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    The Silver Wolf-For Crown Or Country: There's No Place Like Home
    Posted on Fri, July 05, 2019 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Weimar cheered up a bit from that. It was one thing to insult Keoland’s shameful military history--he did it all the time himself. It was quite another to take the insult from a coddled young dandy who’d never cut his mother’s apron strings or seen a day of hard combat in his entire life!


    Chapter Eleven

    There’s No Place Like Home

    For the first time in years, Seline felt like she’d truly come home again. Attending Xavener’s autumn ball brought back fond memories of her teen years, when she and Luna were aspiring young debutantes just introduced to high society. Just as before, she was dancing with dashing young military officers, trading gossip and stories with other young noblewomen, and chatting amiably with older nobles sharing their experience and wisdom. Luna was never entirely comfortable at these gatherings, finding them exhausting after a while, but Seline did enough conversing and dancing for the both of them.

    Seline was especially proud of the fashionable clothing she’d designed for herself and her companions. Seline’s rose pink and lavender purple gown made her feel especially feminine, and she knew she shone even more brightly than the moon she was named for. She basked in the attention the young noblemen gave her, enjoying it for how it made her feel as much as for it making the noblemen she conversed with more likely to tell her about the Crown of Arumdina.

    Luna was just as resplendent in her sky blue and sun gold gown, colored that way in honor of Pelor. Seline was happy to see her smiling as she conversed with Jerrica and some of the other women of House Cranden. Seline knew that Luna would open up some more when she was with people she already knew. She hoped Luna would get to show off some of her dancing skills-Luna always loved to dance, but she was often reluctant to do so in public.

    Seline could only admire how much effort Xavener had put into the autumn ball. He’d rented Nightingale Hall, the finest venue in all of Zelradton, for the occasion. An impressively skilled orchestra played everything from rousing military songs to soothing romantic ballads, while colored lanterns and beautiful tapestries decorated the walls. Many of the men wore stately dress uniforms or impressively tailored outfits, while the women wore beautifully cut gowns. A bar off to the side served some of the finest wines in all the Flanaess, ranging from Celenese claret to port from the Hold of the Sea Princes. The menu included finely cut beef and lamb from North Province, lobster from the Sea Barons and the Spindrift Isles, fine breads, fruits and salads homegrown in South Province itself, and even chocolate imported from Hepmonaland, all tastefully arranged and garnished to please both the eyes and the palates of the diners.

    While most of the guests Seline spoke to were from South Province, others came from the Aerdy heartland around Rauxes, the fabled former royal capital of Rel Astra and even from North Province and the Archbarony of Ratik. Seline was surprised at this-in previous years, the nobles of the Great Kingdom only attended balls held by nobles whose provinces they shared. Xavener went out of his way to draw guests from every part of Aerdy, something even the herzogs of the North and South Provinces didn’t do.

    Seline was distracted from her musings as she saw Amyalla walk by, looking gorgeous in a gown of copper and sapphire blue. The halfling had a handsome man on either arm, and she returned Seline’s smile.

    Seline only chuckled. She was all thumbs when it came to sewing and embroidery, and Amyalla’s and Ma’non’go’s help was invaluable in getting the companions’ outfits ready for the ball.

    “Can you show us a totem pole dance?”

    “No, show us how to smoke signal!”

    “Shouldn’t you be wearing a headdress to the ball?”

    Revafour had been on edge over the last several days at House Cranden’s estate. He wasn’t comfortable among the people whose ancestors had conquered the lands of the old Flan kingdom of Ahlissa, particularly given how few Flan he’d seen in South Province aside from the odd servant. He’d have eagerly spent another year at House Cranden’s estate if it meant he didn’t have to put up with the insufferably stupid questions of the young noblewomen surrounding him, though.

    Revafour might have been flattered by the attention the women were giving him, considering the dashing figure he cut in his maroon red, gold and tan brown plaid outfit, which complemented his beaded cloak nicely. Ma’non’go had helped Seline and Amyalla prepare it, and he was surprised at how skilled his Olman friend was at fashionable attire. Ma’non’go was acting like a fashionable man about town, dancing with any woman who took his fancy and enjoying the attention, but Revafour simply felt awkward and unhappy.

    Give me a failed hunt, he thought, give me a battle with fire giants, give me a forest fire, but deliver me from stupid questions, he thought to himself.

    One of the women surrounding Revafour had an annoyed look on her face. Revafour realized she was probably unhappy at his not answering their questions. He braced himself, wondering how he could answer her retort without embarrassing Luna or Seline or hindering the companions’ search for the Crown of Arumdina.

