Tea with the Countess [3 Thory 4261]
Darraden's, like many other very formal restaurants, does not have highchairs. Highchairs are mainly intended for babies of the larger primes, and babies are rarely welcome at Darraden's. Of course, they also make comfortable rests for other small primes, such as Orren in water form (who are also excluded or at least dried from Darraden's), and Zi Ri. I perched somewhat awkwardly on the back of a chair set wrongways. I don't know what Hezimikkinen does when zie dines at Darraden's.
I daresay that zie does not generally have a scion of one of the great families of enchanters sitting, ornishly and invisibly, on zir tailbase.
Levande and I spent some moments discussing the menu, the decor, the weather. I tried to remember what the duke was wearing, and realized I hadn't seen him in weeks, so that official court topic was out. We stared at each other in silence for some while, and Esory flew off my tail and perched on a candelabra. (Darraden's uses beeswax candles, without magic, to make things more expensive, which is to say, to add atmosphere.)
Me:"Well, when one of the greater nobility invites one to Darraden's for tea, it might be to give the countess the chance to peer at the invitee and, say, memorize zir features for drawing a portrait later. But often there are other reasons."
Levande:"I'm sorry, Sythyry. I'm really not very good at court manners, or court language, or anything like that."
Me:"I mean, then, why did you want to have tea with me?"
Levande:"Well, Thery and Yarwain seem to have acquired you as their assault historian."
Me:"I shall have to mention that if I ever go adventuring!"
Levande:"Are you an adventurer, then? In any case, I was hoping to let you be a full and honorable historian, and investigate my side of the story."
Me:"I hope I never need to go anywhere more dangerous than, say, Darraden's. And, well, I'm not specifically a historian. I'm studying enchantment."
Levan"I never got up to choosing a specialty, at the Academy... In any case, could I tell you about my side of the story?"
I looked at the prices on the menu. "I suppose that would be fitting and suitable."
So she did. It took us through the amuse-bouche (tiny bits of grilled partridge liver and spicy crunchy vegetable shreds), and the first appetizer (beet soup for her, smoked fish on sliced pears for me), and the main course (a perch simmered in cream for her, and a second appetizer of grilled oysters wrapped in spicy cheese and whatnots for me).
It was entirely familiar and obvious. She and Thery were childhood friends, perhaps sweethearts sometimes. She is rather painfully aware that Thery is the smarter, more energetic, more determined, more sociable, more socially-adept one of the two -- and prettier, and most other good things. Levande herself had a good family, and a certain native ferocity, and a shy morose temperment, and was more than just as happy to let her brother be the heir. Of course, that's not how things worked out. At Levande's mother's funeral, Thery promised Levande that she'd help her with all the county things. And now of course Thery's getting married and moving away, and leaving Levande without her strongest ally and slootly alone of people she can trust.
Levande:"But I do want her to have a good life."
Me:"I understand that you are giving her a present concealing a sting or two."
Levande:"Well, somewhat, I suppose. Grand Baron Yarwain might be unhappy about it."
Me:"Thery won't be either."
Levande:"How's that? For the truth of it is, I don't mind offending Grand Baron Yarwain, but I don't want to hurt Thery."
Me:"You'd like to drive a discord between them?"
Levande:[ears flattening]"No ... well ... I suppose I shouldn't deny it."
Me:"Well, it's not doing that." I explained about the hard choices Thery would have to make about schooling and her child.
Levande:"I didn't realize that ... That sort of thing was always Thery's job, or her mother's for my mother..." She looked devastated.
Me:"Well, Thery figured it out quickly enough. I suppose you could make it up to her, somehow. She's quite upset, though."
Levande moped at me for some minutes more -- and ordered a second perch in cream, which made her tea the size of a full dinner for an ordinary Rassimel, which she is not, and in more than rank alone -- and I found myself actually trying to comfort her a bit. Which is rather tricky, since I didn't want to be disloyal to Thery.
And then the waiter brought us dessert menus, which improved Levande's mood immensely. She ordered a bowl of icecream with soursauce. I ordered a slice of a very unseasonal Nihondras Day cake. Levande thought that sounded good, so she got one as well as her icecream. She looked down at her belly, and muttered, "I look like I'm due before Thery."
Me:"Well ... um ... I hadn't heard that you were due at all."
Levande:"Oh, I'm not. Haven't had a lover since Mother died ... haven't felt like it really. Not that many of the nobility would be terribly attracted to me."
Me:"I'm surprised at that! Surely the title of Countess should bring much interest."
Levande:"Interest, yes. I've had two and two-thirds marriage proposals, and never below the rank of Great Baron. Nobody who just looked at me and grinned at what they saw, though. Nobody who had even met me."
Now, this was a topic very close to my thoughts of the week. So again I spent some time comforting a mopy countess whom I should arguably have been assaulting or defying. And we traded whines about the difficulties of lovers, or not-quite-lovers. Her first year at the Academy was not quite as devoid of physical affection as mine, but that part didn't get started until her third term. "So you slootly have some time yet to catch up to me, Sythyry."
And that was the entirety of the dread tea with the Countess. She signed the check, and we left.