"The Celebration": Part One
The plaza in front of the Palaise was bustling with activity as the servants prepared everything for the small journey. Some were carrying the gifts for the hosts, others were polishing the already gleaming carriage, and others were seemingly just running around. The four truckformers that would later tow it stood by the towering gate and were syncing their protocols a last time. In the corner, next to the small ways that led to the private gardens, the bodyguards were talking over the dangerous steps of their journey.
Jazz sighed as he observed the chaos. It was just a two joor journey to the Barons of Simfur to take part in the celebrations for their bonding. What would the House look like when they had to go to Vos? Or worse, Iacon, which was (how far?) across the planet and where the House of their Prime resided? It was a good thing then that his Lord was not fond of needless travel, and even less fond of celebration and parties beyond what his position required. Though sometimes he did miss the small parties of his own House to which all the neighboring nobles had been invited. Those had been easy, fun orns, serving simultaneously for relaxation and strengthening their relationship with all those that were loyal. But he supposed that his Lord's rule over the flourishing city-state of Praxus and its counties was secure enough to not need such tactics.
Even if the House seemed sometimes a bit quiet for it.
"Lord Consort?" asked the Master of the House, head of all servants, with a bow. "We are prepared to leave in a breem. Is this all that you want to take with you?"
He stressed the 'all' and Jazz looked at the pile of bags and luggage for a moment, nearly expecting it to have shrunken. But no, it still was more than he had ever brought to such a celebration before. "Is it too much, Bowgrade?" he asked, a bit unsure.
"No, no, Lord Consort," the Master hastily assured him. "Of course not. It's just that you seem to have brought only a rather small collection of your wardrobe to choose from."
"I brought six different sets," argued Jazz. "I don't think I need more." Not for only one day of celebrations. You would need maybe two, at most. But then a thought came to him. "Does my Lord bring more?"
It would be bad, if Lord Prowl planned to change his wardrobe at every opportunity and he couldn't. He hadn't taken his Lord as one of those nobles, but then it also was the first big party they attended together.
"The Lord only brings four sets," answered Bowgrade, but Jazz was sure he detected hidden displeasure – and worry. Obviously the servant thought that so few wardrobes weren't sufficient of nobles of their – or at least his Lord's – standing.
"I'm sure they're four magnificent sets," he said comfortingly.
The Master of Servants nodded a bit more hopefully and clapped his hands. "Take the items of our Lord Consort to the carriage!" he ordered the servants that came running. Then he bowed to Jazz, "Please, excuse me Lord Consort, I have to oversee the last steps of preparation."
Jazz nodded and waved him away. Again, he was alone on top of the staircase that led to the Palaise, waiting for his Lord who was probably still working until the very last possible klick. It was a trait of his Lord that had infuriated many in the past, but one that made Jazz smile in admiration. He had always liked hard-working, honest mechs and no one could say that his Lord wasn't exactly that.
The doors finally opened and a black and white Praxian, wings high on his back, stepped out. As the sun hit the armor, the many silver inlays gleamed and gave him an exquisite look of moderate wealth. It was another thing that Jazz liked, his Lord showing that he was well off, but never to the point of bragging.
"Jazz," greeted his Lord with a nod – and nothing more.
Jazz bowed his neck. "My Lord," he returned the greeting. "We're nearly ready to depart."
"Good." His Lord observed the plaza coolly, then turned to him. "Then maybe we should board the carriage already." He offered his arm, as always the perfect gentlemech.
"As you wish." Jazz took the arm with a smile, but inside he was nervous.
He hadn't been alone with his Lord for any considerable time since their oath ceremony nearly a vorn back. Since then, they had met regularly, but his Lord had seemed too busy to care what his consort was doing. At least his allowance from the House had been generous, and would've made his siblings blanch in envy. For the first few decaorns he had bought games, then after that music and later music lessons and instruments... for the last several decaorns, though, he had only continued his lessons and left the rest of the money alone. He had bought everything he had wanted and it felt wrong by now to spend even more money of a mech who he saw at the evening meal at most if he was lucky.
Since then, he hadn't been able to forget the whispering thoughts of his processor around the question why Lord Prowl had taken him as his Consort at all. It couldn't have been for political reasons, as Jazz's family resided in the Grand Duchy of Polyhex which had few commercial relationships with the Grand Duchy of Praxus, or rather to say none besides the trading of hidden insults in the Noble Council of the Prime.
It also wasn't as if Lord Prowl needed an heir immediately. No one would challenge the rule of a mech that had brought nothing but prosperity and peace to his Grand Duchy and besides, the Lord's brother Smokescreen had been blessed by Primus with twins.
