dandelion5 (dandelion5) wrote in thenightcourt,

Two Days Before the Midwinter Masque...

Fortunately, assignation requests aren’t a much of a problem since many potential patrons will be at the Masque and are busy with their own preparations.

I was trying to avoid the Dowayne. He was making certain to catch each adept and give us each a small lecture about making ourselves known to the guests at the Masque since they were all potential patrons. He gave us the same lecture every before every Longest Night. “Actually,” I thought, “the Dowayne’s right. This year, I need to be more aggressive at scouting out patrons. I want to make my marque before spring.” So, when I felt the Dowayne’s presence nearby, I stepped into the hall in front of him.

Kneeling abeyante, I said, “My lord, is there aught I can do to help in the House preparations for the Masque?”

“Celeste,” the Dowayne caressed my cheek. “Rise, child.”

I stood up and the Dowayne took my hand. We smiled at each other and I could sense impatience in him. I waited for him to speak again. He sighed, then said, “We can’t hide anything from each other. We’re both impatient, aren’t we? I’m ready for the Masque to get here, and you know I’ll give you the same talk I give all of my adepts. And you are impatient to get your marque made this year, mm?” He smiled wryly at me.

Caught. No sense in trying to hide anything from a Gentian Dowayne, so I answered honestly. “Yes, my lord. I’d like to have it made by spring and the Midwinter Masque presents the opportunity to make myself known to new potential patrons.”

“Celeste, have you given thought as to what you will do when your marque is made? Are you planning on joining your parents’ salon in the City?”

I shook my head and looked downward. It was a known fact that my parents’ salon did not have the highest repute in town. I answered quietly, “No, my lord. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I do know I’ll not rejoin my parents.”

The Dowayne squeezed my hand. “Child, your parents have strayed too far from Naamah and she is displeased with them. You’re safe here, and know that you are welcome to stay in House Gentian. You’re valuable to your patrons, and to the House. It’s not a bad life here- training adepts, taking a few fosterlings, enjoying the status of the Night Court…” He smiled tiredly at me. “I’ve no doubt your marque will be made by spring. Make merry at the Midwinter Masque, my child. And if you could just continue to help with the preparations, that will be quite enough.” He released my hand and continued down the hall.

As his impatience and fatigue left me, melancholy took its place. In the swirl of all the festive preparations, I went alone to my room for several hours.

What would I do when my marque was made?

And the thought of my parents’ salon made me sad. Ironic, since they were adepts of House Orchis, the joyous house. My parents rebelled against the Night Court’s service of Elua’s scions and opened the doors of their salon to all comers. While the patrons that came there weren’t the assortment of rabble in Night’s Doorstep- no, indeed, if only the patrons were simply poor! My parents’ salon drew wealthy, but ne’er-do-well children of the scions of Elua. Many were addicted to opium. The Dowayne was right- they were far away from truly serving Naamah. The last thing I needed was to go there and have to suffer through the opium-tainted dreams of the idle rich.

A knock at the door startled me out of my gloomy reverie. I opened it to find an adept delivering our House costumes for the Midwinter Masque. He was grinning ear to ear- on top of the box with my costume was a small bouquet. I returned his smile genuinely and accepted both parcels.

The bouquet was a small branch of holly, intertwined with a sprig of ivy and both were twined into a tight stem with a black leather thong. Ivy represents the female, prickly holly is the male. The black leather was a dead giveaway as to the sender: Frederick. I felt much better to know he was thinking of me.

That little bit of beauty lifted my spirits enough to get excited about my costume. Too many years we relied on the old Pasha-and-the-hareem-girls theme. This year, let’s see…
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...an envelope with my name on it laying atop the masque costume.

Inside was a thick cream card and written in a scribe’s calligraphy was,
“The Longest Night carries the hope of of the return of the Sun.
“Even the Longest Night holds glimmers of light & is not completely black.
“Let us not forget that House Gentian brings light into the darkness.
“Therefore, for this Midwinter Masque, the adepts of House Gentian are to be the moonlight in the Longest Night.”

The gown was of silver silk and glowed softly. Also in the box were matching silk ribbons were to adorn our hair and light silver silk slippers in which to dance.

“Hmmm..silver’s not my best color,” I thought, “but thankfully it’s neither hareem girl gauze nor turquoise to match my eyes.” I could wear my hair in complex braids and pulled up and tucked away so the red won’t clash too much. A few streaming ribbons to trail down the back- streams of moonlight. The masks were simple, fitted over the eyes and tied behind the head with a sprinkling of glitter across the brow to resemble glittering ice crystals of winter. D’Angeline beauty of the Night Court variety once again restored my mood. I put the dress away and decided to go help corral the apprentices and help with the Masque preparations.

