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Background info on what they're celebrating at the banquet:

Wayrest was taken over by a coalition of pirates, known as the Corsairs, in 4E 188. It has been run as a republic after that, though it was treated as a pariah state by the rest of High Rock. However, the other High Rock monarchies are divided and do not have central authority (they're loyal only to the Emperor in Imperial City), thus they can't find a common solution to deal with Wayrest.

However, at the beginning of 4E 205, the Emperor called all leaders of High Rock to a meeting. They're to elect a high king to represent the entire province, so that it doesn't fall apart like Skyrim, or become individually susceptible to manipulation by the Dominion. King Ferrand Bellemont of Daggerfall is chosen for the high king.

One of the first thing Bellemont ordered is for the Corsairs to leave Wayrest (likely due to the Corsairs raiding Daggerfall ships). When the Corsairs refused, Bellemont managed to convince other High Rock leaders to form a military coalition, so that they can liberate Wayrest by force. They began a naval blockade and a land-based siege against Wayrest on Midyear. The coalition finally captured Wayrest at the end of Sun's Height.

However, the coalition couldn't agree on the future leader of Wayrest. Bellemont wants to install his son, Prince Gregory, as the ruler. But towards the end of the siege, a previously obscure bastard child of the pre-Corsair monarchy, Everard III, joined the coalition, leading a mercenary company. Everard III is being championed by Prince Narcisse Septim-Vincens of Camlorn (a rival of Bellemont) as the alternative king of Wayrest. Northpoint backs Prince Gregory, while Jehanna supports Everard.

Currently, on the 16th of Sun's Height, both sides have thousands of troops occupying Wayrest. Evermore, whom had only sent medical support to the coalition (because their military is much smaller), is neutral on the dispute. The Duchess of Evermore, Emmeria Guimard decides to host a banquet, in the name of celebrating the liberation of Wayrest. Various prominent figures are invited, but beneath the surface, Duchess Guimard is bringing the two sides to the negotiating table, along with third-party mediators, in hopes of creating a compromise (and increasing Evermore's influence in the process).
More spots are open; join us!

5:45pm, Last Seed 16
Royal Garden, Evermore Castle

Already, the castle grounds were buzzing with activity. Administrators and guards admitted the early attendees (and occasionally turning away citizens trying to fake their way in), senior staff members shouted orders for their subordinates to finish the final preparations, while performers fine tuned their instruments. Swathes of ornamental lights lit up the courtyard even before sunset, and flowing banners of all High Rock states gently waved in the late summer wind. There were also tables and stages being set in the royal garden, where the early half of the event would be enjoyed when the air was still warm. The air was currently fragrant, of crafted scents and nature, and sprinkled with the occasional wafts of cooking emitted from the castle kitchens.

Gathered just beyond the main gate, where metal bars formed the raven crest of Evermore, the first wave of guests were being introduced to the royal garden. Gustav and most of the mercenaries were present, to get an early impression of various people before the crowd became difficult to sift through. There were just over two dozen people right now, being led by a Redguard gardener through marble arches and seas of summer flowers. Behind the group were two royal guards, one of whom checked off names from a wooden clipboard. Every few minutes or so, some new faces would be added to the tour. Most of these people wore the finest and carried themselves like they were the finest. However, as far as Gustav could see, none of the monarchs and generals appeared thus far.

Ariane strolled at the front of the group. She held Maj's right arm in her left, to make it look like Maj was her date. Her silver-quilted coat didn't quite match well with Maj's green dress, but compared to the fur-clad Bosmer "spinner" behind them, it was hardly unfashionable. Ariane held her head high, despite being one of the shortest person around. She followed the gardener with a slight sense of amusement, but mostly the detached boredom that was typical of the nobles around her. Gustav ordered her to stay vigilant, but Ariane hardly looked around. When she did, she saw none other than her uncle (and Keegan's debt owner), Horace Fontaine, joining the tour.

