Within the Archives: A Tea in Battle
"Are you going to war?"
Elleri looked up from the massive gold necklace she was clasping around her throat and into the mirror. Hark was bent in the doorway, taking in her massive skirts, and the train of black tulle that trailed from her dressing closet to where she sat at her vanity. Her red hair was swept up in an elaborate style, covered in jeweled pins and dangling chains. Her wrists were covered in bracelets and cuffs, and her ears were slightly drooping from the weight of her ruby studs that looked more like blocks.
"Sort of." She admitted, holding firm underneath the weight of the thick gold beads that laid across her chest like a plate of armor.
"I don't understand. I thought the Duchess invited you for tea." Hark entered the room, a stack of books cradled in one enormous hand. "You're dressed for... something else."
Elleri stood, holding her queenly pose with evident practice.
"No, this is for tea."
She spread her hands and gestured to her dark dress.
"Do you like it? It's all the rage in Meridell at the moment."
"It's awful." Hark said, deciding to be honest and firm with the Royal Blumaroo.
"What do you mean? This is how one dresses for tea in Meridell."
Hark shook his head.
"How does one enjoy tea while wearing that?"
Elleri frowned and took the opportunity to sit back down.
"In Meridell, tea doesn't really mean tea. It means gossip, and idle prattle, and the complete comparison of worldly possessions and the latest fashion." She pressed at her coif with her palm. "I've never gotten an ill word for my dresses."
Hark sat slowly in a chair by the window, his large frame barely fitting on the small square of the seat.
"Tea in Meridell is not the same as tea in Brightvale."
Elleri suddenly produced a fan covered in black butterflies and shook her head.
"It can't be that different."
"It is, actually. I wanted to bring you this since I know you have an hour or so before you're due on the terrace."
He handed her a royal blue book, covered in constellations and gold trim.
"Star Gazing..." Elleri read, opening the book and smiling at the first couple pages.
"Hark, this is an amazing edition."
She looked up.
"For me to pass the time?"
He shook his head.
"That's the book they're discussing this afternoon. The day will probably conclude with a trip to the astronomy tower for a look through Avin's telescope. The Duchess might also have you hunt for meteorites somewhere. Tea time is never for idle prattle when the Duchess is hosting."
"The astronomy tower? Hunting for rocks? I can't wear this!"
Hark stood and backed away slowly as the Blumaroo began tossing jewels and pins aside. The loud clunks of falling accessories gave Hark the hint he needed. He turned for the door and closed it just in time to hear her shriek about her skirts.
"You look so dressed up." Lady Edith replied, taking a seat next to Elleri who was still glancing through the book Hark had given her.
"Do I? Still?" Elleri said, lowering the book onto the table as she turned to her friend. The Royal Techo was wearing a smart riding jacket with black breeches and thick boots. Her hair was twisted up and held with small gold pins that looked like tropical flowers.
Elleri was wearing a jade green hunting dress with brown pants and boots. Sure the dress was a little more elaborate, but it was also the simplest item she owned.
"Oh you look nice. Just more formal than what we normally see." Edith helped herself to some tea and sat back, both women taking in the sunshine. It was a particularly stunning day, and the view of the castle gardens from this high up wasn’t to be missed.
Elleri noticed with a smirk that from here you could see the shape of Hagan’s head made from green bushes and golden fernsprout.
"Alright ladies. Shall we begin?" There was a sharp clap from the opposite side of the large round table, made by the Duchess of Sun Valley, a large green Elephante who beamed at the assembled guests.
Elleri was surprised to see that the table was full, and already the women were digging in to the treats and tea, and talking excited. A Zafara further to her right had even brought scrolls and ink, and she unrolled them across the iced cookies to point something out.
Everything was a whirl, and Elleri sat quietly amongst the chaos, rather lost, and only catching snippets here and there.
"-Well, Lady Elleri should know. That’s the whole reason she’s here."
She turned to see most of the women had gone quiet and were looking expectantly at her.
The last thing she’d heard up for discussion was whether or not a Beekadoodle could carry a coconut.
"I’m sorry. What was the question?" She asked, setting her book down slowly.
The ladies laughed.
"I was curious," A regal looking Ruki spoke, her long dark hair brushed aside as she reached for more butter for her muffin. "What exactly does one do all day in the Brightvale library when there is already a master Librarian?"
The question was dripping with insinuations that Elleri decided to cautiously approach. She was the representative for Meridell, here to show the kingdoms and their people that education and learning was important. She was not here, however, to be put down by some 75th from the crown-royal with a superiority complex.
She brushed her finger tips along the saucer her cup rested on.
"Master Hark and I do not share common duties. I’m here to absorb more knowledge and lessons to bring back to Meridell."
The ladies snickered.
"So are you making... copies to take back to your library?"
Elleri nodded. "Yes and no. Only what’s important."
A purple Shoyru spoke. "Oh? Like what?"
"Spells and some incantations. Some bits of the history books that are missing from ours. I’ve got a great collection of books on minerals and climate I think will be handy in Meridell as well."
There was another collection of giggles. Elleri straightened her spine, feeling uneasy.
"You must take what you can back to the potato farmers."
The Royal Blumaroo blushed as those around her laughed. Even Lady Edith had the audacity to chuckle before coughing and covering her mouth with a hot blush on her cheeks. Elleri swallowed down the nasty words and hurtful barbs and gently touched the book Hark had given her. She remembered the kind look on his face when he’d brought it to her. He’d wanted her to be prepared for the conversation, thinking it would be about the Duchess's subject, but the Werelupe had no idea just how wrong he was about the women assembled. She took a deep breath.
But he was also her friend. Her dearest friend. She didn’t want to go spouting off about the arrogance of Brightvale’s citizens and offend him should her words ever reach his ears. She chose her next words carefully.
