Invito Rex – Chapter 12

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The house of Oldham has stood for centuries, since before the fall of the United Economies. It is said that their noble line reaches back to the Hearst family of old, though such records are lost to antiquity. What is known is that, from the very beginning, the Oldham family has been strong in business above all other pursuits. They have never concentrated on the ownership of land, although many in the family have been acclaimed for their ability to “flip” properties. They have never concentrated on production, except where such production could be profitably liquidated in favor of newer technologies. They have dabbled in futures, but never accumulated financial position in any one field. They own many companies, but almost all are based in short-term service agreements. The Oldham family clearly has interest in accumulation of wealth alone.

Through the years, there have been children who strayed from the family’s main interest. These outcasts, for outcasts they truly are, are treated well. They are, however removed and forgotten from all family pursuits. If a child insists on a career in politics, art, or science, they are given a decent living stipend, a place to live, and the promise that no one in the family will stand in their way. Implicit in that promise is the statement that no one in the family will help them, which has been a detriment to many members of the Oldham family. Indeed, it was once widely covered in the popular press whenever a “homeless Oldham” was found, begging among the commoners.

If they had a creed, it would likely be that the family protects the family. Those who bring profit into the family or agree to work for the family are treated to the lavish lifestyle that only the richest can expect. Those who are not, are very simply removed from the family without rancor or passion.

They used their power and position in society to bring back an ancient practice that “purified” the family, despite the societal taboo it embodied. To put it bluntly, they rekindled the practice of royal intermarriage. Each generation of the family was encouraged to propagate their number, and to marry only from within their family. Distant relations were preferred for genetic strength.

This practice proved to be too much for some business partners, who distanced themselves from the Oldhams in an attempt to keep favor with the rest of the world. Rather than shame the family, this enraged the family patriarch, Oscar Oldham, who drew up the metaphorical drawbridges, distancing themselves from other partners, and established them as a reigning house, with a valid claim to the throne.

— An excerpt from “Our nobility, our noblemen, a treatise on our government” by Kirstin Jacobs

Dizzy went back into his room after dismissing his advisors for the night. He headed for the study, and dropped into the large recumbent chair behind the desk. He rapped his gauntlet against the armrest and said, “All right. Get up.”

Sceptre unfolded and climbed onto the desk surface, “How may I be of assistance, my liege?”

“You can explain to me what happened back there. You are supposed to help me.”

“No sir. I am supposed to record you.”

“But you said you could help, reminding me of things that happened, providing translation, amplifying on things I don’t understand-”

“Yes sir. I can do all those things at your request. But those are small, simple things. I will not do anything that influences your position or -”

“No!” Dizzy jabbed a finger at the diminutive robot, “That’s not it. You influence my decisions every time you provide information. You know that. If you weren’t there, I would have to ask someone, making me look stupid and hurting my position among the nobility.”

The automaton stood and hummed for a short moment, “I would not be directly influencing your decision to-”

“Just by being there, you influence the decisions made. Now the only question is, how far are you willing to go?” Sceptre stared at him with one unblinking eye, so Dizzy pressed him, “Somewhere between ‘never gives help’ and ‘destroys my enemies’ there is a position. And you’re taking that position. I have a right to know where you are on that.”

“I don’t jam frequencies to stop listening devices.”

Dizzy stared at the robot for a long moment, then said, “So at least we know that. Maybe someday we’ll see just how close you get to being totally useless.”

The robot whirred and stated, “I fulfill my function.”

Dizzy lay back in the seat, letting it drop him onto his back. He stared at the ceiling, at it’s carved wooden workmanship. For a moment, he wondered if his father had made those tiles. “So, what do you think?”

“Sir?”

“You’ve heard all of this. You heard Cadvan’s warning, and you heard my mother’s story. It sounds like Dunem doesn’t like me very much.”

The robot whirred again, a sound Dizzy was starting to think of as a sigh, “From what I recorded, it seems that Lord Dunem was not happy with the King’s actions. I was given no evidence to indicate that he had a preference for or against you personally. In fact, he chose to pull you out of obscurity rather than let Parliament choose a new heir.”

