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Fiction, Fantasy, Serial Novel
by: J. Dennis McKay
Yllek casually proceeded down the stairs to the council floor as a murmer began to spread through the assembled crowd in the gallery beyond. Positioning himself at the opposite end of the floor from Mayor DiPietro and facing him, Yllek had an uncomfortable sense of being watched by the third of the audience he couldn't see. He was pleased and somewhat surprised to note that the Mouse had stuck to his side. Ahrich, for his part, had remained in the gallery, and Yllek spotted him through the corner of his eye slowly moving amongst the other spectators. Without flourish, he removed his wide brimmed hat and held it out to his left side. It only took a moment for the Mouse to realize that he was to take the item. With his hands unoccupied, Yllek clasped them behind his back, which, along with the stiffness and tight fit of his new coat, forced him into an upright, rigid, almost confrontational posture.
"Well," the mayor opened and once again brought relative quiet to the room. "You are correct that we have assembled to discuss other matters, but it would perhaps be prudent to first settle this claim you have to House Navillus."
"If you feel it necessary, honored mayor," Yllek responded. The combination of "honored" and "mayor" in the same sentence brought more than one guffaw from the audience. "How shall we proceed?"
The mayor shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "First, you could explain by what right you claim the title."
"I claim it by ancestral right, as the eldest surviving member of House Navillus."
"More like the only surviving member," a faceless voice jeered from behind, drawing some laughter from the assembly.
"So I doubt anyone will contest me for the position," Yllek countered. This brought even more laughter from the assembly, and the odd comment of "True, true…" trickled through.
Ahrich strode casually through the gallery, drawing more than the occasional glance, and a few glares. He still managed to catch the odd group unawares and eavesdrop on their discussions of the proceedings. He was worried at first by the tone of the conversations, but soon came to realize that better than half of the people in the gallery at least seemed undecided in their disposition towards Yllek. This was about as promising as he could hope for, under the circumstances.
"No matter your ancestry, Yllek, what right do you have to claim a House without a home? You have no estate!" Again, this came from out of Yllek's line of sight. No one within his vision seemed interested in confronting him. Typical.
Yllek raised an eyebrow to the mayor at the other end of the floor, "If it please the Council?" he began to draw the papers Papa Domi had given him earlier from inside his coat.
Mayor DiPietro signaled a page with a flick of his wrist. The youth, of an age with the Mouse, quickly crossed the floor and accepted the documents from Yllek before returning to present them to the mayor. For his part, the mayor looked surprised upon scanning the parchments. "Can anyone verify these?" he asked.
"Honorable Mayor," Yllek watched Papa Domi stand to address the Council. "I verified these documents myself. The properties in question have been held in trust by my family since the passing of Yllek's father."
This brought a great murmer and general disquiet to the Council. This was all the verification needed, as no one was likely to openly question the word of Papa Domi. From what faces he could see, Yllek noted widespread surprise, and a few grins. Obviously, the fortunes of a few families stood to rise with Yllek's gain, but would it be enough to outweigh those who stood to lose?
"How do we know this isn't simply a way for House Domi to gain another seat on the Council?" An angry voice called from behind.
Yllek rounded to face the man who'd been a little slow to retake his seat, "I am my own man!" Then, regaining his composure, he turned back to face the mayor. "I have my own staff and guard. While it is true that House Domi and House Navillus have long held courtesy with each other, House Navillus never has, and never will be, a Subject House, to Domi or any other family."
"Words, nothing but words," Yllek recognized the same voice again, and so saw no need to turn. "You have no guard, no wealth, no business prospects. How can you be anything but a subject? A House in name only?"
Yllek fought hard to keep his composure. A glance at Domi's stern face reminded him to keep his temper in check. "One!" he pronounced, "I have my own guard. Ahrich!" he bellowed out to the gallery, where there was some shuffling as the man approached the pillars.
Good man, Yllek thought. "You inspected my guard this morning, did you not?" By the Gods, man, play along.