So, was Jazz just the mech with the highest compatibility ratings that looked good as his arm, and who gave him a bit more of a social image? After all, Lord Prowl was famous for showing nearly no emotions. Famous enough that every mech on Cybertron knew who was meant if someone said "his icy Highness".
No. Surely, Jazz was more than that. Or at least, he could be more than that.
The inside of the carriage was luxurious and comfortable, lacking nothing that could make a journey less of an ordeal. Jazz leaned back into the soft cushions and observed his Lord who had, predictably enough, taken out a datapad which he read attentively and made notes on from time to time.
Jazz had brought himself a novel to read, but instead relished in the chance of just watching Lord Prowl, to observe his doorwings that were far more expressive than his face, and the elegant hands that tightened from time to time, whenever he read something unpleasant.
How could he be more to this mech than whatever he was at the moment?
He needed to get his attention. Or maybe he could woo him. He had to smile at the thought. Wooing his icy Highness himself. But why not? He didn't dream of becoming more than Consort someorn, but to be acknowledged and respected was a goal worthy of fighting for.
For this reason, he had been searching for a gift to give his Lord for two decaorns now, but so far had found nothing. Lord Prowl was not a mech inclined to frivolities and needless, impractical things, and all practical things he desired he had bought and acquired over the vorns himself. It seemed to be a hopeless quest.
Looking again at his Lord, he decided that maybe a more direct approach was needed. He gathered his courage, well aware that this wasn't exactly proper, and asked:
"My Lord, if I may be so bold to ask, what are you reading?"
Lord Prowl looked up, face impassive, but wings twitching in what Jazz choose to interpret as surprise. After a small silence, the Lord answered: "I'm reading the interpretation of the tax statistic of the last 200 vorns of Yuss and the surrounding area and its predictions for the next 50 vorns if the population continues to rise as expected."
"I see." For a moment, Jazz wanted to drop the subject. While he had been educated in tax and statistics, he had never enjoyed them, but it was probably time to put his knowledge to use. Or at least to show that he was interested in what his Lord was working on, and that was true enough. "What are the predictions?"
Again Lord Prowl stared at him out of blue, deep, unfathomable optics, then he nodded. "The predictions are that the population will rise by twenty percent every hundred vorns, but that through the situation at the job market, which offers mostly badly paid labor jobs at the mines, the average population will stay poor. If nothing is done soon, we might be dealing with increased crime rates, a worsening health care system and the first slums in that region."
"Slums?" said Jazz truly shocked. The Grand Duchy of Praxus was famous for the very fact that it didn't have a single slum. "Can my Lord do something to prevent that?"
"Maybe." Lord Prowl put his stylus to his lower lip and narrowed his optics as he read the statistic again. "I'm contemplating relocating the processing industry of Januss to Yuss. But that will cost several million credits and will be a catastrophe to the city Januss."
For a moment, Jazz was excited that Lord Prowl was sharing this with him, especially hearing the deep conflict in his voice. Then, though, the worry for the cities outweighed this. "Isn't there anything else that could be relocated?"
"Nothing I can think of. Most industries would just cost too much money." Lord Prowl frowned. "Of course, I then considered schools and universities as they always have a positive effect on the economy, but Yuss is so far away from Praxus that most wouldn't switch schools, even if I implemented incentives."
That was true enough, admitted Jazz. If he had the choice between living in Praxus and living in Yuss, he wouldn't need an astrosecond to decide. "Doesn't Yuss offer anything?"
"Besides its mines which produce the finest metals in my dominion?" asked Lord Prowl. "No, nothing really, besides the natural opportunities their poor state of being offers. With which I mean the low costs of living as rents and that energon is very cheap."
Jazz frowned. There had to be a solution. His thoughts raced, and suddenly he had an idea. "My Lord, you said they produce metals, are there tellirium or tatimium mines by any chance?"
A glance to the datapad. "They offer both. Why?"
"Music instruments are made from those metals, also many artists work with them. Maybe we can relocate those schools there, or at least create a music center there..." Jazz trailed off uncertainly at the piercing gaze of his Lord. Maybe, it was a bad idea. Maybe, he should've said nothing at all.
Lord Prowl looked at his datapad, and the astroseconds of silence turned into eons for Jazz. Then, finally: "That would not change the situation entirely, but it would help ease the suffering of Yuss. Especially if I allocate the money I would've used to move the industry into supporting the music instrument industries." He looked up at Jazz. "This was a good idea, my Consort."
