Event of the Season


             “What is it, Comstock? Stephen said you needed my approval for something to do with the banquet. I hope nothing has gone wrong.”

            “I’ve run into a bit of trouble with the seating, Madam.”

            “Honestly Comstock, I told you already: do everything just by the book; you know, that big one with all the gold leaf: Digeste of Heralderie. The regent is an absolute bear for etiquette. It’s not a full moon, so he won’t actually be a bear for the party, thank Pan.”

            “Well, I have tried to follow the Digeste, but there is a problem: the banquet is for Lord Windshadow’s new grant as marquis of Frostlake.”

            “How does the purpose of the banquet present a problem?”

            “The Digeste specifies that at the celebration of a new ennoblement, the guest of honor should be seated as his new degree demands, and his place marked with an arch of flowers.”

            “What’s wrong with that? Sit him where he belongs and get Trevellian to see about an arch.”

            “It would be something of an insult to seat Lord Windshadow as a marquis, Madam. He is a duke, after all.”

            “He is? What is he duke of? I’ve never heard it mentioned.”

            “The Drovian Marches.”

            “What? Where’s that?”

            “It called Bardovia now, you’ll find.”

            “What do you mean? Bardovia’s ancient. The Romeliofs just celebrated three hundred years of rule last spring.”

            “Well, four hundred years ago, it was the Drovian Marches, and Windshadow was the duke. It seems like an insult to sit him so far below his rank.”

            “But he’s never introduced as a duke. This is the first I’ve ever heard of it.”

            “It is a little awkward, Madam, being duke of somewhere the kingdom lost. Perhaps it was his fault.”

            “Then wouldn’t it be rude to bring it up?”

            “I don’t know, Madam, that’s why I mentioned it. The Digeste is silent on this particular tangle. I was hoping you might know what to do. You’ve been at other parties with him, surely. Where is he placed normally?”

            “Well, you know, they mostly haven’t been so formal. He mingles a lot, and people invite him to sit with them and talk, of course. He comes fairly late most of the time, after the roast. Elf, you know.”

            “Well, we must decide soon, Trevellian has given me to understand that the arbor will need to be constructed in situ.”

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            “You know I don’t like to rush decisions like this, Comstock, especially when the regent will be coming. We can’t afford to put a foot wrong... Trevellian has dealt with the quicksand in the water-garden, hasn’t he?”

            “Yes, Madam, we can, once again, afford to put a foot wrong there.”

            “That’s a comfort, at least.”

            “Yes, Madam, but if we could return to the seating, before…”      

            “Before what? Is something else wrong?”

            “I’m afraid so, Madam.”

            “Alright, Comstock, don’t beat about the bush. You clearly can’t manage this party without me, and after you scoffed so about the suggestion a feminine touch was needed, too. What else can’t you take care of alone? Be succinct; Lady Ruminance and her daughter will be here to take tea any moment.”

            “The invitations, Madam. I cannot, for all the gold in Hades, work out how send one to Windshadow, or Lady Lillyflower and Lord Eaglemist, and you did say especially that we must have those two, to make Windshadow comfortable.”

            “What do you mean you can’t send them? Send them the usual way, just like the rest.”

            “Not possible, Madam. Perhaps you’d like to look at the invitations for those three?”

            “Those are not invitations, Comstock. Those are books.”

            “Books is harsh, Madam. Pamphlets, surely. I was able to keep them to no more than a dozen pages each.”

            “Short books, then. Pamphlets have less gold leaf and fewer illuminated capitals.”

            “Thank you for noticing, Madam. I thought it in keeping with the style you chose for the ordinary cards. Still, book or pamphlet, those are the official invitations for our elven guests, compiled according to the rules of the Digeste.”

            “Let me look at that. ‘Windshadow of Wildglade… Keeper of the Emerald Keys… Frustrater of the Scabrous Worm… Entrencher of the… What is all this?”

            “The invitation for Lord Windshadow, with, let me get the wording right, ‘every title, office, distinction and deed of chivalrie announced.’ That is the specification for a formal invitation. You can see just here.”

            “Hmm. I suppose that is correct. It does seem a great deal for an invitation.”

            “I have begun to think that the Digeste was not compiled with an elven lifespan in mind, Madam.”

            “Well, we must persevere somehow. The invitations are correct. What about the delivery? You’re using the ordinary method for the rest?”

            “Yes, Madam, but the doves could never carry those three. They’re far too heavy. A pair of rats might manage it. Rats are allowed for dwarves, gnomes and ‘other tunnel dwelling piskies’, but it seems wrong to send them to someone who lives in a tree.”

            “Quite right. We’d never live it down, sending rats. Imagine! No, we’ll have to think of something else. What about a larger bird? Eagles are heraldic, aren’t they?”

            “Yes, Madam, but not usually trained to carry letters. I suspect the process would involve a deal of clawing and be unlikely to get an invitation delivered by next week.”

            “Wasn’t Trevellian learning falconry in his spare time?”

            “He was, Madam, but he gave it up after he was injured.”

