Not a single dry eye was left among those gathered in the conservatory of Marquee Hershel Guideman. Every one of the man’s guests has been touched by the hauntingly sublime soprano crescendo of the Marquee’s ward. Even though Hershel was well accustom to the flawless singing voice of the young woman under his watchful eye it made it no easier for the man to keep his statesmanlike composure whenever she broke into one of the classic opera selections. The collection of noblemen and women congregated in the lavish home of Lighthouse Bay’s patron would have gawked at such an undignified public show of emotion we it not for the fact that all people there were guilty of the same offence. The only option for all the assorted members of Lighthouse Bay’s aristocracy was to applaud the magnificent performance of the Hershel Guidman’s ward.
Hershel pulled himself from the heartbreak that the young woman had instilled in him as she sang the tale of tragic unrequited love. He reminded himself that he was the host of the evening and he must endeavor to always be at least one step ahead of his guests. Hershel knew that his wide array of servants would not allow the well planned evening to fall off schedule but he was the sort of man that needed to feel his own hand guiding the ship’s helm, however competent his subordinates might be. The Marquee noted the men and women siting on his opulent purple velvet upholstered furniture as their applause and cheers faded and they began to dry their weepy eyes.
Hershel Guideman swiftly stepped to the front of the room and raised his hands so that all focus of those in the room was shifted in his direction. “Ladies and gentlemen, my distinguished guests and piers, I am grateful for the adulation that you have all shown for our virtuoso tonight. She will receive you individually in the study so that you may offer your personal sentiments. Supper will be served promptly afterwards. You will all find that tonight’s menu will be nothing short of extraordinary. I have spared no expense to bring in an unequaled culinary master,” stated the Marquee with all the command and poise of a master showman. He let the partial introduction hanging the air for a few heartbeats. He could see the mystique that he had begun to conjure push the emotional vulnerability form his guests. Before the hushed whispers took over the conservatory as the men and women tied to guest the identity of the individual responsible for the evenings feast Hershel returned to speaking with his powerfully resonating voice. “He has served as personal chef to the royalty in Silverwood. The man has served feasts in the halls of Rustwach for the Iron Lord himself. I have traveled this master chef all the way from the ports of southern continent into our harbors for tonight’s meal and tonight’s meal alone. Ladies and gentlemen this evening you with experience the unforgeable skill of Master Chef Cairo Undermountain.”
The Marquee’s music room erupted into a round of applause that were just as intense as the adulation that had been showered upon the women who just regaled Hershel’s guests with song. After letting the thuperous clapping subside Hershel turned to his ward and offered the young copper skinned woman a paternal smile. He gestured for her to make her way into the study that adjoined the conservatory. The woman gladly took the cue of her benefactor and seemed to glide into the next room. All the while the woman exuded a silent enticing quality that rapidly drew all eyes to her once again. The guests began to file into the study one by one so they could offer the highest of praise to the woman and her otherworldly voice.
The Marquee held back from the exodus of his guests and went to Carson, his butler and head of service, who was discreetly standing in the rear of the conservatory. “Good evening Carson. Is everything ready in the banquet hall?” asked Hershel with a compassionate and respectful tone for the man who made his manor run with flawless precision.
“Yes my lord, the first three courses are complete and ready for presentation at your command. Master Undermountain has the entrée course well in hand and our souse chefs have readied the desert components in accordance with his precise instructions,” responded Carson with a deferential bow to his master. Before the Marquee could ask the question that he was sure to ask Carson supplied the man with a preemptive answer. “I opened a case of the wine selection for the evening and have it decanted.”
“Excellent, you have this well in hand so it seems. Have any of the staff had difficulty working with the Master Chef?” queried Hershel with a raised eyebrow and a voice low enough to go undetected by wandering ears.
“None at all, sir. Master Undermountain has been nothing but the image of a true practitioner of his craft. He was able to lead our staff expertly. Chef Bailymore was a bit reluctant to relinquish control of his kitchen to another man at first, understandably so. To his credit Chef has not allowed his performance in tonight’s diner preparation to falter despite being under the instruction of Master Undermountain,” Carson said with a tone that matched the Marquee’s subtle call for discretion. The butlers face remained an image of propriety but it was easy for the Marquee to see a sense of pride reflected in Carson’s weathered eyes.
“Very good Carson. I should think that tonight’s banquet will be something that is the talk of Lighthouse Bay for some time to come,” boasted the Marquee with a voice that glowed with warmth and confidence.
“I should think you are correct, my lord. If I am not too bold in stating it, I think that every event you host at the manor is the talk of Lighthouse Bay, and even courts situated elsewhere for some time to come,” Carson responded with a tone that once again suited to match that of his master.
Hershel smiled at his butler and spared any further self-indulgent bragging. He noted the other man lingering after giving him a dismissive waive. “Is there something else?”
The question seemed to put a crack in the otherwise impenetrable expression of the lifelong servant. Carson reasserted his already brilliant posture and raised his chin as he spoke like he was delivering some kind of formal correspondence. “Yes, my lord. Father Samuel is here. He was not expected. I had him and his bodyguards wait in the library so as to not disturb the guests.”
