A Fairy Tale chapter seven
A Fairy Tale Chapter 7
Why certainly, Colonel Beryl, what is your question.?”
I just wondered if you knew why Sir Art never answers my questions?”
He didn't get an answer to that either because the King said, “That reminds me, I almost forgot to ask you where you found those spells at the last minute, Steve. If you had them why didn't you tell me sooner?”
“I didn't know that they were spells, Sire. That professor that Tom hired to do a study on the ifrit was fortunately a thorough worker. He had gone to an antiquities dealer that handled Arabic objects to see if they had something about it. They sold him these scraps of old velum that had the word ifrit somewhere in them. The professor couldn't read them, but it was a rush job, so he sent them along. I just took a stab at it. You were the only one with the power to use them.”
“I'm glad he did, I don't know if I could have held out much longer, The ifrit was weakening but so was I. It could have gone either way, but I don't know if it would have been ours. Now I must leave, I''ll see you all at the ceremonies.”
After the King left Art said, “What ceremonies is he talking about, Steve?” At a puzzled shrug from the General he turned. “Alet, do you know what he meant?”
“I think so, we always hold a ceremony after anything happens, good or bad. It gives us a reason to have a party, and if there's one thing we elves are good at, it's partying. It probably won't be for at least a couple of days, it takes that long to get everything ready.”
Steve stood, “Good, that gives me time to get some things done too. Art...”
“Oh no, there isn't going to be any more “Art, do this” or “Art do that.” I'm not one of your men, Steve. I did what you told me, when you told me, because I could do it and you knew what to do. But that's done with, the ifrit's dead and the troubles are over, I quit.”
“Are you done bellyaching? Sergeant Barkely, get in here.” When the Sergeant came in Steve asked, “Did you get what I wanted?” At Barkely's assurance, “Then why in hell am I standing here waiting? Get it in here.”
Barkely brought in a box and laid it on the desk, turned and stood at attention.
The General turned to Art and in a softer, no longer demanding voice said, “Art, I want you to know I think you did an amazing job throughout this conflict. You took responsibility for jobs that were above your experiences and did them flawlessly. I don't know if we could have accomplished what we did without you and I so very much appreciate the effort you made. I thought long and hard to try to think of how I could express that and the highest honor that I can make is to welcome you as a member of Gaver's Guerrillas. Tenhut!”
Both the General and Sergeant saluted Art, then the General opened a box and presented Art with a dress uniform of his group, gripped his hand and shook it.
“Uh, I don't know what to say. I thought you were always mad at me for something when I was trying as hard as I could. I guess I say thank you. You don't know what it means to me to get your approval of my actions, I tried so hard to get it.”
“Art, during the type of times we went through there's not time to stroke each other. I was proud of you the day you stepped into my office and called my bluff, and I'm much more proud of you now. Why don't you grab that pretty little girl there and we'll go see what's happening.”
“And here's my seal of approval, my hero. “ Alet threw her arms around Art and gave him a very approving kiss.
They were walking down the street, stopping from time to time to exchange words with the elves who came up to shake their hands or offer them a tidbit or a glass of wine, when they heard behind them, “Sir Art, General Steve,” shouted. They turned to see Rodel and Lani hurrying to catch up with them.
After some spirited greetings all around Art asked, “What are you doing in the Capitol? Who's minding the inn?”
“One of the cooks is taking care of what little traffic we have, everyone else is here in the Capitol or coming for the celebration. We've been here cooking for the troopers ever since they left the training area. They liked Lani's cooking and asked us to come.”
“That's great, have you had any trouble?”
“Art, things have changed so much, we're working aside of Highs most of the time, and we're all getting along, I can't believe it. There is even a young High who is making advances on Lani, although I'm keeping a close eye on him.”
“I can certainly understand why. Lani, you look absolutely gorgeous in that little frock and with your hair done like that. I'd only seen you before when you were working and thought you were beautiful then, but now, wow.”
As Lani blushed and curtsied she swished her sky blue dress around to expose her legs, “Thank you, Sir Art, we have the day off and wanted to see the sights too.”
Alet possessively locked arms with Art, “Yes, well, why don't we move on then?” and pulled Art forward.
On the next block Steve gestured, “Look there, that's a sight to welcome.”
They all stared at a small group of dark elves walking toward the palace, completely surrounded by a large contingent of Royal guards. Rodel gasped, “But they're still fully armed, I guess that's why there are so many guards.”