Warmth bubbled up in Jazz's spark as he relaxed and offered a smile. This was the first time Lord Prowl had called him 'my Consort' in a private setting, had acknowledged what he was to him.
It gave Jazz hope, and reinforced his determination.
"I only wish to see your dominion prosper," he said. 'And to make you proud of me,' he added in his thoughts.
Lord Prowl nodded and returned to his datapad.
The moment was over, but far from being forgotten. Especially as not even ten breems later, Lord Prowl handed Jazz another datapad without a warning and said: "I don't have the time to read it. Please do this for me and tell me afterwards if there was anything important."
It was the work of a secretary. It should have insulted Jazz, who was a noble born and raised. Instead, he saw the trust it cost Lord Prowl to give even this much of his work away. Knew, thanks to the servants, that Lord Prowl hadn't trusted anyone even that far since the last secretary had murdered Lord Prowl's creator, the previous Grand Duke of Praxus.
So he read the tax report of a small village that he had never heard of, and later reported as the carriage was reaching its destination that the village had an average harvest and would be able to pay its tax as always.
It was a little thing. But more than before.
Their destination turned out to be a moderate countryside villa with a sprawling garden. On the driveway other carriages were in front of them, most smaller and not as lavish as his Lord Prowl's carriage, but then this had been expected. This was the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Praxus and it would be an impolite statement to show more wealth than their betters, especially as it would've been an untrue statement. Still, as he hadn't seen most of these nobles since his own oath ceremony, he noticed that most of the carriages were of much better quality than those of comparable rank in Polyhex.
The moment their carriage had been spotted, movement came into the queue in front of them and the carriages of Dukes and Knights alike moved to the side to form an alley. Jazz, who once would have been one of those to move aside, couldn't help but feel strangely uncomfortable and proud at the same time.
"Please remain at my side until we are shown our rooms," said Lord Prowl quietly, while storing his datapads in his subspace. "Later you can mingle among the others."
Jazz nodded. "Of course, my Lord."
He wondered if Lord Prowl would mingle too. It was an activity he couldn't imagine the Grand Duke enjoying.
As the carriage opened, two kneeling servants greeted them. Between them was a red mech, who just bowed lightly as no noble was obliged to do more to a Grand Duke. Only a Prime could demand all and everyone to kneel.
"Rise," said Prowl and the noble did.
He wasn't slender as most nobles preferred, but more sturdily built like a Knight. Jazz couldn't remember having met him before, so maybe he had held the title of a Knight before bonding with the Baron of Simfur and claiming this title as well. There was no bonding 'down' the noble hierarchy.
"Grand Duke Prowl and Consort, my name is Baron Lighthouse of Simfur, bonded to Baron Softstep of Simfur. We are honored to receive you at the celebration of our bonding orn. Your presence will bring joy to this orn and ensure that it will be remembered for many hundred vorns to come."
"We're glad to be here this orn," answered Lord Prowl neutrally. "A bonding is a rare event worthy of jubilation and remembrance. May I ask where your Bonded is?"
The noble tried not to show any reaction to the question, but inside he probably flinched just as much as Jazz winced. Was it deliberate that Lord Prowl showed that the absence of the bonded Baron had been noticed? As they were bonded in the optics of the law as well as Primus and were one entity, it was accepted that one Baron spoke for both always. As such it wasn't necessary for both Barons to greet the Grand Duke, but it would have been more polite.
"I'm very sorry, but he's busy showing the already arrived guests their accommodations," said the Baron. "May I do the same for you, so you can refresh yourselves?"
"You may," said Prowl.
The Baron stepped aside and ordered his two servants to show the carriage the parking place and to bring the luggage of the Highnesses to their room.
That made Jazz listen. Room? As in a single one? In Praxus they recharged in rooms in the same wing, but different apartments. Even on their oath night, when they had interfaced for the first and last time, Lord Prowl had left immediately afterwards.
So the chance to share a room with Lord Prowl again was very welcomed. The Baron's villa probably couldn't offer enough rooms to every guest in any other way.
Inside, the villa reminded Jazz of his own home. It wasn't as stately and grand as Lord Prowl's Palaise by far, but it still had its own fair share of gold and silver and exquisite paintings on the wall. They were shown up the grand stairs and to the master bedroom of the villa. It made Jazz uncomfortable for a moment to know that they basically had driven the bondmates for whose celebration they had come from their own bedroom, but realistically he knew that nothing could be done. The discrepancy of their standing allowed for nothing else than to give the best they could to Lord Prowl and his Consort.
The Baron opened the doors wide and bowed again as he showed them inside with his hands. "I hope you like our humble abode."
