Roland approaches the manor house somewhat uneasily. He had previously shown up too early, but it seemed things were now underway.
He is human, unusually tall for such, and has red hair that he’s allowed to grow entirely too long since leaving home. His features carry a strong, weathered look of one accustomed to honest work, and his gray-blue eyes look like something of a storm.
Tonight—like most days, evenings, and times altogether—Roland is wearing simple, sturdy clothes of the sort favored by commoners in South Urbane, set apart only by a long crimson coat. As he enters the hall, he nods at the lord who waited to greet him, saying, "It would seem I am no longer early, if this is the dinner I was told of," and continues to converse only until he can excuse himself without falling into blatant rudeness.
Roland then makes his way to the least occupied corner of the room. These days he feels nervous around too many people, and he is unaccustomed to rich settings regardless. He grabs some finger foods and a flute of champagne from passing servers. After a sip of the drink, he wrinkles his nose, setting it aside, then eats the sandwich hungrily and silently wishes for a mug of dark beer and a full wooden bowl of hearty lamb and turnip stew.
A young woman steps up beside Roland, with a small smile. She is about his age with doe-like blue eyes. Her dress is a soft gold color, like wheat at sunset. She doesn’t say anything. She just smiles at him then stands there with him, hands clasped behind her back, watching the other people in the room.
Roland notices the girl and tries to smile back, though it doesn't reach his eyes. She was pretty, and under other circumstances that might have mattered to a young man such as himself, but he takes no notice. "Yes, ma'am, may I help you?"
“No. I just thought you might like some company,” she says without a glance in his direction. The smile still touches at the edges of her lips.
He shuffles uncomfortably. He had never known how to talk to girls, and lately he had been doing his best to avoid contact with everyone as a general rule. Yet he didn't want to be rude or endanger his being hired for this expedition. And, though he wouldn't admit it, he was beginning to feel the loneliness of his self imposed isolation, and he appreciated the chance to just talk with someone. He answers, "Very well, I won't ask you to leave. If you don't mind me asking, what brings you to a meeting like this?"
The girl smiles and raises her eyes to the ceiling, thinking for a moment. “Responsibility,” she says after a time, “I suppose.” Now, she does turn to look at Roland. “And you?”
Roland smiles back, another sad expression. "The same, I suppose, though not as most would think it…." He quiets as High Lord Fennix makes a motion for the quartet to stop playing and the crowd to give him their attention.
“If everyone will take a seat,” High Lord Fennix says with a gesture to the large U-shaped table, “I believe it is time for dinner.” His wife takes his arm, and he escorts her to sit at the top of the table.
The other guests all begin to find their own seats as well, and the servants all disappear into the kitchens to fetch the meal. The large woman with the little dog sits with the shivering animal in her lap next to a broad man whose arm is looped in a sling. A seat is left next to Lady Fennix, reserved for someone who has either not yet arrived or who is not coming.
The girl standing next to Roland takes his hand gently and in a friendly manner. “You can sit next to me,” she says, leading him toward the table where she sits right next to High Lord Fennix, dropping Roland’s hand so he can sit as well.
Roland stares open mouthed as the young woman leads him to the head of the table, before getting control of himself. "I suppose I didn't ask you your name, did I?" He sits, again not wanting to be rude, but is nevertheless unaccustomed to being so close to the center of attention. He whispers to her, "Are you certain you want me up here? I will not decline the honor of course, but surely there is another more worthy." Secretly in his mind, he fears what might happen should he lose control suddenly and accidentally hurt her. She had been nothing but kind to him in their brief interactions, with no reason to do so.
“Arabella Fennix,” she says as she unfolds her napkin in her lap and smooths it over her knees. “My name, I mean.” She glances at her father as he makes the same motions to place his napkin over his lap. She then returns her gaze to Roland. “And why wouldn’t I be certain?”
"I meant no offense. It's just that I am but a simple shepherd, run away from home and about to be hired by your father for a mission that, if half the rumors are true, will get us all killed." He grimaces, having let his tongue get away from him as he whispered to her, saying more than he intended. "Nevertheless, I am honored by the offer." He clumsily copies her and her father's motions with the napkin as best he can.
She half ignores his words, pulling them apart silently before asking, “So then, do you want to die?” She reaches for her glass and takes a sip of water.
He pauses for a moment, before shaking his head slightly and replying in a tone that indicated he had had this same discussion with himself several times. "No, no I do not. But I need to get away from people for a while, and The Wilds are the best place to do that. I also know how dangerous they are, and no one has accused me of being an optimist." At that he smiled a little, only slightly and for a split second, but it was the first genuine one to touch his face all evening. "At least not lately."
Arabella nods simply. “Well, I hope you survive. I do not think my father’s intent is to send so many to their deaths, but this expedition is of utmost importance.”
Roland nods. "I have no doubt that it is. I do not yet know the details, but such a risk and expenditure would not be taken otherwise. That is the reason I did not simply take to The Wilds myself as I once planned. I wish to help." He found himself growing a bit more comfortable despite himself.
Behind them, the quartet starts up again in a soft background hum as servants come out and begin to serve slices of roast beef with fingerling potatoes, salad greens tossed with vinegar, cubes of aged cheddar, and pear slices.
“Good,” Arabella states as she leans to one side so a servant can put food on her plate.
In a dangerous political climate, several expeditions are made to the infamous Wilds in hopes of expanding the country, Urbane, and avoiding an all out civil war. But, when the lord in charge of the excursions is almost assassinated, tensions increase and put new pressures on the brave explorers.