"You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting. In what world could you *possibly* beat me?"


Some time around 2778.255 AS

Eva heads off to Highguard from New Light, in her identity as Shoshana, to arrange to be scolded by her relatives for a few days before subjecting others to it. Cassandra finishes her portrait of Martan, and then she, Mirris, and Sharra are dropped off by the Hippocrates at the Highguard starport to be met by Shoshana and Nikolas.

Cassandra is most disconcerted to discover that no exceptions are made to the restrictions on technology for handicap assistance devices, and her micro-radar navigation array (which looks like a plain white shift) is confiscated for return when she leaves. For the first time in anyone's experience with her, she seems actually blind, and needs someone help getting around.

The party heads to Shoshana's family's house in the capital, where Sharra, Mirris, and Cassandra meet the von Torstens. Shoshana's mother is a bit confused by what it means that Cassandra is an artist, when she's clearly blind. The most interesting upcoming event is a tournament, between a group of outworlders who have come to Highguard to issue challenge, and the assorted Highguard nobility who have chosen to accept the challenge. Three ships are being wagered on the outcome.

There is to be a formal dinner later this evening, but in the meantime, people go shopping and then to visit Dominick, Shoshana's brother. Leo, his four year old son, is very excited about the tournament - when he's older, he's going to be a champion and will win all the feathers.

The visit concludes, and the group heads back to dinner at the von Torsten house. In addition to Shoshana's parents, a friend of Shoshana's mother and another gentleman are there. The gentleman in question, one Joachim Ramirez, sweeps dramatically up to Mirris, bows low, and proclaims "Ah, you must be Shoshana. You are even more beautiful than I had been told." She says surely he is mistaken. She clarifies, that he is mistaken about her identity; he is gallant and says he is surely not mistaken about the loveliness part, but retreats in confusion.

Over dinner, Duke von Torsten interrogates Sharra - everyone is astonished that she is an engineer. As he's familiar with the New Light Wades, there are some comments about familial duties of daughters; Mirris mostly ducks any questions about her family. Duchess von Torsten diverts things before this gets too far.

The tournament is the main subject of conversation. There are a dozen or so entrants for each side. Practices have all been watched very carefully, and of the four contests (sword, staff, archery, and horsemanship), each side has three contenders who are highly favored. On the outworld team there are: Thibault Achilles (sword) and Joraj a'Mountain (staff and TK), from Sparta; Sol Velk (horsemanship) is from Lendt. On the Highguard side, the best are Merrick von Jussen (sword), Baermont Votri (archery), and Fenton Garrit (horsemanship). Joachim is sure that the Highguardians will win; Duke von Torsten says that the important thing is that both sides fight with honor, however it turns out. Joachim has wagered a horse on the outcome.

Later that night, Sharra and Shoshana both interrogate the servants; Sharra finds out that Joachim is supposed to marry Shoshana. Mirris looks for secret compartments in her bedroom, and finds one, but it's empty.

The next morning there is a meeting with the acting Archivist, Master Votri. He appears to be about ninety, and complains somewhat incoherently about the Terrible State that the previous archivist, master Jeebers, left things in. It's beyond him, he repeats several times. But he's not supposed to allow anyone in who isn't the official Archivist, which there isn't one of yet. Maybe if the King made them the official Archivist?

It's off to see King Maximilian. They persuade him to one, let them into the archives, and two, see the Amulet of Verification. A page escorts them to the vault in which the regalia is kept; several guards keep a close eye on them. Mirris flirts with the guards, distracting them a bit. Sharra, on a signal, blunders into the most robust-looking of the treasures she can see, and knocks it clattering onto the floor. In the startlement, Shoshana dabs two drops of blood from vials in her pocket (from Katya and Jayla) onto her finger, and touches the Magic Doorbell. Nothing happens. Sharra apologizes profusely, and the pair look at the item some more. Sharra notes a couple of indentations on the back, as if there were once contacts there. Shoshana sketches it.

Then, it's off to the library again, with official permission to go through it, if accompanied by Master Votri. The place is a terrible disaster, with stacks of books on top of books on top of papers every which way, not to mention things behind the sofa and on top of the bookcase and so on. The trio throw themselves into the task while Master Votri dozes; they are interrupted by the widow of the previous Archivist, who pesters them incessantly, and attacked by a nest of rats, but some six hours later, the library is sorted, alphabetized, dusted, and categorized.

And, more importantly, Master Jeeber's last draft of his masterwork, the History of Highguard, is unearthed. A few points of note are looked up. The three people who came to the first Verification of the Blue Hegemon were King Steffan, Arista Nomarche, and Garthain, Arista's Elite. Steffan von Warrick was the son of Warrick Sturmkonig, the younger brother of Ronaldo Sturmkonig. Warrick would be considered the last king of Heidelmere, and Steffan the first king of Highguard. Steffan was given the amulet (aka the Magic Doorbell) by Garthain, and Garthain's plasma brand was entrusted to him at Garthain's death. Arista died somewhat later, fairly old, and without issue (she refused to marry or have children). Steffan was the one to begin the anti-technology trend on Highguard.

It has gotten fairly late, so the three troop home to wash the dust off and fall into bed. The next day, there is much shopping (Cassandra has finally begun to have sufficient pocket money to enjoy shopping for luxuries again, and neither Mirris nor Sharra brought enough formal dresses as seem to be needed). After the shopping, Cassandra and Shoshana's mother head off to the von Torsten country estates; Cassandra is interested in painting a landscape.

In the evening, there is the banquet to open the tournament. The formal challenge is issued by Thibault Achilles, and accepted by Merrick van Jussen. King Maximilian makes a speech about fighting with bravery and honor, and how honor will be upheld no matter the outcome.

