In the parlor at Claes Manor, a gathering was taking place. Prince Geordo Stuart, Prince Alan Stuart, Keith Claes, Mary Hunt, Sophia Ascart, Nicol Ascart, and Maria Campbell were all discussing plans for Catarina's seventeenth birthday. Catarina was out right now, dress shopping with her maid Anne Shelley. The group in the parlor was discussing the plans for the party.
"It shouldn't be anything too extravagant," mused Geordo.
"I know what you mean," added Mary. "Last year's birthday party was rather elaborate, and Lady Catarina didn't look comfortable during it."
"This should be a more relaxed affair," said Sophia. "More intimate, and not as extravagant as the year before."
"I remember Lady Catarina had told me that she was uncomfortable with the gifts she had been given," Maria chimed in. "She felt embarrassed by the value of the gifts and wondered whether she would use them."
"Catarina said that guests wouldn’t need to get her gifts, and just attending would be enough. Though that doesn't mean those closest to her shouldn't get her gifts," said Nicol. "It's just that we know her well enough to know what she would like."
Just then, Miri Diana Claes, Catarina's and Keith's mother, walked into the parlor. The group turned to face her and noticed the confused look on her face. Before anyone could ask her about it, Miri spoke up.
"Keith, how many invitations did you send out for Catarina's birthday party?"
The rest of the group immediately thought trouble was afoot. Keith however gave a fairly nonchalant answer.
"I didn't send any invitations out."
"Then what are all these RSVPs?" asked Miri, as she gestured to two maids with baskets full of envelopes. "These were all sent by her classmates!"
"I didn't send any invitations out, but I did put up a notice on the bulletin board at the Academy about Sister's birthday party and said anyone who wanted to attend would just have to RSVP us," explained Keith. "I thought it would save some time."
The rest of the group turned to Keith, looks of disbelief on their faces. Keith saw this and wondered why they all were looking at him like that. "What?"
"Keith," Geordo began to inquire, "Are you saying that you made this birthday party open invite?"
"I posted a notice, but said you had to RSVP. What's the big deal?" asked Keith.
"You do know how popular Catarina is with our classmates, correct?"
"Yeah, I do, so what's the problem?" Keith then thought about it, and it was at that moment he realized he'd made a massive mistake. "Oh....."
The group was stunned. The girls buried their faces in their hands, while Alan grasped his forehead with his hand. Nicol's reaction, while limited to his eyes going wide, was nonetheless noticeable considering how inexpressive he usually was. Finally, to break the silence, Geordo spoke up.
"You did not think this through."
"I did not think this through," Keith conceded, as he began to blush in embarrassment.
"Keith.....how are we going to hold a party with this many guests?" Miri asked, giving the same piercing glare to Keith that she gave to Catarina when she was displeased with her. Keith had no answer and could only stammer at his mother's displeasure with him.
"Madame Claes, you don't need to worry!" declared Geordo. "We can pull this off!"
Miri, still having no idea how a party of this size could be held, nonetheless decided to hear out the Third Prince. "How do you think this could work?"
"Catarina didn't want a really extravagant party like what's happened the last two years. She just wants to be able to socialize and enjoy time with everyone. She also doesn't really want much in the way of gifts. But I was thinking of things, and I think I've figured something out."
Miri was curious as to what Geordo had thought up. "What would that be?"
"Well, I was thinking that rather than have a typical party, with this many people, what we could do is have it mostly be entertainment. Since your daughter is now a part of the Duelists Society at the school, and because of how much her performance at the Open Entry Tournament has revitalized them, I was thinking they would be happy to hold a duel card for her birthday."
Seeing where this was going, Alan then had a suggestion. "The Musicians Collective I'm sure would be happy to perform for her birthday. She's always full of praise for the performances they have, and the contribution House Claes made to them after she asked you for it Madame Claes is something they've wanted to pay back."
"For that matter, I think the Arcane Arts Club would be willing to put on a show of artistic magic for Lady Catarina! I remember her telling everyone at the Academy Festival to see their show, and their take at the end of the day was much better than expected thanks to Lady Catarina telling everyone about it!" declared Mary.
"The Theater Club really appreciated Lady Catarina stepping in for their production of The Midnight Maiden during the Festival. I think they'd be willing to do a performance for her birthday as a way of thanking her for her help!" added Sophia.
Maria wanted to offer something, but didn't know how she could help. Regardless, she spoke up. "I wanted to bake some sweets and cake for Lady Catarina, but I'm not sure how I could possibly do enough for this party."
"You can leave that to me," offered Keith. "I am going to recruit some bakeries to help you out. You'll find out what Sister would like in the way of cake and sweets, and they'll work with you in order to bake what we need.” Hearing this, Maria smiled. "I will be happy to do that!"
After hearing this, Miri began to relax. "I.....think this can work. It wouldn't be a typical birthday party, but having it done this way, I think it's what Catarina would like, and also will help with the crowd." She then turned to Keith. "It appears your mistake will not be as drastic as it could've been, but you still bear some responsibility for this. Keith, in addition to assisting Miss Maria with bakeries, you'll need to coordinate with everyone to make sure that this all comes together and goes smoothly. Since your mistake was why this happened, I think it only fair that you be responsible for the main organization of Catarina's birthday party."
Keith breathed a sigh of relief that his mistake might not be as bad as feared. "I will be happy to do that for Sister's birthday."
Geordo looked at everyone, who were now excited about the upcoming party and what it would entail. "This might've come about suddenly, but this'll work! I know it will!" Everyone else nodded in agreement, ready to do what they had to in order to throw a memorable birthday party for Catarina. "When we get back to school, we'll begin working on this!"
At that point, a maid came up to the parlor entrance. "Lady Catarina has returned from her shopping trip."
"Let's greet her and have some tea with her before we head back to the Academy," said Geordo. With that, everyone headed to the entrance of the mansion in order to receive Catarina. Before he could exit the parlor, Keith felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around and saw his mother looking at him.
"Your friends will be helping you out, which is fortunate. Still, I need to talk with you about this and how much of a disaster it could've been."
Keith shuddered at the look his mother was giving him. "Now I know how Sister feels whenever Mother is about to lecture her."
Geordo approached the Duelists Society headquarters. He had arranged a meeting with the Society President Robert Sheringham in order to make his request for Catarina's birthday. After arriving at their building, he knocked on the door, to which it opened and revealed President Sheringham. "Good afternoon Your Highness!"
"Good afternoon Master Sheringham. I'm glad you were able to meet with me so soon."
"Well, being the Student Council President as well as a Prince of Sorcier, when you asked to meet with me, I figured this was important," replied President Sheringham.
As the two of them walked to President Sheringham's office, they made some conversation. "I see the Duelists Society has revitalized and activity is trending upwards."
"It has!" exclaimed President Sheringham. "The Open Entry Tournament was a huge success, and thanks to Lady Catarina's performance as well as her giving lessons, we've made a turnaround in short order. I don't know how we can possibly thank her enough."
"It's funny you say that, because I was going to suggest something," remarked Geordo.
The two of them arrived at President Sheringham's office. Geordo sat in a chair in front of the Society President's desk, while President Sheringham took his seat behind it.
"Catarina's birthday is coming up, and due to a mistake made with invitations, we're getting far more guests than expected," explained Geordo. "But her friends, her family, and I have come up with a solution, and you could be a big part of that."
"How so?" asked President Sheringham.
"What I was thinking was that there could be a small duel card for her birthday," Geordo proposed. "Having something like three or four duels during it featuring members of the Duelists Society. Since Catarina is now a part of the Society, I was thinking that the Society could put on a card for her. Given how many guests there are going to be, it'd be a way to further get the Duelists Society's name out there as well."
