Invito Rex – Chapter One

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“As the boy becomes the man, so he must bear new burdens of sufferance and sacrifice. A monarch’s duties are, I find, no more heavy than those of a common man; they are, however, more devastating in the breadth of their effect. It is, therefore, with a heavy heart that I must commit these words, that they be recorded truly, and I pray, never acted upon.

My trueborn son shines in my heart as the light of all my days. He grows stronger and wiser with each passing moment and yet, I must prepare for the most dire of circumstances. A king cannot leave a mote of future in the hands of chance. He cannot let any situation rest in the hands of hope. I am not unaware of my situation, last of my line, with only one son of my name. If there be any justice, the kingdom will never need more than that.

But if there is tragedy where justice should reign, we must be prepared. My boy is young, and has no royal consort. He dallies with no mistresses, and the arrangements for his marriage are too distant for consummation. My boy, Cadvan, is true to his station, and will surely rule well, providing his own progeny. And while my heart rests on this hope, my mind flies to the obvious opposing view.

Faith is small hope for a mortal man planning his demise. But a king’s duties require that he protect his country, even after his last breath. I must, therefore, add another to the line of succession, a byblow shame who shall sit just below my boy Cadvan. Should abdication or misadventure rob the nation of my noble family, my dishonor shall protect our line.

Should the fates show love of our nation, these words need never be read; my ignominy will live in quiet peace. But if duty removes him from his freedom, let him know I was unwilling. Let him know that I have viewed him from afar, and protected him as well as a shamed stranger could.

If God is good, let the boy forgive me.”

— Excerpt from the Will of King Richard

The dowager queen was a force of nature. Any who could claim the honor of knowing her would readily admit this fact. In different lands, she was known by different names, but the title was as steadfast and unchanging as the woman’s power. In Russia she was hailed as princess Zorita, a distant and hidden descendant of both the Romanoffs and Rasputin himself. In shadowed tavern corners, it was whispered that it was Grigori’s tainted blood which marked her soul with the second sight. In New York, she was Lady Kreslin, given to be a child of the Carnegie fortune, which explained her opulent quarters and social standing. In China, it was whispered that she descended from the wizard Cheng Ling Foo, whose breath could immolate armies, and whose eyes could see through mountains. Such was the power of the dowager queen.

Always she was the consort to greatness. The ladies of powerful houses would vie for her attention, pulling her from nation to nation as they begged for a glimpse of her inner dark knowledge. Queens would demand her presence for communing with the recently departed. For not only was it widely known that the Dowager Queen could see through a man and grasp out the truth of his soul, but also that she could speak to the noble dead, if they were strong in will and power. It is said that the dowager queen was once asked by the Spanish Infanta if she would contact the soul of her friend, the Duke of Zaragoza. In reply, the dowager queen merely blinked her painted eyes, stared at the Infanta for a long moment, and said, “The Infanta is generous in granting me this audience, and she will ever have my thanks. For her lover, I give nothing. Good day.” The scandals that followed rocked the very firmament of European nobility, and though the Infanta spent the rest of her days denying the accusation, there was nothing that could undo such damage. She was wholly undone in that moment. Such was the power of the dowager queen.

Her ability to see within the soul and expose the most secret hearts of powerful people was enough to frighten minor members of the royalty. It was said that there were sections of Ireland that would not allow her entry, for fear of her dangerous insights. Rumor had it that she never stayed in the same city for more than a week, traveling from nation to nation, moving as the spirits guided her. She payed no attention to wars or borders, and easily moved throughout the world without asking permission or guidance. Such was the power of the dowager queen.

Such dark and distressing knowledge filled Disraeli Augustus McCracken III with concern regarding his upcoming audience. He did not wholly expect welcome from her, and wondered if courting such political power would gain him a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy.

He left his driver in the car as he ascended the steps to the Westin Hills Inn. The residence hall was an ancient, towering building of great history and import among the rich and powerful. It loomed before him, covered in dark marble and bright metal. Intricate silver lattice work poured over each step and bracketed the entrance. The doorman stood erect, just inside the front doors. He was well trained and stood still as a statue as Dizzy approached, with naught but his eyes moving.

