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Lord Percy

This follows on from Granny’s Visit. (Proof read a little bit. No substantive changes.)

To some extent, when you are my size, the problem in life is
to be taken seriously by intellectuals. 
Someone who applies themselves repeatedly to a task can become
proficient at almost any skill, provided that they are not hopelessly unsuited,
and become passing good at it.

This I had endeavoured to do in many things, but the thing
that came most easily was fighting with the sword and the mace, and next to these
things all other tasks required more dedication than I necessarily had time to
give.  In truth though I have always been
stubborn when it comes to knowledge and knowledgeability, and have stuck to
tasks long after other souls would have abandoned them, so I become proficient
in languages; those of the dark people, residing under the earth; those of the
noble god-kings in the equatorial lands, and their mathematics and geometry
too; and the language of the flying things, the people of the light and the
flower people.

The insights this gave, I find hard to describe, but I see
that the world is not always as the culture and traditions of my birth would
have it, we are a parochial people by nature, private and severe.

One of our most severe traditions is trial by combat.  Any man may challenge his better, that would be me right now, I’m the Emperor, and the man challenging me is Lord Percy a foppish idiot who had the temerity to question my word over something as foolish as asking for the room.

I know why he did it, witchcraft is against the law, something
I very soon intend to change, and I was entertaining a witch who had the
self-assurance to walk right into the palace and give me a bit of any
inspection.  M’Lord Percy couldn’t
tolerate that and now I might be forced to end his life over it.  What a stupid reason.

Granny Wakefield left and I arrived outside the door to the
palace with my second, my good friend, Berkshire, Lord Berkshire of Montrose
actually, and Carruthers, my manservant.

“I’m a serf actually, your Majesty.”  Said Carruthers.  I stopped mid-stride.  His talent for writing as we walked was
invaluable, and yet he’d just told me he wasn’t even paid as such.

“I thought serfdom died out, I thought you were paid.”  Carruthers sighed.

“Alas no, Your Majesty, you predecessor saw fit to reintroduce
the institution as soon as he ascended the throne.  Most of the Palace staff live in as a result.”
He said.  I ground my teeth somewhat.  I reached back and grasped his lapel on his
uniform.

“Gently.”  Said Berkshire.  I let go and patted the man back into shape.

“My apologies Carruthers. 
Soon as we sorted this Percy business out, that’s our next order of
business, alright?”  Carruthers looked
unflustered.

“As you wish, sir. 
Shall I made a note of it.”  His
pen was poised.

“Carruthers, you can interrupt whatever distractions I get
into, in fact, it is your duty to interrupt whatever distractions I get into
after this, in order to keep me on track to fix this.  Understood?”

He scratched away with the pen, “Understood, Sir.”  Berkshire looked at me.

“There’s been a lot of damage in ten years.”  I clapped him on the shoulder and smiled.

“No rest for the wicked.” 
I said.  “We’ve got a lot of fixing
up to do, so you better gird your loins.”

“It’s not my loins I’m worried about.  It’s my brain.  Have you seen the state of the paperwork?”

“Yes, well never mind that now.  Let’s sort this ass out.”  We went out. 
I rolled my eyes.  Percy was done
up like something out of some sort of mummers play, and he had two seconds, and
as far I could make out some thirds, fourths and a small crowd of fifths and
hangers on too.  This was going to be a
show.  He really only had to bloody me to
show that I wasn’t immortal, or some sort of demi-god and people would question
everything.

Thing is, I want them to question things, but in an orderly
way.  I have some ideas, but they are not
well formulated yet.

In the meantime, I had to bring him to heel.

At least the gathered crowd had the grace to give a small
smattering of applause.

I smiled and waved graciously.

“Perhaps I should take your cloak, Your Majesty?”

“Most kind, Carruthers.” 
I said in a loud voice.  “Thank
you for your consideration.”  He bowed
slightly, and I bowed, not as deeply, in return.  The sounds of susurration reached us clearly.  Berkshire stepped over and opened a wooden
box he had been carrying.

“Have you ever thought of working on just one thing at once?”  He murmured. 
I looked into the box and the rapier with the huge handle, which he’d
had made, by the evidence, sometime in the recent past.  “How did you know I’d need this?  And no, I haven’t.”

“I knew it,” Berkshire said, “as soon as they started making
you carry that damned pin.”  He fingered
the end, which had a small brass ball on it. 
“You won’t stab anyone with this, but the blade will have a fearful whip
about it in your hands, if you so fancy.”