They stepped into a nice living room with big windows facing the garden and an expensive carpet under their pedes. In the middle of the room were couches with silver metal mesh draped across them and on the right side a huge fireplace. A door led away, no doubt to the bedroom.
"It's beautiful," Jazz said, before his Lord had the chance to. It wasn't a faux pas per se, but he was more than aware that he had never answered in his Lord's stead before. "Very lovely, especially those windows. Thank you, Baron Lighthouse, we'll be very comfortable here."
The Baron relaxed for the first time since he had met them and even dared a small smile. "I'm glad to hear this, Consort. Grand Duke, do you need me for anything else?"
"No." Prowl stepped into the room. "This is more than adequate."
"Thank you. The opening banquet will begin at the thirteenth joor." He bowed and closed the doors behind him.
Jazz looked at his Lord with whom he would be alone for the next two joors, half expecting a reprimand. Instead, Lord Prowl walked to the couches, sat down and put his datapads from subspace on the table, starting to work again. He couldn't say that he was surprised and Jazz used the time to inspect the bedroom which they would share later. It was a bit bigger than the one he had in the Palaise for himself, but still smaller than the one they had shared on their oath night. He touched the mesh on the bed that ran through his fingers like the softest mercury. It would be a nice place to recharge in, even if he doubted that anything more would happen. Not with his Lord.
He walked back into the living room and from this viewpoint he saw that there was an alcove on the other side of the room, which was filled by a big musical instrument, a Zythern. And what a Zythern it was: sleek, of a dark elegant red with horns and crystal keys to play. Rarely had Jazz seen such a beauty outside the hands of a famous musician, and near of himself. He longed to touch the instrument, to get to know it, to caress and coax the first gentle tones out of it.
But behind him his Lord was working and it would've been terribly unkind to start playing and disrupt his concentration. So he only stepped up to the Zythern and laid his hand on the keys, feeling the smooth crystals and strong metals and wishing he could hear the soul of this instrument. Surely, it was beautiful.
"Do you enjoy this instrument?" suddenly came a voice just a bit from behind him.
Jazz startled. "My Lord," he said, trying to hide his scare. "I hadn't heard you."
The servants had whispered in the hallways that the Lord could be quiet as a ghost, but he hadn't taken it very seriously until now. His Lord looked at him impassively. "Mechs rarely hear me or anyone else when they're as deep in thought as you were, Jazz," Lord Prowl said, but if it was in disdain or not, Jazz couldn't say. "Can you play the Zythern?"
"I'm no maestro, but I do know how to play it, yes."
"A worthy skill," praised his Lord and turned, walking back to the couches. Jazz stared after him, looking at the relaxed wings, unsure what to say.
As Lord Prowl sat down on the couches, he looked up, wings twitching. "Will you play for me, Jazz?"
For a long moment, Jazz was sure that he had heard wrong, but as the words in his processor didn't change even at the third examination he had to accept reality – with a deeper than necessary bow and a genuine smile: "I would be honored, my Lord Prowl."
"No, the honor is mine," answered his Lord with a glance at his unfinished datapads. He took them and subspaced them.
Meanwhile, Jazz sat down in the small hard chair front of the large instrument, and laid his hands on the keys, trying to calm his sudden excitement. It was just him and an instrument whose siblings he had played thousands of times before. There was no reason to be afraid – besides the fact that Lord Prowl was watching and judging, his cold blue optics checking over every chink in his armor.
He needed to concentrate. His forced himself to ignore the world, the unfamiliar rooms and even his Lord and focused on the shining crystal keys – he pressed a key, a high note and the song began and the world fell away.
Music was Jazz's true element. He was a social mech, amiable and loving small talk, but nothing came close to the feelings of warmth and freedom music gifted him with. The music swirled around him, inside him, over him, the notes a gentle guide to new and familiar highs. Soon, he had shuttered his optics and played, only the music and he remaining in perfect harmony.
Something touched him at the shoulder.
He flinched back, the music dying in an undignified howl.
His Lord was standing beside him, face cold and unreadable as always. "We need to get ready for the celebrations," he said. "The servants are already waiting."
He spoke true. The chronometre showed that nearly a joor had passed in a timespan that felt like a a breem and the four servants they had brought stood next to the door.
"Oh," he hastily stood up. "Of course. We should hurry."
His Lord shook his head. "We still have enough time." He winked the servants. "Please make sure that my Consort is well taken care of in the bath."
Bath? The servants opened a previously hidden door for him and he went after them, wondering whether Lord Prowl would join him to get clean or wait. The former wasn't uncommon among oath sworn couples, but then regular interfacing was also common amongst them.