“No,” Alet said, “that's to protect them from the people here. They haven't surrendered yet, so we're actually still at war until they do. That's part of the ceremonies and until then they can wear their arms. This is probably the delegation to set up their surrender.”
Art said, “They don't look too happy about it, I wonder how many of them really wanted to be in a war? I mean the common foot soldier, how does he feel now.”
Steve grunted, “If it's like any other war I've been in in, only the leaders and the lunatics wanted it. The common man or elf just went along because they thought it was their duty. Right now they're wondering what's going to happen in their future.”
It was getting warmer as the sun rose higher and they stopped at a stall where Steve bought them all some ale. He smacked his lips after the first swallow and said, “Ah, that hit the spot, it's not as good as yours, Rodel, but it's better than any I had at home, you elves know how to make fine ale.”
“We copied it from yours and made some improvements, but it's your recipe. I wonder, Sir Art, if I may have a few words with you privately? Could we step over there for just a few minutes?”
“Of course. Would you excuse us, folks?”
“Sir Art, I just wanted to thank you for what you've done. When we first met you told me you'd help me with the difference between classes of elves and you have, beyond what I'd hoped for. Thank you.”
“Rodel, my friend, I think you're giving me way too much credit, the big impetus in this was the war. It forced the classes to work together, and when they did, they realized that there wasn't as big a difference as they thought. I don't know if it will stay as good as it is now, but it'll never go back to as bad as it was, the King will see to that. Let's join our friends.”
As they joined their friends Beryl whispered to Art, “Sir Art, what is that spot that General Gavers keeps hitting with ale, I don't see any?”
“Later, Beryl, there's a Royal messenger looking for us I think.” Art raised his hand, the messenger spotted it and rushed over.
“Sir Art, His Royal Majesty requests that you, Lady Aletta, Prime General Gavers, and Colonel Beryl honor him with your presence at your convenience.”
Steve snorted, “In a pig's eye, at your convenience. When you get a 'request' like that, from someone with the King's rank, it means get the hell over here right now. Shall we scoot?”
The messenger led them to the palace and then through a veritable labyrinth of hallways to a room that was one of the King's offices, obviously one of his more private ones as it didn't have all the elaborate decorations, carvings and jeweled ornamentation of a formal office.
This was a large comfortable room with upholstered chairs and couches in different groups around its wood paneled walls. Behind the imposing desk could be seen a well worn chair that showed the impression of someone who had broken it in to his liking over centuries of decision making.
They picked a couch with some facing chairs and sat. Immediately some liveried servant came in with trays of delicacies and pitchers, ewers and bottles of different beverages.
It wasn't long when the King strode in. They started to rise, “No, stay as you are my friends, I'll join you.” He pulled a extra chair up and sat, “That's a relief, I've been inspecting things all morning since I left you, you'd think that they can't make a decision without my approval. Part of the job, I guess.”
Alet asked, “Can't Lord Cyral do that, Sire? I know he usually does.”
“Normally yes, but after what's been going on there's too much for one person, so I was stuck with it, there's no one else on the Council I'd trust to do it right, which brings me to why I've asked you here.
“I'm not sure I'd be able to help you there, Sire. I'm just an old soldier and don't know anything about diplomacy.”
No, Steve, I'm not going to try to saddle you with that, let me take this in order. Colonel Beryl, will you stand please.”
Beryl sprang from his chair like a jack-in-the-box. “Yes, Your Majesty, what is your wish?”
“Relax, Colonel Beryl, you're among friends here. You will retain your rank of Colonel that you were given to carry out a mission and will be given command of a battalion of the Royal Guard. You've shown your fitness for it and I'm happy to award you with it. You will hear more of it in due time, but now you are relieved of the duty of guarding Sir Art. Take some leave time, starting now. Have a good time.”
Beryl snapped to attention, saluted, said, “Thank you, Your Majesty,” did an about face and marched out, throwing a questioning glance at Art as he left.
“Lady Aletta, my dear, I'm afraid I'm not going to do you any favors. Have you heard the expression, “If you want something done, give the task to the busiest person?”
“Yes, Sire, but I'm not sure I understand it.”
“It means they are competent and know how to delegate to the proper people so that the work assigned them gets done correctly. You have proved that not only in the past centuries but with the ladies just lately. You assigned them according to their talents, not their class. That contributed to the winning of this conflict.”
“I just did what I thought best, Sire.”
