If you haven't read Sons of the Desert, you may want to. There are several OCs in this story who were in SotD, and you won't know who the heck they are or the situations in which they were introduced, not to mention the circumstances of post-manga Ishval. I would supply a list, but they would be spoilers. If you absolutely want to know, I can PM you.
For those of you who trudged through SotD, welcome back :D This is set a few months after the end of chapter 57.
Any one of various entertainments may be given to present a young girl to society. The favorite and most elaborate of these, but possible only to parents of considerable wealth and wide social acquaintance, is a ball.
Emily Post Etiquette 1922
Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong
~on behalf of Philip Gargantos Armstrong
and Sophia Mathilde Catherine Rosamunda Armstrong~
requests the honor of your presence at the debut of her sister
Catherine Elle Sophia Rosamunda Armstrong
At 8 o'clock pm
On the evening of July Seventeenth,
Nineteen Hundred and Sixteen
Please respond by June Thirtieth
~Buffet Supper and Dancing~
Miles stared at the embossed gold lettering on the cream-colored invitation. He had read it twice and it still said the same thing.
"What's that, Miles?"
He looked up and met Vesya's inquiring gaze. She sat at the end of the table that was serving as his desk while they shared the lunch she had brought him. He exchanged the invitation for a segment of an orange and said nothing while she read it. Her pale brows furrowed slightly. "What's a…debutt?"
"It's pronounced de-byu," Miles replied. "Little Miss Catherine is being formally introduced into society. It's something rich people do. It's a little like a fifteenth birthday, except without benefit of clergy."
Vesya gave a little frown. "Are you going to go?"
Miles held up the envelope. It was addressed to Colonel and Mrs. E. Miles. "We're both invited, sweetheart." He regarded his wife appreciatively. "I'd love to see you in an evening gown."
Vesya's eyes widened. "An evening gown?"
"It's not something you sleep in."
She nudged his elbow. "I know that, Miles! But I don't have anything like that, certainly not the kind Amestrian ladies wear." She frowned anxiously. "Maybe if I helped her, Rada could make me one. Maybe Jean could ask his mother to send some patterns—"
"No, we're not going to bother Rada with something like that. She's got enough to cope with being pregnant."
"With twins!" Vesya sighed wistfully.
"Exactly. We'll see about hiring an Amestrian dressmaker."
Vesya's brows puckered doubtfully. "Won't that be awfully expensive?"
"I am pulling down a colonel's salary. We'll manage."
Vesya still seemed unconvinced. "I think I would be out of place."
"No more than I would be."
"I would feel more out of place."
Miles grinned at her. "Frankly, I think you'd steal the show from the debutante."
"Eh-h!" Vesya gave him a sidelong look, but she smiled with pleasure. "Go on with you!"
"I'm serious! The more I think about it, the more I'm looking forward to showing you off to Amestrian high society."
"I won't know anybody!" Vesya argued.
"You know General Armstrong."
"Mm," Vesya replied noncommittally.
Miles raised an eyebrow slightly. His wife still had mixed feelings about the general, but he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life assuring her that she really was the only woman in his life. Maybe this would help prove it to her. "You'll like the Armstrongs. I can see you and Catherine hitting it off."
He could see her resistance begin to crumble. "Shua met them. He said they were nice." She looked back at the invitation. "Buffett…" She looked questioningly at Miles. "Buffay?"
"That's right. That's when they set out a bunch of food and you take what you like."
"Buffet supper and dance. Well, that sounds normal, anyway."
Miles' lips twitched in a half smile. "Not exactly."
He looked up at the sound of rustling canvas. Fort Ishval, like the rest of the province, was still being built, and its headquarters would be operating out of a tent for a few more weeks. Scar was ducking his shoulders through the tent flaps as he entered, holding up an identical invitation. He seemed somewhat perturbed.
"Miles, what is this?"
Miles lifted his hands. "Just what it says."
Scar gave the invitation a look as though it might have been infected with something. "She doesn't actually think I'd go, does she?"
"Oh, I don't know," Miles replied with a slight grin. "Don't you think it's about time for your coming out?"
Scar frowned, unamused. "I don't think so."
Miles took another orange slice and sat back in his chair. "What gets me is how she got mixed up in this in the first place."
Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong had spent several sleepless nights wondering the same thing.
Around the beginning of March, her telephone rang and she distractedly picked it up as she was sorting through paperwork, which was enough to put her in a sour mood all by itself. She wished she had ignored the ringing, but she knew it wouldn't have done her any good, considering who ended up being on the other end of the call.
"Yes?" she snapped, which was her usual way of answering the phone.
"Olivier?" A deep voice rolled out her name in the form of a question.
The paper in her hand stilled. "Father?"
"Ah, yes, it is you." He sounded pleased. "How are you, my dear?"
"I'm fine," Olivier replied briskly. Then she remembered that this was her father, after all. She softened her tone slightly. "How are you? How is Mother?"
