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Of Lances and Liars【Closed】

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If there was one thing that bothered him the most about all of this, it was the smell.


The cloying scent of fragrant incense alight within the many lanterns of the ballroom was engaged in a frenzied battle royale with the saccharine perfumes and colognes of far too many stuffy nobles, their duel only interrupted by the rich aromas of expensive and pretentious foodstuffs. It was if his nostrils were being laid siege to, the gates of his senses being assailed all at once.


If there was one thing that aristocrats would find any excuse for, it would be banquets, lavish parties, and celebrations. This particular one was being held by the Viscount Drucert, in honour of the Lord Commander Aymeric and his heroic efforts to preserve the integrity and safety of Ishgard against the Dravanian Horde.


If the rate of courtly festivities had been any count, Aymeric had saved the entirety of Ishgard from the Dravanian Horde at least eleven times in the past seven suns. Nonetheless, such extravagant parties were important in their own way. It was a way to acquire acquaintances, build bonds, cultivate contacts, and otherwise dance in the delectable dangers of a deadly decadent court, for those who sought that sort of thrill.


Thus it was that Maximilien Valencourt, eldest son of House Valencourt, of the Order of the Knights Dragoon was unfortunately bidden to attend no less than three times; once by his father to maintain diplomacy, once by his superior within the Temple Knights to keep an eye on the schemers and demagogues, and once by his Hyur manservant Baldred, who desperately wished to gaze upon the generously spherical form of the Lady Braicaird for reasons unknown to man or gods.


Maximilien brushed an irritable hand through a cropped mane of platinum-blonde hair and gritted his teeth behind his smile as another Lord and Lady Whatever-The-Hells-Their-Names-Were wished him praise and good fortune for his service in the Knights. His attendance had been something of a last minute decision and it showed; the doublet he'd been rushed out in was an elaborate black feature embroidered in gold, but was both too short and too tight. Appearances-wise, this wasn't a problem; the nature of his occupation had lent Maximilien a generously muscular form even amidst the typically lanky build of a Wildwood, and while his manner of dress, polite countenance, and handsome face that was, in the words of his manservant, "just tarnished enough to be catching", he had no shortage of female attention, yet wearing the ill-fitted outfit was akin to being bound to an inquisitor's breaking wheel.


The musical sounds of cello, flute, and harp filled the room as pairs and couples assembled on the centre ballroom for a dance. The dragoon did his utmost to sink to the back of the wall, avoiding the longing gazes of many a young handmaiden as he did so, though Maximilien could not help but split his face into a bemused smile as he saw Baldred attempt to manoeuvre the rotund Lady Braicaird like one would attempt to spin a barrel of popotoes amidst a circus troupe of plate jugglers.


"You should dance," a gruff voice emitted itself from Maximilien's side. Leaning on an immaculate rosewood cane and dressed in equally fine furs was an older Wildwood gentlemen, still sporting the tarnished golden locks of his youth amidst the cracks of a face that had not aged gently.


"If you had the intention of coming yourself, Father, perhaps I might have taken the time to go out and learn," Maximilien retorted.


Had anyone else taken notice, the Baron Valencourt might have been called something of a small man. The years had not been kind to his looks or his height, and while he was still nearly half a head taller than the tallest Ala Mhigan, "shrunken" and "wizened" would not be inappropriate words to use.


The older Elezen grunted disdainfully. "You mean go out and play with your swords and men-at-arms. How fit a sense of humour the Twelve have to grace me with an eldest who took his duty seriously except when it came to the attendance of the court. I thought these things were supposed to be in reverse."


"Yes, I suppose it is odd that a life of fighting dragons makes the idea of fending off snakes rather unappealing," Maximilien returned dryly.


"In any case, I have business with the Viscount Drucert." Baron Valencourt squinted at his son. "You had not invited Lady Auzenne?"


"My betrothed, in her brilliant foresight, has fallen ill, else I'm sure she would have loved to have accompanied me." That was not entirely a falsehood; Audrielle Auzenne did seem to take a certain perverse pleasure in taking the opportunity to cut Maximilien down, just as he took equal opportunity to launch the subtle barb at her every now and then. Their arranged marriage was in actuality surprisingly cordial, but neither had the grace nor the patience to express it in a way that might be considered proper.