“Exactly, and that's what I need to bolster myself and Lord Cyral. You are now a full member of the Council with the title of the King's Secretary and will have the same authority as Lord Cyral. I might add that he's extremely pleased with this, he's not a young elf and has been very tired of doing it alone. Now, would you please excuse us? I wish to talk to these two scoundrels alone.”
Alet stood, looking a bit stunned at achieving her ambition of centuries, bowed low, and gracefully glided from the room.
“Alright, Steve, it's your turn. What boon can I bestow on you that will show my appreciation for what you've accomplished here in Underhill. More gold? Just say the word and if it's possible for me I'll do it.”
More gold would be welcomed by my men, Sire, but don't make it too much, maybe just a small bonus so they'll have something to fall back on when they're wiped of their memories and sent back. They'd just blow it anyway, you don't worry too much about the future in the mercenary trade.”
“Yes, done. But what of you? What would you like?”
“Sire, I'd like you to tear up my contract that says my memory will be wiped. I have to go back to Earth and see that my men are taken care of, but I'm getting a little old for this business. I would like to return to Underhill to retire, I'm sure I could find somewhere to find something to keep me busy. I've grown very fond of your people.”
“Hmm, do you mind if I give that some thought and let you know later, Steve?”
“Of course not, Sire. I assume you want to talk to Art alone too, so if you'll excuse me, I have some things to attend to.”
At the Kings nod, Steve left too. “Alright Art, we're down to you. What would you like?”
“That might be a little hard to explain, Sire. If I have to go back I would ask that my memory not be erased, I cherish my memories of here and I would swear not to reveal them to anyone.”
“Surely, you'd like more than that. What would be your ideal if I would grant it?”
“Sire, I have no family, nor am I very close to anyone but Tom. Ideally, I would like to make this my home, I have more close friends here than I ever had on Earth. Rodel and Lani already told me I could become part of their family and work there.”
“Maybe I'm mistaken, but don't you have a special friend here too? A female one?”
Art blushed a little, “Well, yes, but that would never work out, I'm human and will be very lucky if I live another seventy years, Alet was born before my great, great, great, and so on grand parents and she'll live centuries after I'm dust, I can't expect her to go into an arrangement like that, and I wouldn't ask her to.”
“Sit back and let me explain a few things, because some of your assumptions are wrong. First, because of the time difference, even Steve would live for a couple of hundred years here. You would probably live much longer because you're starting younger than he is. And you have elven blood, which would stretch it out even further.”
“But Alet would see me wither and die before she even starts to show age, I wouldn't wish that upon her.”
“That's very noble of you, but very foolish too. Marriage here is not the same as on your world. Tell me, how many of your marriages last until death parts them. If I'm not mistaken, not all of them, but some do. Are even those always happy?
I don't think so, people grow apart. How many marriages here last until death, do you think? I don't know of one. They may last for more than a few hundred years but that's rare. When we grow apart we part, almost always amicably.”
“Looking at it like that makes sense, I guess, but I feel that I'd want to stay married to Alet until death.”
“Of course you do, all people in love feel that way. I've felt that way in all my marriages, and that's the way you should feel.
Haven't you heard people in your world say they'll try it and see if it works? That's a stupid way to start a marriage, you won't see that here. People here go into a marriage wanting it to last until death in their hearts, in their head they know it probably won't.”
“How long have you and Queen Tatania been married, Sire?”
“Over four hundred years, but that's mainly because of political reasons. We both know it's been too long and probably in twenty five years or so we'll part. She'll live on her estates with the honor of being the Queen and I'll marry again in fifty or a hundred years. I'll love my new bride, but it will have to be political too in my case.”
“I guess I have a lot of things to rethink, Sire. Would you excuse me?”
“Yes, but remember, it's not your decision alone, I'm sure Alet will have a lot to say in it. Go on, have a good time, enjoy yourself, you've earned it.”
The next few days were party time in the Capitol city as people came from far and near to the celebration. The streets were crowded even through the night as the elves didn't sleep much. Art didn't get to spend more than a few minutes with Alet as she was busy on the Council and helping arrange all the festivities planned.
So Art spent most of his time helping Steve packing and arranging for him and his men to return to their own world. They weren't staying for the celebration but were moving back to Rodel and Lani's inn until it was time for them to have their memories wiped and returned to Earth.
“Where do you want these maps, Steve? Are they going with you?”
