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Fürstentum of Salzburg
Arie De Voss flexed his hands and rolled his shoulders against the tension pooling between his shoulder blades. Wind whipped through the canyons between tall, narrow town homes, down from the steep slopes of Mönchsberg where it loomed above the city. He caught his hat against the gust. Around him, laughter and conversations flourished with the intensity of a circus. If the curious guests noticed the stubborn glut of traffic along Kaigasse, they paid the irritation little mind. The lure of Lord and Lady Venners' ball, the first of Fasching, the Carnival season, claimed the city's attention.
Preparing himself as if for combat, Arie pulled his spine straight and yanked the lapels of his coat into place. When the heads of powerful families regarded him as they would the lowest musician, he would smile. When ignorant asses offered praise, attempting to demonstrate their modern taste in music, he would nod. And when his tolerance failed him, as it always did, he would have a sherry, grin, and lie his way through the evening.
After all, Arie accepted the necessity of lies. Lies eased his way onto every stage. And one indefensible falsehoodthat he had composed Love and Freedomformed the bedrock of his career.
He caught his breath as a hot wave of paranoia swept up the muscles of his chest. Someone would discover the truth. One day. But until then, he would do whatever society required of him to keep performing, writing, playing.
"Pardon me, Herr De Voss." At the entrance to the Venners' town home, a wigged footman offered a precise bow. "My name is Oliver, sir. Lord Venner requested that I attend to your requirements. May I take your hat and cloak?"
A hush settled among the guests who lingered in the grand entryway. Their fixed stares clung to Arie like ruthless vines, raising his ire beyond its elevated pitch. He quickly, carelessly shed his winter outerwear. A pageant of eyes followed every move.
"Sir, Lord Venner wishes to meet you before you join the other guests."
"Of course," Arie said.
Oliver's livery, wig and manners exactingly matched the other footmen. Arie kept his gaze fastened to the back of the man's powdered head through a maze of hallways and up two flights, lest he mistake his escort for another or lose him in the crowds.
Just inside the floral damasked walls of a private smoking room, the footman stepped smartly aside. "Lord Venner, esteemed gentlemen, I present Herr De Voss."