The 16th of Kythorn, Year of the Staff
At the Hawksong Estate
The Hawksong estate was located a little way beyond the circle of hills which comprised the centre of Evereska and to the northeast. The exact boundries were not clear, but it seemed to be bordered by hedgerows and streams and other natural obstructions, rather than walls or fences. The guests filtered in through the main entrance to the grounds formed by a tall and pointed glass archway which was wide enough to easily accomodate those who chose to arrive by carriage. The elves here did not appear to go in much in the way for roads, rather for winding forest paths generally, and so carriages were not really very practical. However, it appeared that the People had got around this by simply removing the wheels from the carriages and setting them to float instead, pulled by shining white horses. Even so, they were still rather wide and awkward in many of the narrower paths which predominated in the vale and their use seemed to be restricted to those who wanted to make a statement, but could not accomplish it in a more elegant way.
Drifting through the air, couples waltzed on thin air as they approached the archway, defying gravity. Other guests merely winked into existance at the archway, while those whose outfits permitted arrived lightly afoot or mounted on horseback. It seemed that regardless of the who the guests were, they all passed through the glass arch before entering the estates. As they did, runes written in crimson fire could be glimpsed inside the archway before the angle made them invisible once more. Whether this was simple courtesy, or because the estate was too well warded to be penetrated by magical transportation was unclear.
Guests nodded and smiled to aquaintances, friends and rivals in equal measure and were met by Hawksong retainers providing welcoming refreshments in the way of chilled wines in long fluting glasses which ended in exotic twisting bases coming to a pointed tip rather than the rather more traditional flat stand. When the glasses were released however, they hung in mid-air, floating until their owner reclaimed them or a servant collected them.
A panoply of costumes abounded throughout the starlit gardens. Wide skirts, long sleeves, jewels, exotic cloth and elaborate hair abounded. It seemed as if the elves competed to out-do each other. Almost all seemed to augment their appearances with dweomer of some description of another. Bejewelled clothes sparkled with internal glows and hazy auras of stardust trailed in party-goers wakes. Others danced above the carefully tended lawns, their feet hovering inches over the grass. One guest left footprints of illusory lavender fire whereever they walked which winked out after a few seconds. Light breezes wafted around other guests, cooling them and ruffling their clothes or hair in interesting ways. Some others had clothes which were slowly stained from colour to another. Hair was bound up and out, suspended and twisted, plaited and coifed. Jewelled hair nets glimmered in silver and spun gold. Fanciful horns or ruffs were formed from a guest's own locks. One woman's hair formed a living cage for two song birds who trilled from above her head. Another had swirling sculpted antlers which were wound around some of carved wooden rod which extended more than a yard from either side of her head. Still another woman had hair of jet black which swept back in two arcs, like a great eagle's wings leaping from her skull. The baroque and fanciful style of fashion was probably the most overblown and exaggerated that any of the non-Evereskan's had ever seen before.
A score of paces before the arch, the air began to stir as if inhaled by an useen creature. Then just as suddenly, the air was forceably shoved outward, and in its place stood a tall silver haired elf surrounded by seven others. One raised hand held a tall polished black staff and as his companions took in their new surroundings, the staff was lowered, as he did the light in the crystal atop it dimmed.
A pair of the Hawksong retainers stepped forward to greet them; unfazed by the sudden arrival of eight elves, one spoke words of peace and welcome, the other offered a tray of refreshments. Lord Starhome, resplendent in a scarlet cloak with rubies in the hemn and irridescent black robes stitched in his trademark thread-of-silver, returned the greetings, smiled, and politely declined offerings from the tray. The silver thread of his robes were made into the images of dragons and elven knights that actually moved. Indeed, they warred with each other, gouts of flame, lightning, spells and steel were all on display, swirling in a never ending melee. Those next to him could hear the far off roars, peals of distant thunder, and the clangor of steel. His wife, Illthonna, wore a dazzling ball gown of shining purple, lurid green, and metallic gold. Her wavy jet black hair was as dark as midnight, absorbing all light, and was loosely arrayed about her shoulders; shot through with an arrangement of jewels that winked and flashed like shining stars in the cloak of night. She took a tall fluted glass of something amber and nodded her thanks.
