Seeing the looks on people's faces, especially the mages from the Mages Guild that all thought I was incarcerated, was worth being put on display by the king and his family. He denied it at first, then admitted that I was the perfect hammer for him to use to smash their stranglehold on both the economy and the population's opinion.
They had been slowly gaining more momentum over the years and had made themselves indispensable to the kingdom and also dictated where they would be used, rather than be commanded by the actual needs of the kingdom. They had started to tie the king's hand in how he was ruling his own nation and he was tired of it.
I didn't bother protesting his plan, mainly because it was a good plan. If it worked to get the Mages Guild back under his control and in line with the interests of the rest of the kingdom, then I was glad to help. I didn't have to do anything myself, however. Just me being as an example of what the guild was capable of doing to a citizen of the kingdom was all that he and Melanie needed.
The king's birthday gathering became the top socialite event of the year, because everyone that was anyone was there to socialize. Not surprisingly, almost no one was sent over to the left side in the far corner to join Grand Mage Henrietta and his family in being snubbed. To say they were not happy at the situation was a severe understatement.
Just like the celebration supper at my mansion that Helena had invited them to, that only Mona and Selena had shown up for, they were being pushed socially off to the side as inconsequential. Helena did her best to not gloat at that fact, because she knew it would anger her family to the point that they would do something, probably something really stupid, like leave the festivities early.
I could tell that was exactly what Marcus was insisting on as he whispered angrily to his father about how unfair it was that they had to stand there and take being insulted. The Grand Mage didn't say anything in response, probably because he knew that if he left, it would be a clear breach between the guild and the kingdom. He didn't want to lose the political game in a clear defeat like that.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Grand Mages Council eventually arrived and made their way over to Grand Mage Henrietta, instead of letting them take the king's displeasure all alone. Absolutely everyone noticed this, even someone politically stupid like myself, and the talk in the great ballroom shifted to the clear division between the Royal Family and the Mages Guild.
I even heard the Grand Mage try to tell them to mingle and none of them listened, determined to give him their support. I was sure that I heard him sigh again and felt eyes looking at me. When I turned to look, Marcus looked furious and his face was almost pulsing red from blood pressure. His mother Mona was trying to calm him down, fruitlessly as it turned out, and he didn't speak at all as he ignored her.
When all of the guests had finally arrived, the king made an impassioned speech about the security of the kingdom, his happiness at the ceasefire that had been declared, and how the economy had been booming since then. He thanked them all for their participation in making it all possible and it was met with applause.
“Let's dance!” King Rivers said loudly and the music started up as he led the queen to the middle of the room and started the waltz. I was quick to join him with Helena on my arm and that prompted a flood of people to get as close to dancing with the king and queen as they could. The king knew it would be that way, which was why he usually did this first, before they all sat down to eat.
He switched out the queen for Melanie and I changed Helena for Vanessa. Both women blushed as we did so, and we assured them that they had just as much right to be there on our arms as we had to be on theirs. The queen and Helena leaned in close and conversed in hushed whispers as they observed everyone around us as the men tried to copy the king and myself.
The funny part was that their current dance partners didn't want to be tossed aside and wanted to stay on the dance floor next to the king. It was amusing, especially to the king, when there was a lot of stuttering steps as couples tried to stop dancing and keep dancing at the same time. The king made sure to swing Melanie around a bit more than he normally would have, just so he could see up close the struggles of those around them. She didn't mind that at all.
“You're a good man.” Vanessa whispered to me as she hugged me close.
You have a critical choice to make. This will change how Vanessa sees you and your future relationship. Will you choose properly or will you let things develop differently? Good luck.
A) Tell a lie. B) Tell the truth. C) Say nothing. D) Stop dancing. E) Walk away. F) Choose two.
I don't see a 'keep dancing' option, which means unless I choose to stop, I'll keep going. I thought and read the options again. I think I'll go with a single option this time. I'll choose B.
“No, I'm just a man. Good or bad? That's not something I ever considered, now that I know what they mean and can look at my actions with proper objectivity.” I admitted and she looked surprised.
“David, what do you mean?”
“In my mind, what I did, all of it, was right by me. If I didn't do what I had to do, I wouldn't have survived. Was that bad? Not to me. I lived. I made it, even through some of the worst things that anyone could ever go through.”
Vanessa looked sad and gave my cheek a kiss. “You don't have to...”
“I am not a nice person by society's normal rules. I've maimed, I've killed, and I've caused the deaths of others. I live by my own rules, most of which I learned from the harshest person anyone could ever meet.” I said and she stared into my eyes. “I know some of my values are wrong and I don't care. Do you want to know why?”
Vanessa was quiet for a few moments, then she nodded. “Yes.”
“If everyone tried to live through what I went through, they wouldn't have survived.” I said and her eyes widened. “I think that's what the Hag meant when I was a child and she said that I had potential. She didn't mean my magic abilities. It was my willingness to do whatever it took to survive, no matter how painful, how horrible, or how disgusting.”
