Chapter 123: The Solstael Ball

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They suffered for it, and we rejoice. It may seem strange, an act of sadism and bloodlust, but one must remember that anything that inflicts suffering upon the Eight is most likely a boon for us. We make allies of necessity, holding ourselves to our principles, and we celebrate. Every moment of gaiety and joy we can steal from them is ours.

***

Laidu gritted his teeth as one of Indra's friends yanked a comb through the black tangles of his hair. Every painful sensation seemed magnified. The water in the bath was scalding, a very unfamiliar sensation, and his skin had already been rubbed raw. The scholar, one of Indra's colleagues, had glanced a few times at Laidu's body, but had approached the job with a workmanlike resolve. "What did you say?" he asked Indra.

She sat next to him. "We're three days out, and it's my job to make you convincing as a nobleman. You have no idea about the common imports and exports of the province your family hails from."

"We're going to a ball. If I'm going to socialize with the men and women there, I doubt I'm going to bore them with politics or economics."

"Half the time these balls are merely excuses to discuss politics over wine and fine food," Indra said. "But, seeing as you're playing an outsider in this mess, I guess it might be wise not to know that." She closed her book. "What would you think you —you being your alter ego— would be talking about?"

"What's there to hunt?" Laidu asked.

"Boar. Bear, if you're mad, or trying to prove yourself. Which, with how Agyar men can be, is usually the same thing," she said.

"Any other customs I should know?" Laidu asked. "Hey! Watch your hairbrush. I want to keep this hair."

"It's all oily," the other student complained. "I'm just working the soap into it, and with you, it takes a while." She kept scrubbing.

"Well, you're going to want to make a meal for the ball. Something you either hunted or prepared.

"Alright. When you get the chance, have Karik'ar go out in the countryside. There's got to be a snow boar or two somewhere," Laidu said. "And have Thaen go to the market. I'll need some supplies."

"You're going to cook a boar?" Indra asked.

"Yes."

"I've only seen you make stew," Indra said. "Gourmet cooking is different from a stew."

"Look. When I was a kid, my father trained me how to fight, following Ten-Zuani tradition. My mother taught me to cook because she got fed up with me being so hungry and asking her to make something. I eat like mad, and I cook most of what I eat."

"I'll take your word for it."

"You don't look like a glutton," the student said as she undid a tangle in his hair.

"I live a very active lifestyle," he said, giving Indra a glance. They both didn't mention the fact that his normal body was taller and scalier. He paused. "Anything else I should worry about?" he asked Indra.

"An escape route?"

"Already planned." Indra raised an eyebrow. "When I did some security reviews. I wanted to make sure Kyra was safe, and I made sure her manor was secure. The ballroom, with big windows and all that, was going to be a likely entry point. While there is a balcony or four there, there is also some shrubs. Should things go wrong, I run for the balcony, jump into the bushes, and it's a few feet from a spot where I can leap the wall."

Indra sighed. "You're a madman, you know that?"

"Hey." Laidu gave her a look, kind of laughing. "Former madman, and the madness wasn't my fault." He thought of Rhaedra. It was his fault.

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