I took the weapon, if you could call it that, up out of the
box.  It fit my hand very well, but was
not longer than any other rapier, at least scale wise, which gave me a clear
six inches on the good M’Lord Percy.  Berkshire
was right though, I wouldn’t stab him with it. 
I noticed that the ball was not polished though.

“Bit of a rough finish there wot?”  I said, examining the pitted surface more
closely.  It looked more regular than I
expected.  “What’s this about.”  Berkshire in response brought out a large
piece of chalk from his doublet, wrapped in wax paper, and exposing the chalk
rubbed it vigorously on the little ball. 
A great deal of the chalk stayed on it.

“Go fight.  Don’t get
stabbed.”  I gave him an old-fashioned
look.

“I’ll do my very best not to.”

I approached the clearing the crowd had so kindly left for us.

“M’lord Percy.  I
understand you’re dissatisfied with my orders.” 
I said and waited.

“Your Imperial Majesty. 
I, Lord Percival Montague the Third, son of Percival, Lord Montague the
second, son of…” He droned on for some time and Carruthers can fill in all the
details later if he so desires, but really you don’t need it, it took some time
and my mind wandered.

What it wandered to was this. 
Most of the crowd was stood behind Percy, but there was another crowd
coming up the hill, and it was made of farmers and peasants and tradesmen and
women, the less well to do ones, the ones who scraped by.  And leading them was a fresh-faced young
woman with blonde hair, well dark blonde anyway, and deep blue eyes.  She was clearly recently scrubbed up and
dressed and looked like she’d run half way to the castle and been carried the
rest.  She as pinching her cheeks to make
them look rosy, but saw me looking at her, somewhat of a rose among the thorns,
and put her hands down by her side.  She
dropped her eyes briefly, trying to be demure or something, but I was holding
her gaze and she returned mind almost defiantly, and then after a minute, yes,
Percy droned on for that long, put her hands on her hips and dropped one,
tapping her other foot.

I smiled.  This was Marjorie.  I was sure of it.

The sun touched the horizon.

“Let us fight, M’Lord, before we lose the light.”  I interrupted.

“Right,” he said, uneasily. 
“Are you sure you want to fight me with that toy?  You cannot draw blood without a tip you know.”  That annoyed me.

“I do not want to waste a man today, M’Lord, so this will mark
you when I strike.  If you draw blood you
have your point and I will do what thou will in the challenge.  So state it formally.  If you cannot strike me, cannot draw blood,
then you will swear fealty, and for a period of one year, you shall go about in
public with a sign of my touch upon you. 
Agreed?”

“Agreed.  Suffer not a
witch to live for she is a blight upon the land.  Your Imperial Majesty entertained one such
and took no steps to correct her, nor punish her, nor imprison her.  The royal person entertained her and did
service upon her and dismissed the beloved courtiers and servants of the royal
household, and I seek satisfaction for the slight upon the royal house.”

Nothing like a little arrogance in the face of certain chalk,
I thought.

“We’ll stop when you get tired.”  I said. 
“From fatigue or humiliation.”  I added.  That really made him cross.

“En garde!”  He said.  I assumed the position.

Now, about this time I guess you’re expecting some technical description
of the fight, and indeed the elves, from whom the term “En garde!” comes, had
taught me well.  I was younger then and
didn’t have time for theory; I had time for the young elf women, who thought me
most extraordinary and I’m a little ashamed to say that I took full advantage.

It was an education in many ways.  For one thing I learned a lost of history.  The Elven language in its original form is
called Français, we would say French;
and is thousands of years old.  Unlike
other languages though, it is preserved unchanging from a time in which our
entire planet and way of life was different. 
It was the only language preserved because the native speakers valued it
being static and unchanging, writing many books about how it was to be spoken
and written.  French was one of the
ancient languages from before history was history, and it has words we have know
idea the meaning of, only that they relate to ideas and concerns that have long
passed from memory.

Most of all though, I learned to dance, with light young
ladies, and with a rapier, and it takes nothing to recall a memory of better
times.

I remember the weapon being a dance, a ballet.  Its use is a lightness of being, a drift in
clouds compared to the brutal clang of the broadsword and the mace.  A barely heard sweep is the sound of the
rapier, not the swoosh of the air being brutalized by the cut of iron.  It is better to pad in slippers with such a thing,
than to clomp about in steel shoes, and Percy might as well have been wearing
full armour for all the grace he showed as he stamped and trust toward me, keeping
a single line, feet parallel, a yacht to be keeled over as he knifed along his
imaginary perch.

