Chapter 5.1: Attendance

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Five Years Fair, The White City

After everyone else was positioned, the three suitors were marched into the bustling dining hall through an arched doorway  to enraptured applause and seated at the lavish head table with the rest of the two hosting families

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After everyone else was positioned, the three suitors were marched into the bustling dining hall through an arched doorway  to enraptured applause and seated at the lavish head table with the rest of the two hosting families.

Lord Allaster extended his hand to High King Greggon Rose IV, who took it sternly if not grudgingly. Although there was no historical animosity between the two houses in particular, for at least two decades they'd been rivals, leaping over each other every five years as the Union's richest family when the Census Guild released its estimations of wealth.

As everyone settled into their places, Lord Bromborne and King Rose both stood from their side-by-side chairs. The hall fell immediately silent.

"Our esteemed guests, House Rose bids you welcome and thanks you for accepting our invitation to join us here tonight," boomed the great voice of Gregg Rose. "Tonight we celebrate the potential union of two great American families. Marriage is a sacred bond, whose trust and companionship extends not just to the bride and groom but also to all their kin. Two great kingdoms, Pent and Seldor, pillars and leaders of the Union, stand to be greatly augmented in partnership. And now..." the King stopped and did something that surprised everyone: he smiled at his younger daughter. "I hope Princess Allison of Seldor enjoys her night of Attendance with three worthy suitors and that by the end, all shall find the joys that love and friendship inevitably bestow." He toasted a glass of burgundy wine and most in the room emulated him. "To Pent and Seldor! Long may their reigns stand on solid ground!" Everyone cheered and toasted, clacking together mugs and goblets as they poured ale or wine down their throats.

Jeffrey sipped lightly, his eyes never leaving Lords Gregg and Allaster. Standing next to each other, the contrasts between them were striking. Although close to the same age, the Lord of Pent looked gray, bent and frail while Seldor's king maintained the look of a stern and formidable ruler with his signature thatch of mud-brown hair and stiletto-sharp eyes that turned as quick as an eagle's.

Jeffrey caught the Princess staring. She blushed, smiled and revolved away. Jeffrey didn't buy the innocence for a second. I suppose some would call her beautiful. She wore an emerald gown cut deeply down the middle that glinted endlessly under the lambent light of the room's many lanterns. The color fit her well, balancing her pale complexion and almost-black hair.

Jeffrey took inventory of the Princess, noting her sharp, angled eyebrows, indifferent posture, and distracted scans of the room. But it was the less-noticeable details that were even more important. The black paint on the fingernail of her right pinky. The tiny waikan broach occasionally visible under her scarf pinned to the left breast of her gown. I wonder how many of these lords understand the symbolism of that little bauble. Or even if she does.

Before the first of many courses was to be brought out, a tall knight in brilliant armor presented a white dove in a wooden cage to King Rose.

"The Loosing of Wings!" called the court crier. Modern formal courtship was largely symbolic, and freeing the bird by the father of the prospective bride represented his willingness to release his daughter into womanhood and, potentially, the care of a husband. Lord Rose opened the cage, and though the bird was too intimidated to leave its barred enclosure at first, with an almost-gentle tap from the King's dagger it took to the air in a wild spray of feathers. The next five minutes were spent in near pandemonium as a variety of guests, many partially inebriated, attempted to steer the terrified dove out any of the hall's several open windows. Eventually, however, the bird flew high up near the vaulted ceiling and settled on the tallest rafter, spending the rest of the evening leering down on the party from above.

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