Giving Day at Black Keep:Part Three
Two white paws slammed down on the table. "Mother!" Celice barked, ears perked forward and fur bristling. "That is quite enough!" Kass’s eyes snapped up at her in shock. "Lord Kass has shown our family nothing but kindness and hospitality, and this is how you repay him?" The sorceress leaned over the table toward her mother. "How dare you insult him! You think yourself superior just because of your family ties, but Lord Kass is ten times the noblepet you will ever be with that attitude!"
Minevra’s jaw dropped. "Celice—darling," she stammered. "How could you say such awful things to your own mother?"
"Because they’re true," Celice growled. "And it’s time someone calls you out on it before you become even more of a monster."
"Well, I—" Minevra took a few halting steps back, obviously not used to someone actually standing up to her. "I just—oh, this is rotten!" she wailed. "You’re all being perfectly beastly!" In a flurry of expensive fabric, she turned and ran from the hall, sobbing loudly.
"Dear!" Crom called after her, nearly knocking over his chair as he ran to follow her, as did Belven.
Elyria shot her sister a nasty look. "How could you upset Mother so?" the Blumaroo hissed. "Perhaps spending Giving Day with you was a mistake." Before Celice could reply, Elyria said, "Come on, Rondas, let’s go console Mother." She tugged her husband out of his chair and stormed out of the hall with him in tow.
The rest of the room was deathly silent for one awkward moment. "Wow, Aunt Celice really said some mean things to Grandmother," the Gelert nephew said.
"But oh look—blancmange!" his Peophin sister said, pulling the platter of wobbly white desert closer to her. And so at least the children swiftly forgot about the drama.
Celice looked rather drained as she sank back into her chair. Gripping the arms, she looked at the table for a moment. Then she took off her spectacles, folded her arms, and buried her snout in them.
Kass put a paw on her head. "Thank you for sticking up for me," he said. "I’m so sorry. I—perhaps I’m the one to blame for this. Perhaps I shouldn’t have extended this invitation to you all."
"No, no, it wasn’t you," Celice said, her voice muffled through her arms. "They’re just terrible. I thought perhaps they’d be able to behave themselves for at least a few days… but I suppose I was wrong—" Her shoulders shuddered.
Pharazon flew over the table and handed her a napkin she could blow her nose with. "Don’t blame yourself," he said. "They were the ones who couldn’t rise to the occasion."
"I’m terribly sorry," Annelita said. "She can have my pie if it’ll make her feel better."
"Thank you, dear," Kass said, "but I’m afraid that would just teach her that she’ll get whatever she wants if she throws a big enough tantrum. You go enjoy that pie and let that woman learn her lesson." He thought perhaps that came out a bit harsh, but the last thing he wanted to do at this point was enable Minevra. Annelita seemed to understand, or at least to want her pie badly enough, as she nodded and walked back to her seat.
"My family hates me now," Celice said quietly. "My whole life, I’ve tried to bring prestige to the Anfel name… when I decided to go into magic, I worked myself to the bone through university to make them proud… and now I think I’ve ruined that."
"But you also would not tolerate someone insulting your friend," Kass said. "It is actions like those that bring real honour to your family. And it is the other members of your family who are tarnishing the reputation of House Anfel."
By now the others had clustered around the table, and Isengrim placed one large paw on the back of the sorceress’s chair. "You acted from your heart, Celice," he said. "There is no shame in that." He grinned. "And what kind of friend would you be if you let your own mother continue to spout rubbish about one of your dearest friends right to his face?"
"Dash it all, you’re right," Celice said with a sniff, looking up at him. "No one gets away with that sort of behaviour—I don’t care who they are."
"I don’t understand what happened," the Tuskaninny niece said as she wandered over to them, nibbling at a doughnutfruit, her siblings following.
Terra folded her arms and looked down at the girl. "Your grandma was being a little bit spoiled," the owner said.
"What’s that mean?" the girl asked.
"That she thinks she can get whatever she wants," Blynn said.
The girl seemed to ponder this for a moment. "Well, why can’t she?" she asked.
"Because life doesn’t work like that, sweetheart," Celice said.
Her niece wrinkled her nose and then turned to Kass. "Lord Kass, are you going to throw Grandmother off the Keep?" she asked with morbid excitement.
Kass grimaced. "Most certainly not," he said. "There will be no throwing anyone off the Keep, understand?" He glanced further down the table with a smile. "But I see plenty of treacle tarts if anyone wants them."
"Oh, treacle tarts!" said the youngest nephew, a green Chia with freckles and two missing teeth. "My favourite!" He and his siblings scampered off to consume the excess of tarts.
The lord mayor reached over and squeezed Celice’s paw. "Just give your mother some time to come around," he said. "In the meantime, let’s enjoy dessert, shall we?"