I danced from side to side, I pirouetted, I soared, I floated,
I danced and flirted, I bounded, and I was upon him, steel together, and then I
darted away again like a bird, a small “pof!” of sound where I struck him in
the shoulder. A large white mark puffed up while he spun around, discomfited.

I retired.

“You know,” said Berkshire, “if you hit him a bit less hard,
the chalk lasts a few hits.”  He took the
sword and chalked it up again.  “And you’ll
break his collarbone if you do that too often.”

“I don’t want to humiliate the man by playing with him.”  I replied.

“You won’t be humiliating him
if you let him cut you by accident.”

“Please.”  My tone could
possibly be described as derisive, yes. 
I didn’t say it loudly.

Percy took up the position again.

“End it.”  Whispered Berkshire.  I looked over at Marjorie.  She had an undecipherable look on her face
and she jutted her chin out in Percy’s direction, urging me to get on with it.

I looked at the man and, not raising my sword, waited.  After a few reluctant seconds he said,

“Touché, your majesty.”

I raised my sword.

Honestly, I thought the man had lost his mind at this point,
because he just rushed at me it seemed.  When
I looked at it again later in my head, I realised that he had employed good
technique, generally, but he was really cross, and not thinking straight, so I
stuck the ball in his other shoulder.  He
still barrelled into me, not the
form, and bounced off, falling awkwardly. 
I instantly reached out to catch him, but his sword was up and I caught this
instead, gripping it tightly.

What came away was a bent mass.  He looked at it from his prone position, and
then mustering as much dignity as he could manage, got up and went to his
seconds.

I was a bit embarrassed to tell the truth, and I motioned Berkshire
and Carruthers to silence as I waited to see what the man would do.  He returned a few moments later with a fresh
rapier, corked and presented me the hilt while kneeling.  He then ritually removed the cork and placed
the pint against his heart, head bowed.

“My life is yours, Your Majesty.”

“What?”  I said, without
any grace or aplomb whatsoever.

“My life is yours Your Majesty.  By custom, tradition and law my life is yours
because I have threatened the royal personage and found myself to be in the wrong.”

“Is this because I tried to help you up?”

“Yes your Majesty.  Even
while I was trying to harm you, you tried to help me.  I am humiliated before God and the populace.”

“Get up, man.”  He
looked up.  “Damn well get up.” I
repeated.  He rose.

“We’ll have a longer talk in private.  But I want everyone to hear this.”  I raised my voice.  “Lord Percy challenged my actions upon a
point of law, a law which I feel is unjust and is, because right now I’m in
charge, going to change for the better. 
I don’t want to hear of any man or woman from now on raising their hand
against the witches.  I know they serve
the peasants and the commons, and that’s their place.  I know they have a lot of respect, and I
respect them too, so anyone raising their hand to a witch will answer to me personally.  Lord Percy had really only one recourse to
challenge me, and that’s stupid, so we’re going to change that soon as
well.  In the meantime he’ll pay his penance,
as agreed, but not blame attaches to this brave man.”  I raised his arm up as far as I dare.  “A cheer for Lord Percy for standing up for
his beliefs and the law.”  A ragged cheer
did go up, and I let the man go.  Then a
man in the crowd shouted,

“A cheer for our merciful Emperor!”  And a much louder cheer went up, which, to be
fair, to, well, ah me, was very gratifying. 
But one didn’t cheer.

There she was, standing alone, the crowd a little away from
her, and she started clapping slowly, almost sarcastically at first, but I
could see a smile on her face.  Around
Marjorie others took up the clapping and it became a cheer and talk and clapping
and pats on the back and handshakes and our workers, not serfs, not servants; employees,
started bringing out beer and cold cuts and bread and all manner of good things
for the assembled, and torches were lit and tents raised and late, late into
the night, just before dawn, when the last of the revellers were just falling
asleep, a few singers trying to hang on to the very last, a hand slipped into
mine.

Silent, Marjorie led me to low hill nearby, where we could see
the silhouettes of trees and the river flowing below, just visible in the mist
before sunrise.  And there we sat and
talked about many things, one of which was Empire.

“You own everything as far as the eye can see.”  She said.

“I suppose I do,” I reflected, “technically.”  She looked up from where she was leaning on
my shoulder.

“Technically?”  I shrugged
a little.

“How much can a man truly own. 
In my experience it’s the horse he rides, the land he tills and the
house he has built.  Nothing more.”