President Sheringham looked at Geordo and thought about what had just been proposed. He seemed to be thinking about what was requested, and was taking his time. Geordo wondered if maybe that had been too much to ask, when President Sheringham then spoke back up.
"That's all? Just a duel card? Considering other requests made of us in the past, that'll be easy!" declared the Society President. "I and much of the Society have already RSVP'd for Lady Catarina's birthday party, so we're going to be there anyway. We'll be happy to do this!"
Geordo smiled at President Sheringham's immediate agreement. "Thank you Master Sheringham!"
"The only thing that might be tricky would be who will be on the card. We can easily do four duels, but only eight spots means there'll be a lot of lobbying and jockeying to be on it, since everyone here is going to want to be on a card held in honor of Lady Catarina's birthday."
Geordo then had an idea come to him. "Actually, there would be only seven spots for duelists. I would like to be on the duel card myself."
President Sheringham nodded. "That won't be an issue. I assume this is a surprise for her?"
"That as well as an opportunity for me."
"A birthday concert for Lady Claes? Yes, we'd be happy to!"
The Musicians Collective had been holding their weekly meeting when Alan came by. The group was all too happy that the Fourth Prince, whom many of them looked up to, had decided to grace them with his presence. After explaining why he was there, the group quickly agreed to Alan's request.
"What sort of music should we be doing?" asked one member.
"I think we could go with a wide variety. Contemporary, experimental, the whole gamut. Though you'd need to choose carefully. There's going to be a lot going on for Catarina's birthday party, so time will be limited."
"How much would you say?" asked another member.
"The plan is for the Duelists Society to hold a duel card, which I think would take two hours, the Arcane Artists Club would do a performance, which would take one hour, and the Theater Club would have a performance as well, so two to three hours for that depending on what play. And given that there's going to be time between everything, I would say to assume two hours," explained Alan.
"Two hours is easy to fill. The difficulty will be in deciding what gets in," remarked another member.
"I think the fairest way to do this would be that everyone who wants to participate has to audition," declared Simone Giroud, the Collective President. "We'll hold auditions, and the Collective Board will choose based on those auditions."
The members present nodded among each other, with many of them beginning to plan what they would perform for the auditions.
"Before I forget, would it be okay for me to be a part of the concert and end it with a musical piece?" asked Alan.
"Absolutely!" declared Simone. "Nobody would object to that. Just make sure you let us know how long the piece is so that we can account for it in our time allotment."
"That won't be an issue," declared Alan. "I once overheard Catarina singing a song which I’d never heard before. I had her perform it for me, and it stuck with me to the point that I've arranged music for it. I'd like to debut it at Catarina's birthday party with your help Lady Giroud.”
"That would actually work well for us. Kingdom Week is coming up, and we're scheduled for performances during it. Performing at Lady Claes's birthday party would be a good dress rehearsal for us!"
Marian Webb, The Arcane Arts Club Director, had been receptive to Mary's request to perform for Catarina's birthday. Catarina's promotion of their show during the School Festival had helped their take and increased their profile, and they had wanted to thank her for her promotion.
"Excellent!" exclaimed Mary. "This doesn't need to be a grandiose performance. Just something flashy but simple. We're only asking for an hour of the Club's time, because we've got a lot going on for Lady Catarina's birthday."
"Hm.....In that case perhaps we should do the most popular parts of our act, 'A Phantasm Of Colors' and 'Sculpted Water'," remarked Marian.
"Yes, that would be wonderful! Lady Catarina remarked how much she liked A Phantasm Of Colors! As for Sculpted Water, she was impressed with what you were able to come up with!" remarked Mary.
"That will not be an issue," remarked the Director. "In fact, given the time between now and Lady Claes's birthday, I think we might be able to throw in a couple of new things in 'Sculpted Water'."
Hearing this gave Mary an idea. "In that case, would you be open to suggestions?"
"Sure!" remarked the Director. "We'd be happy to hear your suggestion."
"I think this should have a personal touch to it," remarked Mary. "And I think I know just how it'd be able to have that. Lady Catarina said she was amazed by the likenesses of people you were able to conjure with the Sculpted Water portion of the show. I was thinking that there would be a couple of likenesses that would be good choices!"
Sophia knocked on the door to the Theater Club's meeting room. The door opened, revealing David Haspel, the Club's President.
"Good afternoon Master Haspel! Do you have a moment?"
"Yes, I do," replied David. "What brings you here today?"
"I'm here to see if we could possibly get the Theater Club's help for Lady Catarina's birthday party," explained Sophia. "What we've decided upon is rather than a typical party, to instead have entertainment throughout the party. Several of her friends are speaking with other school clubs, and we thought about asking if the Theater Club would want to be involved."
David took a moment before he spoke up. "Yes, though if you had a specific play in mind, we unfortunately would not be able to accommodate. We're in the midst of rehearsing for a play, and we really can't deviate from that."
Sophia began to get worried. "What play is it?"
"It's an adaptation of a book in The Avenging Earl series," explained David. "Are you familiar with it?"
"Somewhat," replied Sophia. "It's a series of books about an earl who battles against corruption and injustice in his kingdom covertly, correct?"
"That is correct. The story of Earl Aleister Madigan, a seemingly foppish and air-headed earl who secretly strikes personally against the corruption in his kingdom. The book we're doing an adaption for is My Vow In Time . This is one of the most famous stories in the series, where the Avenging Earl is racing against time to stop the love of his life from being married to a corrupt prince. The Earl has to find proof of the prince's corruption and break the engagement."
Sophia heard this and thought about the premise. Then she smiled.
"That's perfect! That'll be a great play to perform for Lady Catarina!"
David smiled. "That's fortunate that what we're doing is what you're looking for."
Sophia then had another thought come to her mind. "Who's playing The Avenging Earl?"
"Well, we cast two people for it. One plays Aleister Madigan in his public persona, while the other plays Aleister as The Avenging Earl."
Hearing this, Sophia then had a question. "I was wondering.....would it be possible for just this performance to have someone else play Aleister's Avenging Earl persona? I think I'd want to put a personal touch on this for Lady Catarina, and I know just how to do it!"
Maria Campbell was in the cafeteria kitchen, getting ready to try the recipe Catarina had given her for the cake she wanted for her birthday. The cake Catarina had asked for was one she'd never heard of, but apparently Catarina had. It was a cake known for its deep red color, which was usually frosted with sweet cream that had a bit of tartness to it. She asked Catarina if she had a recipe, which Catarina promptly provided for her.
Maria had been startled finding out that the cake batter got its red color from a mix of cocoa powder, buttercream, and vinegar. She especially found the vinegar to be an unusual ingredient for a cake recipe, but Catarina said it was an ingredient, and this was what she wanted, so she would give it a try. Taking the recipe she had been given, she began making the cake, following the instructions Catarina had given her to the letter. As time went on, she saw how everything began to come together for the cake. It was a unique recipe, but she got the feeling that Catarina knew what she was talking about.
Finally, after an hour-and-a-half, the cake was finished. The rest of Catarina's inner circle filed into the kitchen to taste the fruits of Maria's labors. After they filed in, she brought them to the cake. It had white frosting and was decorated with red cake bits.
"So this is what Catarina wanted you to bake her?" asked Geordo.
"It is. It was a unique recipe, but as I made it, it seemed to all come together." She then got down to business. "Well, let's not waste any time. Let's taste the results of what Lady Catarina calls ‘red velvet cake’."
Maria cut a slice for everyone and handed them out. After everyone got their slice, they each took a forkful of cake and tasted it. After a few moments, Keith spoke up.
"This is.....this is delicious!"
Everyone agreed with the assessment given by Keith. The recipe Catarina had heard of along with Maria's baking skills resulted in a unique, never-before-seen chocolate cake with sweet and tangy frosting. Eventually, everyone finished up. Keith then spoke up.
