It was at that point of the meal where everyone was finished with their plates but too full to move. The horde of empty porcelain and crystal lining the table were testament to the quality of the food prepared by Marquee Laurence Guideman’s master chef. The kitchen of the Lighthouse Bay patriarch had slightly waned in quality since the departure of the Guideman’s previous chef but the food his cooks produced was still unparalleled anywhere on the continent. The feast that his guests were fortunate enough to enjoy was everything that one could expect from a man who instructed royalty in matters of etiquette and hospitality.
The seven courses had been more than a shared dinner, they were an experience. For most of the Marquee’s dinner guests, it would be an unforgettable experience. Each plate of food to emerge from the bustling kitchen outdid its predecessor by an exponential measure. Several men and women made remarks throughout the evening about the quality of the food. It was no idle flattery but genuine bewilderment. More than one person at the Marquee’s table said that they did not believe it was possible for food to taste so decadently delightful. The food from Laurence Guideman’s hall was like an addiction. The Marquee took masked pleasure in knowing that he had ruined every subsequent meal that his guests would ever have. Each bite of food that his assembly of lords and ladies would partake of from this day forward would be measured against this feast and every morsel would fail to live up to the splendor of the food served on this night.
“There is coffee and some blueberry infused short bread next up,” said Lawrence as he looked over the bloated congregation of guests. The man had to refrain from breaking into a shameless grin. The Marquee knew that the offer of more food was more like a threat than invitation at this point.
The assembly of men and women gathered around the long table shared covert glances of anxiety and apprehension. The promise of more food, no matter how dainty a portion or rich the flavor was a grossly unwelcome prospect. Everyone in attendance knew that a refusal of any of their host’s gracious offerings would be a momentous breach of etiquette but none could stomach another mouthful of whatever fair came forth from the Marquee’s kitchen.
After he felt the heat of many silent eye’s pressuring him to voice the unified concern, the Governor of Lighthouse Bay cleared his throat and spoke. “Many thanks to you, our host Marquee Guideman and to the hands of your masterful kitchen. I have no doubt that the next course will be nothing…” the Governor stopped his speech when he saw a subtle indication that the Marquee had something to interject.
“Thank you for the high complements, Governor Tully but I would not dream of inflicting more delicacies on already sated appetites. My intention was to serve drinks and dessert while we all observe the spectacle that has drawn us all here tonight,” said the Marquee calmly. Laurence felt a wave of pleasure run through him as he saw the collection of guests all visibly ease their nerves. The man knew that there were few joys greater in the world that the manipulation of others hopes and fears. The Marquee could play the heartstrings of men like a master cellist preforming one of the classic Rayward Capital Symphony overtures.
“Oh quite right you are. That sounds like splendid notion. I know that I for one should like to see the forthcoming battle of wits,” remarked the Governor as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
“Here here,” commented several of the other men at the table. The sentiment was echoed by every one of the other aristocrats in attendance.
“Well then why do we not adjourn to the library? Earl Rodrigo and Count Dias await us there,” Said the Marquee as he rang a small silver bell next to his place setting. After the chime of the bell sounded several of Laurence Guideman’s servants set about clearing the dirty dishes and preparing to usher the men and women out of the dining room. The Marquee stood and raised his glass before speaking next. “My lords and ladies, my friends and fellows. I have gathered you all her tonight that we all may witness the pinnacle of stratagem and guile. What we are about to see promises to be the greatest game of Castles ever played. For the first time two undefeated masters have been gathered under the same roof. Only one of them shall emerge as the undisputed champion of the most intellectually taxing parlor game in the history of our great land.”
There were a spatter of applause that followed the Marquee’s statement. Guests began to make their way out of the dining room and down the expansive halls of Laurence Guideman’s mansion. The Marquee lingered behind as he noticed Lord Clarence had separated from the rest of the group and remained in the dining room. Lawrence Guideman knew Lord Clarence to be one of the most practical men in Lighthouse Bay. The Lord’s mercantile acumen and vast fleet of trade ships had made the Clarence family one of the wealthiest on the region.
“Lord Clarence, is there something that troubles your mind?” asked the Marquee.
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is something that disturbs me,” responded the Lord with a squint of his eyes.
“I hope that my food and hospitality has been to you satisfaction thus far. I would hate to think that I have mistreated or neglected one of my valued guests,” said the Marquee. In truth he cared less for the feelings of the other man than he did for his own reputation as an unequaled entertainer. Laurence Guideman would do everything within his considerable power to prevent even the slightest murmurings of an unpleasant evening from spreading into the socialite gossip circles.
Lord Clarence gave a curios furrow of his brow before speaking. “Actually on the contrary. This evening has been nothing short of divine. And that is what troubles me.”
The Marquee was skillfully able to conceal his sense of surprise with a finger to his lips and a few discreet blinks of his deep brown eyes before his next words. “You must forgive me my Lord but I do not follow.”
“Well you must know of all the chaos and madness that goes on outside. Skies turned solid red, rains of blood, news of monstrous creatures terrorizing the countryside and yet here we are in the midst of such extravagance. We carry on like there is not a trouble in all the world,” Lord Clarence said with marked concern in his voice.
“Ah I understand completely. I make no effort to hide the fact that there are harsh times about. I do not know what is in store for our world. I do know that whatever comes to pass will do so regardless of if I sit and cower in a corner or continue to throw the most splendorous gatherings that Argaia has ever known,” retorted the Marquee with robust bravado.
“I see. I wish I could so easily endure the current precarious situation with such fearlessness and such a similarly cavalier disposition,” stated Lord Clarence.
Marquee Guideman smiled his best smile and patted the other nobleman on his shoulder as his chuckled his words. “If you thirst for a strengthening of your resolve think on this, whatever nightmares the red rains bring fourth it will not be you and I taking to the battlefield to fight against them. The warcraft shall fall to men with the aptitude for violence. What those of us who are touched by grace and nobility can do to combat the terrors of tomorrow is continue to laugh and enjoy every last bit of elegance and comfort that we can stomach. Just think of tonight as a welcome port in a vicious storm. Come along now, the game is about to begin.”
Lord Clarence and his host left the dining room in high spirits and with a renewed appetite for quality, excess and abundance.