With an unselfconscious ease, Corydalis slid open the panel at the front of the floater and requested the driver detour to circle the palace. "To the left, if you please," he added, before sitting back. To Smoke, he continued, "There are tours of the public areas of the palace interior a few times a week, if you decide you'd like a closer look. But the exterior is worth seeing too."
The Hallston palace encompassed a full city block, and had a grandeur unlike the houses of the nobility around it. It was a feat of combined architecture and enchantment. It was all in alabaster white, faintly iridescent and illuminated by bright rows of light globes along its trim. Its wings rose to either side of the main building, in smooth arcs over private gardens. The glass bottoms of the wings cast light into the gardens. The grounds were a fanciful menagerie of plants, bushes, and flowers sculpted into the shapes of mythical animals, as well as suggesting the mysterious cliffs and exotic locales where such creatures might be found. Smoke pressed against the glass of her window to take it in: Corydalis's request to the driver meant the palace was on her side of the floater, rather than his. "Oh, it's marvelous! Is the Ruler in residence now? Is it as improbable on the inside as the out, or does it look like a place where people live?"
"The Ruler is not in residence at this time. I believe they are due next in a few weeks. The private quarters look like a place where people live. The public tours of the inside are just as unlikely as the exterior. It's a work of art."
Smoke glanced over her shoulder at him. "Have you seen the private quarters, Master Corydalis?"
"A couple of times. As assistant, not guest; I helped with the preparations for one of their majesty's private events."
Smoke raised her eyebrows. "You must have an interesting employment history, sir." She sat back in her seat as the floater completed the circuit of the palace and continued on its way to the restaurant.
The black draka shrugged. "No more so than anyone else, I should think. Did you train as an enchanter at a young age, Master Smoke?"
"At fourteen, yes. That was a normal age of apprenticeship when I was young." The normal age had been twelve, actually, though by law apprenticeships didn't start until sixteen now. Autumn was eighteen and Walnut seventeen. "I've never held a job out of the field." Smoke changed the subject quickly, before he could ask for more details. "Do you have family in Hallston?"
"My youngest daughter is an adjunct at Hallston University, and so busy that I only see her a little more often than her two older siblings," he said, with a wry smile. "I didn't grow up in the area, but I've lived here for the last thirty years."
"No spouses...?" Smoke asked, both curious and cautious of prying.
A shake of his head made a stray lock of gold hair fall across one eye. "My former wife and I divorced eight years ago. You?"
"My wife passed away two years ago," Smoke answered, wistful.
"Ah, my apologies. I am sorry for your loss."
"It's fine. I raised the subject." She smiled at him. "I have two grown children, too. A master goldsmith and a bookbinder. I still miss my wife, but I've no regrets."
"As it should be." The floater arrived at the Curry This, and Corydalis helped her out with a natural grace. He offered his arm, and they walked in together.
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