A Wedding Crasher (Back Scene)
A Wedding Crasher
Location: Lord Mikael Tanto's manor in Fiorra, Montevalno
Date: Midsummer Day, three years before Corwin woke in Greenwood Private Hospital in a Shadow often simply called "Shadow Earth".
Summary: Veronica meets an uninvited "guest" at her best friend's wedding.
Characters: Iolion and Veronica
NPCs: Lord Mikael Tanto, Rebekah Volpe

Fiorra, Montevalno. Midsummer Day, three years before Corwin woke in Greenwood Private Hospital in a Shadow often simply called "Shadow Earth".

The event of the season, the marriage of Lord Mikael Tanto's daughter Rebekah to the young Lord Alberto Volpe, happens to be occurring this day. The chapel is decorated with flowers and streamers everywhere and all the guests - - anyone and everyone from or visiting the canalled city - - are in their best apparel. Standing with the groom is his younger brother, Armando, and his best friend, Balthasar, while the bride is accompanied by her hazel eyed childhood friend, Veronica, and her own mother, Christina. After a lengthy ceremony the couple state their vows and a kiss is exchanged.

The wedding over, a party begins. The throng relocates to Lord Tanto's home where the reception is being held. The most observant might notice tension between the newlyweds and, shortly after the party begins, the bride takes her friend Veronica away only to return alone looking, for the briefest moment, even more upset than she was before she left the hall.

The dark-haired black-clad gentleman is clearly not from around here. Neither Mons nor Chantris have his coloration (save, perhaps, his eyes, which are the shade of empty wine bottles glistening in summer sun), and few enjoy his height. Yet he, too, is admitted - - proof that a good smile, a good tailor, and a dollop of mystery can open the doors to any function.

Here in the grounds around the Tanto manner the usual games of see-and-be-seen unfold, where people communicate complex assertions of status just by how closely they stand to those in power. It's all competing for prestige and rank, and the Man In Black perhaps is unusual in how he doesn't bother with the competition - - which, of course, leads to some gossiping about who he is and why he's above it all. The gossip doesn't reach him, though: he speaks cheerfully to those who engage him, but seeks no long involvements with anyone, moving through the crowd easily with a fine blown-glass goblet of Bayle's Red in one hand.

Even on this day of celebration there are servants about. Keen eyed or noisy guests will notice one of them, an elderly laundress based on either personal knowledge of the staff at Tanto manor or 'simply' observing the hints of dried soap water on the edge of her dress' skirt, talking to the bride's friend off in the wings. Veronica appears to be crying but, as soon as she becomes cognizant of being observed, she gathers her emotions together and 'puts on a good public face'. After giving the servant who's features are noticeably similar to hers a peck on the cheek she strides back into the party heading towards the sweeping tables of refreshments laid out by the hosts.

"Forgive me," the dark-haired gent murmurs to the man he's conversing with once he takes note of the brunette who's been crying. Some things are elementary, as a man of Shadow Earth may once have said. Veronica is alone; she has no paramour approaching her; she had a private audience with the bride, so she clearly is in high regard; she's now crying, and … apparently without anyone to run interference. Some people would see this and think there was some emotional crisis underfoot at the reception, but Iolion has just enough presence of mind to see it as an opportunity.

He looks back to the fellow he's been conversing with and has been trying to figure out how to elude. "I seem to be needed. Excuse me." A smile is given and then he's walking away from the cluster of people, crossing over the well-kept grass of the manor. «Mon cheri, vas-tu avec moi?» he calls cheerfully as he approaches Roni, picking up a champagne flute off the platter of a passing servant. The people who were watching her are now instead watching him approach her, and by the time they realize to look back to her, he's using his body to block their view. It's a small thing, the gift of a few moments to wipe away tears without being seen, but … small is not the same as minor.

He continues to talk in the local tongue, his conversation fluent and with only a faint foreign accent. "Please forgive the intrusion. You look as if you could use a privacy wall for a few moments. Champagne?"

