"The Celebration": Part Three
Slowly, the ball neared its end. The nobles that lived closer left the party in their carriages while those that stayed returned to their appointed rooms. Jazz found himself with Lord Prowl back in their apartment. Both were cleaned in the bath by their servants and Jazz couldn't help but remember what laid beyond the wall - the bed.
The single bed for them both.
Would Lord Prowl expect an interface? Cuddling? Or nothing? He didn't know. It was ridiculous. Their oath orn had been nearly a vorn ago and yet he was nearly as nervous now as their first night then. Which probably wasn't such a surprise - this could be their second night together. Jazz wished he had thought to bring his jewels meant exclusively for the berth chamber. But he hadn't and so he could only hope his Lord thought his natural frame attractive. He shuttered his optics and tried to imagine the night, while he stood beneath the solvent. The soft strokes of his servants with the sponge along his frame, helped to imagine it... his Lord would be careful, but determined. Gentle, but firm. Loving, but not sappy. He felt his frame grow warm and knew that these were nice wishes.
But reality would look different. The last time, his Lord had been less than this nice little fantasy. Far too soon, he had to leave his shower and was dried and cared for by the servants. And then, suddenly, he was with them and his Lord in the living room and the servants bowed and left. They were alone. Without a word, his Lord walked back to the small table on which the datapads were and started to look them over again. Jazz was unsure what to do. Should he just go to the berth alone already? Or wait for his Lord? He would never admit it, but he was a bit afraid. Lord Prowl was at best very difficult to read and now he could've competed with a Praxian crystal for expressivity and the crystal would've won.
"Jazz," said his Lord suddenly. "Would you play for me again?"
Had his Lord really just asked... yes, he had. "Of course!"
Relieved and very happy to be able to do what he loved most, while being able to satisfy his Lord at the same time, he sat himself at the Zyphern and began to play. With the first few notes, he had forgotten why he had worried and as the song progressed, he forgot everything else as well. Cybertronian songs tended to last a long time, but even they had to end at some point. On the last note, he stared at the Zyphern as if a dream had ended and then slowly looked up, searching for his Lord.
Lord Prowl stood with his back against the couch, arms crossed, intently watching him. As his optics caught Jazz's he nodded slightly: "You're no maester yet, Jazz, but with the skill you just showed you could be one if you put your mind on it."
"High praise, my Lord." He stood and bowed. "I'm honored." Maester were the leaders of the music academies and it was said that when one true maester played, Cybertron wept. They usually were trained from sparklinghood, when one of the relentless talent scouts discovered the potential in a commoner. Such a discovery was always a good thing, as it offered the opportunity to attend the finest education establishments on Cybertron and meant a comfortable life later on. Jazz had never met a talent scout as nobles already had their role in life defined for them. Still, sometimes he had dreamed of offering himself completely to music and so his Lord's praise might mean more to him than Lord Prowl had intended. "True praise," corrected his Lord curtly. "I'm pleased that the expenses for your musical teachers didn't go to waste."
Jazz flinched and his good feeling evaporated instantly. So his Lord had monitored him. It had been a test? Had he failed? "I'm deeply sorry, if my stipend was intended for something else or if I used too much money. Please forgive this slight, my Lord. I didn't intend to offend you." Or disappoint.
For a long moment his Lord only stared at him, then he slowly shook his head. "You didn't offend me, my Consort. The money was yours and yours alone to spend. I'm just pleased that you chose to spend it on learning and improving yourself."
Jazz blinked as he slowly realized that he had, once again, read more into the words of his Lord than his Lord had meant. He suspected he would need many more vorns to get used to the fact that Lord Prowl didn't hide meanings between phrases and sentences as it was so common and even expected among Polyhexian nobles. No, Lord Prowl was direct to a fault.
"I then apologize for misreading your words," Jazz said and then, because he had to know, asked: "It would please my Lord if I delve deeper into my musical studies?"
