(If you have not read my prologue or previous chapters, please do so now.)
Tales of Tanjia, Chapter 11 - Dinner and a Show
I step through the immense ivory doorway into the main banquet hall, and, as expected, the room is heavily decorated in preparation for the festival. The walls are adorned with tapestries, garlands of flowers hang from just about anywhere that can house them, and the finest dishes and linens are elegantly set on the grand banquet table. I look beside me to see that the Dai'rou is more than ready to eat, so I ever so slightly quicken my pace to reach the table. A servant bows to me on her knees just before pulling out my chair so I may sit. Turning to her for a moment, I thank her for her service. When I return my attention to the Dai'rou I see that he has already unfurled his napkin and reset his sliverware so he may eat the moment food is presented. I swear, he either the most impudent, or the most oblivious politician I have ever had the misfortune to be entertained by.
"So, what do you think of everything so far? We've spared no expense in preparation for this historic festival!" The Dai'rou is beaming with false confidence now, trying to recover from his embarrasing outburst just moments ago. "Taj'erii has not hosted the Imperial Celebration of the Alignment in so many millenia, not to mention that this is your last Alignment festival as the Heir Apparent! Surely Emperor Ko'tuno expects his last signifigant celebration as our beloved Emperor to be spectacular enough for the Celestials themselves to praise!" He looks at me expectingly, his eyes begging for my approval.
I rest my left elbow on the table and cradle my cheek in my palm, doing my best to give a look of praise or impression. "I can certainly see the time and effort gone into creating the fine atmosphere that pervades the city. Everything seems to be the highest quality available." I can only manage that much at the moment. Between my pounding head, growling stomach, and sheer irritation caused by the Dai'rou's presence I'm surprised I haven't said anything too spiteful.
The Dai'rou clasps his hands together with enthusiasm. "Wonderful! On that note, I would like to present a sample of the menu for the Imperial banquet to be served the night of the Alignment." He gestures flamboyantly to the manservant behind him, and in moments dozens of platters of exquisite meals are brought out. Set before me was dish of braised tei'brel steak, assorted sesonal vegetables in a cream sauce, and rolls of sweet mir'len bread. I inhale the heavenly scent and offer silent thanks to the divinity responible for this meal.
"This smells divine, Dai'rou, thank you." I say with genuine thanks as I reach for my utensils, only look up and see him with a mouthful of his own tei'brel steak. I feel a look of exasperation creep onto my face, and the Dai'rou sees it just as much as I feel it. He quickly finishes the portion of steak already filling his rotund cheeks and offers up a nervous chuckle.
"Forgive me, Your Excellency, I forgot my place. Please, eat." I nod once and cut a small piece from my steak and take a bite. It's delicious, perfectly salted and very tender. The vegetables are as well, with the cream sauce being just barely sweet. A perfect companion for the savory meat. The Dai'rou again gestures to the manservant behind him and the drinks are brought out. Water first, then an indigo liquid is poured into my wine glass. I take the glass by them stem and give the drink a brief sniff. A strong, dry alcoholic odor is present, which only worsens my headache. I struggle to keep a neutral expression through this pain that pulses through my head, and attempt more conversation with the politician in front of me.
"Tei'loo? Dai'rou, it's barely midday and you wish to start drinking?" I put the glass down and continue eating. He chokes on his own tei'loo just as I finish my sentence.
"Your Excellency, I do not drink this early to become intoxicated, if that's what you're implying. This drink simply pairs best with the meal we're enjoying. The servants have only poured a modest amount into the glass to begin with."
"Maybe so, but this tei'loo seems to be stronger than most." I take a sip of water, enjoying its cool simplicity.
"Please, Your Excellency, do try the wine. It is one of the finest that our stock has to offer." He holds up his own glass, seemingly in a gesture of good will, and waits for me to raise my own.
I gently shake my head in refusal. "I don't wish to drink at the moment, Dai'rou." I take another sip of water, "Wine and politics rarely mix well. Don't you remember the Welcoming Feast on the night of our arrival?" His face loses quite a bit of color at the mention of that night. My father drank tei'loo well beyond his limit and ended up throwing a fit like a child, though his threats carried much more weight that those of a toddler. I still feel sorry for that poor dancer. Her career is over now because my father couldn't hold his liquor.
The Dai'rou clears his throat and sets down his glass. "Yes, well, that was another matter." He takes a mir'len roll and tears it in two, stuffing one half in his face and dipping the other half in the sauce left by the steak. For a distinguished offical, this man eats like a Kao'rith boar! I eat what I can of my meal, but I'm beginning to lose my appetite. "Changing the subject, Your Excellency, I do hope you'll enjoy the entertainment during the festival." He glances at me, looking to see if my mood is improving at all with the food and change of subject. It isn't.
"I'm sure it'll be wonderful." I say as I set my utensils down, signaling to him and the servants that I've finished eating. It's such a shame to waste the food, but I just couldn't finish it.