Dizzy shook his head, “No. That doesn’t work. Dunem needed a warm body in place to keep Parliament at bay. That doesn’t mean he has any particular fondness for me.”

“Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

Dizzy raised an eyebrow, “Good point. So what does that leave me with? The Athertons? They seem to want me gone.”

“They also seem to be working through the media and Parliament.”

“True. They would be suspected if I turned up dead. So, what about this debt to Oldham? Everybody seems nervous about that.”

“I do not see the connection to an assassination. If you were to die, it would negate your onus, which does not benefit Oscar Oldham’s claim.”

“All the same, I need to clear that debt.”

“That will be difficult, sir. I believe Lord Oldham intends to hold on to that marker for as long as he possibly can.”

Dizzy frowned, “Yes. He’ll wait until it hurts me the most.” He raised one hand to his forehead, rubbing his temples, “Unless I can offer him something of such great value that he can’t possibly turn it down.”

The robot whirred again, “That will be difficult to find, sir. He is a man of means.”

Dizzy grinned, “If there’s anything you learn on the streets, it’s that every man has his price.”

Dizzy woke the next morning bright and refreshed. He was up and dressed before his handlers even reached the door.

As Astor walked in, Dizzy closed a wardrobe door and said, “There you are. I’ve been waiting.”

Olivia walked in behind Astor, and Dizzy said, “Ahm, is Wendy anywhere about?”

Olivia raised an eyebrow, “She’s out visiting her father. Do you miss her?”

Dizzy grinned, “It’s not like that. It just would have been better if she was here today.”

Olivia crossed one delicate arm over the other, “A girl could swoon to see how sweetly you speak to her of other women.”

Dizzy bounced past Astor and took her by the shoulders, “Now, now. You know there’s no face I’d rather see, first thing in the morning.”

She grinned and slapped him lightly, “You should be ashamed of yourself. I’ll remind you that you are speaking to a lady.”

Astor said, “Ugh. What did you want to talk to Wendy about?”

Dizzy waved it off, “Doesn’t matter. It would have helped grease the wheels a bit, but I can pull this off either way.” He put an arm around Olivia’s shoulders and said, “May I escort a noble lady to breakfast?”

She grinned, then took on the bearing of a self-important matron, “I suppose, if you can keep your mind pure and chaste.” They walked out of the room, noses held high in the air. Astor jogged along to keep up with them.

As they walked through the hallway, Dizzy turned his head to Astor, “I’m going to need you to set up a conference call for me between the heads of the three noble families.”

Astor looked at him sharply, “You realize that these are important men. You don’t just call them up.”

Dizzy put on the voice of the self-important nobleman, “I am still the king, am I not? Are they not honored to be able to speak to me?”

Astor didn’t play along. He fumed as they walked, “I’m pretty sure they aren’t.”

Dizzy’s grin re-emerged, “That’s fine. Tell each of them that I am going to settle a debt, and if they don’t wish to be there when it happens, then they shall lose out.”

“What are you going to give them?”

Dizzy frowned, “No, wait, that won’t work with Lord Wilde. He doesn’t care whether he gets my favor or not.” He thought about it for a moment, then poked a finger at Astor, “I’ve got it. Tell him that I was glad to let his daughter visit with him, and I would ask that he be present for this discussion, as it will impact us all.”

Astor said, “It would still be easier if I could tell them what it was about.”

“Easier, yes. But not nearly as fun.”

“Is that really one of our concerns?”

Dizzy grinned at him, waggling his eyebrows, “King Dizzy is always concerned about having fun. Where is Jus Cos?”

Astor chuffed, “The reprobate? Probably still in his room. He is under house arrest, you know.”

Dizzy’s step faltered, but only for a moment. Then he nodded, “I see. Well, see to it that he joins us for breakfast. I want him in on this conversation as well.”

Olivia frowned, “As much as I hate to agree with him, do you think Astor’s right about the musician? After all, he is a commoner, and you’ll be talking with three of the most powerful men in the Western world.”

Dizzy shrugged, “Commoners hear the nobility talk all the time, only they are too powerless to do anything about it, which convinces the nobility that they aren’t there. Next time you go to a party, try and count all the lower nobility in the waitstaff. Once you realize that they employ commoners for their waitstaff, you’ll understand what happens to your gossip and treaties.”