While musical skill was respected among nobles, it wasn't considered appropriate to pursue it all too much. After all, nobility in itself was seen as a profession and calling, why search for something else? And Jazz hadn't searched after maturing, knowing that his creators frowned upon his enthusiasm and tendency to lose himself in the music. But maybe, just maybe, hopefully his Lord would approve. Just a bit. It would be enough.
"If it pleases you," said his Lord slowly, using the archaic words of bondmates-to-be, glyphs full of mine and ours and we that he had last heard during the oath ceremony a vorn ago. "Then it pleases me."
A breem before, Jazz wouldn't have thought that those old words had any effect on him. At the ceremony, they had certainly rang hollow. But now that he had heard the glyphs, full of ancient promise and intent and possibility, he couldn't help but smile and feel warmer than he had since leaving his House. Maybe there was hope for more than simple acceptance and respect.
"You're allowing me to pursue my training?" he asked, just to be sure. Just to hear it again.
"Yes." His Lord's voice left no uncertainties. "And if your skill rises, you can search for better teachers, until the maester of Praxus himself gives you his time."
It was more than he had dreamed of and more than expected.
This mech in front of him, this cold and icy Lord, could possibly be his future bondmate. For the first time this knowledge became more than a contract and an oath of loyalty. Instead, maybe, it was something to be truly desired.
He smiled sincerely at his Lord and though he didn't know it, in that moment he was beautiful. "I'll try my best to become worthy of the maester's attention."
"Good." His Lord's face softened a bit. "It seems you're far more knowledgeable in the Arts than I."
"Not all arts, my Lord," answered Jazz modestly. Reflexively, it didn't sit well with him that a Grand Duke admitted fault. "Just music and a few others."
Something that in any other mech would've been a smile crossed his Lord's face. With Lord Prowl it was more of a twitch. "I do read the reports on your expenses, my Consort, and I also remember the report I received after we were proven compatible. You visit galleries regularly, you tried yourself at painting and you're exceptional at dancing – something which I and every other noble could witness today. Further, your singing voice is more than just acceptable and you're well read."
Jazz became increasingly embarrassed as his Lord listed his accomplishments that weren't anything special. "Every Polyhex noble does or can to do most of these things. It's part of our education."
"Maybe. But most choose one field to become passable in, while you became passable in all and good to very good in most. I have no doubt that your spark has Talent."
The glyph of talent was the one used for sparkdeep talent that mechs believed was a gift from Primus himself. At home it would've been unimaginable that any noble had a Talent. To be a noble was already all Talent you could have. That now Lord Prowl held him in such a high esteem robbed him of his words.
"I have long decided to nurture Talent of any kind and shape," continued his Lord. "And your Talent I wish to see blossom, my Consort." He stepped towards Jazz. "But it's late now. Let us retire into the berth chamber. On the morrow we're expected to break the fast with our hosts and later to take part in the feast."
Jazz's spark fluttered, but if from the praise or at the mention of the berth chamber he didn't know. He felt lighter than in a very long time. "As you wish, my Lord."
His Lord touched him at the arm and Jazz automatically rotated his arm until his palm laid on the palm of his Lord. It was as an intimate contact two nobles could display in public and it was reserved for lovers, oath mates and, of course, bondmates.
Together they walked back to the chamber, which received them with dim light and tasteful decoration, looking no different from the first time Jazz had entered it. Yet, now the shadows held dark secrets and light whispers.
Their garments already removed by the servants, there was nothing to do but to lie down. The mesh was soft as expected, and temperated exactly right. Next to him the berth moved as his Lord joined, his warm wing barely a hand length away from him.
Time dripped away slowly with the consistency of sweet dough. Yet his Lord didn't move anymore and after a small eternity Jazz had to accept that his Lord was recharging. Relief warred with disappointment and he sighed.
Nothing had happened. Were they destined to a relationship that had nothing beyond formal words?
He turned to his Lord and suddenly felt daring. Gently, he raised a hand and touched the openly displayed doorwing next to him. It was unexpectedly rough, not at all the smooth surface they appeared to be from afar. Smiling at the discovery and the fact that his Lord wasn't reacting, he became braver and followed the pattern of glyphs and miniscule scars on the doorwing from battles and wounds long past.