The news clearly took the Marquee off guard. A few moments of introspection took Hershel as he rapidly decided how he wanted to handle receiving a ranking member of the Vermillion Council during a grand party. He glanced in the direction of the entrance to the study. He could see that the line of nobles waiting to regal his ward with honeyed words was still considerable in size. “Thank you for your consideration for the decorum of the evening. Now please take me to Father Samuel,” the Marquee stated in a voice that was kind but sure of purpose.
“At once my lord,” Carson said with a bow before turning to lead the Marquee to the study.
The Marquee and his butler quickly made their way through the pristine hallways of the manor with the intricate tapestries and breathtaking assortment of fine art lining the walls. In spite of the pressing circumstances Hershel still found his eyes being drawn into the picturesque sprawling watercolor landscapes of Argaia’s cost and the profoundly lifelike stare of more than one Raywad King’s portrait. Like every other element of the Marquee’s world, the art he surrounded himself with was the best that the world had to offer. Were it not for the hurried footfalls of Carson leading the way, Hershel might have been drawn into the majesty of his hallway gallery.
When Hershel entered the manor’s library his eyes immediately were captured by the scarlet robes of Father Samuel. The Marquee then noted the quartet of intimating Amurai standing behind the Councilman with their smartly polished armor and cold warrior’s eyes. He silently dismissed his butler and waited for Carson to leave the library and close the door before returning his attention to Father Samuel.
“Welcome to my home, Father Samuel. Had I known that you were coming to call this evening I would have made arrangements to see you properly received. Still I am honored by the presence of a Vermillion Councilman within the halls of my family estate,” said Hershel with a graceful air.
Father Samuel nodded in acceptance and moved to greet his host in the center of the library floor. “Please, Marquee Guideman there is no need for you to stand on ceremony. I am gracious to enjoy your abundant hospitality, as always. I am sorry to say that my presence here is not social in nature,” responded the veteran Councilman as he put up his hands as if to apologize. It was plain to see that the red robed man was taking great issue with suddenly intruding upon the manor of Lighthouse Bay’s patron nobleman.
The foreboding words that followed the unannounced appearance of the Councilman put a worried crease on Hershel’s brow. Even with all his years of training in etiquette and social maneuvering the Marquee was not able to fully conceal his apprehension. “You know that I will always endeavor to assist the brothers of the Council in any way that I am able. The Guideman family is at your disposal,” Hershel said with a controlled measure of calm in his voice that contrasted the growing doubts that had taken seed in his belly.
Father Samuel’s normally stonecutting gaze softened after the words of the Marquee. It was clear to see that the man had mentally prepared himself to do some intense convincing. “On behalf of my brothers and our order, I thank you from the deepest corners of my spirit for your willingness to aid us in our cause,” said the man in red with a pleasant quality. After he finished speaking his sentiment of gratitude his eyes hardened once more and it was his turn to crease his brow in apprehension. The library was silent and deathly for several long moments and the Marquee, Father Samuel and the four Amurai bodyguards might as well have been carved marble statues depicting eloquence, wisdom and duty, respectively. After the unnerving quiet filled the grand room of books and copious knowledge the Councilman was finally able to grasp the words he was looking for. “The task that lies ahead is a great one indeed and the Council will need every asset it can muster in order to ensure the success of this great undertaking. Sadly we are going to need many good men and women across the whole of Argaia to find a new level of bravery and even make some profound sacrifices for the good of all.”
Hershel could feel nervous beads of sweat threatening to break from the mixture of dark brown and grey hair on the top of his head. The man called on all the socialcraft that he was able in order to keep his disposition as nothing less than the picture of elegance. “You speak of great causes and sacrifices. May I ask what the specific aim of all this is pointed towards?” asked the Marquee as he forced his voice to be gentle and serene.
The Councilman looked the Marquee strait in the eye and spoke with unwavering clarity and faith. “The Council believes that the means to defeat the chimera once and for all have come to Argaia. We mean to go beyond the walls of the great nations and put an end to Sealed Age.”
The words struck the Marquee like the ocean waves that unendingly battered the rocky cliffs below his grand manor. All thoughts of form and decorum were voided from the Marquee’s mind. His extravagant feast and banquet hall full of of guests were no more than a forgotten trivialization at this moment. “An end to the Sealed Age and the defeat of the chimera. In all my life I never would have dreamed such a thing was possible. I understand that there must be great sacrifices indeed but with the claim so great I will do whatever the Council bids me to do. Supplies, ships, coin, anything I have is yours to lay claim to if it will mean a peaceful and reunited Argaia once more,” said the amazed man as he was only partially able to control his outward display of shock and surprise.
Father Samuel nodded and then bowed graciously to the man who had just profess such a selfless and ardent allegiance to the cause. The Councilman’s face once again found itself set in a difficult expression as he wrestled with speaking. “I can not express any greater measure of gratitude for your loyalty, however it is not your service or provisions that the Council is in need of.”
“What do you require then?” asked the Marquee as his reserves of propriety were fully depleted and his face twisted into an entirely undignified expression of confusion.
The Councilman cleared his throat and lowered the thick hood of his crimson robes before he spoke. “I need to speak with your ward,” said the Councilman with an evident degree of wonder permeating his voice.
The Marquee found himself lost and completely without understanding at this point. “My ward, but what could Saria have to do with any of this?” asked Hershel.