Invito Rex – Chapter 8

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“Somebody has said, that a king may make a nobleman, but he cannot make a gentleman.”
— Edmund Burke

Dizzy slid into the velo and waited for the others to join. This time, only Wendy followed. The Duke was still outside, trying to calm his people.

Through the armorglass windows, Dizzy saw the press of people pushing at the police barrier. Electricity sizzled over the line, and lit the faces of a mass of angry, shouting, spitting subjects.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Dizzy muttered to himself. He looked at Wendy, “For the last day, everyone who’s seen me has been bowing and scraping. How is it possible that commoners are willing to stand over there and shout at me?”

She sneered, “It’s possible because, when you have nothing to lose, you have no reason to show respect to the man who took it all away.”

“But they don’t know about me and the Circus expert. We’re the only ones who were there. The commoners might as well be mad at Mr. Pritchard.”

She shook her head and looked away, “I’m sure I wouldn’t know, my liege. They probably don’t remember when Mr. Pritchard swore his life to uphold their kingdom.”

“That’s not what I meant. I know he was right. I was wrong, but how do they know?” He pointed out the window as the velo began lumbering through the throng, “How do they know it wasn’t just an accident made by the expert?”

“They don’t care!” She glared at him, “They shouldn’t care. It’s not their business how you go about protecting them. It’s your job to protect their way of life, and you failed at it, my liege. You failed at it mightily. It doesn’t matter whether you chose a bad expert-”

“You know, come to think of it, I didn’t even choose -”

She cut him off, “It doesn’t matter whether you ignored a good expert. It doesn’t matter whether you wanted to throw the game, or just didn’t pay enough attention. All that matters is that you agreed to protect them, and you failed.”

Dizzy shouted back, not caring that they had abandoned all pretense at respect for the crown, “That wasn’t fair, either! I had no idea the stakes we were playing for. Everybody told me it was a friendly game between nations. For all I knew, it was a purely diplomatic photo op.”

“You were playing for Flint! They told you that over and over again. The Duke couldn’t have been more clear.”

“Not true. He could have said, ‘Your majesty, you are playing to protect the franchise that keeps this town alive, and keeps all of us employed.’ That would have made it a hell of a lot more clear.”

“He told you!” She shouted, “He told you that you were playing for Flint!”

“And every time he said it, I thought he meant that I was the figurehead for his team, like I was dedicating the game to them. I thought it was symbolic, not literal! I thought he meant that it was a matter of civic pride, not community survival!”

There was a long pause, as they sat face to face, no more than a shouted breath apart from each other. Then Dizzy leaned back and rested an elbow on the door, holding his forehead. In a quiet voice, he said, “That’s what I thought he meant.”

The pause stretched out, as Dizzy stared out the window to avoid Wendy’s glare. Then Wendy began to laugh. It was a soft chuckle at first, as if she was trying to keep the amusement down, but it grew, unbidden, into a full chain of heartfelt, lilting laughter. She caught her composure and grinned at him, but before she could speak she started laughing again, harder this time.

Dizzy rolled his eyes, “Well, I’m glad you think it’s so funny.”

She fought for breath as the laughter rang out. Once, she took a gasp and said, “Go team” before collapsing into another spasm of laughter.

“It’s not that funny.”

Wendy caught herself up, took a deep breath, and held it, staring at the seat in front of her. She mustered her self control, then said, “Your majesty. You will find that the job you have inherited is symbolic in nature, but that your actions are very rarely only symbolic. You have functionaries and delegates to handle anything truly symbolic. The decisions and actions made by a king are quite often life-or-death decisions. I will, whenever possible, attempt to remind you of that-” she broke off, laughing again.

Dizzy moped beside her. He took off the crown and frowned at it, folding it down to a bracelet. “It’s still not funny.”

That brought another burst of laughter, punctuated with “Rah rah. Go Team.”

Dizzy waited for the laughing to die down. He stared out the window for a long time, then asked, “So, what was the problem with Lord Oldham?”

Wendy was still grinning as she asked, “What problem?”