“D-David...” Vanessa whispered and looked to be on the verge of tears.
“She was right.” I said. “Up until now, I would do anything to survive. I'll fight, I'll maim, and I'll kill, all because I want to survive.”
“You'll do anything?” Vanessa whispered as a tear from each eye rolled down her cheeks. “What if...”
“No, don't think that. You misunderstand what I'm saying.” I said and lightly kissed her. “I said 'up until now'.”
Vanessa blinked her eyes and gave me a blank stare. “You can't mean...”
“No, I'm not giving up fighting for my life.” I said and she let out a sigh of relief. “I'm trying to tell you that now I have something else to fight for besides my own survival.”
Vanessa caught her breath. “You mean...”
“My new family. My wife, my son, and my consort.” I said and her tears overflowed as she kissed me.
The song ended a minute later and I took her over to Helena. She didn't comment about the state Vanessa was in and held her at her side while I took Gillis out onto the dance floor. She was dressed in new finery like I was and she enjoyed getting to finally dance with me.
“That makes it sound like you've been waiting for this for a while.” I said and she laughed softly.
“I wasn't really; but, I always hoped I would, if that makes sense.” Gillis said. “Getting to dance is ingrained in noble training for girls.” She grinned. “How often do we get to dance with people we care about?”
“How many parties with dancing have you gone to?” I asked and she chuckled.
“Not as many as I'd like.” Gillis admitted. “If you had been there, I would have enjoyed them a lot more and I would have deeply regretted not going to more.”
“This is my first one.” I said and her eyes widened.
“How are you dancing so well?” Gillis asked, surprised.
“I'm not dancing. I'm using the techniques I learned in the marsh to move around silently. I can easily avoid your feet and lead you where I need you to go.” I said and she looked speechless.
The song ended and I brought her back over to Helena, who looked very pleased as Vanessa stood beside her and held her in a tight embrace as Vanessa rested her head on Helena's shoulder.
“Me next.” Princess Rose said and smirked at Sandra, her cousin and baroness of the new territories.
“Fine. I'll wait to talk to him for one more song.” Sandra said.
“Two more.” Rose said with a smirk and winked at me, then led me back onto the dance floor as the next song started. “You don't know how happy you've made my family, David.”
“I can guess.” I said and danced her around the dance floor to the king's side and he was dancing with Lady Marks, Greta's mother.
“My father loves the sword you gave him.” Rose said. “He uses it every day, trying to get more strikes out of it than even he thought was possible for him to manage.”
I had to smile as I remembered the state he had left my work room in after I first gave it to him. “I assume he's gone through a lot of training dummies?”
Rose laughed softly. “We have a standing order for ten new ones to be made every week.”
I thought about that for a minute. “He's making sure to lop the limbs off before going for the torso.”
“Yes, he is.” Rose said, then she looked confused. “Wait, how did you know that?”
“He's making them last as long as possible. If he didn't, I think the standing order would be daily, not weekly.” I said and her eyes widened again. “You've seen him use the sword.”
“I... yes, I...” Rose stopped talking and looked like she was deep in thought. “Now that you mention it, he really did concentrate on maiming the dummies before he went for the guaranteed kill shots.”
“A quick maiming can disable an opponent and take him out of the fight, and it takes only a fraction of the strength and energy than it would if going for a hard killing blow right away.” I explained and she nodded. “You can finish them off later or let them live with the injury, which would be a constant lesson to them.”
Rose smiled. “That's why you've maimed people. Instead of killing them, which would make you look excessively cruel and murderous, you taught them and everyone that sees them that going against you is costly.”
“In some cases, it costs more than others.” I said and Rose sighed. “Will she be here tonight?”
“She told me not to tell you.” Rose said and looked sad.
“Ah, so she is showing up to surprise me.” I said and Rose caught her breath. “Telling me you can't say, means she is. If she wasn't coming, you would have just said so.”
“Oh, damn.” Rose said with a shake of her head. “I knew that you were too smart to hide anything from.”
I intentionally ducked my head as I looked down at her dress and the peek-a-boo cut that showed off her breasts. You could only see it when hugged closely together, because that was what the design was meant for. Intimacy. When I straightened up and looked back at her face, it was bright red and she had her lips set into a cute pout.
“Thank you.” I whispered.
Rose lost the pout as she smiled demurely. Her blush didn't fade in the least. When the song ended, I didn't bother trying to go back to Helena and turned to the king.
“Your majesty.” I said and handed Rose to him as I took Lady Marks from him.
“Oh, very smooth.” King Rivers said with a chuckle as he accepted his daughter as his new dance partner. “You wanted to see another stuttering dance from everyone else, too?”
I smiled and Lady Marks laughed as she hugged me close.
“You are just full of surprises.” Lady Marks said and the four of us watched as dozens of couples around us did the same little unsure moves as the men stopped dancing to go get someone else and the socializing women wanted to keep dancing near the king. It was just as funny watching the indecision this time as it was the first time.