and your enemies closer…
As the music played and Laura and the Margrave moved sedately across the floor, the tension in the Great Hall gradually began to ease.
Eventually others joined the dancing, and then the Margrave spoke quietly to Laura. “Thank you my dear, thank you very much.” Looking over her shoulder to survey the room, his eyes sought out Joseph who had been joined by a curious Edgar and was still keeping a close watch.
“I think I need to sit down now,” the Margrave said as Joseph approached them, and he allowed Edgar to lead him to a nearby armchair.
Joseph took hold of Laura and they began to shuffle awkwardly to the music. Embarrassed, she glanced up at him, but rather than looking at her Joseph was focusing intently on something happening across the room. After managing to adjust their direction of travel slightly, she could suddenly see what he was looking at – in an alcove almost hidden from view, four figures were having a heated argument. These were not visitors, but the Margrave’s own Elders, and they were deliberately keeping out of his sight.
This time it was Joseph who decided to interrupt, and with Laura following close behind he approached the little huddle.
“Good evening Jorn.”
Jorn was facing into the group and hadn’t seen them coming. He spun round, looking decidedly shifty. Laura thought.
“Joseph, how good to see you.”
He turned to Laura and she felt his eyes on her, “and here is Laura, again.”
“Yes,” she said, not liking the way Jorn was staring at her one little bit. He had a hardness about him with none of the Margrave’s open friendliness, and he made no effort to hide his hostility.
“I did not expect to see you here,” he snarled, finally looking back at Joseph, “This is no time for outsiders.”
But before he go any further he spotted the Margrave approaching and immediately fell silent. The Margrave walked straight up to Jorn, his kind face clouded by a worried frown.
“This looks like a meeting Jorn.”
“Yes sire, there is urgent business to discuss,” replied Jorn, standing his ground with the other Elders gathered in close beside him.
“Then perhaps we should continue in my chamber, away from all this noise. May I take your arm while we walk?”
“Of course.” Jorn nodded his head stiffly and allowed the Margrave to rest his hand in the crook of his arm.
Joseph stepped forward as if to go with them but the Margrave shook his head.
“No need,” he said, as Jorn led him out of the Great Hall.
“And your enemies closer,” muttered Laura watching them go with a mixture of anxiety and relief.
“What?” Joseph was distracted.
“Never mind. What should we do now?”
Before Joseph could answer Edgar appeared, grabbed her by the hand and pulled her away. “Will you dance with us Laura? Cara is too shy to ask.”
How could she resist? She let them twirl her round to the unfamiliar music and tried to answer their stream of questions.
“Do you go to nightclubs? We can hear the thumping in some of the tunnels. How do you dance to the thumping? Show us Laura.”
They were quite disappointed when she confessed that she didn’t like nightclubs and had no real idea how to dance to the thumping.
Joseph leaned against the cool stone wall and watched them. Laura was laughing now and Edgar and Cara were smiling too, but all he could think about was the Margrave. Could Jorn and his allies really be plotting against him, or were they just spooked by the visitors?
Eventually he could stand it no longer and after checking that Laura was still happily occupied, he made his way from the hall towards the Margrave’s chamber. Feeling more than a little guilty for eavesdropping he crept towards the door until he could hear the rumble of discussion, from the tone they sounded serious but not openly hostile. He inched closer until he could make out what they were saying.
“With all due respect sire, they have not travelled all this way just to gatecrash a party.” It was Jorn talking about the visitors and sounding irritated. Then came the Margrave’s steady voice.
“And Arne what do you think? Do you agree with Jorn?”
“On this matter I do. We need to find out why they are here and what they want from us.”
“If you all agree?” There was a murmur of assent, “then we should find them and sit down together. But not tonight, for now let everyone simply enjoy the Gathering.”
Joseph had heard enough, he should keep out of the way for now, leave and return in the morning. He made his way back to the Hall and soon spotted Laura. She had managed to lose Edgar and Cara and was standing alone, tapping her feet to the strange music. There was nothing more he could do, and he didn’t want to ruin her evening with his worries. He had planned a surprise for her and he might as well go ahead with it, so he pushed his way through the throng to her side. It was noisy and he leaned in close to make himself heard.
“I think we should go now Laura.”
“If you say so. Is everything alright?”
“Yes fine. Can you swim?”
“What?” Laura was straining to hear, her head against his, “did you say swim?”
“Yes. Can you?”
“Of course I can. I got my stripes at school you know. “
“Great.” Joseph wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but it sounded good enough, so he took her by the hand and pulled her behind him as they made their way out through the crowd.
Edgar and Cara waved at them as they left, but they were not the only ones watching.