"We've brought in hundreds of the highest tier Muses from every corner of the globe! And one of the most talented and stunning dancers of Muse Oder, Aii'kaubue, will be performing during the beginning ceremony! Her dancing is considered to be the most beautiful and exotic out of all the muses." His eyes shift slightly, essentially giving me a clear vision of what vile thoughts flashed through his mind just then. Muses are artists, devoting their lives to the perfection of their art, and they deserve respect for that. Yes, they are beautiful, but they are more than just pretty things to gawk at. I close my eyes for a moment, only so the Dai'rou won't see me roll them, and take a brief, cleansing breath.
"That will certainly make the opening ceremony very special. Dai'rou-"
"Please, call me Tou'rem." He interrupts me, attempting to be friendlier, but he only furthers my irritation with him.
I do my best to keep my tone of voice from sounding poisonous. "Dai'rou Tou'rem, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue the tour now. And if it's at all possible, finish before sunset. I had made arrangements to visit Taj'erii's Central Temple today, and I'd very much like to keep that arrangement."
He pauses a moment, likely still in his fantasy, then snaps back to reality to address my statement. "Of course, of course! Let's get going, then." He stands up and gently pats his round stomach, satisfied with himself and the meal. "Now that we're fed, we will be able to enjoy the sights to their full extent." The servant behind me pulls out my chair so I may stand with ease.
"Thank you. You've been wonderful." She says as she bows low to the floor.
"No, thank you, Your Excellency. It's an honor to serve you." She stays bowed low until the Dai'rou and I leave. How is it that everyone has better manners than the Dairou today?
The Dai'rou escorts me back to our transport, stepping inside it just after I do. "So, next I'd like you to meet with one of the event coordinators. He's the very best our city has to offer, and I'm sure you'll love what he has planned for all six days of the festival!" He's so loud... Again he goes on and on with so much enthusiasm about nothing in particular. I rest my cheek in my palm once more, trying to bear his prattle, but this headache won't end. My mind is hazy, and now, to accompany this throbbing pain in my head, there's a ringing in my ears. The rest of the day goes by in a clumsy blur, and before I know it, night has fallen and I'm attending another party. Noble upon noble, all of them coming up to me, wanting to start a conversation with me in hopes of finding favor. I could tell any one of them off for their temerity, but instead I seek out a balcony for a breath of fresh air, away from the noise, wine, and overbearing perfumes.
The voices become distant the moment I step out onto the balcony, and the near silence is more than welcomed by my aching head. Taking a few deep breaths, I try and clear my mind of the day's stress. The simple relief of silence and cool air is enough to make me dizzy. I grip the railing of the balcony tighter, fearing it isn't just relief overcoming me. I hear a womans voice approaching behind me, and I brace myself for more pointless conversation. She stands next to me on the balcony, leaning over the railing and looking up at the sky.
"Ki'konia's aurora is beautiful tonight. She must be excited to meet with I'Ono again." The woman next to to me is wearing a violet outfit and an elaborate hairpiece in her equally complicated hairdo. She almost looks familliar, but I can't tell why. I try and adjust myself to a more noble posture, but I'm still very dizzy. This ringing in my ears just won't go away. I put the heel of my palm to my head, hoping the pressure will stop the pounding. "Are you ok?" She asks with genuine concern in her voice, and holds one of my shoulders to steady me. "Maybe you should sit down..."
"Perhaps, but I'd rather avoid the crowd right now. I have a monstrous headache." She pats my shoulder.
"I perfectly understand. Those nobles couldn't keep quiet to save their lives." I hear more steps approaching and try and steady myelf again, but little changes other than the fact that I'm standing straight now. A young man steps onto the balcony, he seems to be friendly with this girl.
"Ku'uri, why'd you leave me like that? You know I hate parties like this, and the only reason I came tonight was because you wanted me to."
She waves her hand dismissively at him. "Yeah, I know. Introverts like you don't like big parties. Could you get a stool or something and some water, please? This girl needs a rest." He makes a frustrated grunt and goes back inside. Ku'uri turns to me again. "Sorry, he gets grumpy when he's out of his element. He'll be back with a seat and some water, though. Hopefully soon, too... You look kind of pale." Moments after she finished speaking, the young man returned with a cushioned stool and a glass of water.
"There," He said gruffly, "Do I get a kiss or something for braving the drunks for a chair?" She steps away from me and gives him a light kiss.
"Yes, Ma'tau, now be nice." She pats his shoulder and turns back to me. I set myself on the stool and she hands me the glass of water. It's wonderfully cold, but it's a bit of a shock to my stomach. I don't think I've really eaten since lunch with the Dai'rou.
"Thank you, I appreciate it." I take a sip again, but the water isn't helping much. My eyelids are growing heavy, and I've never craved sleep before like I am now. The voices from conversations inside are growing more and more distant, and I can feel sleep calling me. I want my bed, I want to sleep, and I want this headache to end! My eyes are only half open, and my vision is blurry. Has this day been so long that my body just can't bear it any more?
"Hey, are you ok?" Ku'uri shakes my shoulder, it feels like an earthquake inside my head. I can barely keep my eyes open now, and I can feel the color draining from my complexion. "Ma'tau, go get someone!" Her voice is distant, though she's right in front of me. I see Ma'tau's figure go off into the party again, and I finally give in to this sleep that keeps calling me. For some reason, just before I fall asleep, my thoughts drift to that young Healer I met months ago...