Veronica frowns momentarily as a stranger approaches her and speaks to her in a language she hasn't heard before. However, she seems to find the meaning in his words and then quickly comprehends his actions. Smiling at Iolion, Roni says, "Thank you," and takes the offered flute glass of champagne before asking, "Since you have kindly offered me aid at this time of need, would you be amenable to our moving over to one of the alcoves over there?" using a quick glance of her eyes to indicate the direction though the gathered crowd where a number of alcoves can be seen, some already occupied by couples wanting semi-privacy and others still standing empty.

His face is animated, perhaps even mirthful, even though his words are calm and matter-of-fact. An actor, perhaps, to have such emotions well-practiced. "Of course. On three, reach for my arm; it will be there for you. Three. Two. One. And…"

With that he turns away from her, extending to her the crook of his arm so that she can sync up with him perfectly - - presenting to the world an illusion of them knowing each other so well they do such things in perfect sync. He keeps his body between her and the crowd as they walk over to the alcove, and does the same as she slips into it - - only following in after she's well-hidden.

"I apologize for intruding in your moment of …" He lets the sentence trail off, not wanting to underline the pain she clearly feels. "I'll remain here for a few minutes - - I'm sure people are still watching - - but once they return to their games I'll leave you to your …"

Veronica takes Iolion's arm and skillfully manages to guide him to an empty alcove of her choice while making it seem to those they are walking though that he is in control of their path. She smiles at a pair of women they are passing who are apparently friends of hers and the bride and politely waves off their gossipy intrusion with an implied glance that she's off to entertain the foreign visitor. Once they are in the alcove however her demeanor shifts slightly, something the average person could easily misinterpret as her still being upset but there is an edge to it that is more professional than personal. In this fashion she asks, "Are you a friend of the grooms? I've never seen you around Rebekah and her family before."

"Gatecrasher," he answers amiably over the rim of his blown-glass goblet. "Here to see people, learn how the upper half lives, drink wine, enjoy the buffet, dance. Maybe get laid. You know - - the usual reason people attend parties to which they haven't been specifically invited. It's good wine, though." If he takes any umbrage at her question, he keeps it well-hidden.

The answer is apparently an acceptable one and is addressed with light laughter from the Mon woman. "Well then," Roni says with the edge gone, replaced by a hint of remorse hidden beneath joviality, "Then you are extremely lucky that it is no longer my duty to see to intruders, aren't you?" She finally takes a sip of the champagne which perfectly matches the color of the gowns worn by her, the bride and the bride's mother. "May I ask your name, sir?"

"You may, but it will do you little good: it's useless to conjure with, will open no doors for you, will give you nothing except the answer to a question and the end of a pleasant mystery." He keeps his tone light, the words spilling from his lips in the form of banter rather than evasiveness. Conversation is a game, after all, and a game ought be fun. "I've caught your name, but nothing of your family - - for all I know you're the royalty of Amber. So what say you give me a name that could belong to a man to make you smile, and I'll deem thee Veronica, Princess of Amber?"

"Oh no, nothing so exciting like that," she says. "I'm just Veronica Nayelenor, friend of Lady Volpe in addition to her former maid," she explains using a last name that follows one of the naming patterns used by commoners in Fiorra which indicates that she is the daughter of Elenor in addition to being of common birth. "But now you have proven you have an advantage over me," she says as she taps his chest with the rim of her half empty flute glass, "So I will ask again, may I have your name, sir?" However, it is clear there is no ire here as she is grinning, quite obviously enjoying this game.

"Princess Veronica of Amber, as I suspected. You honor me by granting me, a mere commoner, audience with Your Majesty." There's no mockery there, no hurtful things twisted into weapons: he's in good form, and seeking to distract a woman from her troubles. Nor does he take any offense at the jab of the flute: all's fair in this. He does, however, briefly mime being skewered by the glass.

"Iolion. I've no last name to speak of. Originally of points far distant, beyond the borders of Montevalno."

Laughing lightly again, Roni chastises her companion in a playfully serious fashion by saying, "Do not jest about titles Iolion of points far beyond the borders of Montevalno as such things are often keener than a razor and can be used to wound just as easily." She then, after sipping at her champagne, asks, "Was my grief obvious to everyone in the hall or had something caused me to be of importance to you this evening?"