For the briefest of moments, Dizzy paused, considering. He was bedecked in a smart, dark blue suit with subtle ruffles at the heels and wrists. His vest was a verdant green, inlaid with gold trim. Under the vest he wore a white shirt with a brilliant red cravat. The ensemble was designed to highlight his own shock of red hair, combed out at a wild angle that bordered on the edge of stylish. It was Dizzy’s contention that one must question convention in at least some way, or risk exposure by people who thought you fit in too well.

He carried a thin, light walking stick and wore a top hat with a brim of light green to show off his eyes. He looked every bit the part of a proper gentleman, and grew nervous as the doorman ignored him.

Dizzy currently held the title of earl of Viborg, though it was never legitimately given to him. He had never even travelled to Viborg, and never intended to. He looked the part of an earl, which was proof enough for most. If confronted by a Dane, he would likely make a polite retreat, to avoid his shame being revealed.

Of those who graduated from Malcolm Rutherford Holden Institute of Regentrification, Dizzy was their most successful. Though he came to this world by way of a baseborn woman, not knowing any paternal parentage, he nonetheless had gained the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to blend with the lowest of the nobility.

In the nations of North America, there were three classes of people. The lowest, of whom it is said shall always be among us, outnumbered all others with their rampant procreation. Though there would seem to be levels among that caste, where bankers and doctors looked down upon laborers, in truth there was very little difference.

The minor nobility reigned above them, as similar to the commoners as a grand piano is to the child’s toy drum. These gentry were the only ones the commoners ever saw, and even then, only when they dared not avert their eyes in the presence of such greatness. The minor nobility held within their ranks the dukes, knights, earls, and minor lords. While there were surely billions of commoners, the minor nobility counted in the tens of thousands.

Many of the lower nobility thought themselves the kings of this particular hill, lord over all they should meet. It was only the highest among them who knew the truth; that within the nobility there was a third caste, as different to them as they were to the commoners. The king held court over this caste, and surrounded himself with their number. These were the major lords and governors who held the true power. While a minor lord may call himself master of a city or municipality, he would know to whom he owed his position, and to whom his tribute would go. Those of the major nobility held whole states in their grip, and rented them out to the minor lords as delegation to avoid dealing with them directly. While the minor nobility may number in the tens of thousands, there were no more than a few hundred of the major nobility, and they kept company generally only among themselves.

Dizzy was born to the common class, and had ambition enough to escape it. Through hard work and guile, he had cheated his way into the lower nobility. But even his ambition gave way to the cold truth that he could never dare to con his way into the circles of major nobility. His earl’s disguise was completely satisfying for his needs, keeping him warm, well fed, and respected among those who barely knew him. He advised with knights and earls. He held tea with dukes and minor lords. And if he should, on occasion, be found out, what of it? Dizzy was also well skilled in the art of running for his life.

Dizzy placed a hand on the top of his hat as he arched back and looked up at the towering structure. The disinterest shown by the doorman was almost enough to unman him, and carry him fleeing back to the car. He had held the title of earl for some time; perhaps too long. There was danger in meeting this woman, if she truly possessed any secret knowledge about him. She could be a threat to him.

Dizzy looked back to his silent tormentor, as a wave of surety ran across him. The idea that she could threaten him served to bolster his resolve. If there was anything Disraeli Augustus McCracken III knew how to deal with, it was an open threat.

He flashed an easy smile at the doorman as he approached. Dizzy’s smiles were legendary for their ability to melt the stony hearts of men, and the cold shoulders of women.  This doorman, however, showed no appreciation for his style or smile, but continued in his stoicism. Whatever else one could say of her, Dizzy thought, the Dowager Queen chose her guards well.