Selenne and her four companions were there as well. All were dressed in styles which marked them as outlanders, which alone drew attention. Selenne had chosen to wear an outfit she had presumably brought with her from Everlaen as she had had nothing made up in the day she had been in Evereska, nor purchased or borrowed anything. She was probably the one woman at the party not wearing some kind of dress, and her clothing covered more of her skin than most women. Her leggings were of soft form-fitting buckskin and decorated with only a simple, but elegant green embroidery in the shape of a climbing vine. Her shirt was rather looser, but cinched at the waist, and made of forest green cotton. The vine motif here continued in rather more expanse and the thread was of gold. A gold headband sat upon her brow with a large mounted pearl in its centre, tucking her golden plaits back to fall over her shoulders, and two smaller but matching pearls hung from her ears. The thing which really stood out though, was her sheathed sword belted at her side.
Andril was feeling a tad self-concious. Though his attire was far from impoverished- it hardly stood out and looked positvely human in it's manufacture. A simple grey cloak and floral brooch accompanied by a leaf motif undershirt and auburn waistcoat. He was also wearing a fine pair of trousers- an absurd, baggy looking article he'd pick up from an eastern trader in Waterdeep but their quality was unquestionable. Also grey but with a burning bronze thread: tiny mythincal creatures were depicted in the material so that the folds came togther nicely to make a battle scene. It really made the outfit and as long as one had an open mind he looked quite comely. Cup had assured him of this but also had said that he had better not come along to the party, for the folk here were sure not understand his ways at first. He had not brought his longsword but opted instead for the regal looking staff he had found right at the start of this whole Everlaen business he'd go himself mixed up in. It seemed quite some time now since he was wandering alone it the woods trying to find, well anything. Even though he had no idea what the staff might do, it looked the part and Andril held it in had as though it made him prince of all he could see.
The envoy was framed by Lorathon on one side who was smartly dressed in tall, highly polished black boots, grey leggings and a loose fitting embroidered silk shirt that was half volcanic azure, half glowing emerald, in direct contrast to his eyes. And on the other side stood Lorathon's cousin, Thayyanarra Mistrivvin. Thayyanarra wore her raven black hair piled high on top of her head with a dozen or so sparkling jewels spinning in orbit around it. Suspended from a dozen carefully arranged hanging locks were bells made from mother-of-pearl with diamond clappers that jingled sweetly when she turned her head. Her eyes were an arresting blue-green and tilted just enough to give her features a vaugely feline appearance. Her gown was pearl and diamond studded ivory silk that was snug and enticingly form fitting until it reached her knees where it flared out, giving the impression that she floated rather than walked, then again, considering her talent with magic, perhaps she did. Small bright dust motes slowly swirled around her, causing the jewels to catch their light and flash in return. She sipped her own glass, one hand on her hip, coyly ignoring the looks from the other young men there.
Lorathon thought for a moment that he glimpsed his brother, but Soval couldn't have arrived yet. Already a budding politician, his recent promotion to captain also seemed to bestow upon him a slew of new behaviors Lorathon found quite silly. Earlier when they were ready to depart Soval had told them to go on without him, that he would be, "fashionably late".
As they approached the arch, several in the group noticed more than a few stares were directed at Selenne. Apparently, word of the beautiful gold-haired woman had spread. As they stepped up to the arch and the runes overhead flamed into life again Lorathon turned his face up to look at them, noting that the wards in his own home were much more understated.
"Bit over the top for a party isn't it?" Andril suggested to Lorathon.
Deityr was glad someone else said it. He knew most were thinking it. The young half elf wasn’t unaccustomed to parties, in fact he had enjoyed a few many years ago. But what was shown before his very eyes could only be described as a colourful wildlife painting. With birds showing each other who has the biggest and prettiest feathers. He couldn’t help but grin when he saw an elven man sporting a giant feather.
“That’s strange Andril I thought this would have been, ‘right up your street’,” he quipped.
"It is, but i'm loathe to tolerate being frisked by door-men let alone magic". Obviously Andril couldn't be certain as to the exact properties of the arch-way but he felt sure it did more than keep hot things hot and cold things cold, if you see his line of thinking.
