If there was anything that Lute had picked up in the days that he had belonged to the Lord Avatar's manor, it was that all of the money that the Lord had seemed to be spent purely on parties. Today, the excuse was the Lady Sincerity's journey.
Truth had put together quite an ensemble of both minor and major nobility to accompany her. The few unknown names that had been lucky enough to secure a place had done so with gifts, bribes and an obscene amount of time spent simply following Truth around. Like barely wanted animals, they pandered to his every whim and desire by sending him the finest wines, both fresh and aged, smoking herbs, both fresh and aged, and women, both fresh and aged. Unfortunately, Truth was as rigidly straight-laced as his name suggested. Whatever he received was passed on in some direction or other. Even the servants had been able to sample some of the wine. Lute had even managed to sample one of the women, though he was quite sure that her Father would be far from happy about it.
The musicians had performed early in the night, and were due to perform again at a later point. For now though, Lute, Bell and Harp had been given the task of mingling. Harp, though not particularly gifted when it came to conversation, had managed to slip into a debate about fishing with a duke from a nearby coastal region and his son. This was a good thing, as Harp had been known to repel people in the past. He seemed right at home now though.
Bell, being female, was naturally capable at slipping into conversation with absolutely anybody who happened to be of the male gender. This gave her practically the entire building to talk to. She had managed to secure a fairly safe spot near the middle of the room, where both Harp and Lute were definitely keeping an eye on her. Foul play was not to be accepted by any of the noble sons that had clustered around her, likely thinking her an ideal target for an easy night.
This left Lute, the expert mingler, to wander around convincing people of how expensive and talented that he was. This was actually one of his favourite parts of the entire night. He had been instructed not to keep a great distance from either Truth or Sincerity, which was an annoyance considering just how much Truth moved around, but Sincerity seemed stationary. Word had slipped out that Lute, Bell and Harp would be accompanying the Lady on the route to her suitor, and this had caused the social standing of the three servants to increase quite dramatically.
I've been in training for about as long as I've been alive, Lute was saying to his little knot of both young males and young females. I like to think that I'm quite talented by now, but I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now without my friends. It's not just me that Lord Avatar paid all of that money for.
I heard, one of the ladies began, looking around to make sure that everybody was listening to her straight away. She was short, with a dark complexion, long dark hair and a ridiculously green dress that was seemingly made to mask any curves that she had. The Lord Avatar has been avoiding the court lately because of his declining health, and this is why Truth is taking control and being so eager to have his sister draw in a partner.
There was some scattered mumbling amongst those gathered around him, but everybody seemed to be looking towards Lute for confirmation of their speculation. He glanced over towards the owners dais, but The Lord Avatar had not descended from his chambers to greet his guests. Dispelling court intrigue as efficiently as possible was another part of the job, though it was a part that Lute relished much less than the egotistical massaging that he was accustomed to.
I know little about my betters, Lute lied simply, but I do believe that Lady Sincerity is more than beautiful enough to attract suitors with no help from our lord-in-waiting. There's no guarantee of a forthcoming marriage, just a journey designed to allow for more in-depth conversation. I don't believe that Truth is even coming with us.
He found his eyes drawn across the room to Sincerity. For each and every party, she would have a new dress designed and made to fit her. Today's was staggeringly beautiful, so much so that Lute found it difficult to draw his eyes away from her. It was a pale, sky blue, close-fitting without being overly revealing, with a high collar that held the material close to her. She wore no jewellery, taking the flare of her skirts as her only ornamentation but for a small, white clip that held her hair together. She was moving with a practiced grace from one noble to the next. She didn't eat, nor did she stop for long with any one conversational partner.
"Oh, so you're going then?" the young woman with him asked curiously. Of course, since he had very pointedly added that into the conversation, Lute even had an answer already prepared.
"I was invited purely to provide musical entertainment," he announced smoothly. Together, Lute, Harp and Bell had been briefed on the story that they were to give several times by Dress, Sincerity's attendant. Somebody, which Lute suspected to be Truth, had been very determined that no rumours emerge about the personal invitation from Sincerity to Lute and his party. It had already created something of a stir amongst the servants, since it seemed to most people to be blatant favouritism. The only other servant from the manor who would be coming along was Wax. Since the procession is a lot larger now than it usually is, they needed a few people who can keep people from getting completely bored, and obviously we're going to be pitching in with the cleaning and organising. It's a good life, if a bit simple.
In the distance, Lute noticed Sincerity separating from the group in general and patting the stray beads of sweat from her forehead with a handkerchief. Half for the sake of duty, and half for the sake of being able to communicate with Sincerity, he excused himself from his company politely and directed himself out of the centre of the hall. Typically, this is where he felt most at home, but he had been trying desperately to get some time with Sincerity since they had last spoken.
He came up at her side, and she noticed him when he was still a good ten steps away. The smile that she offered him upon seeing him draw close suggested that something horrible had just pricked up its ears in her head.
Are you looking for me, musician? she asked with a natural tease on her tongue. The way in which she was looking him over gave him quite a thrill in his stomach.
Not looking, considering that you're right here in front of my eyes, Lute told her, fixing a nice, wide smile on to his face. I just wanted to see if you were okay. You look a little tired, and I haven't really had the chance to talk to you about all the details of this.
What details? I'm going to some little duchy somewhere to turn down somebody's marriage proposal and hit him when he tries to get familiar, she answered. Men change very little, and most of these little places might have land, but they don't have the common decency to keep their mouths shut and leave me alone.
Why is it so important to you that nobody gets the chance to leave a good impression? asked Lute in response.
As you say, it's an impression, Sincerity told him. All first impressions are just that. He'll try and make himself seem genuine by being a liar and just aiming for whatever he feels has the most chance of success. I, of course, will have Truth following me about to make sure that I'm doing my best to look prim and proper.
Well, maybe you can just be more like yourself, offered Lute. You don't know the man, so there's a good chance that he'll appreciate it. Everybody's trapped in this attitude, aren't they? Most people aren't even allowed to be polite, so I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way as you do.
There was a momentary pause, while Sincerity continued to peruse Lute with a shrewd look, as though he was some prey that she was keen on devouring. I shall make a wager with you, servant sir, she began finally. Since you're supposedly the entertainment value, I shall make a simple gamble with you. If you're right, and the reality of myself isn't too much for him to handle, you'll be rewarded financially.
And if he isn't? asked Lute.
The simple smile that she bestowed on him said far more than he wished it to. I take my own reward from you.