As Dizzy reached the outer door, he stopped expectantly. After years of servants bowing and scraping, he found a closed door to be an affront. He blinked at the contact pad next to the door, then reached inside his jacket for his identification. A slight frown formed on his lips as he looked back at the statuesque doorman. Part of maintaining the role of a nobleman was displeasure at any inconvenience. Dizzy paused for the briefest of moments before using the card. It would log his entry, and there would be no denying his presence later. Perhaps that was her goal, to prove that he had sought her out. But what would that gain her, in the grand scheme of things? He took a quick breath and waved the card at the reader. In for a penny, in for a pound. The outer door slid noiselessly open in a single, smooth motion.

Dizzy stepped into the small vestibule as the outer door snapped shut behind him. He waited for the doorman to open the inner door next, but the oppressive hulk did nothing. Dizzy heard the door behind him click as the lock engaged. He fought the instinct to look around for traps. He’d walked into this, locked in a small room with this behemoth. Had the dowager queen already decided his fate? Had she sentenced him in absentia, leaving him to be beaten and thrown out by this hulk as penance for his common birth?

Dizzy fell back on his teaching and slowed his breathing. Know the situation, never say more than you need to. Half of talking your way out is letting them offer you exits. He looked up at the doorman, one imperious eyebrow raised, “Now look here, lad. I’ve really had quite enough of this. Call yourself a doorman. I have an appointment with the lady in residence, and I find myself having to do for myself as any common gutter-”

A small chime sounded, and the doorman stepped forward. He opened the inner door and said, “Sweep says yer clean. Amble to th’ back. ‘vaters up to the fourth, yeah?”

Dizzy nodded his reply. Was this a message from the dowager? Had she left a baseborn doorman there to scan him for weapons as a way of denuding him of his noble pride? Was that why she’d insisted on him using his identification to get in? If so, was that to prove who he was, or to put him on the defensive before she ever saw him?

Dizzy’s heels echoed as he strode through the hallway to the lifts at the end. He ascended to the fourth floor, the entrance of which opened onto another hallway with one door at the end. Dizzy walked across the thick, deep, ruby carpet to the oaken door. As he raised his walking stick to rap upon the door, it swung open to reveal darkness.

The room inside was redolent of incense. A deep, melodious voice called from far inside the shadows, “Would you come in, Earl?” Her words had the tinge of an accent he could not place. Eastern Europe, clearly, but there was much of the world that answered to that description.

Dizzy’s eyes slowly adjusted to the light as he stepped into the room. The door behind him slammed shut, leaving him in shadow. Distant candles fluttered weakly, separated from him by gauzy curtains that swayed in a roiling wind. The tiny flames of the candles cast strange shadows over the curtains as the wind moved past. Tendrils of sweet-smelling smoke rose from the corners and filled the room. Tiny silver bells chimed as something moved in the darkened room.

Dizzy squinted and frowned into the darkness. He removed his hat, not daring to step in any further. He feared he might run into something in the erratic, shifting shadows.

He turned suddenly to look at a flash of motion in the corner of his eye. His searching eyes made out the vague shape of a woman with curves of opulence and excess. Her hair was held back by a silken scarf that covered her head, with veils that masked her face. As she shifted closer, jewelry glittered about her face and neck. Hooped earrings, layers of necklaces, bracelets, rings and other adornments hung from her body, shimmering and creating a constellation of a woman, defined by the flickering reflection of candlelight. He saw a dimple in the center of her forehead gleam turquoise for a moment as she looked him over. She extended a plump hand, palm down, as a hidden light illuminated the table just next to her.

“My lord, you honor my home with your presence.”

The words jolted Dizzy back from his unnerved stupor. Though unsettled, he knew how to respond to honorifics. He took the hand and dropped into a bow to lightly kiss it. As he rose, he said, “The honor is mine, my Lady. You keep a remarkably peculiar home.”

She tittered softly, covering her veiled mouth with the hand, “Oh, my. No. I am no Lady. I am but a simple creature who carries the burden of ancient hidden arts… “ her eyes pierced him, “and the benefit of noble friends.”