"Maria, do you have the recipe written down?"
"Yes," she affirmed. "I've got it written down."
"Good, because I'm going to get those bakeries involved now and have them help you with the cakes," explained Keith. "I want to give them copies of the recipe so they can try it themselves, and I'm going to let them know they are to follow your instructions exactly as they're written."
"I'll get you copies of the recipe Master Keith. Though I do plan on making one personally for Lady Catarina. According to her, mine taste better than even professional bakers."
Keith then turned to the rest of the group. "What's the status of the proposed entertainment?"
"The Duelists Society is in. They will hold together a four-match fight card," answered Geordo.
"The Musicians Collective has confirmed their participation and will be holding a show," confirmed Alan.
"The Arcane Artists Club was happy to do a show! They've got something special planned for it!" declared Mary.
"The Theater Club is in the midst of rehearsing for a production they're going to be putting on, but the play is something Lady Catarina would like. They were happy to do a performance for Lady Catarina before their main performance!" added Sophia.
"Alright then. I'm going to speak with all of them and begin coordinating everything and coming up with a schedule for them," said Keith. "It's going to all work out quite well I think."
Everyone looked at each other. Hearing that everything proposed would happen was a relief. Keith then ended their meeting with some words that reflected all their thoughts.
"Let's make this a memorable birthday for Sister!"
Over the next couple of weeks, Keith coordinated everything for Catarina's birthday with the groups involved. After discussion, he settled on the order of events. First, the Arcane Artists Club would do their performance. After an intermission, the Duelists Society would have their duel card. Following another intermission, the Theater Club would hold their performance of The Avenging Earl: My Vow In Time. And then everything would be wrapped up with the Musicians Collective's concert. Keith made sure all parties were on the same page and everything would go according to plan. This was mainly so that everyone present would have a good time, but also because he wanted to avoid being reprimanded by his mother again. He had experienced what was a normal occurrence for his sister that day, and not wanting to face his mother's wrath again, he vowed to himself that everything would work out.
Finally, the big day had arrived. Catarina and Keith were home for the start of Summer Break. As Keith woke up, he thought about all the work that had been done in order to pull this event off. But at least for the beginning of today, he could get some time alone with his sister.
As he walked down the hallway to his sister's bedroom, he relished the opportunity to have some time alone with Catarina. Her inner circle was around her most of the time, and now her time was more limited due to the fact that she was giving lessons at the Duelists Society. Today was going to be something for him to take advantage of.
Keith, carrying a box with him, arrived at Catarina's bedroom and knocked on the door. After a few moments, the door opened, revealing his sister, wearing an airy but simple blue-colored summer dress. He smiled at Catarina and greeted her. "Happy Birthday Sister!"
"Thank you Keith!" exclaimed Catarina, as she embraced her brother. Keith wrapped his arms around Catarina, and the two shared a long, warm embrace. After about a minute, the two of them let go. Keith then presented the box to Catarina. “I had these special-made for you! Though these aren’t meant to be eaten today.” Catarina opened the box and found two dozen special-ordered Monk’s Café upcakes. Catarina squealed upon seeing them. “Keith, thank you! I can’t wait to eat these!”
“You’re welcome, Sister!” exclaimed Keith, as the two shared another embrace. After finishing up, Catarina then spoke up about the party.
"Mother told me about how many people were going to show up. I'm surprised. From what it sounds like, there'll be more guests here than even my social debut!"
"Why would you think there wouldn't be a lot of people?" asked Keith.
"Well, Mother told me about you making it open invite. I would've thought that if that was the case, without invitations, no one would've felt obligated and would've chosen to stay home."
Keith could only shake his head at Catarina's obliviousness. "You underestimate yourself, you know. You were already well-liked by the student body, but ever since your performance in The Midnight Maiden and your third-place finish at the Open Entry Tournament, you've captured the hearts and minds of our peers."
Catarina looked at Keith. "That's what confuses me. I mean, I played the wicked stepsister in The Midnight Maiden , which I think would've highlighted my villainess tendencies. As for the Open Entry Tournament, I would think that being dressed in armor and swinging a sword around would've made me look even harsher."
Keith was dumbfounded at Catarina's observation. "Sister, that's not the case at all! The fact that you played the wicked stepsister so well showed that you have some real talent in acting. As for the Open Entry Tournament, the way you fought, where you found ways to win and never gave in regardless of the situation, as well as the talent you demonstrated showed another side to you no one was aware of!"
"I dunno," Catarina said with skepticism. "I just have a hard time believing that. I don't know what people would see in me that they'd like."
Keith knew his time to strike was now. He'd prepared for this moment, and it was at hand. "I remember you asking me if there was a girl that caught my attention recently. There hasn't been one recently, but there is one that caught my attention a long time ago."
Hearing this, Catarina turned to Keith with an eager look in her eyes. "You have? Who are they? What are they like??"
Keith smiled. "This girl is the sweetest girl I've ever met. She's kind and caring, and totally selfless. She puts others' happiness above hers. She reaches out to help others in need, and never asks any favor for herself. But most importantly, she's always there for you, no matter what the situation is."
Catarina thought about it and came to a conclusion. "Keith, why didn't you tell me Maria caught your attention? I would have supported you!"
Keith again shook his head. "It's not Maria. I don't know why you insist that she's caught my attention, but no, it's not her."
"What? But Maria's exactly what you-"
"Well yes, she may be," Keith interrupted. "But I swear it's not her. It's someone else. And I want to tell you who it is."
Catarina's eyes widened and she waited with baited breath to hear Keith's answer.
As if the universe meant to mock Keith, a knock was heard at Catarina's bedroom door. Catarina called out, "Come in!"
The door opened, revealing Catarina and Keith's mother Miri Diana. "Catarina, Happy Birthday! Several guests have arrived. You need to go downstairs and greet them." She then turned to Keith. "Keith, your friends say they need to speak with you about the party and what's planned."
"Oh! I didn't think it would be starting so soon!" exclaimed Catarina.
"Neither did I, but apparently some of your guests were eager to come and start things," Miri responded.
"I'll go and greet them right now!" She then turned to Keith. "Keith, you can tell me later which girl caught your interest! I need to get going and greet our friends and guests!" With that, Catarina left her bedroom before Keith could contemplate everything that had just happened. After he realized the lost opportunity, Keith mourned to himself about his mother's untimely interruption.
"Keith? Aren't you going to see your friends and discuss today's itinerary?"
Miri's words snapped Keith out of his thoughts. "Yes Mother, I'll go see them right now." Miri thought it unusual that Keith was distracted. "Normally I would expect something like that from your sister. Are you okay?"
"No, I'm fine," Keith lied. "Just got lost in thinking about how this all came together." With that, Keith then left Catarina's bedroom and went to see his friends to give a rundown of the day's events.
Keith went downstairs and saw the rest of his friends gathered together. He walked up to them, greeting them, and then got down to business.
"Everything has been set up. We've got the ring in place for the Arcane Artists Club and for the Duelists Society to do their respective parts of the show. We'd then have a light lunch and some sweets to go with it. Then we'd get everyone moved to the temporary stage, where the Theater Club and Musicians Collective will hold their performances. After that, we'll end the party with cake and toasts to Sister. Everything has been coordinated, and everyone is ready to go."
"Ah good," remarked Geordo. He then turned to Keith. "Keith, I know you've gotten a lot of grief from your mother and from us as well over the mistake you made. But you've done a lot of work to coordinate everything and make sure this all runs smoothly. You've more than made up for that mistake. Thank you for all the work you've put into this." Everyone else nodded at Geordo's words.
Keith smiled. "I would've worked this hard anyway, because it's for Sister. But thank you for your appreciation." With that, Keith led them to the venue where the Arcane Art show and duel card would be held. Everyone noticed that there were two front-row seats which were differentiated by their elaborate designs. Curious, Geordo asked, "Keith, what are those seats for and why are they different from the rest of the seats?"