"Of course, Papa Navillus." Yllek was relieved to hear. "Fine men all. My largest command to date." Ahrich saw no need to give numbers, or that this was, in fact, his first command.
"And exactly where are these men? From what I've been told, you arrived under escort from Domi's men." Another faceless accuser called out.
"Admittedly," Yllek spread his hands, "my guard is not as strong as I would like. I accepted Domi's offer of escort in order that my holdings be not left without guard."
Again general disquiet spread through the assembly. It was a reasonable explanation, and there was no way to disprove it, especially with Ahrich standing by in full uniform. Yllek waited a moment for the noise to subside before continuing. "Two! I have wealth enough, and can any man here claim lien against my property?" It took only a moment for the lack of response to serve as answer. Even if Yllek were penniless, he could borrow enough against clear titled property to keep himself going for some time. There was undoubtedly more than one House represented in Council that owed more than the value of it's holdings. "And Three! As for business prospects, I have recently acquired two barquentines, one each from House Antilly and House Gandolfo." As recently as this afternoon, according to the agreement they'd reached earlier.
"Oh?" Mayor DiPietro raised an eyebrow, pretending to be unaware of the agreement. "Is this true?" he asked the Council in general.
Two elderly men stood and answered in the affirmative. Although neither man had been a party to the agreement, or were, in fact, the true power of their Houses, their confirmation of the agreement served it's purpose. Again, low discussion echoed through the Council for a while, interrupted by someone commenting, "You seemed to have profited greatly from your time abroad. Why ever did you return?" This brought a general round of laughter. Yllek, himself, couldn't hold back a smile at the comment.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a decent glass of wine in Munthosy?" he joked in return. Again there was laughter, and a few cheers of agreement.
After a while, the mayor held up his hand for quiet. It took a moment, but eventually the council granted him the floor. "Does the Council have anything else it wishes to ask Master Yllek in regards his claim to House Navillus?" The mayor allowed several moments of murmured discussion before proceeding. "Master Yllek, do you have anything else you wish to add in this matter?"
Yllek thought on this for a moment before deciding it was best if he left things as they stood. "No, honorable mayor. I believe my point has been made." He did note a smile creep across Domi's face as he said this.
"Very well then. We shall put the question to the council for general discussion. Master Yllek, unfortunately you can't yet claim seat on the council, so I will have to ask you to cede the floor, for the moment. Would you mind waiting in my chambers while the Council comes to a decision?"
"As long as there's some decent wine, I won't mind at all." Again there was some laughter in the council. Yllek retrieved his hat from the Mouse as he was escorted across the floor to the mayor's office. As he proceeded, first one, then more and more of the council stood in silent salute. They may not all vote for him, but they at least respected the courage and dignity behind his appearance before them. As the door to office closed behind him, his knees nearly gave way and he quickly set a hand to the wall to steady himself.
"Mouse," he addressed his sole companion in the room, "I would greatly appreciate it if you found me some of that wine I mentioned."
"Certainly!" the Mouse beamed up at the man he'd just met that morning, and had already decided he would follow wherever he led. Without preamble, the Mouse quickly began searching cabinets, deftly slipping locks at need, until he found the required items. The Mouse sipped from several different bottles, "Just testing the quality, sir," before settling on a white, very dry, and excellent wine.
"Aren't you a little young to know anything about the qualities of wine?" Yllek teased.
"Oh!" the Mouse blushed. "I learned just for trade reasons, if you take my meaning."
Yllek refilled his already drained glass and walked over to take a seat behind the mayor's desk. "Well then, why don't you grab yourself a glass and give me a full appraisal of this wine's value."
The Mouse beamed and raced to the desk with an empty glass, "Happy to oblige, sir." He allowed Yllek to fill his glass, made himself comfortable sitting on the corner of the desk, and began to discuss, in surprising detail, the qualities and attributes of the wine they shared.