"Well, you behave yourself. You present your house, and--"


"Yes, yes, you doddering old fool. Get on with it; there's a dance I should be pretending to watch." Maximilien waved a hand in an idle 'shoo' gesture as his father harrumphed and sauntered to elsewhere in the manor.


The night was unseasonably warm, especially for Ishgard being only at the end of spring, and a room overflowing with stuffy clothing and equally stuffy aristocrats made it no cooler, to say nothing of the braziers and lanterns generously illuminating the ballroom. What he would have fought a hundred wyverns at once if it meant being rid of this torturous doublet and be out in the night's cool breezes.


A servant offered him a glass of wine, which the dragoon accepted disinterestedly. Before long, the music ended with a mercifully short last lilt, and the dancers separated as all clapped politely in the same mechanical manner that one might polite for a vase that had successfully managed to crash itself against the floor.


"Honour to you, my lord Valencourt." A sweet, feminine voice quavered at his side. Maximilien nearly choked and spilled the wine, cursing himself. Let my guard down. Blinking and trying to keep his irritation hidden, he chastised himself for not being more vigilant in warding away potential paramours and tried to focus on whomever sought to speak to him.


The lady that had approached him was not an unpleasant thing to look at; she was a fair-skinned Midlander with bright, polished eyes that could not have been older than twenty cycles. Dark chestnut-coloured hair tied into a neat ponytail that draped her shoulder and a modest dress of pale sapphire blue adorned a lithe body. And while Maximilien at least approved of her hairstyle, her presence had rather infuriatingly trapped him into serpentine labyrinth of polite convention.


She smiled demurely--there was something refreshingly awkward about the manner in which she carried herself. "They say that you were the one responsible for hunting that beastly dragon Kuovara with the Convictors."


Maximilien did his best to avoid coughing and nodded, plastering on a well-practised facsimile of a warm smile. "They speak too well of me, I'm afraid. It was the skill and fortitude of the Convictors that spelled Kuovara's end. Though, if I may, my lady, I can say without fear of blasphemy that your beauty outshines the Fury herself." The Hyur girl blushed and demurely glanced towards her feet.


Good. The more she looks away, the easier it will be to slip away.


"You are far too kind, my lord. And too modest. You are a dragoon; surely it was your presence that spelled victory for them." She shuffled closer towards him in a display that could only laughably be called subtle. This was apparently what passed for female courtship these days.




He gave her a soft smile. "Not at all. The Convictors have an undeserved reputation as an unruly lot; their skill is second only to their devotion to the cause." Maximilien raised his hand to call for another glass of wine.




"I would love to hear of some of your exploits, my lord. While the war is a serious subject, your heroism is unmatched, of that I am sure." The Hyur looked up at him, polished eyes gleaming again.




Maximilien dipped his left hand behind his back in a bow. "If it pleases my lady, then perhaps one day. Alas, I fear such a subject is not an appropriate subject for one so esteemed." Only a matter of time, and then he could escape this unbearably oppressive company.


This is boring me.


With the focus of an arrow that could have pierced the moon, Maximilien focused a furious gaze on his manservant. Baldred, while still enamoured with the porcine form of Lady Braicaird, had the good sense to perceive the ray of focused death burrowing itself into the back of his skull, and hurriedly nodded.


"Oh no, my lord. To tell the honest truth, I find it...rather fascinating. The stories of valiant heroes defending our city from the Horde." She clasped her hands together, laying them low at her waist.




"My lord Valencourt."


Baldred was a young man, merely twenty-three cycles, with a short crop of black hair that was perpetually unkempt despite the groomer's best attempts to make it presentable. "Your father is calling. He desires your company."


The classic "father needs me" excuse. He and Baldred had practised and refined it far past the point any excuse should be refined.


Maximilien dipped his head. "My apologies, my lady, but it would seem my father has need of me. Pray keep yourself in good health that we might meet again."


Another short bow, spin around, and stride away before they can reply. The dragoon bumped into another noble here and there, but the sooner he found somewhere he could be isolated away from this crowd, the better.


This was all dreadfully boring.

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