Keith then spoke up. "Those seats are for me and Sister. That's where we'll take in the performances."
"Wait a minute!" Mary cried out. "You're going to get to sit next to her for all of the performances? That's not fair!"
"Why not?" asked Keith. "I mean, I'm her brother. Why wouldn't I sit with her for the performances?"
"I wanted to sit next to Lady Catarina!" declared Sophia.
"I would think I have priority, since I'm Catarina's fiancé," stated Geordo.
The group began arguing with Keith over who would sit next to Catarina. Alan, annoyed at the arguing, finally called out, "Everyone, stop it! There's a solution for all of this!"
Curious, Maria turned to Alan. "What's your plan?"
"It's simple," stated Alan. "For the Arcane Arts show, Mary, you'll sit with Catarina. Geordo will do so for the fight card, Sophia will do so for the play, and for the concert, I'll sit with her. As for when we all have cake, since Maria made a cake personally for Catarina, she'll sit with her for that."
Everyone seemed fine with this agreement except for Keith. "When do I get to sit with Sister?" Everyone except Alan glared at Keith due to his words. Alan, not wanting to have the situation escalate, came up with a compromise.
"I'm fairly involved with the concert, and I'll only get to sit beside Catarina for half of it. The second half, you can sit next to her."
Keith, seeing he had no leverage to argue back, conceded the point. "That's fine." Geordo, feeling charitable due to it being Catarina's birthday, then made his own. "I'm not going to be sitting with Catarina for the entire duel card myself. You can sit with her during that time."
"Thank you Prince Geordo.....what do you mean you're not going to be sitting with Sister for the entire duel card?"
Geordo smiled. "You didn't think I wouldn't take the opportunity to honor my fiancée on her birthday, did you?"
Mary then looked at Geordo. "Well, I've got something special planned for the Arcane Arts show for Lady Catarina!"
"I've got a surprise during the performance of A Vow In Time!" declared Sophia.
“I made a unique red velvet cake for Lady Catarina!” added Maria.
The group then turned to Alan. “I assume you put your own touch on the concert for Catarina?” asked Geordo.
“Yeah, what about it?” asked Alan.
Geordo couldn't help but laugh at his brother’s nonchalant attitude, and also about what everyone else did. "It seems we all had the same idea of putting a unique stamp on these. But none of you would be you and I wouldn't be myself if we hadn't done so."
Finally, it was time for the party to begin. All of the guests had arrived, and for the first hour, there was a fair bit of socializing in the front area of Claes Manor. Catarina spent her time greeting the various guests and thanking them for coming. After about an hour, Keith got the attention of everyone.
"Good morning! We're all happy you could all come to my sister's birthday party! We appreciate your presence, and Sister especially. What we're doing today is going to be different from a normal birthday party. Her closest friends and I have arranged for entertainment for Sister all day today. For the first half of the day, we will be featuring the Academy of Magic's Arcane Artists Club putting on their acts 'A Phantasm of Colors' and 'Sculpted Water', and then the Duelists Society will be holding a duel card. After the duel card, we will have a light lunch and refreshments, and then we will see a performance of The Avenging Earl: My Vow In Time from the Theater Club along with the Musicians Collective holding a concert."
The gathered guests all murmured in anticipation of what was to come. After a pause, Keith continued.
"With that being said, we are ready for the Arcane Artists Club's performance of 'A Phantasm of Colors' and 'Sculpted Water'! At this time we will be heading to the venue in the back. Please follow the instructions of our servants so that we can all make our way in an orderly manner!"
With that, the guests began making their way to the ring where the first two performances would be held. After making their way to the venue, everyone took their seats, with Mary leading Catarina to the seats intended for her and her friends and family so they could sit together for the performance. The rest of the group sat closeby. Mary relished the opportunity to sit with the love of her life, holding onto one of Catarina's hands. Catarina noticed this and asked, "Mary, is something wrong?"
"No! Not at all! I'm just happy to be able to sit with you Lady Catarina!" exclaimed Mary. Catarina then smiled. "Mary, thank you for getting the Arcane Artists Club to do a show for me for my birthday! I'm sure it was tough getting them to do this!"
Mary smiled, hiding the fact that their agreement was quick and the request was easy to accommodate. "You're welcome! I'd be willing to get whatever you asked me to, Lady Catarina!"
Finally, it was time for the show to begin. Arcane Arts Club Director Marian Webb walked to the middle of the ring and gave her introduction.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that the Arcane Arts Club of the Sorcier Academy of Magic presents to you our popular acts 'A Phantasm of Colors' and 'Sculpted Water'! This will be a preview of our act for Kingdom Week, and we are honored to be here today to present this to you and especially Lady Catarina Claes! Without any further ado, we will begin with 'A Phantasm of Colors'!"
The guests applauded as several performers of the Arcane Arts Club stepped into the ring. They used their magic along with various chemical components to create a brilliant color show for everyone present, timing the casting of their spells to give their elements hues. Green and purple fire, red and blue water, swirls of wind colored yellow and orange, dust hued pink and white, and other colors wowed the gathered guests. Catarina in particular was in awe of what she was seeing. Mary turned to her and asked, "How do you like it Lady Catarina?"
"It's amazing!" Catarina declared. "Just the way they're able to use their magic to make those colors flash out!"
"Just wait until the second part!" stated Mary. "There's a surprise at the end which I think you'll really like!"
After about a half-hour, 'A Phantasm of Colors' finished, which the crowd heartily applauded. Marian Webb then came forward and announced the second act. "At this time, our wind, earth, and water mages will be performing their act 'Sculpted Water'! They will use their respective magic to create shapes, objects, and even likenesses of people! They have been hard at work for this, and for our Kingdom Week performance, you will see even more creations from them!"
The guests again applauded as the wind and water mages got to work, first starting off with basic shapes, and then working towards displaying images of objects, with the water mages using their abilities to hold the water in place while the wind mages used their magic to give form to the water. Again, the crowd was in awe. Catarina in particular was hypnotized by the demonstration. Mary saw this and couldn't wait until the finale.
Eventually, they began using their magic to create likenesses of various people. The first one they did was of Prince Geordo, which drew a hearty cheer from the crowd. Next, they created one of Prince Alan. Eventually, they went through the entire Student Council, at which point they got to the final part, where they would create two likenesses at once. Using their abilities to the limit, the artistic mages created a likeness of Mary and one of Catarina, looking at each other and smiling. The finale to the act amazed the crowd. They then finished up and drew a standing ovation from everyone gathered.
At that point, Keith went up and announced to the crowd, "We will be having an intermission while the Duelists Society gets set up for their duel card. We will be providing light refreshment and drinks during this time. Please feel free to socialize with each other while we wait." With that, various House Claes staff came out with drinks and sweets for the guests. Mary took Catarina by the hand and led her out, where they joined up with everyone else.
"That was amazing!" exclaimed Catarina. "I am always in awe of what sort of things the Arcane Arts Club can do with magic to entertain people!"
"It was amazing, wasn't it Lady Catarina?" asked Mary giddily.
Keith then spoke up. "Those last two likenesses, those had.....rather bright smiles I must say."
"Yes. I assume you requested that Mary," added Geordo.
"I did!" she replied smugly. Just then, Catarina spoke up.
"Oh! You requested those two likenesses? In that case Mary, I wanted to ask. I recognized you as one of them. But who was the other person?"
Mary stared in disbelief at Catarina. "Lady Catarina.....that was you."
Catarina looked at Mary with incredulity. "That couldn't have been me! I'm not close to being as pretty as the other person!"
"Well, it was you, Lady Catarina! And I thought it was perfect!"
