"The Celebration": Part Four
A joor later the Barons invited their guests to the gardens. It was the last part of the celebrations, as gardens were usually copious enough that nobles could take their leave without everyone noticing and commenting on it immediately. Also offered gardens more privacy for hosts and guests in form of little alcoves, mazes, and simple distance.
This garden was no different, but a nice surprise. Jazz had nearly forgotten that they were at the countryside, but the garden brought it to processor again. Huge crystal structures towered above the garden, all of them clearly older than the villa and every mech attending the celebrations. The crystals shined and glimmered in dozens of different colours, ranging from dark blue to golden. Beneath the structures, their shadows provided welcomed coolness to the guests and yet another banquet with sweets and desserts.
A bit further on, he could make out a rust lake, while on the other side a whole copper forest began. The five musicians had found another good spot on top of a small podest. Each placed his instrument in front of them with the same care one would offer a sparkling and started to play. It was a new arie by the famous maester of Kaon, Soundwave and had said maesters very recognisable style in every note. Jazz couldn't help but start to tap his pede to it.
"You would honour me, my Consort, if you gave me your first dance this orn," said his Lord suddenly next to him and offered the arm, palm up.
Jazz spark stuttered. To dance with his Lord, to touch him this way... the last time had been so long ago. He took the hand without hesitation. "It would be a honor."
Very aware of the many optics on them as they entered the dancing spot, he felt a bit nervous. It was common knowledge that his Lordship didn't enjoy dancing, and by now probably every noble who had been there yesterday knew that his Consort, on the contrary, did. No doubt they would analyze every move, every emotion and misstep.
He remembered the orns after the compatibility results had reached him, and his brothers and he had searched for anything that connected Lord Prowl and Jazz. But there had been nothing. Their compatibility had seemingly come out of nowhere, as they shared no hobbies, no skills, no history. In fact, Jazz's outgoing personality had seemed like the very anathema to the Grand Duke's. The prospects had been so bleak that Hightone had even suggested to not accept the Grand Duke's offer. Jazz, who remembered his prayers at the temple, had disagreed and hoped that there was something.
Nearly one vorn later, he still had found not a single similarity. And yet, he remembered his Lord's Prowl acceptance of his music, and all the tiny steps.
And now his Lord wanted to dance with him and the only possible reasons could be Jazz himself.
Jazz turned to his Lord and they both got into proper positions. Then his Lord moved and Jazz moved with them and they were finally dancing. Together. And shall all the others judge, Jazz couldn't help but smile.
Meanwhile, Lord Prowl was far from smiling. His face was blank, his doorwings stiff, and Jazz could feel the extraordinary tenseness that had taken hold of the Grand Duke. Every step and tiny movement was precisely controlled, instead of letting the music itself dictate the rhythm. As a result his Lord's dance was technically correct, but far from graceful. Lacking all fluidity, even Jazz had trouble to turn it into something that was acceptable to any dance instructor.
"My Lord," he whispered quietly after a while. "If... would you..." He faltered, sure that his idea was madness. There was no exact protocol against it, especially considering they were Lord and Consort, but still... he had never seen it done. The higher standing mech led the dance, always. Around them the other pairs danced on, all of them an example to that rule.
Lord Prowl seemed puzzled by his behaviour, his doorwings moving a bit further up, as if standing to attention. "Jazz, if you feel the desire to tell me something, please don't hesitate."
Another perfectly executed turn, that could've been just a bit better, a bit more lively.
"You are graceful as always, my Lord," he began hesitatingly, not sure how to tell a mech of such standing that he was a worse dancer than Jazz. "Yet maybe our dance would profit from my lead? Of course only, if my Lord would wish me to." He didn't dare to look at Lord Prowl's face and instead stared at his Lord's shoulder, sure that he was overstepping some line. Or a few dozen.
For a second his Lord stiffened and nearly missed his step, then just as suddenly he relaxed. Jazz expected the worst.
