The Swan Ball is here! And with Joel Derfner at the writing helm, we’re sure to have a night to remember.
The telling begins with Diane, resplendent in her powder-blue silk gown, enormously pleased that a certain distasteful party guest (The Duke of Karleigh) has been unable to attend. She swirls through the party, noting with pleasure how successfully they have managed to hide their lack of fortune behind frills and fluff. Kaab’s uncle stops her to compliment the house and she even over hears chatter that the tariffs she’s been trying to have lowered should move forward soon!
The night truly is the most perfect success… which means, of course, that it’s a dream. A nightmare, in fact, as Diane starts to hear a low rattling growing louder and louder until the party morphs into a blood bath, at the center of which is a maid and a mistress, riding in a carriage…She jerks awake and breathes a sigh of relief to find the horror merely a figment of her imagination – but reality is hardly a balm when she remembers the ball hasn’t happened yet, and Karleigh is coming.
A scene change here provides an interesting narrative shift, and a fun way we get to see Derfner’s unique authorial style. He turns to speak directly to the reader, inviting us along as he flits from place to place, character to character.
First we see Kaab, preparing for the ball and wracked with anxiety that her mistake of almost revealing the Kinwiniik’s navigational secrets will come to light.
Next we see Rafe, also preparing for the ball, and also wracked with emotions, though ones of self-loathing. He tears off the finery and reverts back to his scholar robes.
Then there is Micah, nervous for the night ahead and awkward in her formal attire – whilst simmering in her frustration over the math that still alludes her understanding.
We also get a glimpse of Tess and Vincent – the former nursing her growing dread, and the latter nursing his hope that he may enjoy a night with sword left un-drawn.
Finally, we reach Diane, the Duchess herself. Her anxiety seems to have reached heights unknown to the rest of our cast as she not only carries all the usual worries of a hostess, but also the concerns of a woman about to lose everything.
Sounds like the perfect mix for a party!
And oh what a party it is – you really must just read Derfner’s prose to really get the sparkle and drama, so please pardon this humble and horribly curt summary of the base historical record.
Rafe spends the party sulking. He is angry at Will and choosing to ignore his lover (and perhaps even make him jealous by flirting with others) rather than dealing with the issue.
Will spends the party chasing Rafe.
Micah spends the first part of the party getting her mind to quiet down (she wasn’t prepared for the mass of people) and the next part expertly using some small talk advice garnered from Tess. Her third act, though, is to give Kaab a minor heart attack by demanding to speak with Kaab’s uncle and ask after the Kinwiniik’s navigation secrets.
Kaab and her family spend the party being courted by Diane and insulted both overtly and subtly by the rest of the guests. They are also dealing with some recent bad news: it seems the monarch of their homeland is considering ending the Balam’s trade monopoly and opening their cherished trade routes to competitors.
Mid party we flash behind the scenes to where a desperately nervous footman has been roped into carrying The Swan – the pièce de résistance of the whole evening: “a great molded pudding made of red wine and blackberries. It rose to an astonishing four feet, adorned with brilliants, sheltering tiny cygnets made of sugar, with a bright necklace around its sinuous neck that ended in a ruby half the size of his fist.”
Ok, a swan that ominous just has to be destined for something great – and Derfner doesn’t keep us waiting long. Just as soon as The Swan makes its appearance, a chain reaction comedy of errors occurs that leaves Micah, Kaab, Rafe, and Will in a heap on the floor – and the racist Karleigh doused in the all the red wine pudding that had moments before been an incredible feat of edible avian construction.
He reacts by doing what racists do best, and blames the closest Person-Not-Like-Himself around, which in this case is Kaab. Kaab’s aunt Saabim is having none of that noise and replies with the most beautiful smack down anyone could hope for before leading the entire Kinwiniik party out in protest.
Diane, smartly, chooses that moment to feint.
On their walk home, Saabim is all smiles: despite the insult offered them, she learned what she desired – that Diane is desperately hiding a failing fortune and therefore must need the Balams for their business opportunities. It seems Tremontaine’s masterful performance at showing their wealth was no match for the shrewd observation of a first daughter of a first daughter.
The last two scenes are those of lovers, in the twilight after an eventful night. First we see Diane, recuperating in the arms of a powerful politician named The Dragon Chancellor. It seems she hopes he will be able to maneuver the tariff manipulation she needs to secure her deal with the Balams – but he shoots down the idea with little preamble. Diane is discouraged, but never without recourse.
Finally we come, inevitably, to Rafe, whose anger has run its course and led him right back into the arms of his beloved. Sleep well, dear lovers, sleep well.