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The primary chamber of the Grand Banquet Hall was furnished for public dining. Numerous tables dominated the place, sized for private couples or small parties. Each one a circle of wood sliced from the trunk of a single great tree, sanded glass-smooth. Each keeping its natural ring of tawny bark, sealed with shining varnish. The chairs and table settings were equally exotic, with centerpieces sized to the table comprised of candle lamps colored cerulean, teal, and lime, set in fanciful coils of writhing metal. Their flickers of cool-colored light complimented living tapestries of moonmoss along the walls in splendid fashion.
A trio of players plied their trade from the Musicianís CrŤche, playing a soft melody on spike-fiddle, hand-drum, and brass flute. Slag took a moment to savor the music alongside his lovely companion. A far corner of his mind, however, couldn't help but try to analyze the flute's metallic composition. The formula of metal it would take to get those specific tones out of that length of brass. His eyes and ears turned back to the center of his attention. A round, puffy-cheeked troll, with a smile as wide as her eyes. Her orange hair, a good bit brighter than his own scarlet, bound up in a braided bobtail. His hand approached hers, but stopped just shy. She covered his fingers with her own.
"So when's the big day?" he asked, genuinely curious. He knew without guessing that this was why she'd asked him to come see her in this lofty place. The private announcement ahead of the public one.
Soupstone smiled lightly. "Four years from the next New Moon." Four years was the traditional engagement period among middle-tier trolls. Soupstone and Tallcrag had been promised to each other since they were both little more than mumps, but it was customary for future couples to make it official on their own terms when they were of an age and mind to do so. Meaning, once their careers and ranks were firmly established. As it happened, both had secured steps up over the past century. "You'll be invited to the ceremony, of course."
Slag looked down to the stacked hands, grateful, in a peculiar way. "We've certainly made use of the time we were allowed before our commitments came due. Be a shame to end it as something other than friends."
"Never happen," she assured him. "One mustnít fret over what isn't possible."
With a professional cough, an attendant made himself known before cleaning away the remains of the first course. Snail chowder with dried berries, alongside a moss salad with a tangy dressing whose components Soupstone could doubtless break down as well as he could alloys. Soupstone was working her way up the kitchens of this very hall. Spending one of their first social evenings together here, many years past, had been his idea. A way for her to size up the place and its ways ahead of seizing the chance to work in its kitchens when it came along. Now, she knew all trolls bound to the place. "Thank you, Clatter."
With the help departed, Slag said, "So go on, tell me. How are the two of you getting on?"
The troll-maiden blushed, her green cheeks taking on a brownish hue. "His gifts are becoming more creative each time we meet. It's embarrassing really. Baubles from the world above. Pine-cone earrings lined with wire, that was the last one. Quite lovely, really. I almost wore them here tonight." She looked over to the musicians. "It must be terribly boring up there, the wait between hunts. Not much to do but fiddle with your hands." Still watching the players, Soupstone momentarily went quiet. The obvious question came in its own time. "So how are things with you and Thumbprint?"
Slag had known Thumbprint for as long as he could remember, always knew where part of his life was headed. After she became his father's apprentice, the two of them were often seated together at public functions. "Father's pleased we're finally talking at something other than a cordial distance. We have more time yet to come to know each other. We've been on a few outings since the last time you and I..." Soupstone's finger reached out and tapped him in on the nose. He shrugged and nodded. "I told her you and I were cranking things down. She knows you're not going to do anything to upend our union. Or me yours."
"You know I won't." She tapped him on the nose again. "But I'm not married yet."
Slag looked away, eyes wavering. The hint of a smile wormed its way back into his mouth. Laughter erupted between them. They spent the time waiting for next course still hand in hand, watching the band finish their piece together.