Celice nodded reluctantly, and Kass served her a slice of pie. As the group of friends ate, she retained a token interest in the conversation, but was otherwise rather silent.
"It’s too bad Lexora couldn’t make it," Pharazon said. "I hope she’s having a good Giving Day."
"Aye, I’m sure she is," Connor said. "Suhel’s hostin’ her family at the Burrows this Givin’ Day. They showed up before Mister Isengrim and me left. You should’ve seen Lexora, she looked positively ecstatic at seein’ the Burrows!"
"I was wondering why you only brought one other guest with you," Kass said to Isengrim before sipping from his mug of cocoa.
Isengrim had gotten himself a big chunk of gammon for his dessert, and he swallowed a bite of it to say, "Aye, Suhel would’ve stayed behind anyway. She’s a bit of a homebody and she likes to keep the Burrows running smoothly while I’m away." He chuckled. "You should’ve seen Lexora’s two boys—acted like we were going to make them honourary Werelupes right then and there. I should probably wait until they’ve grown a bit to give them weapons."
"I’m sure their mother will appreciate that," Pharazon said with a snicker.
"I think I’d like to try some o’ that pie as well, Mister Kass, if you don’t mind," Connor said.
"Of course not," Kass said, cutting him a slice.
As Connor reached out his plate, something white glistened on his upper arm, beneath his fur cloak, and Pharazon’s eyes widened. "Connor—you got your fangs!" the Draik said.
Connor looked over at him and grinned. "Aye, I did! It was right generous of Mister Isengrim, givin’ ‘em to me so soon after I made it to the Burrows."
As the boy-Werelupe tucked in to his pie, Kass tilted his head. "What do you mean, he got his fangs?" the Eyrie asked, the tip of his tail swishing curiously. "They look a lot like the ones you’re wearing, Pharazon."
Pharazon put his claws to the fang necklace on his chest and smiled. "It’s a Werelupe thing," he said.
"It is a symbol of strength," Isengrim elaborated. "In my pack, when you have proven your strength, you are allowed to wear fangs. It is how other Werelupes also know you are strong." He gestured to the fangs he wore on both arms.
"Fascinating," Kass said. "I didn’t know Werelupes had such an elaborate culture."
"I enjoyed making it up," Isengrim said, puffing out his chest proudly. "Connor, why don’t you tell them what you did to prove your strength?"
The smaller Werelupe ducked his head in embarrassment. "Well—it was nothin’, really," he said. "Mister Isengrim just gave ‘em to me for bein’ brave enough to leave the Haunted Woods and come stay with his pack at the Werelupe Burrows."
Isengrim put a paw on his thane’s shoulder. "There is nothing ordinary about that at all," the king said with a smile. "It took great courage and strength to leave your home to venture to an unknown place, to give another culture a chance. And even though I imagine it was painfully difficult for you, you defended yourself against your family." He looked over at Celice.
The white Lupe glanced up at him and then went back to nibbling on her pie, nodding feebly.
"I think that’s a super brave thing to do, Connor," Terra said. "You’ve definitely earned those fangs."
Kass noticed that she, too, wore a set of fangs, around her wrist. Pharazon had told the Eyrie much about his family’s adventures concerning the Werelupes a few years back, but there were still a few details Kass had not yet been filled in on. It still sort of felt odd to Kass to think of his friend having gone on an adventure before ever meeting him, and then another adventure while Kass had been busy with lord mayor business. But he supposed his friends were allowed to be interesting without him.
After a bit more chatting and a bit more eating, Celice finally stood up. "I should go see to Mother," she said. "Perhaps she’s in a more reasonable mood now."
"I’ll go with you," Kass said, getting out of his chair as well.
"So will I," Pharazon said.
Celice chuckled. "You act as though I’m about to walk into a den of Noils. But… thank you. I could use your moral support." She turned to their other companions. "The rest of you should stay here, if you please. This is family business. I’m not expecting all of you to step in and solve my family problems for me."
"No worries," Terra said. "Someone’s gotta eat the rest of these fruits, right?"
"I’m already on it!" Blynn said, scooping an armful of berries toward herself and her Grundo brother. "Hyren, help me out here!"
Hyren picked up a purblare from the pile and eyed it with a grin. "Gladly," he said.
Celice leaned over and lifted a slice of pie onto a plate. "I’d hate to approach her without some sort of peace offering," the Lupe said. "She really does like sparkleberry pie."
"I think that’s sweet of you," Pharazon said.
Kass nodded. The Eyrie didn’t feel like Minevra should get pie after she’d thrown a tantrum over it, but if she was truly sorry, he wouldn’t want to deprive her of dessert either. "At any rate," he said as the three friends departed the hall, "I ate entirely too much. A bit of walking will aid my digestion."