"Besides, i feel, ahh, a bit, you know, under-dressed", and for a bard this was a most embarrassing prospect. He was going to accept the Starhome's generous offer of fine garms but when Selenne declined first Andril had just followed suit. Now he wished he hadn't. Still, he took comfort in the knowledge that he could charm the crown off a king where necessary, and tonight it might well be.
The half elf raised an eyebrow briefly at the eccentric bard. Looking at his own simple garb he couldn’t help but think he was still elegantly dressed, compared to back home. He had to take up the offer made by Lorathon’s parents. He simply didn’t have any clothing of his own to fit in with such a crowd.
He stroked the only beard in the grounds, which happened to be his own. He mused for a short while before asking Andril “Shall we mingle?” he gave a sly smile. It could have been read as a challenge in some sort of game, suggesting he was fed up with Andril or simply a smile.
Andril chose not to read anything into the suggestive grin he had just been flashed. Probably a half elf thing.
"By all means", Andril answered. His initial instinct was to find the first pretty lady without an escort, it might also send the right message to Deityr, but then he remembered that he was not in a human town. Even if there was no one by her side, all the elf-maids would be like young deer, watched and guarded by their relatives protecting them from any hunters that might be about. This being the case Andril thought duty, though not first, should at least come second on his list of priorities. He would instead converse with someone of status so as to become known as an individual, a player in the game, and perhaps if the situation was right make some small mention of Everlaen. Though it was clear he was of the travelling party, depending of the tone of the evening and the character of the person, his acquaintance may choose to ignore the fact, instead preferring to delve into other channels of discussion.
The expression on Andril’s face gave Deityr the impression that the minstrel misunderstood him. The mage was slightly disappointed it seemed Andril wasn’t as intelligent as he first took him to be. He gave himself a slight shrug before taking a glass of wine from a nearby servant. He took a sip from the glass and admired its flavour and richness of the berries coming through the flavour.
Deityr wanders away
Deciding the only way to benefit this small community of Everlaen would be to split from the group and work the crowd. Although Deityr had no intention of talking to somebody important, it would be pointless. He knew too little about Everlaen and its intentions other than wanting a larger elven presence. He thought it would be much more appropriate spending his time finding someone who knew the kind of important people, someone who wouldn’t mind talking to a newcomer. Deityr suspected the best suited for this would be a worker of some kind or a servant. Although he would have to make sure he didn’t get some kind of poppycock stories you often got from those in the lower chain of command.
He went in pursue the waitress girl who had just past him, “Excuse me,” he began expecting her to turn around. “I was wondering if you could help a newcomer to this magnificent city,” he gave her the patented ‘I’m not from around here’ smile.
"Um... of course," the serving lass replied a little hesitantly. She seemed a bit confused about his status and how to address Deityr, but given that he was clearly not from around here - the beard gave that one away - he had to be a respected guest. She opted for a safe course. "Another drink?"
Deityr smiled noticing the unease in her features and tone. “Another drink would be perfect, I am Deityr” he left a small silence for her to reply with her own.
“Ah Kaaha, what a beautiful name. Um, I must confess I am a little embarrassed but I am a newcomer here, as if I needed to tell you. But I was wondering if you would be able to help, I’ll make it worth your while,” His hand showed a quick glimmer of gold. “All I need your help with is to tell me who’s who. I am mainly concerned with the movers and shakers, sorry the people with influence. I have spent to long with an eccentric bard,” he chuckled lightly.
"Oh, of course," she replied a bit more confidently now that she felt on firmer ground. "Um... I don't see Lady Hawksong here... She must be in another part of the garden - but then you will know her already, being her guest. Let's see, who is about?" She looked around for notables to point out.
"That would be Ruaril Renenynvia, one of the younger sons of the Hill Lord. He's with Nulia Echnorn. She's one Hill Lord Echnorn's younger cousins. Er'Uthir is a one of the professors at the College of Arts. That's him over there in the purple. Soltae Leafbreeze is a rather popular artist these days. He's the one with the three women hanging off his arms - the red head is the sister of a high ranking commander in the Plumed Kingfishers. Over there are half the Starhome clan, by the look of things, including the Hill Lord himself. But didn't you arrive with them? Ah.. and over there is Cywen of Neverwinter. You can't miss him, he's the human N'Tel'Quess. There are too many to keep track of. The gardens are quite large. Were you looking for anyone in particular?"
