Breus gently rang the silver bell he held delicately in his hand. “Take seats, people, take seats,” he said in a clear voice. “Soup course will be served shortly.” He smiled. “Tonight’s soup is a delicious sorrel with leek.”
Sacripant licked his lips despite himself. “Say--will--is there any extra…”
“Should have thought about that before guard duty,” said Grizzel.
Sacripant considered protesting that he’d spent the hours before the dinner looking for Subtle’s possibly imaginary southerner but decided against it. Instead, he simply sighed. “Don’t you ever have to eat, sir?”
Grizzel smiled. “Occasionally.” The Goblin’s face creased back into its usual business-like calm. “The Guard gets first dibs on the leftovers, Fenswater. Old tradition. Now--we need you to be sharp. The entire Nine are seated in here, and many of them aren’t as pleasant as the Dark Lords we’re usually guarding.” He glanced around the room. “Of course, the rest of the Nine aren’t the ones to watch--they have their feuds, but they’re smart, and they usually respect ritual. No, it’s the hanger-ons. They’re the ones who feel obligated to prove how loyal they are by doing something stupid.”
Sacripant nodded. “Got it. Keep an eye out for the little guys.”
“And the southerner,” added Grizzel.
“Are we sure he even exists?” asked Sacripant. “Subtle’s really the only one pushing this…”
“Balthazar Subtle is the pompous, self-important bastard get of Alt Gentry,” said Grizzel. “But the bastard is smart. If he says something is going on--then something might be going on.” He shrugged. “Besides--Woodash saw him too.”
Sacripant rolled his eyes. “And that is a sterling recommendation. The Guard know-it-all, and the Guard goat.”
“Don’t cast aspersions,” said Grizzel. “You’re the Guard hick.”
Sacirpant blinked. “I am not a hick! Valse is an ancient and respectable fishing community. We were the capital of the Marsh before the Badb moved it to the Tower!” Sacripant realized that the Serjeant was staring at him in mild amusement. “We have a really BIG lighthouse!” He glanced away. “Which has largely collapsed.” Grizzel chuckled. Sacripant looked at his feet . “Okay, so I admit, it hasn’t been a major center for Nightland culture for the last few centuries. But--it was once. And we remember. Vaguely.”
“And now that you’ve got that out of your system--your job for the duration of the dinner,” noted Grizzel calmly. “You’ll be guarding one of the Lords Paramount.”
Sacripant gulped. “Which--Lord Paramount…?”
“The one that requested you,” said Grizzel, gesturing towards the table.
“Ahh--Fenswater, is it?” asked Malagise Chiaramonte. He slapped his flabby, ring-bedecked fingers together, his froglike face contorting with glee. “So good to see you again!” He glanced at Lanfusa. “Isn’t Mumsy?”
Lanfusa snorted. “I suppose if you say it is, it is,” she mumbled then raised her glass and swirled it around. She glanced at the severe-looking Erl at her side, who appeared to be roughly her own age. “Is it me, or is this wine… thin?”
The man gave a portentous frown. “I defer to Madame’s judgment on these matters,” he stated in a grave voice.
Lanfusa sniffed it. “Smells all right,” she declared, before gulping it down.
“My half-brother Aldigier,” said Malagise, gesturing to the severe Erl.
Aldigier looked at Sacripant and nodded. “Charmed.”
“Man of few words, my half-brother,” said Malagise. “But I more than make up for him!”
Sacripant wondered if this was what Hell was like. And then dismissed the possibility.
The Darksome Lady couldn’t be that cruel if she tried.