The Asylum Ball
by Waughin Jarth
My great great uncle was a warder at an asylum in Torval (maybe he was my great great great uncle -- it was quite a long time ago), and this is the story that has been passed down in my family from his generation to mine. Perhaps it is purely apocryphal, but when I was told it, it was whispered in such a way that it was meant to be taken seriously. Not having any children of my own to whisper to, and being in need of some gold, I have elected to publish my story. The asylum my great great uncle worked in was apparently very posh. Only the right class of lunatics were admitted. Eccentric dukes, mad baronesses, touched lords, and daft ladies filled the asylums tapestried and gilded halls. Still, it was a time of great excitement when the rumor began that the unhinged Emperor of Tamriel, Pelagius III, was transferring there from a resort in Valenwood. When the rumor became a reality, the asylum went into nice, calm, restive chaos. Pelagius was given an entire wing of the asylum for his own use, for, though he was madder than a jackal, he was still His Terrible Majesty, the Emperor of Tamriel. The Emperor was remarkably well behaved, my great great uncle supposedly asserted. Of course, he did not have to face the commoners who came on all sorts of pretenses to gawk at their overlord, the loon. When one of the warders (not, I have been assured, my uncle) forgot himself and let His Terrible Majesty know that people had been there to see him, the Emperor grew very excited. He made up his mind right there and then to have a ball. A huge party with musicians, dancing, and dinner, right at the lunatic asylum. Or precisely, in his wing of the asylum. Rumors of the Emperor's interest in holding a ball spread throughout Torval and eventually it reached the ears of the Emperess Regent Katariah, Pelagius' dear wife, in the Imperial City. Eager to make her husband happy, she sent a caravan laden with gold to the asylum so a ball might be held befitting the Imperial dignity. The Emperor picked a date for the ball, and preparations began immediately. The old asylum walls were beautifully decorated, but needed cleaning. A pit had to be constructed to house the orchestra; servants for cooking and serving the food had to be hired; gold and ebony candelebras and ömatching chandeliers were ordered; the old rugs were destroyed, and new rugs embroidered with gems were weaved; lists of guests had to be compiled, reconsidered and recompiled. The Emperor knew that the guest list had to be very exclusive, and he relied on his advisors to tell him who was alive, who was dead, and who was imaginary. The party was set to begin at nine o'clock. At six, the hairdresser he had hired from Torval finished his Imperial coiffure. At seven, he was fully dressed in the robes he had ordered for the ball: voluminous black silk and piled velvet crusted with red diamonds. At eight, he walked down the newly reconstructed staircase to supervise the final preparations -- the lighting of the candles, the opening of the wine, the murder of the first course. At nine o'clock, he took his seat at the facsimile throne he had ordered and awaited the first guests. At nine thirty, his advisor, seeing the royal eyes beginning to glaze over with madness, said, "Your Terrible Majesty surely knows that it is not fashionable to arrive at any ball for at least an hour after the desired time, yes?" The Emperor just stared. At ten thirty, the Emperor called for some food and wine, and sat at his throne, looking at the open door, eatting. Thirty minutes later, he ordered the orchestra to begin playing. For the next three hours, they played gaily for the empty, candlelit ballroom. At one o'clock, the Emperor announced his intention to retire for the evening. My uncle was one of the warders who assisted His Terrible Majesty up the staircase. Halfway to his room, Pelagius threw himself on the floor in a hysteria, screaming and laughing, ordering more wine (my mother was good at this part of the story, rolling her eyes and shreiking, "More wine! More wine! Wine!"), and, in short, imagining that he was possessed by all the revellers at his party that never was. Two days later, he was still not better. He had cut himself and those who tried to grapple him horribly with the red diamonds of his robe. Eventually it was decided that the Torval asylum was not equipped to deal with a lunatic of his severity, and he was sent to a more secure location in Black Marsh. It was only three months later, my uncle heard that the Emperor had died. One of my uncle's duties was to clear out the personal property of the inmates after their death. Being primarily landed nobility, the personal property was often quite extensive. Several years after the asylum ball, my uncle was called to clear out the apartment of a duchess whose chief eccentricity was a propensity to pilfer. Kleptomania, I believe it's called. Locked away in a secret door in her desk, protected by a trap armed with a barbed needle, was a variety of jewels, piles of gold, and a five large stacks of beautifully engraved invitations signed in the Emperor's childlike handwriting.