His smile did not fade, “As you say, ma’am. Your entrance caused quite a disturbance in town. I dare say, your very presence has set the entire social scene aflutter.” She nodded once, so he continued, “As it happens, I travel often myself. My business -“

“I know much of you already, my Lord.” Was there a sharp tone at the end? From behind those veils, he could read nothing of her countenance. He gripped the brim of his hat in both hands, his walking stick almost forgotten.

She slipped into a seat at the table, “I am given much knowledge from beyond that simply cannot be explained to those who have not the gift.”

Dizzy’s grip loosened as he saw the angle. He was too good a con man to miss the setup. The lady was not threatening him except in as much as she intended to warm him up for the plucking. He sat easily across from her, placing his hat upon the table. He folded his hands in his lap and said gently, “It occurred to me that, given our tendency to move so often, you and I have never been in the same town at the same time.”

“Surely a gross oversight on my part.” She muttered the words, guarded and wary.

Dizzy grinned wider, “Now rectified by this wonderful meeting in your charming home.”

“I know why you’re here,” She said somberly, reaching one hand out across the table. She held her hand palm up, waiting for him to place his in it, “However, I doubt you know your own purpose here. Ask me your question, and we will see how much you know of your own fate.”

Dizzy hesitated, looking at the plump, bejeweled hand. The woman cocked her head to one side, as a bird might contemplate a worm, “Or perhaps you wish to commune with the beyond.”

Dizzy reached out and covered her hand with his. She intoned, “Tell me the message you would send.”

His other hand reached out and, between both of his, he held her hand softly, “Hello, mother.”

Across the street from the Westin Hills, two sterling emissaries of the lowest class looked up from their game of Circus to watch the young man enter. The darkened alcove they inhabited was lit by no more than a distant streetlight, which made their pieces look more shadow than substance on the circular board. The pressed-wood gameboard balanced precariously on top of a corrugated steel barrel, rusted through at the bottom. From beneath their laborer’s caps, neither could see the other’s face, though that was hardly a bother for two who were so familiar with each other. They had worked side-by-side for so many years, they were more family than friends. They were brothers in every aspect, other than genealogy.

They looked to be complete opposites, two sides of the coin. One short and stout, with a bushy beard that ran from his ears to his shoulders. The other tall and wiry, more akin to a perching bird than a man. He had his knees pulled up under him so that he rested upon his feet while sitting on the dumpster. He hugged his knees as he watched the flashy young man enter the hotel.

The wider of the two shook his head and looked back to the game. He took a lance with his book and kept the dirty, wooden piece in his hand. Scratching his bushy beard with the piece, he said, “See that, Lou? Nobs in our midst.”

His taller, thin compatriot nodded, his head bobbing like a melon on a spring, “Dunna be long now, Stan, ‘fore we have to get Sunday best, just to walk the street.”

The thicker man regarded him with small deep-set, shining black eyes, “Nah. Expect he’s just here for words wit’ her ladyship.”

Lou’s pale hand floated over to a glove, moving the piece out of danger and placing it behind a pair of lances, “Didn’t seem a proper lord, anyhow.”

The dark man raised a bushy eyebrow, “How do you figure, Lou?”

“Well, proper lord don’t travel alone.” He tapped the side of his long face, winking, “That’s logic, there, Stan.”

The bushy beard shook, leaving a brief cloud of dust, “Nah. Perception’s what that is, my duck. Logic’s when you figger on what kind of person, what ain’t a lord, walks around actin’ so?”

Lou’s thin hand snaked out to catch the circular board as it threatened to capsize, “Well, Stan, seems to me there’s two kinda folk, what ain’t a lord, but walks so.”

Stan leaned back against the grubby tenement wall and laced his fingers together over his stomach, “Enlighten us, great thinker.”

“There’s them what’s really got the patter down. I mean, covered tight, with not a jot out of place, and every p and q dotted.”

Stan nodded slowly, “And t’other?”

Lou shrugged, “Them what’s gonna die.”

Stan nodded sagely, “Now that, my friend, is logic.”