Catarina laughed. "Well, I should thank them for flattering me then!"
"Lady Catarina, you're far too self-critical about your looks," said Maria. "You are far prettier than you think yourself to be!"
"Aww, thanks Maria! You're such a good friend!" exclaimed Catarina.
"Really Lady Catarina, you're better looking than you think you are!" added Sophia.
"Thank you as well Sophia! I'm glad my harsh face isn't too harsh for all of you!"
The group just stared at Catarina, in disbelief that she was that critical of her own looks. What caused that to get into her head? Before they could go any further, the Duelists Society President Robert Sheringham came up to Keith. "We're ready for the duel card, Master Claes."
Upon hearing this, Keith spoke up to his sister and friends. "Looks like we're ready to move on to the next act! I'm going to announce it to everyone and have people take their seats." Keith then got everyone's attention. "Ladies and gentlemen! At this time we're going to be heading back for the next entertainment!" With that, everyone began heading back to their seats.
Catarina settled in her seat, joined by Geordo. Again, their closest friends sat around closeby to take in the next round of entertainment. Catarina was eager for the card to begin. "Prince Geordo, thank you for arranging this for me! I enjoy seeing my fellow members fight, but haven’t been able to much since I became an instructor for them."
"That's why I got them to hold this duel card!" declared Geordo. "I knew you'd like it!"
Just then, Duelists Society President Robert Sheringham stepped into the middle of the ring.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen! The Sorcier Academy of Magic's Duelists Society is honored to present this duel card for you! What we've decided to do is feature various duelists, from our most advanced beginners, to our top intermediate-skill members, then two of our best duelists, and conclude with a fight featuring our top duelist, Adam Hargrove! So with that, we will have our beginners duel, featuring Master Thomas Carroll and Master Aaron Hartley!"
The crowd applauded as Master Thomas and Master Aaron came out for their duel. After saluting each other, the two got into position and began their duel. Both were obvious beginners, making some clear mistakes during the fight, but what they lacked in refined skill they made up for with energy and determination. After five rounds, Master Thomas had won the duel. He shook hands with Master Aaron, at which point the two of them walked up to Catarina and shook her hand, Catarina thanking both of them for holding the duel for her.
Next was the intermediates bout, featuring Master George Warner and Master John Carroll. The two fought a much more muted bout than Master Thomas and Master Aaron, which was typical for intermediate duelists, as they tended to overfocus on technique and had not learned yet to blend technique and physical talent. Nevertheless, the bout, while slow at times, featured good technique and clever movement on the part of both Master John and Master Warner. After five rounds, Master Warner had won the bout. The two shook hands with each other, at which point much like the first bout, Master John and Master Warner walked up to Catarina and shook her hand, with Catarina thanking them for the duel.
The experts bout was next, between Master Benjamin Galloway and Master Eric Steen. Catarina's interest was particularly high for this bout, as the two of them were considered among Sorcier's brightest young duelists and had drawn serious talk of getting direct invites to the Young Lions Tournament. The two saluted each other and fought, Catarina being enamored by their fight and the blend of technique, physical ability, and quick thinking.
After the first round, Geordo turned to Catarina and noticed she was completely focused on the duel. Figuring this was as good a time as any, he quietly slipped away while Catarina's attention was turned elsewhere, with Keith taking his place. Catarina did not notice the switch and stayed focused on the bout. After the fourth round, with the bout being closely contested, Catarina spoke up. "This has been an excellent duel, hasn't it Prince Geordo?" After not hearing an answer, Catarina looked to the side, only to see Keith sitting where Geordo had been. Catarina jumped in her seat before quickly settling down.
"Keith! What are you doing here? I thought Prince Geordo was sitting with me for the duel card!"
"He said there was an important matter he needed to take care of but that he'd be back. He asked me to sit with you while he was away," Keith explained.
Confused, Catarina asked "Did he say what it was?"
"He didn't. I'm as in the dark about it as you are. Let's just watch the rest of the duel, Sister!"
With that, Catarina smiled at Keith and turned her attention back to the duel. In the final round, Master Benjamin and Master Eric both traded touches. Then, in the dying minutes of the round, Master Eric landed a touch on Master Benjamin. Master Benjamin tried to land one, but time was called before he could. After several moments, the match was announced as a draw between the two. Both Master Benjamin and Master Eric saluted each other, then walked up to Catarina and shook her hand, Catarina again thanking the two duelists for the fight.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Master Adam Hargrove, considered the Duelists Society's best duelist, walked out for his bout. He got in the ring and stood to the side. He looked and saw Catarina sitting with Keith. Knowing what was about to happen, he pointed to her and gave her a thumbs-up. Catarina waved back to him, returning his greeting.
Society President Robert Sheringham then had an announcement. "This last bout is a special duel in honor of Lady Catarina's birthday! Our first competitor is widely considered to be the top duelist in the Duelists Society! Please give a warm round of applause to Master Adam Hargrove!" The crowd applauded for Master Adam, as he raised his sword to acknowledge them. President Sheringham then continued. "His opponent for this bout, made at that person's request, is Prince Geordo Stuart!"
Catarina and Keith's eyes went wide upon hearing that, and they looked towards the pathway where the duelists had entered. There, they saw Prince Geordo walking to the ring, wearing a duelist outfit in Catarina's colors of blue and white, and wearing a breastplate with the crest of House Claes colored and engraved on the upper left side. The crowd cheered the Third Prince, with several ladies in the crowd squealing over Geordo's demonstration of devotion to his fiancée. He walked into the ring and raised his sword to acknowledge the crowd, which drew another loud cheer. He then walked over to Catarina and took out a red rose for her, saying "Happy Birthday Catarina!" as he did so. Catarina blushed at Geordo's display, while Keith glared. Maria smiled at the scene, while Mary also glared at Geordo. Alan didn't have much of any reaction, but Sophia smiled to herself, seemingly unconcerned about what Geordo had done.
Finally, Geordo walked back, and both he and Master Adam saluted each other. The two got into position, at which point the duel began. Over the course of five rounds, Geordo and Master Adam clashed with each other, neither giving any quarter or asking for it, and with a perfect blend of technique, athleticism, and foresight. The two clashed and fought fiercely, and Master Adam proved to be a capable opponent for the Third Prince. But with time, Geordo had figured out how to approach Master Adam, and when it was all over, Geordo had emerged the victor.
The two shook hands and then walked over to Catarina. Master Adam shook Catarina's hand and said, "This has been a wonderful party so far! I'm glad I could be a part of it!" Catarina smiled and said, "Thank you Master Adam for being here and putting on a duel for me!" Geordo then walked up to Catarina, but rather than shake her hand, he took it into his and kissed it in full view of everyone. Again, a loud cheer with some squeals from various ladies went out, while Catarina blushed and giggled at Geordo's display of affection. Keith glared at Geordo, while Mary gaped at the Third Prince's bold move. Maria and Alan smiled, while Sophia thought to herself about what she had planned and hoped it would top that.
After Geordo walked away, President Sheringham then walked into the ring and said, "Thank you everyone for your appreciation, and Happy Birthday, Lady Catarina!" Keith then took a moment to get out of his haze of jealousy before he then spoke up. "I'd like to thank the Duelists Society for holding this duel card for Sister's birthday! Your efforts are appreciated! At this time, we will be having a light lunch and refreshments. We have a dining area set up. Please follow the directions of our servants so we can begin promptly!"
With that, Catarina and her friends began to head to the lunch area. As they walked to it, Catarina spoke up. "Prince Geordo, I wasn't expecting you to be a part of the card!"
"Why wouldn't I be?" he asked. "I've wanted to have a match against Master Hargrove, and this was a perfect opportunity!"
"I must comment Prince Geordo, wearing Lady Catarina's colors and having her house's crest on your breastplate was.....rather bold of you," remarked Mary.
