Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 21 (of 43)

XXI


During the weeks and months that followed, Al’bert (with the encouragement of le Duc) was literally the head of a clandestine campaign among the noble class that undermined the ruling family of Schloeffelonia. Whether it was brilliance or serendipity on Fang’s part that he put Al’bert in this position was never clear, but no other person could be more perfectly suited for the role. Al’bert had a sixth sense with people and knew how to ferret out who would and would not back Fang in a total coup.

It was split, really. There were many distant relatives of the Schloeffels, and none of those were disloyal to the King at all. Those with no known relation were more willing, but still only about half seemed interested in seeing a change or preserving themselves at the cost of those higher up the chain. Al’bert talked frankly about the coming coup with very few among that half, and only then under intensely secretive circumstances. Fang relied on the power of surprise for his plan to work the way he wanted to, and disallowed Al’bert from mentioning the exacts of how he would accomplish such a great overthrow in order to keep as many cards in his hand as he could until the day came to show them all.

It was ignorance and innocence all at once for the elves, who did not truly know what it was they were doing, and to whom betrayal seemed like a game that surely could have no real consequences. They had lived with wealth and peace for so long they couldn’t imagine anything else existed. They had heard about war and poverty, of course, but it was something that happened to other people: not them.

Regardless, outside the knowledge of the King and his family, Schloeffelonia was breaking to pieces of its own accord, melting like a great iceberg and shifting away to fade in different directions.

One day, Geeves was handed a nondescript letter by a dubious sort wearing a scarf and fingerless gloves.

Geeves,

I have a proposal you will find hard pressed to refuse. Meet me at the Shifting Winds Inn outside of Rascaline in three nights’ time.

Mention it to no one. I will know if you do.

Prince Fangline

Geeves found this peculiar and curious, and disturbing in a way he couldn’t exactly pinpoint, but instantly resolved to pursue it.

From the beginning, Geeves had been the valet for the Schloeffels. If the class difference were not so prominent between them, he would have considered the king his best friend, and vice versa. As it was, there was always a shelf between them, but the king relied upon Geeves for nearly everything and Geeves took great pride in his role as the foundation that lifted his royal charge to a higher pedestal. It was the way it should be; he felt it within his bones.

His life had been dedicated to the royal family within the palace. He had always made it his business to assure everything ran smoothly and to tie loose ends together. Beyond that, Geeves was an unusually observant man and there was very little that did not pique his interest to be catalogued in the library of his consciousness. As a result of this, he knew every member of the family intimately and far more extensively than any of them realized or that he would ever admit. He knew every idiosyncrasy, weakness, and strength. He loved them all dearly in his arms’ length way.

Taking a brief leave to visit a nephew who didn’t exist, Geeves neared the inn on that night with some hesitancy. He wondered on Fangline and how he had fared in the world. He considered why Fangline might want to speak with him, and no one else. Of all people, it seemed to Geeves that he himself was the least desirable to the prince.

He was immediately recognized by a human outside of the inn.

“You’re Geeves?” asked the human directly.

“Yes, I am,” he replied, taking in the front of the inn. It was derelict, but everything made by humans appeared derelict by elven standards. It might have been a lovely inn to humans, for all he could judge.

“Follow me,” said the human, and he turned to pass through the wooden door in the front of the inn. Geeves followed, and, ignoring the particular smell within the inn, was led into an inner room, which was large and likely used for dining parties.

Regardless of being large, the room was full. First there was a large wooden table which filled most of it, and that was surrounded by chairs. Mostly, though, there were a lot of humans standing who possessed varying degrees of subtly threatening brutishness, and in the center of them, sitting at the head of the table, was …

“Prince Fangline,” said Geeves politely, putting on his most nonplussed face. Fangline didn’t look like Fangline to him. Not only had he changed entirely in dress and look, but his countenance was the countenance of another person.

“Only ‘Fang’, Geeves,” said Fangline, with a smile that knows something.

“As you wish, Your Highness,” replied Geeves, wherein Fang’s expression held a brief flash of the strained. “You called for me?”

Fang nodded, gesturing for Geeves to sit, which he didn’t do. In reply, Fang stood and approached Geeves directly.

“The butler to the last, aren’t you?” Fang asked him in a rhetorical way while displaying a light, lopsided smile.

“It is what I am,” and he paused. “Fang.”

Fang considered him then glanced back at the humans awaiting his orders for a moment. He turned back to Geeves.

“Geeves, you’re a direct sort of fellow, so I’m going to be direct with you,” he said. “I’m going to take Schloeffelonia in two days.”