"Ahh, yes. We do have a large community, established around our agricultural pursuits." She smiled. "The same community whose wheat was bought by Brightvale for the bakers here to make their bread and iced tea party cookies with. The same community that provides the wood ash that goes into making the glass for Brightvale's stunning windows. The same community that the great, and power faerie Illusen, decided to make her home in. For the people may be simple, but they are the foundation for food and other provincial necessities for their neighbors and themselves."
Elleri gathered her book and stood.
"But I suppose Brightvale has many invaluable assets as well. Brightvale provides pretty windows, nicely iced cookies, and… hmm. I’m sure it does other things." She removed herself from the table and bowed low to the Duchess.
"Thank you for your time, Duchess. But I have more important matters to attend to."
"Lady Elleri-" The Duchess guffawed, waving her paw and snickering to the others.
Elleri turned and scowled.
"Good day, thank you." She resumed her departure and hurried back to the library, finally understanding why Hark never ventured from the shelves unless he absolutely had to.
It was a sanctuary from the egos and insults one had to put up with when dealing with castle folk.
Back in the library, the Royal Blumaroo set her new book on her desk, amid her piles of scrolls and ink, then fixed herself a pot of tea and curled up into her chair.
It was as she was taking the pins from her hair that Hark entered the room, a tray of something delicious in his hands. She didn’t need to see it to know it was delicious, and she held up her hands expectantly as he approached. He handed her a plate and took a seat in his own chair.
"How was tea?" He asked politely.
Elleri scoffed and spoke through a bite of food.
"You already know, you've been to the kitchens. Don’t play dumb."
"Not playing dumb. Just wanted you to tell me on your own."
"It was nice."
He arched an eyebrow at her. Setting his plate aside, the massive Werelupe leaned forward to study her better.
"Oh? That’s… surprising."
"Darling, it was no better or worse than the tea parties in Meridell. Only this time… I didn’t have a fan on me to snap dramatically." She grinned and pulled her fingers through her hair, happy to have it free.
"That doesn't sound pleasant, Ell."
Reluctantly sighing, Elleri nodded.
"I'm afraid I may have exited without properly communicating the lesson I was hoping to impart with said departure."
"And what would that be?" Hark encouraged gently.
"Everyone has a purpose. Everyone is important. There's nothing to be gained from looking down our noses at one another. In my attempt to stand up for Meridell, I belitted the accomplishments of Brightvale. It was petty."
"It does sound rather counter productive."
Elleri shot Hark a frustrated glare that he met bravely with his honest gaze. The Werelupe was always honest to a fault, but in this moment it was more helpful than hindering. An idea struck her, and she sat up from her pouting.
"I’m going to be better prepared the next time."
Hark raised his bushy brows in surprise.
"Oh? Will there be a next time?"
Elleri nodded and crumbled a chunk of biscuit with her fingers.
She drew up the invites herself on parchment paper from Meridell, with the special red ink the Meridell Alchemist, Violet, had made for her before she'd left. When it caught the light, it shimmered blue then gold, and Elleri smiled proudly even as she blew gently on the wet letters to help it dry faster.
She made sure every lady that had been present at the Duchess of Sun Valley's party received an invite, as well as her special guests. She waited patiently for a week to pass, then set about getting things ready alongside the staff of Brightvale castle.
An hour before the invite said to arrive, Elleri stood next to the castle stewardess, tapping her chin thoughtfully at the tables.
"This is rather odd." Lady Losena said after her observations, stretching her wings and crossing her hands stiffly against her stomach.
"It is." Elleri agreed, smiling at the Mutant Shoyru, who gave her a solemn look in return. "But it'll be on everyone's lips for months."
The Shoyru turned in her usual brusque manner and began to walk away, finding her presence no longer a necessity.
"Won't you be joining us for gossip?" Elleri called, giggling to herself when she heard Lady Losena's sharp snort of derision.
As guests arrived to the garden she'd chosen for the tea, Elleri greeted them each in grand fashion by name before taking each lady to a seat that was marked by a small white card with their name on it.
Once they'd all arrived, it was apparent that they all wouldn't be sitting together. Each lady sat at a different table, and they all exchanged puzzled looks. Tapping a small hors d'oeuvres fork against her glass, Elleri stood to attract attention.
"The rest of our guests should be arriving any moment. Please help yourself to the snacks and drinks provided." The Blumaroo ignored the snickers and lifted brows and moved to the gate just as the next guest arrived.
She was a tall Skeith, broad and stocky, and wearing a humble dress and apron. Elleri showed her to a table, and she sat down gruffly, smiling and looking around before commenting to the lady at her table how grand everything looked.
Twenty more ladies entered, each one wearing a modest dress, some smudged with dirt or rust, others patched and stitched to look its best. Elleri showed all of them to their seats, treating each one politely and with great respect.
Once all the tables were seated Elleri opened her arms and smiled.
"Ladies, today I'm proud to have so many diverse women joining us for tea. We have ladies of the castle.." She nodded and gestured to some of the Duchesses and Baronesses.
"We have Knights and artisans." She grinned at some of the women in nicer gowns.
"We have merchants and farmers."
Some of the ladies in patched gowns waved and smiled nervously.
"All astounding women who work hard to make Brightvale the glorious kingdom that it is. Now, please help yourself to anything on the tables. We have the marvelous staff of King Hagan to assist us, should we need anything else."
Before she sat, Elleri did one sweep of the tables, taking in the different looks of awe, frustration, and happiness.
"I hope we all learn something today."
And with that she lifted her tea cup in toast, and spent the afternoon walking from table to table, chatting about potatoes, stained glass windows, and finally figuring out whether or not a Beekadoodle could carry a coconut.