"Excuse us." Ariane said quickly, and took Maj's to a gazebo nearby. Thankfully, Horace didn't notice them in the process, and even better for Maj, the person behind Horace, Quyon Cox, didn't either.

"Sorry, that's-" Ariane apologized, suddenly appearing unsure of herself. "That's my uncle; we had a bit of a disagreement when we last met. Let's wait a bit here."

However, Maj wasn't paying attention to her; there's something of note about the man behind Horace.

"Are you alright?" Ariane shook her.

Turned out, it wasn't just Ariane and Maj seeing familiar faces. Comfortably standing in the middle of the crowd, with Sadri by his side, Gustav had been studying a peculiar pot of purple columbine. The plant smelled faintly of rotten meat. The gardener claimed it was the result from decades of meticulous breeding, but for all Gustav could see (and whispered to Sadri), it was a waste of money. He would have invested in something more substantial, like the patch of moss-like alchemy plants they passed by earlier, or those Ayleid marble arches they were walking under. Gustav remembered reading about the Duchess' interest in Ayleid architecture in the Gazette, how she renovated much of the castle in the style of ancient "flesh gardens", and speak of the Gazette...

"Hello there!" Someone suddenly appeared Gustav's left. It was Janne Swiftsong, one of the Swiftsong twins and editor of the Gazette branch in Skyrim. That meant...

"You are bold one, Gustav!" Jens Swiftsong practically jumped in from the right.

"Right, heh, hi." Gustav looked back and forth between them. One of them was sketching on a clipboard, while the other was writing in a notebook. "Heh, didn't expect to find you two here."

"Why not?" Jens spun his quill in between his fingers. "Breaking news of this importance requires a bit of personal touch!"

"Plus, we have to fill in for Madura." Janne added. "We know you're his biggest fan, but hey, give us a chance!"

"Uh, actually-" Gustav tried to say, but the sibling's enthusiasm didn't give him a chance.

"Anyway, what brought you here?" Jens asked. "Weren't you organizing a mercenary company?"

"There's a change of plan." Gustav shrugged.

"Ah, I see." Janne nodded, then she pointed to Sadri. "Anyway, I believe we haven't been introduced to your friend there, yet."

Towards the back of the group, Wylendriel and Niernen found themselves looking at glowing mushrooms imported from Redoran mines. Next to the mushrooms were hummingbird mint from Greenshade, Valenwood. The entire section was part of an exotic collection featuring plants not found in High Rock. The labels suggest most of them were actually consumed in some form; the mushroom as alternative light source and mint as flavoring in cocktails. Said cocktail was soon served as the tour ended. Several servants, one of them being Sagax (whom had passed the checkpoint), brought out beverages for the guests sip on. A bell ring signaled the formal start of the evening. People started to mingle with drinks in hand, and the first person to approach Wylendriel for conversation was Aries Machella.

It was at this time did Relyssa emerge with Alim in tow. There had been a quite few attendees picking up their attendants from the servants' quarters. Some of them were elderly, some of were injured war veterans, and some just wanted to boss the people around. Whatever the case, the attendants had to go through a painstaking orientation process on etiquette, safety and restricted areas. Nothing that wasn't known beforehand was said. For the hosts at the castle, it was their way to assert authority over third-party servants. For the attendants like Alim, it was a boring hour listening to self-righteous harping. For guests like Relyssa, their attendants were late by five minutes.

4pm, Last Seed 16
Side Entrance, Evermore Castle

Compared to the ornate metal and oak of the main gate, the side entrance to Evermore Castle was a plain double door. The processing of servants was unceremonial; a few officials ticking off names from a lists. However, there were no shortage of guards inspecting each of the servants. As typical with any formal Breton event, agents of espionage were commonplace, and their typical disguise being that of the unassuming servant. Therefore, the throng of royal guards was no strange sight for those familiar with such occasions.

Unfortunately for one Sagax Speculatus, his attempt to sneak in a dagger was caught red-handed. The guards were well-experienced with hidden weapons and contraband, so much so that they didn't think Sagax posed a threat.