“No, those are the ones I had made of here, they wouldn't do me any good at home, but might come in handy if the King lets me come back. Just put them into that trunk there, that's what I'm leaving behind.”
“What do you think your chances are that he'll let you return, or me , for that matter.”
“I think yours are a hell of a lot better than mine, You can learn something new, I'm just an old warhorse, and with no war, there's not much call for me. I'm just hoping. Sergeant Barkely's taking the men and equipment to the gate, I'll stay here until after the big bash is over if you'll fly me to the gate then. By that time we should know what the King has decided.”
“Sure I'll fly you. I'll want to see Tom in any case. I'll call him when we get there, it won't take him long to get to the gate.”
At dawn on the day of the ceremony bugle calls were heard throughout the city as the populace was called to the vast auditorium where the ceremony was to take place. Steve and Art were already in their seats in the front row, surrounded by influential members of the community.
The auditorium itself was a marvel of engineering, open on one side of a vast valley. Tier upon tier of seating lined three of the walls and all were filled well in advance of the start. On the open side, in the distance could be seen the overflow crowd seated on portable chairs, stools, bucket, kegs, anything that would serve to sit upon.
The marvel of all this is that no matter where one sat they would be able to hear every word as if someone were speaking directly into their ear, and be able to see the full scene directly in front of them as if looking on the face of the King from an adequate distance.
There was a large dais in the center raised above the floor no more than the height of the normal human or elf where the King and council were seated, Alet among them.
The King stood and there was immediate silence from this immense crowd. As he raised his hands he grew until he reached his full height and Majesty. In a booming voice he said, “Let the dark elves delegation approach.”
A hidden door opened in one wall and no more than a dozen dark elves emerged and walked to the dais and stopped. They were fully armed and armored as if if they had just stepped from the battle field The King looked down and asked, “Are you the leaders of your people?”
One took a step from the rest, “No, Your Majesty, there are no leaders left living, those who weren't there the night of your raid have mysteriously died. We have been chosen to represent us.”
“Why have you come before the Crown?”
“We have come before the Crown for three reasons, the first is to surrender our arms and declare peace.” At this they removed their weapons belts and threw them to the ground, their armor followed. The dark elf continued, “Our second reason is to thank the crown for the food you have provided for our people as they return to their homes. The third is to pledge fealty of all our people to the Crown.”
At this they sunk to their knees and bowed their heads. The tremendous cheer that echoed through the distance startled birds into flight for miles around. The King allowed this to continue for some minutes and raised his arms again. It didn't take long for silence to prevail again.
“Pick up your weapons, citizens of the Crown, you may need them to fight off the wolves or the bandits that are still out there. Listen all to this proclamation, my first of the day. From this time forward there will no longer be light elves and dark elves, there will only be elves. There will be a difference, but it will be this, there will be good elves and bad elves, let no other definition stand between us.”
Then he looked down at the dark elves again, “When you return to your people I will be sending someone with you. He will show you how to pick good elves to serve on the Council. It seems we've had some vacancies not too long ago and it's been too long since an elf from your people has sat on it.”
“Now bring forth the heroes that they may be rewarded.” As the elfin delegation left through their door another opened and Royal troopers entered and stood in formation. As first reader Lord Cyral opened a scroll and read the name,their action and reward the trooper would receive.
They came forward and The King placed in their hands a medal and the scroll. When they presented it to any Royal facility they could claim their reward. The next scroll was read by Lady Aletta and the two of them switched back and forth until all were rewarded.
When the troopers had left the King said, “Now citizens, I will ask you for your voice. Prime General Garver and Sir Art, Knight of the King's Own, step forward.” Exchanging puzzled glances they rose and quickly marched to the dais. They were both dressed in the dress uniforms of Steve's group and made striking figures.
'Citizens, you all know who these humans are and what they have done to help us in our latest troubles. They have asked me if they could stay and live among us. If there are any who do not want them here let them speak now.” Among the multitudes there were a few voices raised but quickly went silent again, some with a squeal of pain.
“ Citizens, if you would welcome them into our midst and society, let me hear your voices now.” The loud acclaim from the crowd may have even surpassed the one at the surrender. “So be it. I wish to make my second proclamation. These will be the first free humans in our society, but there will be more.”
“ Few, and carefully chosen ones, will be allowed to come and settle when they show that they can add to our society. So, from this moment on there will not be elves and humans, there will just be men and women of both peoples, living in common harmony and respect. Do you agree to that?” Again there was loud agreement.
