Chapter 219: Deal or Ordeal

on June 20, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Gets Down To Business

My life has a tendency to make big productions out of things, but I mostly avoided that when it came to dinner with Glory and company.

I’m not absolving myself of responsibility with that wording. Obviously a big part of that is me, turning thing into big productions. But I think part of why I do that is because of the way my life has shaped me, and also, my life just seems to tend that way. Somehow, I managed to not turn having dinner with Glory and her friends into a big anxiety-ridden ordeal, though.

There was a little bit of the usual dissection and second-guessing from both me and the others, but we’d all already come to the conclusion that Glory was pretty much okay. Amaranth, Steff, and especially Two of all people had opinions on what I should wear, but I was taking Glory at her word that my usual style was acceptable.

I did wear my favorite jacket, but that was hardly dressing up. It was a functional garment.

It helped that I knew going in that wasn’t going anywhere special; I would just be sitting at a different table in the same dining area as always. I was just spending time with a new friend and her friends. Sure, there was a complicated social dynamic going on, but… well, it actually wasn’t that complicated, or that different from the hierarchies that seemed to crop up among a lot of groups anyway, just more explicit, which made it easier to navigate. Glory could have ruled as queen over her little hive of bees without calling herself a queen

As the time crawled on towards the end of the day, I did start to wonder just what the arrangement would be. Glory had invited me to eat “with us”, which I was sure meant her group. I’d seen her around the Arch’s dining area once I knew how to look for, and a few times when I wasn’t because she looked damn near identical to her sister, who I was keeping half an eye on for the sake of her girlfriend Nicki as much as for Glory.

While she sometimes ate with a large group, often when I saw her, she seemed to have two or three other elves sitting with her at a time, all from the same group but not the same individuals in the same combination. Except for Grace and now Wisdom, I didn’t know any of the other elves in her court well enough to spot them in a crowd without the context clue of them standing next to Glory.

Tonight, she was sitting with two of the elves I couldn’t have placed and Wisdom… which didn’t surprise me, even though she seemed to be an infrequent guest at the head table. I was sure Glory had been using her to keep up with my life in the same way that she used me to keep up with Grace. She was wearing a gauzy gown of light blue-green which my mind wanted to say was seafoam, though for all I really know about colors it could have been reverse burgundy.

I was sure she’d spotted me before I noticed her, but she waited until I was looking to briefly catch my eye. Her voice came into my ear from across the room.

“Please get your food as normal, and then walk by my table,” she said. “I’ll invite you to join me.”

I gave a slight nod, which I hoped to any outside observer would look like it could mean anything but probably meant nothing… just a small random head movement.

I wasn’t sure what difference it made having the invitation be on the spot, but I didn’t care how she wanted to play it on her end as long as she’d given me advance warning. I didn’t know if she understood that I preferred not to be put on the spot, or if she personally liked to know how someone would respond before she made them an offer in public, but either way I didn’t have a problem.

I did make a note to let her know in private that I would prefer to be let in on the script from the beginning, but I didn’t mind the existence of such a script at all. As far as I was concerned, if social occasions came with a dress rehearsal or a private test run, it would only improve things.

I got my food as usual. I had an initial impulse to exercise a little more restraint with quality and quantity since I’d be eating in front of such beautiful, graceful women, but I decided against it.

In the first place, I frequently ate in front of them… this was just closer. In the second place, I didn’t like the idea that I should care more about what they thought of me than my existing friends and lovers. And coming in third but not trailing by a huge margin, I had made up my mind that while I would go along with Glory’s games to a certain extent, I wasn’t going to start playing myself.

“Mackenzie!’ she said as I approached. “Would you like to join my favored courtiers of the evening in dining with me?”

“I would appreciate that very much, thank you,” I said. She gestured to a chair on the other side of the round table from her, and I put my tray down and slipped into it.

“I’m sure you already know Wisdom,” she said, then she indicated her companions that I hadn’t met. “But this is Blossom, and Thorn. The rest of my court are scattered to the winds today… so much to do. Ladies, you know of Mackenzie.”

They both inclined their heads.

“My attendants were about to get food,” Glory said, and the other three elves slid out of their seats and rose as one unit. “Our page has other business tonight, so everyone’s more or less fending for themselves… well, everyone else, I mean. I know you don’t have your tray yet, but would you mind keeping me company while they do that?”