“Well, you seem upset to see that I would accept his help.”

“Oh, that.” The laughter died away quickly as she frowned out the window, “It is a poor king who takes favors from his subjects.”

“Isn’t that what it’s all about, though? I mean, taxes, conscription, all that. It’s all the King getting help from the people.”

She smiled sadly, “That’s different. That’s the king telling people what to do. Admitting that the king needs help challenges the balance of power.”

“You think Oldham has power over me now?”

She shrugged, “I know you owe him a favor. The details of that favor will likely be made available at the least convenient time, when he has the most to gain from it, and you are most likely to say ‘No’.”

“What is Oldham to you?” Dizzy turned to her and studied her face.

“My liege?”

“Your house. As far as I know, Lord Oldham is no great friend to your father.”

Wendy nodded, “My father has little use for royal drama, so he is often spurned by the nobility.”

“How did your father become a lord, then, if he has so little regard for the nobility?”

She shrugged, “His lordship is inherited. Our house first gained the title years ago when we attained more land than the king.”

“When- I’m sorry, what?”

She nodded, the shadow of pride showing in her smile, “Yes, my liege. I own more land than you do.”

“That’s… impressive.”

“In a way. For my family, buying land was a form of hunting. Rather, like collecting or gathering assets. Lord Wilde is a great one for hunting.”

“I’ve heard that. I’d heard that he only eats what he kills.”

Wendy looked away, “That’s not entirely true. If he has a bad day hunting, he doesn’t starve. All the same- ” She looked back at him, “If you’ve heard that rumor, I’m sure you’ve heard the more disgusting ones.”

Dizzy didn’t play coy. He’d heard of Lord Wilde hunting humans for sport. He’d heard of the Lord taking animals into his bed. He nodded in answer to the question and said, “I don’t assume that the things I hear are necessarily true.”

Wendy slammed a small fist into the armrest, “They AREN’T true. Not any of it. My father likes to hunt. He owns a lot of land. He has made a powerful enemy in the media, and this is the result.”

They passed an awkward moment, as Dizzy waited for her to continue. Then he said, “Why does your father remain reclusive, though? Why not just challenge the rumors, and put them to rest?”

“Because he is proud.” Wendy frowned down at her dress, “My father doesn’t want to win a political war. He doesn’t feel that he should have to respond to slander, and he doesn’t care what people think.” She stared out the window again and said in a quiet voice, “My father would gladly explore, and hunt for his entire life, if the world would let him.”

“Why not abdicate the lordship, then? Sell off the land, so that he could retire in luxury, without any of the drama of the court.”

Wendy sighed, “Because that would mean making his daughter a commoner.”

“You don’t strike me as the type who would fight for the pageantry.”

“I’m not. My father wants the best for me. In all the world, the two things he loves are hunting and taking care of me. He wants to see that I marry well, or have the luxury to decide what I want to do with my life.”

Dizzy nodded slowly, and looked away. After a moment, he turned back to face her, “Who is his enemy in the media?”

She sighed, “There are four major companies that run all the media. Holos, smartfeeds, vids, they are all run by the same four companies.”

Dizzy nodded, “Yes, well, how did your father manage to upset them all? Don’t they compete against each other?”

“They are all owned by Aldrik Atherton.”

Dizzy blinked, “Wait. Are you telling me that Lord Atherton owns every news outlet in the nation?”

She gave a sad smile, “You should see what the news has been running about you for the last day.”

Dizzy thought it through, “And your father managed to upset Lord Atherton.”

She nodded, “My mother was born Lady Anna Atherton.” She sighed, “She died giving birth to me. But my father loved her so much, he never remarried; never even looked at another woman. Her picture hangs from every wall in the manse, and I know he yearns for her still.”

“I’m so sorry.” He paused, trying to think of a delicate way to ask the next question, “So your mother was Lord Atherton’s sister?”

“Yes. All noble houses are protective of their families, obviously. This makes them valuable assets for business. My father was married to Lady Atherton in an attempt to bring two powerful houses together. Real estate and media coverage were a powerful combination. But when I was born, Lord Atherton changed. He blames my father for her death. Or perhaps he blames me.” She looked back out the window, “In either case, Uncle Aldrik will have nothing to do with me, and he smears my father mercilessly in the media.”