"I suppose that considering the possibility that you have musical Talent, it would be illogical for me to lead," admitted his Lord slowly. "Especially as I have been told that my dancing skill has never reached beyond the grade of being passable."
Jazz blinked and realised that the last sentence had been a very dry joke of his Lord. He nearly laughed, though that was more thanks to the realisation that his Lord didn't mind, no even better, maybe even understood. He relaxed into his Lord's arms fully for the first time. "I'm sure if his Lordship would work on his dancing, he would be able to reach a far higher grade."
"I have had difficulty so far in finding a patient enough teacher such an endeavour would need," countered his Lord and subtly changed his position so that now his Consort was able to lead.
Jazz smoothly transitioned and began to weave with his Lord through the other couples. It was like the taste of freedom – exhilarating, especially as his Lord moved at the slightest touch. "I might be able to find someone willing as long as his Lordship isn't expecting a maester himself."
His Lord's face passed an emotion that resembled a smile. "It doesn't have to be a maester. Of course, there is the matter of payment... what would that teacher of mine wish for?"
Did that mean that his Lord was really considering letting Jazz teach him...? Jazz knew that he didn't have the processor power to spare to walk down thought path at an emotional level that high, but he couldn't stop the hope flaring in his spark. And what did he wish for...? "I think the teacher would wish for lessons that his Lord could teach," he said carefully. "As there is nothing more expensive as your time, my Lord."
For a moment his Lord's optics darkened, then he nodded. "My time it is, then. I will set aside time for these lessons then."
"Thank you." Jazz couldn't believe his luck.
They danced a few steps on, turned and Jazz slowly increased the difficulty of their steps. When the music changed, Jazz changed their rhythmn with it and after a few steps his Lord followed, copying his Consort. It was easy and fun and the overall result far better than their dancing before.
A glance at the mechs on the edge of the dancing floor showed that they were indeed observed by most mechs as he had thought, and smiled proudly.
It was several aries later that his Lord led him away from the dance floor to the table with the sweets. Palm upon palm and Jazz couldn't help but marvel at it. What before had felt impersonal and strange, had now somehow become natural. His Lord and he moved together as if they belonged together.
Jazz's spark throbbed with a sudden heavy longing for more.
"It wasn't my intention to deprive you of my time," said his Lord suddenly.
Jazz gave him a surprised look. "You didn't, my Lord," he hurried to say and then felt the words turn into a lie. Yes, he had and Jazz had spent many nights awake asking himself if he wasn't welcomed after all. If he had just been a political move, a piece to show that his icy Highness had a spark after all. "It's only natural that you're very busy with Praxus and your duties to the Prime."
"It is true that I am very busy," admitted his Lord, as if his worth ethic wasn't a thing to be feared. Before he could say more though, they were approached by a bonded pair of Praxus nobility and every personal matter was dropped immediately. They should've never even discussed it here, where so many mechs might be listening in, thought Jazz. Yet he couldn't muster anger, his hope for the future was just too strong.
The celebration slowly came to its end. As the sky turned darker and the first nobles began to leave, Lord Prowl didn't hesitate longer. He approached the Barons, formally congratulated them again on their successful bonding and wished them well, assuring them that they had his protection. Jazz complimented them on a beautiful celebration, praised their sweets and the Zyther in the bedroom. The Barons took both their statements gracefully, and assured the two of their future loyalty and that of their whole line to the House of Praxus.
Baron Softstep then bowed and accompanied them out to the waiting carriage. "Lord Prowl, Lord Consort Jazz, it was an honour to have had you here with us on this orn. It will be remembered for vorns to come."
"The honour was mine," replied Lord Prowl politely.
"Still," Baron Softstep pulled something out of his subspace and offered it up. "We both want to give you this small token as a sign of our thankfulness."
