Short Story: The Monster Tea Party

Well, this is a couple of days late, but I’m fairly happy with it. My only issue was figuring out where to stop, I honestly wanted to make a much longer work out of it, and might very well do so in the long run. For now, though, it works out fairly well as a short. If there was any question about it, given the title, it’s a fantasy piece.

The Monster Tea Party

Jacen Aster

 

Queen Alana Tergeal, First of the Children, Light of Aleria, had never felt so off balance. She supposed that she shouldn’t be so, a polite tea party with fine clothes was precisely the sort of thing that a Queen ought to find comforting. Indeed, she’d been trained from her days as a little girl for such things, and had hosted a countless number of parties and social events before and during her reign. Even if they really weren’t her proverbial cup of tea, an Elven Queen was expected to like tea parties, particularly by the other races who had a fixed mental image of what an Elven Queen ought to be. So, even if this tea party was particularly large and something of a landmark political event, it really shouldn’t have phased her.

But nothing in her life had prepared her for a tea party with goblins. And that didn’t even consider the orc, trio of kobalds, the minotaur and the bugbear. Especially the bugbear, really. She was having a horrible time trying to process a bugbear dressed in a three-piece suit. Somehow the fact that it looked good on him wasn’t helping. Strangely, the opposite was true with the goblins. They were hosting the event, and the dozens of clean goblin servants and petite goblin maids in shiny tailored uniforms and frilly skirts were actually kinda cute. Well, cute in a disturbing and unnatural seeming sort of way.

She grimaced internally at that thought, only just managing to keep the grimace off her face, smiling instead as she accepted a refill from one of the servants. That thought had been unfair of her, very unfair. Oh, it was still a little unbelievable to her to see so many of the “monster” races decked out in finery for a tea party, but they had proven themselves perfectly capable of civilization. She’d been treated to a tour of their newest refinery and a recently opened shipyard when she first arrived in the small walled city of Xeria. The city that heralded the coming of a new age.

It was, after all, a city of monsters.

Though, even that thought would need worked on, if this day continued to go well. She was the first of the elder races to visit the city, the first who had been willing to brave the new ideas, to challenge her perceptions. She wouldn’t be the last, not if it went well, the saying “As goes Aleria, as goes the world,” was not without truth. The world held its breath as she sat and drank tea. And perhaps none held their breath with more fervent hope than the only human that sat at the table with her.

After all, this was all her fault.

The world outside both honored and cursed Evelyn Mantera in equal measure, for it was she who had first imagined the impossible. It was Evelyn Mantera who had, while adventuring with a small party, stopped to actually talk to a goblin. It was she who had discovered that not all goblins were really enthused about the whole raiding-and-pillaging bit, but just didn’t see any other options. It was adventuress and minor noblewoman Evelyn Mantera who had set about collecting all the disillusioned monsters and somehow talked them into building an entire civilization from scratch.

Alana doubted the woman had possessed any idea just what she was getting herself into, at the time. After the first few hundred converts, goblins, orcs, bugbears and more had started turning up in the thousands, then in the tens of thousands. Nervous Kings and Queens had begun rallying their armies to throw off this gathering horde when it eventually reverted to type, only to be rendered mute in shock as Evelyn Mantera had waded through the lot of them, directing them to plant crops, tend animals, and build a city. Xeria city, the city of monsters. Xeria city, now two decades old and newly home to one of the largest copper and iron refineries on the continent. Xeria city, which was poised to produce some of the very finest ships this side of the Alendian Ocean. Xeria city…which now hosted a tea party for a visiting elvish Queen.

Alana took a subtle deep breath, bracing herself for what was coming. She had toured the city, and technically all she needed to do was get out alive and make a positive report. But, halfway through the three-day tour, she’d already decided she was going to do more. She was in awe of what the monsters had accomplished, and wasn’t satisfied with doing the minimum necessary. No, she was going to give them all the encouragement they needed to continue on this peaceful path, all the encouragement they could desire to convince all their cousins that this was the better way. She was going to cut the Xerians a trade deal on a grand scale. A deal for sung-wood. The elven wood that every race wanted, but none had ever gotten. The wood that would turn the ships coming out of this city into the finest on either side of the ocean.