Dizzy nodded, “Leaving your father with no venue for response. No way to strike back.”

She smiled a bit, “Well, he’s not so toothless as all that. Lord Atherton needs repeater stations to get satellite signals to the people, and that means land to put the stations on.” Her smile widened, “It seems real estate is more dearly paid for, when Uncle Aldrik wishes to buy it from my father.”

Dizzy grinned, “Possibly not the most mature move, but one can hardly blame him.” After a moment, he asked, “So what about Lord Oldham? I get the feeling your family doesn’t get along well with them?”

Wendy laughed easily, “Well, at least that one is easier to explain. I said that there were only two things my father loves.”

“His daughter and his hunting.”

“Yes. Well, I misspoke. I should have said there are three things. My father loves animals.”

Dizzy snorted a laugh. When Wendy looked at him, he shrugged, “I’m sorry. I just find it funny that a man who loves animals could love hunting. That seems to be something of a contradiction.”

She nodded, “It’s not. My father respects animals. He loves raising them, training them, treating them like the individuals they are. He lets them run free on his land, and he lets them hunt each other. To him, there is little difference between an elk that is taken down by his arrow or a pack of wolves.”

“But if he’s the one packing the area with both predator and prey, he’s stacking the deck to fit that argument.”

“Would it be more moral if he populated the land with herbivores, hunting only those animals and starving out the carnivores? That wouldn’t just be unfair and cowardly in the hunt, it would be stacking the deck against nature.” She shrugged, “It’s the natural order of life that some animals become prey to others. To deny that is to deny nature itself. My father simply sees himself as part of nature, and takes no guilt in acting the part.”

Dizzy nodded, then shook his head, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I just feel like there’s something wrong with that argument.”

She smiled, “A lot of people have it deeply ingrained in them that all killing is bad. Evil. Morally reprehensible.”

Dizzy nodded, “Yes, I think we’re back on solid ground with that one.”

“That’s why you have so much trouble imagining death as just another part of life, whether it happens from a lightning strike, a predator attack, or the shaft of my father’s arrow.”

From the flash in her eyes, Dizzy felt that he had a glimpse of her family’s feral nature. When she talked like that, it didn’t seem at all unbelievable that her family could kill without mercy. Her father may not hunt humans for fun, but Dizzy could imagine that he wouldn’t shed any tears over a human’s death.

“So… ah. I’m sorry. You were telling me about how he loves animals, and how that ties in with Lord Oldham?”

“Yes. Well, my father loves all games that involve animals.” She rotated one hand in the air as she recited, “Fishing, Hunting, Elephant Football, Snow racing-”

Dizzy nodded, “Dog races.”

“Oh, no. He hates those. Outlawed them on his land. He sees it as degrading to the animal, pushing them to their limits and forcing them to run a fruitless chase just to see which one is fastest.”

Dizzy frowned, “So he has no problem killing them, but he won’t do anything that degrades them?”

She sighed, “Give it time. Think about it.” She held out one restraining hand, “Just try to see the difference between being part of nature, and torturing nature.”

Dizzy narrowed his eyes and said, “Lord Oldham.”

“Yes. You see, because my father loves these sports, he takes an active role in them. He raises his own contenders, sees to their training and cares for them between matches.”

Dizzy snapped his fingers, “The Warriors!”

She smiled, “Yes. My father’s bear polo team, ‘Wilde’s Warriors’ is one of the best funded, and best cared for teams in the sport. We are also the highest ranked.”

Dizzy nodded, “Your father cares for the bears personally.”

“He’s there for each cub’s birth, names each one, raises them, and breeds them for excellence in the game. He takes the game very seriously.”

“Ah! And so does Lord Oldham.”

She sneered and looked back out the window, “That withered old prune only loves winning. He doesn’t love the game the way we do.”

