Balmung Castle’s banquet hall hung heavy with the sweet-and-savory aroma of alcohol intermingling with roasted meats. Goblets brimmed with vibrant drink, which glistened in the half-light as travel-weary and starving guests stuffed their faces with food. A myriad of culled beasts rested upon sleek, ornate platters that lined four long tables that were draped with delicate, olive-green shawls. Their golden-brown skins glistened with moisture and their flesh seeped in grease, dressings, and marinades. Alongside them rested trays that heaped with brightly-hued vegetables that had been seared, baked, roasted, or sauteed. Billows of thick rose up from the containers at a constant basis; their food never seemed to grow cold, no matter how long they laid upon their respective salvers. It almost seemed as if the tables and food and flagons decorated the very room itself, despite it being elaborate already. Its walls were painted emerald green and embellished with oil portraits of beautiful sceneries and stern-faced nobles whom she couldn’t name. Over their heads loomed golden chandeliers that brimmed with pristine crystals and the ceiling depicted winged deities fluttering between or resting upon dawn-tinged clouds.
Neve dropped her eyes from the ceiling and onto the roast quillback in front of her. The poor bird’s head hung over the edge of its tray, its blank eyes staring at her as if it dared her to slice into its flesh. She wrinkled her nose; a bitter film had befallen her tongue and soured her mouth. In the midst of all of the clamor, it was difficult to bring herself to eat something so… spontaneous. Quillback was a far leap from the delicate venison of Brightlam antelope back home. Ah well… at the very least, at least there were other things to eat. Like fish, she thought as she stabbed a fork into a small trout that had been baked to perfection. You can never go wrong with fish.
As she chewed carefully around the trout’s spines, she brought her sights up to the people milling about her table. When she had arrived, the servants had asked her to sit at the table to the far right– near the wall with the many portraits of noblemen and women. Neve didn’t bother asking why. Her gaze swept over their number. They appeared to be an interesting bunch. Though their weapons had been confiscated upon their entrance to the banquet hall, she took note of their appearance and clothing. One of them had flowing, crimson robes that looked to be from the north. Others had garbs that distinguished them as hardened warriors. She wondered where they hailed from and what kind of stories they carried with them. Perhaps their lips would be loosened by the assortment of drink and they would tell her.
A bout of laughter tore through the air and brought her gaze over her shoulder. A tall young man clad in a long, heavy coat was catering to a short Mystrel woman. Both were deep in their cups already. Neve couldn’t tell what they spoke about; the clatter of silverware and cacophony of voices drowned out their conversation. They looked friendly, at least. She wondered if they were to all work together. Something told her perhaps not– there were far too many people in the banquet hall, probably around thirty or forty. If she were Lord Leonhart, she would group them into teams and send them all across the continent.
Neve glanced towards the lord in question. He had been sitting at the head of the room ever since she got there. A long table had been stretched in front of four or five chairs that had been embedded with delicate, golden patterns. Though Lord Leonhardt’s chair– or throne– was the most beautiful of them all. Tall and plush with red velvet cushions, it was certainly fit for a king. Upon it sat the young lord himself. He was around her age and bore long, golden hair that was tied in a low ponytail and interlaced with verdant ribbons. His sharp, handsome face hardly had any facial hair, and his eyes were a deep, ocean blue. Leonhart’s face had been bright with a gentle smile as he feasted with the rest of the noble-blooded, and from what Neve could tell, he wasn’t the type of person that was keen on frowning. Just what was going on in his head? Was he worried like the rest of them? He had to be, right? Then why was he smiling and laughing as if this was all a typical party?
A brief sigh drifted forth from her lips as she looked back at her trout. There she went again, thinking too much. It was just like her. I should probably relax. She reached towards a flagon of honey mead. Leonhart will explain everything soon.
The flagon was further away than she thought. No matter how far she stretched herself over the table, she couldn’t bring her fingers around its metallic handle. Neve huffed as she leaned further forward. She was almost there…