His most high ruler, guardian of the people, protector of the realm, and keeper of the right, King Cadvan the second, hated spectator sports. He disliked public appearances, thought little of being presented as an equal among his lessors, and in this particular case, he was put off by the smell of the creatures.

The smell grew stronger as he approached the stables. It brought the odor of mud and grass and huge animals. Having just emerged from the pristine, air-conditioned dining area built by local lords for his visit, the odor of the stables was nauseating.

The king travelled, as he always did, with an entourage of children his age which he completely ignored, as well as a multitude of serious men, silently awaiting the opportunity to interject some small bit of help, and in so doing, elevate themselves in the process. At the head of the group walked the king’s top advisors. Lord Dunem, his political advisor, rode herd on the pack, making sure that he was always the closest to the king, “The turnout is excellent today, my liege, and it would seem the weather is with us as well.”

The king did not falter in his step, nor deign to turn and face him, “Oh joy. Oh rapture.”

Lord Dunem gave a thin smile, “I apologize if today’s events are distressing to my king. We do try our best to divert the crown from pressing matters of state with events that both lighten his spirit and improve goodwill among the people.”

Cadvan tamped down the sneer. He recognized the bait, and refused to rise to it. The king was well trained in his duties. He knew that, in planning this day’s exercises, his wishes were the least of their considerations. However, he also knew of the political gain in his attendance. Having the king join one house in sport against another at the beginning of the Bear Polo season was a monumental show of support, and would curry him favor with the strongest house in his land.

He knew the duty, and he would perform it. When one considered monarchs, Cadvan felt he was well suited. The king was ever aware of his place and the needs of his station. He knew his pleasantries, as well as his history and manners. He could spot subtle attacks, and he knew how to cut off rebellion quickly. Oftentimes, even without bloodshed.

The king was a slight young man of average build, piercing eyes, and not particularly good looks. His short, blonde hair was carefully kept, with a single lock grown out to a braided ponytail in the back. The ponytail was a ridiculous affectation he had picked up some years earlier on a flight of fancy, which immediately caught the attention of his courtiers. Within a fortnight, the nobility throughout North America were wearing extensions, tied back. Ridiculous superstitions sprung up regarding what the length or thickness of one’s braid said about the man. Now, even though the king had tired of the style, it would be considered rude for him to cut it off, and would weaken his position among the lesser nobility.

The key to the king’s authority lay in his most powerful feature, his eyes. He had a piercing stare that could bring lesser noblemen to their knees in fear. Cadvan was often loathe to employ fear, but he respected its power. To his mind, a good king never turned down an advantage.

Unfortunately, that same stare seemed utterly impotent when employed on Lord Dunem. The man was the very voice of proper decorum, unwilling to show the slightest concern on any topic. He dressed in the colors of an undertaker, unnerving as it was on his tall, thin frame. His head was ever held high, his nose angled slightly upward, forming a triangle between the folds of his cheeks and the thin line of his mouth. His face was chiseled as if from white marble, with blue eyes and a monocle perched precariously upon his thin cheek. His hair was short and black, bound back from his widows peak with a golden band. He had never succumbed to the affectation of a ponytail, and none questioned his choice. His clothes were all straight lines and ruffles. His shoes and buttons gleamed. The monocle perched in his left eye glinted status updates and news events that were visible to none but him. The lord never travelled without his connection to the news.

The king’s head inclined slightly toward his chief advisor, “What do we have after this circus?”

“Circus, my liege?”

Cadvan nodded at the stables, “We have trained bears at the ready. With this group of ridiculous clowns following me, I would say we have the makings of a real circus, wouldn’t you?”

The advisor smiled through gritted teeth, “Yes, sir. Very droll, my king. I presumed you referred to tomorrow’s game.”

The king raised a manicured hand to his forehead briefly, “Dear Gods, I’d almost forgotten that. Another damned public spectacle.” He took a deep breath, “But what of today? What follows this game?”

The advisor’s voice droned with a practiced, professional tone, “Following your triumph on the pitch, sir, you have a teleconference with the Russian, German, Egyptian, and -”

Cadvan raised a hand, silencing the man without breaking stride, “I don’t want anything to do with the Indian situation.”