“But you’re the Emperor.”

“Aye.”

“So you own everything. 
By right of might and the armies you command.”  I looked down at her.

“Oh well if might is all that matters, I do own everything,
but where’s tomorrow’s food coming from if no-one farms it.  From my hand, so I’m a farmer.  Where’s the water to come from?  A well, so I’m a digger.  And where’s all the waste going to go?  So I’m a composter.  Wood, from the forest…”

“I take the point.  So
you need servants.”

“I need people to service the government, and I need someone
to cook for the household, because I have not the time to do it and rule.”

“Servants.”

“Employees, people free to come and go.  People who choose to work for me because I am
a good employer and treat them kindly.”

“There are none of those.”

“Then perhaps it is time there were some.”

“Will you really change the law on witches?”  She changed the subject.

“I have changed it.”  I
shifted a bit to face her better. “Technically I’m a tyrant.  When I spoke, that became law.  It’s not right you know, that sort of thing.”

“Oh?  Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”  She
arched an eyebrow,

“I want to hear you say it.”

“Alright.”  I took a
deep breath.  “I have taken lives, my brother’s
for one.”  I paused, carefully watching
her face.

“I am aware, do carry on, we all know what he was.”

“So, when I do that, it’s my responsibility, not the state.”

“State of what?”

“No, I mean not the Empire, I might be acting as ruler, but it’s
me deciding, not the position.  It is the
act of a man, not an institution.”

“Why is that important, you’re one and the same.”

“No, we’re not.  It’s
important because anyone could act on behalf of the state and make that
decision, but not carry it out.  They
would not have to face the consequences of their actions.  When someone faces me in battle, they and I
know it is them or me, unless one of us gives quarter.  It’s been known.  I’m well aware of my natural advantages, so I’m
careful with that power.  As Emperor I
have that power a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold.  If decided every firstborn child was to be
put to death a fanatic like a Percy would see to it.  I wouldn’t have to see a single dead child.”

“You’d have to be some sort of monster to do that.”

“You said that you know, everybody knows, what my brother was.”

“Yes, point made.  That’s
not you.”

“No.  Anyway, that would
be the state acting, and the state should not have the power of life or death
over its citizenry.  Whatever the circumstances.”

“Why?  And you don’t
have citizens, whatever they are, you have subjects.”

“Subjects are owned by the state.  From now on we have citizens.”  I said, carelessly.  She got up and curtseyed.

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty.” 
I must have looked a bit wild eyed because she laughed and sat down
again.  “You did sort of phrase it as a command.”

“Sorry, you’re right, I did. 
I wish I could decree it though.”

“It wouldn’t do any good.” 
I think it was that moment I fell in love with her, because she understood.  She got it.

“No, it wouldn’t.  At
least someone understands.”

“I do.  Granny educated
me well.”

“You’re special.”  She
laid her head on my arm again.

“So are you.”  She said,
and together we watched the sun rise.

Flight

I used to fly.

I don’t mean on an aeroplane, like ordinary mortals.  I mean I used to fly, free and unencumbered,
by my own power.

It was freedom.  It was
bliss, a greater joy than you will ever know. 
I was like… like a superhero, an angel.

I felt inside as though I shone brighter than the sun, not
with heat, but pure light and lightness.

The sheerest pleasure I could feel was to sneak out of my bed
at night and arise into the sky free and clear.

~

Here’s a few things you don’t necessarily know as a child.

Air gets a lot colder as you go up.  It’s only as an adult that I can truly appreciate
that the need to wear warm socks, two pairs of thick trousers and multiple
upper layers when above five thousand feet is common sense.  And gloves, covered by thick mittens, with
possibly a charcoal handwarmer.

My parent rushed me to hospital more than once after I’d been “sitting
on the roof” with hypothermia.  As a
child I had remarkable powers and remarkable intelligence in some areas, but I
was dumb as a post in others.

What didn’t help is that I didn’t understand either about wind
chill.  Wind chill is the enemy.  It causes one to freeze up even faster than
fly up high.  Problem was if I couldn’t
move, I couldn’t steer.  I’m lucky to be
alive, because I’m not invulnerable, though generally my bones don’t break, (I
have broken a toe, some crazy how), so hitting the ground from a great height really hurt.

The human body appears to be naturally hydrodynamic.  It is not naturally aerodynamic.  I didn’t have; some magical or naturally
occurring force-field to keep the wind out of my face, super-strength so I
could punch my way through the air, or, a natural resistance to friction.