Even though the age difference between them was not very considerable in their long-lived race's terms, Jazz had wondered if his Lord saw him as inexperienced. When Jazz had been sparked, Lord Prowl had been just finishing his first war campaign very successfully and through it cemented his rule even further. Not all mechs could be quietened by prosperity and wealth, but those few had proven to very able at respecting the might of Lord Prowl's lance.
It was easy to forget that Lord Prowl was more than just a very good bureaucrat. As a Grand Duke he had more power than most, but also more responsibilities, among them the duty to protect their planet and to lead the army if the Prime called.
As such, it was only fitting that the doorwing was rough and told in the dark far more about his Lord's past than the shiny beautiful appendage during the day. Jazz shifted a bit closer to discern more of the doorwing, softly following the edge of the doorwing to the main body. There he hesitated with bated breath, but still his Lord didn't move. The Praxian Lord's frame radiated warmth and in the silence he could hear the near quiet systems laboring away.
Strange. He had been Consort of this mech for a vorn and knew him better than most, yet he still had remained a stranger in so many ways.
His hand hovered over the breast plate by now, very aware that below it, unreachable, laid the spark that had promised to wait for him until they became one or parted. Shouldn't they be more than strangers?
He very softly laid his hand on the breast plate, barely heavier than the air itself. Nothing happened. But he became even more acutely aware of the frame, whose minor vibrations raced up his arm and directly into his spark.
He yearned for more.
A breem went past and the yearning only intensified, until Jazz couldn't help but snuggle closer, touching hip on hip, upper leg on upper leg and head - after a brief hesitation - against shoulder.
And still, his Lord didn't move.
Slowly he relaxed, and shuttered his optics. His Lord was so warm... and surely, when they woke up in the morning, Lord Prowl would blame an unsettled recharge.
Content, Jazz let recharge protocols take over. He never noticed his Lord's hand moving to touch his helmet, only to fall away again.
In the morning the berth was empty and Lord Prowl gone. For a small moment Jazz unreasonably panicked, then he heard the muffled steps of a person next door. He should've known and remembered that his Lord was a very early riser. A check of the chronometre confirmed that he still had time to prepare for the orn.
He rose and summoned his servants. This time he chose a simpler robe made of the Grand Duke's colour. It complimented nicely with his visor. After it was put on, he waved the servants away, noticing that they still had a bit of time. Lord Prowl was again sitting looking over his datapads, calculating and solving problems far over the heads of most nobles. While Jazz admired his oath sworn's skill and determination, it now left him bereft of entertaiment.
A breem went past and he couldn't help but remember yesterday. Maybe it had been a fluke. Maybe Lord Prowl only recognized his skills, but didn't like music. Still, he thought as he looked at his Lord, still, it would be nice if it was more. He straightened and stepped towards his Lord:
"My Lord? Would you allow it that I play the Zyphern again? I do not want to disturb you."
"Play as it pleases you," was the distracted answer.
He did. But this time he didn't lose himself completely in the music, too aware of his Lord's presence just a few steps away. Lord Prowl, for all that, didn't appear to listen at all, but that was fine. Maybe, he contemplated, the datapads and numbers and calculations were for Prowl as music was to Jazz. Lord Prowl was extraordinarily good at it, too. Couldn't such an ability count as Talent as well? He would have to look it up, but it was a nice thought. It didn't mean they had something in common, but Talent rarely duplicated itself exactly. Yet, with understanding each other, it would help immeasurably.
The servant's announcement that the Barons and their guests awaited the Grand Duke and his Consort stopped them both in their enjoyment. With an uncharacteristic sigh, Lord Prowl offered his Consort his arm and together they walked to the so called Green Room.
