“So, where are we going?” Archduke Dionysus was holding hands with his wife in the back of the official car while the chief bridesmaid, the senior groomsman and an interpreter sat opposite them. There were a driver and a security man in the front of the car. The interpreter was along because the chief bridesmaid had only a few words of Terrencian and the rest of them in the back of the car spoke about that much of the local language. In fact, the best language the four of them had in common was Russkiy but none of them spoke it fluently, unless the senior groomsman was holding out on them.
“To propitiate the lesser gods on behalf of the bride and groom.” The chief bridesmaid spoke directly to Dionysus, a fact which impressed him. He had no idea what she did for a living but the bride’s friend with a conjunction for a given name handled the etiquette of needing to rely on a translator with an ease too many people he dealt with lacked. “It’s one of the duties of the best man and the chief bridesmaid in our culture.”
“What are the lesser gods and how are you going to propitiate them?” That was the Archduke’s wife, Countess Francesca.
“The lesser gods are what’s left of the religion we had before the Church arrived up here,” explained the chief bridesmaid, And. “They’re the little gods who look after roads and rivers, that sort of thing. We propitiate them by giving them wedding cake,” she indicated the napkin wrapped parcels in the flat basket on her lap.
“I thought the Church would have put a stop to that sort of thing,” went on Countess Francesca with a puzzled expression.
“They tried to, of course,” agreed And, “but the second bishop, Bishop Ioannes, tried to tell King Ragnar that his only heir was the son of his marriage, which would have disinherited his six older, acknowledged sons. Then the bishop made the mistake of saying the boy would automatically be the next king which angered all the other Ruhtigs because the King was elected in those days, not inherited. The Church had to concede ground or get kicked out of the country in a vicious fashion. That incident is why we do church differently to other people.”
“It sounds very political,” commented Archduke Dionysus.
“Oh, it was,” agreed And, “and it has been every time it’s come up since.” She looked out the window as the car came to a stop. “Ah, we’re here.” She waited for the security man to open the door and then she led the other four out of the car.
They found themselves on a street corner. There were trees planted down the street on their right but not the one on their left. The amount of street lighting said that the neighbourhood didn’t see much night time pedestrian traffic. The street names were marked on a sign post at the corner and the buildings around the intersection were dark.
“Why here?” That was the senior groomsman who’d taken a quick look around and didn’t seem to like what he saw.
“Rune let me pick where to do this because she doesn’t have a place that’s particularly significant to her and this is where I was found. This is where I come from,” And pointed at the sign post, “and that’s where I get my fancy-sounding, double-barrelled surname from.”
“You were abandoned?” Countess Francesca was horrified.
“Yes,” agreed And, “before I was found. Let’s do this. One piece for the little gods.” She walked to the corner of the building and set down a wrapped piece of cake up against the brick. “The rest…” She turned and walked, heedlessly and carelessly in the opinion of at least two of the men in the group, towards two homeless men camped at opposite ends of a loading dock door.
“I should go with her,” said the senior groomsman and he broke into a lope to catch up with her.
Archduke Dionysus asked the translator, “What’s she saying?”
“Excuse me sir, one of my friends got married today. Would you like a piece of wedding cake?” The translator’s expression didn’t change.
“But why?” Countess Francesca asked as And moved on to the second man.
“It came out of feeding the beggars at the kitchen door on the trenchers and other remains of the wedding feast,” the translator was smiling now. “These days it’s traditional to hand out twelve pieces of cake that have a token wrapped up with them. In this case the token can be redeemed at any bank, but usually it’s for a meal at a café or a night in a hotel.”
“So this is charity?” Archduke Dionysus seemed more comfortable with that.
“It’s part of gaining the little gods’ grace and favour for the bride and groom, yes,” agreed the translator. Down the street And had moved on to an alley mouth, shadowed by the senior groomsman. She handed out three more pieces of cake, listened to something one of the men said and then walked over to a parked car to knock on the window. Four pieces of cake went in through the window. And looked around, saw three men heading towards her from another alley across the road and met them halfway. Having handed out all the cake, she started back to the car and the archducal couple. The senior groomsman fell into step beside her and started talking.
When they returned to the others it became clear that he had resorted to Russkiy to express his feelings on the subject of her behaviour. Archduke Dionysus thought they both had better accents and vocabulary than they had been able to demonstrate earlier when they’d been worried about being correct and polite. And sounded like a proletary from the northern soviets while the senior groomsman had the soviet soldier’s accent.
“You could have at least told us what you were doing,” he was saying.
“So you could stop me? That would have defeated the purpose of this trip, wouldn’t it?” And was swinging the empty basket vigorously.
“So we could keep you and the Countess safe,” he said firmly back.
“I don’t need keeping safe,” she snapped back. “I know what I’m doing, and here I was thinking I might have walked you back to your hotel after the car drops us off.”
“I’m not the one who needs protection. It would make more sense for me to walk you home.” That reply was stiff.
“But I’m the one who knows where your hotel is compared to everything else,” she retorted. “I’m sure that with your three guns and whatever it is down the back of your neck, we’d be perfectly safe, even on the streets of the Terrencian capital.”
“My three guns?” He looked at her sharply.
“We grew up in an orphanage three blocks in that direction,” And pointed. “I could pick when someone was carrying a weapon by the time I was thirteen. If you behave and you’re nice to me, I might show you where I carry my knife.”