It was a good question and one which Deityr didn’t have an answer to. “Well, um, no,” he trailed off limply. “I suppose it was because these are the people to whom I will be talking to in the next few days and it always helps to do ones research,” He smiled softly.
“I am grateful for your help,” he slipped her the couple of gold piece as promised. “Hopefully I’ll see you around sometime,” he gave a slight bow before walking towards the only other N'Tel'Quess in sight, possibly the garden, and maybe even in Evereska for all he knew.
Deityr moved through the crowd he could feel eyes taking the occasion double take. It didn’t help that he was a half elf but to be one with an obvious mixed heritage must have been almost unheard of. It didn’t bother him; if anything it gave him the feeling of uniqueness. Finally approaching the human he noticed how tall he was easily two inches taller than himself. Another feature that pointed him out was the strong build; he would assume a warrior of some kind.
Before he could contemplate this any longer he was already standing within talking distance. “Greeting Cywen of Neverwinter. I am Deityr of the High Forest, may I ask what a human is doing in a place like this?” He gave a polite smile and a slight bow.
The man blinked at Deityr in surprise with ice blue eyes and turned to face him properly. His blonde hair was cut just below his ears and his dress was formal, but seemed rather more of the type one would find elsewhere, rather than in Evereskan style. Of course, Deityr was no expert and had no idea what the fashions of Neverwinter or anywhere else were really. The High Forest was not really big on social events larger than those which could fit into a forest glade. "Well met, Deityr of the High Forest," he replied with a smile. "Are you always quite so blunt when introducing yourself to people, or am I just privilaged?"
“I would like to say you are privileged, but then I would be a liar,” he smiled politely, “Excuse my manners it has been a long time since I have been to something so formal. Although I must say the elves have done well, other than their fashion sense, everything seems exquisite,” he chuckled briefly. The half elf still couldn’t believe the elf with the giant feather. Cywen just shrugged in a non-commital manner, but his own fashion was statement enough, perhaps.
“Was I disturbing you from anything?” Deityr asked politely indicating he would leave if necessary.
"Not at all," he replied with an easy smile and took a few steps away from the group he been heading toward, guiding Deityr with him. "I must say, I'm quite intrigued to learn what has brought you here." Deityr thought there might be something else behind the human's words, but he he could not be certain. One thing was for sure, Cywen's elven was very good.
It was strange for the half elf to feel that the human had taken control of the conversation immediately. Deityr considered his options momentarily before concluding that telling Cywen anything about himself or Everlaen would come to anything. “I have arrived here with a small group hailing from the High Forest,” He began “You wouldn’t know it. We are here on a diplomatic matter, mainly regarding the future of the elven community,” he thought it best not to give everything away.
He thought it best to change the subject. He wasn’t here to talk about himself but discover what else might be going on in the political area called Evereska. “Where did you learn your elven? You must have learnt from an early age to be so fluent,” he smiled politely but it didn’t reach his eyes.
"Oh, I've always had a flair for languages," Cywen replied. "Of course, I've had a chance to polish my elven here in Evereska." If he noticed Deityr's coolness, he did not show it. "It must be quite a matter of diplomacy for you to come here. They don't usually let casual callers through the front door."
“I believe Selenne, one of our group is known to the elves here. Another bonus was knocking with the Lorathon Starhome the Hill Lords son. I think that made getting entry considerably easier.” Deityr had the feeling both were holding back details. He shouldn’t have expected anything less considering the warning they all received from Lorathon only hours earlier in the day.
"Ah, 'young' Lorathon. I've met him. I hadn't realised that he had been in 'foreign' parts. I'm afraid I've never heard of this Selenne, you speak of." Cywen waved over a serving lad bearing a platter of pastries. "Try the round ones," the human advised. "They've got nuts and cheese inside. Not bad at all." He popped one in his mouth and piled another three in his free hand.
After munching his mouthful, "This Selenne heading up your diplomatic mission?"