Once the Green Room had probably been decorated in said color, but the Barons had chosen to move with the ever changing fashion and so the room was now a stunning symphony of dark-blue, silver and gold. High above them, the ceiling had been turned into a permanent night sky, that let nebulas and planets sparkle with every imaginable color. In the middle of the room was a long table wrought out of silver and other precious metals forming a huge 'u'. It was fully occupied and a fast headcount confirmed that with his Lord and himself, over fifty mechs would be sitting at the table, yet at the central table a mere thirteen mechs had place. Thirteen was the number of the first Primes that founded Cybertron and which was still said to bring prosperity to every household.
"Good morrow to you, my Lord, and Lord Consort," greeted Baron Softstep with a smile and led them to the head table. "We're happy that you're joining us today at our humble table."
Humble wasn't the word Jazz would've used to describe the table and its foods. More like opulent, but then Baron Softstep probably meant it metaphorically. After all, it wasn't every vorn a mere Baron dined together with a Grand Duke. He looked at the other guests at the head table and found his suspicions confirmed. Most were very important nobles or close members of the Baron's family.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to join you," answered Lord Prowl evenly and took a seat. They were the last to arrive. "Please let us begin, this orn will surely be eventful."
Jazz, who had taken the only free seat left, found himself now across the table from his Lord. At the Grand Duke's left, the Barons themselves had taken place. It was only at the orn of their celebration that the Grand Duke wouldn't take the highest seat of honor at the center.
Around them were nobles he hadn't talked to or seen before. With a sigh, he took a small energon stick and started eating.
"Have you tried the treacle pudding over there already, Lord Consort?" asked the mech to his right suddenly. He was young, maybe even a bit younger than Jazz, with a dark finish and a friendly smile.
"Not yet," admitted Jazz. "Is it very good?"
"The very best around here!" praised the mech. "The chef probably has prepared it just for me, because my brother knows I love it."
"Your brother is the Baron, I guess...?" said Jazz slowly, taking an educated guess.
"Yes. Lighthouse to be exact. And I'm Lightflash. It's strange you know, I'm not even a Knight like my brother, because I choose the scholarly career and yet I'm eating here next to the Lord Consort himself. Not to mention that your oath mate is sitting across from us. Never thought I would see him for real."
That the mech wasn't a noble had been obvious from the first second. Not in his frame, but in his demeanor. It was too open and unguarded. Jazz found it refreshing to meet someone who was just curious and not someone who wanted anything more substantial from him.
"You and Lighthouse come from a Knight House, then?" he asked.
"Not a House, just a family," answered Lightsflash with a shrug, seemingly unaware that he was playing his own importance down. "Our creator was made Knight in the battles of Tolly, for pursuing and slaying a Zuzulexu general."
"A brave mech then," said Jazz honestly. He had seen pictures of Zuzulexu generals and they hadn't seem like small or harmless creatures at all. "And a good starting for your noble lineage."
Lightflash seemed suddenly unsure. "I guess." His gaze flickered over to his sibling. It seemed that he had become aware of the potential political fallout, should he incur the wrath of the Consort in front of him.
Jazz, sensitive to the moods of his conversation partners, smiled reassuringly. "It truly is. Bravery and honour are worthy traits in any family. And fortune has favored your family further with your brother having found the second half of his spark."
Many didn't. It was always a blessing of Primus to succeed in bonding, no matter if common or noble. Lightflash seemed to relax a bit and nodded.
"And I know of none who is more deserving of this blessing than my brother. Lighthouse has always wished to find his second half and prayed for it at the temples." A soft smile. "Even though at first he was a bit overwhelmed. I mean, Softstep is a true noble and we..." He caught himself at the last klick.
Jazz, though, didn't mind. He understood only too well. "It can be," he agreed. "The station difference between my Lord and myself is, in some ways, even bigger."
"Truly?" said Lightflash surprised. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..."
Jazz wondered if he should speak more about it. It felt good, but it was borderline private and as a result nearly improper. But if he was truthful, he was lonely. His Lord was distant and the servants always professionals, and all friends and families far away in an enemy Grand Duchy. There was no one he could speak to about his daily troubles, and how hard it sometimes was to accept that he was now the Consort of a Grand Duke and not a lowly noble who could mostly do as he wanted.
