Luke and I dressed the long table in dining hall with several linen table clothes and a runner which reached from one end of the table to the other, it had to have been at least ten yards long. Next we removed all the plates and bowls from the cupboards in the kitchen and washed them all down. Then we laid them out in grouped stacks on the table. Cutlery and glass were all washed and then arranged in the same fashion. Then Luke fired the stoves and I cleaned all the pots before we set about the food. Together we worked in silent tension as the day became evening, and as the evening became night the first guests began to arrive. We didn’t recognise any of those earliest to arrive but we were patient. We knew that the guests of honour would arrive last. There were men and women all aged in their middling years. There were uniforms of the military and badges of orders and medals of wars fought. There were fine evening dresses and expensive suits each worn by elegant, classy woman and distinguished, moustachioed men. It was obvious that it was a meeting of the upper reaches of society, yet their dower and deathly looking boredom gave them the appearance of lizards. I could scarce bear to look at them, their falsehood and contemptable wealth all rolled into a smug assumption of their importance. As Luke and I lay out appetisers I wondered what my father would have made of those people, but before I knew it Miel entered the hall with Aeron Mulaar and Dr. Taryn. The whole room fell silent and turned to watch the three men. In a flash the crowd of some twenty odd people split down the centre and Dr. Taryn and Mulaar both stepped forward while Miel turned and walked out of the room, then return a moment later with Vice President Griton. A cheer went up when Griton’s face appeared to the crowd. It was almost a droning moan of a gasp and he was the centre of all activity from that point on.
Once Griton began to mingle with the crowd Luke and I watched with intent as the last two surviving members of the old regime arrived – Phillio Dene and Lady Magar Bethoe. I could also feel a sharp drop the temperature in the room when Lady Bethoe entered. She was a shark of a person, vicious looking. We did our best to ignore all present by busying ourselves with our work, so as soon as the guests of honour arrived we began to serve drinks and announced that the food would be ready in a matter of minutes. I served the targets and Luke served everyone else, as planned. And as soon all guests started sipping their drinks Luke and I went to the kitchen and readied our offerings.
After ten minutes we laid out three platters. The first contained shell fish and second contained breads, but the third was adorned with an array of canapes – each either pate, prawn or goat’s cheese. The crowd paid little attention to the food, until the targets tasted them and began to rave through slurred grumblings. The other guests were of course startled, and emptied the platters in minutes, but those who the serum had not touched were confused by the guests of honour.
Next an array of birds were flocked upon the long table and the crows again came to them and ate, but this time the targets were watched by all present as they moaned aloud and rolled their eyes and waved their arms in exuberant gestures which the other guests stood watching, aghast. It was almost sad. The fickle crowd again tasted the Quail and Peacock and Pheasant and Ortolan but they of course tasted only the birds, unseasoned, and not any of the magic that their leaders professed. Luke and I scurried from the dining hall while all eyes were on Vice President Griton and his band of apparent fools. It was an intense moment, Luke and I peering through the slightest opening of the kitchen door, the crowd stood silent as the guests of honour loomed in their revelry, commanding the entire crowd’s strained attention. It seemed as though a group of apes had been gathered to be marvelled at in horror, but I wasted no time, and brought out the deserts.
Honeyed nuts preserved in salt from the far east, imported, as it happened, through The Gulf. Very expensive and a delicacy that was seldom seen outside of the farthest east, everyone tried them but I think it was out of a communal sense of necessity. As if they felt that they needed to be seen to join in the eating, all the untargeted guests took a glazed nut and could scarce chew it for their gaping mouths. They stood there witnessing their proud mentors flop around them wailing the mastery of the nuts. This was too much, those present turned away as one would when confronted with a drunken stranger. Griton, Mulaar, Taryn, Miel, Dene and Lady Bethoe all stood herded together next to the long table while rest of the guests moved away to the other side of the room and began to whisper amongst each other. It was working. Luke and I just watched, transfixed. And while we were glad that nobody needed to be denied the second serum, it did feel like a soft victory. We served another round of drinks as fast as we could, to Griton and his cadre’s flouncing delight. But before we had even finished pouring the campaign the Vice President and his colleagues all turn their eyes to the chasm between them and the other guests and then to said guests themselves. I almost felt bad for those pigs in jewels and suits. Almost.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey