"It's nearly supper time here," replies the rat king. "I'm unable to join you, but please do accept our hospitality if you wish. Rennit will see to your comfort." Without waiting for a reply, Renard leaves the room.
As the door thumps closed behind him, Jonas observes, "That went better than I was expecting." Rennit doesn't answer him, instead sagging into a chair and inviting, "I don't think supper's QUITE ready yet. Help yourselves to drinks if you want them."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
"How badly were you expecting things to go?" asks Chuul absently.
Jonas shrugs, "Your little understanding with us could have fallen apart. I dunno if I was expecting any throats to get cut, but it wouldn't have surprised me if there'd been harsh words and you left in a hurry." He snags Rennit's empty glass and wanders over to refill both his own beverage and his friend's.
Alannah looks completely innocent, "Oh, that never happens."
"At least not when we have company."
Jonas agrees, "Right, 'cos you're all very diplomatic and personable." He chuckles genially, "We hear you're going to a rather fancy dress party tomorrow night. Got your costumes all sorted, I hope. Won't ask what that cost you, 'cos I know it's a pretty penny on such short notice."
Avar offers a throaty "hmmmmph" with a non committal shrug. Apparently, the paladin favors the offered drink and refills his glass.
The aasamar glances between the glass and Jonas while refilling and clarifies, "I didn't. But what did you spend Garren?"
Avar holds up his glass to eye level admiring the drink. Turning to the ranger he takes a swallow.
Garren waits until the paladin swallows before answering. "All told, with most of the expense in the form of 'appropriate jewelry', three hundred gold." Garren knows the value of money and how much that could have done for the orphans and displaced from the coming war, but he has also reconciled himself to the obscenity that is the reckless spending among the elite.
"Hmph," opines Chuul. "It is rare that being an orc has obvious advantages. It would seem this is one such time."
"Would you care to parse that observation for me, Master Chuul?" asks Rennit, showing a flicker of real interest now that his earlier nerves have begun to dissipate in earnest.
Alannah watches the exchange with passive interest, helping herself to a glass as well.
"Masks are made for many reasons, including to frighten with a horrific visage," says the orc as he settles into a seat. He vaguely indicates his own face with a gesture, his face saying 'need I say more?'.
"Y'know we can lit'rally turn into monsters on a whim, right," asks Jonas, conversationally. "You're not particularly scary just 'cos of you bein' an orc."
Rennit accepts his refilled drink from his friend, agreeing, "You're scary because of how you use that . . . that blade thing on a stick. I don't know what it's called, but the terminology seems less important than what happens to whoever's caught on the other end of it from you."
"I agree with Jonas, but pointedly disagree with Rennit. It's not how you look that makes someone scary, but definitely what hides beneath the surface. The fact is, we all wear masks. But the way Chuul uses his weapon doesn't make him scary - it makes him a hero. And I think that his willingness to put his weapon to work in service of bringing down Berger Cole only scares that cur." Garren offers a wry smile. "I wish that were the only thing keeping him up at night."
Alannah takes a sip from her drink, not looking entirely comfortable with the current direction of the conversation.
Avar, on the other hand, rumbles a little chuckle to himself. Snacking idley, the aasimar watches the conversation with interest.
"Heroes are terrifying sometimes. Most of the time, even," Rennit disagrees. "An ordinary person, in some situations, just runs away, or gives up, or tries to cut a deal. Heroes keep going in circumstances where a rational person would give it up as a bad job. They're a bit like monsters in that respect."
Looking a bit more serious than he usually does, the rat continues, "It's dangerous just to be around heroic types for very long. Look at your friends Arkady and Elimendreda. Their lives were totally upended, and it wasn't exactly your FAULT, but . . . " he gropes for a phrase, for a second, and then offers, "If you've got a nice snug nest inside a wall somewhere, and then a laborer comes and knocks a hole in the wall because he's renovating the house, it's not his fault your world's all smashed up. It's more of an act of the gods."
Avar shakes his head and chuckles slightly to himself. The paladin places his glass down and rubs his hands, cleaning them.
"Being a hero is a ridiculous notion. People do things because they think they need to or they want to. A goblin warrior who kills for his people is a hero. The warrior that slays that same goblin may be considered a hero to some but would be considered a murderer to the goblins kin."
The paladin shrugs, "It's all about ones viewpoint."
"It is easier to comment on what does or doesn't make someone a hero or a monster when they don't wear the face of a monster," says Chuul. If he is at all bothered by the topic, his tone doesn't show it. He indicates Jonas. "You two helped the people of Morville during the dragon attack. Very heroic. Do you think the people at this ball would care to listen to that story if you told it while wearing your monster faces? I suspect not."
Chuul shrugs. "I know who I am, and I do not care if these people do or not."
Rennit inclines his head to Chuul, ceding the point with some grace. But Jonas is less polite, or more tenacious, and asks Avar, "So it's just a matter of perspective whether you're the monster or Cole is, then? Glad we cleared that up, mate."