Olivia kept walking but turned suddenly silent. He threw his arm around her shoulders again and said, “Don’t be so glum about it. It’s a good thing. It keeps the upper classes in their place.”

By the time they reached the dining room, the Dowager Queen had already broken her fast. She stood as the king entered, and he nodded to her, “My lady.”

She curtseyed, “My liege. It is my honor to inform you that the arrangements you mentioned have been made. I’ve spoken to our mutual friend about organizing a party for you. It may take a day or two, as he wants to invite only your most devoted friends, but he is very glad to help with this.”

Dizzy broke down her speech as quickly as she said it. Sully would have the team put together. It would take two days for the plan to be put into action, but he was confident that they could do it. He smiled at her, “You are too kind, my lady. A celebration for me. I look forward to it with all possible anticipation. Of course, I should be glad to lend my own assistance to the planning, should it be needed.”

She curtseyed again, “My king is as generous as he is wise.”

Dizzy headed for his seat, “Will you sit, my lady?”

They all sat as the smaller children filtered into the room and found their places. Dizzy told stories about lesser noblemen, and the ridiculous situations they found themselves in. He told the children about confidence tricksters who would often cheat a lesser nobleman out of his capital gains, and Olivia chimed in with stories about her father, and how he had outmaneuvered other lords for business gains. The Dowager Queen interjected occasionally with stories that she had heard in her extensive travels, about the thieves and bandits that sometimes threatened foreign lords, thus jeopardizing their business. Astor ate silently, refusing to join in the conversation.

When breakfast was finished, Dizzy jogged over to the boardroom, which had already been taken over with the chaos of the daily security briefing.

Dizzy watched them all for a moment, seeing the little pockets of angry chaos, then he strode into the room. He jumped up on the table and clapped his hands, “Gentlemen, I’ve come to a decision.”

The room silenced as everyone turned to look at him. Dizzy smiled down at them and said, “I’m going to make this world a whole lot easier to deal with. From here on out, every decision we make is going to be based on peace. I’m going to pull our troops out of every occupied area, and return our people to their rightful homes. So, let’s get started.”

He waited as the advisors all stared at him. A few of them turned to look at Lord Dunem, who stepped forward, “I think that, what the king means, is that he would like to -”

“No.” Dizzy cut him off, “They heard me. I just wanted to see how much loyalty there was to the crown. Thank you gentlemen.” He frowned a bit as he looked down at them. A few looked away.

Dizzy sighed, “Don’t worry, gentlemen. You don’t know me. I don’t really expect complete loyalty from one stranger to another. But I tell you this-” He poked one finger at the air between them, “I’ll earn that loyalty. Someday, I’m going to come in with an idea that sounds just as absurd, and you will all nod and start working on it.” He looked down at Lord Dunem, “and you’ll do it without getting permission by my chief of staff.”

Lord Dunem opened his mouth, but Dizzy cut him off again, “So, gentlemen, we’re going to do this a little differently from now on. I want everyone here to find a seat.”

They looked at each other, and slowly gravitated toward the boardroom table as Dizzy began to pace the length of it, “That’s right. Plenty of chairs. Lots of room on the table for maps and notes. Come on, everyone.” Lord Dunem took the seat at the head of the table.

Once they were all seated, Dizzy said, “Very well. Now, no more secrets among the groups. We all have problems, and they’re mostly distinct from each other. But for right now, you’re going to work on them together. You!” He pointed at a grizzled, old general, “Please give me your report.”

The general said, “There’s been news on the kidnapping of Prince Raju.”

Dizzy nodded, “You are prepared to call it a kidnapping now?”

“We are, your highness. There was no sign of premeditation, no letter, no packing, no plans made with friends. All his friends are accounted for, and they have alibis.”

“Have any demands been made?”

“Not that we’re aware of, sir. It is possible that King Gagan is simply not telling us about any communications, but we have no proof of that either.” He looked at the others and said, “In fact, King Gagan has told us he wants us to back off.”

Dizzy’s eyes narrowed, “He thinks we’re spooking the kidnappers?”