"Why would it be?" asked Geordo. "We are engaged to each other after all!"
"I could do the same thing for you some time Mary," Alan offered her, not seeing her jealousy over Geordo's decision. Mary quickly answered Alan, "I would love for you to do that some time for me!" she declared, not expecting him to make the offer.
As they continued to walk, Maria noticed Sophia smiling to herself. "Lady Sophia, you seem rather happy about something. What do you have planned?"
"Oh, it's a big surprise!" declared Sophia. "One that nobody, especially Lady Catarina, will have seen coming!"
After the lunch, Catarina, her friends, and the various guests moved to the stage that had been assembled for the play the Theater Club would be performing and for the concert the Musicians Collective would be holding. Again, there were specific seats for Catarina and one other. Since the play would be happening now, it was Sophia's turn to sit with Catarina. Catarina and Sophia took their seats, while the rest of their friends sat nearby.
"I've heard about the Avenging Earl books!" exclaimed Catarina. "I've heard they're more adventure novels, but that they have some romantic elements to them."
"The play the Theater Club will be doing is based on My Vow In Time ! That one has a lot of romantic elements to it, with the Avenging Earl looking to save Lady Angela Benevola from an unhappy marriage to the corrupt Prince Damon Blackledge!"
Catarina squealed at the premise. "I'm thinking this is going to be one of those stories where the hero pulls off the rescue in the nick of time!"
"I think you'll like who they cast as The Avenging Earl for this performance!"
Catarina looked at Sophia and asked, "Which member of the Theater Club is playing The Avenging Earl?"
"It's not a member of the Theater Club. It's a special guest! You'll just have to wait and see Lady Catarina!"
Finally, it was time for the play to begin. Master David Haspel, the Theater Club President, stood onstage and made his announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen! It is with great pleasure that we present to you this performance of The Avenging Earl: My Vow In Time ! We will be performing this play during all of Kingdom Week as part of the celebrations! For this performance, we have something special in store since this is a special performance for Lady Catarina Claes's birthday!"
Sophia smiled upon hearing that. The rest of the group immediately had an inkling as to what was going on. Catarina, none the wiser, squealed to Sophia, "I can't wait to see what it is!"
"With that said, the Sorcier Academy of Magic's Theater Club presents to you our production of The Avenging Earl: My Vow In Time !"
With that, the crowd applauded as Master David walked off the stage. After the applause died down, the curtain rose and the play began.
The play started off introducing Aleister Madigan and Angela Benevola meeting with each other. Aleister was a seeming dunce and poor excuse for an Earl, while Angela was considered a shining example of a proper and benevolent lady. Angela was there to inform Aleister of her pending wedding to Prince Damon Blackledge, which broke both their hearts, as Aleister had been in love with Angela for years, while Angela had fallen in love with Aleister but was bound by familial duty to marry the prince, who had a reputation for dealing with suspicious and questionable people, as well as viewing Angela as a convenience and nothing more. It ended with Aleister vowing to Angela that he would help her out of the engagement, though not before he tripped over his own two feet as he left her parlor.
The next scene then showed a meeting with a couple of corrupt nobles, who were ready to relay information to some crime lords about an upcoming bid for contracts of goods and services for the kingdom so that they could win the bid and get connections directly to the government, in exchange for a perpetual cut of the profits to those nobles. However, Aleister was there, and after witnessing the corrupt deal, he disappeared into the shadows, only to emerge as The Avenging Earl, wearing his trademark mask. The Earl proceeded to break up the meeting, fighting off the hired muscle for the crime lords. While the crime lords were able to make their escape, he was able to capture the corrupt nobles. As he took them to the jail, he found some evidence on one of them that hinted that Prince Damon was involved somehow, but it didn't appear to be a direct connection.
From there, the play continued, showing Angela's unhappy engagement to Prince Damon, The Avenging Earl's search to find how directly Prince Damon was connected to the corrupt elements of the kingdom, Prince Damon's attempt to find out who The Avenging Earl was, and Aleister's bumbling public persona in order to throw Prince Damon off.
As the play went on, Catarina immersed herself in it, finding Angela's misery tugged at her heartstrings and hoping The Avenging Earl could find proof of the prince's misdeeds. Sophia smiled at how much Catarina was enjoying the play. Catarina's friends and guests were also drawn into the play, though Geordo found one particular aspect about the casting curious.
Finally, the climactic part of the play had come. At the eleventh hour, Aleister had found direct proof of Prince Damon's ties to the crime lords and corrupt scum in the kingdom, and he quickly set off to the Marble Cathedral, where Angela's wedding to Prince Damon was taking place.
The wedding had just begun, with the bishop announcing the beginning of the wedding. Angela looked miserable, while Prince Damon looked smug at seemingly having avoided proof of his connection to the misdeeds brought to light. Then came the line that would start the exciting climax, with the bishop stating, "If there be anyone who objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace."
Right on cue, The Avenging Earl burst into the Cathedral and declared, "I object to this marriage!"
The wedding guests gasped at the sudden appearance of The Avenging Earl. The King, shocked at the audacity of The Avenging Earl, then stood up. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Your Majesty, I apologize for the brashness of my objection, but this is an important matter! I have uncovered proof that your youngest son has aligned himself with undesirable elements in our kingdom and is working towards giving them control in exchange for their support for his candidacy for the throne!"
"That is.....preposterous! Your accusations are malicious slander, and it will not be tolerated!" declared Prince Damon.
"Then why does this contract which promises an exclusive monopoly for Louis Sager's iron mining operations bear your signature?" challenged the Earl. "For that matter, what about these corrupt contracts with your name on them?"
"I never signed those! Someone forged my signature!"
"I thought you'd say that," declared the Earl. "And your denials might've been plausible, if not for the fact that THIS contract has your personal seal on it!" The Earl then held out the contract, with Prince Damon's seal clearly attached to it. "It seems Baron Cornwall couldn't witness you signing this contact, so he demanded proof via your seal!"
The wedding guests all were in shock at the revelation. Suddenly, Duke Benevola stood up. "In light of these revelations, I also object to this marriage!" Duchess Benevola backed her husband up and declared, "I will not allow my precious daughter to marry such an underhanded man!"
Seeing that he'd been found out, Prince Damon suddenly gave a shrill whistle, and several guests suddenly emerged to take on The Avenging Earl, armed with swords and knives. They set upon The Avenging Earl, and the Earl gave battle to them. Prince Damon then used the commotion to grab Angela's hand and flee with her, while she tried to resist him. Quickly, The King called for guards to assist The Avenging Earl, and eventually, the Earl was able to pursue Prince Damon.
The scene then changed to the belltower of the Cathedral, where Damon prepared for a confrontation with the Earl. The Earl caught up to them, to which Damon held Angela at swordpoint, threatening to kill her if the Earl took a step closer. The audience watching the play gasped and cried out at Prince Damon's threat. The Avenging Earl then spoke up to try and talk down Prince Damon, but Damon refused to compromise. Finally, the Earl called out Prince Damon as a coward, which distracted him and allowed Angela to bite his arm so she could escape his grasp and flee for safety. The Avenging Earl and Prince Damon then fought each other, fighting furiously, with the Earl looking to subdue Damon, while Damon looked to kill. The Earl eventually got the better of Prince Damon and disarmed him, at which point he tied him up and left him for the authorities to retrieve. He and Angela then quickly fled the scene, while the authorities were finally able to make their way to the belltower and arrest Prince Damon, with The King declaring that he was disinheriting Damon and thus removing his royal immunity.