They traversed Black Keep via the lifts, ascending to the residential floors, and Kass’s stomach did feel a little more settled by the time Celice led them to her parents’ guest quarters. Taking a deep breath, she knocked at the door.
Elyria opened it, and when she saw who it was, her eyes narrowed. "Yes, what do you want?" the Blumaroo asked curtly.
"To speak to Mother," Celice said, holding her head high.
"Oh, to apologise?" Elyria asked rather vindictively.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Celice said. "So please let me through." Her sister was so surprised that she did, indeed, let Celice into the sitting room.
Kass and Pharazon followed, although Kass kept Pharazon with him by the wall. This was something the Anfels needed to try to work out on their own. The two of them would only interfere if things turned dire.
The matriarch of House Anfel lay on a couch, surrounded by her family. Her husband patted her hand while Belven carefully held a rather saturated handkerchief.
"Such humiliation!" Minevra wailed. "To think—never in all my days—"
Celice stepped up to the couch, cleared her throat, and held out the plate of pie. "Mother," she said. "Can we talk about it?"
The Techo looked up at her daughter. At first her expression was surprised, and then it turned to angry, but when she saw the pie her features softened. Sitting up, she reached for the pie. "Oh—thank you," she sniffled. "I was afraid I wouldn’t get any at all, and sparkleberries are so awfully difficult to come by…"
"I’m sorry if anything I said hurt your feelings," Celice said, "but I had to stand up for Lord Kass when you were insulting him. He’s my friend, and he’s been quite hospitable to you all while you’ve just complained and schemed and tried to take advantage of his generosity." She shot a rather pointed glare at Belven, who winced. "That’s not the way any Neopet should act, least of all the nobility, we who are so often in the public eye and must be a good example to others."
"Hm… I suppose I hadn’t thought of it like that," Rondas said, stroking his curly beard.
Elyria frowned at him. "Don’t let her confuse you with her sophistry!" she hissed to her husband.
Minevra held up a hand. "No… no, she has a point, dear," their mother said slowly. "I accused everyone of being beastly downstairs… but we’re really the beastly ones, aren’t we." Her head drooped. "We’ve ruined Giving Day for everyone."
"No, you haven’t," Celice said, putting a paw on her shoulder. "We’ve all been worried about you, Mother. We want all of you to have a happy Giving Day, too. We just need you to think outside yourselves a bit more."
Belven rubbed his arm. "I suppose I have been a bit too forward with my ambitions," he said. "To be fair, Market Town’s political scene is the envy of nearly every other city in the region except the castle towns. But I should have respected His Lordship’s wishes not to trouble him about it during the holidays."
"And perhaps I should hold back on my boasting somewhat," Crom said. "Although the Werelupe King and the little Grundo fellow seem to enjoy it, none of the staff look quite as interested."
"Elyria, dear," Rondas said to his wife.
The Blumaroo folded her arms and scowled. "I’m still cross with you for not helping me with my hair, Celly," she said.
"Well, I think that’s a waste of energy," Celice said. "Your children are down there making themselves sick off of treacle tarts, you know. I think they could use most of the time you devote to making a fuss over things."
At the mention of her children, Elyria’s eyes widened. "Oh, no—they’ll never get to sleep tonight after eating all those sweets!" she said, tugging on her floppy ears. "Rondas and I won’t get a moment’s rest!"
"I hear they like Meristones," Celice said. "There’s a few Meristones sets here in the Keep, as well as other games. Why don’t you and Rondas play some games with them to burn off all that energy?"
Elyria went back to being cross and spiteful as she looked down her nose at her younger sister. "I don’t need suggestions on how to deal with my children from you."
"That’s enough, Elyria," Minevra said, standing up authoritatively. "I won’t have you speaking to your sister that way."
"But Mother!" Elyria said.
Minevra glowered at her. "Celice is trying to help us," the Techo said. "If you’re going to continue to make a fuss about something so trivial, you can leave."
"But—" Elyria said.
Minevra pointed fiercely at the door.
"Fine," Elyria spat. "Come on, Rondas." She grabbed her husband’s hand and pulled him out into the hall.
"Good luck," Pharazon whispered to Rondas as the Nimmo passed him. Rondas gave him a bewildered nod.
"I’m sorry, dear," Minevra said to Celice. "You didn’t deserve that."
"Thank you," Celice said. "I’m just glad the rest of you are listening to me. It means a lot."
Belven put a wing around her shoulders. "Well, we are your family," the Shoyru said. "I suppose it’s time we start acting like it. I’ll try my hardest to be a more gracious guest. Do you think that Connor boy would mind telling me more about the fascinating science he does?"
"I don’t think he’d mind at all," Celice said with a smile. "And Father, you talk to King Isengrim and Hyren as much as you want. I think they’re enjoying trying to out-brag you."
