“You look lovely, my dear.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Domme smiled, lowering her eyes in a show of maidenly deference to the nobleman’s compliment. She had repeated the gesture many times this evening, enough that it had become automatic. But not enough to dismiss the feeling that she had no business being here, at the Regent-Lord’s invitation-only Winterveil Eve soiree.
Certainly she looked the part, thanks to favors called in by her mother and herself. Though winter was a popular theme— clothing in shades of blue, white and silver could be seen everywhere she looked – Domme had stuck with tradition .The pure bright red favored by so many Sin’dorei didn’t suit her; there was just enough red in her red-brown hair for that particular hue to sallow her skin. The deeper jewel tones – ruby, carnelian – she could carry off. So her embersilk dress was ruby with gold trim at waist and hem, and a deep green at the neckline; her new slippers the same ruby with deep green bows. Her earrings were gold and ruby, and the fillet holding the cascade of elaborate curls in place was gold set with emerald.
She realized suddenly that her color scheme mirrored the nobleman’s. She felt…old-fashioned, like a child playing dress-up from her grandmother’s closet
At least I am dressed, Domme thought. Some of her fellow attendees’ outfits better suited a Midsummer Festival debauch. One woman sported a bodysuit of snowflake-shaped lace, layered at strategic points to save her modesty…barely.
The reason for her presence. Her on-again, off-again suitor, and the eyes-and-ears in charge of catching any whisper of her sister’s doings. Champion Bachi. Apparently they were ‘on’ again. He hadn’t even asked about Meia or the Outriders this time.
The blood knight wore a variation of the dress uniform he favored, red vest, pale gold long-sleeved shirt, black pants and boots. All very simple with a minimum of red braid trim, intensifying Domme’s feeling of playing at adulthood. He smiled at her. “Forgive me. Even tonight, duty can’t be avoided.”
The lord chuckled and patted her arm, smiling at her kindly but condescendingly. “You two go enjoy yourselves with the rest of the young people,” he said, and moved off to converse with other nobles.
Domme looked at Bachi. The blood knight’s expression was bemused. “Suddenly I feel twelve years old again,” he announced. He turned to her with a grin. “Care to reenact my wicked youth and raid the liquor cabinet?”
“Your parents’ or the Regent Lord’s?”
Bachi laughed, taking her arm so casually a moment or two passed before Domme noticed. “The first is long dry, and the second is wide open tonight. I suppose we shouldn’t disappoint.”
“Bar” was a quaintly understated term for the liquid wealth on display on, below and beside a trio of tables draped in red and gold mageweave. Brandies from Dalaran, dwarven meads, wines from all over the Eastern Kingdoms and Pandaria, and more exotic liquors Domme couldn’t put name to. The staff manning the tables waited patiently. Domme eyed one of the more unusual bottles – amber-colored, oddly thick faceted glass -- then yielded to practicality. “A glass of Eversong white, please.” Weak, not apt to go to her head on a single glass, or worse, lose her stomach. Bachi nodded at the woman who gave Domme her glass. “The same, if you will.”
“Now we no longer look like we’re snubbing our host,” he murmured, as he led her to the buffet, four tables teaming with platters, servers, tureens, pans, bowls. Domme caught scent of dishes familiar and strange, and suddenly remembered lunch was many hours past. Bachi stopped suddenly, while they were yet yards away, and put his glass in her hand.
“Find us a seat,” he said. “I’ll get us plates.”
Domme watched him thread a path through the buffet crowd, embarrassment a black bitter roil in her gut. Some of the handiwork on one of those tables was hers. She doubted Bachi had ever dealt with this situation before; the other women to whom he paid court weren’t mere shopkeepers. You don’t boil eggs in front of a dam dragonhawk, Domme thought wryly, and began a circuit of the room in pursuit of acceptable seating, a lone traveler in an archipelago of people.
City legend said this particular hall had been enchanted by the Sunstrider family to be larger than it appeared. Domme found that believable. At the end opposite musicians played and couples danced, with room to spare for spectators. She saw her nobleman gesturing wildly at a trio of his peers. Raised voices argued politics, and Domme prudently veered away.