“Uh, sure,” I said. I supposed that was why she’d asked me to get my food first… this way I could hang with her alone for a bit, but she wasn’t making me wait to get my food last, and also wasn’t making any of her court wait on me, in either sense of the word.

I wasn’t going to be so gauche as to eat before Glory had her food, of course. Nobody had to tell me that would be rude.

The privacy of being alone at the table was mostly illusory, but from what I understood of elven cultures, there was a recognized distinction between personal and public, even if personal wasn’t private in the sense that a less keen-sensed people would mean it.

“You think our names are silly, don’t you?” she asked as her entourage glided away towards the serving lines.

I hesitated… not only did I not want to insult her, but I didn’t want to insult her friends, who were almost by definition still within earshot.

“Be honest, please,” she said. “Your face is enough of an open book that if offense were given by your opinion, it would have been taken already.”

“Well, I think your name is cool,” I said. “But yours works really well as a name, on top of suiting you. Wisdom’s kind of fits into that category, but less so. It’s just that so many elven names are so flowery, literally and figuratively… when you translate them into Pax, they end up sounding like something a nymph would call herself.”

“My impression was that nymphs’ names are non-verbal,” Glory said. “So it’s more like they call themselves similar things to the names that are popular with elves. Amaranth’s use-name is nearly elven.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Steff categorically refuses to use it, because the elven form is her dad’s name. I guess to be fair, Blossom is a name in Pax.”

“In fairness to your point, I must admit that the way my name translates is central to the appeal, I think,” she said. “It’s not the origin of my appreciation for things human, but there are other ways for such a thing to be expressed. I remember when I first heard how my name sounded in Pax… after I’d grown attached to it, I found out that it’s usually rendered as Gloria for a first name. I’m not sure which one I like better. Did you know it’s actually from High Draconic?”

“Yeah, very little of Pax is actually from Pax,” I said. “I mean, it’s the imperial language… of the old empire. They get around a lot, or they used to, and when they did, they pillaged everything. If you want me to be completely honest… I’m kind of glad you went with Glory. I used to know a Gloria, and… well, I was about to say that she had a bit of an unhealthy fixation on me, but that was actually sort of mutually true. In my own defense, though, my fixation was only harmful to me.”

“The young paladin,” Glory said, nodding.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Being an elf, you learn to tune a lot of things out… but something about you is hard to ignore,” she said.

Her three friends returned. They each took something off their tray and put it in front of Glory before they sat down. One had a small salad of the sort of dark, bitterly earthy greens that I’d never learned to appreciate. Another had a section of some kind of fish garnished with almonds… my brain said it was trout, but that’s because I’d seen mentions of a dish called “trout almondine” at some point in the past, not because I knew what a trout looked like. The last, Wisdom, put a glass of soda down.

“These are wonderful,” Glory said, lifting the glass. “Humans come up with so many clever things.”

“I think that one might actually be a gnomish invention,” I said.

“Oh, yes, Hazel actually told me that… but…”

“Hazel says a lot of things,” I said, nodding.

“She told me with a spirit of perfect sincerity that a gnome invented floors,” she said, “and that before that, people had to cling very tightly to walls or they would fall forever.”

“Hazel says a lot of things,” I repeated.

“Your majesty, if I may?” Wisdom said, and it startled me… and then I was more surprised to realize that no one else had said anything since I’d arrived. Nobody seemed to be staring at me in mute horror, though, so I probably wasn’t committing some horrible faux pas.

“Please,” Glory said, making an expansive gesture with her hand.

“The artificial carbonation of non-alcoholic drinks to mimic the natural effervescence of many fermented brews was likely discovered by multiple people independently, but there is strong if frequently overlooked evidence that it was popular among gnomes before any human business began producing such drinks on an industrial scale.”

“This is one of the things that Wisdom brings to my court, you see,” Glory said. “She knows interesting things. Not always useful in the conventional sense, but interesting nonetheless. Of course, not everyone in Treehome sees the value in that.”

“If you like that kind of thing, I have a feeling you would either hate Amaranth or love her,” I said to Wisdom. I could imagine the two of them rushing to get the factoid out before the other, but I could also see it turning into a long and passionate conversation about the history of corks or something.

