IPTSF Text 31
Her personal chambers had been preserved all these turns, just as she’d left them. The ample room contained a canopy bed, silver candelabras, a teakwood armoire, and plush green carpeting.
Jillian sniffed her indifference, and began unbuckling her mail. It made for a good campsite, anyway. The plaster ceiling was sturdier than a burlap tent. There wouldn’t be any animals sniffing around; no snipes or barking spiders would disturb her sleep tonight.
She pulled off her boots and everything else, and used the chamber pot and washbasin. In the armoire, she found satin robes and reasonably itch-free undergarments. These robes were the uniform of Court, since her father liked to pretend they were all “equal before the truth.” Bleh. Fine. The right armor for the right battle, she guessed.
She still didn’t know what form the battle at Court would take. They’d dump something she hated into her lap, she was pretty sure. They certainly didn't call her home because they missed her smiling face.
Despite her doubts, she was hoping they were finally going to get serious about the looming threat from Haffaton. Because on the flight in, she’d had an idea about that.
Yeah, a pretty good one, the more she thought about it. She’d have to figure out how to sell all these dreamers and windbags on it.
Beside the door, she stepped into a pair of thonged sandals and left the room behind, with its door swung wide open and her equipment littered around. Hrm. She had to admit these shoes were very comfortable, but that was the last thing she could let herself be right now.
To battle, to battle. Always on to the next one.
The Royal court had been arranged for formal tea, with its west-facing wooden doors slid apart to reveal the brightly sunlit loggia. Beyond its railing, the streets and buildings of Faq spread out below. The outer walls were an unbroken crescent of smooth clay in the middle distance. And at the Kingdom’s edge, snowy mountain peaks rose to touch the blue sky.
Brother Labeler had designed this court for simplicity and elegance. Its surfaces were wood and plaster, its lines bold and neutral, and its furnishings spartan. Tiny trees and wussywillow stems were the only decorations, and those were given pedestals and little pots of striped sand as if they were silent members of the Court. Jillian had stood at courts which were built to dazzle, but this one was intended to humble. Her father thought of this place as a temple to knowledge or something.
The broad, low table occupied the center of the room. The King had a throne when it suited him, but today he sat at tea, and not even at the head of the table but in the exact middle.
Jillian was not announced when she entered, but almost no-one ever was. Heads turned her way, then all but Jack’s returned quickly to Betsy Murgatroyd, who was holding the discussion with her soft and feminine voice. Jack gave Jillian a warm look, and indicated a cushion beside him.
“Therefore, an interesting thought exercise is to view injury terms of Foolamancy,” said Betsy, as Jillian walked up and sat down, cross-legged. She had to pull the robe out of the crack of her keister and pull it around her legs, but Jack Snipe was gentleman enough to pretend not to notice. Instead, he raised a finger and an eyebrow at the mention of his discipline. Betsy gave him a smile and a nod, continuing, “Hits could be seen as a form of physical veil, you see. An illusion of injury, which Healomancy dispels.”
Jack smiled and put his hand upon the table, claiming the discussion. “I see, Sister. And how do you know it isn’t the reverse? Couldn’t Life itself be the illusion? Perhaps, then, injury gradually weakens our ability to fool ourselves into believing we exist at all!”
The members of the Court mostly chuckled at this, but the dour Moothfott raised a finger. Jack nodded to him. “A Life debt is no illusion,” said the Mathamancer. “Hits are real, and they must be paid for. The principle is the same with any debt. Healomancers spend juice to repay a debt incurred in hits. No, there is no Foolamancy in it, that I can see.”
Betsy’s finger was already raised, but the King’s hand hovered above the ebony surface of the tea table. A gong sounded. Only now, after all this time, did Jillian’s father look upon her. He neither smiled nor frowned, but met her eyes with discernment. Oh boy.
“Princess Jillian Banhammer has returned to us, at our order and pleasure,” he said. His voice had a melodic overtone to it, like the accidental chords made by bullfrogs croaking at night. Following the King’s lead, the members of the Court folded their hands and nodded to her as one. Only two of the casters, Orwell and Rusty, were not present.
Jillian returned the gesture, and her father continued. “There will be time to hear news of your travels, Princess. For now, we celebrate with tea.” He nodded to waiting servants, and Jillian’s stomach clenched.
Carts were rolled up, servants began placing all the paraphernalia upon the table. There were ceramic pots and hammered metal basins, porcelain cups, silver trays, bamboo ladles, dishes of honey and cream and on and on and on. In front of the King, they placed the largest array of items. In front of Jillian, stacks of small plates that she would have to adorn with bits of food and distribute.
“I am the tea master,” said King Banhammer, in profoundly serene and commanding tones.
Jillian tried not to sigh. She failed, but managed direct it through her nose. She had known how to perform these ceremonies from the turn she popped, and it didn’t matter how many small furry things she caught and ate in the field. She couldn’t make herself forget exactly how to carry out an hour-long, excruciatingly pointless ordeal around drinking hot dirty water and eating some pieces of cake.
“I am the tea master,” her father prompted again, patiently.
“I am the plate keeper,” Jillian said reluctantly. Her torture commenced.