It was a simple gesture. One that was rooted in antiquity though most of the assembled didn't appreciate it. They merely passed it off as Hilde's odd ways. The party was small and intimate, for it's nature. People dressed in their finery milled about and chatted. The wealthy and the glitterati did their best to rub elbows with the more personable of the other guests, many vying for the attention of the solemn Sargent. It was a publicity event aimed to raise positive feelings about Avalon's presence but more directly and closer to Hilde's interests, it was a fundraising event to provide for the children orphaned by wars around the world.
Rumors whirled about that the child that Hilde had born died and this was why none had seen her. Some said it was God's judgment. Her detractors seized upon this visible absence from all of Hilde's public appearances, even the most casual of them, as proof that Avalon was a danger and even their own were not immune to divine wrath. Others suggested that it was perhaps grief for her lost son. As she greeted her guests and gave them a cup of wine, she could see they yearned to ask her what became of that child she had grown so great with but two years before.
As the drink flowed and Hilde waited for the last of her guests to arrive, she came to three conclusions. High heeled shoes were torture devices invented by a sadist of the highest caliber. Her second conclusion was that people were more interested in primping and gossiping then getting down to business. And thirdly, Gunther had the better arrangement of being off of some nameless task. For all she knew, he could be mucking out the stables on the farm. She was fairly certain that she would have preferred dealing with horse apples to the stuffy company she was enduring.
Their false smiles and trilling patter grated on her. She wanted to scream at them for being so caught up in pretenses. Instead, she did her best to put on her least threatening expression. What she managed was solemn, though she was trying for banal but pleasant. Outside, the rain fell in sheets. It didn't seem to stop the paparazzi from snapping pictures away and gawking at the last of her guests as they made their way from their shiny black vehicles, past the dark suited security (men from her farm who had been trained by her and Gunther enough to be declared adequate by Avalonian standards), and into the ballroom where it happened many years ago that Hilde attended her senior prom.
Now, she looked briefly past the heads of last people to emerge from the thirteenth vehicle. At the back of her mind, a vague recollection that thirteen was considered an unlucky number as the stretched limo pulled away. Her evening gown was a fanciful thing of soy-silk dyed in shades of green fashioned to look like a designer's minimalist version of the gown that Hilde had been seen once wearing at an official Avalonian function that the public was allowed to view. The greens of the gown highlighted the subtle sheen of green that colored her skin. With her advance in rank and prowess with the magics of plants, Hilde seemed to grow to resemble the humanized version of her beloved plants.
Skin that had previously been pink with life now had the pale, pale green of calla lilies. Hair that had been chestnut colored now resembled willow withies, though it still fell almost like silk. Some remarked upon seeing her in the flesh for the first time that it was strange how her apperance could be so changed and yet she looked to be the picture of health. Hilde took the last of the crystalline looking cups of wine and offered it to a portly man who wheezed as he walked up in his a size too tight tuxedo. Hilde's expression moved from solemn to one of mild concern. "Mister Walker," she said quietly, "I offer you welcome. Are you well?"
Walker, a substantially wealthy art dealer from NYC waved a hand in a habitual gesture of denial. "I am healthy as an ox. It is this humid weather troubling me," he said as he took the cup from her. Hilde looked him over briefly from head to toe. She knew with the sudden, deep knowledge that only Avalon's gifts could give her, that Walker was dangerously ill and hiding it for some reason. Her tone of voice even quieter, she leaned towards Walker and muttered something in his ear. His eyes widened slightly. "It's true, then," he said, "You can tell."
"With out aid, six months," she said solemnly. Walker nodded, looking over to notice a young redheaded woman walking over with a genuine drinking horn in her hands. His eyes widened slightly. The gold filligery about the banding shone in the lights as Hilde turned to take it from the page who had been assigned to assist her personally this evening. Walker tore his eyes away from the fine worksmanship of the drinking vessel to regard the level gaze of the knight holding it.
"What would you want?" he asked, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to cough into it. At his suspicious inquiry, Hilde's expression dropped slightly and a suggestion of true sorrow flickered through her gaze before she resumed her solemn mask. "We can speak of it later," Walker said, "Tonight is about the children." Hilde gave him the barest of smiles. It was touching that a dying man sought to comfort her.
"All I would ask is for your friendship, Mister Walker," she said. Walker smirked and then coughed hard.
"Friendship is a high price," he said wheezily.
"It is cheaper then a man's life," Hilde said gently, "And the world would be a darker place with out that man's life. He is a benefactor of many, long before I Awakened and learned of him." Walker smiled. "The scholarship that put me through nursing school was funded by yourself, Mister Walker," she continued, "I..."
Hilde's next words were cut off by the sound of a thunderous rapping at the double doors. Hilde's attention snapped from her guests to the doors. The page at her side swallowed dryly. This was not part of Hilde's planned evening. "Get behind me," Hilde said quietly. She stepped towards the doors as that rapping came three more times, as though someone was beating on the doors with a tree limb. Her mind raced forward through possible defensive actions and questioning why her men hadn't taken action.