The old man’s eyes flicked down to the table, then back up. He took a deep breath, then said, “I don’t think he has much faith in you, sir. He said that it’s an internal matter, and his people will handle it.”

“What happens if we do nothing?”

A thin young man sitting next to the general said, “That depends on who took him. If it was a career kidnapper, they will make ransom demands, the king will pay them, and that will be it.”

Dizzy’s eyes narrowed, “Could a career kidnapper get inside the castle?”

“No sir. That’s the real problem. Whoever did this had the means to enter and leave the castle unobserved. That kind of training insinuates a military presence.”

“Which means another nation. It wouldn’t be one of their allies, so the prince was taken by Nepal’s enemies.”

The grizzled, old general said, “Our enemies too. As long as Nepal remains our ally, we have to protect it from outside demands.”

Dizzy took a deep breath, “Anyone else have any thoughts on this?” He looked around the table as he walked across it. No one said anything.

“Very well. Here’s what I’m thinking. Contact King Gagan and tell him that, when he’s ready to accept help, we are ready to provide support. Close off all avenues leading to nearby contested areas. Nepal is a hard place to get into or out of, so if we watch the skies and block the roads, we should be able to force the kidnappers into making the next step.”

“The king won’t like us policing his border.”

“Tell him we will keep it as polite as possible, and that it will stop as soon as we find his child. What’s next?” He pointed at a large, piggish advisor sitting on the other side of the table.

“Ah, sir. Lord Atherton is pushing on having Root declared a controlled substance.”

“Right. Okay… What do you all think we should do about it?”

The large man said, “I would lead the charge. Let him go about creating the prohibition, and we can offer the pharmaceutical companies the right to produce it, with a commensurate production tax. It could give the treasury a needed shot in the arm, which helps the war effort.”

Dizzy nodded, “Okay, anybody else have a thought?” A young woman in the back of the room raised her hand, and Dizzy pointed at her, “Yes?”

“Go the other route. Say that it’s going to be a massive enforcement undertaking, so if Parliament wants to make it illegal, they have to be prepared to pay through the nose in taxes to pay for new police and enforcement agencies.”

Dizzy nodded, “Okay, that’s not bad. Anybody else?”

From behind him, Dunem said, “Make him regret it.”

Dizzy spun around and pointed at him, “Yes! Just what I was thinking. How would you do it?”

“Present it as a health risk that you’re willing to deal with, after you’ve dealt with greater threats.”

Dizzy grinned, “If I recall correctly, Lord Atherton was sniffing pinches of Cloud at my coronation. What kind of medical issues are there regarding Cloud?”

“Not much. It gives a light euphoria, and it is technically addictive.”

“It’s also technically a controlled substance. I need someone to get an expert to analyze the health benefits and risks regarding Cloud versus Root. Have them present it to Parliament with my compliments, stating that I am ready to begin protecting the people from all forms of dangerous substances, no matter how noble or baseborn the person is. What’s next?”

A freckled man near the center of the table raised his hand, “The genetic weapon in Venice.”

Dizzy nodded, “You don’t have a catchier title for it yet? I would have thought that thing deserved a codename.”

The freckled man blushed a bit, “We’re calling it the flipper baby.”

“I like it. What’s the news?”

“It’s still rampaging across the city. It’s destroyed two more buildings, and every time the police go for it, the thing ducks underwater again.”

Dizzy frowned, “Why is it still in Venice?”

“Sir?”

“By now, wouldn’t it have had time to get out of town? It’s clear that it doesn’t want to be caught, and it’s being pursued constantly. Why hasn’t it made a beeline for the border?”

Lord Dunem said, “Perhaps it is worried about our presence near the border.”

The freckled man said, “I doubt that, sir. The thing has been fighting police constantly for nearly a week. It just doesn’t seem to care about military intervention.”

Dizzy frowned down at the elegant, polished tabletop, “It doesn’t want to escape. It’s looking for something else.” He looked around the table, “Anyone have any thoughts on this?”

A young woman said, “The creature has shown a level of intelligence, just by avoiding the police. Have we considered that this may not be a chimera?”

Dizzy rolled one hand in the air, “Go on. What else could it be?”

She shrugged, “We know they did genetic experiments. Not all those experiments involve creatures being created anew. This may be a person who has been altered by viral reconditioning.”