Shoshana begins to suspect that there's something suspicious going on, especially with respect to the fact that both Duke von Torsten and King Maximilian have included this "however it turns out" caveat. That seems a little weird. She and Sharra start mingling and talking to people; Shoshana talks to one of the lower-level outworlders ("the Highguardians are posers! We fight real wars!") and Merrick van Jussen ("We're going to put up our best fight, and we'll see how it goes"). Sharra talks to some other lower-level outworlders ("We really hope we win; ships would be useful against the Tarn"). Mirris mostly listens to some of the higher nobles talking to each other, and gets the sense that at least some of them are in on... something.

Ahah! It's a plot to get ships to the outworlders! All becomes clear. And it seems like the older Highguard nobles realize this, but the young ones (who are much more in the "Of course we're going to win!" camp) don't. As a matter of fact, there seems to be some trouble stemming from Benjen van Jussen, Merrick's younger brother and second. Over in the outworld camp, he and some friends are taking turns toasting, but getting the outworlders to drink all the toasts.

The three consider how to thwart this nefarious plan of get-the-outworlders-really-drunk. Mirris embarks on a personal plan of getting the inworlders drunker, faster; while this is starting to work, it also takes her out of usefulness for a while. They try and flirt with the people making the toasts, but that doesn't really stop them, though Sharra gets a few outworlders to go walking outside with her. Shoshana decides that they need someone to faint. Sharra isn't quite sure how fainting will help, but is willing to play along. Shoshana makes an attempt to faint, but does a poor job and mostly only staggers about a bit, into Benjen. Meanwhile, however, Sharra is talking to Joachim and visibly noting Shoshana's behavior. Joachim "realizes" that Shoshana is attempting to swoon for Benjen! He is aghast, and comes over immediately, trying to sway everyone into breaking up the party and going home to rest before the tournament.

Benjen, who seems to be no better an actor than Shoshana, pretends to resist and then be talked into it, but is clearly far too easily moved. He must be up to more nefariousness, Shoshana and Sharra decide. Off he heads, followed by Sharra (the only one with stealth). Shoshana instructs her to give Benjen her scarf as a token, if she's spotted. She sees him and a crony riding off from the von Jussen house, but has no horse and is quickly outdistanced. She heads off towards the stadium, where they might be going.

Meanwhile, Shoshana and Nikolas ride towards the outworld camp, where the outworlders have headed. They skulk around a bit, looking for nefariousness, but don't see any yet. They talk to Thibault, who doesn't admit to any sort of Secret Plan, but does sort of hint that they shouldn't bet on the outcome. Then he chases them away so he can sleep.

Nikolas is set to watch the tents where Thibault and Joraj are; Shoshana goes to watch Sol Vek's tent and the horses. She does note, as Sol Vek finishes dressing for bed, that he's actually a she in disguise. Scandal! If Benjen knew that, that would be something he could use to dishonor the outworlders and try and overturn the tournament.

Sharra, finally getting to the stadium, finds no Benjen and friend, and heads to the camp, which is close. She and Shoshana hide in different bushes as the camp quiets for the night, and Benjen and his friend skulk in towards the horses. Shoshana pounces on them, scolding them terribly. He is willing to accept the dishonor on himself to prevent Highguard from being dishonored in the competition - the Highguard contestants have clearly been bewitched by the outworlders, with outworld magic.

Shoshana mocks the idea of outworld magic, but Benjen is sure there's something going on - his brother is completely dispirited and ready to lose! Perhaps he just realizes the outworlders are better, Shoshana suggests? No, no, that's not it at all. He wasn't always the best fighter, and he never went in like this before. He always went in wanting to win, not all this "it'll be okay if they defeat them." Not to mention they're probably using magic horses.

Shoshana fails to convince Benjen that the fact that Highguard seems to be preparing to lose is only because they realize the innate superiority of the outworlders, but she does convince him that she's going to get him caught if he keeps it up. Then the shouting starts to wake the camp, and everyone flees back into the bushes.

They head back to the city, where they meet up with the recovered Mirris. Shoshana tells Nikolas to watch Benjen's house for the rest of the night. He grumpily obliges, and Mirris joins him, having missed all the fun before. Sharra and Shoshana head back to the von Torsten house, where Shoshana promptly walks into a suit of armor and wakes the servants; Sharra, on the other hand, is in bed and apparently has been home for hours.

In the morning, the tournament starts. Shoshana bets 100 asters on the outworlders, and Sharra bets 10. The archery and staff contests go as expected, to Baermont and Joraj. In the horsemanship contest, Fenton Garrit wins on speed, but Sol Vek's horse, Continental Drift, seems to be able to corner on about three hooves less than most horses, and cleans up on jumping and obstacles. In the swordsmanship contest, they seem equally matched except that Thibault demonstrates a Riposte shtick ("If I parry with more succesess than you hit me with, I hit you back with them") and in the end wins. At three to one, the outworlders are declared the victors. A festival ensues afterwards, during which the winners collect their bets. Joachim is extremely gentlemanly to Mirris, but she's decided he's too much of a goof to bother with. Shoshana talks to Merrick van Jussen, and warns him that his brother Benjen thinks he's mind controlled by the outworlders (this doesn't seem to be news to him), and that Benjen was going a little above and beyond common sense in trying to thwart them (this is news to him). Then she talks to Sol. Is he sure he doesn't meddle? Well, everyone dabbles in meddling. Has he ever had an instance where he found out an interesting secret, but the best thing that could be done with it was nothing? Perhaps. Really, he thinks meddling should be best left to professionals, he says as he retreats. Shoshana gets in a parting comment that usually she does do nothing with the information.

The leaving-and-meeting-separately is arranged; Cassandra has finished a painting, and has it transported to the starport for a picture to be taken, before presenting it to Shoshana's mother.


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