Peace Day

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The Peace Day feast was held in the long gallery, with tables set around the outside, and the row of windows leading out to the gardens all thrown open to admit the early summer air. Lords in their short tunics and hose, and ladies in their floating gowns, lounged on cushions behind low tables.

At the high table, the Empress reclined underneath a royal blue organza canopy, picking at the plate of sweetmeats in front of her, and talking quietly to her husband.

Tancred was seated at the high table, some way down from the Empress. Philomena, Luca, Rainhart and Holle sat at one of the tables nearby.

Philomena shifted, curling her feet underneath her. It was much warmer in Monsilys than in the high climes of Deusetats, and Philomena had abandoned quilted velvets and wools with relish, returning to the light dyed linens that the Jovanis favoured in the summer. Lacking any real alternative, the Deusetatsis had done likewise, but she could tell that the lack of layers, structures and coverings made them all uncomfortable. Tonight Rainhart and Holle were back in Deusetatsi formal dress with its brocade and gold rope, and both looked swelteringly hot.

It had been a long day, starting with an address from the Empress to the folk of Monsilys, then a parade, an archery tournament, and then the feast, which had gone on for several hours already.

Earlier in the evening, the little princess Beatrix Adela, who was the Empress' heir, and Prince Augustin, had performed an old Jovani folk dance, with all the dignity of their three years. The Empress' ladies had staged a pageant, with the laughing collusion of several lords. Now, they were watching Vernais acrobats work through a breathtaking tumbling routine.

The servers already produced every type of meat Philomena could think of--beef, lamb, venison, swan, pidgeon, dormouse and more besides--along with pies, pastries, cheeses, sweetmeats and treats, local specialities and imported delicacies. There had been wine and ale, mead and cider, all flowing freely.

All the while, incense had curled around the room. Philomena had no doubt there was poppy milk in the mix; she felt languid and stuffed full, following the entertainment with her eyes while her body tried to sink into the cushion.

The acrobats finished their routine and lined up in front of the Empress to bow. They were dressed in loincloths and breastbands, their skin speckled with gold that rippled over smooth muscles. Philomena let her gaze slide down the flank of one of the men, then away.

In the gallery, the minstrels went silent. Durant nodded to Rainhart and Holle, who stood up. "What are you doing?" said Philomena.

Holle rolled her eyes. "My dear brother's idea," she said.

"Not mine," grumbled Rainhart. "Durant asked me."

"So you say," said Holle. She rested her hand on Rainhart's outstretched forearm and they stepped around the table and onto the floor.

"Your Blessed majesty," said Rainhart, bowing to the Empress. "Your master of ceremonies has generously agreed to let us perform a little dance from our country. I hope you enjoy it."

The Empress waved her hand in acquiescence.

Rainhart nodded to the minstrels' gallery, and the music started again, setting out a steady beat in three-four time. Rainhart and Holle both bowed to the Empress, then turned to face each other. On the beat, they began a series of figures, clasping and unclasping hands, rising and falling, coming together and apart and switching places. The dance was quiet and dignified; Philomena had seen it done before at Breg, but she thought it a little at odds with the the audience of tipsy Jovanis. But, looking around the room, she saw folk setting down their cups, stilling their tongues, and watching.

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