            “Injured how?”

            “Clawed by an eagle, Madam.”

            “I see. There is the eagle that talks, at Barrowton Cliff, but he’s a baronet now, so I don’t suppose we can ask him to carry letters anymore. Hmm. I suppose we’ll just have to send one of the footmen to deliver them in person. We can spare someone for four days, there and back, and horse to carry them. All three of the elves live in Wildglade, at least.”

            “I’m afraid none of the footmen will do, Madam. The unicorn has been seen on the Wildglade road lately.”

            “Oh, I see. Is there anyone… younger, on the staff?”

            “Milton the boot boy might do, but I don’t like to ask. It’s not a usual topic with junior employees.”

            “I expect not. I don’t suppose there’s any precedent for a shorter invitation? Leaving off the older things, perhaps?”

            “Alas, that would be a clear snub. The precedent is mostly from old family feuds. It’s common to leave off title to disputed lands when one invites a rival claimant, but it’s not polite.”

            “Well someone must take it, unicorn or no. Wilhemina loves to ride. We can send her. Not even an elf could be offended to receive their invitation from my own daughter, even if it is unusual.”

            “Wilhemina, yes… might it not be quite boring for a spirited young lady like herself?”

            “What are you implying about my daughter, Comstock?”

            “Nothing at all, Madam, nothing at all.”

            “You’re skating on thin ice, Comstock. Don’t stamp. You’ll have to sort something out for the invitations. I am going to small sitting room to receive Lady Ruminance.”

            “If I may, before you go, Madam.”

            “Yes? What else?”

            “Just a few notable additions to the guest list Madam. Digeste mandates that ambassadors should be invited to an occasion of this nature. There are three of them in the capital at present, and I’ve taken the liberty of making arrangements.”

            “What must we prepare ourselves for? Do tell.”

            “Sir Sqrlk is the Triton ambassador. I’ve laid in thirty pounds of raw oysters and several barrels of seawater to replenish his tub. His wife is a siren. She will require a sign language interpreter.”

            “Have Geoffrey do it. We’ve spent a fortune sending him to study with that centaur, and all he writes home about are orgies and wine tasting. Maybe giving him something to do will keep him away from the bar and girls.”

            “Excellent, Madam. I shall have an alternate on hand if your son manages to incapacitate himself despite the distraction of responsibility.”

            “Thank you, Comstock. Who else needs handling?”

            “Baron Gnargle of the Blackknife goblins will be attending. They never turn down a meal. The only trouble there is that Lord Penrose won’t be able to show his new hounds after all. Gnargle comes with wolves, traditionally starving ones, though rumor has it that his are quite sleek and well kept.”

            “Well, you seem to have this well in hand, at least. Anyone else?”

            “One more, Madam. Count Alixov of Tramenia arrived this month, and I’m afraid that will complicate things. He has an unfortunate medical condition.”

            “What’s wrong with him?”

            “Well, he can’t use the silver.”

            “Ahh. That’s tricky. We don’t have a large enough gold service, do we?”

            “For two hundred, Madam? I’m afraid not.”

            “Well, what’s the plan for the service, then?”

            “There are a few options, Madam, but they are all either quite expensive or distinctly less than ideal.”

            “Well, we need something. What are they?”

            “Gold, of course, but that would be rather more than five times the total budget for the banquet, so I assume we can dispense with it at once. There is a lovely horn and ivory set that could be had at a slightly less ruinous twice-the-budget-you-gave-me.”

            “A service for two hundred that we might use half a dozen times? That seems a little much. It wouldn’t even match the plate.”

            “I suppose you’re right there. The other option, before we get extremely outlandish, would be a silver service with wooden handles. We could give the count a pewter set without it being easily noticed, and I understand that there’s not a problem of transference from serving dishes and such, as long as he doesn’t have to touch the metal itself.”

            “What if he doesn’t realize we’ve given him a pewter set and makes a fuss about it? Then we’d all be embarrassed. You said something about outlandish options?”

            “Well, there has been a fad for Cathyan food lately, Madam. We could chop everything very small and eat with little sticks.”

            “That seems rather drastic, and you know someone would ask for a fork. No, we’ll have to do something clever. I imagine the budget would stretch to a small gold service, yes?”

            “With care, Madam.”

            “We only need a dozen sets. A simple service for four as a gift for each of the ambassadors. If they’ve made this Alixov an ambassador, he’d better have the grace to take an out when it’s offered, and no one need comment on his disability.”

            “Brilliant, Madam, though, what Gnargle will do with tableware, I don’t like to think about.”

            “Sort it out. That’s three messes you’ve dumped in my lap and perfectly good solutions for all of them, and all you do is tut. I am going to the water garden for a rest, now that I won’t sink into anything.”

            “Your pardon, Madam, but I’m afraid there is the matter of the menu. The elves…”

            “Fuck it, Comstock.”

            “Yes, Madam.”

            “We’re having an open house and buffet of finger foods in the garden. Have the town crier announce it, and everyone can hear by word of mouth.”