I would call this, "Lunch with the In-Laws", but they're not my in-laws, they're Tethezai's. Actually they're not in-laws at all, but they aren't outlaws either, so I'm rather at a loss for what to call them.
And there's no calling it "lunch" either. It's halfway through the afternoon. As is required by First Day, the regular order of the ordinary day is scrambled -- shaken about -- stood on its head. I'm surprised that the day doesn't end with all the customary meals, squeezed together into a dense brick, right at nightfall, with breakfast last.
In any case, the party for lunch was: me; Dustweed; Tethezai; Greenthorn and Tormentille Grentian; and Mellilot Pfirsnavine, who is Greenthorn's second mari. The dread Baroness Bethony Grentian gave Dustweed a look that promised future agonies, and departed in a cluster of minor Herethroy nobility, wherein her title would count for something. Greenthorn's other wife tried to collect Greenthorn and Mellilot to visit her own family, but they would not go. Greenthorn, understandably enough, wanted to see precisely what swamp of honeyed alligators Dustweed was in. He was not to be disappointed.
Mellilot, unfortunately enough, wanted to talk about my grandfather. I must learn to be wary of all people with enchanted ribbons and two measures of wits. One measure and they won't be interested; three measures and they'll know what not to ask; but two measures is dangerous. Or at least socially awkward.
For further hunger: there are a good many restaurants near the Great Temple of Virid. On First Day right after the public rituals, they are all full of the people who did not attend the ritual, and the boardwalk in front of each one is full of the people who did attend. I complained most woefully and pitifully to Tethezai -- in Nounwise truth it was simply a tactic to avoid further questioning by Mellilot about why "Glikkonen's Trio" contains four things. She exerted her powers as best she could, but she is not of sufficient rank as to actually create a new table in a restaurant.
Or, more realistically for one mighty in rank instead of magic, to compel a group of diners to leave their table. That would take a count or above, I think, and must be done delicately.
On an ordinary day, at an ordinary restaurant, such a party as this would be given the first place in the line by the asking for it.
(I hadn't noticed before, but restaurants in the student quarter don't do that at all -- well, I suppose they would if one asked, or if the actual duke showed up at The Sloop in Soup -- but nobody asks. Even Nestrune doesn't; I know no other way to get him to be quiet for seven or twelve minutes that he is the Crown Prince of Daukrhame. Sometime I will have to think about this.)
In any case, today the streets were crowded with people with courtesy titles (which is to say, children or spouses of nobles), and a fair number of the actual titleholders as well; and every one of them hungry; and every one of them willing to use their to get food sooner. We looked at various queues, but getting to the front of one was hopeless. After some inspection -- and Tormentille revealing that zie, too, was extraordinarily hungry -- we settled on Muffantando's, which none of us particularly likes, but at least the other nobility doesn't particularly like it either and so there were only two groups at the front of the line that Tethezai (with marginal assistance from the Grentians and myself) couldn't claim precedence over.
The hungry Rassimel we displaced owned a shop selling curios of natural history. Tethezai had bought a carcanofex' pelt from them three years before, as a gift for Cheffnarry, and Tethezai chatted with the shopkeepers quite politely about it. When one slices open another's belly from hunger with one's rank, one should at least be pleasant about it.
But Tethezai's pleasantness to the shopkeepers was a double unpleasantness to Dustweed. Over the soup course she had to ask, "Who is Cheffnarry?", which must be an uncomfortable question to ask at the best of times, and at a table with two-thirds of your parents and such can't be the best of times.
Cheffnarry was -- and presumably still is -- fearsomely pretty, and dangerously skillful at music and poetry, and a champion at dressage, and a collector of bits of sentient monsters, and the unfortunate fifth child of a Rassimel couple who, by reasonable economics, should have had only four. With any reasonable person, Dustweed should be exceedingly jealous of her. Tethezai took far too long to realize that she should have reminded Dustweed that she is not reasonable, and that, in fact, she is spending First Day (and many days on either side of it) with Dustweed and not a moment with Cheffnarry.
Which was enough and plenty for Dustweed; which was all zie wished to hear. Unfortunately, by that point, everyone else at the table was curious and a half about the story of Cheffnarry, and Dustweed's parents were not willing to let the matter drop. So Tethezai gave them their honeyed alligators.
- Twenty-one years ago, Tethezai understood that she could not love another Rassimel.
- Ten years ago, Tethezai's parents begin to have their suspicions that Tethezai is following the upper-class style of taking lovers of other species a bit too devoutly. (Tethezai being only twenty at the time, and heavily chaperoned, "lover" does not mean what it does for her today, of course.)
- Five years ago, Tethezai's parents explain to her the distinction between "amusement" and "responsibility". She explains to them the distinction between "attraction" and "disinterest". A lively discussion ensues. A compromise is reached whereby Tethezai will make sincere efforts -- of several months' duration -- on three Rassimel of her or her parents' choosing.
- Three years ago, Cheffnarry is selected as the third of the three Rassimel. The choice is made carefully. Cheffnarry is as artistic as Tethezai, but in different media. Cheffnarry is as pretty as one can imagine. Cheffnarry is distinctly fond of Tethezai, and vice-versa. Cheffnarry very much needs to make a good marriage. Tethezai does her best -- really she does! -- and is quite close to Cheffnarry for some extended time. Marriage is discussed.
- On their daughters' one-year anniversary, both Tethezai's and Cheffnarry's parents somehow neglect to arrange for even the slightest chaperonage. The late evening tries to follow its natural course. In the morning, both girls are deep in their tears and their furies both. Marriage is no longer discussed.
- The next day, Tethezai declares that their arrangement is satisfied in full measure; and that, furthermore, her parents have made chaperonage futile at this point. There is much bitter argument. The current arrangement (in a preliminary form involving a Cani lad) is started, so quickly that you might expect that most of the concerned people had been anticipating it for some time.
Tethezai was all very calm as she told this story, but she did not let go of Dustweed's mid-hand under the table from beginning to end of it. I do hope Dustweed's chitin isn't too badly dented from it.
Afterwards, three very embarrassed Herethroy gobbled the rest of their salads, and discovered that they had arranged to meet their Baronness quite soon, and blessed the table with roughly the right amount of amber, and left. And Dustweed and Tethezai and I spoke of art and magic and -- gods help us! -- candlemaking, until the waiters glowered respectfully at us and mentioned the long queue still outside.
At the next table, the natural-history curio sellers looked distinctly apologetic that they had brought the topic up. Pretending that they hadn't been eavesdropping would have been futile.