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A COMEDY OF TERRORS - CHAPTER 01: THE HEIGHTS OF IDIOCY

Yesterday was a busy one. I was exiled-for-life for dancing with the Emissary from Targis at Queen Sonea's welcoming ball. It hadn't been the dancing. Apparently I'd worn red shoes, and only an idiot would wear red shoes to dance with a Targisian. Red shoes are the mark of their Assassins’ Guild. So in Targis it's a point of honour to let people in red shoes kill you.

Targisians are crazy. Everybody knows assassins wear green shoes.

While I was dancing with the Emissary I was also running down the corridor of the castle with a message for the Queen's First Minister. Apparently I'd tripped and fallen, knocking over a four hundred-year-old vase. It was a gift from First Fist Andrakan of the Eldrak Horde. What else could it be except, exile-for-life?
Of course, I wasn’t in either of these places. Well, I was, professionally speaking. Not in person. But that’s my job. The Idiot Who Did It. For any value of ‘It’. So I was exiled-twice. It helps to have a key to the backdoor.

It’s an essential qualification for my job to look like, well, like nobody. I have a face my own mother has problems remembering. Of course, she’s had more practice. She's been trying to forget it for years. That’s why I can get exiled-for-life so often. Nobody notices that while the uniform might change it’s always the same me underneath. And even if they did, they’d make sure they didn’t. Notice, I mean. That’s Politics, that is. But with two exiles in one day and both the First Demon and the Emissary still in the castle, I was confined to quarters till they left. Just in case.

I’d been on a necessary visit to Jake-down-the-hall. Of course, I got lost. I didn’t know my way around the upstairs halls yet. My old quarters in the lower cellars were apparently infested with something undefined but clearly infesty. Not that I’d ever seen anything infest-ish. I only knew because some people came by one day, picked up everything I owned, and moved it to new quarters on an upper floor. There were only two of them, but at least that meant one of them had a hand free to open doors. They had a piece of paper with lots of ‘By orders’ and ‘Herewith and hereunders’ on it. There was even a seal. With a tassel. I try not to argue with tassels.

When I found my way back to my new rooms I checked the tiny piece of parchment I trap in the jamb each time I leave. I know all sorts of things I’ve been exiled for doing, which sometimes makes people nervous. Whatever paranoia is (I don’t think it’s been invented yet), it’s one of my hobbies. Anyway, the piece of parchment was still there. So it was a little surprising to find the other side of the door less than empty. It was even more surprising to see what was un-emptying it. I made sure I was looking at the floor before I spoke. “Good day, your Majesty."

Of course, there's isn’t any law against looking at the Queen. I'm told even cats do it, not that cats would care about laws. It's just that she expects people to notice things. Things like her hair looking different. Or that she has a new-new-new dress. Women are like an open book to me. Mostly because I never learned to read. So I kept my eyes on the floor. That way at least I could say I hadn’t seen whatever it was I was supposed to be noticing. This time I might have got away with it. Her Majesty was looking out of my window.

“Idiot."

“Yes, Your Majesty?"

“Not you, Segorian. Him!"

From the window of my new apartments on the third floor, I could see a figure scurrying to and fro across the courtyard beneath. From time to time, for no reason I could identify, the figure would suddenly roll on the ground and freeze while it looked around.

“The Guards do this all the time. They assign some trainee to follow me. This idiot is the latest.”

I watched the figure for a while. “So he’s…” I peered a little closer… “… yes, he’s a trainee. He was assigned to follow you. He failed to do so. There is no doubt his superiors will find out. And only an idiot would fail in such an important task. No doubt he will be exiled-for-life. Or rather, I will, of course. Your Majesty, I’ll arrange for a trainee guard’s uniform. Would tomorrow be appropriate?”

“Not necessary, Segorian. There are Rules, you see. The Guard OverCaptain has standing instructions in such matters. As anybody would know, nobody in their right mind would assign a trainee to follow the Queen. The OverCaptain is by definition in his right mind else I would have removed him from his post. Since I have not removed him—there was no trainee. There is no trainee. No exile required.” Queen Sonea stepped away from the window. I—did not.

