Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 10

Jeronim de Oriflamme fidgeted in his seat, as the music echoed in the halls of Chateau Calx. He felt nervous and out of place here. Some of this was because he--he who had boasted of his loyalty for decades--was involving himself in Eustace de Calx’s plot against the Prince, something that went against every instinct he possessed.

And some of it was because the Duke of Tranchera’s parties were the sort of affairs that you heard about in whispered rumors, and wondered if anyone could possibly be so perverted. The answer, he saw now, was ‘yes’. Indeed, de Calx seemed to outstrip his reputation by a significant margin. Jeronim glanced to his left and found himself immediately looking away, as Eustace had a large painting of a woman doing things with a large duck that the Count of Joyeuse did not associate with poultry.

“Ahh, there you are,” came the Duke’s voice. Jeronim turned to see the old man in the doorway, clad in a large red cloak, and a large mask of a bird. “Some of the other guests were wondering where you’d gone to…” noted de Calx, striding forward.

“I was… enjoying the artwork,” muttered Jeronim.

“Ahh, yes, ‘The Ravishing of the Lady of Calx by Ramiel in the Form of a Duck’ as depicted by Michel l,” stated Eustace, the admiration obvious in his voice. “She’s supposedly my ancestor. As is Ramiel, for that matter.”

“I suppose that explains the outfit,” muttered Jeronim.

“Indeed, it does,” said the Duke, sidling up familiarly to the Count. “Truth be told, I’ve always been rather fond of this painting. A treasure of my house. My father kept it hidden in a darkened chamber, but I--I show it proudly, for what does this painting and the tale behind it show that I can make a boast few can--a boast of divine blood!”

Jeronim blinked. “You… you actually believe that story…?”

“Oh, no, no,” said Eustace. “It’s utter nonsense. Gets all sorts of dates wrong. Has the poor woman getting imprisoned in a palace that didn’t even exist then.” The Duke gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “Complete poppycock. But that’s immaterial. The fact remains--I can make the boast. You cannot--and you are the Count of Joyeuse.”

“Well, neither can the Kings of Leonais,” muttered Jeronim.

If Jeronim hoped this would quiet, or at least discomfort the Duke he was gravely disappointed. Instead Eustace only chuckled fondly while giving a few sage-like nods. “Quite, quite,” he said. “And yet the Pescheours rule over us, and not we over them. They--who were nothing more than pirate chieftains centuries ago, when the House of Calx ruled a kingdom! A bandit throng, set over a line older than the Alcides!” He sighed. “Truly, the twists of fate are outrageous, are they not?”

As those twists had lead to him sitting in the Duke’s hall having this conversation, Jeronim decided that agreement was not only desired but absolutely correct. “One wonders how your ancestors could have been content to stay under the rule of the Holy Emperors?” he muttered, as he gave a dull nod.

“Oh, they weren’t,” said Eustace. “They schemed and plotted endlessly, and gave the Alcides ever so many headaches! So in truth, I consider our present business to be my following a grand old family tradition. And in time where such action is greatly needed.” Turning to the picture he saluted it. “Indeed, I hope my ancestors can look down on my actions with approval!”

Jeronim winced. “Must you talk so openly of this matter?”

“Relax, Count de Oriflamme,” said the Duke soothingly. “I am the master within these walls--nothing that occurs here is known without my willing it!”

“But… everyone knows what you do here, Duke,” said Jeronim. “Or at least… a good portion of it.”

“Well, yes, because I want them to,” replied Eustace grandly. “Think of it, man! My reputation for decadence and libertinism is the labor of a long and fruitful life! If I did not allow rumors to spread it would wither and die! Are you saying I should seek that? That would be… outrageous! And absurd!”

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