Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 53

Eustace de Calx was sitting in what he’d dubbed ‘the Green Room’, enjoying both the ambience he’d created by gathering so many different variations and shades of green into one location, and the clavichord performance he’d ordered for his latest soiree. It was a youthful composition of his, that’s greatest charm that it was a rare piece that could be played in perfect tune, each note sounding exactly as it ought to--the player a young virtuoso who’d been gathering a lot of notice in the more rarified circles that the Duke traveled in when he felt the need to edify his more subtle senses.

It’d been an extremely pleasant performance up until the moment when the Prince’s Men burst in, disrupting everything with the sound of heavy feet tromping on his fine marble floors.

He was certain they were scuffing them up. Absolutely certain.

Two of them burst in as he sat there, rather spoiling the impression of all those various shades of green causing the Duke of Tranchera to arch one eyebrow in annoyance. The Prince’s Serjeant strode forward, his two men parting before him to flank him. “Why, Lanval,” drawled Eustace quietly, “I was unaware that you wanted to attend one of my parties. Such a shame! If you’d just told me, I’d have invited you, and then we’d have avoided all this unseemly noise and disruption.”

Lanval Equitan regarded with the aging Duke with an expression that mixed exhaustion with a certain measure of disgust. “Eustace de Calx,” declared the Serjeant, “you stand accursed of treason and kidnapping the heir to the throne, Prince Pellinore. Have you any plea to make?”

“I would never plead to a man such as yourself, Equitan,” answered Eustace, rising slowly from his chair. “It’d be in bad taste, and no man has ever declared I have bad taste.”

“No, you just like things with one,” said the Serjeant with a smile. He shook his head. “Never did understand you buggerers…”

“I’ve no doubt you can say that about many people,” noted the Duke with a smile.

“Less than you’d think” replied Lanval as he escorted the Duke from the room. “Remember I was a priest.”

Eustace gave a snort. “An Almacian priest,” he noted. “I’m familiar with the sort. With your stern looks and memorized sermons for the Holy days, and your concubines, your liquor and your blood-stained swords for the rest of your life.” As they reached the main hall, the Duke turned to Lanval. “May I say a few words to my guests? I simply wish the to be calm?”

Equitan gave a short nod. Eustace de Calx smiled, and stepped forward, surveying the crowd. The small group of party guests and staff were herded together at the walls and edges of the room, by a handful of surly Prince’s Men, while his hired clavichordist sat terrified at his instrument. Eustace took a deep breath, and began. “Ladies. Gentlemen. Do not be alarmed. What is happening here is a mere momentary disturbance to our little festivities. You see, these officials of Prince Amfortas are here to arrest me, in the belief that I have played a part in the liberation of young Prince Pellinore from the clutches of his cousin.” A worried murmur came from the crowd. “I believe their hope is that I will give up his whereabouts once they take me from here, and subject me to torture.” The murmurs became louder, and Lanval began to stride towards the Duke. “People--did I not tell you not to be alarmed? For they are mistaken. They will not take me anywhere.”

And then the Prince’s Men began to scream out as members of Eustace’s staff produced their knives and buried them in their backs. Lanval stared in shock, and then glanced to his side. The two Prince’s Men who had been flanking him suddenly pitched forward. With a growl, he drew his mace. “I can finish you off, you old degenerate,” he muttered. Eustace stood there, watching him calmly as he approached.

The blots buried themselves in the Serjeant’s arm, and his back. With a dull cry, Lanval Equitan dropped his weapon and fell to the ground. “How… how…?” he muttered.

Eustace de Calx gave a shrug. “I know interesting people, Serjeant Equitan. Many of whom are very precise shots.” He smiled and shook his head. “You do realize this was all a trap now, don’t you? This party? Me? Bait, my dear boy. Bait to draw you in, and dispatch you.”

Lanval gave a whimper. “I… I can’t die like this…”

Eustace yawned. “At my age, my boy, you learn that anyone can die in virtually any manner.”

“But… but… I was going to… see…” gasped Lanval. “See… how it all turned out…”

“I could tell you that,” replied Eustace. “Badly. That’s how things of the sort that Prince Amfortas does always turn out.”

“It’s… not… fair…” groaned Lanval, apparently not listening to the Duke.

“And now, you’ve gone downright maudlin,” muttered Eustace. “The problem with you, Serjeant Equitan, is the problem that you share with so many other Almacians. And quite possibly the Prince, if half of what I hear is true. You think that because you are cruel, you are hard. But you are not. You are soft and brittle at the center of you. That is why you are so obsessed with strength.” Lanval gave only a weak groan to this. Eustace de Calx turned to the crowd. “My apologies to you all if my surprise for this party has proven shocking and coarse. It is my intended gift to all of you to let you be the ones to witness the first blows struck for the restoration of our ancient freedoms!” He clapped his hands together, and a young man rushed forward with a glass. “For Leonais!” he declared, raising the glass.

“For Leonais!” said many in the crowd.

Eustace smiled and glanced at the clavichordist. “Well, come on, lad! I’ve hired you to play for my party! Play! Play!” With a sudden nod, the young man began again. It took him a moment, but eventually the virtuoso regained his calm and his fingers regained his skill. Eustace de Calx shut his eyes, and let the dulcet sounds of a clavichord played perfectly in tune soothe his ears.

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