And now, very belated, I present Svetlana's version of Chester's wedding. It'll probably make more sense when I start catching up with events in Jvala's campaign.
As excited as she was for Chester and Kevin’s wedding, Svetlana was grateful to have been able to spend a week or so alone with her husband first. Lounging on that sunny beach so far from all of this had been necessary for her sanity. She could still feel the pull of the waves.
And now she was back at the palace, surrounded by political enemies. Without that break, it could have gone badly: having spent weeks surrounded by demons her reflexes had become wired to a more violent response. As it was, she did her best to remember who stood where in the political web, and guarded her tongue and listened more intimately than her deliberately careless manner would suggest. Still, knowing she would soon be leaving again meant she rarely left her husband’s side, and people speak more carefully near a king.
Svetlana was dressed in Brevic colours – red, white and yellow – and her hair had been scooped to fall in elaborate waves. In contrast to Noleski’s dark tan, her skin was pink from the sun. The hall was impressively decked – less extravagant than her own recent wedding, but very beautiful as befitted such a high profile couple. The guests were plentiful.
Svetlana accepted and offered many drinks, but was careful not to actually drink anything alcoholic. She needed a clear head.
She missed the ease of their brief holiday.
Demons and noblemen. The armour for one is leather and leaves; the other, a smile. One fights you with swords and claws; the other, words and rumour. It’s tiring being surrounded by enemies.
Brevoy matters: Brevoy could be a shining jewel and she would do her best to ensure that, but what use is a jewel if Golarion is burning? Yet the nobles (the other nobles, she reminded herself – mustn’t forget she’s part of that class now) seemed oblivious, intent on scheming for their own ends.
Today wasn’t about them, it was about Chester and Kevin. But now she was queen, every day she spent in Brevoy was about the nobles and their power struggles. Maybe that’s why she’d gone on the Crusades.
She tightened her grip on Noleski’s arm as they swept round the room.
Chester was joyous as a groom should be. It still surprised her they were getting married – he’d only gone on that first date with Kevin so she and Alexei could sneak into the Trade Guild HQ but they’d obviously clicked.
The wedding was wonderful – they seemed calmer and more collected than she’d felt when it was her turn, but then again there were fewer deities here, and they were both less excitable than she. It was this blasted reception she was struggling with.
Alexei, as usual, had gathered a small entourage of dewy-eyed nobles who looked as though they were in paradise to be listening to his prose. Kieran was similarly surrounded by a crowd of people interested in what he had to say. She envied them, to be free like that. Queendom was a shackle she wasn’t yet used to. But Noleski was worth it and for his sake she would learn. And she could always escape from time to time and be free and herself.
Aaron was noticeably absent: something to do with his cohorts of assassins needing him. She liked the tiefling but didn’t necessarily trust him. Politics messing with her head again.
A group of 5 stood out. Their dress was shabbier than most there – nicer than anything she’d had a year ago, but of noticeably poorer quality than what anyone else wore. Their posture suggested to her that they were travellers and adventurers. An odd group: two humans, a dark elf, a cat-folk and an ifrit. Not a common mix. Chester saw her glance in their direction and he waved them over: members of the Pathfinder Guild who’d been tasked with investigating their rise to power.
She laughed and relaxed a little – they were as out of place as she was and somehow that made her feel calmer. She could tell she was much better at hiding her jitters than they and imagined they wouldn’t tell how much of a fish out of water she felt. A small, fluffy black cat padded over, but she didn’t need Mr Tiddles’s silent warning to know she needed to be a little careful with what she told them. Noleski, much more experienced in playing the politics game, smiled peacefully at her side and telepathically guided her answers to their questions, with them none the wiser to what was omitted.
Zabeel, the dark elf (and a gunslinger, just like Roland and fake-Roland), seemed the most overwhelmed by being presented to royalty. Wishing to calm him and help him feel at ease, she instinctively reached into her pocket dimension to pull out the bottle of her mum’s best mead she kept there. He, terrified, refused the gesture but Vernus – a swashbuckling fighter, by his stance and confidence – was happy to try some.
Their questions were straightforward enough and she was relieved that they seemed to believe she and Noleski had married for love. Nothing cut deeper than knowing not everyone accepted that; it was like a betrayal.
They asked about the Crusades – they’d heard about the new moat at the Star Keep and she was delighted to talk about something she felt so proud of. They knew she would be going back – how much longer did she think she’d be gone? She felt Noleski mask a small wince as her grip reflexively tightened. She relaxed it instantly whilst Noleski put his hand over hers – she didn’t think the Pathfinders noticed the small gesture that was the only outward sign of her fear. “Soon,” she laughed, “we’ve made really good progress and still have a few bits to clear up but I’m hopeful it won’t take much longer and I can be home again soon.” She looked at the Pathfinders but her words were for her husband. She wanted him to know how much she hated being away from him.
Satisfied with her comments, the group moved over to speak to Alexei – tailed by Mr Tiddles. The feline’s behaviour reminded her of the way their diplomatic advisor Gregor Blackson would normally hover whenever they were at some important function. He was around, but clearly trusted Noleski would be able to keep her from accidentally causing an incident.
She kept half an eye on the group as they spoke to Kieran, Akaros and Alexei’s strange friend, the alchemist Ezekiel. He may have been a huge help in Absalom, but there was something about him (and his relationship with Alexei) that left Svetlana unsure.
With great power comes great paranoia.
Malliard approached. Besides Noleski, the Court Magister was her favourite person in the Ruby Fortress and one of the few people she’d met in the past year she trusted absolutely – not only had he trained and protected Noleski, he’d helped them protect their relationship when it was in its infancy; before that he’d been the one to introduce her to and guide her through the crazy world of nobility, and in Restov he’d shown the power of his loyalty to other friends. She felt always safe in his presence.
Chester explained the Pathfinders had come to him a few days earlier and he’d invited them to the wedding as it seemed a good opportunity for them to meet and learn about their targets. Svetlana smiled with the half-orc and was pleased to have a bit of time away from the battlefield to talk to her friend.
She made guarded small talk with some nobles and less guarded with others, pleased to have Noleski, Malliard, Mr Tiddles and Gregor on hand. She trusted them to translate the conversations and store the information.
An explosion sounded from the direction of her room. Eyes wide with alarm, her rapier was in hand almost before she realised she’d reached for it. Noleski looked at her, equal shock registering. Seeing the blade, he nodded quickly and she ran from the hall, stroking the crystal that triggered an icy sheen to mist from the rapier.
Mr Tiddles sat on her window cill staring out. The casement was open, the coverings flapped in a breeze. Nothing else seemed disturbed. He turned his green eyes to her as the final embers of his fireball descended from the sky outside.
“I was just catching birds.”
“With a fireball?”
He slow-blinked at her “Yes. Does that seem odd to you? You’ve seen me do far stranger things… Go back and enjoy the party.”
She nodded slowly and cast her eye over the contents of her room. It seemed untouched so she relented and walked away.
You’ve done far stranger things. I’ve just never known you justify yourself before.