Cassandra de Rolo was ushered into the residence of Lady Vex’ahlia Vassar, Baroness of the Third House of Whitestone, Grandmistress of the Grey Hunt, and was once again impressed by how much had been done in the short time she’d lived there. The damage from both its previous occupant and the polymorphed gnome who had stampeded through it and then set it on fire was extensive. In spite of that total destruction, Vex’ahlia had managed to bring it to a liveable state remarkably quick.
Cassandra stepped into the partially restored library at a servant’s bidding. Vex was at her desk reviewing workmen ledgers and material contracts, as suited the position. It was a far cry from her former days roving the lands with Vox Machina. Cassandra hoped that Vex’s sense of responsibility to her position would carry over, as she had a large favor to ask.
“Afternoon, Lady Vex’ahlia,” Cassandra said.
Vex looked up from her quill and parchment. “Oh, Cassandra, how lovely to see you! Do sit.” Vex gestured to a chair in front of the desk. “What brings you down from the castle?”
Cassandra sat down and leaned back a little. “The usual, I’m afraid. Whitestone is in need of the support of its most loyal noblewoman.”
“Considering how I’m the sole non-de Rolo with a title, I am only a little flattered, Cass,” Vex said, in her grandest imitation of a fine lady. “What do you need?”
Cassandra smiled wryly. “I’m afraid it’s rather unusual, but at our last dinner you were telling my brother how you were willing to help with the town management and such now that you were settled, and such an opportunity has arisen, and the nature of it is – “ She paused for a moment, struggling to find a diplomatic way to introduce this. “Well, you were the most suited for the job, that’s all.”
Vex’s eyes narrowed. “Really, a civic duty that’d I’d be most suited for… I’m not to go bargain on the castle’s behalf, am I? Because I have enough of that work already.”
“No, no, it’s–” Cassandra took a deep breath. “The town council is trying to revive some of the old festivals as part of the reconstruction effort and they’ve decided to revive the Hochzeitsfest, and so, we need you to marry Percy.”
Vex’s jaw dropped. She stared at the human woman across the desk from her for a full minute in complete shock. “You… need me to marry your brother to restore town morale?” She finally managed to find polite words for her confusion, instead of her standard curses. “That’s a rather large favor, Cass.”
“Right, right,” Cassandra said, her tongue tripping over words as she tried to rescue the situation. “I forgot this isn’t a common thing. No, we need you to ceremonially marry Percy.”
“So not for real, but like for…?” Vex said, utterly lost by this point.
“I guess I’ve never explained it to anyone before. This festival, Hochzeitsfest, is the ancient Whitestone harvest festival. Two members of the community- one symbolizing the city , and one as the spirit of nature- are symbolically joined as recognition of the union that brought bounty to our harvest, representing the union of the Lawbearer and the Wildmother. In ancient times, it was believed that the ceremony was attended by the Wildmother herself and that if she didn’t think it was extensive or elaborate enough, she would curse the land for the next year.”
“It’s at times like these that I remember you’re his sister,” Vex muttered under her breath. She surveyed her friend’s sister and, technically speaking, her liege. Cassandra was always difficult to read, a product of a lifetime of legitimate noble upbringing. Had she been anyone other than a de Rolo, Vex would have suspected her of a prank or something. But Cassandra de Rolo was still formal and stiff, and she was utterly devoted to Whitestone. This was probably a real request, a real tradition that someone wished her to be a part of.
“I guess I can do it,” Vex said.
“Excellent,” Cassandra said, standing to leave before Vex could change her mind. “We’ll arrange all the details later.”
“Of course,” Vex said as Cassandra took her leave. It was a few moments before she had finally recovered enough to wonder what the hell this de Rolo had gotten her into. In that time, Taryon Darrington wandered into the room and waved a quill in front of her face.
“Vex, did Lady de Rolo just ask you to marry her brother?” he asked.
Vex shrugged. “No?”
Cassandra de Rolo had discovered, in the months after the dragons were destroyed, that she didn’t mind governing Whitestone under normal circumstances. Disagreements between merchants or trade negotiations with Emon and Westrun seemed light and easy after the months of ceaseless fear of a dragon swooping down and destroying all that remained after the Briarwoods reign of terror. She had been a spy and a rebel and a war leader. She could be the lady of Whitestone well enough. It helped that she’d had the council to help her now, as well as her brother.
