“I thought you said this was going to be a small ceremony.” The Muse of Mischief said peeking around the door, looking at the crowd that is gathering in the palace theatre.

“It will be. I meant small as in duration, not necessarily the number of attendees.” Emperor Bartala said. They are huddled in the small backstage room, Agent Brzko, Ferocity, and Zri are with them. “Nalau should be here with Wissi any second now.”

Bartala is pacing about the room nervously.

“Are you nervous?” M teases him.

“Me no, no. I just… “ Empress Nalau saved him by walking in with their infant son.

“Darling, you’re here. Oh you look absolutely stunning!” And she does. She’s wearing a long formal gown, a golden color with a black lace neckline and black lace along the bottom. As usual it is a perfect match for Bartala’s black coat and slacks. His coat is trimmed in the same golden color of her dress. Wisssi is dressed in a tiny version of his father’s suit.

“Thank you darling.” She allows Bartala to kiss her cheek before she turns to M, and holds Wisssi out to her. “Wisssi, this is your Autaunia, the Muse of Mischief.” M accepts the infant and he instantly begins to fuss. He isn’t really crying, just sort of verbalizing.

Brzko greets Empress Nalau, taking her hand and offering a bow, kissing her hand. “Empress, motherhood agrees with you, you are more lovely than ever today.”

She giggles, always delighted by Brzko’s charm. “Thank you Brzko.”

“Where would you two like us? Should we head out through the hall and take seats in the theatre?” Brzko asked on behalf of himself, his Dragon and Zri.

“Stage.” Both Bartala and Nalau answer in unison.

Wisssi really starts to fuss, getting a little loud.

“M what are you doing to my son?” Bartala teases. “You’ll have to work it out before we go out, you’ll be holding him during the ceremony.”

“What?!” M exclaims, she didn’t anticipated that. Her reaction startles Wisssi and he starts to cry.

Surprisingly Ferocity comes to the rescue. He bends down and puts his snout right up to Wisssi’s ear, he makes a low purring sound. Instantly Wisssi starts to giggle and coo.

“OK Ferocity you’ve got some secret talents don’t you?” M asked. “You better stay close to me out there.”

“Pleasure.” He said.

“Impressive Ferocity.” Zri said. “You can breathe fire and calm infants.”

“Here’s how this goes.” Bartala said. “My lovely wife and I well take the stage, M you follow and stand behind us until presented, Brzko you stand to the side and step back from the Empress, and Ferocity and Zri, you two stand with me.”

Nalau turns to Ferocity. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with being on stage? We really want you to be there but would understand if prefer to keep a low profile. Not everyone knows that Dragons are real.”

“Thank you Empress Nalau. Agent Brzko and I have discussed this at length. It is time for me to come out of hiding and take my place with him and the Muse of Mischief.”

There is a knock at the door, a butler steps in. “Your Majesties, Lelelu has just arrived.” Lelelu steps out from behind the butler, she’s wearing a fantastic black dress. The blue trim matches her skin color.

Nalau rushes to her and embraces her. “Lelelu! You made it in time!”

“Yes, sorry. I got stuck finalizing the purchase of an island, the seller was not very organized.”

“An island? Are you moving to an island” Nalau asked.

“No, not me.” Lelelu said looking toward M.

Nalau looks to M, but she just smiles.

“Well we’re happy you could make it. You look fantastic! Is this new?” Nalau asked, inquiring about Lelelu’s fantastic form fitting dress.

“Yes! It’s a Schatorren, of course.”

“The three of us must be keeping him very busy.” Nalau said, admiring the outfit.

Bartala stands at the door leading to the stage. “My darling, please, can we discuss fashion later? Lelelu just follow Brzko. You can stand with him.”

Their entrance is flawless. They stand on the stage just as Bartala directed them to. There are roughly fifty Ploosnarians sitting in the theatre and palace staff quietly came in, packing the standing only area in the back. The front two rows are filled with liaisons. They are all dressed in blue suits that match their eyes. It takes a few minutes for the crowd to quiet. None of them have ever seen a Dragon before.

“Friends, colleagues, fellow Ploosnarians, we have asked you here to introduce you to Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai, heir to the monarchy of Ploosnar.” He and Empress Nalau step apart and motion for the Muse of Mischief to come forward. “We are proud to present to you Wisssi and his Autaunia, the Muse of Mischief!”

M turns the infant toward the crowd and shifts him so that they can see his face. He’s a perfect little duplicate of his father Bartala. The crowd begins whistling – the custom on Ploosnar instead of clapping or stomping. Luckily it doesn’t seem to have an effect on Wisssi, he continues to wave his little fists up and down and coo.

