“Ah,” he said as he stepped up and slapped his cousin on the back, “two of my favorite people.”
His niece turned and kissed him on the cheek. “Uncle, I’m so glad you made it!”
“As am I, my dear, as am I. Looking lovely as you ever have, child.”
She beamed – she had always been a sweet girl.
“Gerard, it’s been too long –” and with a smile, he and his cousin hugged each other tightly.
And it had – far too long. “Business had a way of getting in the way with pleasure, whether the smaller or the larger of either,” Gerard remembered his grandfather instructing him, “but without pleasure, you will have no business.”
Unfortunately, business was taking up a lot of time of late.
The three of them leaned upon the grand balcony overlooking the Great Hall.
“Well, Rhudy, I’ve come to see this new niece of mine.” Gerard dug Rhutgard in the ribs. “You sly old bastard, you could have sent her to me.”
“Gerard, you’re the first place they’d have looked.” Rhutgard half-smiled at him.
Gerard conceded that point. Ghiverny and Romeny were so close as allies, they were nearly brother states.
“Fair enough. So, then, where is she?”
Principea leaned out and Rhutgard stared intently into the colorful kaleidoscope of dancers below.
“There – do you see her!”
“Rhutgard, don’t point!” hissed Principea.
“Principea, just this once it warrants it –”
“Uncle, in the blue and purple gown, there, in the center,” Principea told Gerard.
Ah, and there she was. Lovely girl, of course, and why wouldn’t she be. Stunning in royal blue and amethyst, trimmed in cloth-of-gold. A dainty tiara peeked through the golden curls arranged atop her head.
“Why, Princie, she looks just like you, except with blonde hair. Are you sure she’s yours, Rhudy? No offense to you, of course, my dear, anything can happen in the turn of the moon. But Rhudy, I don’t see anything of you in her at all….”
Principea laughed. “Uncle!”
“Gerard, you are a bastard –” Rhutgard grinned and shook his head.
“Except for those bloody blue eyes. Romeny blue. Even got some of them up in Ghiverny.”
Rhutgard snorted. “You should. Those are folks of quality.”
Gerard laughed and then sobered as he watched the girl swirl about on the Great Hall floor with a new partner. Mirelle, that was her name. And the feminine image of her twins.
“She is beautiful, my friend.”
Rhutgard nodded quietly and smiled the smile of pride that only a parent knows. “I know.”
Well, it had gotten far too serious. “You know what they say about triplets, don’t you, Princie, Rhudy?”
Princie rose a single finger. “No. Do not breathe a word of that aloud.”
Rhutgard rolled his eyes. “Not that tripe.”
Gerard shrugged. “Parents swear by it. The youngest of three smiles prettiest but plans the evilest plots?”
“We are hoping that since she didn’t grow up as a triplet that might prove untrue.”
Gerard snorted. “For your sake – and with that face,” he glanced at Mirelle on the Great Hall dancing, “– I hope so.” He grinned.
A servant stood behind them with drinks, and each of them accepted a goblet of wine.
“I remember being one of those men down there, many a year ago, don’t you?” Gerard remembered aloud fondly. Romeny’s Spring Seasonal was always the place each year for members of the Court to show themselves off.
Today, he thought it a bit frivolous, but he enjoyed the merry atmosphere. And such a thought he found depressing, for that was a sure sign of growing old.
Rhutgard laughed aloud. “Oh, I do, and so well.” He laughed some more.
Principea sat to one side in her chair. “Oh, no. I get the distinct feeling that I don’t want to hear any of this….”
“Ah! Our first Seasonal,” laughed Gerard. “We were ‘Lurking and Dangerous’ –”
“Which by the end of the night became ‘Looking and Desperate’!” Rhutgard slapped his lap with laughter.
“And the second Seasonal, we were ‘Manly and Motivated’ –” Gerard started laughing.
“– Because neither of us had laid with a woman yet –” Rhutgard was laughing with hilarity.
“Oh, my dear gods, why must I hear this?” Principea covered her face.
“And we fell asleep trying to figure out which we were less of, manly or motivated….” Gerard laughed at the memory. “But the third Seasonal – what did we call ourselves – oh, of course – ‘Clever and Cunning’!”
He and Rhutgard had called it out in unison. “Because we said it so many special different ways – gods, how those girls must have hated us. No wonder we never got any women,” and he laughed some more.
On his other side, Principea had rolled her eyes with the utmost of disgust. “I can’t even imagine why….”
Rhutgard said, “Our fourth Seasonal – oh gods.”
Gerard groaned. “Ohhhh.”
