Argrave and his entourage of well-dressed companions stepped past the open set of gargantuan carved marble doors, entering into the banquet hall just behind their footman. Two sets of stairs branched to either side, leading down below into a veritably sparkling room.

Their escort stepped to the balcony atop the stairs, announcing, “Now entering: young lord Elias of House Parbon, heir to the Margravate of Parbon, lady Elaine of Vyrbell, young lord Veladrien of Jast, and Argrave, son of King Felipe III.”

Argrave scratched his cheek as most gazes within the hall turned to them. Perhaps the title ‘son of King Felipe III’ had been intended to acknowledge his bastardry, but it seemed far more grandiose than ‘Argrave of Vasquer.’ Helmuth had been entirely excluded from the introduction. Perhaps it was because of his relatively baseborn status, or perhaps he was simply included in Elias’ retinue.

Argrave’s gaze wandered around the grand banquet hall belonging to Count Delbraun of Jast. The player did not often have cause to come here, so the place was mostly unfamiliar to him. The wide and open hall was a vainglorious testament to the power and wealth of House Jast. The place had an air quite similar to a basilica, though perhaps that could be solely attributed to the two prominent colors—white and red.

The room was near fifty feet high, and silver chandeliers bearing bright red candles illuminated the room much better than they had any right doing—most likely, they were enchanted. Marble pillars held up the ceiling, lined up all along the side of the rectangular room. The center of the hall was empty, occupied only with some chatting guests. The birch tables had been placed against the walls and were already filled with food, covered partially by red cloths. Vibrant crimson banners covered the windows, elaborate white suns embroidered in their center—Jast’s heraldry.

Obsequious servants replaced what was taken and tended to the guests ably. Though they were some of the first few to arrive, the hall was already quite filled, and curious eyes watched them readily. After a brief scan, Argrave could not spot Delbraun.

“These places make me nervous,” Elias muttered to Argrave.

“Do they?” Argrave asked rhetorically. He stepped towards the stairs, continuing, “Don’t let it bother you. I can’t hold your hand, you realize.”

“Don’t know what it is. The big crowds, the open spaces… well, banquets and balls have their fair share of tragic endings,” Elias mused. “Maybe it’s only reasonable to be nervous.”

“I know why it bothers you,” Argrave said, placing his hand on the rail and walking down the rightward flight of stairs as he assigned names to those present. “You care what people think about you.”

“Well…” he paused, then said defensively, “Everyone does.”

“There will always be some, sure. It’s never pleasant to be hated. It generally only leads to sadder days.” Argrave glanced back. “You can care less about what they think, though.”

“How?” Elias questioned.

“View things with a larger perspective,” Argrave stated simply. “Me, or you, or anyone in this room—we live relatively meagre existences. We’ll live, we’ll do things, and then we’ll die. First, we’ll die physically. Then, as time passes, people will forget us, and we die spiritually. On this plane, at least,” Argrave added. “Who knows what happens after? I don’t.”

“Your solution for combatting anxiety is to contemplate death?” Elias frowned as they came to the final steps before the banquet floor.

“Recognize the unimportance of your actions,” Argrave urged. “Being disliked by another is nothing on a cosmological scale.”

They came to the banquet floor. Already, some people stepped towards them. Elaine asked Argrave, “You truly believe this?”

“Of course not,” Argrave said incredulously. “My vying heart battles my logical brain, and oft wins, I find. I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought my actions didn’t matter. Rather, I plan to leave an indelible mark before I leave this earthly realm—if indeed I leave it at all. Living forever is not so far-fetched for one of my talents.”

“You’re a real headcase, huh?” Stain mused.

“It’s a joke. I’ll probably die young,” assured Argrave. He watched Elias, who fidgeted noticeably less. Argrave had given that little monologue only to ease his nerves, and by his estimation, it worked splendidly. There was a small group of people headed their way, and Argrave stepped forward, assuming the role as their leader.

“Look at this,” he said levelly. “So many beautiful people so busy looking so good. Let’s mingle, shall we? Follow, and remember—our host is not present, and we must ask why that is.”

Argrave greeted those approaching with a convivial smile, assuming a neat dignity that integrated itself naturally. While a discerning viewer might comment that Argrave lacked noble graces, it proved to be no barrier to his inclusion in the conversation, and he very quickly drew the rest of his company into the fray.


Count Delbraun, a tall, ashen-haired man with somewhat animalistic orange eyes, looked through what appeared to be a simple glassless window. If one were to peer through on the other side, though, they would see only stone—it was an illusion enchantment of the highest order, and the window itself was so small that it did not draw much attention even should the magic fail. Few save the Count of Jast knew of the existence of these windows, spread throughout the entire estate. Sights and sounds both passed through the portal, and the hall was so spacious that voices echoed well.

The Count watched an extraordinarily tall black-haired man converse with a very sizable crowd of people, his every word drawing them in. Delbraun watched the man with such scrutiny it was as though he was trying to decipher how a magician performed a magic trick. He listened to his words just as thoroughly.

