“I am Zacharias Silvermoon, keeper of the baron’s cups, wielder of Gilgamesh, inventor of hydroxyl, saviour of my house and bane of spiders. You may have heard…” I say, before I’m rudely cut off.
“That’s enough. Come in, Sir Zacharias.” I am no knight, but it would be unfair to correct him. The doorkeeper motions me in to join the party. I loosen my scarf against the warmth, but retain my black greatcoat. One must always fill their pockets.
All of Hrothgar’s least important nobles are here, supping on fruit and wine. The town is too provincial and the night too early to attract serious power, but I spot a few local celebrities. The pot-bellied mayor, Therden Orcherson enjoys canapes with local guild leaders. Polo teams trade equestrian gossip. A band strums away on their instruments unobtrusively. My stomach grumbles and I head straight for the banquet table.
The peaches are particularly delectable this season. I grab several, along with a couple of the gilded wine goblets. No host will notice a few goblets disappearing throughout a night like this. They’ll be too smashed on the finest Fanfoss reds, and hopefully I can nab some more substantial items later on. One must always fill their pockets.
For now, I must keep up appearances. A plump, brown haired girl who might be a third cousin is motioning me to the dancefloor. I can smell the reek of chewing tobacco on her lips as she tries to pull me in close. Such are the perils of being devilishly attractive, even beneath half a pound of whiteface makeup. The next song cannot come quickly enough.
As the girls rotate, I am struck by my next partner. Unlike the other docile girls, she stands tall and proud. Very tall. Her face would be pretty, if it wasn’t sliced through by a most unfortunate scar, which her long red hair seems to draw attention to. Her frilly white dress looks fit for a wedding. She takes the lead, with an unladylike strength. I venture to ask her name.
“You may call me Elizabeth Bloodmoon.” she says. I reach out to her hips to better lead the dance, but she knocks my hand away with a slap. She mutters beneath her breath, then loud enough for me to hear, “But you should not be in this place. Leave the fools to their japes.” Before I can ask her to clarify, the dance is over. Elizabeth rotates through, and I’m left with another dull distant relative. I play my part, biding time until the evening’s centrepiece arrives.
Baron Hrothgar enters and taps his glass to make an announcement. The host is fashionably late, of course. The pale torchlight heightens his thin, angular visage, which is thrown into sharp relief by the brutish creature which follows him in chains. “May I present to you, the city’s newest attraction, nature’s strangest creation, the duck-bear!” he booms.
The creature following him is chained and manacled, with the beak of a duck and body of a bear. The huge monstrosity must weigh at least 200 kilograms. It quacks – a deep booming sound – and struggles against the chains. Three animal keepers strike it with whips, and it lets out another quack before quietening.
The audiences stunned silence gives way to a loud hubbub of gossip. Baron Hrothgar continues “This magnificent creature will be sent to The New Archive for study.” The keepers whips strike home again, as they try to herd this beast into position in the corner of the ballroom. “After it performs here tonight, of course.”
Before the performance can commence, there is a loud crack as the beast’s chains are shattered in a single cut. Elizabeth Bloodmoon, frilly dress flying in the air, pounces from the chain to the Baron’s side, now holding her claymore to his throat. “You decadent fools live only by the sufferance of others. How does a simple duck-bear deserve this foul treatment?”
The duck-bear is now marauding through the crowd, quacking and swiping with its paws at nobles in a mixture of confusion and fear. Elizabeth continues, “I am the Blood Moon, and my Crimson Banners stand at the doors of this aristocratic house of debauchery. You have been judged, and found wanting. The parasites will be excised.” She slices off the Baron’s head, then wades into the crowd, claymore singing. Her dance of death is graceful and terrible. She twirls and pirouettes as her white dress is stained red by the nobles she cuts down.
Trapped between the screams at the entrance where the Crimson Banners are slickening the patio with noble blood, the hollow maniacal laugh of the Blood Moon and a rampaging duck-bear, I make for the nearest window, stopping only to retrieve a gold ring from its startled owner. I dive headlong through the pane, which shatters and lodges a shard in my leg. I land with a roll on the grassed lawn, grimace as I stand up, and survey the situation.
Three Crimson Banners are being kept busy by the steady stream of sodden nobles through the main entrance. I slink over to the loose patio board hiding my stash. With a stifled squeal, I remove the glass fragment, then slip out of these noble clothes and into something less bloodstained, secreting the day’s takings into my backpack. One must always fill their pockets. Then I quietly limp my way back to the main street. These zealots wouldn’t bother a working man like poor Zac.