But Percival did not seem to be taking to his new life nearly as well. As time passed, and his friends left Whitestone in pursuit of their own goals, Percy had been spending more and more time locked up in his workshop, tinkering with his guns. She’d gotten the time to get to know her brother as who he was now, post-Briarwoods. The curiosity that had led him to devour their entire library had grown into wanderlust. He hadn’t told her that he wanted to run off with Vex and go find some more monsters to fight and kingdoms to save. It was very obvious though. He hadn’t told her about whatever was between him and Vex either. If she hadn’t been such an obvious choice for the Grey Hunt, Cassandra might have blocked the grant of the title, but Vex’ahlia had been an excellent addition to the city.
Hochzeitsfest was for the city, certainly. The old festivals and traditions that had been snuffed out by the Briarwoods needed to return. The city deserved to reassert its history and way of life. But the city needed strong and resourceful people to flourish, and in that way, Hochzeitsfest was a lure for Lady Vex’ahlia. And for her brother.
On her return to Castle Whitestone, she didn’t even bother asking her servants where to find him. She wound her way downstairs to the dark and grimy forge he called his workshop.
“Percy, I have a favor to ask of you,” Cassandra said from the entrance of her brother’s workshop. Percy looked up from the piece of steel he was shaping.
“Of course, let me just have a few more minutes to get this set.”
“Oh, it’s not an immediate favor,” Cassandra said. “I need you to be the King at the Hochzeitsfest this year.”
He set his mallet and his workpiece down on the bench and gave her a long, thoughtful look. “I didn’t know we were reviving that particular tradition,” he finally said. “Who is to be my Queen, might I inquire?”
“Your friend Vex’ahlia, of course.”
Percy stared at his sister for a long moment. She had to know that he and Vex were… involved. It wasn’t exactly a state secret. They were a lot less public with their affection when in Whitestone, partially out of decency and partially because both Percy and Vex were trying to be responsible civic leaders and responsible civic leaders did NOT make out in the alleyway next to the town pub. So, why was she volunteering the two of them for Hochzeitsfest duties?
Percy attempted to turn off his preternaturally suspicious brain for a few moments. “Cassandra, why Vex’ahlia and me? Wouldn’t it make far more sense to choose members of the community of Whitestone? This is a very traditional festival, it should be for the City..”
Cassandra crossed her arms. “You are the last son of the de Rolos, the reigning family of Whitestone, and one of those who rescued it from its invaders. You are an essential member of the Whitestone community. And now that Vex’ahlia has taken the responsibilities of Grandmistress of the Grey Hunt, as well as helping free us from the Briarwoods, she too, is a very important part of the community. Not to mention you saved all of civilization from the reign of five terrifying ancient dragons. Think of it as a way to honor your service.”
“Is it really an honor, though?” Percy said drily. “It feels far more like duty.”
“Percival, please, I cannot think of anyone else both suited and willing.”
“Meaning you believe that Vex and I can be talked into it when no one else can,” Percy said, sighing. “Well then, if you really need someone, I will oblige, although you are going to have to talk Vex into this yourself.”
Cassandra smiled. “Fantastic. And no worries about that, I talked to Lady Vex’ahlia this morning.”
Percy’s eyebrows raised. “You did.”
“She agreed straightaway, although that might have been because I implied it was part of her duty to the city as a new landowner.”
Percy stared at Cassandra for a moment. “You know, there are times when it is really quite apparent that you are my sister.”
“Of course Percy. Just think of this as payback for leaving me here to manage a city full of refugees you kept leaving while you were off fighting dragons.”
“Vex, dear,” Percy said from behind her. “Do you happen to know where our magic carpet went?”
Vex turned from the ledgers on her desk. “Unfortunately darling, Grog still has it, or trust me, you would have seen me riding it all around the city this week,” Vex said, looking at him pointedly.
“Because I’m still fiddling with your broom tether, yes I remember,” Percy said. “Almost done with that.”
“Of course you are, darling,” Vex said. “I just miss it. And you.”
Percy stepped closer so he could kiss her forehead. “I’ve missed you too darling, but there’s a large backlog of tinkering and crafting to be done.”
Vex sighed dramatically. “I know, I’ve been sitting with Tary while he works on my armor every day, but it’s not quite the same as the old days.”
“No, it is not,” Percy said. “But we also haven’t died for several months now, which is probably an improvement.”
Vex put a hand on his arm, not saying anything. There had been too many close calls back then. Sure, the both of them were much, much better out on the road fighting big scary things, but they had also tried their luck a few too many times. It was better to be here, helping Cassandra and Whitestone rebuild. Percy leaned down and kissed her slowly. Vex kissed him back, and Percy remembered the other advantage of being home was all the private time.