Eventually, he closed his eyes and nodded. He stepped away, moving through a confined passageway of marble poorly lit by magic lamps. He pushed on a wall, and it flipped open. An empty bedroom lay beyond. He made sure the hidden door in the wall was in perfect alignment, then he moved to pull a string beside his bed. Just outside the door, one could hear the faint ringing of a bell.

Some time passed as the count removed his white, silken vestments. After a few moments, three knocks came at the door, and then someone entered. A servant waited.

“Fetch me something in a muted red,” Delbraun commanded naturally. “My younger brother is here, and I do not care to match with him.”

“At once, Count,” the servant bowed, then stepped off into another room.


“…you have been pleasant company thus far, and if you might allow me to step outside my bounds and inquire about something of a political nature, good sir Argrave, I would like to ask a question of you,” a well-dressed man spoke. He had rather well-groomed facial hair, perhaps to accommodate his quickly balding head.

“The intent of the question is the important part,” Argrave raised a brow. “No need to stoke tempers at a pleasant banquet, yes? We’re all waiting for our host to arrive, and I’d prefer not to have him come to some petty squabble regarding the civil war.”

Many present agreed, taking drinks from their glasses. As Argrave had come to discover, this place was a banquet mostly in name alone. The food went largely untouched, and the majority of people were standing and speaking. Argrave was veritably surrounded by a wall of silks and suedes, so entrapped he was in well-dressed people. His company had been pushed to the fringes of the crowd.

“Yes, of course, I agree fully,” the man returned. “I simply wished to inquire about rumors abounding, their origins in Mateth.”

All present paid attention, waiting for Argrave’s response. “Mateth, is it? What do you wish to know? Yes, it’s true—the walls are truly a hundred feet tall, and the seafood is unmatched.”

A mixture of fake and real laughter spread out in the crowd. Someone offered Argrave wine, but he acted as though he didn’t notice. It wouldn’t be prudent to drink here.

“We wished to hear about your role in the invasion,” a woman spoke up.

“I don’t recall invading Mateth,” Argrave deflected with a smile.

“I’ve heard Duke Enrico calls you the ‘Hero of Mateth.’ And a good deal of people tell me that you came from Mateth.”

“I came from Mateth to here, yes,” Argrave nodded.

“So it’s true?” the initial well-groomed questioner asked. “You stopped the invasion with the help of Tower Master Castro?”

“I wasn’t in Mateth when the invasion was happening,” Argrave shook his head. “It’s hard to end an invasion when you aren’t at the site of the invasion. Unless, of course, people think I sailed from the shores, into the frigid seas, and set foot on the snow elves’ homeland. A bit far-fetched, isn’t it?”

“I cannot make sense of this,” someone shook their head. “Why does the Duke praise you, then?”

Argrave sighed as though in remorse. “It all stems from a misunderstanding, you see. Master Castro initially came to Mateth seeking me out, and—”

A click echoed out across the banquet hall, and Argrave’s head turned to the side, seeking its source. The door across from the main entryway slowly opened, and a servant stepped out, coming to the balcony. He opened his mouth, beginning the word ‘announcing,’ but the Count’s hand grabbed his shoulder, silencing him.

Count Delbraun stepped to the balcony. He wore a pleasant dark red outfit, lined with threads of white and silver links. His back was indomitably straight, and his gray hair was neatly slicked back. Shimmering jewels lined his fingers, a testament both to his wealth and his desire to display it.

“Everyone,” Count Delbraun’s voice thundered out. His voice was deep and powerful, yet it had a certain tenseness to it that made each word seem measured. “It brings me great pleasure to see you all assembled here today, giving welcome to Elias, heir to the Margravate of House Parbon. I apologize for my tardiness. Unexpected issues kept me.” His eyes scanned the room.

“Though this banquet may seem to have political undertones, I hope that everyone is willing to set aside whatever allegiances or doubts they may have of the current state of the realm and enjoy a night of fine conversation and pleasant accommodations.” He clasped his hands together, and dipped his head slightly. “When the sun fades beyond the mountains, the banquet doors will open, and anyone may roam the gardens. House Jast has been maintaining them for hundreds of years.”

“Utter trash. He had the garden re-done last year,” Stain commented quietly to Argrave. “Uprooted the trees our mom planted.”

“For now,” Delbraun continued, “Please enjoy the food and drink. I have scheduled some musicians for later. You may look forward to that.”

“I thank you for welcoming me into your home, Count Delbraun,” Elias called out. “I offer a toast to our host. I am glad of the opportunity to give you thanks,” he raised his wine glass.

The rest of the crowd mirrored Elias’ toast, then took a drink. Elias looked to Argrave.

“So, what now?”

Argrave watched as Count Delbraun stepped down the stairs. “He came, as I expected. We should go and greet the host. It’s only polite.”

“Just like that?” Elaine asked.

“Just like that,” Argrave confirmed. He took the wine glass from Elias’ hand and placed it on a nearby table. “Come on. The gardens will open soon, and undoubtedly we will have our privacy with the Count then.”


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About the author


  • Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
  • Esquire

Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.

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