I wore swimming goggles, the ownership of which my parents
attributed to my deathly fear of water. 
I do in fact have an absolutely hydrophobic fear of being surrounded by
water, this is why I will go swimming from time to time and dive.  We don’t let our fears define us.  I don’t drink water unless I absolutely must.  I drink coffee, grandma.

The swimming goggles kept the worst of the bugs out of my face
and stopped the wind-chill freezing my eyeballs to blindness.  You want fear?  Try being a few hundred feet up, blind, and
not knowing which way is up or down while feeling, essentially, weightless.  Actually don’t do that, it’s terrifying.  I’d rather a monster came out of the
wardrobe.

I don’t know how I got my eyesight back.  There’s been some damage I’m paying for now.

The air gets thinner.

So there I am, with the greatest power and freedom in the
world, I can fly, just take off, out my window, but I’m what eight years old?  So I know that the atmosphere gets thinner,
but I don’t understand the consequences of that.  I think I’ll just take deeper breaths or
faster breaths or something.

That wasn’t going to, well, ah, um, fly.

Dad worked from the house very often, so I stole a small
oxygen cylinder that he used for welding from the garden.

I tried to steal a small oxygen cylinder that he used for welding
from the garden.

What I actually did was unlatch the cylinder from the frame he
wheeled it around in and then stayed under the fallen device, barely able to
breathe; I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony, until morning.

Never do this.

Do not try to explain to you parents either that you needed
the oxygen for high altitude flying.  What
this gets you is a lot of shouting and screaming, a bloody good hiding, (for
lying), and then some long silences and then some protracted visits to the
psychologist’s office where you have to clamp your mouth shut at all time lest
some unguarded word or deed escapes you and you’re confiscated by the government
for probulation.  I was described as “intelligent
but the most uncooperative child I’ve ever met.”  I didn’t even look at this man for two years,
I still don’t know what he looks like.

There were toys though.

So it turns out that I couldn’t lift the heavy things, so no
oxygen for me.  Apparently, the clothes
on my back were about as much as I could manage.

I wasn’t a superhero, that was clear.

Oh, unless you have binoculars you don’t really have to go
very far up so that you can’t see anything significant on the ground.  I lost many pairs and got into a lot of
trouble for it.  Put the strap around
your neck.

Don’t fly so low that you run into power lines.  Electrocution is not the problem, not grounded
see, but it hurts and they’re not
visible at night at any kind of speed.

Don’t buzz helicopters. 
They are the scariest thing in the sky, I still have nightmares about
getting my head cut off mid-flight.  I
think the pilots have those nightmares too.

Oh, and once last thing.

On any day that I flew I was using up all that energy, thousands
and thousands of calories.  I ate all the
time and hardly ever slept because I was hungry and also hopped up on caffeine,
Gran.

I have diabetes now, and I’m overweight, and no matter how
much exercise I get, it’s not flight, so I don’t lose weight.

But that’s not what stopped my flight.  What stopped it was that it was boring and dangerous and somehow, I was always in trouble even though no-one could see me fly.

Although, if I’m honest, truly honest with myself, I stopped
because no-one could see me fly.  No-one
clapped and cheered for the joy of it. 
No-one said, “Wow that’s amazing!” 
I never got a costume, never got plaudits.  Just flew by myself, frightened and in the dark,
where I was alone, and scared of the dark.

I miss it though.

Granny’s Visit

So I have won. The great general and now
they crown me Emperor and for what?  A
mess of pottage, all the gold in the kingdom and all the malfeasance the kings
and barons of the country can get away with.

Oh yes, it’s been said before but bears repeating, who rules in my stead?  A body of thousands, in essence.  All the petty civil servants and backstabbers and let us not forget those who genuinely believe in what I’ve done.  At least they are actually loyal, and the best of them are not loyal to me, but an idea, an idea bigger than me to be sure.  I count it fortunate that it is thus, perhaps when I am assassinated by some rogue or wizard the Empire will continue for a time in relative peace before the chaos resumes.  Oh yes, there is always chaos, even though my predecessors said that they would set up a dynasty that would “rule for a thousand years”, oh yes, men of vision.  Usually that vision extended to some poor wench they found desirable and at least their beauty lasts in the portrait gallery even if they didn’t.

Someone should remember them. 
I have clerks tracking down their families, I think the treasury could
spare a little compensation.  It’s the
poor that pay the taxes after all.