As Steve and Art went back to their seats, both grinning widely, the King again signaled for silence, and quickly got it, “Now it's time to reward the civilian citizens who gave of themselves more than was their duty. They are heroes too, in some cases more so than the troopers we honored here because they did not pledge to risk their life and limb, but did so anyway.”
Another door opened, but this time the recipients of rewards didn't walk out, they were carried out on stretchers, beds, and cots and arranged in lines. “These are the men and women who gave of themselves to save us all.”
“ Some are blinded past where the most powerful spells and medicines we have could aid them. Some have lost arms or legs. Some have other injuries. Some are known as Highs, Some as Lows. That didn't mean anything to them when they sacrificed themselves for the common good.
This is my third proclamation. From this moment on their will be no distinction between those who have power and those who don't. The courts and all government offices shall make no distinction, and I expect the citizens to do the same. Do you agree to that?”
There wasn't any problem this time as to which was the loudest. The raucous screaming and yelling went unabated for a good half hour as the King, followed by Lord Cyral and Lady Aletta went from bed to cot to stretcher, handing out scrolls and medals.
When the King returned to the dais he raised his arms again to call for quiet, but it took a few minutes to quell the cheers. When they quieted he announced, “Let the dancing and feasting begin and may all enjoy the freedom we have.” As the King left he motioned for Steve and Art to follow and led them back to his office where Lord Cyral and Lady Aletta already were.
When they were all seated the King sighed and leaned forward, “I think that part went well, now the hard work begins.”
Art asked, “What do you mean Sire? The whole place was with you.”
“ Art, do you think a proclamation is a magic wand? Yes, they were with me out there, but next week they will be back to their everyday lives, and people don't change overnight. It will be years before the Highs get used to the fact that they aren't the bosses they were or for the Lows to stand up for themselves. We are going to have to enforce my decrees.”
“ Oh oh, Art, I think we just stepped in it. I smell a scheme here.”
“ What are you talking about, Steve? What scheme, where?”
“ Do I tell him, Sire? Or would you like the pleasure of scaring him?”
“ You seem to have it all worked out already, why don't you break the news to him, Steve.”
“ Live and learn, Art. I suspect there is going to be an agency of some sort to enforce the proclamations that were announced today and whoever is the head of that agency is going to be in bad favor with a lot of people. Would you care to make a wager as to the identity of said administrators?”
“Ah, I understand now. And meanwhile our crafty Monarch stands above it all, completely innocent of the evil machinations of the agency. But why are you lumping me into this? I'm just going to work at the inn.”
“You really are naive, Art. Do you think his Royal Craftiness built us up like that so that you'd get bigger tips as a waiter? I got a faint odor of something going on when he called us forward, but never suspected this.”
Through this conversation the King just sat there with a small sly smile, then, “Live and learn, Steve. One doesn't spend some centuries running a country without learning to plan ahead a little. I'm not too sure I would phrase it as craftiness, I prefer to call it future thinking, but essentially you're right.”
“May I ask what your future thinking has visualized, Sire?”
“Certainly, as I hope that you'll agree to carry them out. First and foremost, we need a modern standing army, composed of both skin shades, not the huge hodgepodge mob we've had. Smaller, but more highly skilled in the attributes of a fighting force.”
“I foresee part of that army as a police force, keeping the kingdom safe from miscreants and enforcing the laws. Do you think that you wold help me attain that dream as say, the Minister of Public Safety? I mean, as long as you're just laying around as a retired old man.”
“I think I might be able to fit that into my busy schedule, Sire. Does boy wonder here come under my jurisdiction?”
“Oh no, I have other little chores for Art. Did you vote in your elections, Art?”
“Of course Sire. It's the duty of all citizens to first know what the issues are and then to vote on them. Unfortunately, most voters didn't bother to do the first requirement.”
“I promised our dark brethren that I would send someone to help them pick elected leaders, You're it, and to show that I'm serious I'm sending a member of the Council with you. I think Lady Aletta will do nicely in that position, don't you? After you've done that, I think I'll have another little chore for you two.”
Alet asked, “Do I have any voice in this, Sire? Maybe I don't want to be associated with Art so closely.”
“Of course you do, my dear, the same rights that Art has. You may send me a sharp protest from wherever you two set up your headquarters. I will take it up at the first opportunity. But somehow I don't foresee a problem there. Any more questions? No? Then I think we're done for now. Go and have a good life.”
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