When his Lord didn't move, Jazz took the token into his servo. It was a small tin box, heavily decorated with crystal shards. As he carefully opened it, he discovered a long delicate chain of tiny silver metal leaves woven into each other, decorated beautifully by white diamonds. It was a traditional gift for noble couples trying for a sparkling by those that had sworn them fealty. The carrier would wear those chains, woven into each cape with the House colours during the whole carrying, as a proclamation of who and what the sparkling would be.
"It's beautiful," Jazz said quietly, while trying not to blush.
"That it is," agreed his Lord quietly. "We're honoured by your gift, Baron Softstep."
The Baron bowed. "Our loyalty belongs to you and your House," he said.
They entered the carriage after the farewell words, Jazz still holding the small tin box between his servos. He had never before thought about sparklings with Lord Prowl, but to now see this chain gifted to them both he knew that others had seen this possibility clearly. He tried to imagine a sparkling between them. Who would carry? They would be bonded, which made them of the same standing, with the same duties. Jazz couldn't see his Lord as a carrier, but then it wasn't impossible. He hoped that any sparkling between them would have Lord Prowl's intelligence and work ethic, then it couldn't fail in life no matter what.
"Jazz," the word was said coldly, and he nearly flinched. As he looked up, he saw that his Lord was sitting with crossed arms before him with no datapads near, instead nearly glaring at his Consort. The dream of a sparkling died abruptly. Had he done something wrong? But what?
"My Lord?" he asked and set the tin box beside him.
"You claimed this box and opened it, without checking it for any danger." Lord Prowl frowned. "Refrain from doing so in the future. Your position now ensures that you have plenty of enemies that want to see you dead. Not to mention my own enemies. You cannot touch anything not having been approved beforehand."
Jazz blinked, surprised by the harsh tone. "It was a gift by the Baron himself..."
"I'm aware of this fact," said his Lord drily. "It does not excuse the risk you took."
"My Lord, we slept under their roof, ate their food, and surely you had them checked before setting a single pede on their land..."
"Of course their background was checked," admitted his Lord. "Also was our room checked beforehand by my own guards, and later every time when we left it. The food preparation was observed by my own cook and every third guard at the whole premise was one of my own House. I do not take any risks."
Jazz gulped. He hadn't been aware of such a high security around his Lord's and his own spark. He should've been. Just because the involved mechs were experts, and as such not supposed to be seen, wasn't an excuse. He lowered his gaze. "Forgive me, my Lord. It will not happen again."
A beat of silence, then: "Good."
"Shall I submit the chain for later inspection?" asked Jazz dejected.
His Lord nodded. "A good idea, yes. There are some poisons that work only on unborn sparklings."
Jazz couldn't hide his flinch this time.
Seeing something in Jazz's demeanour, he added in a softer tone: "I do not really think that the Barons want us any ill, but I have learned to prepare for the worst."
Jazz nodded, knowing only too well why Prowl had no immediate family left. Natural deaths hadn't been anywhere on that particular list.
"I will improve my behavior," he promised quietly. No matter what, he would not be the reason why his Lord would die.
His Lord nodded approvingly. "If it helps you, I can ask the Head of the Guard to give you lessons. I myself took some when I was younger. It was very... instructive."
Jazz had no desire to learn about the many ways a noble mech could be killed. Realistically, he knew that they would improve his survival chances. "I would be glad for the opportunity, my Lord."
This seemed to settle the matter for Lord Prowl, as he took out several datapads from subspace and began to work. Jazz's gaze wandered again to the tin box, trying to think of the ways to kill a mech with such a beautiful jewelry. Though his thoughts wandered back to the symbolism of the chain inside. At least, it seemed that the nobles of Praxus were ready to accept him as a fellow noble and maybe even as their Lord Consort. That was more than he could've expected in Polyhex had he been there in the same situation. Polyhexian nobles were organised in tightly knit groups of alliances and he would've had to build his own net of power. Here, though, mechs seemed to welcome him.
