When I walked into the grand dining hall, I was amazed. There must have been hundreds of people in attendance and they all were dressed in the highest fashion. Well, I guess it was the highest fashion; I found it all to be quite outlandish. Fortunately, what the seneschal selected for us to wear had no feathers or ruffles; of course, I think Pip may have had something to do with that.
Just as I had been instructed, nobody here was talking with anyone else here, so aside from the entertainment, which took the form of music and acrobatic dancing, the room was very quiet. Then I noticed a tall slender man enter the room. He was younger than I expected, somewhere between thirty-five and forty I would guess, and dressed in somber black flowing robes. At each shoulder was a guard in full armor. No matter what the emperor did or where he went, they never strayed more than two feet from his elbow and their eyes were constantly roaming, searching for the smallest possible danger. There were other guards around too who were never more than ten paces away. I’m sure there were others as well; after all, he was the emperor.
The emperor himself passed among the people with somber dignity and seemed to speak to almost everyone there. He didn’t speak to me or my friends so there were probably others who didn’t receive his attention. As he passed through the people, he had a brief conversation with those he chose, and then, most of the time he paired them off with someone else of his choice. These people then began to talk to each other. Occasionally, in the case of a man being paired off with a woman, they would dance to the music. In my opinion, it wasn’t really dancing music, so this only happened a couple times.
Finally, when the emperor felt that he had spent enough time mingling, he headed for the head table and his seat. Once comfortably arranged with his ever-present guards at his elbows, he waved his hand. Someone must have been waiting for the signal because a flood of servants entered the room and escorted people to their seats.
As soon as everyone was seated, (I was seated next to my father, who was seated next to mother, who was seated directly across from the emperor himself), the food began to come out in a seemingly constant flow. It was a very good meal, but I soon discovered that the courses changed when the emperor was done with his portion, regardless of whether you were finished or not.
Near the end of the meal, a servant leaned close to my ear and said, “When the meal is finished, you will remain seated. His Lordship wishes to speak with you after everyone else has left.”
I nodded to show I had received the message and then glanced at the emperor. He made no indication that he even knew of my existence. This would be interesting - I think.
My parents and all three of my friends must have received the same message because we all stayed at the table. Pip, Georgy and Colin were seated at a table about half way across the room. They remained there.