Geeves prided himself on the ability to take any sort of news without a single hair falling out of place, however, at this statement from Fang, his eyes widened slightly before he could stop himself. From Geeves this was the equivalent of an audible gasp from anyone else. Fang didn’t notice or didn’t care, for he continued.

“Either I can do it with a great deal of destruction to the city proper, or the damage can be … minimal.”

With this he looked meaningfully at Geeves, whose stomach had fallen to the floor, although he veneered his outward countenance to placidity. There was only a brief pause before he managed to form a sentence.

“How, may I ask, do you intend to ‘take’ Schloeffelonia in two days?” he asked Fang with a glance at the ruffians nearby.

Fang smiled at him.

“You know me, don’t you, Geeves?” he asked.

“I thought I did, Your Highness,” said Geeves.

“Don’t call me that,” said Fang irritably.

“Then perhaps I don’t know you at all, anymore,” said Geeves.

“Perhaps not, but Schloeffelonia is going to be mine,” said Fang. “You, Geeves, have two choices: You can either go home and warn everyone and they can arm themselves and I will have to kill a great deal of people and destroy much of the city to take it, or you can help all of this to go as smoothly and cleanly as possible.”

Fang paused, allowing Geeves to digest his words.

“The royal family has to die, as is the way of these things. You know this,” said Fang, matter-of-factly.

Geeves began to feel a very special sort of nausea at this point.

“But I will only kill who I have to if you’ll cooperate,” he continued.

“Stop,” said Geeves, who had lost his composure, if only briefly. He simply wanted to leave.

“No,” pressed Fang, taking Geeves by the arm. “I will kill every elf in Schloeffelonia if I have to, Geeves. I have the means.”

Geeves blinked slowly.

Regardless of how impossible it seemed, he did know Fang, or at least he knew Fangline, and although he didn’t want to, he believed him. Through some acute inner sense or through the intricate analysis that constantly filled Geeves’ mind, he knew Fang was speaking the truth. This sent a shudder through the center of Geeves, but, being a practical person at heart, his brain began to turn, mechanical as a clock, and he shoved all sentiment aside in order to weigh facts.

Knowing the king inside and out, he knew what His Majesty would ask of him, should he be aware of the particulars of this situation. It was almost as if the king did know, even though he didn’t in any tangible sense, for Geeves knew the mind of His Majesty of Schloeffel with great intimacy and affection. However, this didn’t make what Geeves now had to do accomplish anything greater than tearing his heart to pieces.

“Let’s start with a list of who you have to kill,” said Geeves, resigned to a businesslike demeanor over lives.

“The Schloeffels and the army,” he said briskly.

“The whole army?” asked Geeves.

“They have sworn to protect the royal family, have they not?”

“Yes, but-,” protested Geeves.

“I can’t have dissenters, and since I have my own army already, I …”

Fang paused, glancing at Geeves.

“Well, do you have another idea?” he asked the butler.

Geeves did have an idea, as desperate as it was.

“What if we sent the army somewhere outside of Schloeffelonia?” he asked Fang.

Fang considered.

“It certainly would make my job easier that day,” he said. “But the army would eventually return, wouldn’t it? That doesn’t really help the cause, so to speak.”

Geeves was pushing his mind, which was remarkably capable of analyzing situations and possible outcomes with an almost miraculous ability, to its very limits. Were he a steam engine he would have been whistling, but fortunately he was just an elf.

“What if you put Prince Sangwine at the head of it, and then set up the lot for disaster?” said Geeves. “Have you heard of the idiom ‘killing two birds with one stone’?”

Fang’s interest seemed piqued, so Geeves went on.

Pixie Pass,” he said simply. “It is only the treaty with the king that stops the pixies from mangling any elf who passes through. If something should change and the pixies were to be assured there was nothing left to fear from the elven king…”

“Geeves, I had no idea your mind was such a diabolical thing,” said Fangline, whose face lit with seeing Geeves in a whole new light and he appeared fascinated by the butler.

Geeves glanced down and exhaled with resignation.

“Well, in that case, at least the whole army wouldn’t have to die,” he said.

Fang was quiet for a long moment, causing Geeves to eventually look into his face out of curiosity.

“Perhaps not,” allowed Fang at last.

Geeves left the inn with a heavy burden on his shoulders, and the mere act of leading his horse to the west and his home was a loath one. He was almost completely certain Fang was lying to him about sparing even a small part of the army, but in a case like this concessions had to be made.

In the darkness of the pass, he drew solace from his plan that Fang had taken. Schloeffelonia may be lost for now, but there would be a chance, however slim, for hope in the future.

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