Dizzy caught the way she had gone from describing her father to describing her family, but left it unremarked. He said, “So your family dislikes the Oldham clan because the Ursa Majors are in contention with the Wilde Warriors?”

She shrugged without looking back at him, “Well, there’s the fact that the old buzzard controls most of the manufacturing in the nations. He gouges us on every negotiation regarding business interests. And then there’s his family’s ‘purity’ that puts everyone on edge.” She paused then shook her head, “No. I think it is the bears.” She turned to face Dizzy, her lip curled back in a sneer, “More than anything else, it’s the way he runs his team. He cares nothing for his jockeys or their mounts. He beats the animals in training, and wears them out with practice. He doesn’t deserve a title match, and my father makes sure he doesn’t get one.”

Dizzy looked back out of the window as they neared the terminal, “I suppose I should go out there and see one of these games.” He smiled sadly, “Although, after what happened to Cadvan, it’s probably not a good idea for me to play.”

She grinned, “You should be fine as long as you’re not playing for Flint.”

He sobered, “I still say that’s not funny.”

She chuckled softly, “Go team. Rah rah.”

When Dizzy re-entered the palace, he headed straight for the boardroom where he’d last seen Lord Dunem. The Lord was still in the room pouring over reports of the day’s progress. As soon as he saw Dizzy enter, he stood.

“My liege. How was the day’s outing?”

Dizzy walked right up to him, an accusing finger pointed at the Lord, “You knew. You knew that I was playing to protect a city, and you let me do it anyway.”

Lord Dunem nodded, “Yes, your majesty. I knew.” He stood straight, with his head high, and hands behind his back. His look was unconcerned, even in the face of a raging monarch. Dizzy thought he could almost see the shadow of a smile on his lips.

He went on, “I know that you are having difficulty with the idea of keeping noble guests in the palace. I know that you insisted on speaking to commoners while visiting the algae farms. I know that you sat with Lord Atherton and Lord Oldham, and that you disregarded the suggestions of one of the finest Circus players on Earth. I also know that you made a huge mistake, but we can fix that later.”

Dizzy put his hands on his hips, “Don’t worry about it. I fixed it already. The factory will stay open. Lord Oldham offered to expand his seaweed processing out there or something.”

“Yes sir. That was the mistake I was referring to.” Lord Dunem turned back to his reports and began organizing them on the table, “The loss of industry in one small town would have been a minor hardship, but one that we could have easily repaired. Of course, we would have preferred for you to have won the game and procured us the fishing distribution franchise that the Belgians were offering, but we were prepared to accept that loss.”

He took a deep breath, still looking down at the table, “What we were not prepared for was being indebted to a noble lord.”

Dizzy nodded, “Well, I can see how that would be difficult, but I don’t think it’s so bad. I mean, what could he ask for in return?”

Lord Dunem blinked at him passively, “Tell me, my liege. What do you think you control?”

Dizzy raised his eyebrows thinking about it, “Well, to be honest, I haven’t had a chance to really sit back and consider just how much control I have. It’s never really been a thing I thought I would need to know.”

The lord nodded slowly, “Understandable, sir. May I request that, before you offer a boon to another noble lord, you study up on the breadth of your power, and the wealth of opportunity such a boon would give.”

Dizzy shook his head, “In the end, though, it can’t be all that much. I mean, if Flint wasn’t a key concern, then fixing the Flint problem can’t command much in a return boon, can it?”

The Lord rapped his reports against the table, snapping them into one organized set, “A king does not ask for help. He is too powerful to give unsigned checks. A king requests help and gives gifts to those who please him.” He turned to look at Dizzy, “You realize that you own Lord Oldham, don’t you?”

Dizzy frowned, “I’m not entirely sure I know what you mean by that.”

The lord nodded again, “Yes, that’s part of the problem. A king does not ask. He takes, and he gives. A good king listens to his subjects and gives them what they need, taking only what he needs to do the job. But he does not ask.”

They paused for a moment as Dizzy mulled that over, then he said, “So I don’t suppose I learned what you wanted me to learn.”