"It's not exactly common knowledge, especially considering that I'm a Polyhexian noble, a third creation of a Count House," Jazz explained. With that standing, it had been expected that he would make his own luck, maybe in the military or as a priest and contribute to his House's glory – but not much more. "I was not compatible with anyone in my own Grand Duchy, so my House decided to search Cybertron-wide. The match was a surprise to both of us."
An understatement if there had ever been on. Their match had dominated all of Praxus - Polyhexian politics for decaorns. But for Jazz it also had meant an end to the shame of being incompatible to everyone, a fate usually reserved for the truly mad or perverse. The rumors that there had to be something wrong with him in the previous vorns had hurt deeply, especially when he had caught his own family giving him weird glances. When the decision of a planetary search had been made, Jazz had prayed for a match – any match – at the temple. No matter how high or low born the mech was, he would accept it.
Lightflash gave him a smile. "Lighthouse was very surprised as well when he was shown his compatibility tests. There are many more Knights than Barons after all, and we first searched in our own class and territory, of course." He gave Jazz a quick glance to ensure that the Consort believed him.
To exclusively search for compatible mechs in stations above you, was not merely a breach of etiquette, but a declaration to do everything to rise. Such declarations usually weren't accepted benignly by the nobles and mechs of higher rank.
"I'm sure their pairing was the best option to both of them," agreed Jazz politely and looked towards the two Barons who seemed to lose themselves in each other's optics. "Their happiness is obvious." And if he sounded a bit wistful, there would be no one who wouldn't understand. After all, he was oath sworn to his 'icy Highness' and since orn one the bets on how long he would be capable of staying with Lord Prowl were the amusement of high society across Cybertron.
Jazz dared to glance at his Lord who was talking to his right neighbor who seemed to nearly melt from nervousness. Was there even a miniscule chance his Lord would consider bonding their sparks? They were not even interfacing or trusting each other, how could he dream of bonding? Yet he did. He has never reached an acceptable compatibility with any other mech, while with his Lord he had an astounding 98 points. Surely, all the tests couldn't be wrong and they had a chance achieve Primus' greatest blessing. Lord Prowl was quite literally the only mech on Cybertron Jazz was even capable of bonding to.
The lower the compatibility rate, the lower was the chance to complete the bonding successfully. Some... went horrifically wrong. Still, it never had stopped mechs from trying. Everyone dreamed of the perfect partner, and their own sparklings.
Lightflash had followed his glance. It was obvious he wanted to ask, but it would be impolite even when two mechs were of the same standing. To ask something like this of a Lord Consort would be foolish at best.
Jazz forced himself to concentrate on Lightflash again, and forced a smile: "You said you're a scholar, so tell me in what area you are seeking further enlightment?"
It had been the right subject to ask about; Lightflash soon was explaining animatedly the studies conducted at Praxus' Academy of History. Jazz listened attentively, enjoying the true enthusiasm.
Soon, the appertif was followed by the main course which was followed by a delicious dessert crowned by a red round crystal, glowing softly.
Appreciative 'ohs' went through the room as the procession of butlers brought the desserts in and placed them elegantly in front of every guest. Jazz made the same impressed noise as everyone else, while inside he winced.
It seemed that some things were the same among nobles wherever you went and boasting obviously was one of them. To serve another delicious dessert of the Polyhexian cook would probably have been too much to ask for. Instead they went to the trouble to acquire the rarest treat on the whole planet: Radishcrystals. A single crystal cost enough to fuel an average family for an entire vorn. To serve every guest a crystal indicated nothing less than a fortune.
This little crystals were pure luxury and a loud statement even among the highest ranks of nobles.
Luxurious crystals that tasted so acidic that Jazz would sooner rip out his own taste buds than eat it. But to not eat it would be an insult of the highest degree and reflect very badly on his Lord and House.
Discreetly, Jazz tried to look for a solution, but everywhere the guests were complimenting the Lords and eating the Radishcrystals happily. He wondered how many of them really liked the taste and how many just forced themselves to eat the crystals, because it was expected of them.