Dizzy nodded, “So it could be reasoned with.”

“Presumably.”

Dizzy stared down at the table again, “But until we get in there, there’s nothing we can do about it.” He cast a quizzical gaze around the room, “Does anyone know if we can call this a humanitarian mission?”

Dunem shook his head, “Not with multiple armies threatening to take the city, and a specific request for non-intervention.”

Dizzy nodded, “Nothing to do about it, then. We keep our place, keep an eye on the situation, and wait. What’s next?”

A tall man stood up from his seat, “Russia has agreed to float us a loan to cover ammunition costs.”

Dizzy blinked in surprise, “I’m sorry, what? We are still at war with Russia. Why on Earth would they be offering us money for ammunition?”

“Because we asked them to, sir.”

Dizzy’s mouth opened and closed reflexively. Lord Dunem rapped on the table and said, “I apologize, your majesty. This is my fault. I have not taken the time to bring you up to speed on our current military situation.”

Dizzy stared at him for a long moment, “But you will explain to me why our enemy is paying us to kill them.” He held his hands out at his sides, “I mean, at some point, you will explain to me why that makes sense.”

Lord Dunem was undisturbed, “I will, sir.”

“Fine. Then we take the money. What’s next?”

The same tall man said, “Papua New Guinea has declared war on Hawaii.”

Dizzy blinked at him, “Really? Why?”

The question seemed to confuse everyone. Dizzy grinned, “Oh, that’s not a good sign. Are we so accustomed to war that we don’t even ask why anymore?”

The group looked uncomfortably at their papers, at each other, and most of all, at Lord Dunem. He cleared his throat, “Your eminence. Once again, we have not had time to fully brief you on the depth and scope of our current military engagements.”

“You cannot be serious. We are really at the point where two of our allies turn on each other, and we don’t ask why?”

“I will put together a briefing for you, sir. It will be ready before the day is out.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Also,” Lord Dunem gazed at him levelly, “we are not, as you say, at the point where two allies turn on each other. As soon as one declares war on the other, we have one ally and one enemy.”

Dizzy waved it off, “I want to avoid that as much as possible. For now, I want that to stay in the hands of the diplomats.” He turned back to the tall man, “Make it clear that we are trying to work through consulates to find a peaceful solution, while this situation is still fluid.”

The tall man interrupted, “It’s worse than that, sir. The state of Nauru is asking for military support in this conflict.”

Dizzy looked back at Dunem, who shrugged. He turned to face the speaker, “I’m not familiar with that country.”

He shifted uneasily, “It is literally one of the smallest countries in the world. It is located here-“ He pointed at a map on the table, “Closer to Papua New Guinea, it is roughly between the two nations. It is relatively unimportant regarding resources, but it has suddenly become a strategically important location.”

Dizzy nodded, “So now, a tiny country is asking us to come to their aid and defend them from two of our allies.” He looked over at Lord Dunem, “I take it that, if we give them support, neither of the two combatants will look kindly upon it.”

Dunem sighed, “Showing support for Nauru will make whichever country we eventually ally with stronger. For that reason, both combatants will be watching us carefully. At the same time, any nation that small cannot hope to defend itself against either of the countries facing it.”

Dizzy fumed, “I’m really looking forward to this briefing of yours.”

Lord Dunem held his head high, “As am I, my lord. The moment holds a special place in my heart.”

Dizzy looked around the room, “Have we got anything else? Any other bad news?” No one rose, so he took a deep breath and said, “I appreciate you coming out here to report, but tomorrow I expect more detail, and less guesswork. Also, you should know that my ways are not going to be Cadvan’s ways. I don’t know what Lord Dunem has in store for me, but I can almost guarantee you that I will not be handling issues the same way he does. I will certainly never ask an enemy for assistance in attacking him. Until then, thank you all for coming out, and I will see you tomorrow.”

Dizzy jumped down from the table and headed for the door. When he reached it, he turned and looked back at them, “You know, I think I like this format, with everyone seated in one group. We should do that again.”

They all sat and watched him, unsure of how to reply. A slow grin grew on his face as he said, “You know what else? The king is standing, and you’re all sitting.”