The goings-on in the alcove are interrupted briefly by a servant who makes polite inquiries about food and drink. Beyond the server, beyond the gauzy scrim that offers a measure of privacy while still allowing light and the breeze to enter, a handful of the well-connected and well-to-do take advantage of the servant's moving the scrim to peer inside. Wasn't she crying? But no, she's with a man, laughing. False alarm. They move away, feigning that they weren't at all interested in the couple.

"Be a gent and bring us a bottle of this Bayle's Red, and a bottle of her champagne," Iolion tells the server. Then, bidding the fellow go, Iolion turns his attention back to Veronica. "Regardless of whether you wish more or not, we might as well give them every impression that you're having a wild time, yes? And no. I think few noticed. I've cultivated a habit of noting the obvious just a few seconds before everyone else; it's been quite a useful thing over the years. If I had just noticed … I doubt many others had."

Before the servant departs Veronica says, "Josiah, just bring the Bayle's and an extra glass," before finishing the champagne and handing the empty glass to the servant. As he departs she leads Iolion to a bench-like couch in the shallow depths of the alcove and suggests that he join her upon it with subtle pressure on his arm as she releases it and sits down herself. "I am glad to know that. It would be a poor showing for me to show up the bride despite the groom being the true cause of the problem," she explains.

"In my travels I've learned to be careful which questions I ask. I may like neither the answers, nor their consequences. So I entreat you, do not mistake my lack of questions as apathy to your tale; rather, I'd prefer to just allow you to tell it as you wish, without any sense of obligation."

He sits on the bench, silently giving her the option of whether to sit in his lap or to sit beside him. Options are given to her in plenty, but demands are few and far between.

As she is dressed in a formal gown, Veronica chooses to not hop up into the offered lap but leans against Iolion's side. "Guarded and diplomatic," she says as she observes, "You are not just any gate crasher, you are nobility. Perhaps you are King Oberon's long lost 73 son and thus are Prince Iolion of Amber." She smiles but waits to say more as Josish returns with a bottle of red wine and an extra glass, extending them to Iolion and departing. Once they are covered by the blanket of the party noise and the anonymity of her lounging against him, Roni says, "Her new husband has told her she cannot bring anyone from this household with her into her new life," leaving the implication of her being included unstated bot obvious to Iolion's keen understanding of humanity.

He accepts the offered bottle and extra goblet from Josiah, and as she explains things he occupies himself by pouring her a healthy quantity of that blood-red elixir. He offers it to her, and once she takes it, moves his newly-freed arm around her shoulders to draw her in slightly more. Warmth, humanity, touch: these can be potent drugs indeed in times of emotional crisis.

"No," he answers with faint good humor: "I am no Prince of Amber. But I'm flattered by the comparison - - I think. And yes, that's … unfortunately common. Was your involvement with his bride professional or personal?" It's a safe question, thankfully. Asking how intimate her involvement was might not be.

Veronica gives Iolion a knowing and coquettish smile. She drinks some of the wine after which her lips glisten with the remaining trace of Bayle's which she then licks away removing the trace of flavor but leaving the moisture level unchanged. "Yes," she answers in a vaguely evasive fashion. The rumors he might have heard run the gamut of their being lovers, her being Rebekah's bodyguard or even her being Lord Tanto's bastard daughter but the facts are that she grew up with the Lord's only known daughter and served as her maid as well as being a friend.

"May your recovery from this be swift, then." His voice is gentle as he kisses the top of her head, an act that's both intimate and chaste. Sometimes, you really have no choice in life but to rely on the humanity of strangers; every time it happens it's odd and unexpected. "If you could go off in Shadow, if you were of the Blood of Amber, where would you go? What would you seek, here, right now?"

"Antiquities," is how Roni begins her answer, almost without thinking it seems. "I would travel Shadow and seek old things and find museums that would allow the public to see them. I would find books that describe strange but real places that the people of Fiorra couldn't help but view as flights of fancy. I would see strange animals and capture their image on paper in charcoal or ink to bring their visage to those unblessed with the chance to travel in that way." She then asks, "Why do you ask, do you have the ability to open such doors to me?"

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