Every campaign has to have it . . . the scene where the yokel PCs get to the big city to gawk and be gawked at. Ours happened last weekend. Ducatidon is our GM, and I wrote up a summary of our particular version of the scene.
A party at Lady Cheselyne Hosath's.
The Cast of Characters:
Tukvar. (PC) Kath warrior. He has been quietly observing these crazy shiny-hats for about a month now.
Sturmer. (PC) A stammering, illiterate, outcast son of a minor knight. Every moment of his life he spent in pursuit of knighthood. He never got closer than the militia at Kobing - until three days ago. As proof that "Every dog has his day", an extraordinary series of events ended with him defeating the formidable Sir Remiu Kaphin (Nebulon) in a duel of honor. He is now a knight, and is completely over his head.
Lady Blyra Poulty. (Jedes) The lady-knight is far above Sturmer in every way. Everyone seems to realize this but her.
Lady Jenya Midarne. (Jedes) The constable's wife, in Tashal on some possibly important business that the PCs don't know about.
Lady Cheselyne Hosath. Everyone's favorite femme fatale.
Earl Troda Dariune. Sturmer would gargle ground glass if it would get him a position in the service of the Earl. It probably won't.
"Are you sure you want to do this?", Lady Blyra asks Tukvar one last time.
"What is not good? You said there is food. There is no hunting in this place, so I am glad to eat ladikezeleen's food."
And so the three – Lady Blyra, Sir Sturmer, and Tukvar, approach the door of the stately house. Two men flank the door, dressed in frilled and flouncy uniforms. Their shoes are so long that the tips are tied to their ankles with cords. Tukvar asks Sturmer, "Why are their toes so long? Do their mothers stretch them when they are babies?"
Sturmer hasn't time to answer before the three are met by the herald. The man is dressed with even more frills than the footmen, and even Sturmer catches himself gawking. The man dryly speaks, "And you are . . . ".
"Hungry. Do your feet hurt?", Tukvar responds.
Lady Blyra blurts out, "We are Sir Sturmer of Chandliss, Lady Blyra of Poulty, and Tukvar of the Boar Totem Kath". Tukvar is a little surprised the Blyra knew that fact – he hadn't told her, he was pretty sure.
"Yes, of course. I shall announce you." The herald leads the three into a tall-ceilinged chamber. The upper half of the walls are painted with a richly complex pattern, while the ceiling is cleverly painted to look like a tall arch. Tukvar is gazing up at it, trying to understand the illusion, when he realizes that everyone in the room is looking at him.
The herald's voice is trailing off, ". . . of the Boar Totem Kath". Tukvar sees a score of women and a dozen or so men, all in outlandish costumes. The only people that seem sensibly dressed at all are the half-dozen entertainers that Tukvar recognizes from Rhondaman's circus. A broad smile comes across his face, as his first thought is that this entire ridiculous assembly must be some sort of clownish entertainment. "This will be fun," he thinks to himself.
A group of girls comment on his introduction. They all seem old enough that they should have husbands, but yet none seems to have a partner. Surely it is because they are so ugly that no man would have them. And their chatter is annoying. "My goodness, a true Kath! Are we safe?", asks the plumpest one. Tokvar hears a name, but looking at how the seams of her slippers are straining to hold her fat feet in, he thinks he'll just call her, "Bursting-shoes".
"A better question is, 'Is he safe from us!'" says Voice-like-goose. The girls titter as though this was the funniest thing they've ever heard.
From Rope-for-hair he hears, "Look at those ankles. Why don't our men show their ankles like he does?"
"Because our men don't have ankles like that!" giggles Painted-for-war.
The girls continue like that, but Tokvar pays no attention, as he sees Lady Jenya approaching, with another middle-aged lady on her arm. "Lady Cheselyne, I believe you know my cousin, Lady Blyra. May I introduce Sir Sturmer, and his companion, Tukvar."
Tukvar wonders at this woman before him. A few wrinkles betray her age, but it's obvious to Tukvar that she is exactly what the men of this place think is beautiful. Her dress is amazingly elaborate, her face powdered and rouged, her hair done with delicate braided patterns. Most laughable, though, is the dress which presents her bosom like gourds on a plate. Small, shriveled gourds, to Tukvar's eye. Why she is so proud of them he cannot fathom. His eyes linger on the display, which seems to please the woman.
