Ms0 4


The young woman with the silver hair sits in the first bank of seats, with her older brother. Those seats are those closest to the red-and-black Empress herself, pewlike seats surrounding the court floor. The second bank are for court officials and raised nobility to the left, for military officers to the right. And on colored rugs, seated with as much dignity they can muster upon the floor, in traditional dress, are the representatives of vassal states. Entreaties from those representatives have taken up much of court. An unending tirade of requests for special considerations and reliefs. Today, unusually, the Empress is hearing each one in full, while normally she would cut them short with a swift denial. The higher nobles are beginning to sweat in their robes. They've never had to sit court this long before reaching the recess.

Lobelia sits with the typical dignified posture and patience befitting an eight child, an idle, reflexive smile on her face. She's keeping her eyes on the ambassadors, wondering about the different fabrics and colors of their garb… and the longer it draws out, the more she wonders what battles they faced to get here. The iron-studs of the Alloci, showing through their clothes. The steppe-Hundred, the fine silk of their red veils making them look like muzzled dogs. The ever-glamorous dwarven ambassadors from the black city over dark water, Hiver-Hon. The Iviquans, the Camaata, the Cimorene…

The Cimorene find their request for tax relief refused with a gentle clearing of the throat from the Empress. She sits up. She is dressed in pleated collar, the epaulets of her dress studded with black gems. Her glove lined with so many gold rings that it suggests a gauntlet, or a claw. Her head-dress is a cage of wire for her deep black hair. Thick face-paint suggests an inhuman being - impossibly white skin with stripes of roaring red. "Please sit. Before we withdraw for the recess, there is one honor I must accord. Will the Black Knight please rise and approach the court?"

Murmurs in the stands. Hushed guesses. The elder Oxford to his little sister: "Another ship, perhaps? I thought the Twilight small…"

"I just hope it isn't related to the diplomats. I worry her temper may be unusual this day, considering that patience." Lobelia mutters back.

"The Red-and-Black-Empress," he replies, lower even than most whispers. "And her jokes."

The Black Knight rises. He is armored. (He is always armored.) He stumbles slightly over those around him as he makes his way down to the floor of the courtroom, clanking, half-tripping. No one laughs. Lobelia lets her empty smile fade for a moment, of course. It's a courtesy that any good eighth child would know to give.
With a wave of her hand, the Empress bids an attendant - dressed in red, masked completely - rise and approach the knight. She falls and presents a case, long and black. She opens it.
A piercing light.
A keening, sharp noise.
A sudden ear-ache.

The knight reaches out and lifts from the case a sword - beautiful, thin, straight, long. Its edge sparkles like a rainbow, its hilt and handguard an artful sweep of silver. A sword of legends. There are gasps.

Lobelia reflexively squints her eyes and covers her ears, trying not to look away. Could it be a new blade…? She lowers her hands and lets her eyes reopen, resetting her posture. She let it slip for a moment. Oops. "Now that is a boon…!" She quietly whispers to her brother.

"For your tireless service, your unceasing diligence, and your all encompassing loyalty. To my most beloved of servants, the Black Knight, I present this treasure, recovered from the Arcolith Pheros," announces the Empress. "As the Patrons once gave us magic, I give you this sword. As the Patrons once gave us the world, I shall give it to my people. This I decree."

Well trained, the court choruses: "So decrees the Empress!" "Long live the Empress!" "Long may she reign!"

"I hope one day I can—" Lobelia catches herself, after chanting on time, and sighs. "…I meant, I hope one day my future spouse will be honored with such a magnificent blade."

The Knight replaces the sword in its case and shuts it. The light fades. The noise stops. Soon after, the pain in the ears subsides.

Her brother turns to the woman with the silver hair. His voice has lost a little of its hush: "I don't know if there's a second blade like that in the world."
The Empress raises her hand. "And with this honor, I open the court to recess. Please join me in the gardens for certain refreshments, before we convene the court of law." She rises with her retinue and departs, first. All the court staying in their seat until she is gone, and then the spell is broken - a rise, a clamor.

Lobelia idly smiles once more, her hands fidgeting in her lap a bit. She waits until it is proper, then stands. "I was halfway convinced she was going to have him test it on the gathered diplomats." She pauses. "…As beautiful a work of metal it was, was it just me, or did you feel something… Amiss with that blade?"

Her brother holds her by the hand as they navigate through the press of the crowd spilling out into the gardens. "I sensed a splitting headache. Haven't the foggiest what it means. Everything to do with that foreign-born knight is cursed."

The Imperial gardens: The moor-rose and the suncherry are blooming magnificently. Lotuses and magnolias thrive in the glass-topped hothouse. Some of the younger nobles approach the pipes misting the flowers shamelessly, dampening their robes to cool themselves off. Lobelia nods, following his lead. "Merciful of her to leave it until the end. Some fresh air ought to clear the lingering feeling. You mustn't let your temper judge him too harshly, haven't you heard the stories? The tale of his last expedition was so thrilling!"

The banquet tables are long and heavy - champagne flows freely, along with cut fruit (with a dip of chocolate) from all the world over. A little red bird, one of the garden's collection, long-tailed, perches curiously on the table, eyeing a pile of sandwiches with care, waiting for its chance to dart in and snatch a crumb. The elder brother plucks up a glass. "I've heard them. Heroic triumph against impossible odds. Felling legions, shaming kings, trouncing dragons. But no matter what he does, he's an emotionless suit of armor with a rubber bodysuit at the core. You can have your tales of adventure. I'd pay good money to hear how he manages to visit a latrine."

Lobelia opens her mouth to retort, then closes it, narrowing her red eyes at him. After a pause, she turns and asks a nearby servant to plate a sandwich and some fruit for her. "Okay. You have a point. It would be truly miserable to… Make a mess in his typical uniform." She stifles a giggle from such an unrefined topic.

"No one," the brother announces, with playful arrogance. "Could willingly wear that every day and not be some sort of monster."

"Mind your volume, brother…"Lobelia says. She pops an orange slice or two into her mouth. "I understand, though. My— er, I heard my younger sister's combat tutor explain the importance of a sound conscience. Of not becoming that which you hunt. Do you really think the Knight is that…" Barely louder than a whisper, she continues, "rotten?"

Her brother gestures. Has a sip of champagne. Demurs. "Who can say?" …And the conversation turns to other matters. There is mingling, assorted introductions and good-to-see-you-again.

But there is also:
The enourage of the Empress opens up, once, as the silver-haired young woman is walking past.
The Red-And-Black Empress extends her claw-like glove towards her. "You. Please approach."

Lobelia looks to the Empress, briefly back to her brother, then back to the Empress. She dares not keep her waiting, and steps up to the Empress, curtsying. "At your service, your Majesty."

"Correct." The Empress reaches out to an attendant. A folded fan is placed in her hand. She flashes it open for a moment - a red sunset, over black water - inspecting the design, before shutting it. And then she taps the young woman before her on the forehead with it, before sliding it into a pocket of her robe. "Please accept this gift as my felicitations in advance of your coming wedding."

Was that a brief flicker in Lobelia's polite smile? It lasted no more than a moment before it settled back to its usual cheerfulness. "I'm very grateful for your blessing, your Majesty. Thank you very much."

"Of course. Go now with my blessing," says the Empress. She accepts a bow, and the entourage closes back up about her.

The Black-and-Red Empress and her jokes.

Lobelia walks back to her brother, this time leading him on for a distance, her pace a bit less relaxed than before. "My… coming wedding, she said." Her hand is idly lingering on the pocket with the fan.

"You were to be told today," he says. An argument follows.

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