"Oh, we're in fine fettle!" Phillip replied jovially. "It's amazing what a bit of travel can do for one. I feel ten years younger, and your mother—we-e-ll!" He chuckled in a way that made Olivier shudder slightly. "At any rate, I just wanted to let you know that we're back in town and I must say I love what you've done to the place although your mother was a little unhappy about her mauve portieres in the morning room—"
"That's great, Father," Olivier said quickly. She wasn't going to let him get on a roll. "I'm glad you're back and I'm glad everyone is well—"
"—but she said she could get used to the ivory ones that you replaced them with since they really do brighten up the room which is a morning room after all and the grounds look lovely as well but there seems to be a bit of damage in the cellar. What were you storing down there? Tanks?" Phillip let out a long, deep chuckle, ending with a sigh of contentment at his own humor. "Ah, yes…Well!" he declared decisively. "Little Catherine has blossomed into quite the young woman while we were away and let me tell you she turned a few heads at the Imperial Court during our Xingese sojourn and your mother and I agreed that once we got back we really did need to finally have her do her season—"
Olivier ground the heel of her hand against her forehead and gritted her teeth. "That's great, Father. I hope you have lots of—"
"—but of course we are technically guests in the house since you are now head of the family but don't worry we've been through this sort of thing before and we'll walk you through it and Catherine is ever so excited—"
There was finally silence on the other end of the line until there was a brusque clearing of a throat. "Yes, Olivier?"
She spoke slowly. "What are you talking about? As briefly as possible!"
"Why, I'm talking about Catherine's coming out, of course."
"And what the…what does that possibly have to do with me?"
"You, Olivier, are the head of the Armstrong family," Phillip replied, speaking as slowly as she was. "It is your responsibility to host the occasion."
Olivier's mouth dropped open, which wasn't something that happened very often. "Host?"
"Well…hostess, to be more precise."
"Father, I don't know jack sh—I have no idea how to—"
"Oh, tut, tut! It's as easy as pie, really!" Phillip assured her. "These things practically run themselves!"
"No, they don't! The servants do all the work!"
"There you are, then! Problem solved! Shall we set it for July?"
Well, that's how it happened.
"You're supposed to send the response card to the house through the mail in the self-addressed-goddamn-stamped envelope!" Olivier snapped irritably.
"I did send the response card, ma'am, and in plenty of time," Miles replied sedately. "I just wanted to tell you personally."
He heard a rush of breath over the radio headphones. Telephone lines were slowly but surely marching their way toward Ishval, but it would be a while yet. "Sorry, Miles," Olivier muttered. "I'm feeling a little…antisocial these days. More than usual, I mean."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Olivier closed her eyes. God, it was good to hear that strong, calm voice. "How are you?" she asked, her tone warmer.
"I'm very well, ma'am."
"And Mrs. Miles?"
"Also well, thank you."
"And how are your silver hawks?"
"Shaping up. We're fine, General. You're the one I'm concerned about."
"Tch! You're probably wondering what the hell I think I'm doing."
"Not in so many words, but it did cross my mind."
"I think this is my parents' subtle payback scheme," Olivier growled. "I wrested control of the family as a front to keep them safe, and this is the thanks I get. They want to put on a party and dance and eat the night away while I get to stand around greeting their hideous friends and making sure my sisters get to dance with someone other than Alex or each other. The plan, apparently, is to invite more men than women. According to my mother, these things are a failure if each woman isn't asked to dance at least five times with five different men. Even if I have to persuade them at sword point, someone is going to give Amue and Strongine their five damn dances each!"
"I'll volunteer for hazard duty if you need me to, ma'am," Miles offered. "Once, anyway."
"I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, but be prepared. They'll try to lead."
"I understand. What sort of reinforcements can I count on?"
"You mean who's invited? I don't know. I don't want to know. If you really want to know, call the house. My mother hired some sort of brutally efficient secretary for me. She's supposed to be handling this shit! All I have to do is show up."
"Then I'll see you there, General," Miles said.
Olivier smiled wearily. "That's about the only thing I'm looking forward to, Miles."
Miles enjoyed watching how wide Vesya's eyes got as they drove from Central Station out to the high-rent suburbs. She gazed out through the window of the taxi as though she couldn't get enough of all the sights. He particularly savored the get out of town expression on her face when he told her that the immaculately cultivated landscape they were traveling along was not a public garden but the Armstrong's front yard. But it was nothing compared to the way her mouth dropped open as they drove up to the house itself.
"This is where General Armstrong lives?" she asked in a hushed voice.
"It's where Retired General Armstrong lives. Major General Olivier Armstrong comes here very seldom."
Vesya nodded, still gazing with wonder at the magnificent façade of the mansion. "How many people live here?" she asked.
"Well, there's the family," Miles replied. "Phillip and Sophia, their son Alex, and their daughters Amue, Strongine, and Catherine. Then there is a fairly sizable staff."
The taxi curved around the fountain and came to a stop at the front steps. Miles got out of the car and went to open the door on Vesya's side while the taxi driver opened up the trunk. As Vesya stepped out of the car and leaned back a little to take in the massive mansion's exterior, she was startled as three identically dressed young men burst out from the front door, trotted briskly down the steps, snatched up the luggage, and strode purposefully back into the house with it. She stared after them.
"It's all right," Miles assured her as he paid the driver. "Not only will it all be waiting in our room, it will all be unpacked and put away."