The half elf decided to take Cywen’s advice and take some of the pasteries. But before he could take a bite he decided to respond to the humans question, it was only polite, unlike talking while chewing. “From what I understand, no,” he stated bluntly. “I believe it is more of a cooperative effort between all those who have arrived from Everlaen, although it is my belief that she, if any, would be the one the nobles here would listen to,” he give a shrug before tasting one of the pasteries. There were quite delicious.
Andril works the crowd
Moving off on his own where his style would not be so cramped, Andril wondered which of the guests would be biggest wigs for him to be seen with - or perhaps he should start with a medium sized toupee and see how it went. He was then faced with the dilemma of figuring out exactly who was important and who was not. It was probably safe to say that everyone who was a guest was of some importance or another in Evereska, but the garden was filled with guests and how to distinguish one from another was a sticky problem. Andril was debating whether he should go on the most flamboyant costume, or who was surrounded by the most hangers on, when he had some of decision taken out of his hands being approached by a pair of the fairer sex.
They both were sporting the wide skirts which seemed to be the overwhelming fashion, and both had rather low cut bodices, but their costumes were still very different. The taller of the two wore black, spangled with tiny diamantes and her bodice appeared to be made only of a kind of mesh, or string netting which did not entirely cover her flesh. The sparkles crept up and over her chest, and faded down her bare arms, to be revived in the twin black scarves which were tied to her wrists. Her black hair was piled on her hair in an elaborate coif and it too sparkled in the starlight. The second and shorter of the two Teu'Tel'Quess maids wore pale pastels replete with ruffs with gave her the impression of sitting in the centre of some kind of enormous flower. Her lips were rouged, eyes kohled and cheeks pouting. Golden ringlets fell down her shoulder in careful disarray.
"Are you a guest of Lady Hawksong?" asked the blonde, coquetishly.
"Some sort of hardened ranger of the wilds, I'll be bound," breathed the brunette, fanning herself with a set of black feathers.
Andril beamed at the pair while he figured out how he was going to deal with them.
"Ladies", he gave them a slight, gentlemanly bow of the head being sure to maintain eye contact, "the combination of such great beauty and such probing minds make your households truly blessed". This was the key moment, if they enjoyed the banter he would be able to continue in this vein, quite literally, all night. If they turned sour, however, he would have to adopt a new stance.
"Verily, I am a guest of the Lady Hawksong but I rest my head at the Starhome estate. But, indeed, being a humble bard and minor envoy for the Everlaen settlement, I can only inform you that Selenne Irithyl acts as guest of honor for tonght. As for myself, I am Andril Forlorn and though I am a well-travelled wanderer (as you so acurately noted) and my hands may be calloused I should very much dread the prospect of becoming 'hardened'. I should like to think I have managed to retain, through all the drudgery of the road and of battle, a youthful exuberance as well as an infinite capacity for love". His tone was not salacious in anyway but seemed more like a buoyant and formalised list, examples perhaps, of good and upstanding qualities the bard had noted in himself for others to admire. Andril mused that this move would probably either provoke some kind of verbal locking of horns or leave them flummoxed, depending on how good they were, but a little wide-eyed flirting had never done him any harm in the past.
"Might I have the honour of knowing your names? Surely you are more deserving guests of such an event, here on merit rather than chance like myself. Tell me, do you have any infinite capacities?"
"Oh my, what an intimate question!" came the shocked response from the brunette.
"Infinite!" said the wide-eyed blonde.
"Capacities..." echoed the brunette, fanning herself.
"Quite shocking, my dear."
"What a shame he isn't as hardened as you took him for." The blonde looked dissapointed.
"And dreading the thought of any future hardening."
"Still... There are positive points too."
"Indeed. An infinite capacity for love, for one," replied the brunette mirthfully.
"Oh, he has an infinite capacity himself!"
"Rulas! You are simply too much," admonished the brunette. "Andril Forlorn, may I present my incorrigable friend, Rulas Alean'Vonthi."
"And this is my most dear friend, Taselsali Alean'Vonel. We are somewhat distant cousins."
"My paternal great grandmother and Rulas' maternal grandfather were second cousins, twice removed."
"Enough of that though," Rulas cut in and took Andril's right arm. "I believe you were asking about my capacity."
Taselsali took him by the left. "And being a bard, you must have such a nimble tongue."
