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The Garter: The knights amuse themselves with an old wedding tradition while waiting for Salome to arrive and start a meeting.

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"What's wrong, Lord Borus? You look a little down. Had a bit of bad wine, did you? Or maybe some bit of food turned your stomach?

"I'll take your silence for a yes. Oh, come on, there's no need to scowl at me like that; I drank as much as you did. And I know that normally you can hold your liquor well enough to catch something small thrown to you.

"Ah, is that the trouble? So you actually believe that old superstition. It's too bad it came to me, then, since I don't have a use for that nonsense. It's such a small thing, really... and I don't have a use for the trifle itself, either. Here, I'd give it to you – but the magic is in the catching of it, isn't it? Besides, what woman would wed you?

"My, that's an interesting shade of red your face has turned, Lord Borus..."

Chris Lightfellow looked up from her tea to see a jovial Percival dangling a small, lacy object in front of Borus's rather red face. She sighed.

"Percival, please stop taunting Borus. Or go do it somewhere else." She found herself pressing a hand against the pain in her temples. "You may have been sober enough last night to catch the garter, but some of us are regretting that one last glass of wine."

Percival withdrew the offending object and shrugged apologetically. Borus scowled at him. Chris sighed again, pointedly, and both knights suddenly became interested in adjusting their clothing, Borus fiddling with an embroidered cuff and Percival brushing imaginary dust from his shoulder.

Chris looked down at her own vestments, frowning at the red wool of her coat. It felt strange to wear clothing that didn't creak or clank when she moved. The return to civilian clothes should have been a relief and an indication of a brighter future, what with the long-lasting ceasefire and upcoming treaty negotiations. Borus and Percival seemed comfortable enough in their brocade jackets and soft leather boots; Louis, too, had graduated to adult finery (if not quite adult height), and strutted about the room like a peacock as he offered the knights refreshment.

I guess I'm the only one who feels naked without armor on, Chris thought ruefully, watching as a silk-trimmed Roland accepted a cup and saucer from Louis. She shook her head. It was silly to feel this way; there was no danger of enemy arrow or blade here in Vinay del Zexay, in her own parlor.

"Did you enjoy the banquet last night, Lord Roland?" Louis was asking the elf, having served all present. "I didn't see you after the music started."

"Roland was on the dance floor, charming the ladies with his unique grace, while Borus and I were charming the wine bottles," Percival said, earning another scowl from Borus. "When we weren't wooing the ladies ourselves, of course."

"It's not often he gets to show off what a good dancer he is," Chris put in. "When was the last time we were invited to a wedding celebration, anyway?"

Louis thought about it for a moment, still holding the tea tray. "Lord Berram's? No, wait, that was only as an honor guard."

Percival shrugged. "As usual. They invite us for the ceremony, have us stand around looking important, and then shoo us off before we can have any fun. And Borus doesn't drink that much."

"They're probably afraid of you stepping on the ladies' feet and crippling them," Borus returned testily. "Why did Greisal invite us to the feast, anyway?"

Chris shrugged. "He's been lobbying for increased patrols on the route to Tinto. He probably hoped to buy our friendship, or at least our cooperation."

Percival frowned, brushing at his shoulder again. "Politics. Well, at least we managed to enjoy ourselves on his potch. So it was a worthwhile evening."

The others voiced their agreement; Chris broke off her nod and winced at the volume. A worthwhile evening, except for this blasted headache.

It was clear that Borus, too, would have preferred to spend the morning sleeping off the previous night's wine. He was irritable even without Percival's aid. "Speaking of last evening, why has Salome called a meeting so early in the morning?" He glanced out the window, shielding his eyes against the still-low sun. "He must be as tired as we are, unless...don't tell me he spend the entire time sober, politicking around?"

Percival shrugged. "Someone like our Salome can't stop thinking like a strategist, even at a wedding feast. He'd probably do the same at his own. Ah, well, we enjoyed ourselves enough to cover anything he missed."

"We certainly did." Chris looked down at her untouched cup of tea and grimaced. The bitter medicinal tea wouldn't do anything for her headache unless she drank it. "Louis, is there any sugar?"

Borus answered before the squire could reply from the hall. "I'll fetch some from the kitchen for you, Lady Chris."