“Your Majesty. I notice my window is open?”

“Is it, Segorian?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I also notice the ivy growing up the wall is quite prolific this year. It is no doubt well rooted.”

“No doubt, Segorian. No doubt.”

“I try my best to know if anybody has entered these apartments. Through the door at least. As far as I can tell, nobody did.”

“Segorian. Let us be realistic. You seem to be trying to suggest the Queen of Peladon, irritated at being followed by a trainee who thought rolling was a proper form of locomotion, saw an open window and climbed up the ivy to an empty apartment. Which is madness. The Queen climbing ivy is clearly impossible. So it must be the case that it didn’t happen. The Queen is not in your apartment. The Queen is walking around the gardens wondering why the gravel behind her crunches every now and again as if someone—not an Idiot—were rolling on it. Is that clear?”

“Quite clear, Your Maj…” I knew if I’d been looking at her I would have seen the “Look” in her eyes. It is not a good day when the Queen looks at you with the “Look.” “Quite clear, Your Not-Here-ness.”

Her not-Queen-ness threw herself down in one of the better cushioned chairs. “Segorian…I’ve been an idiot.”

“The Queen cannot be an Idiot. She has an Idiot for that sort of thing, Your Not-Here-ness.”

“The Queen can be anything she damn well pleases to be, Segorian. It’s part of being Queen. Tell me. What do you know of dragons?”

Dragons? Gods above. A bad day was clearly about to get worse. “Dragons, Your Not-…” I could almost feel the “Look.” “Er, right. Yes. Dragons. As investigated and confirmed by the Royal Commission established by your father, may he rest in peace…”

“Pieces, Segorian. Pieces. It was a very messy battle.”

“… by your father, may he rest, as you say, in pieces, dragons are mythical beasts. They are found in the legends of nearly every country and people. However, they’re probably a race memory. Whatever a race memory is, Your Not-Here-Ness. A race memory of, um… of something huge and scaly with massive teeth and claws. Something very definitely not a dragon. The Commissioners were very clear on that, Your Maj… er, Your Not… and the fire breathing nonsense is probably Poetic license. And we all know about Poets, Your Majesty.”

“What else, Segorian?”

“Well, er, oh! Yes! Festival! Young men put on a scary dragon costume and run round the streets. Always fun! It was started to interest children in joining the Dragon Corps when they grew up. But it’s just Poetry these days. Your…the Queen disbanded the Dragon Corps. No point in spending large amounts of gold supporting a band whose job was to slay mythical beasts. Better and much cheaper to spend imaginary gold on a mythical band whose job it is to slay mythical beasts. The rest, well, we have Poets for that.”

“Indeed. And so—I’ve been an idiot.”

Of course, I waited.

“It seems a figment of the imagination has been sighted in the Blackrock Mountains. When the reports came in, the Royal Commission declared them to be founded in strange cloud formations and rocky shadows seen at night by peasants all the worse for—for whatever peasants drink. So they sent a team to investigate Which is part of the problem. Because it appears a strange cloud formation or a rocky shadow (the reports are a little confused) burnt their camp to the ground. Fortunately nobody was killed, but the team is currently trying to decide if their singed clothing is the result of a persistent and infectious mass hallucination or the unfortunate result of new advances in soap manufacture. They prefer the soap manufacture idea, but they can’t announce it until we have some. New advances, that is. Or even soap.”

Not-Queen Sonea stood up and stared out of the window. “Segorian, I’ve been an idiot. There seems to be a real imaginary beast threatening the kingdom. An honest to why-the-gods-me dragon. And I have—Peladon has—no dragon slayers. And…and I don’t know what to do!”

I looked around the apartment. It had been a nice apartment as apartments go. “Your Not-Majesty. There appears to be a dragon. Dragons must be fought. And, well, only an Idiot would fight a dragon.”

“Segorian…” There was a note of objection in her voice, and rather more relief.

“Your Maje --”

“Her bloody Majesty isn’t bloody here, Segorian.” Even if I didn’t look, I could feel “The Look.” No. Not that “Look.” The other one. Of course, I had no idea what it meant, but it was still there.

Yes. I’m an Idiot.

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