The final scene then played out, with Aleister and Angela on the rooftop of the Cathedral. The Avenging Earl explained that while the good of the kingdom was his primary concern, he had selfish motivations for stopping the wedding. Angela then seemingly rejected the Earl, saying that she was in love with Aleister Madigan, despite his idiocy. At that point, the Earl then declared, "Yes, I know. I've known for a long time." The Earl then removed his mask and showed his face to Angela, and by extension the audience.
The reveal of the person playing Aleister in his Avenging Earl persona caused the crowd to react with delighted surprise, with many ladies squealing at the reveal. Sophia looked over and saw Catarina utterly stunned at the revelation of the Earl's actor. Eventually, Catarina managed to cry out the name of the actor.
Aleister then confessed his secret to Angela and admitted his public idiocy was all a ruse to throw people off from suspecting he was The Avenging Earl. Angela then declared her love for Aleister, and Aleister promised her that he would eventually rehabilitate his public image so that he could be worthy of her hand in marriage. Before they could kiss, the authorities were heard making their way to the roof. Aleister quickly took that as his cue to leave, and he jumped off of the roof to make his escape, but not before Angela promised that his secret was safe with her. With that, the play ended, and the crowd applauded the performance.
After the play ended, Keith then went up on stage. “That concludes the Theater Club’s performance! We will have another short intermission while the Musicians Collective sets up for their performance. The actors for the performance we just had will be present for you to interact with, so please feel free to interact with them!”
With that, the cast all stepped off the stage and began interacting with the guests. As Catarina and her friends went to mingle with the guests and actors, Sophia asked Catarina, “Lady Catarina, what did you think of the play??”
“It was so good!” declared Catarina. “But I wanted to ask you, how did you get Nicol to play The Avenging Earl?”
“I asked Nicol to do it for your birthday! He was happy to do it! I had him come to the Academy in disguise so you would be surprised!”
Just then, Nicol walked up to the group in his Avenging Earl costume. Catarina was immediately struck dumb by Nicol’s appearance.
“Happy birthday Catarina!” declared Nicol. “I hope you enjoyed the performance!”
Catarina could only stammer as Nicol stood closeby, looking even more handsome and rather dashing in his costume. “A-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-”
“Did you like it?” asked Nicol.
After a moment, Catarina sputtered out, “Y-y-yes!”
Nicol then smiled. “Good! I’m glad the performance was enjoyable!”
Catarina’s mind overloaded, and she immediately blacked out. Keith and Geordo quickly caught Catarina and brought her to a chair. Keith looked at Nicol and said, “I thought we told you about Sister’s tendency to be overwhelmed by your presence.”
“I know, but hearing that she enjoyed it, I’m glad I could do this for her,” Nicol responded.
Geordo then spoke up. “I found it curious that the villainous prince was played by a blonde-haired actor from the Theater Club. I wonder if that was intentional.”
“Absolutely not!” declared Sophia. “The only thing I asked them to do was have Nicol play The Avenging Earl for this performance! I had no say over the rest of the casting!”
Geordo gave a suspicious look towards Sophia, but saw no reason to disbelieve her. He then went back to trying to revive Catarina. As he did, Nicol then whispered to Sophia, “That’s odd, because I heard the original actor for Prince Damon had brown hair.”
Sophia smiled mischievously. “It was only a suggestion! They did that on their own!”
Finally, the Musicians Collective was set up for their concert. Keith got everyone’s attention and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to have the final entertainment for today! Please return to your seats so we can begin!” With that, the guests all returned to their seats. Catarina returned to her seat, with Alan sitting next to her.
After everyone got seated, Simone Giroud, the Musicians Collective President, stood up onstage. “Ladies and gentlemen! The Sorcier Academy of Magic’s Musicians Collective is proud to present this concert for you! We will be performing some classic, well-known pieces, as well as some more experimental works and even some original pieces by our members! Without any further delay, we will be starting off our concert with a performance of Steuben’s 'Moonlight Dance' from his 11th Symphony!”
The crowd applauded as various members of the Collective filed on-stage and got into their seats to perform the song. The song was a light, harmonic piece dominated by violins and other string instruments, with a noticeable harp portion. Catarina squealed as the piece was performed. Alan smiled upon seeing Catarina’s reaction. The Moonlight Dance was one of her favorite pieces of symphonic music, and seeing her happy that it was being performed made him happy.
After the Moonlight Dance, the next piece was an experimental piece written by one of the members of the Collective. It was a harsh but melodic piece, which at first drew some reactions of surprise, but grew on the crowd as it went on.
The concert continued, with various music performed, along with some contemporary songs and even a couple of comedic songs. About an hour in, Alan stood up and went to leave. Unlike what happened with Geordo, Catarina noticed and asked him, “Prince Alan, where are you going?”
“I’m going to be performing with the Collective for some songs. I’ve also got a special piece planned for the end of this. Lady Giroud and I have worked on it. It’s that song I overheard you singing one day and asked you about. I arranged music for it and we’ll be performing it.” Catarina blushed upon hearing that. “Prince Alan, are you sure? It’s kind of a silly song.”
“Absolutely!” he declared. “It was quite the song and I wanted to arrange music for it! I think you’ll like what we came up with!” With that, Prince Alan left, with Keith taking his place by Catarina’s side.
The concert continued on, with another contemporary piece, for which Alan provided lead violin. Several more musical pieces were played, with Alan providing lead violin for them. Eventually, it came time for the last performance. Alan walked up on stage to the applause of the crowd. After it died down, he then made his announcement.
“I will be concluding this concert along with some members of the Musicians Collective. This piece we will be performing was from a song I overheard Catarina singing to herself one day. I’d been curious about it because it was rather unique and never heard anything like it. After some cajoling, she finally gave me all of the lyrics and the tune. With the help of Collective President Simone Giroud, we arranged music for it with piano and vocals. Lady Giroud will be performing the lyrics, while I will be on piano.”
The crowd gave polite applause while Alan and Simone set up. Catarina fidgeted uneasily in her seat, blushing at what Alan was about to perform. Seeing this, Keith looked over at Catarina. “Sister, is something wrong?”
“Oh, it’s just a silly song I heard from somewhere that Prince Alan insisted was brilliant and needed to be arranged,” she replied. “I didn’t think he’d want to perform it publicly!”
Keith then smiled. “Sister, Prince Alan’s got an amazing ear for music. If he thinks it’s worth arranging, I’m sure it’ll be well-received.”
Alan sat down at the piano and did a quick warm up. Afterwards, he looked at Simone, who nodded. With that, he began playing the music he’d arranged, while Simone began singing.
“In your arms you are holding up the heavens/Young boy you’ll live up to be a legend!”
With that, Alan launched headlong into the arrangement. The crowd was soon enamored by Alan’s piano playing and Simone’s lyrics, which had a theme of destiny and responsibility of being the world’s savior thrust upon a young boy. The crowd’s enjoyment went to higher and higher levels. Catarina eventually found herself enjoying the performance, though she was equally embarrassed and amused at what Alan and Simone were performing.
Eventually, the song wrapped up, and was met with thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd. Alan and Simone bowed to everyone. Alan then left the stage, while Simone announced, “That is the conclusion of the Musicians Collective’s concert for Lady Catarina Claes! Thank you for your support!” After some more applause, Keith then went up on stage. “At this time, we will be returning to the dining area for cake and refreshments! Please follow the directions of our servants so that we can proceed there in an orderly fashion.”
Keith and Alan then rejoined the rest of the group. Alan then asked Catarina, “So, how did you like it?”
“It was amazing Prince Alan!” declared Catarina. “Your arrangement made a silly song into a true work of art!”
“What do you mean it’s a silly song?” Alan asked with confusion. “It’s a wonderful song! The theme of the lyrics is powerful and gripping.”
“It’s just something I overheard somewhere,” Catarina replied.
“Where did you overhear it?” asked Alan.
“Um, well, I overheard a street performer in the city one day!” Catarina lied.