    “Don’t mind my friend, ladies,” Weimar said before the woman could say anything, walking up to the gathering and holding a full glass of port in his hand. He was dressed in a rumpled emerald green and wood brown shirt, diamond-patterned in the southwestern Oeridian style, darker mahogany brown pants and a somewhat gaudy forest green cape, along with his most charming smile. “He’s the strong, silent type, as those frost giants learned to their sorrow.”

    “Frost giants?” the woman who’d been about to criticize Revafour said, an intrigued look on her face.

    “And more besides,” Weimar said, “including their pet polar worm. We were the only humans who could stand against them when they invaded the lowlands. It was a grim battle, and we lost many a good friend that day…”

    “How many?” one of the women asked.

    “Forty, possibly more,” Weimar said, “and another two-score more to the dragon leading them,” he continued, leading several of the women to gasp in horror. “That’s why my friend doesn’t say much-he doesn’t like to talk about the past.”

    It took Revafour a couple of seconds to realize what Weimar was doing, but once he did he took the opportunity to discreetly slip away. A couple of the women watched him go, but they soon turned back to Weimar, enthralled by his tall tale.

    As Revafour walked away, his gaze briefly met Weimar’s.

    You okay? Weimar mouthed to Revafour, raising his wine glass to his lips to disguise his action.

    Yes, thank you, Revafour said, before walking away in relief.

    While Revafour found the attention of the young noblewomen insufferable, Ma’non’go thoroughly enjoyed it. He was having a grand time dancing with many of them. The women had heard stories about Luna and Seline’s unusual guardian and wanted to meet him for themselves. He wished he could speak, knowing he could likely charm them with tales of X’tandelexamenken, but he contented himself with kissing their hands and responding to their graceful curtsies with elaborate bows. His clothes were similar to Revafour’s, albeit more colorful in the Olman tradition, and he was distinctly proud of how well he wore them.

    Unfortunately, Ma’non’go saw several of the young noblemen looking jealously at him, none too pleased to see some of Aerdi high society’s most attractive debutantes focusing on him. A few of them had the unsteady looks of men who’d taken more than their share of wine that evening, and Ma’non’go knew it was only a matter of time before one of them said something about him.

    It came about the time that Ma’non’go expected. One young man, his harsh, hawklike features making his scowl seem even more threatening, came walking up to Ma’non’go as he released his latest dance partner. The young man’s cheeks and eyes were flushed, and his hands twitched irritably as he approached. Behind him, Ma’non’go saw two more men approaching, one looking cold and hateful, the other burning with fiery rage. Ma’non’go was bemused at how well they complemented each other, the hawklike man seeming a balance between the fire and ice of his companions.

    “You really think this is your place, jungle man?” the hawklike man said, his eyes narrowing angrily at Ma’non’go, who remained unruffled. “Think you can step above your station, and threaten our women’s virtue?”

    Ma’non’go just smiled back, completely at ease. He nodded, which seemed to anger the men all the more.

    “He’s no threat to their virtue,” the man with the icy demeanor said, his hand going to the rapier at his belt, “not after Roas’s whelps likely wore him out.”

    Ma’non’go’s smile vanished in an instant, rage filling his eyes as he stared daggers at the three men. All three of the noblemen laughed at that, their hands on their rapier hilts.

    “What’s the matter, darkling?” the fiery man said with an unpleasant leer. “Don’t like your betters putting you in your place? Have you got something to say?”

    “It doesn’t matter if he does,” the hawklike man said, drawing his rapier as he stepped forward. “Our blades will tell him what to-“

    The hawklike man was stunned in an instant as Ma’non’go sprang forward, hitting him in the jaw with a vicious right hook. The hawklike man collapsed, his rapier not even halfway out of its hilt. The fiery and cold men managed to draw their blades, and nodded to one another before charging at Ma’non’go.

    Ma’non’go wasn’t of high enough station to carry a weapon at an Aerdi ball, but he didn’t need one. He easily dodged the fiery man’s clumsy thrust, grabbing the younger man’s arm and pulling him forward. Ma’non’go slammed his head into the fiery man’s face, knocking him senseless and making him drop his rapier. Ma’non’go picked the rapier up in one quick motion, falling back on his heels as he parried the thrusts of the cold-faced man.

    Ma’non’go wasn’t formally trained in battling with a rapier, but he wasn’t afraid of his opponent. His practiced eye told him right away that all three of the noblemen possessed more arrogance than skill. Even though he’d never wielded a rapier before, Ma’non’go knew he could have defeated all three of the noblemen at once if he’d had one. As it was, he took pleasure in watching the icy man’s calm turn into a look of embarrassed frustration as Ma’non’go deflected every one of his blows. The man screamed in frustration as Ma’non’go blocked yet another thrust, knocking the blade wide. The man prepared to bring his sword back in a sideways slash, before Ma’non’go lunged forward and kneed him in the stomach. As the young man staggered, Ma’non’go dropped his rapier and hit him in the jaw with a vicious one-two punch, knocking him senseless.