Oh how they cringe and fawn when they come to see me,
grovelling and shuffling.  I’m an
intimidating figure to be sure and the trapping of office can only increase
that sense of smallness, but really, have we bent the back of the common man so
that he cannot stand?

Truth is, it is likely that we have, well, my antecedents anyway.  I make them sit down with me at table, sup
wine, or milk if that is their fancy, take meat.  I fear some of them have not seen a piece of
crackling in many a good year.  I have clerks
on that matter too.  I hear there have
actually been protests, but I swear that there will be a good crop next year,
or at least the year after.  These people
have not even heard of crop-rotation let alone had the use of tools or irrigation.

I wondered what the treasury had been used for, it was so
depleted.

I am a fratricide now, because I found out.  I reasoned that such a one should not live,
because a mind that would keep those records is one which cannot be
contained.  I shall not detail them here
lest this fall into the hands of more delicate persons.  Frankly, I count myself among them, after
that.  I didn’t draw it out, and I did
not place the responsibility in the hands of another.  In fact I pensioned off all the “inquisitors”
and executioners and told them that they might perhaps be better off retiring to
a quiet corner where they were less well known. 
Most of them took that advice. 
Those that did not, well, the citizenry can be cruel hard judges.  I will not be instituting jury trials for miscreants
for some time to come.

Anyone put to death will die by my hand.  The state should not kill, I’m responsible,
so I’ll do it.  When I really must.

It’s the one thing that the citizens appreciate, they
understand it, and I think it has reduced the fear that pervades everywhere.  Oh the solders are still something fierce and
cruel, and I’ve issue a few commands backed up by a large fist.  It’s good to see the sergeants nodding in
approval.

~

An old witch came to see me. 
She was very wizened indeed, but puissant.  I’m surprised, witchcraft has been outlawed a
hundred years, but I know the peasants have always hidden the good midwives
among them.  I was going to ignore it,
but she just walked right in as if she owned the place.  One of the guards tried to restrain her, it
wasn’t pretty the way she dislocated his shoulder like that.  Got her a reputation right off, and then some
fool tried to shoot her with an arrow.  I
wasn’t quick enough, but she was, turned it right around and got him in the shoulder.

When I did get there she just stood and looked at me, and then
blow me down with a feather, she rolled a cigarette with one hand.  I went to light a match, but honestly the
look she gave me, I think I must have blushed, because most of the court looked
away.  She smoked the whole thing before
she said a word.

“So, you’re him then. 
The new high and mighty.”  I could
see how this was going to go unless I headed it off at the pass.  I nodded, but said,

“Yes Little Mother, perhaps I could make you a cup of tea?”  She looked at me with gimlet eye.

“You mean get one of your milksop lackeys to pour me a cup of
barely seen the leaf?”  She accused.

“Indeed no, Little Mother, I have a kettle and the making of strong
tea by the fire here.”  I’d had them keep
a fire going since moving in, the whole place was damp.

“And will a cup of team made by an Emperor fix me lumbago,
cure gout and make beer a penny a pint?” 
She said irritably.  “And don’t
you offer an old woman a chair these days?” 
I offered her an arm so that we could walk the very short distance to
the comfortable chair by the fire, but she looked it disdainfully.  “I’m old, not crippled.”  And she stamped off to the chairs. She fussed
about arranging her skirts and stick and baggage, I’m sure all witches come
with baggage, while I brought the kettle to the boil and poured a pot of tea with
two extra spoons of tea leaves.  I made
sure to choose the extra fine strainer.

“Milk or lemon, madame?” 
She looked horrified.

“Milk!  What d’you think
I am, some sort of airy-fairy aristocrat?” 
She peered at me again.  “I’ll
take a lemon to ward off the scurvy though,” she said, shrewdly.  I made a gesture and one of my trusted
flunkies scurried off to fetch what I was sure would be a whole bag of
lemons.  I handed her the tea and held
some sugar tongs.

“One lump or two?”  I
said proffering the bowl.

“Six!” She said instantly and took the tongs and loaded the
tea.  I wondered if it would have the
capacity, but after the fourth a piece of wax paper appeared about her person
and she wrapped the last two in it and secreted it in the fold of her
skirt.  After this she sipped the tea,
and, the gods blessing on me, closed her eyes for a moment as she drank.

“Well then,” she said, replacing the cup in the saucer and
holding it out to me.  I refilled it, “you
can make an old lady a cup of tea and no mistake.  But are you fit to be Emperor?”  The was a huge intake of breath from the
assembled.  She looked about, and the
chattering stopped.