The purple Krawk stood up straighter. "I say, they’ve got a tall order to fill there!" he said. "I haven’t even told them about how your venerable sixth-great-grandfather was the Duke of Weatherill during the War of the Marrow, and successfully defended his castle during a month-long siege!"
"Sounds like you’ve got quite a good Giving Day planned out," Celice said. She turned to the elder Lady Anfel. "Mother, what would you like to do? Kass isn’t angry with you anymore." The sorceress looked up at the Eyrie. "Right?"
"Of course," Kass said, stepping forward. "I forgive you, Lady Minevra." He extended his paw. "And I would like you to come back downstairs and enjoy Giving Day supper." Being a Draconian, Kass knew quite a bit about being vilified and prejudiced against. But, being a Draconian, he also knew very much about the importance of forgiveness. And, being Kass, he was keenly aware of the toxicity of resentment and vengefulness.
Minevra looked at him for a moment, and then took his paw and shook it cordially. "Thank you, Lord Mayor," she said. "I promise I won’t cause any more scenes."
"Oh, good," Kass said with a smile. "I wouldn’t want you to miss dessert again."
Celice’s mother offered him a bit of a chuckle. "Me either," she said. "But as for what I’d like to do…" She turned to her daughter. "I want to spend more time with you, Celice," she said.
"Me?" Celice blinked. "Really?"
"Oh, yes," Minevra said. "You’re always so busy with research or your diplomatic duties… I rarely hear from you, much less see you. I know after this, you’ll be bustling off to your next assignment… so I would like to get some time with you while I can. I know I haven’t been the best mother… but I want to try to make up for that now."
Celice hugged her. "Oh, of course," the Lupe said. "You can start right now by coming to supper with us! And I’d love to have you along when we tour the Keep tomorrow!" She looked over her mother’s shoulder. "Is that all right, Kass?"
"Certainly," Kass said. He couldn’t stop smiling. It always felt good to see things resolved peacefully like this. He would have hated for this night to end on a sour note for anyone, especially since it was Giving Day.
As they stepped out into the hallway, Elyria approached them. Her eyes were downcast and her ears drooped. "Ah… may we borrow a few Meristones sets?" she murmured.
"Yes, you may," Kass said, "as well as any other games you’d like. We should also have an Armada board."
"Oh, smashing," Rondas said. "I love Armada and I’ve been meaning to teach the children."
"Ask the nearest servant and they’ll fetch the games for you," Kass said. "And I would appreciate if you treat my staff with respect. They are my valued employees and I care about them."
Minevra ducked her head. "Of course, Lord Mayor," she said.
"Thank you," Elyria said, still not meeting anyone’s eyes. She moved to leave, but then she glanced up at her sister. Her mouth opened as though she wanted to say something, but she couldn’t seem to bring herself to as she tugged her husband away.
Supper went much better after that. The members of House Anfel continued to socialise with their new friends, and Minevra sent the nieces and nephews up to their parents and safely away from any more dessert. Then she sat down to talk to Celice, wanting to know all about what the sorceress had been up to, both in her academic work and in helping Isengrim and Lord Kass integrate with the rest of the Meridell region.
As Celice described a recent paper she had written on the effects of Shenkuuvian spell reagents, Minevra suddenly said, "I’m so proud of you, Celly."
Celice paused and blinked. "You—you are?"
"Oh, yes," Minevra said. "I’ve always been proud of you. You’re the first Anfel in quite a while to study magic, you know. Your father and I couldn’t be prouder to have such an amazing sorceress in the family. It’s a gift we certainly lack."
"Really?" Celice asked. "I… all these years, I was so worried that I couldn’t live up to your expectations…"
"You didn’t know how impressed we are with you?" Minerva asked.
"Well, you never told me," Celice said.
The Techo rubbed her chin. "Oh… I suppose we just assumed…"
"And that’s why communication is so important," Hyren whispered to Terra, who nodded.
"I’m glad," Celice said. "I’ve worked so hard to do our family name good."
Minevra squeezed her paw. "You have, dear. In more ways than one."
The feast was winding down now and the tables were being cleared of platters and dishes. Kass and his friends pitched in, and Minevra even helped a little, once Kass explained that in Black Keep, everyone helped with the chores. Although the woman seemed unsure at first, as though doing chores might give her some horrible disease, she exclaimed afterward that it wasn’t all that bad, after all.
By then, everyone was pretty tired, and they all went their separate ways to get some sleep, although Celice assured her mother that she would get to come on the tour the next morning.
"Thanks for not interfering earlier," Celice said to Pharazon and Kass as they walked her back to her quarters. "You played your part perfectly."
"Oh, good," Kass said. "I hope you’re feeling better."
"I am," Celice said. "I think this needed to happen. I’m sorry it had to upset so many people, but something needed to be done." She smiled. "And I might as well take the initiative."
To be continued…