Tukvar catches a bit of the conversation. Lady Jenya is speaking, "We in Jedes are all so proud of our Sir Sturmer". But while Blyra beams, Sturmer shifts his weight from foot to foot and looks at the ground.
"All of Kaldor is proud of this knight. We shall hear your story before the night is through, I hope", replies the woman Tukvar realizes is "Ladikezeleen". "And I hope to hear much about you, as well, Sir Tukvar." But she gets no response, as Tukvar's attention has shifted to a crazily clad man carrying a tray of little pastries.
And so Tukvar starts to his business. The pastries are strange, and too sweet. The meat is way too spicy. A sweet almond-and-fig cluster is tasty, though, but he meets some resistance when he tries to take the tray from the funny man. He wonders for a moment if he should just clout the man and take the tray, but decides against it.
The girls are soon back, peppering him with questions. They remind him a lot of Sarali, Jenya's naïve neice, except these girls are older and far bolder. "Are Kath women really so well endowed," asks Yellow-teeth. "Even more than Lady Katla?", they giggle, apparently referring to a very chubby girl across the room. "But are their breasts more delectable than these?", asks Painted-for-war, thrusting her bosom forward like a strutting rooster. As pale as they are, Tukvar wonders if she needs medicine.
The girls' attentions soon turn elsewhere, and Tukvar notices one of them behaving strangely. Bursting-shoes is standing by herself, seemingly straining to hear a nearby conversation without being noticed. Curious, Tukvar listens in on the conversation – it's the ladies Blyra and Jenya.
"What were you doing today! Did Sturmer buy those clothes at the ostlers by mistake? And what happened to the dress your mother packed?" Lady Jenya is scolding Blyra in a way Tukvar has seen Kaldoric women scold their children. It's an ugly habit rare among the Kath.
Blyra responds in a hushed voice. "It's all he could afford. And he couldn't even afford that. I had to pay for half of it myself. And you know - that really hurt him."
Jenya is not impressed with the story. "You know I deposited ten pounds with Clan Dariune. You could have taken any part of that and bought him something nice."
"I couldn't just shop for him like a man shops for his mistress. He needs his pride."
"And what about your dress? Your mother packed you a beautiful dress, in Dariune colors, no less. Do you always have to wear red? You know that is out of fashion here. And the cut of it! That bodice makes you look like a boy."
The scolding is getting to Blyra. "I just thought a knight should . . . it just seemed like the right thing to do. You know he sold his sword to buy this for me. I mean . . . I think it was sweet."
"What I think is that you've made my task here impossible. Every time I get a word with Lady Cheselyne, all she can talk about is how terrible it must be to live in the shires 'where people have no refinement'. This whole trip will have been a waste thanks to you, and don't think for a moment that the whole clan won't feel the repercussions." With that, Lady Jenya turns sharply from Lady Blyra and the conversation ends.
Bursting-shoes gleefully scampers back to the knot of girls, and starts them buzzing with giggles again.
Thankfully, there is no dancing at this party. Every few minutes one of Rhondoman's circus acts takes stage in the center of the room. Once Tukvar is called upon to be the subject of a magic trick - a handkerchief is pulled out of his ear. Tukvar knows it's a trick, because Kath don't use handkerchiefs so there is no way there could have been one in his head all this time. Obviously the magician had it in his hand the whole time.
At one point Tukvar sees Sturmer trapped by the gaggle of girls. He is stammering out one-word answers to the barrage of questions they put to him. He looks increasingly desperate with each embarrassing exchange. "Is it true you were Remiu's ostler at Nebulon?" "I heard you are really the Baron Pierstel's bastard son." ("You heard that? Eww. That man is ugly!") "How did you find a pet Kath? Is he some kind of slave?" "Did Lady Blyra help you pick out that outfit? She's quite the clothier, isn't she?" This last jibe clearly amuses the girls immensely, but it's more than Sturmer can take. He bolts like a skittish horse, and follows a tray of food to the other side of the room.