“Would you excuse me for a moment, Madame?  Perhaps you would like a biscuit?”  I handed her a heavily laden plate while standing.  I turned to the assembled.

“My lords and ladies, I’m sure you all the important duties to
attend to, so perhaps you would go and attend to them.”

“You’re, you’re dismissing
us?”  There’s always one.

“Yes, my Lord Percy, I am.”

“But,”

“If you have a problem with my entirely reasonable request,
perhaps we could discuss the matter later, at sunset, when unencumbered by the presence
of ladies who might be offended by the presence of blood,” I paused, “et
cetera.”  And I placed my hand on the
hilt of my sword.

Now the thing is, that really I attempted to place my hand on the hilt of my sword, but habitually I
carried around a two-handed bastard sword that it took typically two men to lift,
unless they were about my size, and it would take any four of Lord Percy; but I’d
been persuaded that a six foot long sharpened metal bar was not suitable attire
for palace wear, so unfortunately I had look for it.  Someone had furnished me with some that
looked the size and shape of a knitting needle, and only my first two fingers
would have fitted into the hilt.

The flunky, I shouldn’t call him that, Carruthers, came back
with the lemons.  he sized up the
situation and retained one even as he, quite graciously, game the lemons to the
witch lady, who I noted mentally, had not as yet, graced us with her name.

Percy was smiling.

“If, your Imperial Majesty, you intend to challenge me with
that weapon, should I allow some time for you to become proficient with it?”  There was an “oooh” from the crowd.

“That won’t be necessary.” 
I said, as coldly as I could manage. 
I took the knitting needle, sorry, rapier, out of the holder thingy, it
was some quaint clip arrangement. 
Holding it by the pointy end I said, “Pull!” and Carruthers threw the lemon
high into the air.  I threw the sword as
hard as I could and stabbed the lemon through the heart of its flesh, the sword
continuing to the stone work vaulting of the ceiling and burying itself to the
hilt in the lemon, which dripped.  On Lord
Percy.

“Any questions?”  I asked,
mildly.  Everyone except my immediate flunkies,
sorry, civil servants, filed out silently. 
“Sunset, Percy, out the front.”

“Yes, my Lord.” He replied bowing out of the room.  I felt his voice was quite broken.  I sat down and tried to take a biscuit from
the plate but was thwarted by its vast emptiness.  The witch had enough social graces to look a
little sheepish and then in the other direction as I held the plate out to
Carruthers.

“Carruthers, I find that this plate is empty, quite an
unacceptable state of affair when entertaining a guest, don’t you think?”  He took the plate.

“Quite so, Sir.  I’ll
rectify the situation immediately.”  He
might have had a faint smile hovering about his lips, hard to tell.

I looked at the old woman.

“Perhaps you could get some of the posh ones.”  Her head snapped around.

“I don’t need any airs and graces…”  Carruthers interrupted smoothly,

“With the thicker chocolate? 
The ones that don’t travel?”  I
looked at her again.

“A few airs wouldn’t go amiss I suppose.” She gave, grudgingly,
“But no graces, mind.”

“Perhaps few, suitable for, ah, immediate company.”  I said. 
The man bustled off.

I sat.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit Madame…”  I left it hanging.

“You’re a good bully.” She said, ignoring this.  “Is that all you can do?”  She held the cup out again and I refilled it.

“I can make tea suitable for witches.” I said, evenly.

“Oh, can yer?  I thought
you was making tea for a poor old woman, not a hoity-toity witch.  I think you got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No, Madame.  Please
what should I call you?”

“Well you can stop calling me Madam, I ain’t never been no-one’s
Madam.”  She declared, loading up her tea
again.  It struck me later that she had
very good teeth for someone who consumed such a large amount of sugar.  I guess she might not always have had the
chance to do so, so I couldn’t begrudge her. 
I saw her face relent slightly from its habitual suspicion.  “You can call me Mrs Wakefield.”

“Granny Wakefield?”  I enquired.

“That’s none of your beeswax you young whippersnapper!  There’s them as call me that, but you ain’t
earnt that privilege yet, so you just mind your tongue.”  Carruthers leaned over, and to be honest I
was glad to see her eyes widen slightly, she hadn’t heard him.  She took two of the thickest coated biscuits
and then turned on him.

“I thank you for the food, but don’t you be creeping up on an
old lady like that!  You nearly startled
into a spell.”  She caught herself.   “A funny
turn for a while is what I mean.”

