As the weather turns cold, courtiers assigned to the Court of the Imperatrix head indoors. And one of the liveliest and raciest assemblies is the salon of the elfmarked noble Ophelia Silberhaar, a socially agile member of the inner court.
Adventurers are often invited to the salon. Their exploits entertain the courtiers, who marvel at persons of heroic stature. By joining in, adventurers gain access and influence they would otherwise be denied. They advance their own position by how well they participate in “The Game”—either as objects of affection or by their pursuit of a chosen within the rules of courtly love.
Under Ophelia’s direction, the salon is a swirl of sensuality, intrigue, and literary expression. For those drawn in, The Game of courtly love is played with subtlety and secrecy. Its vigor and intensity is largely overlooked in the court-at-large. The participants, if asked about activities at Ophelia’s home, refer to it as the “winter pastime.”
The salon, a floor of apartments in Ophelia’s Reywald manor, has a generous offering of simple diversions—dice, cards, and other table games. There are small musical instruments, lutes, zithers, harpsichords, and violas. The wall hangings reflect Ophelia’s literary leanings: two paintings and a tapestry, all depicting in romantic form the heroes and heroines of legend. The kitchens are stocked with delicacies and wine, sufficient for an evening meal and subsequent entertainment.
The salon’s library hints at the mindset of the participants. The shelves are filled with inspirational and thought-provoking titles: libertine sonnets, poems, romances, and chapbooks; subversive tracts on politics and religion; and textbooks with revolutionary ideas for the sciences, arcana, and mathematics. Anything purporting to be new, liberal, or scandalous—prime material for discussions and debates that can go long into the evening—is found on the shelves.
In wooing their secret loves in this stylized way, the courtiers are practicing the means by which they might, in the courts of their sovereign, win the favor, grants, or titles she bestows.
The requirements, such as the timely exchange of tokens and gifts is just one aspect of the relationship. Secrecy—operating within a world involving just the two courtly lovers and perhaps one other confidante—gives it its glamour and zest. Arranging and following through in clandestine meetings is another.
And the crafting of romantic songs and poems gives courtly love its literary expression. The language of love is passion in its extremes: ardor that flares hot and cold, affairs that burn and freeze, or fortunes that soar and plummet. The lovers’ inner nature—intensity, jealousy, persistence, and apprehension—is revealed.
This Season’s Players
Not everyone in Ophelia’s circle participates in The Game—some come for its surface activities. But a handful nobles and courtiers are willing to entertain an adventurer as a partner.
Ghita, female elfmarked noble. Lady Van Hemeskirk by marriage, she has three piercings on her ears, each to commemorate one of her loves. Her favorite gift is an earring and her favorite secret meeting place is the Old Bellfry.
Tessa, female human. A lady-in-waiting to Lady Blaeu (who very much disapproves). Tessa is a voracious reader who adores romantic novels. She has a private room at the Doppelhouse Tavern.
Lady Marguerite, female elfmarked noble of her own house. She has a secret cottage in the Easternholds. She loves fine wine, but likes gowns better, and precious gems best of all.
Cecily Nesloch, female human. A member of the diplomatic mission from Zobeck, she has a residence at Ljosen Estate and longs for spring, when she can take long, leisurely boat rides on the Aldenmeer. She is fond of hat or vest pins with tiny jewels.
Joris, demonmarked male. A troubadour in the classic style, he can procure lodging in the Twinning ward. Song and verse are his trade, but when moved, he offers scented lace kerchiefs with embroidered initials.
Brueghel, elfmarked male. A priest of Hecate, he conducts his secret rendezvous in an apartment in the Grenweise—as far from the watchful eyes of Septenstar Hall as possible. He entrusts his loves with crescent moon pendants.
Daniele, male dwarf. He pursues House Reickenbacht’s interests in Reywald, and he boasts the finest, best-groomed beard in all the city. He presents his loves with turtle-shell combs and matching barrettes. He picks his secret meeting places on a whim.
Carafa, male human. A handsome, ambitious officer in the Dornig navy, he seems to have a knack for securing shore duty during the winter and attaining another step in rank toward his captaincy at that time. He often gives exotic trinkets from southern lands.