl, so she shouldn't start missing him. It felt strange to interact with her in two personas.
"Oh. Alright." She smiled a little awkwardly. There were a few other questions in her head, mostly about the earl, but she swallowed them back. The earl already payed for her service, so she shouldn't exploit his brother too much. "If you nearly die again, you know where to find me. But next time I will charge from yourself, so you better be careful!"
With that she found her usual confident self again and stood up. "And if you ever feel the need to share information about the earl, write me a letter. I'd gladly take it as a deposit."
Does she plan on charging me with information about myself, the earl thought amused. "I'll think about it. Goodbye."
"Bye! Wish you all the best!" Waving at him lightly with one hand, she opened the carriage door.
"Look, milady! Over there! Is that the capital?", Hazel exclaimed with wide eyes. "It's so... so huge!"
The city outside the carriage's window really was gigantic. It spanned from one end of the horizon to the other, filling everything in between with the white and grey color of stone. Above the nearly uniform, simple houses and wide streets, a glorious pure white dome strived towards the heavens. It was way bigger than anything else in their line of sight.
"That dome has to be the palace.", Katherine sighed. Seeing it sit there so high and mighty, an unexpected nervousness filled her. If people knew she was of the Dragsa kingdom, she wouldn't be welcome here. They were still in a cold war and she was an aristocrat, even if it was a fallen one.
When she'd questioned Jack and Pete about Thrym, the capital of the Icelands, they told her that it was primary a city of the rich. Poor people were allowed as workers or servants, but it would be impossible for them to buy their own houses. Those were way too expensive. If they wanted to stay in the capital, they had to either ask their employers to accommodate them or pay an exorbitant price for a hotel room.
Living on the streets was forbidden. At a certain hour of the night when the inhabitants were at home resting, the city guards roamed the streets to catch everyone who broke that law.
Jack told her there were rumors the offenders would just disappear forever, disintegrate into thin air. In return, Pete had given him one of 'those gazes', how Katherine had started to call them. They would hit Jack whenever he was being an idiot. Which was nearly always. Katherine almost felt sorry for Pete's eyes.
A few hours passed before the carriages were halted in front of a city wall. Katherine knew there were three in total, parting the city in three layers matching the classes of their inhabitants. She just didn't expect there to be so many houses already outside the third ring.
The walls and layers were counted from inside out with the innermost wall surrounding the royal palace. The second wall parted the nobles of the second layer from the rich merchants and businessmen, who resided in the third layer. Katherine didn't know who exactly resided outside the third wall, but from the houses they passed, the big number of high-end shops and restaurants, she could take a guess. Wealthy people couldn't go without enjoyment it seemed.
Hmpf, what a farce. They even have brothels, but letting peasants own houses here is not allowed, Katherine thought. But then, she frowned. All those places were most likely owned by the people of the other layers, building their private amus.e.m.e.nt park just outside the city walls. No wonder the king didn't eradicate it if other nobles were involved.
Through the window, she saw Sam leave the first carriage and exchange a few words with the guards at the gate. He showed them a piece of paper, then their carriages were waved through without much of an inspection.
They continued their ride, but Katherine noticed that the streets were busier here. Everywhere were blond- and red-haired people in formal clothing or dresses. The houses were getting more individual, but there were still many shops in between, though more moderate ones.
On the second gate, they were inspected thoroughly. Katherine even had to get out of the carriage. She shot an annoyed look at the second carriage for the patient obviously didn't need to leave it. Luckily, at least this arrogant prince didn't get to see her like this. He and his entourage had overtaken them at the gate and passed without obstruction. Now they were already out of sight.
Katherine overcame the inspection with a stoic expression. While Hazel had wanted to argue with the city guards at first, one of her lady's quick gazes had stopped her. There was no use to start a conflict over something this plain. If they had wanted to inspect her body too, that would've been a completely different matter, even though they had a woman among them. But Katherine didn't believe the patient would let them go as far as that.
And she was right. After inspecting the carriage, the guards let them pass. From here on, the two carriages parted ways, one riding in the direction of the third and last gate, while the other followed the ring street, riding along several high-profile noble houses. Obviously, Katherine was in the latter.
To squeeze more houses into the layers, there was a lack of large gardens, but the nobles found other ways to show off their wealth. There were several houses with golden water pipes, big, flashy colored windows, and finely sculptured gargoyles. They passed houses with gemstones set in their roof as well as gigantic statues on both sides of the entrance, overshadowing the city wall in high.
Some of the house walls had golden or silver bricks hidden irregularly between the normal stones, while others directly formed their walls into protruding pictures of dragons or phoenixes. From the library of the earl, Katherine identified some of them as heraldic pictures of the noble families. When she discovered a lily surrounded by twelve snowflakes, her expression darkened. Iceflower family. Some day I will let you pay for what you did to Hazel.
However, some day couldn't be now, as the Iceflowers had the home advantage. Their house looked so pure in silver and white, completely opposite to the dark tale she'd heard. Her gaze lingered on the house until it was out of sight.
When she turned to the front again, Katherine's mouth slowly fell open. There, set a bit apart from the others, was a rather 'special' house. It had everything mentioned before - in fact, the quality of the materials looked even pricier than the others. However, in the protruding picture on the houses' wall was a silver skunk embedded, show-casting his furry behind. The gigantic golden statues in front had wide eyes, anxiously trying to hide their n.a.k.e.dness, whereas the thick water pipe had a pink quartz dangling to each side, bigger than a head. The doorknocker looked like a big behind with a long... stick hanging on it. And to top it all, the colorful gems on the roof read for all to see: 'Noble Aristocrats'!
While Hazel looked struck dumb by the sight, Katherine first got red, before she unwillingly started laughing. How vulgar! Which death-seeking noble dared to build a house like this?! One thing was for sure: the people from the Icelands were way less stiff than they were rumored to be. Even in the Dragsa kingdom a house like this would be torn down instantly. Maybe the trip to the capital could prove to be funnier than she thought! Though hopefully this extreme was the glorious exception. It really was too vulgar!