“What are we doing here?” asked Galamon, looking around at outfits hung on simple carved mannequins. The majority of them were quite grandiose, studded with jewels of all denominations and made of the finest silk.
“Why does one generally go to a shop?” answered Argrave absently, staring at a set of clothes. “To buy, of course. And to avoid Rowe, lest he hound you about repaying that favor. Elias has placed things on hold until tomorrow, so Rowe’s duty is not yet done.” Argrave paused, then fearing Galamon’s judgement, quickly added, “We'll do it in time, of course, but not now.”
“Here, one can only buy frivolities,” stated Galamon judgmentally.
Argrave touched a piece of clothing, testing its texture. “Pageantry is important if one is to be participating in a pageant. It’s in the name, after all. A banquet of nobles is similar enough to a pageant—all lights and colors, only serving to mask the reality of the people behind them.”
Galamon frowned, and Anneliese beside him explained, “Argrave intends to attend the banquet alongside Elias in order to persuade Count Delbraun to support the rebellion.”
“The boy was undecided, yet you’re already planning for what happens if he agrees? He said he needed a day to think. Not a good portent,” Galamon argued.
Argrave stopped at a suit with poofy parts on the arms and legs, musing, “People actually think this looks good…?” He looked back to Galamon. “Elias will agree.”
“Predicated on what?”
“I think he is somewhat positively predisposed towards me, and Anneliese agrees with that assessment. He’s a bold person, and he likes his family quite a bit. He’s also smart enough to realize how disastrous the Duchy of Elbraille supporting Vasquer would be. Jast is the main pillar of Elbraille’s power—if it wavers, Elbraille will likely follow suit.”
Galamon considered this, then asked, “Why? If Jast swears fealty to Elbraille, the Duchy should be much more powerful than it.”
“I’d place the two at around equal strength,” Argave shook his head. “Once upon a time, Elbraille was much more powerful than Jast, but this place has been growing in strength decade by decade on account of shrewd management and a focus on magic.” Argrave pointed at Galamon. “The point to remember, though: Elbraille would be flanked by both the territories of Parbon and Jast if this city of magic pledged support to the rebellion. The Duke is a coward and would never risk this.”
“But what of Jast’s honor? They swore fealty to Elbraille. Does this mean nothing?”
Argrave laughed. “No. Such a thing might matter in that winter wonderland you call home, but you’re far from Veiden. Honor and loyalty are the words that noble houses preach, but beneath it, the true light shines through: appearances. As long as they appear honorable, nothing else matters. Elbraille has not yet gone public with their support of Vasquer. Provided this goes through, they never will.”
Argrave stopped at a neat black outfit with a long yet thin coat. The collar and lapel had been fitted with a resplendent gold fur, and Argrave ran his hand against it. “Huh. Soft.” The cuffs were studded with small rubies, and flourishes of gold thread decorated the outfit tastefully.
“They’re Vasquer colors, but… well, it’s hardly their fault these colors work so well together.” Argrave looked back to Galamon and Anneliese. “I think I’ve found what I’ll wear.”
“It will look nice,” commented Anneliese.
“I should hope so,” said Argrave. “Would you like something while we’re here? A lovely dress, perhaps? It’s only fair. Most of this business regarding Elias was your idea, anyway. I just supplied the knowledge—you came up with the plan,” he gestured towards Anneliese.
“We agreed I should not attend,” Anneliese shook her head. “The presence of Veidimen at the banquet would only be a detriment to your ability to persuade those present.”
“No personal interest?” Argrave inquired.
“No,” she laughed.
“Shame,” Argrave shrugged. “You’d look fantastic in something like this,” Argrave walked up to a slender white dress on display decorated with lines of gold and silver running along its length. Foremost on its decorations were myriad ambers, each shining against the light.
“Well, no matter. I should find the tailor, get my measurements done…” Argrave walked away.
Anneliese stared at the dress for some time after Argrave had left, head tilted as she examined it. Her brows furrowed in thought, but then she smiled faintly. She turned her head back at Argrave who’d walked some distance away and hastened to catch up.
A day passed, and Argrave met with Elias once more as was agreed. They met at the same spot—Karrel. It was early morning. Rowe was present again—they had only managed to get him to come once more because Galamon promised to answer his question immediately after this meeting. As if in protest, the aged elf was considerably less engaged this time, sitting on a stump off in the distance.
“After considerable deliberation, I’ve decided to hear you out. After that, I’ll decide. I can’t make a judgement without the full picture,” said Elias.
“Okay,” said Argrave tiredly. He had spent the entire night trying to learn the [Electric Eel] spell, but it was considerably more archaic and complex than the vast majority of the spells in the Order of the Gray Owl. He had very nearly grasped it, but it would still take some time. Another sleepless night, perhaps.
“Well,” Argrave rubbed his eyes, “It’s very simple. You have to get married, Elias.”
Elias stared at Argrave blankly, and Helmuth frowned off to the side. Abraham threw up his hands and walked away.
“Don’t worry,” Argrave shook his head. “You won’t be marrying me, Elias. I don’t think such an arrangement is legal in Vasquer, and it also would be entirely useless. I don’t think we’re fated, either. Sorry.”