“I know I frequently do,” Glory said, and the others laughed, though Glory looked abashed as soon as she’d finished speaking. “I’m sorry… that sounded more clever than mean in my head. I guess leaving Treehome doesn’t mean that Treehome has left me.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Let’s just talk about something else. I know I told you not to count on having results in a day, and I don’t exactly have results, but I could tell you my progress on my task.”

“We’re not going to talk business all through the meal, I hope you know,” she said.

“That’s good, because there’s not enough business to get us through it,” I said. “I talked to Andreas, who gave me the name of a clan that… well, he didn’t give me a lot of details, but my impression is they do rush repairs on Underhall after wild parties and/or battles. I have a message out with them. I mentioned you… not by name… so they’ll have an idea that you’re good for it.”

“That’s good,” she said. “That way, if working for an elven middling is a deal breaker, we’ll find out right away.”

“My impression has been that the enmity between elves and dwarves is overstated in the human cultural imagination,” I said.

“This is true,” she said. “We’ve never particularly been enemies. Dwarves think elves are largely frivolous assholes who are too capable to be ignored… which isn’t a uniquely dwarven perspective, but humans and many other similarly mortal races are also awed by us at the same time in a way that dwarves aren’t. How many hours have you spent, by the way?”

“I’m still working on the first one,” I said. “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve broken the double digits on minutes yet. This is very much a spare time kind of task, which is perfect for me right now.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s working out,” she said. “Will this Andreas expect payment for his part?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I mean, he didn’t say anything, and while I’ve got the idea that he’s pretty bashful for a dwarf, but I don’t think he’s so retiring that he wouldn’t have given terms up front if it was going to be an issue. There may or may not be a clan referral system in place, which is one reason I mentioned who’d sent me in the message, but I don’t think either side would tell us if that were the case.”

“Okay. We’ll work out some small token as a thank-you gift,” she said. “Unless you think that would cause offense.”

“I can’t see how,” I said. “I mean, unless the gift itself is insulting.”

“I wasn’t thinking of a stepladder,” she said. “Wisdom?”

“The most significant gifts in dwarven culture are handmade items that cost a great deal of effort,” Wisdom said. “But these may be too significant. In more formal and less familiar contexts, the most appropriate gift would be tools or raw materials, but tools are only appropriate if you know the individual has a specific need at the moment for a particular tool, otherwise it could be taken as a veiled insult or suggestion of inadequacy. If my queen is interested in my opinion…”

“I am,” Glory said.

I knew what Wisdom was going to say, but I resisted the urge to blurt it out. It felt like I had all the royal favor that I needed.

“I don’t see how you could go wrong with some soapstone,” she said.

“Excellent,” Glory said. “But, like I said: let’s not talk about this all night. Enough business. Let’s have some conversation!”

It was like her words had triggered a dormant spell. Suddenly, Thorn and Blossom came to life and started talking about their classes… plural perhaps only because the two of them were each taking a different class this semester. Wisdom still mostly kept quiet, but the tidbits she added to the conversation were more organic and less… prefaced and preformatted.

I was grateful for the thaw. While I enjoyed talking to people one on one more than dealing with a group… especially a group of mostly strangers… there had been something disconcerting about having a one-on-one conversation with three other people at the table. It might have been weirder if we hadn’t started out with just the two of us at the table.

When we were finished eating, Glory asked the others to go ahead back to Oberrad and start getting her things ready for bed while she returned me to my friends.

“I would have said ‘make my bed’, but that would have been a crueler joke yet,” she said to me. “I’d rather sleep on the open ground in the woods right now, honestly.”

“Why don’t you, then?” I asked, repressing an urge to shudder. I knew well enough the horrors of the woods around the Enias River Valley… I was required to take a class on them. Evidently they held less terror for her, which wasn’t surprising, given that she’d lived in them.

“Because I don’t want any ambiguity about the fact that I’ve left Treehome behind,” she said. “The woods aren’t all Treehome, of course, but they’re also not the campus. I don’t want anybody… the university or the other middlings… thinking I’m not serious about this.”

“I guess that makes sense,” I said.