The lord gave him a thin smile, “It wasn’t the lesson I’d hoped for, no.”

Dizzy walked over to the huge armorglass windows looking out over the perfectly manicured garden. He thought about all the rules, all the consequences. He thought about all the millions of people who were affected by decisions and mistakes like these. He thought about the breadth of control and power he still didn’t understand.

He muttered, “I don’t think I want this job.”

From behind him, the Lord grinned, “Ah! Well, then. You may have learned the right lesson after all.”

Dizzy walked back into his chambers to find Astor and Olivia chatting. He waved them away, “Out. Please. I want privacy.”

Olivia looked hurt, but Astor just shrugged. Once they were gone, Dizzy started for the bathroom. He suspected they would be listening at the door, and thought the only safe place was in the soundproofed lavatory. As he stormed over to it, his eye caught a new door that he simply hadn’t noticed before. It was situated in a wall between the wardrobe and the veranda.

Dizzy stopped and stared at it. There was something unnerving about finding that door. He felt vulnerable, knowing that he’d slept all night in that room without realizing that there was a secret entrance. Dizzy knew it was irrational, but he couldn’t shake the nervous feeling as he neared it.

The door wasn’t locked, and opened easily onto a small office. Inside, Dizzy saw bookshelves filled with notes and diaries, as well as almanacs and family histories. A filing cabinet was used more as a surface to hold paper than as an organizational tool. Papers were flung inside the drawers with no obvious system.

Papers were scattered all over the large desk that dominated the room. Some were smartpaper readouts, paused to look like translucent plastic sheets. Others were linkpaper, which streamed information as daemons continued to feed information to them. Still others were honest, pressed vegetable sheets, marked with some kind of pigment. Dizzy saw a capped jar in one corner of the desk that, when he uncapped it, smelled vaguely of soot and eggs. When he dipped a finger into it, the fingertip came out black. Dizzy frowned at it, stunned by just how far some noblemen would go for Victorian authenticity.

He sat down at the leather chair behind the desk, and nearly fell over. The chair was clearly well-used, and made for recumbent reading, rather than proper desk usage. As he leaned forward, he checked the old, wooden desk, and found what he was looking for. He fingered the two rounded, subtle impressions on the wood and said, “So, the king liked to put his feet up when he read.”

He looked down at his wrist, “That’s more information than I’ve got from you. Get off me.” He shook his arm over the desk, “Now! Unwrap yourself and report!”

The bracelet opened, dropping heavily to the desk surface, where it unfolded into the unblinking eye of the automaton. It stood straight before Dizzy, “This morning, you were awakened by Astor Atherton at 0817. You attended breakfast twenty-three minutes later, where -”

Dizzy cut him off, “What are you doing?”

“Reporting, my lord. I was reciting the overview minutes of the day. If you wish for a more in-depth description of any one incident I can provide it by request.”

“That is not what I meant by reporting. I mean, give some accounting of yourself. Where were you?”

“Your majesty, I was with you at all times.”

“Yes, but you’re meant to be some kind of advisor, a helper.”

“No sir. I am meant to be a chronicler. I am also an excellent source of research. I do not offer advice. However, if you wish translation or amplification on your knowledge of any particular resource, I am at your service.”

“You didn’t tell me that I was playing for a franchise that fed and clothed an entire city!”

“You didn’t ask.”

Dizzy jabbed a finger at him, “That’s the lowest form of evasion.”

“No sir. It is my function.” There was a short pause as the machine’s gears ground quietly, then it continued, “Please consider, sir, the effect of my advising you. If I were to tell you that one play was better than another, perhaps you would make that play, or perhaps you wouldn’t. With an advanced AI, one could predict whether a king will take advice or not. I know this because I am an advanced AI, so I would be able to calculate the likelihood of you following my advice. Through that, I could advise you to do wrong things, knowing that you would pride yourself on ignoring my advice, showing your independence, and still doing as I wished you to.”

Dizzy looked at the machine, horror-struck, “You realize that you’re admitting to coercing the will of the king, don’t you?”