Andril was immediately reminded of an adage he had once made up to advise an even younger, even more fool-hardy bard than himself: Ears are for hearing, Eyes are for seeing, Tongues are for wooing, Feet are for fleeing.
Tempting, but perhaps a little more roguish than he wanted to appear. Some pretense of respectability had to be maintained by the whole party at this crucial, initial stage.
"My dear Taselsali, 'nimble' has such a morally ambiguous tone and I can assure you that it only operates with your best interests at heart".
Andril began to guide the ladies on a casual stroll, via drinks and nibbles.
"Indeed, Rulas, I was immediately struck ere first I saw you by a powerful and capacious aura", he let the dubious statement hang in the air like a firework before he exploded into a new stream of conversation.
"I should first like to know what capacity you both have for the prevention of a dull time. You must promise, my dears, not to let me get cornered by some awful dignitary". This was an honest plea. At least this company would be entertaining and Andril wanted to be able to pick his conversations if he could.
"But please, elucidate. Tell me about yourselves. How can it be that surely the fairest cousins in Evereska could be interested in discourse with myself?" Andril was making movements towards discovering how important they really were, or at least he hoped that to be the case. If he could make an early friend or two with relatives in high places it could prove invaluable.
"Dignitaries," Rulas echoed. "There are entirely too many at this particular party who are overly concerned with their dignity. It's what happens when it is hosted by one of the Hill Ladies. Still, the grounds are rather lovely and there are enough of us here who are looking for fun so that this is actually a party."
"Just so," Taselsali agreed. "And what could be more fun than an outsider, with tales of daring do and the great wide, dangerous outside world. Tell us, Andril, what terrors and perils did you overcome to visit us here in our fastness?"
Andril was immediately struck by how quickly he had forgotten all the perils he had faced to come this far. He could well understand why the two young elf-maids might find his stories interesting and exciting, being so well protected behind the (metaphorical) walls of Evereska, but for him they had been real. He could have died and then perhaps it would have been Bruk, or another, exchanging pleasantries with this pair. Still, there was no point getting worked up about it and why should he not make some use out of all those harrowing experiences.
"Well, my dears, i have faced my fair share of opponents in my short time on the world and the journey from the settlement to your fine city was no exception. When traveling, orcs goblins and the like are to be expected. Opportunistic bands who prey on the weak but are no match for an armoured troupe such as ourselves, unless the numbers are overwhelmingly in their favour.
"I can tell you that many of the greatest dangers I faced on this journey were against the mutated creatures of the Dire Wood, a place lying not so far from here. All manner of terrible beasts were there. Bears with many eyes, three times the proportion of the largest i had otherwise seen, lurked in dank caves whilst wolves that matched them in size, covered in scales and tentacles kept watch for prey under trees that wept blood". Andril had been dramatizing but continued in a more sorrowful tone.
"There my friend Bruk died, and saved many in return. I keep his axe, so that it's weight should always remind me of what he did for me, when on the road". he paused in thought.
"Still more fell i am sorry to relate, when we came upon a rebel army of ha' elves, led by the embittered Titania Skyflower. Striving on past the wild monsters, we came to the centre of that terrible wood where a city lay, focal point of magic and death. Having met with Lorathon and others to ally with, we infiltrated the place and attacked the site at which the Princess Skyflower had made preparations for a dark ritual indeed. Battled ensued. We slew her, and took many prisoner, and in so doing prevented the wicked living sacrifice of two noble fellows: sought as victims for their mixed planes blood. Her motive was power, and also greed. Her intention was to tap into the force that had made the very wood itself an abomination, a reversal of nature. Whether any divine force had a hand in the matter i do not know, being so heavily out-numbered it could well have been so, but what is certain is that my companions and I stopped the maddened priestess from raising an ancient, dead god".
Andril fell into a dramatic silence. He had enjoyed relating the tale immensely and hoped that his climax would be sufficient to impress the ladies. He couldn't imagine what would, otherwise. Perhaps "certain" wasn't exactly the right word to use, as no-one could be certain about what kind of a being Karsus (if that was his [or her] name) would be if brought to life once more. But for the purposes of storytelling and whatnot "god" sounded better than "wizard", which were ten a copper piece.