Later in the evening one of the older women quietly approaches Tukvar, grabs his arm with both hands, and begins caressing it. "My you are a well-muscled lad. Are you like this everywhere?" You proudly lean down, lift your leg, and show it off. "My ankles have much muscle!"
She chuckles, "Oh, my, you certainly do. Perhaps you'd like to stay with me tonight and show me all your muscles?" And for the umpteenth time tonight you watch a woman thrust her pasty bodice like that clucking rooster. It's a fairly disgusting sight.
"No. I will stay with my friends. You don't have anything I want to see in trade."
The party is actually starting to be a little fun.
But then comes the time for Sir Sturmer to tell his story. The whole room comes to a hush, and Sturmer finds himself alone in the middle of the room. He looks down at the floor and begins in a monotone, "Um . . . well, first I was surprised by the quilt gambeson. I didn't realize that it's as heavy as the hauberk. But it works really well at taking the bruise off the blows. I'm used to a much lighter armor, which I think is good because it teaches you to protect your body. Remiu relies on his armor too much. I see knights do that all the time. They fight from the waist up, but it's the legs that do most of the work. Take out a man's legs and he can't fight. Even if you just bruise him you slow him down. You got to protect your whole body . . . The sword was really nice too. I swear it doesn't weight half what my old sword did, but it's reach is just a good. They say it's the runes that make it that way. But I don't know, I think it's just slimmer. And by Larani, you can't believe how much faster you can work a sword like that. And it never rings, either. That's always bad for a sword when it rings. You know, like when it buzzes like a bee after you strike. That means it might break, so you want it to clink, more like when you hit a rock. But the Khuzan blade makes this
clanging noise, really strong, with no buzzing. It's really amazing. I can't believe Remiu didn't use his sword to block more. He relied on his shield, which is okay, but it sets your body up so you can only strike from one side. I think you are better off opening your stance so you are facing more directly forward. Then you can strike from both sides, and you have more ways to block . . . "
A couple of the men seem bemused by his droning monologue. You hear the Earl chuckle to another man, "If that's the secret I'm making all my knights fight naked from now on." But the women look bored and disappointed. "But tell us about the fight!", Painted-for-war blurts out.
"He is telling you about the fight!", says Lady Blyra. "That's exactly how he defeated Sir Remiu. You should have seen the first flurry of blows! Just like Sir Sturmer said, Remiu struck high, looking for that quick killing shot." Blyra is now in the center of the room, gesticulating wildly in imitation of the swordfight. "But he blocked, and came down hard on Remiu's thigh. It was like lightning struck, right in the room!"
Tukvar can't understand everything Blyra says, but there is no mistaking her meaning. She capers about the room, flailing her arms like swords and play-acting both sides of the fight story. When she gets to a key part - where Sturmer has bloodied Remiu the first time and calls for Remiu to recant - her storytelling gains an assist from the audience. The Earl begins cheering for Sturmer, and he's immediately joined by the whole audience. When Remiu refuses to recant, they hiss. The second time Sturmer offers quarter and Remiu refuses, they lustily howl their disgust. And when Sturmer finally disarms Remiu – Lady Blyra mimes the kneeling, defeated Remiu – they cheer and hoot and whistle.
Tukvar notes that Sturmer himself just stands numbly at the side of the room.
The party seems to enjoy the story – or, at least, the energy that went into its telling - and there are many questions that Lady Blyra answers for them.
Tukvar is wondering just how long this party can possibly last when he sees the girls have finally cornered Lady Blyra. Painted-for-war is getting the best of her. "Is that how an ostler dresses his wife? I've heard some knights like little boys. Are you trying to get his attention." For the first time ever, Tukvar sees Lady Blyra start to lose her composure, and she flees from the pack on the verge of tears. The Earl sees her distress, and the older man says a few words to her. He places his hand on her back, pecks her cheek, and says something that seems to encourage her. She soon recovers her bearing, although Tukvar can still see the tension in her face.
Soon after it is time to go. Tukvar says his goodbyes to all the funny people, then it's a short walk back to the inn. Tukvar knows the way perfectly well, so walks a little ahead of Blyra and Sturmer. Behind him, he hears a half-angry, half-sobbing voice. "Don't ever make me wear a dress again."