24 Arodus, 4718 (Fireday) cont.

Martella wore a warm smile as she made her way around the table and gave us all hugs. It was wonderful to see her, and everyone else again. We all took seats around the table. I noticed Verity sat opposite of Cornelius, and again didn’t seem very interested in speaking to him at all. I took a place beside her, raising an eyebrow. She inclined her head. It seemed that she would be willing to tell me the story later.

There was some idle chatter as we all partook of the various crackers, jams and cheeses laid out on the table before us. Despite not speaking that often throughout the years, I was aware that Martella had been disowned by her family after graduation, though they allowed her to keep the Lotheed last name. Despite that, she had made a great many contacts during her school days and her friendship with Princess Eutropia remained strong. From what I had gathered, she now acted as the princess’ spymaster. 

Once we had all settled down, Martella gave each of us a bronze senate badge. The badges were emblazoned with a crest I wasn’t familiar with. It was a unicorn battling a giant linnorm. The worm was wrapped around the unicorn, though it was about to strike the creature entangling it with a hoof. Oliver said it was from House Voratas. Apparently they had been quite famous for battling in the Shining Crusade, though they had suffered many losses in that conflict. It wasn’t long afterwards that the noble line died out entirely. Not only would the badges grant us access to the Senate building, but they were magically enchanted to allow Martella to communicate with us, and for us to respond to her, though we wouldn’t be able to speak with each other directly. Quite useful indeed. 

Martealla explained that these badges would grant us entry to the Senate building for the gala tonight. While it is very likely that the vote on revoking primogeniture would succeed, Martella had called us together to help ensure that it would pass by a wide margin. If the vote was close, it was likely to be greatly contested. Many people tried to get close to Princess Eutropia to exploit her for her power. While we had all been children, Martella remembered how we all had stood up to her family when they were treating her poorly in the summer without rain. I remember her half-brother Bartleby being particularly insufferable. He was already fifteen and was running around with young Prince Carrius. I remember asking him several times why an adult was spending his time with the children rather than attending the trade dealings and learning how to manage his house. I knew full well he just wanted to worm his way into the Prince’s circle, and I wanted him to admit it. He never did, of course, and never gave any sort of proper answer. He had been a vain man, and we spent the whole summer sneaking into his room and moving everything in his room centimeters over at a time. It was Oliver that told us he’d read that such small changes could drive people mad. Verity had wanted to put shoe polish in his hair products. I must say I’m glad we went with Oliver’s plan. Bartleby did look rather frazzled by the last week of summer.  

Martella spoke of how we had accepted her, and made friends with her despite the circumstances of her birth, and we had all been true friends to the princess. She hoped that hadn’t changed, and for me of course, it hadn’t. If anything, my convictions concerning the way noble children of affairs, non-human ancestry, or those who weren’t full blooded Taldane being treated lesser by their families had only grown stronger. I will gladly support Princess Eutropia. It is time for a great many things in Taldor to change, and I am more than happy to start with the recalling of primogeniture. 

While I didn’t voice all of these thoughts to my friends, we all made it perfectly clear that we were in agreement to help. Martella did let us know that Princess Eutropia was not aware she had called us all together. She said the princess wouldn’t want to impose upon childhood friends. This, of course, is no imposition. 

Martella gave us some information on the rules of the Senate. No animals, large weapons, heavier armors, or spell casting would be allowed in the building. The guards there would be more wary of visitors wearing badges from defunct houses, so we would need to be careful in our actions. If we did get removed from the gala, the likelihood of us getting back in, especially with a “donation” of twenty-five gold to the guards, was high, but we only had a limited amount of time to accomplish what we needed to do.

As a spymaster, I suppose it was unsurprising that Martella already had several tasks that she wished us to accomplish. The first was to locate Duke Centimus and Countess Abriella Pace. Their votes were unknown, and they needed to be swayed to vote to recall primogeniture. Barron Okerra was to be reminded that he owed Martella several debts. Though she didn’t tell us what sort of favors she had performed for him, I suspected that a reminder of the debts he had incurred would be enough of a threat to keep esure the Barron voted the way we needed him to. The rumors that High Strategos Maxillar Pythareus was in the city were true, and he would be in attendance at the gala. Martella wanted someone to keep an eye on him. There was a good chance that his actions could sway others, and we needed to try to keep any damage the man could do to a minimum. I remembered the one training session we had with him during that summer. 