“What are you…?” Elias began dryly, Argrave’s sarcasm sparking only confusion. “Forget it. Who would I marry?”
“Lydia of Jast, Count Delbraun’s sister,” Argrave said clearly.
“You mean Ridia,” said Elias.
“Was it Ridia?” Argrave frowned. “Quite a gaffe. A forgivable one, I hope. Indeed, in some languages, R and L are the same thing… well, never mind,” Argrave shook his head to dispel errant thoughts. “Yes, you’ll be marrying Ridia of Jast.”
“She is five years Elias’ senior,” Helmuth interrupted. “Hardly a suitable bride for the heir to House Parbon.”
“Twenty five?” Argrave questioned, which Helmuth nodded to. “It’s a reasonable gap, I believe.”
“Even if the young lord agreed, one of Count Delbraun’s daughters would be more fitting. The oldest is nubile.”
“Isn’t she thirteen?” Argrave said, grimacing after hearing the word ‘nubile.’ “I know they say ‘if their age is off the clock, they’re ready for the…’ I’m not going to finish that,” Argrave admonished himself. “To your point: the age gap is bigger there. Seven years. And I think that would be a rather… sickening choice, personally speaking.”
“The choice is unimportant,” Elias interrupted. “Some facts stand in our way. My father is not here—he is the patriarch of House Parbon, and he decides these things.”
“I didn’t say you’d be swearing your vows on the morrow,” Argrave shook his head. “Get a betrothal, then get your father’s permission. I’m sure he’ll agree, given the circumstances. This is the best course for your house’s future. You’ll get a steadfast ally in Jast, and Elbraille will likely come around the exact same way.
Elias turned around, hand to his chin as he thought on the matter. Helmuth contributed, saying, “Elbraille supporting House Parbon should this union happen is a… reasonable outcome, young lord,” he advised.
“And doubtless Jast would lend Vasquer considerable support. Father sent me here to obtain aid from any mages—a union with Jast would facilitate that,” Elias reasoned. “They have a closer relationship with the Order than any other noble house.”
“Politically speaking, it is a shrewd move,” Helmuth nodded.
“But practically speaking,” Elias followed, turning on his heel to face Argrave. “How do you plan to achieve this? That friend of yours, Veladrien of Jast? Does he have the count’s ear?”
“He’s a card, but he’s not the full hand,” Argrave shook his head. “That banquet you were invited to—we should attend. From there, I’m confident in persuading the Count.”
“We could be walking into a cage,” Helmuth shook his head.
“Come with him, then,” Argrave pointed at Helmuth. “You’re competent enough, Helmuth, I know that much. The Count has no S-rank mages in his service, and perhaps two A-rank spellcasters, both of whom are High Wizards in the Order of the Gray Owl. Need I remind you that the Order is a politically neutral entity? They won’t act.”
“It’s still dangerous,” Helmuth retorted, taking a step back.
“So mind your step, watch what you eat,” Argrave advised. “Nothing risked, nothing gained.”
Helmuth pondered this, and Elias clearly waited to hear his thoughts on the matter. The silence stretched out, and Argrave turned to look at Anneliese, about to question her opinion on the situation.
“This is ridiculous!” a shout broke the silence, and Argrave whipped his head to its source. Baron Abraham stepped forward. “All this plausible nonsense is just to get our foot in the door. This bastard’s lathered honey on a poisoned blade. Why are we here?” he stretched his arms out in exasperation.
“If Argrave wanted you dead, I’d know. It’d be easy, like crushing a grape,” Rowe said happily, emulating the motion with his finger and thumb.
“Baron Abraham,” Elias said loudly. “You were warned time and time again. You came as an advisor, not as a commander. I will give you two choices: leave, return to Parbon, whereupon I will return later and report your repeated disobedience to my father.” Elias stared down Abraham, then added the second choice. “Your only other option is to remain quiet.”
“I’ll speak the truth unto death,” Abraham said. He stepped forward, gaze flitting between Helmuth and Elias. “You shan’t muzzle me. I’ll return to Parbon and tell your father what’s occurring here myself, young lord Elias,” the Baron veritably snarled.
He walked away from the group, stomping with every step. Rowe watched him go, a smile on his face.
“I apologize for his behavior,” Elias said sincerely. “He is a man well used to being on the battlefield—giving orders, never receiving them. A terror, my father calls him, but an untrained one. It is as your old friend over there said—if a dog goes bad, it is the fault of the master. I should have handled him better.”
“Humility. I did not think humans could possess it,” Rowe said glibly. “Well, some dogs are born stupid, too. You must take this into account.”
“He is hot of temper, but not stupid,” Elias disagreed. “Argrave… we’ve had our disagreements.”
“So we have,” Argrave nodded. “Most of which were my fault, admittedly,” he found the words easy to speak—it was like admitting someone else was at fault.
“Still, I think that this would be the best course of action.” Elias nodded, stepping forward. “This banquet—I’ll attend. Where should I go to find you?”
“The Knight’s Pawn,” Argrave said. “I’ll be bringing some friends. They’ll help facilitate things.”
“Then I shall meet you there,” Elias held out a hand.
Argrave shook his hand. “I’m glad this went well, despite the boisterous one.”
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Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.