His advisor nodded, “Very good, sir.”

The king continued as if he hadn’t heard, “Stupid business anyway. What point is there in fighting for freedom? We all know how that story ends.” He shook his head, “No one is ever truly free.”

“Mmm. Yes sir.” The tall, officious Lord raised one imperious eyebrow at him. He said in a soft voice, “If you refer to the matter of the lady -“

Cadvan cut him off, “General Elling. How are we on the war?”

Shadowing the king at a respectful distance was his military advisor, General Harcourt Elling. The old, grizzled warrior wore a scar that marred half his face, reaching from the top of his right ear down to the corner of his mouth. His gray eyes viewed the king from under a concerned scowl. He did not allow his slight limp to slow him as he walked with the group.

At his summoning, General Elling replied, “Not well, sir. Not well at all.”

“What is it this time? Have we not settled Guadalajara?”

“Yes, my liege. That territory is once again under your rightful reign.”

“Well, then, let us have a guess. India is sucking us into their stupid civil war by threatening New Zealand.”

The old warrior raised an impressed eyebrow, “No, my king. Nothing so dramatic as that. I’m sure my liege realizes that the minor, unseen concerns are every bit as dangerous as the -”

“Russia?” Cadvan’s step faltered a bit as he turned to look at General Elling.

“Yes sir. Our holding action is costing more in casualties and wounded than projections led us to believe. More importantly, battles along the Russian border are costing far more in ammunition than anticipated.”

The king scowled, “It’s their own damn fault for stirring their people up. Get them excited, they start fighting harder, and then who’s to pay for that?”

As they entered the stables, the crisp snap of footsteps on concrete gave way to a wet sucking sound by the mud and hay. Cadvan pointed to the far stall, “That one, is it? Cinnamon?”

Lord Dunem stepped up beside him, “Yes, my lord. The one you chose at Lord Wilde’s party last year. You were especially taken with its breeding and color.”

Cadvan knew all to well that he had not chosen that bear. It was tribute, yet another expected gift, given to him as a favor by nobility who only wished it as an investment in his goodwill. The bear wasn’t his choice. Nothing ever was.

Cadvan turned to General Elling, “Tell the Russian Prime Minister that I will require of him a loan to cover the ammunition costs.”

The warrior’s scowl deepened, “To cover the cost of battling them?”

“If it is war he wants, he can damn well pay for it.” Cadvan rested one hand upon the stall door and looked inside. The bear was already saddled and bridled, fairly shaking with nervous energy. It was a large, light brown beast, with powerful, dark eyes that Cadvan thought he recognized. The creature looked at the gaggle standing outside its pen before raising one paw to worry at its bridle.

Cadvan said, “Make sure it’s done before our conference today. I don’t want him looking surprised when I tell him he’s going to pay for fighting us.”

The general clicked his heels in the soft mud and straw. He bowed and backed away, “Yes, my king.”

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like a moment before we begin, to personally inspect the beast.”

Lord Dunem made shooing motions to the entourage, “Of course, your worship.”

Cadvan entered the stall slowly, looking at the mighty creature. While standing on all fours, it was as tall at the shoulders as he was. Cadvan closed the stall door, and the bear took one step closer to him, watching him warily.

The king waved it away, “Please.” He retreated to a far corner, and took his repose in the mud. The Russians would not protest much, he knew. They would pay for their war, and everything would proceed as it always had. Nothing ever changed. Even when he strove to break the mold he was assigned, forces beyond his control conspired and whispered, and brought him back. The very system he owned turned on him to clutch and strangle him with his inertia and duty.

From his lips passed a whisper, “The lady.” It was little more than a breath and barely less than a prayer. He placed his elbows on his knees, and cradled his head in his arms. He looked down at the heavy, golden brooch on his chest, then grabbed it. In one move, he snatched it away from his tunic, and threw it across the room, startling the bear. It turned its ponderous head to frown at him, and stepped further away.