Low tables hosted dice and card games; brief shouts of exultation or defeat erupted like startled birds. Domme’s skin tingled, and she stopped to watch two women square off across a glowing orange ball floating mid-air. Absorbed in the magical battle of wills, their audience ignored her. Except for one. Verilore, Lord Felwraithe, raised his eyes to her and nodded. She dropped him a brief curtsey, pleased at seeing at least a single person she knew. His lips curved in a half smile, as the woman next to him placed a hand with long, silver-and-gold-lacquered nails possessively on his arm. Domme gave him an answering grin and left him to his own entertainment.
She chose an unattended fireplace, its log burning low, the faint smoke giving off scents of cherry wood and bayberry. Couches framed a table in a U-shape. Domme claimed the center one and hoped Bachi could find her.
She sipped her wine, using the need to watch for her escort to observe their fellow attendees. Nobles, the majority. But here and there, like nuts scattered throughout a cake, Domme recognized familiar faces: a messenger, a clerk, the owner of a particularly costly shop. Among others. Commoners, like herself, and nearly all of them women.
The story that this affair was some ruse by the Regent Lord to foment romantic interests between his guests came to memory. Domme frowned and drank again. Ridiculous notion.
“I hope that scowl’s not for me.” Bachi appeared like a summoning at the opening of the U, set plates on the table and dropped gracefully down next to her. “I beg pardon, but there were people who just had to speak to me.”
“No,” Domme answered, “Lost in thought.”
“Not thought for a party, I assume.” He smiled. “Chase them away with what I suffered through attempted monologues on trade routes through the Alterac Mountains and the necessity of introducing goats into Tranquillien to obtain.” He presented Domme with one of the plates.
His expression and tone conspired to make her laugh, and succeeded. “Pity taken,” she said and took her plate. He had chosen a sampler’s variety from the buffet – meats, salads, vegetable dishes, fruit tarts she could cradle in her palm, all light but good for keeping drink from going to one’s head.
They talked while they ate, or rather, Bachi did. Domme was content to listen, allowing herself to be pulled into the conversation gradually. She knew little of current events beyond the Exchange’s rumor mill, hadn’t traveled beyond Undercity and no friends or acquaintances who had. She was afraid of appearing – of revealing her status as – someone who lived a very narrow life. How narrow she’d never considered before. That fear loosened its grip; Bachi’s skill as a raconteur wove explanations of events and places for her benefit into his tale’s natural flow.
“How did you reach the wreck? All that seaweed…”
“Well, what you need to remember about Vash’jir is –“
“It’s a simply horrid place and one visit is enough!”
A woman in a flowing green gown with open, cross-laced sides tossed back her midnight waterfall of hair and beamed at them. “You can’t possibly have enjoyed it, Bachi,” she went on in a mock-scolding tone. Five more party-goers hovered behind her like brilliantly-plumed ducklings trailing their mother. She sat down on the left couch, folding her legs under her. The first of her troupe, a man in varying shades of blue accented with gold, planted himself next to her. For a moment Domme had a bewildering sense of déjà vu -- had Verilore manged to change his clothes and his companion? Then she realized he wasn’t Verilore. A relative, certainly; a smudged, softer version of Felwraithe’s scion. His eyes met hers; an expression she couldn’t name lit them briefly.
“I hate to disappoint you, Orithia, but I did.” Bachi’s voice, amused and slightly pained, caught Domme’s attention. “Domme, Orithia Stardawn. Orithia, Domme Heartjoy.”
Orithia smiled brilliantly. “Heartjoy? The confectioners?” At Domme’s nod, she clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, you make those delightful little porcupines Malidan’s aunt has at her teas! I love them! Too cute to eat sometimes!”
“Thank you.” Domme’s smile felt tired. She should be – she was – used to the condescension of Silvermoon’s elite. Tonight, though, it rankled deep.
“Ori, love, don’t embarrass the poor girl.” The Felwraithe – Malidan – laughed, nodding in salute to her. “Bad form for a party. Especially this one.”
Orithia’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I do let my chatter run ahead of my thinking.”
That’s obvious. “Not to worry, Lady Stardawn.”
“Orithia, please.” She shook her head, the gem beads that held the gathers in front of her ears chiming. “No reason to be formal, when we’re taking over your table. Do you mind dreadfully? Mali and Kertryn and Zrenn want to continue their boring card game, and the people next to use are too, too loud and distracting with their Adore the Sunwell.”
