Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Brandr strode up the uneven steps of Tidewater Rock, content to let Brook and Thom carry the conversation. He knew from long experience that in most social situations, silence was often the best policy. When their host, Royster, led them into a formal dining room, a wave of deja vu almost carried him away.
“Brandr, stop fidgeting with your cravat. It must hang straight, or else you look like a drunken subaltern.”
“Yes, mama.” The small boy stood stoically as his mother licked her fingers and vigorously smoothed his cowlick. A wave of floral scent almost covered up the licorice smell of the annisette she favored during the day. Her eyes were clear, and the powder her maid had applied covered the broken blood vessels in her nose and cheeks. She looked almost like the portrait hanging on the wall of her parlor, except for a towering, complex wig with dangling ornaments that rose from her head like a Crystalhue tree.
“Your father went to a great deal of trouble to get us invited to this feast, so remember your manners. You mustn’t embarrass him in front of His Most Dread Authority, Sir Janivek.”
The waited as a luxurious coach pulled around the front of their guest house, and a footman assisted his mother up the step. Brandr just hopped aboard, taking care not to wrinkle the green silk of his swallow-tailed coat.
“I know, let’s play a game to make the ride go quicker. I’ll ask you questions, and for each one you answer correctly, you may have a ribbon to wear on your lapel. Won’t that be fun?” Brandr nodded, then smiled enthusiastically when his mother snapped her ivory fan open and closed again. He wasn’t terribly interested in ribbons, but he knew what the reward for wrong answers would be.
“Now, here in Cheliax the first course is usually a soup. What is the proper way to deal with a soup that is too hot?” His mother looked at him expectantly, tapping the fan against her knee. The ivory tips glistened, and the faint brown spots and stains on the outer edges of the silk looked almost like a delicate pattern painted on the fan. Almost.
“The host is always correct. Blowing on soup is coarse and churlish, while setting it aside to cool implies that the host has made some misstep. A proper gentleman consumes what is provided, without hesitation or complaint. A proper guest smiles and compliments the host, whether the food tastes good or bad, whether it scalds his tongue or sears his lips.”
His mother smiled, and reached out to pinch his cheeks vigorously. “Very good! A ribbon for you.” Brandr resisted rubbing his bruised cheeks, just as he contained the flinch when his mother stuck him with the pin when she put the ribbon on his lapel. “You are my precious boy. You do know that, Brandr? My precious boy.”
When the Lady Agasta Smithee suddenly overturned the table, Brandr had been so lost in his memories that his first response was to check with his mother what the proper response should be. Then he remembered where he was, balled up a fist, and punched the supercilious Hellknight in his pompous face.