The formal meeting hall is one of the most important rooms within the Elderidge manor. It was designed specifically to receive important guests; aristocrats, first-rate noblemen, envoys, and royalties. Such visits, though few and far in between, would occasionally come about and when they do, every servant has to act with extra caution and be on their best behavior. Basic etiquette aside, even a slight shaking of their hands when serving tea was prohibited. Not a hair should look out of place, perfectly ironed attires, nimble steps, eyes fixed on the ground, straight postures, and absolute attentiveness to their employer and his guests. Never talk out of turn and act invisible unless needed.
It's not that they usually act careless or ignore their duties in any way, but they were considered laidback with no strangers around. As opposed to their current careful behavior, that is.
Nearynian servants were generally trained since young to take on whatever position was designated for them based on strength, intelligence, appearance, gender, and personality. From the best of stewards to the worst of footmen, they all tried at one point or another applying to work at the Elderidge manor, no exceptions. Even if the requirements are higher compared to other noble households or even the royal palace, the trouble was worth it. Not only do they get to serve one master but their prestige would also skyrocket with the Elderidge's emblem in their hold. Moreover, their wages are four times that of their confrères for doing less work. Mikel is also quite mild-tempered and wouldn't nitpick at them for no reason, while his raging sickly kid wasn't their responsibility.
The only downside is that their dream job would become especially stressful when highborn visitors decide to grace them with their presence. Such is because everyone wants to find fault with their master. They can't afford any mistakes in this regard or the consequences would be unimaginable. Unintentionally spilling some tea won't necessarily warrant death but being let go of means no one would offer them a job anymore unless they were to slave around some dubious merchants or change their line of work altogether, but even in that case, who would waste time training a full-fledged adult? As such, each and everyone retained some tenseness in their hearts, wishing for everything to proceed well on their part.
So imagine the servants' shock when butler Walter came running like a mad dog down the corridor and to their utter horror headed straight towards the occupied meeting hall and knocked on the door like it's a totally normal thing to do, each knock echoing particularly loud in their ears making their head buzz with fear. They were done for! Even if they had nothing to do with the stupid butler, they would surely be held liable for not restraining him!
Not long after, head butler Arlo opened the hall's door with a black face, his wrinkles deepened with the terrifying frown vividly set on his features. The servants around shook with fear and lowered their heads trying to minimize their sense of existence as much as possible. Surprisingly, butler Walter didn't look the least bit affected by the old man's cold pressure. He respectfully bowed and whispered a few words that seemed to shock the older attendant as made obvious by his widened eyes and stupefied expression.
Seeing butler Arlo go inside again as if to relay the news to their master, everyone's heart finally settled. Something huge must've happened! Even if their curiosity was peaked, they wouldn't seek any gossip for now. As long as their jobs are secured, they could still inquire about it later on.
A few moments later, butler Walter was allowed in.
Though it was called a meeting hall, it was more like a very spacious room in size, as it should, considering its purpose. Still, its extravagance was unparalleled in the kingdom. The side facing the door was a collection of multisized arc windows; their crescent head frame embellished with pale golden carvings. The entire wall looked like a discontinued image of the manor's cloister garden. The other side had a huge unlit fireplace lined with the same golden carvings. Wooden floors and deep red velvet furnishings contrasted beautifully with the gold in a well-balanced aesthetic. The most breathtaking aspect of the hall though has to be the roof; a massive blooming flower with changing deep red - pale gold double-chromed petals, depending on the angle from which the light hits the leaflets.
The place was very mystical and breathtaking, and despite the proximity of the people within, there was no feeling of intimacy whatsoever. The hall was famous within the kingdom since Mikel won't allow just a nobody to set a foot in there. To be received in the hall means you have the recognition of the Elderidge master and the chief of the Nearyn council. Such honor was worth bragging about; Mikel's prestige in only second to the royals, after all. What no one knows though, is that the lavishness of the room, albeit tasteful, was only meant for intimidation purposes. It was actually inlaid with subtle pressuring arrays intended to make his guests uncomfortable. The man wasn't so vain to spend a fortune on the room just to honor hypocrites and interest-seeking snakes. In fact, if you were received within the formal meeting hall, then Mikel doesn't like you, which happened to be true for most nobles. He grew up in the circle, he of all people knows what horrible backstabbing schemes are brewing behind the fake mask of politeness and courtesy.
His father died because of his influence and extensive network that spanned farther than just the Nearyn kingdom. It was hard not to feel threatened with that much sway that the Elderidge family held over people. Mikel knows that his life is in as much danger as his father's life was, but because of Oliver's short life, the devil's spawn was bidding their time to wreck the entire household in one fell swoop.
Not long ago, the news of him honing a new heir spread beyond his expectations; it was honestly laughable how gossipmongers minds' work. The matter hasn't even crossed his mind when the tales of 'his' decision reached his ears. Gustave's adoption was only a matter of fact as the last of Mia's family. When he found him, the teenager was gravely injured, and the backup commander on duty sent with his troops to the Snowford town as reinforcement told him how the youth single-handedly killed five of his captors and rushed back to the Astor manor to save his family. The commander sounded regretful that the orphaned boy was too late to protect his parents and grandparents. When they reached the manor, they were gobsmacked to find it littered with the corpses of the offending soldiers, while the barely breathing Gustave stood guard at the entrance as if daring anyone to step forward.
Thankfully, they had a healing magician on hand who saved his life and brought him from the brink of death. In such circumstances, Mikel was bound to take him back and care for him until adulthood. Gustave is the only living heir of the Astor family, after all, and Mikel intended to send him back to Snowford town when the time is ripe to take over his family's lands. As for the Elderidge's legacy, it can only die with him and Oliver. Gustave isn't an Elderidge and Mikel abhorred the very idea of mating with another woman other than his Mia. If there was no heir, then there was no heir. Strangers are dangerous, he'd rather end the family line than trust outsiders with its legacy.
Not long after, Oliver surviving his self-detonation and recovering from the Deathbell disease caused an uproar in the capital. The news couldn't be contained because of the energy ripples that shot out of their estate and as the chief of the Nearyn council, he had to present an explanation to the masses. He didn't bother lying about his son's condition because the news were bound to come out eventually.
But, as expected, everyone's attitude towards them changed overnight and a wave of letters flooded their gates bringing him a massive headache. Some were 'worried' about his son, asking to visit him and bring playmates and gifts to 'raise Oliver's spirit'. Others were more straightforward in congratulating him and inviting them to some insignificant celebration to formally introduce the kid to the circle. Still, no one knows what this meant for the Eldridge family's future, which fanned the flames of curiosity. Who is the designated heir? The true-blooded Elderidge who can't practice magic and is ultimately infertile, or the newly brought in teenager who all but showed incredible potential?
His guests today are such prying busybodies who happened to be his least favorite people ever. Princess Eleanor and her husband and a fellow councilman Eryk Hawthorne.
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