Domme blinked. Bachi’s glass paused halfway to his mouth. “You must be joking.”
“Would that I were.” Malidan smiled wryly. “We had to call a bust – pardon the phrase – on our last hand when someone’s chemise landed over the bids.”
Domme reached for her wine. She needed a drink. “A chemise,” Bachi repeated.
“A very pretty one,” Orithia added. “Ivory mageweave with mauve trim. I must mention it to my tailor. Well? Do you mind?”
Bachi and Domme exchanged looks. “By all means, the table is yours,” Bachi said. That dazzling smile flashed again.
“Wonderful! And just so you know, if Kertryn loses three hands in a row, he and Mali and Zrenn have to play Pass the Wand with us.” Orithia giggled. “It was a bet.”
Domme forced her lips to curve in a smile. Pass the Wand was a childish kissing game, in Domme’s opinion, the only goal of which was to awkwardly pair players with one another, Those rumors of the party’s ulterior purpose for matchmaking were sounding less ridiculous by the moment. She raised her glass in the direction of the newcomers. “Here’s to Kertryn’s luck holding out.”
Her toast proved to be a blessing. The winning stakes in front of Kertryn grew, to the others’ dismay. Unfamiliar with this particular game, Domme watched while who was partnered with whom changed at a confusing pace. Bachi kept a running commentary on the game. Orithia and her female friends cajoled passing servants to bring liquor from the bar and trays of snacks from the buffet. They made inroads on both, urging Bachi and Domme to share. Bachi selected a few candies and a seed cake, but only a partial refill of his wine. Domme followed his lead, until Orithia poured a tumbler from the odd-shaped bottle that had intrigued Domme earlier and handed it to her. “I hear it’s a mantid cordial. So exotic!”
Domme sipped. The cordial was thick and vaguely plum-flavored, with an unexpected spicy taste, and went down warm. “It’s good,” she said a moment later.
“The mantid use their own honey as well as what they can steal from Pandaren orchards.” Malidan ran his tongue along the legs of a miniature dancer – part of the set of chocolate people the Regent Lord commissioned from Heartjoy’s. “So I understand from my cousin.”
“Ah.” Domme drank again, more deeply this time, aware of Malidan’s gaze. She was grasping for something else to say when a groan and muttered curse from Kertryn caught everyone’s attention.
“That’s it, I’m done.” He tossed down his cards in disgust.
Orithia winked at him, leaned over and licked his ear. “Not quite.” Her hands moved in a practiced pattern; the stereotypical wizard’s wand, complete with the shining star at the tip, appeared between them.
“Kertryn,” Orithia cooed, “did you really stand up poor Moru here for that awful Noonsong woman?” The poor Moru – a butter-blonde in ruby silks – fixed him a smile edged in hemlock.
Kertryn surrendered to the unavoidable. “Yes. Bad judgment on my part.”
“Very.” Moru caught his chin and kissed him until Kertryn pulled away, a drop of blood on his lower lip. Orithia giggled and handed him the wand. He dropped it on the cards; it spun, spitting rainbow sparks.
Domme eyed it like a venomous snake. Adolescent make-out games at a party hosted by the Regent Lord. She hadn’t liked them when she was an adolescent, and she liked the idea of being public entertainment even less. She didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or walk off in disgust. Neither option was feasible without making a scene. If she wasn’t here with Bachi, if the others were all strangers, she wouldn’t hesitate. But Bachi had been kind to her, in his way, and the Felwraithes were important customers. She set down her glass, intending to excuse herself for personal reasons.
The wand stopped, pointing at Malidan. He picked it up and held it out.
“Domme, I pass the wand to you.”
According to the rules, the wand-holder chose someone to question and to kiss. Or the wand-holder could pass the wand to without a question, and that person would have to kiss another. By custom, it was whoever held it last.
But not by the rules.
Domme took it, turned to Bachi and kissed him.
Desperation must have been read for interest. That was the only explanation the thinking part of Domme could find for the growing intensity of Bachi’s response. His fingers slid along her cheek as she finally pulled away to appreciative male whistles, feminine giggles, and Malidan’s ugly expression.
“I hear a song I like to dance to,” Bachi said. He stood, looking at Domme. “Would you do me the honor?”