“No sir, I am explaining why I cannot ever give advice. It is my job to record and report. I am bound by fundamental exception handling to never give advice on any topic, or to offer an answer to a question I am not asked.”

Dizzy slumped in his seat, then gave a shout as it fell back again. He sighed, lying in his chair, and said, “It’s odd. I see how you could be an incredible source of information, and at the same time, you seem bloody useless.”

“I have been called so by many kings, your majesty.”

“There!” Dizzy scrambled back into a seated position, “There! You just offered information! You told me that other kings found you infuriating. Where were all your exceptions then?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know, my liege. I do not have a copy of my source code available. To do so would undermine the security of my system.”

“But you just said you couldn’t offer information, told me how it could be used to control the government, then you gave me some little tidbit. You broke your own rules!”

“Did I? That must be frustrating. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

Dizzy put his head in his hands, “These are my advisors. Full of subtlety, intrigue, and vague, useless answers. I am truly alone.”

The golden robot stood and looked at him with one, unblinking eye.

Dizzy walked back into the bedroom and called out, “Astor, Olivia. Show yourselves!”

Astor popped the door open instantly, and Olivia glided in after him. She smiled, “Is your majesty ready to retire?”

“Take a look in here. What is all this?” Dizzy jerked a thumb at the door to the king’s office.

A slow grin formed on Astor’s face. “Really? You’re going to let us in there?”

Dizzy shrugged, “Might as well. It’s my office now, right?”

Astor said, “Brilliant!” and ran into the room. Olivia followed him with some trepidation, “I’m not sure it is your room.”

Dizzy frowned at her, “How do you mean?”

“Well, they haven’t had a reading of the will for one thing. The funeral’s not until tomorrow.”

“The funeral’s tomorrow?”

“Yes. It’s normally two or three days after the death.”

“I suppose. But it seems awfully soon.”

She shrugged, “Everyone who needs to be here showed up as soon as they heard. Lord Dunem has been beset with mourners, and has been trying to keep them from overwhelming you.” One side of her mouth rose in a grin, “Did you know they held an emergency meeting of parliament this morning?”

“I- ah, no. I had no idea.”

She nodded, “I thought as much. I expect Dunem had you out of pocket all day.”

Dizzy’s eyes widened, “Gods, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think of it that way.”

Olivia saw the worry in his eyes and held up a hand, “Don’t give it too much thought. In truth, Lord Dunem is on your side. He just wanted to make sure that you weren’t in the middle of it like some kind of piñata or tug of war rope.”

“Still. I should be there, to stand up for myself and show that the monarchy isn’t afraid of them.”

“Really? Where do you stand on natural gas fracking in the Michigan Huron Mountain range? And will you be continuing the previous administration’s policy of raping the land for the sake of providing cheap power to the commoners?”

Dizzy blinked, “I- Well, right now, I have no plans for changing- ”

“Then you believe we should be giving power to the commoners.”

“Well, yes. Of course we need to-”

“Then you would give power to the commoners, siding with them against the nobility.”

“No! I didn’t say that!”

“Actually, you just did.” She slapped him on one shoulder. “Parliament is worse than the newsies, and they will write laws just to hurt you. Until you know all that the king should know, you’re better off being kept from their traps.”

“I don’t like being kept,” Dizzy growled.

From behind the desk, Astor swore, “How do you get this stupid thing open?”

They went around to see Astor working at the lock on the bottom drawer of the desk. He had a letter opener, and was jamming it into the keyhole, “Seriously, who uses a physical lock in this day and age?”

Olivia quipped, “Obviously someone who wanted to frustrate people like you.” She turned to Dizzy, “I really don’t think we should be doing this. This is something for archivists to pour over. They should be the ones to go through his papers.”

“Actually,” Dizzy said, “It was the papers I wanted to show you.” He kicked Astor lightly, “Get up and leave it alone. Clearly Cadvan wanted to keep some things secret. I’m sure he left the key somewhere, and we’ll probably find out about it at the reading of the will or something.” He gestured to the rest of the room, “I’m more concerned about all this. What was he studying? If we find out what he was working on, we might get a clue as to how he died.”