“‘Hard to Get’ – that became ‘Deserted and Drinking’.” Rhutgard chuckled.
“And then ‘Drinking and Heaving’….” Gerard finished. That had not been a good night at all.
“Where was it your father found us that one time?” Gerard asked as a memory sparked him.
Rhutgard laughed aloud. “Oh, gods, I still think of it every time I pass by there – on the third floor, passed out against that seven-hundred-year-old suit of armor. That you threw up in –”
“Can I help it if his cod piece came off – it was at the perfect level –”
“And he hauled us up to my rooms and wouldn’t let us out,” finished Rhutgard.
“Actually, I believe, that year, we called it ‘Kneeling and Heaving.’ That was the Delsynth wine. I still will not drink that shit,” Gerard mused as he rubbed his chin in memory.
Of course, after that, the Twenty Years War had gotten out of hand and it had not been seemly to continue, as Crown Princes, dancing about at seasonal balls when their countries were in the thick of fighting for their nations and the Alliance itself.
But of all the people in the world, Rhutgard was one of the men he treasured most, for they’d grown up together as cousins. He’s spent more time in these hallowed Fairview halls then his own at Martmain some years.
“Speaking of young men, I do want to see my son. That is, with your leave…?” Gerard smiled, for his son Ronan was serving as a Ghiverny Ambassador in the Romeny Royal Guard. He may not even be present tonight but was sure that Rhutgard would make sure Ronan was present. Gerard hadn’t seen his oldest son in over three years now.
“Gerard, of course, of course!” Rhutgard gripped Gerard’s shoulder. “And let me tell you, he looks just as you did at his age – almost exactly the same! Wait ’til you see him and tell me he doesn’t,” Rhutgard nodded to Gerard.
“Really. Well – as long as he doesn’t act like I did at his age, then he’ll be fine.” He chortled.
“No, no – military life has done him wonders, you’ll be very proud of young Ronan. You, at his age, on the other hand –” and Rhutgard chuckled.
Gerard grinned. “Well, I always did have an eye for the ladies and a tongue for the wine. Or – hmm. Was it the other way around… Rhudy, help me remember….”
Rhutgard collapsed with laughter, but Principea slapped his arm.
“Uncle! How dare you dishonor your dead wife that way! You are so offensive – shame on you!” She smacked him repeatedly with her little fan with each of her last words.
Silly little thing, Gerard did love the girl. She was so easy to harass.
Then she turned her attention on Rhutgard. “And you! Don’t you encourage him so!” Principea smacked Rhutgard around Gerard’s back.
Rhutgard held up his hands in placation. “Yes, My Lady.”
But he and Gerard burst out into laughter again.
“My Lord….” And there was that wifely tone that all wives used to control their husbands. Gerard saw it still worked splendidly upon Rhutgard, for Principea was staring down her nose at him. Gerard missed his dear Ismanna always, but most often at such events as these.
“Oh, of course.” And Rhutgard adopted a stern expression.
“Care for a dance, My Lady?” He bowed before Principea and picked her hand up high above their heads.
Ah, thought Gerard. The King and Queen of Romeny would be gracing the floor. What a sight for the Seasonal goers. Traditionally, they only sat in their seats to watch.
“Come, Gerard, let us two reacquaint ourselves with that Seasonal Silliness, shall we?” Rhutgard slapped Gerard on the back.
“And possibly even a back hall or two with bottle of wine one night, eh?” Gerard muttered under his breath.
“I heard that…” called Principea.
As Their Royal Majesties of Romeny stepped up to the Great Hall floor, all hushed and the dancers immediately parted down the middle.
A new waltz began, and Rhutgard spun Principea into the center of the polished floor. Gerard saw nothing but admiration on faces all over the Hall, for this was quite a treat. Rhutgard had always been the better dancer than Gerard, and Principea swirled about in his arms.
Then he bowed to his wife and stood in front of another guest, leaving Principea bereft of a dance partner. What was the man thinking?
And then Gerard nodded. Rhutgard led out a strikingly beautiful young woman, dressed in royal blue and purple velvet, trimmed with cloth of gold. Rhutgard bowed before her and kissed her hand. The young girl curtsied before him, and they began to dance.
Gerard loved it – a Father-Daughter Dance – for all the Seasonal to see.
He immediately stepped out to dance with his niece, who was so happy to see her daughter, her eyes were glistening.
“She’s beautiful, Principea.” Gerard spun her around.
Principea looked up at him and smiled. “I know.”
It was good to remind himself that pleasure made a business run, not the other way about.