"The Madame Countess Fiora Matilde Phillipa Geneve, Suzerain of Leah," declared the Court Marshal. The bead-eyed Countess strolled past him, followed by tittering retainers.
"No notes, dear. It's his job," replied Auntie.
"Southerners have such awfully long names," said Erin.
"The Countess Geneve isn't a Southerner, dear. She's from the Isles. You could tell by that dreadful boy's haircut of hers, even without the name."
"Goodness," Erin mumbled into her wine. She continued staring at the ballroom's entryway. A party of men in grey uniforms sewn with articulated spaulders strutted through the gilded arch. Light from two dozen golden chandeliers glittered on the polished steel.
"Señor Commandant Niclao Nuflo Leon de Carro e Tevilla te Tordrid," said the winded Marshal, struggling to enunciate the last name with his remaining breath. The Commandant curled his thin mustache in a smile, passed a golden crown to the Marshal. Erin giggled, nearly spilled red wine on her powder blue blouse.
"That was a Southerner," said Auntie, nodding her grey head at the Commandant.
"Do they usually wear such tight trousers?" said Erin, goggling.
"The soldiers, sometimes. Watch out for that one. He's single."
"Oh," said Erin. Across the ballroom, the Southern soldier noticed her stare, smiled at her. Erin quickly looked away.
"Do pay attention, dear," said Auntie, squinting at the entryway.
A party had appeared below the arch. A thin woman in a gold-threaded black coat stood amidst it.
"Masters, Messieurs, Señori," bellowed the Court Marshal. "May I present Lady Miriellen Elizabethe Corona des Feronus, e Maples te San Carro, the Crowned Lord and Queen of Empereaux and its Sovereign Islands." He snapped his heels, saluted. "Long may she reign."
An applause of three hundred hands echoed in the cavernous space below the chandeliers. The Queen in black and gold bared her small, sharp teeth in a grin, waved.
"Goodness," said Erin.
"She used to be a member of the old Alagorian Court. When she refused to acknowledge the returned Aveth as God Imperator, they declared her an apostate, and–"
"And the new Court wants her blood. Nothing they can do about it here, though" said the Alagorian Commandant, smiling. He had appeared quite suddenly.
"Oh! Señor Commandant," said Auntie, flustered. "I did not see you. Allow me to introduce Erin of Grey, Heir to the Earlship of the Bay of Grey."
"Encantada de conocerla, Señora de Grey" said the still-smiling Alagorian, bowing. His thin mustache squirmed above crinkled, full lips.
"A pleasure, Commandant Nicolao," said Erin. At this, Auntie flinched slightly. Her cheeks flushed. The Commandant raised an eyebrow, grinned.
"Though I must continue to mingle, I look forward to speaking with you at dinner, Erin. We have been seated together," he said. He turned on his heel, still smiling.
They watched him go. Auntie puckered her lips. "Bloody hell, Erin." Erin frowned at her Aunt's flushed face.
"What ever is the matter, Auntie?"
"You addressed him by his first name. I thought you knew better."
"Well, I wouldn't say 'bad,' but it was very forward."
Startled, Erin glanced across the ballroom to the Commandant. He was speaking to the Suzerain of Leah, but kept passing glances back at her. She blushed.
"Goodness," said Erin.
"If you survive this dinner without dying of embarrassment," said Auntie, "we must get you a tutor versed in the complexities of names."
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