    A few of the noblewomen applauded Ma’non’go’s show, and he turned to take a bow. His triumphant smile made the noblewomen sigh in admiration, but several of the men gave him withering looks. Ma’non’go knew none of them would likely try anything, though. The young nobles who’d attacked him would be in trouble for starting a fight at Xavener’s ball. They would likely be also punished by their house-House Naelax, judging by their medallions-for letting themselves be beaten by an Olman man.

    Ma’non’go only smiled to himself. A part of him regretted drawing attention that the companions didn’t need, but a larger part of him felt an immense satisfaction.

    Weimar enjoyed the attention he was getting from the young debutantes, but that was about all the pleasure he felt. He hated the fancy clothes he had to wear, hated that the bar mostly served light, high class wines instead of the harder stuff he liked (the Sea Princes port was only the best of a bad selection), hated the number of wind instruments the orchestra played in their music, and the general stuffiness the ball seemed to hold. It contrasted with the poverty and brawling tavern life he’d experienced growing up in Keoland. While Seline appeared to be having the time of her life, Weimar felt more like a fish out of water. He could only imagine how much worse it was for Revafour.

    A few of the debutantes, enchanted with the stories he was telling of his exploits in the Keoish army, clearly expressed their invitations to him. That only made Weimar feel even worse. While he would have happily accepted their invitations, he knew he’d likely make trouble the companions didn’t need. It was one thing for Amyalla to seduce any of the human noblemen present tonight, men who already held power and influence, but it was quite another for Weimar to seduce any of those noblemen’s sisters or daughters.

    The final straw came when Weimar recounted his role in a battle against a troop of hill giants in the Dim Forest. One young man, jealous of the attention Weimar was getting, ambled up with an ugly smile on his face.

    “That’s the best a Keolander can do, eh?” the young nobleman smiled. “Likely couldn’t even beat an Onnwallian if you tried, not when your swords are softer than your-“

    Without missing a beat, Weimar gently pushed aside the debutantes between him and the young man, and knocked the young fool flat on his back with one punch. As the dazed young man got to his knees, rolling onto his stomach before he rose up, Weimar gave him a good swift kick in the rear end, knocking him flat on his face, before returning to his place and continuing his story.

    Weimar cheered up a bit from that. It was one thing to insult Keoland’s shameful military history--he did it all the time himself. It was quite another to take the insult from a coddled young dandy who’d never cut his mother’s apron strings or seen a day of hard combat in his entire life!

    Airk was pleased with how his nut beige and tan brown-striped coat, tan breeches, forest green belt and matching boots contrasted with his impeccably waxed moustache. He was equally pleased with how well he’d endeared himself to some older members of House Cranden with his tales of the Hateful Wars. The men were veterans of skirmishes with Idee, Nyrond and Sunndi, and they retired to a private dining room to swap war stories with Airk.

    Eventually, Airk broached the subject of the Crown of Arumdina to the humans, using the cover story of acting on behalf of a Greyhawk collector.

    “I’ve never seen such a thing, but I could make inquiries for you,” one graybeard said, as several of the other humans nodded in agreement. “If anyone were to hold something like that, though, it’d be House Naelax.”

    Airk rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

    The first young soldier Amyalla seduced that night knew nothing useful about artifacts or bedroom skills. The second soldier, an officer of considerably higher rank and a member of House Naelax, was more helpful.

    “My kinsman Caradoc Golias Del Cranden showed me something like that a few years back,” the officer said as he helped Amyalla tie her gown once they’d completed their liaison. “It’s a point of pride for him.”

    “A point of pride?” Amyalla said in surprise as she pulled on the fancy slippers she’d gotten for the occasion.

    “Oh yes,” the officer said. “He’s almost as proud of his collection of valuable art objects as he is of his record in acquiring them.”

    “His record?” Amyalla asked in surprise.

    The officer blinked in astonishment at her question, before he remembered that she wasn’t Aerdi.

    “Ah yes, you’re one of the guests of the late Lord Roas’s girls,” he said with a chuckle. “Perhaps they didn’t tell you about the traditions of Aerdi duels. The winner of a noble duel can often claim the estate of the loser, including their family members and slaves. Caradoc’s won nearly a dozen such duels, and built up a fine collection of curios, artifacts, paintings and jewelry. It’s amusing how anyone who has something or someone he wants always ends up wronging him in some way,” the officer finished, laughing out loud as Amyalla handed him his boots.

    Amyalla pretended to laugh with the officer, as she asked him for more information about Caradoc.

    Her mind began racing with thoughts of what to do next.

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