As the whistling dies down, Bartala continues, “Please share in our joy and welcome Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai. We are most grateful to the Muse of Mischief – should the need arise, she will become guardian to Wisssi.”

Again the crowd starts whistling. The palace staff quietly slip out of the room, they have a reception to prepare for.

“Thank you for coming today, your attendance here means a great deal to us. We invite you to join us for a small reception on the patio.”

The small crowd begins to file out of the room.

Ferocity walks up to M. “May I?” he askes holding his hands out toward Wisssi.

She looks past Ferocity to Nalau, sees her approving look and gladly hands him over to Ferocity. Again Ferocity put his snout next to Wisssi’s ear and makes a purring sound, again Wisssi begins to giggle and wave his fists.

“Ferocity if he becomes fussy during the night I will be calling upon you. It’s a good thing you live here at the palace.” Bartala teases.

The Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, Lelelu, Ferocity, and Zri all look at Bartala.

“What? What are you up to?” He asked.

“We have some news.” M said.

“Oh I see, I’m the last to know! OK, let’s go hide in my study and drink espidrun while our guests gather on the patio.”

“Bartala!” Empress Nalau scolds. “We can’t avoid our guests… entirely… we have to make an appearance… at least a brief one. But only after at least three espidruns.” She said almost running for the door.

They all crack up. That was so unlike the Empress. The trip to Trella changed her.

“My dear you have changed, and I like it!” Bartala exclaims, chasing after her.

With so many guests milling about the palace they choose the most secluded sitting room – Bartala’s private sitting room. Only his closest friends make it this deep into the palace and today there are palace guards stationed at the intersection of all palace hallways with additional guards outside the entrance to the sitting room.

There is a beautiful titanium bottle on the table with glasses around it. The palace staff has anticipated the group’s desire to gather alone before facing the crowd.

“That’s a different bottle. Is that espidrun?” Brzko asked.

“Yes, I found a distributor that uses these tall bottles, I think they are more beautiful than the short squat bottles we used to purchase.” Bartala explains as he begins pouring the hot pink liquid into glasses, allowing it to expel its blue steam.

Ferocity seats himself on the stool that Bartala keeps in the room just for him. He’s still holding Wisssi. The others, with the exception of Zri, settle in on the facing sofas.

“You’re not joining us today Zri?’ the Empress asked.

“No Empress, with so many guests here I would prefer to stay sharp.” He said from the sentry position he’s taken next to the door.

Empress Nalau walks over to him, “Zri, we have a full complement of palace guards, and I’m sure you have at least one Gaznzulian ship in orbit monitoring the palace…”

“Three actually.” He mumbles, looking down at the floor like a toddler that has been busted swiping a cookie off the table.

“If you don’t participate in the toast to welcome our son I will take it as a personal insult.” She continues.

They stand there staring at each other for a few seconds, it seems like an eternity.

Zri, realizes he’s been outranked and concedes. “Yes your Majesty.”

She walks back the sofa and settles in next to Bartala after she hands Zri his glass. He takes a seat next to Lelelu.

As usual Bartala offers the first toast. “To the best friends we have ever known, we thank you from the bottom of all three of our hearts for sharing this momentous day with us. To friends!”

They all toast. “To friends!” The moment the glasses his the table, they are refilled.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Come!” Bartala bellow.

One of the nannies peeks around the door. “Your Majesties, do you require anything?” She quickly scans the room and notices the infant is cradled in the arm of a Dragon while his free hand holds a glass of hot pink liquid with blue steam rising out of the glass. She faints, her body crumples to the floor.

The friends think this is hilarious and all of them laugh, even Ferocity. The palace guard stationed outside the door kneels over the nanny and awakens her. He helps heer to stand.

“My most sincere apologies your Majesties. I… I can offer no explanation for my inappropriate actions.” She said with her eyes completely downcast. She thinks she’s about to be fired.

Nalau goes to her side. “Please relax. There is no need to apologize, I’d like you meet our dear friend Ferocity.” She looks to Ferocity, he sits his glass down and walks over them, still holding Wisssi. “It turns out Dragons have a special way of calming Ploosnarian infants.”

Once the nanny sees that Wisssi was waving his little fists and staring up at Ferocity while he drools and coos, she relaxes just a little. Ferocity hands her the infant and returns to his seat. The nanny quickly ducks out of the room without saying another word.

The glasses are refilled but the nanny had interrupted the friends from making a second toast. Nalau lifts her glass before she takes her seat. “To Ferocity and fainting nannies!” She is the only one that drinks, everyone else is laughing to hard.

She sits down and looks toward the Muse of Mischief. “Tell me a story about an island M.”

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