“It won’t be like this for long,” she said. “And when it’s all fixed up, you’ll have to come over to see it.”

“It’s a deal,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “I’ll hold you to that.”


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18 Responses to “Chapter 219: Deal or Ordeal”

  1. zeel says:

    Three in one week! You’re spoiling us.

    “It’s a deal,” I said.

    “Good,” she said. “I’ll hold you to that.”

    I don’t think she meant it that way. . . But it at least seems harmless enough.

    Current score: 4
    • cnic says:

      Keeping in mind elven pace this may turn out to be a Pavel’s Gun (Pavel Chekov being Anton Chekov’s father). This will be relevant is 50 or so chapters from now.

      Current score: 3
  2. Not her, the other girl says:

    “I did wear my favorite jacket, but that was hardly dressing up. It was a functional garment.”

    Oh Mackenzie. *sigh* It’s okay to be pretty!

    And yeah, it’s obvious Mack hasn’t been around any fox and/or cat girls lately.

    Current score: 2
    • Anthony says:

      Yeah, we need more Sooni. She’s crazy, but fun!

      Current score: 0
  3. Lyssa says:

    “I wasn’t thinking of a stepladder.”

    Ha!

    I really like the rapport these two are developing between them. It’s almost cosy, in a hierarchical way.

    Current score: 9
  4. Cadnawes says:

    Oh, yay. This was just delightful. its nice to have a chapter full of enjoyable people being amused or amusing. And I’m going to be laughing about “reverse burgundy” all week. Mack must have picked up a little more information about color than she thinks to have made that joke.

    Current score: 2
  5. Another Greg says:

    “but I could also see it turning into a long and passionate conversation about the history of corks or something.”

    Love It!

    Current score: 3
  6. Doc Eon says:

    This confused me:
    “My attendants were about to get food,” Glory said, and the other three elves slid out of their seats and rose as one unit. “Our page has other business tonight, so everyone’s more or less fending for themselves… well, everyone else, I mean. I know you don’t have your tray yet, but would you mind keeping me company while they do that?”

    The first part of the last sentence, I mean. Mack does have her tray, that was the whole point…

    Current score: 0
  7. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    Obviously a big part of that is me, turning thing into big productions.

    Should be “things”, obviously.

    It helped that I knew going in that * wasn’t going anywhere special;

    Missing “I” before “wasn’t”.

    I know you don’t have your tray yet, but would you mind keeping me company while they do that?”

    This just plain confuses me. Mack had already gotten her tray by this point, hadn’t she?

    and while I’ve got the idea that he’s pretty bashful for a dwarf, but I don’t think he’s so retiring that he wouldn’t have given terms up front if it was going to be an issue.

    The “while”/”but” combo reads very awkwardly. Now, this is Mack speaking here, so it would be kind of understandable if she made this sort of mistake out loud, but despite all the times she’s had a sentence get away from her or not known just how to word what she’s trying to say, this just doesn’t sound like her type of mistake to me.

    On another note, at least Andreas isn’t Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy or Dopey. 😉

    Current score: 0
    • x says:

      Glory could have ruled as queen over her little hive of bees without calling herself a queen

      Missing ‘.’.

      I’d seen her around the Arch’s dining area once I knew how to look for, and a few times when I wasn’t

      WHO to look for?
      “when I wasn’t” wasn’t what?

      Current score: 0
  8. Order of Chaos says:

    3 great chapters within 7 days. Wow!

    Current score: 0
  9. Zathras IX says:

    A thorny question:
    Does Acantha mind that she
    Shares her name with Thorn?

    Current score: 2
  10. anonymous says:

    +1 for this chapter. Thank you very much, it was a really fantastic read.

    Current score: 0
  11. Trent Baker aka Zergonapal says:

    Ugh! Come as casual, I hate that mode of dress, my idea of casual is some cargo pants and a polo-neck shirt, but apparently the “official” version is suit minus tie. Fuck convention, but I still feel under-dressed in those situations.

    Current score: 0
    • Mist says:

      In some situations a business suit is considered casual. Black tie, white tie (ie tails and hat) , morning or evening suit, full frock coat, are the normal men’s formals. In such dress standards, most modern clothing would be consider workingmen’s work clothes or rags

      Current score: 0