The third floor of Lord Avatar's manor was dedicated almost entirely to the living and eating arrangements of the serving folk. Tough hardly a haven of luxury, the nobility came up so rarely that the servants of the household had managed to transform it into a sparsely decorated, but still quite warm and welcoming personal domain. The belief was that, since the manor did not overlook the see at any point, no lord or lady should have to bother with rooms that required any more than three individual stairs to access.
No servant ever had a day off, but there had been a curious attempt at displaying wealth amongst the jostling nobility. For them, it was not based on the quality of servants, but rather purely upon the amount of them. As such, the third floor halls and sleeping quarters, even with the moon at its highest and the rich families down below long ago in bed, were still packed to the rafters. Even though many were indentured, and thus unable to escape the menial, and horrendously unappreciated, work that they must do, the common links between them all bound even people whom had never met each other before.
The leftover ale, wine and some of the more delicate meats from the Lord Avatar's party had been brought up from the halls below to be disposed of, as was the job of any good servant. The carefully spiced and tender hams and beefs had been saturated with the smell and taste of stale and intoxicating smoke, but nobody cared about that except Taste, the Lord's head cooking girl. Here, the chance that she might actually receive some compliments for her work was greatly increased, but the flavour had, of course, been completely ruined. The only other food that had been available to them had been the usual breads and cheeses that were generally constantly available at any place with even the most basic of a standing army, so Taste had ensured a little of that too.
Alcohol was a good friend to them all after a good day of tending to the needs of their owners. While many had been needed to set up the party, even more had been spending their time in helping the lords and ladies to get dressed in their most ridiculously elegant and expensive of attire. Trying to hide the numerous flaps of fat behind layers of satin and silk was easy enough to fake with the men, but trying to fit one of the more appetite-heavy females into a tight-fitting corset both without causing any harm or causing any offence was almost impossible.
While almost everybody that had gathered in the largest third floor hall had some sort of drink in their hand, Lute was long since drunk out of his skull. He had sought out the burning herbs during the party so that they might have their intoxicating effect upon him. Upon completion of their performance, he had been ordered to report to Lord-in-waiting Truth for the sake of mingling. In actuality, it was a well structured and overly practised effort of displaying the new toy. Lute had been through it for every one of his previous owners. Nobody really wanted to meet him, and they certainly didn't want to hear anything from him when he wasn't singing, but he was required to be rubbed in their face a little by Truth, in his father's name of course. There has been little opportunity to catch the Lady Sincerity, either in eye line or in conversation. The one time at which he had caught her eye, she had given him quite the affronted glare that he might be looking in her general direction. Now, of course, he was so drunk that that barely mattered.
He had arranged himself on one of the tables, sitting as central to the hall as he possibly could, and was busily providing the musical backdrop for the evening. The song that he was singing was one about little villages, easy farmland and young girls in long dresses. It was a warm and welcoming song about home and good fortune; the sort that anybody might be entranced by. Even though precious few were listening, Lute had nonetheless carved himself a little audience out of the general populace of the hall. This had given him a broad smile and a confident air about him, as was usual for Lute. The man had always been most at home when there were people looking at him; it was what made him such a talented performer.
In one of the corners, generally out of sight, Harp and Bell, Lute's backing musicians, were sitting in the straight-backed chairs that were all their class of people had, thoroughly exhausted from the day's work. Ideally, Bell would have preferred to sleep, but the sounds of the nightlife, though they would not extend to the floor below where Truth and Serenity slept, were hardly conductive to it.
Harp was doing his best to be sympathetic, but distractions were rife. "'E looks about as excited as a four year old," he was saying, watching Lute from a distance with a handful of Ham and a mug of beer both waiting in his hands for his consumption. "'E's been playing all day, but 'e still gets so into it. I couldn't do that. I've done it all already today and then spent hours moving stuff around; my arms are tired."
"Well he was pulled around like a pet to show off," responded Bell, in the attempt to excuse Lute's lack of physical effort. Bell wasn't much for that herself, but she had been called on to help a drunker old leech to bed. His reward for her had been to throw up on her dress, which she had then had to clean as quickly as possible, dry even faster and then get herself back to the party in time to start cleaning down work surfaces. Being down to her undergarments, alone in one of the cleaning rooms, was not something that she had enjoyed, but it had been necessary to avoid trouble. "You know what they're like with him. He loves it anyway. You can tell. He beams at everyone like he knows them and Truth just laps up the attention."
"What do you make of the new boss then? Old man looks 'alf dead," asked Harp through mouthfuls of Ham. Servant diets rarely included such fine meat, even though it had been quite horribly tainted. "I 'eard the girl was a bit of a vicious thing, but she looked all prissy to me."
"Maybe she's scared of daddy, I don't know," Bell answered thoughtfully. In truth, she hadn't really focussed on anybody. "I didn't see much of Lord Avatar, but he looks as much a figurehead as the namesake. Serenity didn't seem to talk at all. I didn't hear her say anything, obviously, but I didn't see her say anything either. Truth was the opposite; life and soul of the party. I could see he and Lute getting along very well; they're both flamboyant as anything."
"Energetic and social."
"Oh, well wouldn't it be easier to just say that instead?" said Harp with a smirk. "You sound all educated, like them. You're lucky, but don't make it too obvious round here. Never know what might 'appen."
"Well I'm glad some things never change, Dad," Bell teased with a tidy smirk. "You'll always be overprotective and Lute will always show off until he's made an enemy of everybody. How long do you think it will be until everybody's turned against him this time?"
"Oh, we playin' this game again?" asked Harp, obviously a little excited by the idea. "Well, it looks like some people around here might actually get along with 'im for a little while first, but we both know that's not going to last. I bet Avatar will focus on the money and fake being 'appy with him for ages, and Serenity won't talk to 'im really. Truth looks like 'e's not going to find any reason for complainin'. Then we got our people, don't we? Taste'll get sick of 'im in the first week once he starts stealing stuff. Not sure about Wax; 'e's only little, bless."
"What about us?" Bell asked carefully.
"Oh, we'll be sick of 'im as soon as the whole disappearing act starts up again," Harp answered. "You remember the one, right? Wherever we were, whatever we were doing, Lute just suddenly wouldn't be there anymore. We'd 'ave to do it all ourselves, and 'e never 'ad a good reason. Ever. I asked a lot, and most of the time 'e wouldn't even say. I don't know why you like 'im so much."
Bell's first response was to blush, but she didn't evade the answer: "I just sort of do. You should never ask a woman why she likes someone. Besides, you should be more focussed on wondering why the music's stopped playing."
Leaving the view of Bell's teasing smile behind, Harp's eyes moved instantly towards the table on which Lute had previously been sitting. Of course, there was no longer any music being played, which meant that one of two things had happened. Either Lute had caught the attention of one of the serving girls and drawn silently away to one of the bedchambers they shared with two or three other serving girls, or he had simply vanished into the night as usual.
Neither one sounded particularly trouble free.