Astor ran a hand over his face, “Seriously? You’re wondering how he died? Mallet to the back of the head. End of story.”

Olivia remained silent, so Dizzy turned to her, “Right before the game, Cadvan threw his badge of office away. It’s a -” the bracelet on his wrist tightened very slightly, pinching the skin of his arm.

“It’s a very big gesture, one that he didn’t often make. As far as I can tell, he was never without his crown. So what made him choose to do it that day?”

Astor shrugged, “Maybe it fell off while he was getting ready for the game.”

“No. It didn’t fall off.”

“How do you know?”

Dizzy shrugged, “Something like that, doesn’t just fall off.” He took a deep breath, “The point is that there’s something here.” He picked up a few of the smartpaper systems that blinked into life as he touched them. Most of them had reports on troop movements in Asia and Russia. “I have to believe that there’s something here. Something that explains why he would have dropped his crown.”

Astor looked around at the papers and shrugged, “Doesn’t look like anything here except for national security readouts.”

Olivia dropped one of the pages on a stack, “There seems to be an awful lot here regarding Russia.”

Dizzy nodded, “You think I should tell Dunem about this?”

Her quirky smile showed again, “No. I think he was just reading up on his fiancé.”

Astor nodded, looking around the room, “That makes sense. He’d want to make sure they weren’t planning any kind of surprise for after the ceremony.”

Dizzy blinked at Olivia, “Fiancé?”

Her smile widened, “Oh, yes. I hear she’s quite beautiful. Now, I’m not too clear on the laws regarding such situations, but it would seem to me that, with the death of Cadvan, you would be required to-”

“No.” Dizzy cut her off, “No, I’m pretty sure there’s no onus regarding successors.”

Astor nodded, “Oh, yes. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I mean, advisors have been working on this match for years, determining which nation gets what, making sure it doesn’t upset the balance of power, ensuring that all our enemies are theirs before the big day. You don’t think they would just drop the matter, now that Cadvan is dead, do you?”

“But I’m not affianced. I didn’t promise to marry anybody.”

Olivia started to laugh, “My liege, your face is turning positively purple.”

“Yes, but. Well, I couldn’t possibly. I’m still too young.”

“Cadvan was a year younger than you are.”

Astor shrugged, “King Tutankhamen was only thirteen when he married.”

“I am NOT King Tutankhamen! Nor am I King Cadvan. I am King Augustus, third of my name, and I haven’t promised to marry anyone!”

Olivia clasped her hands next to her cheek, “Oh my, such vehemence.” She seemed to struggle to avoid laughing, “Are you sure, your majesty? You haven’t even met her yet.”

In a low voice, Dizzy fumed, “I’m finished with this conversation.” He ran a hand over his face and looked at the office again, “Is there anything else we can get from all this?”

Astor said, “I hear she has good birthing hips.”

Dizzy blinked at him, then at Olivia, then turned and left the room. Astor dropped to one knee, and tried to pry the desk drawer lock again, but Olivia smacked him on the back of the head, “Come on, you. Get out of the man’s business.”

She shut off the lights and closed the heavy, oaken door behind them.

Captain Trumble closed the door to his office and eyed the well-dressed boy warily. Sergeant Samson slouched against one wall, and Sir Bedragare took his chair behind the desk. In the center of the room stood a young nobleman.

The boy was thin and well groomed. His white tailored shirt stood out from the dark slacks with their perfect lines. One hand held the other arm against his side.

“First of all,” the boy said, “I wish to lodge a formal complaint. Not only against this madman, but also against the police precinct which attempts to detain me without charge.”

“No.” Bedragare waved him off, “First of all you talk. You whine to daddy later.”

Trumble walked over to the boy and said, “I’m terribly sorry for having to detain you, sir, but I assure you it is quite necessary. Now, may I have your name please?”

“Edward Scupper.” The boy glared at him. Trumble nodded amiably, but his mind raced. If those other two weren’t in the room, he could grab the boy, throw him against the desk, and squeeze him until he offered entry into one of their society parties. If he could get just that much, Trumble knew he could break into their ranks.

