Raoul had no idea why, now that he was a knight, people expected him to socialize fluently. His father had to be the least talkative man living, and his mother was too quiet as well. In fact, had she not had a very gregarious sister she might still be single, as the whole family liked to point out.
As a child, Raoul had been paraded out as the heir to the family name, but he had never had to socialize. All he had to do was stand there and look solemn while various relatives cooed over him.
And anyone who thought that Page or Squire training included a course on social schmoozing really needed to check their facts. All Raoul knew was that people expected him to talk to them competently, and all he wanted to do was go run the parapet six or seven times to work off his nerves.
Raoul grabbed a drink from a passing Page and slung it back in one go. It wasn't that he liked the taste of alcohol that much, but he discovered - quite by accident - that if he had enough he would lose most of his fear of the social scene.
Of course, there was only about a two drink difference between navigating a party and bring dragged off to bed by his friends, but since he had skipped out on last night's party, Jon would kill him if he didn't at least try tonight.
Raoul grabbed another drink and looked warily over the proceedings. There were a group of ladies a few feet away from him, all fans and giggles and ruffles. They were in exactly the kind of group that he was expected to approach so that he could chose one to dance with. He wasn't bad at dancing, of course, though his Great-aunt called him only 'passable,' but he just didn't feel like dancing with any of those fluttery women.
Why couldn't he find a woman who was more like himself? A warrior, or at least one who was interested in all of the things knights did on a daily basis. One who could talk intelligently, instead of simply giggling into her glove covered hand? Someone like Alan, or Gary, but female.
Jon caught Raoul's attention from across the room and frowned at him. He jerked his head in a short nod towards the group of tittering females and then purposefully turned his back on his friend. Raoul had no doubt that Jon was going to spy on him to make sure he discharged his official schmoozing duty.
Sighing, Raoul scooped up another drink and bravely made his way towards the perilous dance floor.
Raoul watched Kelandry close the door to her room, and once again he thanked Mithros for providing the girl. Many of the conservatives could not understand why he would take in the girl, which gave him plenty of reason to pound them in the lists, but even some of his friends had not understood just how useful she really was.
Yes, Kel was practically an expert on Yamani culture, and yes he did need extra help with all of the flouncing parties Jon and Thayet were so determined to throw, but there was more. The fact that she knew Princess Shinkokami, and had brought her and Prince Roald together was a happy accident. But it was the keen mind and good heart beneath her lanky figure that Raoul liked. Kel noticed everyone around her, even the animals and those that others would ignore, and she tried to help everyone.
In fact, she had just helped Raoul himself by suggesting the small parties. Only the people he felt comfortable around would attend the smaller parties, so Raoul didn't have to put on his best manners for every curst person he encountered. And she had just solved his problem of going to his Great-Aunt Sebila's house.
Raoul would never have thought to invite Buri, though he had once begged Alanna to accompany him, betrothed to George or no. Buri was just the kind of woman he had always looked for: a warrior in her own right, and a friend, so he would be able to carry on a decent conversation with her and ignore his Great-aunt's airheads.
That was uncharitable, of course; some of the young ladies were very nice. But after all of his time spent recently in the pox-ridden progress, he didn't want to be surrounded by ruffled skirts and giggles all night.
Thanks to Kel, if Buri accepted, Raoul wouldn't spend the night wanting to gouge out his eardrums. He could fulfill his obligations to his family and enjoy himself, without any of the complications that arose from dancing with court ladies he didn't intend to pursue.
As Raoul glanced at his dress clothes again, he spared a brief wish for a drink, though he hadn't taken one in years. Despite his newfound confidence, a little alcohol would boost his spirits immensely. No. He would not fall into that trap again. Taking a deep, invigorating, breath, Raoul resumed his paperwork and awaited Kel's return.
According to his Great-Aunt, a wedding for the Goldenlake clan is an extremely important and large event, and Raoul cannot afford to slight any one of the almost 200 families who have been invited. When Raoul comments to Jonathan that he's sure the royal wedding between Roald and Shinkokami didn't require so much planning or socializing, the King simply laughs.
It isn't a laughing matter to Raoul, though. In his mind, the wedding should just be limited to the important people, like himself, Buri, and their friends; the men of the Own, the Riders, Alanna, Thayet, Jonathan, Gary, Kel, and a handful of others. He hates the idea of spending what should be his happiest day forced to glad-hand hundreds of people he doesn't even know.
But Great-aunt Sebila of Disart is not the kind of woman who will be swayed by a man's ideas of what a wedding should be, even if it is his wedding. Buri, who hates the crowding just as much, simply laughs and points out how glad she is that no one from her side of the family cared to come.
Raoul promptly tackles her to the bed and kisses her, ignoring his Great-aunt's disapproving glare. When they finally heed the polite coughs and come up for air, Great-aunt Sebila has turned a shade of dusky pink that Raoul has never seen her turn before.
Buri is quickly hustled from the room, probably to be briefed on the ceremony far from the distracting presence of her betrothed. Raoul hangs his head - trying to appear ashamed of his actions - so that hopefully his Great-aunt won't berate him into next week for his display. He might have just gained the disapproval of all of his female relatives, but he knows that Buri enjoyed the kiss, and she is about to become the only woman that matters to him.
His apparent repentance is enough to satisfy Sebila, who returns to her lecture about the wedding plans. Raoul takes a deep breath to fortify himself for the ordeal to come.