Cadvan scowled up at the beast, “I need not accept it. No, I do not face Fate on my knees, begging for scraps of opportunity.” The lumbering creature frowned at him around its bit.

“My whole life is too great for them to control.” He walked over to the bear, who ambled behind him to the stall door, “Bits and pieces of me they may peck away, but they do not rule me”. Cadvan opened the door for him, taking harness in hand, “Do not worry Cinnamon. I’ll let you out.”

He looked at his tiny hand, controlling the head of the mighty beast. It followed obligingly as he led it out of the stables, harness held lightly in his hand, “I’ll get us both out.”

Police Captain Gallant Trumble was a small man in every possible way. At five-foot-one, most men would look down on his pasty, bald head. What hair he had, he grew out long, and combed it over his shame, but he knew it was a thin artifice. He thought his pencil-thin mustache lent him distinction, but to others it simply seemed predatory on his bulbous, frog-like head.

Captain Trumble always tried to dress better than his men, but most of his men were detectives, trained in observation. They knew a second-hand suit when they saw one. He wore glasses to feign intelligence, but refused to pay for the data plan, so instead he simply pretended that his specs streamed data. Once, the precinct had offered to pay for his data plan, but he demurred with a grandiose, “No, if I were to have this, I would be honor-bound to provide it to my men, an expense the force can ill afford.”

He was later caught removing an account ID card from a pair of specs in the evidence room in an attempt to hijack a suspect’s data plan.

The Captain was born the son of a butcher, and was never at a loss for money. When cattle across North America were hit with the gray waste, whole herds were lost, driving the price of meat upwards, and sending his family into a life of riches. His father brought honor to the family with his public work with the starving poor while young Gallant bought toys and friends.

At a young age, Gallant realized that no matter how much money they made, his father would never be a nobleman. Despite all their effort and influence, true greatness would ever elude their grasp. Young Gallant felt robbed, cheated, and in his wroth, he sought out ways to get back at life. Following that, on every test he cheated, every friend, he betrayed. Any dodge he could think of to cure this perceived injustice was exhausted. When he heard of the Hidden Institute, he begged his father to find a way to enroll him. The elder Trumble refused, saying that Gallant should accept the good life they had, and be proud of their role in society. Gallant shouted and fumed, ranted and destroyed furniture in his tantrum, but his father remained resolute. That was the day Gallant left home forever.

Gallant Trumble joined the police as a means of controlling the law. He saw the position as nothing more than a way to control those around him, and possibly even exert a measure of control over the nobility. In the precinct locker room, he heard men speak of the miscreants they’d collard, where some minor duke or lord was entangled in drugs or prostitution. “Nobs always beg”, the men said. They would always offer favors in exchange for their freedom. The rumors of bribes became more fanciful with each telling. Some said the nobs offered money, others land. Once, a grizzled veteran told them, “Tha boyo I nicked sez, ‘Please, sir! I can introduce you to high society! I’ll get you invites to the nicest parties’ or some rot. As though a blue’s gonna risk his tackle just for some fancy-dress.”

The words struck Gallant to his core. That thing he’d dreamed of, the one door that had always seemed closed, and here was an opening. He knew what an introduction to society could bring. He knew the value of showing up at those parties. The simple laborers who wore the street blues may not have known the value of social climbing, but Gallant was not so blind. He swore he would find one of these noblemen. Give me one hour, he thought, one hour alone in an interrogation room with the vids on standby. Gallant knew he could wring an offer out of one of them.

Trumble acted upon this epiphany by becoming a tireless worker, investigating every possible case for a connection to the nobility. His diligence pushed him up the ranks, while his tendency to hand off more common cases to other detectives lent him the appearance of a team player. An eventual consequence of this attitude was making Captain, which lent him the ability to monitor dozens of investigations at a time, always seeking that elusive link to the nobility.

He was in his office, searching through bylaws for a way to list a prostitute on his payroll without raising budgetary eyebrows, when a young sergeant rushed in.

“Sir, got us a nibble!”