Before the paladin can reply, there's a brief rap at the door, and a pointy-nosed young woman sticks her head inside. She looks at Rennit, eyebrows raised in an unspoken question, and the rat prince answers, "Seven. No meat for Moonguard Baur's portion, please."
Alannah waves her free hand in dismissal, "Everyone can be monster and everyone can be a hero. It is not decided by what we are, it is decided by what we choose to do. Whether you have orc, lycanthrope, or demon blood, you make the choices that define you, not your heritage." She sets her glass down harder than necessary and it makes an audible clink.
"Let's discuss something lighter, this will make for bad dinner conversation." She pauses for a second before continuing, "So, did the playwright's of Port Hope's newest hit performance get an invitation to the ball as well?"
Avar ignores Alannah and considers Rennit for a heartbeat. The paladin nods towards the lycanthrope and replies, "That's exactly right."
With a tip of his glass towards Jonas, a display of "cheers", "Mate."
Rennit answers the noblewoman, "Not this time. It'll be a day or so before we're even sure the play is going to be well received. It'll make money, but that's something a bit different." He shrugs, "Anyway, the Earl of Eastrit isn't much for the theater. If he invites a playwright or actor, it's because he's heard that person is fashionable among those who do follow the stage. That takes a few days at the very least, so I think we're a little too late for him to invite us to this one." If his lack of access to the ball troubles him, the wererat is doing a fine job of hiding it.
"A shame. You two would likely be fun at a party," Alannah says without obvious sarcasm. "But with the rest of us going, I'm sure it'll be interesting either way."
"There are too many noblemen in this town, anyway," opines Jonas.
A little more idle chit-chat ensues before there's another rap at the door. The pointy-nosed woman sticks her head in again, and exchanges a nod with Rennit. As quickly as that, she withdraws her head and closes the door again.
Rennit announces, "Supper is this way," and leads the way down the hall, then down a flight of stairs into a large cellar that's lit mostly by torchlight shed from sconces along the walls. The floor is heavily strewn with sawdust, and several rows of long trestle tables with benches and stools have been set up—it's a big space, containing a couple dozen people. Most of them are roughly dressed in dark clothing, shades of blue and black mostly.
Sotto voce, Rennit explains, "Most of these people are stage hands. The dark colors make it harder for the audience to see them. Not all of them are two-natured, but all of them are members of the nest. They know what we are."
Avar nods automatically at the information processing both what he has heard and what he is seeing.
Alannah looks on with interest, nodding at Rennit's comment. "We've only been back in Port Hope for a little while. How did you mobilize such an effort so quickly?"
Rennit seems confused by the question. "I'm sorry?"
“Oh, sorry,” she laughs at his confusion, “I meant the play, not supper. I was looking at all the stage hands and thinking how you had to coordinate this in such a short time after getting back from the road. I would have thought it would have taken months to get together, not the week or so you’ve had since we’ve been back.”
"Ah," Rennit's confusion clears, and he explains, "We reuse costuming, props and scenery from one production to the next. If you have to make everything afresh, it does take months. And it costs a fortune. I think the Bastard's necklace was the only thing we had to have made up specially for this one."
"New gibbet," Jonas pipes up.
"Oh, yes. For the hanging stunt," Rennit agrees. "I'd forgotten."
"Convincing bit, that," comments Chuul. "How was that pulled off?"
"Can't tell you. It's a secret," Rennit replies.
Jonas elaborates, "Theaters steal each other's tricks. Like, the players over at the World had a bit of machinery for making thunder. We got a man inside and worked out how they did it. Maybe two years ago, this was." Cheerfully, the playwright continues, "A couple of months later, we put on a new production that used it, and old man Brandish was in the audience. He stood bolt upright in the middle of the performance and screamed, 'They've stolen my thunder!' Then he ran out of the theater in tears."
He and Rennit share a chuckle, sigh, and murmur, "Good times."
A bit of light conversation ensues over supper. The meal is extremely heavy on eggs. Boiled, scrambled into omelettes, poached over bread—there doesn't appear to be any way that the membership of the Waterside Players doesn't like them. Chuul and Garren quickly realize that this is rat behavior—rats love eggs. Once they're looking for it, the two realize that most of the meal is designed to cater to rodents' food preferences. Nuts are abundant. There are plenty of cereal products in general. Leafy vegetables aren't much in evidence, except as garnishes. Meat and dairy products are limited; there's cheese in a couple of the egg dishes, and there are some roasted pigeons available, which Jonas is enjoying almost to the exclusion of anything else available.
Conspicuously, Rennit is the only person who so much as comes within arm's reach of the jolly, bald-pated rogue.
The meal winds down, and Rennit and Jonas eventually escort the Bastards back into the more public parts of the theater, and from there to its exit where they make their farewells. Rennit admonishes, cheerfully, "When you've made your arrangements about the necklace, send a messenger here, addressed to me or my father."
At this point it's late in the evening, and the only reasonable thing to do is get back to the Copper Crosier and get some sleep.
Being a reasonable person Avar decides to heads back to the Crozier.
Alannah, sorely tempted to be unreasonable, decides that the reasonable path just this one time seems like an okay thing to do.