“I do apologise Mrs Wakefield. 
I’ll make sure I make some noise when I move.”

“You do that.”  I tried
again.

“To what do we owe the pleasure, Mrs Wakefield?” I asked
again.

“I come to see if you is getting’ our blessin’ or our cursin’.”

“Our?”  I ventured.  She gestured impatiently.

“The coven.  We comes in
threes you know.”  I was vaguely aware
that where you got one witch you got a couple of others, and there was usually
a convocation once a year, but I didn’t know there was a rule.  “It’s not a rule, it’s just to make sure we
don’t run to the bad or do a difficult birth alone.”

“Right, right.”  I was a
little at sea.

“Anyway, one of us has gots to get a look at you, and that’s
me.”  She held the cup out for tea
again.  I looked in the pot and turned
the kettle to boil again.

“And now you have seen me Mad… ah Mrs Wakefield, what do you
think?”

“You seems like a man off of his elephant.”  I look at her blankly.

“Off of my…”

“Out o’ place.”  I poured
and stirred.  “It might be a good thing.”

“Do you think so?  I
feel, just as you say, off of my elephant.”

“But you thinks before you does things.  You takes responsibility for the hard things.”

“I do my best.”  I
reached for the pot, but stayed my hand, she likes her tea strong.

“Like I said, you thinks before you acts.”

“I need a wife.”  I don’t
know why I said that.  But I did and did.

“I’ll send a girl, our Marjorie is wanting a husband.  She’s pretty enough for you and no more, and
sensible.”

“But what about falling in love, what if we don’t like each
other.”

“Then I daresay you’ll send her away with a bundle o’ clothes
a warm cup o’ tea in her belly and some o’ oranges I hears so much about.”

“I could get some for you…” I began, but she waved this away.

“Marjorie’s a good girl, but she’s fussy about what sort ‘o
man she wants.  She wants someone as is strong
and a thinker, and we don’t get many ‘o them around here.  She’ll keep you on the straight and narrow,
if yer take to each other.  I’ll give you
a piece of advice though that’ll see you through.”

“Alright,” I said, “I’ll listen.”

“Give her a good loaf and show her you’ve a read a book or two
and you’ll stand a chance.”

“You know I killed my brother?”

“We know all about that, he was a monster, he ‘ad to go.  You didn’t want the job, but now you’ve got
it.”

“Right, I have.”  I
stood up.  “I think you should come with
me for a moment.”

“You’re not goin’ to shut me up in a tower are you?”

“I wouldn’t dare.”  I
led the way to a certain room.  “I’d fear
for the tower.”

“Damn right you would.” 
The double doors just concealed the sound of many people working away.  I opened the doors, and Mrs Wakefield could
see the library before her, books being moved in from the other end.  The room didn’t stop but slowed as I let her
take it all in and waved at people in acknowledgement.  A young intern was standing stiffly to
attention, looking around as she noticed that no-one else was doing so.  I walked up to her, noticing that her page’s
uniform was crisp and unsullied.  She
couldn’t be more than fifteen.

“Millie, isn’t it?”

“Yessir.”  And she
curtseyed, deeply.  I gestured her up.

“You’re in uniform, a short nod is ok if you must genuflect,
but you’re working, I don’t want to disturb you.”

“On no sir!” She cried. “You couldn’t possibly do so.”

“I can, and I have, and I am sorry for it. But since I have,
could you show Mrs Wakefield and I to the social sciences?”

“It would be my pleasure sir.” 
I rolled my eyes, but the old lady just stared at me.  “Here you are Sir.” The young girl said, and
hovered.

“Thank you, please go about whatever business you were about
and don’t worry about me now.”  She started
to curtsey again, but then remembered, and just nodded before moving away.

“Social sciences eh?” 
Said Mrs Wakefield.  “I’m sure I
don’t know what that is.”

“It is about the behaviour of the sentient species.  I have many books upon the rights of man, and
the other sentients, about crime and punishment.  Books about philosophy and about fairness and
distribution of wealth.  I do not know, Madame,
how to rule a kingdom well or justly, but I can read, and by the gods I can
learn.  This is what I intend to do.  There have been too many madmen on the
throne, too many ignorant men, too many arrogant men.  I think it is time for someone with the
humility to realise that they know nothing to arise to the task with learning
in mind, learning to be good, don’t you, Mrs Wakefield?”

She looked at me with something like tears in her eyes, something
I had never expected to see, and reached out a gnarled hand to clasp mine.

“It’s Granny Wakefield to you lad.”