The bath was also a bit larger than the one he had just for himself at the Palaise, with fine soaps from Tarn, expensive perfumes from Typhern, and soft sponges from the Rust Sea. It had all he could wish for, and as the warm solvent dripped down on his silvery armor he couldn't help but sigh in contentment. Around him, the two servants started to polish his already well-cared armor, bringing its shine to new highs. As he gave himself over to the tender and exacting care of the servants, he decided that Lord Prowl would probably wait until he was finished.
In this aspect, he was right.
Yet as his thoughts drifted, he couldn't help but note that his Lord hadn't commented on his play with a single word. He had thought himself a decent player, but maybe his teacher had overestimated his skills to please him? Also, just as likely, his Lord hadn't liked the chosen aria or didn't like music as a whole. After all, his Lord was not known as a sponsor of music and art festivals. But then why would he ask Jazz to show his art? He was aware that he was overanalyzing things, but he couldn't help it. Music was an integral part of him and to imagine that his Lord showed interest in that part of him... that was nearly a truth too good to be true.
It would make everything else worth it.
The servants etched his armor with white glyphs of honor, prosperity, his rank and House, turning them from a mere declaration into an image of beauty.
As he stepped out of the bath, ready to choose his garment, his Lord gave him a look. It was long and intense and for a moment in made Jazz's step falter...
Then his Lord entered the bathroom and the doors closed.
He chose a white robe that took care to show every single one of his traditional glyphs, and which flowed gently down behind him in a see-through veil. The garments hid nothing, but then that had never been their purpose.
When his Lord was ready, and came to the main room, he was vent-stutteringly handsome. His armor gleamed and the black patches seemed to swallow the light. Only a few new glyphs adorned him; at the center of his chest and above his spark was the glyph of the House of Praxus and next to it were the glyphs that proclaimed his House virtues: Always striving.
Rarely had a virtue fit a mech as well as the Praxian Lord, was said by many.
Below that was a set of glyphs Jazz had never seen on his Lord before, yet were so familiar he barely needed a glance to read them: Oath sworn to Consort Jazz of the House of Praxus.
It made Jazz involuntarily smile. His Lord was his. Now and until they bonded or dissolved the oath. His. And every guest would know it.
It shouldn't make him as satisfied as he felt.
"You look splendid this orn, my Lord," he said instead and meant it.
His Lord studied him, optics brightening a bit. "Then I have hope not to be outshone by my Consort this celebration."
For a moment, Jazz was stunned by the uncharacteristic compliment of his Lord, but then his cheeky nature took over: "How can the Consort outshine the Lord, when he's supposed to be the jewel adorning and complementing the Lord in all matters?"
"Some Consorts can," answered Lord Prowl. "Servants! My garments!"
The little exchange was over and Jazz could only sit and watch as Prowl was fitted with the traditional cape of the lords. Every cape was an exact telling of the lord's oaths and who he owned fealty to. The more colorful the cape, the more lords were above and the lesser the standing.
Lord Prowl's cape only held two colors. The cape was dyed in the deep blue of Praxus' color which was on every coat of arms, every shield and every cape of the Houses that lived beneath its banner. The edge of the cape, though, was pure golden thread, the color of the Prime whom Lord Prowl served.
Jazz had seen the Prime only once before. He had been standing in the priest's place to take their oath nearly a vorn ago. He had been big and impressive and Jazz had shivered beneath his stare that had just seemed all-knowing. Lord Prowl, though, had been calm, and later at the feast had argued about a trading post with him. Argued. With the Prime!
It had been during that calm and friendly argument that he had learned more about his Lord than ever before or after. Maybe that had been the moment when he had fallen in love as his Lord Prowl had managed to outshine and defeat the Prime himself in an argument.
Over the long vorn that had followed after, the memory had also become tinged with regret. Lord Prowl had seemed so alive then, so animated. If only Jazz had said anything, contributed, maybe he would've been of more interest.
"That's enough," said his Lord and walked away from the servants. He looked impressive, despite the fact that the traditional weapon was missing. It was impolite to bring a weapon into your host's House, especially for a joyful celebration. Lord Prowl's (and in turn Praxus') weapon was the lance.
"Jazz." Lord Prowl offered his arm, and Jazz took it, entwining their arms.
Together they walked from the room, down the stairs and to the ballroom in which the main part of the celebration was to take place. They were several breems late, but Jazz was very aware of the notion of being fashionably late. It was a subtle show of power, while at the same time it guaranteed a grand entrance. As a Grand Duke, Lord Prowl was probably never even expected to be on time.