She nodded, still dazed, and he led her off toward the end of the hall where the musicians played. “Thank you,” she murmured
He grinned. “That wasn’t entirely a rescue. I did hear music I like –.”
A liveried servant hurried up to him. “Your pardon, Champion Bachi, but the Regent-Lord requests you.”
“Bloody hell,” Bachi muttered. “Where’s the rest of his security team? Will you be all right?”
Domme nodded. “I think I see a circle dance forming.”
“Good. This shouldn’t take too long. I’ll find you. If it does take too long… we’ll meet at that fireplace again in an hour? With luck, the children should have moved on by then.”
Domme breathed laughter. “Agreed.”
The circle dance was for women only, to her relief. She joined them, losing herself to the mindless pleasure of music and movement. When the dance ended, she drifted along with a handful of other commoner women to the bar for gossip, wine, and more tumblers of the mantid cordial.
She saw Bachi now and then, alone or paired with another blood knight. From snatches of overheard conversation, more than one guest was a little too deep in the cups. Once Bachi caught her eye, giving her a wearied half-smile and an apologetic shrug.
The wine slowly disappeared, the gossip ended, her momentary companions drifted away in search of their menfolk. Feeling fuzzy-headed and slightly off-kilter, Domme set out to the fireplace and, hopefully, Bachi.
It took her a little while to find it. The table was littered with debris of the earlier festivities: empty bottles, half-filled glasses and plates, Oritihia’s wand. The nobles weren’t there, and neither was Bachi. Domme rubbed her forehead. Should she wait here? Try to find him? Or simply go home? The latter sounded very tempting.
“Your Champion’s deserted you, it seems,” said Malidan from behind her.
Domme turned. “Yes…no. He’s working.” Her head hurt. She suddenly, desperately wanted to sit down but was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stand again if she did. More, she wanted to be left alone.
“Pity. He doesn’t appreciate what he has.” Malidan smiled. “You’re alike in that.”
“What are you talking about?” She wasn’t in the mood for word-games.
“Veri positively dotes on your little shop. I have to wonder why.” Malidan moved closer and tilted her chin with a finger. The scent of Silvermoon port and stronger drink wafted from him like perfume. “He won’t mind if I have a taste.”
Domme ducked her head and stepped back. “Stop it,” she said crossly, “I’m not sleeping with your cousin.”
He snorted. “Whyever not?”
Because I don’t like him that way. Because I’m nearly certain he’s our anonymous patron. What Domme heard herself say was ”Because he’s old!”
Malidan barked laughter. “Then try the younger branch of Felwraithe.” He grabbed her by the waist and pinned her against the back of the couch His mouth closed over hers. One hand yanked her neckline down further and squeezed, the other tried to ruck up her skirts.
Domme swung up a fist and boxed him in the ear.
Malidan staggered. “Bitch!” He grabbed at her again.
A hand seized his wrist and twisted. Gasping, Malidan fell to his knees.
“Apologize,” Bachi ordered. “Now.”
Malidan shot him a look of pure loathing. “Fuck off, paladin.”
Expressionless, Bachi twisted Malidan’s wrist again. A faint grinding sound, and the Felwraithe noble cried out in pain.
“Your apology to Miss Heartjoy is accepted.” Bachi snapped the man’s forefinger and thumb like twigs. Malidan vomited. “As is your apology to me.”
He turned to Domme. “Unless you wish to stay, I will escort you home.”
Domme took a shaky breath. “Yes. Thank you. I think that’s best.”
Sometime later, wearing her oldest, most comfortable nightgown, Domme lay flat on her back in her bed and hoped the room would stop swaying. Bachi had left her at the door to the family apartments with a formal bow and “Good night.” She had brushed aside her parents’ inquiries with “Tomorrow.”
She didn’t know what would happen. Would Malidan complain to the Regent-Lord? Bachi had broken his bones, but Bachi was a Champion of Silvermoon. He could get away with things like that. Shopkeepers didn’t box the ears of nobles without reprisal.
Maybe nothing would happen. Maybe Malidan would be too embarrassed to do anything. Maybe Verilore would actually thank her for her role in his cousin’s humiliation. She laughed. Right. Of course he would.
And the Horde would proclaim her Warchief.
Domme reached out to her nightstand, groped for the pitcher of water and glass. The symptoms of a hangover were an immediate problem. The rest of her life would have to wait.