Only a few moments later, he’d somehow ended up in her lap, and was getting quite cozy when he remembered the real reason he’d come here in the first place.
“Vex,” Percy said. “Why exactly did you agree to be in the Hochzeitsfest?”
Vex pulled away from brushing soft kisses down his neck very reluctantly. “Cassandra asked, and she so rarely needs anything, and besides, I agreed as part of the Grey Hunt to be a responsible member of the ruling class here in Whitestone. It seemed like a responsible thing to do.”
Percy sighed. “So she didn’t mention the particulars.”
Vex raised an eyebrow at him. “She did mention we were getting married. Symbolically that is. For a traditional thing. Although if you’re not comfortable with that-”
Percy shook his head and kissed her. “No, it’s not the marriage I mind, it’s the bit after.”
“Darling, if this is about sex, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Percy would have loved to divert this moment off onto that track, but unfortunately he had a feeling that his sister hadn’t been quite honest when explaining this whole thing.
“She didn’t mention- Cassandra didn’t tell you- ah, this is quite awkward…”
Vex rolled her eyes. “Spit it out Percy.”
“Part of the Hochzeitsfest is a marriage yes, but there’s also a tradition where afterwards, the whole city turns out to witness the consummation of the marriage, back of course when paternity was a much greater issue, especially in regards to the little arable farmland up here…” Percy lost his thought mid-history lesson as he re-remembered the bomb he just dropped.
“Percival, darling,” Vex said, now sounding concerned. “By ‘witness’ you don’t mean actually watching us have sex, do you? I’m not shy, but even I draw the line at exhibiting my most intimate moments with an entire city.”
“Oh, good lord, no,” Percy said, panicking himself at the thought of Vax or his sister watching the two of them. “That would be quite untoward.”
Vex just nodded.
“Mostly they just stand around and cheer loudly.” Percy continued feeling more explanation was necessary, “More recently, the couples involved in the Hochzeitsfest have put on a different kind of show. More suggestion of intimacy instead of actual intimacy. It also helps we’re supposed to be up one of the castle towers.”
“Okay,” Vex said, thinking through the logistics of the situation. “What exactly are they cheering at? It’s not like they’re going to be able to hear anything, especially if we’re not doing anything.”
“Well, they used to just throw a garter and a pair of men’s undergarments out the window, but more recently it’s become a tradition to put on a bit of a show.” Percy was struggling to find a structure to his response that didn’t make the city of Whitestone seem completely uncouth and archaic. He had forgotten that there were some completely normal reasons Whitestone was seen as a backwater. “There are props, and they make noises, and we shall get some theatrical looking clothes and flowers to toss down below… it’s not that bad I’m sure.”
“You’ve never done this before.”
Vex laid back down dramatically and sighed. “So we’re to be the stars of a bawdy Whitestone tradition.”
“Yes, we are.”
“To be honest, dear, that appeals far more to me than it should,” Vex said.
“I am not entirely surprised,” Percy said, images of her standing completely nude in a doorway flooding his head. “It was why I was comfortable saying yes to this proposal of Cassandra’s in the first place.”
“And not at all because you feel like you owe her some diplomatic time after disappearing with Taryon to tinker all the time.”
“Well, and that,” Percy admitted.
“I guess this isn’t that awkward,” Vex said, mulling the situation over. “I could see some interesting possibilities here. How much of a reputation would you like, my dear?”
“Maybe I should tell Cassandra no.”
Cassandra finally collapsed in the chair in her room, sighing loudly and dramatically. On cue, her ladies’ maid, Ari, emerged from her room across the suite. Ari was a halfling, with long dark hair and clever brown eyes. Ari, dispensing with the preliminaries, clambered up the desk and into Cassandra’s lap, where she greeted her lady with a kiss.
“Hello, Ari,” Cassandra said, “Today was another long day, wasn’t it?”
Ari brushed Cassandra’s own dark hair out of her face. “It really was. How did it go with your brother and Lady Vex? Will they do it?”
Cassandra smiled. “I think so, yes. Vex gave me her word this afternoon, as well as Percival.”
“Even with the unusual main event?” Ari asked, surprised.
“Percival is talking to Vex about it probably as we speak,” Cassandra said. “This will all go well, I’m certain.”
“Famous last words,” Ari said.