Really, they were pretty, he would admit that, but there was no reason besides the astronomical price to make them this sought after. He discreetly glanced at his Lord, but he appeared to have already eaten his crystals. Just like most other mechs at the table. If he didn't hurry, they would notice that something was wrong and then it was too late...
With a grimace which he was barely able to hide, he took the crystal into his servo and observed it to buy a few precious seconds more. It was cool in his hand, perfectly round and clear. It was a miracle that they grew like this in a single place on Cybertron. To not break them as they were delicate, they had to be mined by hand.
The dentas would destroy the little beauty and the fluid, which at the moment gave the glow just the enticing edge, would explode inside his mouth – he shuddered as he remembered his first and last Radishcrystal vorns ago.
Maybe he could throw it beneath the table. Or just let it roll away by 'mistake'. Or put it on another dessert. Or throw it through the room. If he was lucky no mech would see his fast movement...
"My Consort?" asked his Lord suddenly and Jazz was thrown out of his thoughts.
"My Lord?" he answered automatically. Inside, the panic rose, had his Lord noticed his inability to eat the Radishcrystals? Would he mention it? Had others noticed? But so far it was only Lord Prowl who was paying attention to him. Which was good in some ways, but worse in others. Surely, his Lord had noticed his childish weakness...
Lord Prowl hesitated for a miniscule moment, then he said, "My Radishcrystals were delicious. I wouldn't mind a second one."
For an astrosecond, Jazz thought his audios were malfunctioning. Surely, his Lord couldn't mean that he wanted to eat the acidic atrocity. But then he snapped back into reality and smiled. This was perfect. As a Consort he would even 'honor' his hosts by giving such a treasure to his Lord and not keeping it, especially as it was food and fuel. Who was he to say no to his own Lord?
"My Lord, please take this one then, it will be delicious as well, I'm sure." He offered up his own Radishcrystal with a flourish and a black hand shot eagerly forward, took it and let it vanish in the mouth of his Lord.
Jazz could only stare surprised as his Lord ate it with obvious enjoyment. Maybe he was a far better actor than Jazz had surmised before. Surely, he couldn't actually like these crystals, right?
"Again, very good," praised his Lord loudly. A bit quieter he added: "Thank you, my Consort."
As the times before he felt a warm wave inside his spark at the single word that he desired to hear above all else. "Always, my Lord," he answered and meant it.
Some nobles had noticed the small interaction favorably, which would strengthen Jazz's position in all future public appearances. His Lord left no doubt that he was his Consort in all areas that mattered.
Jazz gazed back at his Lord and thought that he really was lucky. Not all Consorts had such a support by their Lord, compatibility or not. He should show his Lord how much that meant to Jazz and how much he appreciated it.
Which brought him to his decaorn old problem, to find a gift for his Lord.
His Lord really had seemed to enjoy those crystals. And as Jazz knew that he wasn't a good actor and didn't like sweet or even neutral desserts, only acidic tastes were left. And Radishcrystals were clearly something his Lord would indulge himself in...
As all around him the banquet continued, he started to calculate how many Radishcrystals he could buy from the stipend his Lord gave him. They were expensive beyond reason, but if he saved up a bit longer he would be able to afford it.
Slowly, a plan was growing inside his processor, which made him smile in truth and not just out of politeness. He started his chat with Lightflash anew, when the dessert was replaced by high-grade cubes and a quintet of very skilled musicians.
Jazz trained optics immediately recognized that all five were maester trained and blessed with considerable Talent. The aria they began with was slow and kind of breezy, creating sounds seemingly wrought out of light and newness and opportunity. It was a famous piece by the old maester of Crystal City, the Aria of Hope.
It would've been easy to lose himself inside the music, but here he was a noble foremost. Still, his spark yearned to be able to talk to them just once. He crushed the desire with will and lifelong training and turned to the nobles around him. It was time to learn who he was seated with beyond Lighflash and the Barons.