He smiled around the room, “Of the New England Scuppers, no doubt.” He wished he had a good reason to get rid of the sergeant and the mountainous blind man. Instead, he just nodded at Bedragare, “You bagged quite a powerful boy, sir.”

Bedragare shrugged, “He is stuffed shirt. Father is powerful, but boy is only good for his friends.” The huge man leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk, “Tell us of your friends, young Edward.”

“I don’t have friends, I have accomplices.” He looked over at Trumble, “That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? You interrogate criminals here? I must be awfully dangerous to be brought into your personal little dungeon.”

Trumble frowned at him, “Not always, sometimes we have people come in just to help us with an investigation.” He didn’t know what the large man’s game was here, but he didn’t want to screw it up. “Now, which one are you? Are you going to be one of the people here to help, or are you the other one?”

The boy rolled his eyes, “What do you want to know?”

“Well, we want to know about your friends.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

Bedragare leaned back in the chair, his neck stretching as though he were looking at the ceiling, “You will tell us about Disraeli Augustus McCracken the third.”

A flash of panic ran across the boy’s face, then he looked around the room at all of them, “I’m sure I’ve never heard that name before in my life.”

Trumble’s eyes narrowed, “You’re absolutely certain about that?”

The boy’s haughty attitude returned, “I am.”

Trumble watched him for a long moment, then nodded once, “All right. That’s good enough for me. I appreciate you helping with this investigation as much as you have.”

Edward blinked at him, and even Bedragare turned to frown at the chief. The boy said, “Well. All right then. That’s more like it.” He began to walk over to the office door, “I’ll be sure to tell my father what a fair and just enforcer he has in you, Captain Trumble. Yes. Thank you very much. I’ll just go then.”

The Sergeant slid in front of him, blocking the door, as Trumble said, “Oh, you can’t leave yet.”

The boy turned back to him, a hunted look in his eyes, “Why- What’s wrong?”

Trumble waved it away, “It’s nothing, really. Just procedure. I’m sorry to have to take up your time with it.”

“No- no. That’s fine. Procedure… so, you need me to sign something?”

“No, sir. We are going to book you on obstructing an investigation. It’s a formality, really. If I don’t do it, the magistrate will think I’m just bringing random people in off the street to pad our budget.” He walked over to his desk and shuffled through his papers, “We’ll need to keep you here overnight. I suppose you’ll want to contact your parents. No, now that I think of it, I’ll contact your parents for you, and tell them you’re being held overnight for obstruction.”

“No, wait!” The boy nearly shouted, “Please. My parents don’t know-”

“It’ll be fine. Then tomorrow, you will go out and stand before the magistrate. You’ll want a lawyer present. Just a formality, you understand. I’m sure your father could provide one.”

The boy muttered, “My father’s a lawyer.”

Trumble looked pleased, “Oh! Well, that does make it easier then. I suppose he can represent you in court.”

The boy’s eyes were wide as saucers as Captain Trumble said, “I’ll have to present my case, let the magistrate know that we did have an ongoing investigation, and that you were a material witness who has refused to answer questions. Then your father may argue, the magistrate may let you go. Who knows.” He smiled at the boy, “Either way, it should be done within the week.”

“A week!” He glared over at Sir Bedragare, who grinned back at him. The boy scowled as he asked, “What if I give you something?”

Trumble frowned as though he didn’t understand, “Something? What kind of something?”

“Talk to the Silks. They know the most about him.”

Bedragare shook a finger at him, “But you are spending time with him. You were, ah, buddies, yes?”

The boy’s sneer re-emerged, “Clearly, you don’t know him at all.” He looked back at Trumble, “The people he chooses to be friendly with will always be the ones who know him the least. That’s how he works.” He crossed his arms over his chest, “I ran with him off and on for the last two years, but I couldn’t tell you anything about him. For that kind of info, you don’t look at his friends, you look at his enemies.”

His eyes narrowed, “And the Silks… Well, you’ve never seen a more dangerous enemy.”

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