No strangers to long days afoot, the elves eschew the bleacher seating. People pack in around the cousins in the common viewing area, but the elves are taller than most of the humans and can see the parade field just fine. Bleachers line the east and west sides, and each corner has a pavilion of a different color: blue, green, red, and yellow.
After a little waiting, there is another blare of trumpets, this one far more elaborate than the previous. The musicians take to the field holding their instruments out before them, long bugles with red triangle flags hanging from them. They march across playing their fanfare. Following them is a contingent of halberdiers and pikemen on foot led by a woman on horseback. This horse is not as armored and muscular as the black one they saw earlier. It has simple red tack that stands out against its bright white hide. The rider has dark skin, and her hair is black and quite wavy. The curls are held back by a headband that looks to be made of a bronze metal rather than a bandana. She is dressed in chainmail with a mace at her hip. Attached to the side of her saddle are her bow and quiver. There can be no doubt: this is Mhaev, the captain of the guard.
Zhamayba trots across the field, followed by the troops. When they reach the middle, Mhaev circles her horse around. Her voice carries across the open space as she shouts instructions. Although they are at times barely intelligible to the crowd, her soldiers seem to know exactly what to do. “Prepare for inspection! Present arms! Spear up! Spear across!” As she issues commands, Zhamayba takes her around the troops, allowing her to observe their synchronized performance from every angle.
“What do you think they’re doing?” Hepalonia asks her cousin.
“I think it’s a show, right? At the very least, it’s a show of strength. It looks good; it shows that they’re coordinated and know what they’re doing,” Tric suggests. “They even have their own secret language they can use to talk to each other,” he adds, referring to the barked orders.
Human lands continue to be full of new experiences for Hepalonia. “We don’t have anything like this back in the forest,” she says. Tric Manu agrees that elves do not really do military parades, but he points out that Heppa’s sister had a graduation ceremony. “You think this is a ceremony? Or a show?” Heppa asks. Her cousin is unsure of the distinction. They engage in a philosophical debate on what makes a ceremony a ceremony. Tric Manu does not believe that anything actually happens during a ceremony other than the performance itself, whereas Hepalonia views a ceremony such as a graduation as imbuing the participant with a new quality, like the title of sorceress in Lala’s case. “Do you think something like that is going to happen here, and that makes this a ceremony?”
“I think a ceremony and a show are the same thing,” Tric reiterates. “A ceremony is a kind of show.” Heppa accepts his position and reframes the current activity as a ceremonial show. Tric starts to point out that no one will get a new title here, and then realizes that is not true. “Oh, no, someone will be crowned winner of the joust.” He elbows his cousin and says playfully, “And maybe winner of the duels!”
Hepalonia turns her attention back to the field and discovers that the event has proceeded while the cousins were caught up in their discussion. The soldiers are now all gathered at the southern end of the field, arrayed at the base of a tall booth flying the triangular red flags. The woman who led the troops is standing up there at attention, to the side of a pair of large chairs upon which sit human nobility. The human seated next to her must be Earl Gweddry, a pale man with brown hair going gray. Heppa estimates his age to be in the fifties or sixties, based on the humans she has met so far. In the next seat over is an olive-skinned woman with dark hair who might be his wife. Heppa wonders if the ceremony’s whole point was to bring these nobles in.
Another set of trumpet blasts sound from the northern end of the field, opposite where Gweddry sits. The horses in elaborate barding carrying soldiers in gleaming plate are gathered there. The knights hold their lances erect with blue pennants fluttering from them. From among the new arrivals, a black horse steps to the front. The rider has a powerful set of lungs, and when she shouts, the elves recognize her from earlier. In a voice that carries across the field, the young horse lord aspirant requests permission of Earl Gweddry for Sir Owaec to bring his troops in.
Gweddry stands and raises his arm in a very grand fashion. “Sir Owaec, you have permission to enter the city. You and your forces are welcome through the city gates.” The two elves exchange confused glances. The city gates are nowhere nearby; these troops have already entered through them.
The rider responds, “We accept your permission to enter through the city gates.” There is a bit more back and forth of more such speech, and then finally the set of horses with blue flags marches across the field. Now this is a ceremony.
When Owaec’s contingent reaches the booth on the southern end of the field, the rider with the shiniest armor and most feathers tips back his visor. The well-tanned man with a white beard calls up, “Gweddry, my old friend, good to see you again.”
“You are welcome, Owaec, any time,” the earl replies in a similar familiar fashion.
Hepalonia appreciates the effort they have gone through to establish that this is not war. “I can see why you would want to be really clear that you’ve got permission if you have a force riding in full plate,” she comments.
No, the civil war starts later, Tric thinks, Merriver on his mind.