"I could have done that," Vesya murmured.
Miles laughed softly. "That's not how the upper class works, sweetheart." He looked back up toward the steps. "Alex!" he called out. "It's good to see you again!"
"Colonel Miles!" a loud, deep voice boomed. "This is a delight!"
Vesya gave a start at the sight of a large man walking down the steps toward them. He had a thick blond mustache and, except for a single lock of blond hair, his bald head glittered in the sun. As he got closer, he only got bigger.
"Major Armstrong," Miles began. "I would like you to meet my wife, Vesya. Vesya, this is the general's brother, Major Alex Louis Armstrong."
Vesya timidly offered her hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you," she said.
Alex's face puckered up as though he was about to cry. He took Vesya's hand, which disappeared completely in his enormous fist, and he bowed. "I am deeply—deeply honored to meet such a distinguished and, may I say, exquisitely lovely lady!"
Vesya wondered if she would ever see her hand again. "Oh…thank you…but…I'm not really..."
"And modest as well!" Alex rumbled approvingly. Somewhere underneath that mustache was a smile. "I understand that you are first cousin to the Honorable Provincial Governor of Ishval, a gentleman with whom I share some—ahem—small acquaintance. He may even remember me."
"Of course he does," Miles said. "He even asked me to convey his greetings to you. He said he recalls your brief meeting in East City."
"Does he now?" Alex exclaimed, his laugh booming and echoing off the front of the mansion. "Our brief meeting! Yes, it was indeed memorable!" He sobered for a moment. "But I am so very glad that your people have been restored to your homeland! Very glad indeed!" With a slight bow, he swept one of his large hands toward the front doors of the house. "Come inside!" he boomed gallantly. "It's very nearly lunch time, and Father and Mother will be very pleased to see you both!"
He led them up the steps and through the tall entry doors. Vesya gazed around at the towering ceiling of the foyer. It was painted to look like a blue sky with puffy white clouds, little fat flying babies, and swans with ribbons in their beaks. Down on the ornately tiled floor, people scurried noiselessly but purposefully, and they were all dressed alike in black and white. Most of the men wore knee breeches and white stockings and white gloves, and the women wore crisp white aprons and little frilled caps. They all seemed to be very busy carrying things or polishing things or adjusting things.
There were two curving staircases on either side of the foyer, and coming down one of them was a young woman in a pink dress. She had flowing blond hair and large blue eyes, and an errant lock of hair sprang up just above her forehead.
"Ah, Catherine!" Alex's voice echoed even more resonantly inside. "Come and greet our guests!"
The girl approached them with a shy smile and she held out her hand. "Colonel Miles!" she said in a high, soft voice. "It's so good to see you again! It's been too long!"
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Miss Catherine," Miles replied, inclining his head and taking her hand.
Catherine turned to Vesya. "And you must be Mrs. Miles!" The girl beamed at her, and Vesya could have sworn she saw a gleam of light sparkle from the girl's shining blonde hair. "It's so lovely to meet you!"
"Miss Catherine, this is my wife, Vesya," Miles said.
"Vesya! That's such a pretty name!" Catherine breathed.
"Thank you, Miss Catherine," Vesya replied. She was finding it a little difficult to imagine that this girl was related to either her giant of a brother or to her severe older sister.
"You don't have to call me 'miss', honestly! It's just Catherine!" The girl took both of Vesya's hands in hers. "I'm so glad you could come! I'll show you where your room is so you can freshen up! And then after lunch, Madame Clothilde is coming to do our fittings!"
"Oh, yes!" Catherine replied. "Our ball gowns! Mine is going to be pale pink, and she'll pick out the perfect color for you! She's a little odd, but she's simply amazing!" She gave a deep sigh. "I'm so excited! Mother says there are all kinds of nice young men coming! I just hope they're even a little like my brother!"
Vesya turned obligingly but a little uncertainly to Alex, who stood beaming proudly. "Your brother does seem very nice," she said.
"Oh, yes! He is!" Catherine replied. "He's also very strong! I really do prefer men who are quite muscular, don't I, Alex?"
"You do, indeed!" Alex exclaimed portentously.
"Oh, God!" Vesya heard Miles mutter under his breath.
In a remarkably smooth motion, Alex tore off his shirt, which soared into the air. He then struck an attitude calculated to display his bare musculature to its most glorious advantage. With well-practiced efficiency and without so much as a second glance, several of the people dressed in black and white gathered up both the shirt and the buttons that had gone flying. Vesya got the impression that this was something that must happen fairly often.
Catherine linked her arm through Vesya's and led her toward the stairs. "I made sure they put you and the colonel in a room overlooking the garden. I think you'll like it!" She looked back over her shoulder at Miles. "Ollie got here a little while ago. She's hiding in her room," she added, rolling her eyes.
"Who is Ollie?" Vesya asked as they made their way upstairs.
"Oh, that's our big sister," Catherine replied with a smile. "You know, the major general."
Vesya paused on the steps. "Ollie?" she repeated, a bit incredulously.
Catherine giggled. "I'm the only one who calls her that. No one else would dare!"