Even now, I remember the way he talked about war, and never letting your opponents retreat, always pressing an advantage. That bloodthirsty man had no place in modern Taldor. Lastly, there was a book being kept somewhere in the building about the Vernisant family history, which detailed a great many of the major events in Taldane history. The book was to be unveiled before the vote. Earl Calhadion Vernisant would be at the gala, and he was a very outspoken opponent of Princess Eutropia. Martella wanted someone to gain access to the book. Hopefully something embarrassing about the family could be found and be used to silence the Earl. If we had the time, Martella also had a letter that needed to be given to Count Orlundo Zespire. I had glanced over at Felyx, but she didn’t say how she was related to this man.

My friends and I talked for a while about what we would each try to accomplish. Quite frankly with my training as a bard in my youth, I believe I am capable of any of the tasks. I could tell Cornelius was a bit worried. He said his specialties were in the arcane, not with socializing. Martella did remind us that no plan would survive contact with the enemy, and once we were inside, there was a good chance that we would hear information that could aid us in our tasks, as well as change who was trying to achieve what goal. It really wasn’t important who did what, as long as we were able to get it done. I told them that my brother, Ramilliard, would be in attendance, and there was a good chance he would be willing to help us. By no means was my brother a gossip, but as a member of the Senate I couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t heard a thing or two that might prove useful. 

Martella had arranged for a beautiful carriage to take us to Senate Hill. I was astounded at the length of the line as we arrived. It was moving at a snail’s pace, and I feared it could take literal hours for us to reach the building. The gala could be half over before we even arrived to try and assist Princess Eutropia.

As we inched along, conversations with the others waiting in line naturally cropped up. I heard Verity laughing with a man who was telling her the story of some brawl that had happened at a recent party, and something about a clown? Felyx was talking with a woman who was wearing one of the most ostentatious outfits I had seen in a long time. A birdcage with a live bird was in her hair! I do my best to keep up with current fashion in Oppara, but I am drawing the line at having a live bird in my hair. Can you imagine washing it afterwards? It’s appalling. I only started paying attention to the conversation when I heard my brother’s name. The woman wanted to find a husband for her daughter. I almost turned to her and told here was no way in the Nine Hells that my brother was going to marry her sixteen year old daughter, but I thought that starting an incident in line was probably not the best way to start our evening.

Speaking of starting an incident in line, I made the mistake of asking an older gentleman what he thought of Princess Eutropia. He more or less called her rabble-rouser, stirring up trouble, and that attending school put “odd ideas” into young women’s heads. It took all of my willpower to not simply punch this man in the face. At one point during this conversation, I felt Felyx’s hand on my shoulder. She squeezed gently, reminding me that I wasn’t alone in thinking that his man was outrageous. I believe my friends are unaware of the temper that I’ve acquired since we last saw each other. I took in a few deep breaths, reminding myself that I should never seek disproportionate retribution, and that no matter how much I wanted to punch this man, the repercussions wouldn’t be worth it. I was here to help a friend, not start a brawl on the steps of the Senate. Besides, House Kastner’s reputation was shaky at the best of times. Too many rumors circled around us, and this wouldn’t help it. A tiny voice in my mind told me to challenge the man to a duel.  If he really thought women needed to know their place I’d show it to him with my bastard sword. 

I was smirking to myself at this thought when one of the guards approached us. She told us that we were being pulled from the line for a random inspection. While odd, it wasn’t surprising. Once we were far enough from the line, she told us that we had a “mutual friend” and after the inspection she would lead us to the front of the line. We didn’t have time to wait the hours it could take us to get inside. She was also kind enough to show us where the guards would pat us down if they felt the need to check us once we were in the building.

True to her word, the guard led us past the line, much to the grumblings of those we passed. Several people recognized the various family crests we all wore, and realized we were higher in station than them. This explained our preferential treatment, but didn’t stop the grumbling.

One hundred white marble steps lead up the senate floor. As we started our climb, I made a metal note to warn my brother to run if he happened to see a woman with a birdcage on her head coming towards him. Imagining the look on his face made me let out a giggle. Tonight would be fun indeed.