Delicately setting her fragile teacup down with perfect grace, she addressed her host. “Bodgred, I can’t possibly state how impressed I am by the new work. Xeria city is remarkable enough all on its own, but the new shipyards stand up well in comparison with Aleria’s own in quality, and they are at least double our shipyards in size.”

Unlike the disquieting bugbear, Bodgred looked uncomfortable in his suit. Not the ‘I’m a monster in a suit’ sort of uncomfortable, but rather the simple ‘I’m male and tea and crumpets aren’t my idea of fun’ sort of uncomfortable. Really, she very much wished they’d have gone with beer and a poker game, that would have been much more relaxing. Sadly, everyone always got stuck on that whole Elven Queen bit and insisted on tea parties…. Alana shook herself, struggling to focus properly as Bodgred answered her.

“Yes, we’re proud of the shipyards even more than the refinery. While we’ve integrated some new technologies into the refineries, mostly they are still inferior to their dwarven equivalents over in Deralia. The new shipyards are the first time we think we can beat out every other race for quality as well as quantity.” He hesitated just a bare few heartbeats. “Assuming, of course, that the merchants can be convinced to buy from us.”

Alana grinned impishly, and paused just a heartbeat to enjoy the startled looks that expression generated. Then she dropped her fireball on the off-balance audience. “Oh, I don’t think that will be a problem, dear Bodgred. After all, what merchant wouldn’t want a ship made of sung-wood.” She raised her teacup with unseemly haste to cover her grin at the dead silence that followed her pronouncement. All side conversations had halted, and all eyes had swiveled to her serene face. Well, serene save for the grin she was hiding with the teacup.

It was Lady Evelyn, seated at Bodgred’s right hand, who finally managed to get words out. “S-sung-wood, your Majesty?”

Alana forced her grin down, replacing it with the smooth negotiator’s face she’d perfected over the last two and a half centuries. “Yes. The new grove management systems Aleria put into place a century ago are starting to prove their worth. We’ve a major surplus of sung-wood for the first time since I took the throne. With such a fine new shipyard, I thought you might just have an interest in it.”

Bodgred’s eyes were bulging enough she was almost afraid they’d fall out. He didn’t seem to be capable of speaking, but another voice came to his rescue.

“Ah, that sounds like a fine possibility, your Majesty. I’d love to discuss details with you after our tea is finished.”

The rich, cultured voice had come from the bugbear in the three-piece suit and Alana barely managed to keep her expression even. The suit had been disconcerting enough, thank you, without a smooth deep bass that sounded like it belonged to some King’s court bard. As she turned her gaze to the enormous creature, Lady Mantera managed an introduction.

“Ah, your Majesty, this is Gelvin Androsa, our minister for trade. I believe he was looking forward to your visit more than any other person in Xeria. Though, I doubt he anticipated a chance at sung-wood.”

Gelvin’s massive head tipped forward in a graceful acknowledgement. “Indeed, I did not. I had merely hoped that your visit would encourage some of the more…conservative…of our neighbors to accept negotiations.”

Alana’s answering smile was more than a bit wry. Of course the bugbear in the disconcerting suit was the minister for trade. Well, she’d get used to the suit by the time negotiations were finished, and perhaps a painting of her petite form haggling with the furry titan would spur their closer neighbors into action. Out of misplaced male pride, if nothing else, knowing who those neighbors were.

“I look forward to discussing it in detail, Mr. Androsa, and I’m sure your neighbors will come around.”

With that final statement she set about extricating herself from the tea party. Tomorrow would come all too soon, and she needed to figure out both how much sung-wood to offer, and what the city had to offer in exchange. Alana would make the deal to drive the potential for a lasting peace, yes, but best to get something useful out of it so her advisors didn’t try to strangle her when she returned home. Despite not really having the personality to enjoy negotiations, she smiled as looked forward to tomorrow. Now, if only she could find a decent painter….

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