Elaine watched as the Ogres moved forward, in two distinct lines. There was strange, stately grace to their march, the two groups moving as one, but never touching. At the head of the Regnis stood a tall male Muspeilun, beardless but with a thick mustache and large coppery muttonchops, wearing a heavy woolen shirt, leather jerkins, and a great golden torque around his neck. At the head of the Utgardis stood a tall female Jotun with a surprisingly delicate and finely-formed face who wrapped herself in an immense fur cloak, her pale hair in two great braids. Ull and Skadi, Elaine gathered. As opposed to most of their followers, the pair kept shooting each other hostile glances, following which, they would begin to move a bit faster. Eventually, they stood before the Cthoniques, each giving them a great bow. “We thank you for your hospitality,” they declared.
Mansemat nodded. “And I you for your presence.”
“Hello, Skadi,” said Morgaine, grinning like a lovestruck teen.
Skadi rolled her eyes and grimaced. “Hello, Lady Morgaine,” she muttered.
Morgaine giggled. “You look great.”
Skadi suppressed a shudder and then stiffened. “And--you look--like you,” she said through clenched teeth.
Morgaine giggled again, and looked away. “Oh, Skadi!”
Skadi took a deep breath, and looked at Mansemat. “Ahh. Yes. I think--I will--go to my room. If you don’t mind, Manny. Your Magnificence. Whatever.” She gulped. “Please let me go.”
Mansemat nodded. “Of course, Your Eminence. Whenever you wish.”
Ull clicked his tongue. “Not much for pressure, ehh, Your Eminence?” he said, with a chuckle.
Skadi frowned as she turned from the group. “Allow me to say, Your Prominence, with the greatest respect possible, go stuff yourself,” she spat out, moving quickly away.
Ull cupped a hand to his mouth. “I CHOOSE not to make that into a diplomatic incident!”
“And I CHOOSE not to punch out your teeth, you sooty bastard!” Skadi shot back.
Both Fangs’ assemblies glanced at each uncomfortably, each quietly asking if this was going to be the time when this amazing interval of peace finally broke down. Ull bit his lip, and glanced at Nisrioch. “Would I be in my rights to say ‘You can try, you icy bitch?’”
Nisrioch shook his head. “Not really, no.” He smiled. “The proper thing to do with a foolish and meaningless provocation is ‘ignore it’.”
Ull nodded, clearly trying to absorb this concept, and glanced around idly. “You know--this is quite nice.”
“We tend to think so,” said Mansemat.
Ull smiled. “Makes me wish I’d gotten to see it like this the last time I was here.” He coughed. “That’s a joke by the way. I didn’t mean--well, you know.” He glanced away. “Not really, anyway.” He turned to Viviane, with a slightly bashful look of explanation and spread his hands . “The last time I was here was the Rising. With my troops.” He put his arms behind him. “We were invading.” He looked at his feet. “Hello, Viviane. Congratulations on the marriage.” He smiled shyly.
“Hello, Ull,” said Viviane. “It’s been a while.”
Ull looked up. “Too long, really.” He looked over the crowd. “Hmm. So--which one’s the sprout?”
Elaine hesitantly raised her hand. “I’m guessing that’s me.” She coughed. “Elaine du Lac. The… Estimable Grace of the Western Marches.”
“Ahh. How many pigs have you gotten so far?” said Ull with an absent nod.
Mansemat snapped his fingers. “Knew it came with livestock!” Viviane and Elaine both looked at him reproachfully. He looked away. “Well--it’s good to know these things,” he said apologetically. “I mean--pigs are very useful.” Elaine rolled her eyes, and gave an exasperated sigh.
“My goodness,” declared Ull, looking at her very closely. “She really doesn’t look at all like you, Viv.” Elaine winced, and suppressed an urge to kick him in the shins. Which probably would have done nothing more than amuse the Muspeilun.
Viviane frowned. “No. But she’s the spitting image of her grandmother. My mother. Elaine of the White Hands. Who she’s named after.” Elaine nodded. Grandma Elaine Blanchebras was a mystery to her, a name and part of the past that her mother did NOT talk about.
Ull nodded awkwardly. “Ahh. Yes. That happens quite a bit. One of my hunting dogs looks exactly like his grandfather, you know.” He gulped. “Not that your daughter resembles a dog in any way. Or that you do. Because you don’t. At all.” There was a lengthy silence. “Perhaps I should go to my quarters.”
Nisrioch clapped his hands. “A capital idea. I’ll have your hostess take you there.” Armida emerged from behind the Cthoniques, and bowed. Nisrioch gestured at her. “You are left in the legendary hands of Madame Armida herself.” Idun, who’d been quietly retreating back to the Ironfang crowd, suddenly turned around, her face livid.
Ull looked over the hostess appreciatively. “Oh. Very nice. Always been meaning to enjoy your famous Plains hospitality, but--well, never got around to it.” He glanced at Idun. “Yes, Head Skald?”
Idun seemed about to say something, then stopped. “Nothing, Your Prominence. Just tired from the trip.”
Ull nodded. “Right! Let’s be off then.” Armida gracefully took his arm, and lead the Dark Lord away.
As the small horde of Ogres and Erls moved off, Elaine looked at the rest of House Cthonique. “Are all these meetings going to be like this? Starting off impressive, and then getting all--awkward.”
“Well, remember, we only started holding these meetings two years ago,” noted Nisrioch. “You can’t--”
“Yes,” said Morgaine. “Especially as there’s only one contingent left.” She frowned. “And it’s the Ashuranas.”
“Who?” asked Jean.
“My ex-wife’s family,” said Mansemat. “Among other things…”
Viviane glanced off to the side. “Umm--Manny--I think the Stonefang Jarlthing has gotten into the flowerbeds around the elms,” she said, pointing after the Jotuns, who’d gathered around the trees, and were now busily nodding among themselves.
Mansemat groaned. “Lady’s Love, I just planted those…” He turned to the others. “Just give me a moment. I’ll--sort this out.” And with that, the Dark Lord of Castle Terribel went off.