Captain Trumble swept the small stack of papers into an open drawer, then shut it quickly, “The door was closed for a reason. If you weren’t born in a whorehouse, you’d know to knock.”

The boy didn’t even blink, “You recall I’s earlier mentionin’ the Earl o’ Viborg?”

The Captain waved him away, “Dead end.” He knew the young sergeant had spent weeks following enquiries about a foreign lord, but without result. To have a member of the nobility visit the station at all was a rare occurrence, but there were five visits recently that were far more curious. Each visit involved a nervous-looking nob who would cautiously ask if anyone had reported any information about an “Earl of Viborg”, but refuse to leave a statement. Each of them, when questioned, refused to give any information about themselves or lodge any formal complaint against the Earl. One of the nobs let it slip that the Earl had lifted a significant sum from his coffers before swanning off for a vacation with his daughter. However, when the officer on duty suggested that he fill out a statement, the nobleman went white as a sheet and almost ran from the room. After that, young Sgt. Samson began an investigation of the Earl.

Viborg was a city couched in the middle of a war-torn area, claimed by both the Germans and the NEN (Nordeuropeiska länder). Records from the area were sketchy at best, as Americans were not allied with either power, and were not allowed even casualty reports from the former Danes. For a time, Gallant had hoped that he would be able to capture this lord in some nefarious plot. Even if none of the nobs would press charges, he could hold the Earl for a few hours, suggest that America had no formal extradition to the battlefield states, and try to sweat an offer out of him. But without witnesses or information from the area regarding the Earl, the case had lost steam.

Then fortune smiled upon the sergeant. His girlfriend was of Scandinavian descent, and still knew people who were in contact with loved ones in the battle zone. He was able to inquire about the Earl, but even that hope proved fruitless. The message received stated that the Earl was a 60-year-old man who, following injuries in the war, was now permanently bedridden. Captain Trumble was crushed to hear the news. He suspected that the nobs who had approached him initially were doing so as some sort of obscure jest. The sergeant wished to pursue the matter by tracking the witnesses, but feared what might come of investigating the nobility. Without a witness or description of the man, the case could only wither on the vine.

Captain Trumble, now reminded of it by his young sergeant, snapped at him in anger, “Your whole investigation was nothing more than a waste of my time. The man’s a damn invalid. He’s got nothing to do with us.”

“Jus’ so, sir. But viddie this-“ He pushed an active-matrix sheet in front of the Captain, “Tha’s his ident on the door outside the Westin Hills Inn.”

Gallant squinted at the short animation that played on the paper. A young man walked up to the door, swiped his ID, and was let in by the doorman. The security camera crawler showed the time, location, and the name “Erl. Viborg”.

Captain Trumble frowned, “Is that vid accurate?”

The sergeant shrugged, “Can’t fake the ident scan.”

The captain smiled and rubbed the edge of his thin mustache between finger and thumb, “That man is not bedridden.”

“Jus’ so. I’d give loose odds he ain’t the Earl, neither.”

“But he certainly does look noble, doesn’t he? The suit, the walk, he’s every bit the gentleman.”

“Yessir, but I suspect a cuckoo.” Gallant frowned up at him, “An impostor, sir.” The sergeant’s breathing grew shallow. There had not been a charge of impersonating the nobility in years, and never one in his precinct. Certainly not a successful, living one.

The captain grinned at him, “Good work, Jones.”

“Samson, sir.”

“Whatever. Get a wave to the SWAT team.”

The sergeant’s face clouded, “SWAT? Just ta pinch one nob?”

“You heard me. I want them suited and ready in twenty minutes.” The captain jumped up and stormed into the main office. “I want men on every exit to that building in the next five minutes.” He strode past desks of concerned-looking detectives, “I want a jumper on that roof in ten minutes. I want a total comms blackout in that building. I want the power ready for shutdown at my command. And I-“ he turned back to proudly face his confused men.

Every one was looking up at him from their seats as he posed heroically in front of the weapons locker, “I will lead the raid.”

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