Percival grabbed the blond knight's shoulder as Borus turned to go. "Oh, no, my friend, you don't escape another of Salome's meetings so easily!"

Borus glared, shaking off his companion's hand. "It wasn't Salome I was trying to escape. Lord Percival."

Chris decided to intervene; Borus was out of sorts enough as it was, and a fight between her colleagues wouldn't improve her temper, either. "Borus, let Louis get the sugar. Percival, for heaven's sake, leave Borus alone. Good grief, I sound like someone's mother."

Percival bowed in mock apology. "I am deeply sorry, milady, that you should need to scold myself and Lord Borus for squabbling like children."

"What! Children!" Borus grumbled, the ruffles on his shirt quivering.

"Percival…"

"All right, all right. I'll give it up." The chastised knight threw up his hands. "I know the rules. No teasing Lord Borus when the commander is hung over."

Borus, who had relaxed, stiffened again. "Lady Chris is not-"

Chris rolled her eyes; this was getting past absurd and right into pointless. "It's all right, Borus; I'm hung over. You don't need to worry about defending my dignity. Not here, among friends."

"Yes, but even so…"

"What's this about defending Lady Chris's dignity?" Leo had just entered the room.

"The Lady Chris is h-" began Percival, but broke off when Chris mouthed "Percy" at him. He cleared his throat. "The Lady Chris is suffering from the presence of yours truly. Sir Borus wished to alleviate her troubles."

"I see. I thought maybe she was talking about that thing." The grizzled knight indicated the garter that Percival still held. "But I thought women usually wore them under dresses."

Borus frowned as Percival made a show of noticing the garter for the first time. "Ah, yes, this. They threw it at the wedding. It's an old tradition, you know."

Louis returned, bearing a tray. "You were the one who caught it? Lord Percival?" The squire offered the sugar to Chris, and Percival flashed him a grin.

"Indeed."

"Doesn't that mean you're going to get married soon, Lord Percival? According to the tradition, I mean. So who are you going to marry?" Louis proffered the tea tray. "Tea, Sir Knights?"

Percival reached for a fresh cup. "Well, who would you marry if you'd caught it, Louis?"

"Lady Chris, of cour- that's not fair, Lord Percival!" Louis pulled the tray out of Percival's reach. "I was serving, so I didn't have a chance! Neither did Lord Roland… right, Lord Roland?"

The elf, who'd been sitting silently in the corner, spoke up. "Louis is correct, Lord Percival." he said gravely. "It is hardly fair of you to marry Lady Chris, if not all of us were given the chance to catch the garter."

"I would have tried if I'd known it was Lady Chris's hand at stake," rumbled Leo. "I assumed it was just marriage in general."

Chris tried to hide her smile at her companions' absurdities, her headache forgotten. "Alas, Lord Percival, how unchivalrous of you!" she chided him, trying to flutter her voice like a fasionable lady. It cracked. "In the name of fairness, you must offer these knights another chance."

Percival laughed and responded with a grandiose bow, the buttons on his coat sleeves catching the light. "Very well! I shall toss this garter into the air, and he who catches it, wins the right to marry Lady Chris." He twirled around, facing the others in turn. "Are we agreed, my good lords? My lady?"

The others agreed, but Borus looked doubtful. "How do we know you won't just toss it to yourself?"

Percival feigned shock. "My dear Lord Borus, how can you say such a thing? Rest assured I will do no such thing."

"What about Lord Salome?" Louis pointed out. Percival hesitated.

Leo was quick to answer. "Lord Salome made us get up at dawn for this meeting, but he's not here yet. I say he forfeits his chance!"

Percival nodded. "Very nicely put, Lord Leo. Now, then…we'll all stand here, in a line, and I'll throw the garter to the other side of the room." He indicated the area near the door. "That way, those of greater height shall not have an unfair advantage. And I won't be able to throw it to myself."

Borus nodded, satisfied. "A just decision, Lord Percival," he said in lordly tones, matching Percival. "And on the Lady's signal."

"Agreed! Lady Chris?"

Chris attempted a ladylike gesture with her napkin, and Percival tossed the garter high in the air.

Salome walked into the room at that moment. As one, the other knights watched the garter rise and then fall, to their horror, onto the head of their vice-captain. Salome caught the garter as it tumbled from his head.

"What's this?" he asked the room at large, as Chris shook silently with laughter.