Dizzy walked out as his advisors scrambled to get out of their seats.

Dizzy saw Jus Cos standing outside the board room. He was dressed in slashed denim pants, a faded plaid shirt, and a sleeveless vest of fur. Dizzy grinned at the man who had clearly decided he was comfortable enough to stand up to the king, “Missed breakkie, but no worries. Little bird says you want me for some chat?”

Dizzy threw an arm around his shoulders as they headed for his office, “I do. I’m going to be talking to three of the men that you have called incestuous, greedy, warmongering perverts. I appreciate you dressing for the occasion.”

The blood drained from Justin’s face, but Dizzy’s arm was firm as he lead the younger man on.

The king’s official office was a grand, ornate thing, with three desks, walls lined with books, and a beamsplitter holoscreen, capable of rendering up to thirty-two locations from anywhere in the world, in full 3D. A fifteen-foot-tall globe stood in a depression in the center of the room, with all the nations marked out on it. The depression surrounding it was covered in cushions to make a sofa area for negotiation and discussion. As Dizzy looked at it, the globe updated to show that Guadalajara had been re-taken by the rebel faction within it.

Olivia and Astor were already prepared. Astor stood at attention next to the main desk, looking every bit the nobleman. Olivia sat in one of the sofas, reading a magazine. She scrolled through stories listlessly, while conspicuously avoiding the glare of her father.

Standing in the beamsplitter’s stage were three men, all transmitting from different locations. Lord Wilde looked uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot and scratching himself. Lord Atherton stood solemnly, as if unaware that he had been summoned at all. Lord Oldham just sat in his chair and fumed, fingers steepled in front of him.

Dizzy ran into the center of the room and vaulted onto the globe. He rested his feet on the equatorial band, and sat down on Greenland, “Gentlemen, thank you all for coming. I’m sure you were all quite busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to visit.”

Lord Oldham chuffed, “Visit? Son, I’ve got a business to run. If you’re just yankin’ my chain, I’ll have you know I got better ways to waste time.”

Dizzy raised a restraining finger, “Ah, but it’s your benefit I’m here to talk about. It’s about my debt to you.”

Atherton pointed into the room and walked closer to his recorder. The effect was that he suddenly grew in size, standing nearly ten feet tall, “Why is that man here?”

Dizzy looked back at Jus Cos who, despite his obvious fear, stood his ground and scowled back at Lord Atherton. As Jus opened his mouth to speak, Dizzy said, “Mr. Cos is my guest, and here at my request.” Dizzy thought for a moment, “And he’s going to digest – every word that we express – so that he may manifest – my political largesse.” He grinned back at Justin, “That’s not half bad, is it? I may have a talent for music after all.”

Lord Wilde shook his head, “I don’t want him here. He’s a slanderer.”

Justin threw back, “Better than a warmonger. How many men have died on a battlefield for every animal you hunt?”

Dizzy grinned at him again, “Careful, there, Justin. Your accent is slipping.” He turned back to Lord Wilde, “Mr. Cos stays. I’ve told him that he has a few days to come up with some kind of salacious rhyme that fairly besmirches my reign, or I’ll cut his head off.” He grinned at the group in general, “So either way, you won’t have to worry about him a week from now.”

Lord Oldham said, “Forget the crooner. You were talking about yer debt.”

Dizzy snapped his fingers, “I was, and thank you for reminding me.” He sat up straighter, “It occurs to me that I have put myself in a rather sticky situation by owing a debt to Lord Oldham.” He placed a hand over his heart, “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I can only refer to my own inexperience, and promise that it will never happen again.”

Oldham looked nervous, shuffling in his seat, “It’s not so bad as all that. I’m not exactly an ogre or anything.”

“No, but I am now beholden to you, which gives you a distinct advantage over the other houses here.” Dizzy turned to the whole group, “I realize now how fragile our alliance is, and how much we all need to work together. If I owe a debt to any one house, then I give that house power over the other two, which leads to secret alliances, and secret treachery. I would not be the cause of such discord, and so I have chosen to settle this debt today.”

Oldham looked at the others, then back at Dizzy, a slight sneer on his lips, “Well, as it happens, young’n, you don’t have anything I need right now. But I’ll let you know if you can.”

