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Originally written November 24, 2012.

"Who is sending these invitations?" Arialynn inquired the next morning of her husband.

 

Taldrus squinted at her from the opposite end of the room. The morning was still fresh and its sun shone in his eyes.

 

"My guess would be Calithos. They are also only addressed to you, not me."

 

"His elaborate idea of a joke."

 

"More like some sort of lesson. He always wanted you to play politics."

 

"Oh?"

 

—-

 

Hours later, long after the discussion ended, the husband and wife parted ways for their days' agendas. Robed in cloth but with a mace and libram still at her sides, the lady knight was sat at a table of eight by noon. The table was draped in lace and six separate pieces of silverware framed her plate. Her napkin was elaborately folded; cubed ice glittered in a crystal goblet set next to her right hand. Each time her tea cup was emptied by the slightest sip, an attendant replenished the cup to full.

 

The table conversation patterned the delicate table settings: elaborate, yet entirely frivolous.

 

"And he said," one woman interrupted herself mid-sentence with a fit of laughter. "'It is simply unconscionable that you would serve this piece of meat to guests at the dinner table.' And the servant simply stared. The poor boy did not know what 'unconscionable' meant and it needed to be explained," she paused again, covering her mouth in mock astonishment. "Really!"

 

"Good help is difficult to find," another woman commented from across the table, her hands meticulously smoothing over the wrinkles of her napkin. "And it is even more difficult with each war. Now, we keep receiving non-human applicants, and that is simply worrisome," she nodded several times, slowly, sagely. "Just imagine the difficulty of explaining things to one who simply cannot understand language, let alone the custom."

 

"Ah, but we should pity them," intruded a third woman, her lips drawn back in a sweetened smile. "Truly, if they seek work here, imagine the lack thereof where they come from. So we take them in, the poor dears," she smiles. "Teach them custom and civility. It is the least we can do. A very humane thing."

 

"I do pity the Gilneans," chimed in a fourth woman as she stirred another cube of sugar into her tea. "Such a notable people until their curse. Is it true that they become beasts at the slightest moment of rage? That is such a danger to the general populace, they should not be considered human," she ended her words with a sip.

 

"No, dear," laughed the hostess. "They simply should not be permitted at market on Sundays, where being haggled out of a loaf of bread means a terrible rampage."

 

Her laughter was joined by the others.

 

"Ladies," Arialynn interrupted quietly, rising from her seat at the luncheon table. "I bid you good afternoon, I will be departing now."

 

Collectively, all their heads turned toward her. The laughed ceased and was replaced with quick smiles and blushing flaps of their laced fans.

 

"So soon? You are a new face, we should really get to know each other," the first woman said gently.

 

"I know enough."

 

"Oh? But Lady Dawnfield, we have hardly spoken to one another."

 

"You recommended a midwife to me last week."

 

"That was hardly a proper conversa – "

 

"- and your husband," Arialynn continued on. "Made the mistake of loudly complaining about recent expenses. He said Alliance soldiers were expensive to finance, and indeed they are. However, I found an oddity in your family's desire to keep its son from war."

 

The woman started at the lady knight, baffled.

 

"You have not born a child in over ten years. Your son is currently the only eligible bachelor on your property, much in thanks to your husband sending his laborers to war in his son's place. I spoke with your recommended midwife and she has delivered eight children on your property in the last three years."

 

The woman stared, her gaze shifting from first baffled, then shock, embarrassment, and finally anger. Arialynn oddly found the change in emotions more genuine than the woman's earlier smiles.

 

"Your husband complained about the price of an Alliance soldier, but it dwarfs in comparison to the price of eight bastard children. I will make a recommendation of my own to repay yours: your son could greatly benefit from more strict sword discipline. Good afternoon to you."

 

She paused, looking to the other silent women at the table. "I am also Gilnean."

 

With nothing more, she departed, a collection of wide-eyed stares behind her.

 

—-

 

Taldrus awaited her at the house. As he spotted her approach, he raised a glass to her.

 

"Someone just came by to deliver a message. He said you were no longer invited to afternoon tea," her husband added a smirk. "What did you do?"

 

"Made a proper barbarian of myself," she replied, greeting him with a kiss. "There will likely be a rumor or two. Please pay them no mind."

 

"Never do."

Author Ari
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