"That's not a bad kitchen knife, but you should know outside tools are not allowed." A castle administrator (a gaunt Breton man with graying and receding hairline) finished patting down Sagax and took the dagger into his hand. He gave it a quick look around and beckoned Sagax to come with him.

"So, you're Shay Cormac." The administrator took Sagax into a small office near the entrance. "Heh, you think you're an assassin or something with this knife?"

"I joke, of course." The administrator put the dagger in a box behind him, which was labeled temporary storage.

"However, your name appeared yesterday and was immediately hired. We do need extra hands, but there's nothing of note about you." The administrator sat down behind a desk, but left no chair for Sagax to sit on. "I've never seen or heard of you around, and I know basically everyone in town."

"Now, son, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself?"

Luckily for Keegan, Alim and Tsleeixth, the unwilling distraction Sagax provided allowed them to pass undeterred. It also helped that they didn't stuff a chunk of metal in their jackets, and maybe the guards were too busy laughing at Keegan's jester custome, which was something between a fried banana and a frilled monkey.

It was the most humiliating attire Keegan had the displeasure of ever putting on. It also didn't help that he was carrying a sack of big, jingling balls (for juggling, of course). One of the guards had to give his ball sack a hard squeeze, while another patted his buttocks like a slap. When they finally let him through, most of them were more than amused.

"Blood hell, the Shifty Banana. What a cheeky bastard, that high elf." A guard chuckled. "Right, next! You must be, uh..."

"Slick-Teeth?" The guard looked confusingly at Tsleeixth. A quick pat down ended with a firm squeeze of the Argonian's tail. "Whatever, you Argonians all look the same. In you go, and do wash your hands, often."

When it came Alim's turn, the guards were almost bored with a standard looking human dressed in standard servant's attire. However, the mention of his role brought on a few looks.

"Can't say I envy you." Another servant said to Alim. "Personal attendant for one of those showoffs on high horses; they'll probably run you around all night, but hey, heard the tip's good, and maybe you'll get a bit of personal time with this Lady Relyssa." The other servant left with a wink.

"Personal time" would be way down on Alim's to-do list. Gustav had pulled Alim aside right after the mission briefing adjourned, and secretly gave him the detail of his assignment to Relyssa. Gustav needed Alim to do whatever's necessary to gain Relyssa's trust, even if it might be illegal. "Keep tabs on her and use your discretion" was what Gustav advised. The only thing he forbid was getting intimate.

"She's too manipulative," Alim could recall Gustav saying, "and I already reserved the first dance with her."

The first person Tsleeixth encountered in the kitchen was another Argonian. She wore a cook's clothing, complete with a white apron and hat. When she noticed Tsleeixth, her eyes lit up.

"Ayy, another Argonian!" She exclaimed. She rushed over from her station and offered Tsleeixth a very much Breton hand shake. "You have no idea how long it's been since I've seen another one of us; most of them ran off last month with that Hist nonsense. I've never had tht stuff and-"

"Hey, quit talking!" The head chef ordered. "Back to work!"

"Sorry, I do get excited sometimes." The Argonian cook apologized, seemingly only to Tsleeixth. They approached a table with various vegetables on it, and she began cutting them.

"My name's Chops-Lettuce, because, you know." she gestured to the lettuce she was chopping. "Raised on lettuce and never had Hist sap myself, probably why I didn't get those weird dreams. What about you, friend?"

After a few minutes of conversation, Chops-Lettuce went to fetch another batch of vegetables. While she was away, two more cooks, a Breton and a Redguard, took places on each side of Tsleeixth.

"Another lizard, huh? You just don't learn how to stay in your swamp." The Redguard stabbed a knife into the table, dangerously close to Tsleeixth's hand. "I see how this is."

"That's right, you beasts came and took our jobs, jobs from honest, hard-working humans." The Breton slammed a meat clever down near Tsleeixth's other hand. "You better pull your weight, or you'll be the one getting chopped."
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