He let his helmet fall back against the soft headrest of the carriage as he analysed all that had happened. It hadn't been much time, and yet there had been so many signs and moments that had given him hope.
He sat up straighter again. There was hope. And he would fight for it, for his own happy ending that would one orn include the silver chain next to him.
"My Lord," he said. "May I help you again?" He pointed at the never decreasing pile of datapads.
Lord Prowl didn't hesitate this time. He took a datapad that he had sat aside earlier (had he waited for Jazz's question?), and gave it to him: "It is about the differing iron prices in the cities. I need to know, where it is cheapest, where the most expensive and why."
"I will find out, my Lord."
He took the datapad and began to read it. It was dry and boring and important. This was about the Grand Duchy he lived in and which his Lord ruled. He should be able to do this.
As the carriage slowed, Prowl took all datapads back and subspaced them again. At the same time, Jazz heard a trumpet, its tone light and clear, announcing the return of the ruler and protector of Praxus and all its houses. It sounded the first line of Praxus' anthem, a song every sparkling already learned in primary school here. Jazz had only learned it immediately before his oath ceremony when his creators pointed out that the song would be played, as it was the oath ceremony of the Grand Duke of Praxus. He had felt strange learning it, and when it had played and he had sung the words all he had felt was sadness. He had been no Polyhexian anymore like everyone else he knew and loved and that knowledge had bit surprisingly deep.
But wounds healed and now the sound only brought wistfulness for him. He didn't love Praxus yet, but he had come closer.
The carriage had halted and his Lord stood. "Jazz?"
Jazz took the offered arm, again with the palms touching each other, and Lord Prowl knocked once at the door. Immediately was opened by a guard, who knelt at the side. In front of them the Palaise stood, as gorgeous and majestic as always. The first time he had seen it, he had been impressed and slightly scared.
On the plaza, the whole staff of the Palaise was kneeling in a greeting of their returned Lord and Lord Consort. At the side, the guards stood in rows, embellishing the scene and protecting them at the same time.
And all this just because they had been two orns away. It was a far cry from the welcome he received when he had returned to his family House after a journey. Then, only his family had greeted him with a few words and hugs. Jazz wondered what the protocol would demand after the return from a battle or maybe even war. Probably a victory march through the city and celebrations for orns.
Directly in front of them kneeled Bowgrade, hand over spark, optics firmly on the ground. The picture of etiquette and dutifulness
"Rise, Bowgrade," ordered Lord Prowl and his voice carried over the whole square. The Master of the House obeyed with the fluid elegance of long practice. "Please take care of our luggage and meet me in a joor in my office." He looked to the side at a guard, who at first glance was indistinguishable from the rest, but a second glance revealed several markings of a decorated war hero. "Quickstrike, inside the carriage is a tin box. Make sure it is safe."
Quickstrike, head of the guard and one of the best swordfighters of Cybertron, bowed. "With pleasure, my Lord."
Lord Prowl nodded, satisfied, and led his Consort back to the Palaise. Jazz looked up and at one of the towers a flag with the Grand Duke's blue and his emblem was raised – the visible sign that he was home. When it touched the peak of the pole, and flapped in the wind, the trumpet sounded again.
He concentrated on his steps, when they reached the white stairs to the gate. Atop of the staircase, Lord Prowl freed himself of Jazz's arm. "The time spent with you had been enjoyable," the Lord said. "I will sent you the meeting times for our training together."
Jazz bowed. "I've enjoyed our time together as well. And I look forward to those training sessions."
Lord Prowl gave a curt nod, then he turned around and simply walked away, no doubt in his processor already listing things that needed to be done.
A bit forlorn, Jazz remained standing at the Palaise entrance, looking after him. It was strange how quickly he had gotten used to be at his Lord’s side and how acutely he felt the loss of the loss now.
Then he remembered all the small things he learned in the last orn and straightened. He had caught a glimpse of something that could belong to him and was worth fighting for.
He smiled as he started planning.