The Midwinter Masque is always held in Cereus House- the first of the Thirteen Houses. The Houses process in one by one. This year, we were near the end of the procession sandwiched between Camellia- following perfection is difficult- but preceding Mandrake. In the chaos, I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Moonlight before the dark night sky. How appropriate.” An arm was around my waist in an instant.

I whirled around in that strong arm.

“Frederick! Joy to you!” I cried happily.

He was resplendent in midnight blue velvet and a black leather eye mask. House Mandrake indeed was attired to appear as the dark sky. We kissed in greeting and he replied, “Joy to you, my sweet, on this Longest Night.”
Frederick and I remained together as our Houses processed into the Cereus Hall. Indeed, the effect was the moonlight in the night sky. Following House Mandrake was House Valerian, all clad in black. I assumed they represented the darkness following the twilight.

After the procession, one of the Valerian adepts slid up to Frederick with unsubtle body language showing she desired his Mandrake attentions this Longest Night. Although Frederick’s look showed a bit of dismay at the Valerian’s attentions, I took it as a cue to take my leave of him. After all, I needed to scope out the Masque for potential future patrons. Frederick’s eyes followed after me although the Valerian adept was begging for his attention. I saw him look down at her with a scowl and left her standing alone.

I wound my way throughout the Hall, greeting adepts I knew from other Houses, taking care of be introduced to lords and ladies that were not often seen in the Night Court, and partaking in some dances when I was asked. I was enjoying myself immensely and took a breather from the festivities shortly before the parade of the Winter Queen and the Sun Prince’s revealing.

“Joy,” I said to the little boy carrying a tray of joie glasses. We smiled at each other and I downed a drink. As I replaced the glass, a black figure almost imperceptibly slid to my side. From the frantic sense I detected, I knew it was the Valerian adept with her sights on Frederick.

She simpered at the boy as she took her own glass of joie and downed it smoothly. I have to admit, I didn’t find such submissiveness an attractive quality in a woman. To each his own, I thought to myself. After replacing the glass, she faced me. I saw her identity, despite the mask she wore- Sophie nò Valerian, a fresh adept in Naamah’s service. No wonder she burned with so much intensity.

“You’ll never understand him,” she glared at me, daring me to defy her. “I do. Valerian pairs with Mandrake, not Gentian. I know what Frederick needs better than you ever will.”

I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t insult even this overeager young girl. I merely smiled and said, “Is that so?”

Sophie’s face reddened and I could feel her anger rise. “Let him be. You cannot love him as he needs to be loved.”

Oh, Sophie, I thought. You poor creature. I could feel her desperate desire for Frederick and again, kept myself from laughing.

“Frederick is free to love anyone he wishes, which includes you, Sophie. I make no claims to his heart,” I said calmly.

Again, my placidity caused her anger and frustration to mount. “Typical Gentian liar,” she angrily said and stormed off.

The little joybearer had not moved during this little skirmish. I looked down at him and he grinned. “I think you deserve more joy, my lady,” he said.

Then I did laugh and happily took a second glass of joie. “You are exactly right, my little one,” I told him. I downed my drink, replaced the glass, and kissed him on the cheek. Only then did he race off.
“Lucky little joybearer,” I heard behind me. I turned to see Frederick nò Mandrake and again laughed.

“Your Valerian paramour paid me a little visit,” I chuckled at him. “Sophie nò Valerian is head-over-heels in love with you, Frederick.”

He blushed. I loved the ability to make a Mandrake adept blush! “Sophie nò Valerian is a pest that is desperate to have her virgin price paid already. She knows nothing of service to Naamah, much less to Kushiel,” he said.

I took Frederick’s hand and laughed again. “Ah, old friend, it’s fun to watch this little drama play out around you.” I turned him toward the center of the room. “Shall we dance? Unless you’d rather find Sophie, of course.”

Frederick’s grip tightened on my hand. “No, thank you, my friend. Dancing with you will be a welcome escape from her pursuit and will keep her wound up, I do believe.”

“You dangerous man, you know it will.” I glanced around to find the young adept, and sure enough, she saw us together. I could feel her rage toward me from some distance away. “Oh yes, she has quite a temper. I thought Valerian adepts had the temper trained out of them?”

Now Frederick laughed. “Poor Valerians are so misunderstood by you other Houses,” he mocked. “You aren’t afraid of a Valerian adept, are you?” We took our places in the dance arrangement.

I curtsied to Frederick as the music started. “Afraid? No, my friend, I’m not afraid. I was raised in the Night Court. I know what jealous adepts are capable of. Besides, I’ve problems enough of mine own to worry over before I worry over Sophie’s antics.”