Dizzy held a hand out to stop him again, “I realize you are a man of means, and the only capital I have of any value is my political capital. So I am using it now to settle the debt.”

“I told you, there ain’t nothin’ of yours that I need!”

“Lord Wilde,” Dizzy turned to face the large man, “I need you to do me a favor.”

All three said, “What?” at the same time, but Dizzy shrugged, “I know. I know. It seems awfully silly for me to say I’m getting rid of a debt, then turn right around and take on a new one. Believe me, I see the irony.”

He took a deep breath and continued, “Nonetheless, I am the king, and my wishes are to be obeyed. I will gladly compensate you for this favor in due time.”

Wilde frowned at him, “What do you need?”

Oldham thumped his fist on an armrest, “He don’t need anything. I told you.”

Dizzy grinned, “I need to settle a debt, and I need your help. I’ve been doing some research on the Wilde Warriors, and I’d like for you to send your starting center bear, Sapata, to Lord Oldham. As I said, I will compensate you for the loss.”

The large man’s fists balled up at his sides, “I raised that bear from a cub. I was there when it was birthed.”

“And you’ve done a wonderful job with it. I understand the bear is strong and fast, possibly the best on your team.”

“She IS the best! She’s the best I’ve ever had. I’d never send her to that- “, Dizzy saw a small hand on his arm as Wendy walked into view next to her father. She didn’t say anything but looked at Dizzy with a stricken surprise.

Dizzy pointed at Lord Oldham, “There is nothing I have that can settle this debt with Lord Oldham, but the star center bear from your team would be a welcome addition to his.”

The old man leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin, “Well, yeah. It would at that.”

Wilde shouted, “It would give them the championship!”

Dizzy shrugged, “Well, I’m no bookie, but I think it would only help their odds about ten percent over the current point spread. Your boys can overcome that. Your team has held the championship for the last five years. In a way, I’m helping to even out the balance of power on the field as well as off. Not bad for my third day in office.”

Wilde stepped forward, not trying to make himself bigger, but clearly trying to keep rage out of his voice, “That bastard treats his bears like chattel, penned up and beaten. I love my animals.”

Dizzy waited for a moment, “I’m sorry. I was waiting to hear you finish that statement. ‘I love my animals, but I love my country more.’ Something along those lines.”

Lord Wilde fumed and glared at Dizzy, then spat out, “And what do I possibly get in return for giving up my favorite animal?”

“My favor and your daughter.” Dizzy pointed at Wendy, whose eyes widened in surprise. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that I returned your daughter to you. When she returns, it will be by her own volition, no longer a slave or hostage to the crown.”

Wilde looked down at her, then back at Dizzy, still frowning. He nodded slowly, “It’s not much of a trade. Wendy tells me you released all your hostages.”

Dizzy shrugged, “Yes, but… I hate to put it so baldly, but I must be honest here, it means more to you than to them.” He gestured at Astor, who had not moved as long as his father was on-screen, “Aldrik wants his son to stay here and spy on me, in the hopes that he can find something to discredit my regency.” Lord Atherton’s eyes narrowed to slits, but he made no other move.

Dizzy gestured to Olivia, saying, “And while I find her a delightful consort, Lord Oldham has showed almost no interest in retrieving his daughter.” The old man scowled at Dizzy, but said nothing. Olivia only closed her eyes and held her peace.

“You alone wanted your daughter back, and I am proud to give you that boon in exchange for your help. Seriously, I’ve looked at this every way I could, and it works out for everyone in the long run.” He stood up, one foot on Greenland, “I’ll take care of arrangements for moving the bear. Thank you all for coming, gentlemen, and thank you for giving me the time to learn my place in this palace.” He made a swiping gesture across his neck, and all three feeds cut out.

Astor nearly shouted at him, “What the hell was that?”

Dizzy jumped down from the globe to stand next to Olivia, “I’m sorry. I really am. I just had to take care of -”

She stopped him with a hand on his arm, “You told the truth. How I feel about it is between my father and I.” She stood slowly, still graceful in her movement, “If you will excuse me, though, I think I will retire to my room for a bit.”

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