Alan then mused aloud, “Maybe I should go into the city and hear other street performers. They might have something else worth arranging.” He then turned to Catarina. “If you ever find the performer that did that song, please tell me who it is!”
“Y-yes Prince Alan!” Catarina replied with hesitance.
“By the way, what’s the name of the song? I know you told me, but I forgot.”
“It’s called…..’A Cruel Angel’s Thesis’.”
“Interesting name. And you’re sure you overheard this somewhere?”
The rest of the group was confused at Catarina’s reaction, but then again, she had done this before, singing something they’d never heard but she insisted she had heard elsewhere. Seeing nothing amiss, they continued towards the dining area.
The guests got to the dining area and began seating themselves. Keith looked and saw the red velvet cakes all ready to be cut and served. Eventually, Catarina was led to her table by the group. Per their arrangement from earlier in the day, Maria would have the seat of honor beside Catarina. Mary and Alan sat on another side, Sophia and Nicol on another, and Geordo and Keith on the last side. After the guests had gotten seated, Keith stood up and addressed the guests.
“I want to thank everyone for coming to Sister’s birthday party. It’s been quite a day, with all of the entertainment and interactions. Special thanks go to the Arcane Artists Club, the Duelists Society, the Theater Club, and the Musicians collective for their time and effort in entertaining everyone, especially Sister! Very special thanks go to Prince Geordo, Prince Alan, Lady Mary Hunt, Lady Sophia Ascart, Master Nicol Ascart, and Miss Maria Campbell for their help in arranging tonight’s entertainment and getting this party set up and running smoothly! With that being said, it’s now time for cake and refreshments! But before we do, I am going to offer a toast to Sister!”
After taking a moment, Keith then started. “Sister, I just want you to know that you have been a light in our lives. I and all your close friends appreciate everything you’ve done for us, and we don’t know what we’d do without you. This party tonight was just one small way for us to show our appreciation for you. We really can’t say enough about how much we appreciate you, so rather than try, we’ll show it. And with that, Happy Birthday Sister!”
The guests then called out “Happy Birthday, Lady Claes!” Catarina stood up and acknowledged the crowd, thanking them for their well-wishes. After she sat back down, Keith then said, “At this time we’ll be having cake. This is a unique recipe devised by Miss Maria Campbell, and we hope you find it as delicious as we have!”
After his announcement, cake began to be served to the various guests. Keith sat down with everyone, at which point Geordo said, “Happy Birthday, Catarina!”
“Happy Birthday Lady Catarina!” added Mary, Sophia, and Maria. Alan and Nicol then said, “Happy Birthday Catarina!”
Just then, a small cake meant for their group was brought to the table. It was a red velvet cake, intricately decorated with red velvet cake crumbles and some red rose-patterned buttercream frosting along with the white icing. “Lady Catarina, I made this cake personally for you! I hope you enjoy it!”
Catarina looked at the cake in awe and admiration. “Maria, this cake is beautiful-looking! In fact, I almost don’t want to eat this! It’s such a work of art! It’d be like cutting a piece out of it would ruin it! It’ll be painful to watch such a beautiful cake get cut up like that!”
Taking a moment, Maria then came up with a solution. “What I can do is I can cover your eyes while it’s being cut, and after we all get our slices, I can uncover your eyes!”
“Please do that Maria!” declared Catarina. “That way I won’t feel bad seeing it cut and looking like it’s ruined.”
Maria immediately put her hands around Catarina’s eyes, while a servant cut the cake and served slices to everyone. Eventually, the cake was completely cut and served completely. Upon the task being finished, Maria uncovered Catarina’s eyes. Seeing the cake slice in front of her, Catarina immediately began eating it, squealing in delight at the taste and texture of it.
“Maria, this is delicious !” declared Catarina. “Your sweets are already amazing, but this cake is perfect! The moisture, the texture, the flavor, it’s all amazing!”
Maria blushed and smiled at Catarina. “Thank you Lady Catarina! If you want, I could start baking cakes for you as well!” The rest of the group, save for Alan and Nicol, immediately turned and looked at Maria, stunned she would make such an offer in front of all of them. Mary then asked, “Lady Catarina, what performance did you like best?”
“Which one? Well, uh…..” Catarina was caught off guard by Mary’s question. “I…..really don’t know which one I liked best! I mean, the Arcane Arts show was amazing, the duel card was a lot of fun to watch, the play was a great story, and the concert was entertaining with all the variety!”
“Did anything stick out in particular?” Mary elaborated.
“Well…..I’d say what stuck out most was Prince Geordo’s participation in the duel card! I wasn’t expecting him to participate, but seeing him do so, and especially wearing my colors and the crest of House Claes was rather touching! Thank you Prince Geordo!”
The group gaped at Catarina’s answer, save Geordo, who smiled and said, “It was my pleasure Catarina!”
“But don’t think I didn’t like everyone else’s touches! I liked the end of the Arcane Arts show with the likenesses of me and Mary, Nicol being The Avenging Earl was cute, and Alan’s arrangement of that song was also nice! Really, I appreciate all of it!”
Hearing Catarina’s gratitude for their efforts brought smiles to their faces. “We’re happy to do this for you Lady Catarina!” declared Sophia.
“I’m glad you enjoyed everything!” added Alan.
“It’s always good to see you happy,” added Nicol.
Finally, it was time for the party to end. Catarina, who was still in disbelief that so many people came to her birthday party, declared, “I’m going to go to the entrance of the manor and personally thank everyone that came!”
“Sister, that’s going to take a lot of time!” replied Keith.
“Still, I want to thank everyone for coming! I’m surprised so many people came, and I want to thank all of them!”
“Hopefully it’s not too exhausting for you,” replied Geordo.
With that, everyone walked with Catarina to the entrance of the manor. As guests left, Catarina began personally thanking each guest that had come. The group wondered how long Catarina would be able to hold out, but to their surprise, she indeed managed to thank every guest. It had taken quite some time for her to do so, but she managed it. Catarina had her mind set on doing so, and when her mind was set on something, she would see it to completion.
It was past midnight when the last guests left. Catarina yawned and stretched. “I’m exhausted! I need to get to bed!”
“Well, let all of us wish you a Happy Birthday once more!” Geordo requested. With that, her brother and her friends each embraced her, wishing her a happy birthday. Catarina again thanked them for their efforts and what they were able to do.
After saying her goodbyes, Catarina headed back into the mansion and headed to her bedroom. Anne was there waiting for her to help her charge undress and get ready for bed.
“Happy Birthday Lady Catarina! It seems like you enjoyed your party.”
“Oh I did Anne!” exclaimed Catarina. “It was so much fun, and I’m surprised everyone did so much for me!”
“You shouldn’t be,” responded Anne. “Your brother and your friends all appreciate and cherish you dearly, and they’d be willing to do more for you if you wanted.”
“I couldn’t ask that of them!” responded Catarina. “I already think they did too much for me!”
Anne sighed at Catarina’s words. Selflessness was one thing, but hearing her tone, it sounded like she truly believed she didn’t deserve everything they did to make her birthday enjoyable. “I don’t even know if that’s possible, Milady.”
“Well, they didn’t need to do as much, but I still appreciate it!”
Eventually, Catarina was dressed for the night. After saying goodnight, Catarina crawled into bed.
The day had been a whirlwind, with so much in the way of entertainment and interacting with her family, friends, and the various guests. She recalled the year before, when she thought her birthday party and the gifts she got were far too extravagant. This year, while she still thought it was a lot, it was much more enjoyable than the previous year. She knew what they did in organizing all of this was from the heart, and the memories of it all would be something she would always remember and cherish. Eventually, the exhaustion of the long day caught up to her, and Catarina fell asleep. As she drifted off, a final thought went through her mind.
“I’m lucky to have such wonderful friends!”