As Hilde walked towards the doors, her skin prickled with unease. Then the doors swung open, as though unseen hands had moved to do so for the tall man mounted on the armor clad Clydesdale. His dark brown hood was pulled down low over his face as he urged his horse forward at a walk. While this stranger had no obvious weapons, Hilde was not as much the fool to think him defenseless. A properly trained war horse, regardless of breed, was a dangerous thing. The man's use of knightly gifts told her that he was either of Avalon or a heritic. She realized that she couldn't see if her men were well or not but the cameras of the paparazzi flickered like an epileptic's worst nightmare.
The glare of the lights made it hard for her to make out the man's features. His dress spoke of Avalon, though it gave no sign of his House. Heavy leather gloves covered his hands as he dropped the reins. "Dame of Peacehaven," spoke a voice that Hilde recognized. Her eyes widened and she nearly dropped the horn in her left hand. "I have come for thee."
She stepped closer and took the bridle of the horse in her right hand. "Gunnar," she hissed, "stop this." In the shadows of his hood, Hilde could see a familiar, cruel smile. She shook her head slightly, a gesture that was almost imperceptible. The rider reached his right hand down towards her face as she looked up at him. Cameras snapped away as Hilde's guests watched the minor drama unfolding with curiosity.
"Have you no cup of welcome for a thirsty traveler, Brynhildr?" he said, "I have come many a mile in foul weather to be here." Torn between the urge to shriek at him for this entirely unnecessary business and embaressment for the predicament she was in, Hilde glared up at him. While her expression was mild, her eyes flashed with seething fury. She held up the drinking horn.
Behind her the soft buzz of conversation stopped as people watched, curious if the mysterious rider would take the cup. He took the cup and put it to his lips. As the wine flowed, the Knight upon the horse changed its essence to that of whiskey. He then held the horn out to her. "Share but a drop with me, Dame." Hilde nearly audibly ground her teeth. As she took the horn back, he leaned forward and said in a quiet voice, "Orders."
Instead of scowling as she wished to, Hilde raised the cup to her mouth and took a long drink. The whiskey burned down her throat with a faint suggestion of honey mingled with it. Before she could say anything, the rider dismounted, ignoring the way the rain blew in behind him, though he appreciated how the damp night air made the silken cloth smooth against Hilde's curves. "A gift of my ... kinsman," he said, stepping aside and gesturing towards the horse.
"He is generous," she said, "may the gods bless him for it." The man whom she named Gunnar smirked, knowing which god she had in mind and the irony of that deity being chosen. He walked up close to her and she realized that beneath his heavy cloak, he wore elaborately tooled leather armor with the insignia of their house upon the breastplate. "This is too much, why here? Why now?" she hissed at him.
Gunnar, or as he was known in this life, Gunther, laughed. "Have you forgotten what this day is?" he said, his eyes dancing with delight. Hilde frowned slightly, thinking for a moment. Then her eyes widened and her cheeks turned a deeper shade of green. The blush worked its way down from her scalp along the column of her neck to fan out across her chest. He took her left hand and pressed his lips to her wedding ring. Gunther then pulled her into his arms, the hood of his cloak falling back to reveal his identity moments before he kissed her.
Instead of resisting him, Hilde nearly fell into his arms with the force of his embrace. The drinking horn fell from her fingers and splashed its contents on the ground. Hilde's guests looked between themselves and those who had a more personal relationship with Hilde and Gunther began to applaud. Soon, that caught on and Gunther laughed as he broke the kiss. "Happy anniversary," he said, smiling down at her. A devilish light lit his eyes as he watched his wife struggle between happiness and embarrassment. He lifted a hand and pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. "I told you that you had been working too hard," he chided gently.
Hilde ducked her gaze before the horse beside them tentatively nudged her head with his muzzle. "His name is Horatio," Gunther said quietly in her ear, "your uncle sends him." At the mention of Marion, Hilde's eyes went wide. "I was to bring him to you in a memoriable manner," he explained as the page came over and picked up the horn. The young woman looked up at Gunther and he nodded slightly.
Moments later, she returned with a refilled horn. Gunther looked over at one of their men. He gave a small smile as the grinning man lead the battle trained horse away. Another, who was supposed to be on break but apparently decided the fun was too inviting came over to take Gunther's cloak. The sight of him dressed in full armor, even though it was but leather, was striking. Unlike Hilde, who was unarmed, Gunther wore a wicked looking seax at the small of his back. A few voices murmured as Gunther took Hilde by the hand and walked with her through the ballroom towards where a dias had been setup. A microphone was before a podium at the far right hand side of the dias but Gunther ignored it.
Applying his command of Royal essence, Gunther's voice carried through out the room and a few of the onlookers outside caught the beginning of his words as the doors were shut, "We have gathered this auspicious day to celebrate children...." As Gunther literally stole Hilde's opening speech from her lips, she realized that he had obviously been planning this for at least as long as she had been planning the benefit gathering. Again she was amazed at the conniving skill of the former Morganite and couldn't help but wonder what other surprises he had in mind for the night.