After more than two hours, Yllek was getting impatient, and a little drunk. The Mouse, after drinking a glass and a half of wine, had curled up in an overstuffed chair and fallen fast asleep. Yllek had tried listening at the door, only to find that all he could hear was the odd distorted, muffled noise. Frustrated, he paced the room, swirling the last of the first bottle of wine in his glass, contemplating whether he should open a second bottle. It was just as he finished off his glass, and decided that, yes, he should open another bottle, that a knock at the side door interrupted his thoughts. Nudging the Mouse awake, he motioned to the door from whence the knock had come, and placed his hand to sword. The Mouse rose slowly, rubbed his eyes, and wobbled across the room to open the door. Yllek stepped out of the immediate line of sight of the door, just in case. Opening the door, the Mouse revealed not a lynch mob polite enough to knock, but Ahrich and Gianni. Both men wore serious expressions.
"Come to spirit me out of here? Got another honey wagon at your disposal?" Yllek asked casually.
The two men glanced at each other. Then, by some silent or previous agreement, Ahrich broke the silence, "It doesn't bode well, I'm afraid."
Yllek's face fell, "Well, it was worth a try."
Ahrich continued. "The main argument, in the gallery anyway, seems to center on whether you should be married off to Lady Isabelle, of House Rossi, or Lady Margravine, of House Tiseli." Ahrich ignored the confused look on Yllek's face. "Isabelle would be fine enough, she's almost as young as you, and not terribly bad looking, but Margravine seems to be drawing the bulk of the support, and she's as old as Gianni, and weighs twice as much."
Gianni stepped in, "But don't worry overmuch. Margravine is a wonderful Lady. Quite the personality, so upbeat in spite of the wrath that nature has taken upon her."
Yllek reddened, and embarrassment quickly turned to anger as he unleashed a withering glare on his two friends. For their part, Ahrich and Gianni grinned mischievously for a moment, then broke into peals of laughter. For a second, this merely angered Yllek further, but he eventually lost the battle and joined his companions with a snort of laughter.
"Oh, come now," Gianni wiped a small tear from beneath his eye. "You worry too much. Do you honestly think that Domi, let alone Domi, Elanna, and Brecht would leave this to chance?"
Yllek frowned. "You mean this whole thing is rigged?"
"Of course it is," Gianni waved a hand, and strolled over to the wine cabinet. Inspecting, then opening one of the bottles that the Mouse had put back, he filled three glasses and handed them around. The Mouse, eyes a little bleary, didn't seem to keen on asking for another glass. "They'd secured enough votes two days ago. This whole debate is just for appearances. Let the losing side think they had a chance."
Yllek snatched his glass from Gianni's hand and sulked a little. "You could have told me, you know. I would have slept easier."
"What? And spoil all the fun?" Ahrich smiled. "And that little scene in the carriage before we came in, so touching. Did you realize, Gianni, that a hundred men as good as me could take this city?"
"That must be some iron," Gianni pinched Ahrich's biceps.
Yllek was still flustered. "I swear! All that sweating in front of the council for nothing?"
"Oh, not for nothing, I assure you," Gianni stated. "Domi couldn't have you being too confident and cocky, lest you offend and lose some of his hard won support. You're a lucky man, Yllek. Papa really does care for you, for reasons I'll never understand."
"Humph!" Yllek answered.
Just then, a knock came to the door that led to the council chamber. Ahrich started for the door, but Gianni held him back and pointed at the Mouse, who rose wearily, as if he was carrying lead in his pockets, and crossed to the door and admitted one of the mayor's pages. "The council is ready to receive you, sir."
Yllek studied him for only a moment. "I'll be out in just a minute."
"Very well, sir."
After the page had left Yllek turned back to face his two companions. "So you're sure then? I'm guessing you missed the actual vote."
"Quite sure," Gianni affirmed. "Don't you trust Papa Domi?"
"Of course not. I've played cards against the man. He's a worse cheat than I am."
"What's to fear, then? He's stacked the deck as well as any man could." Gianni raised his glass to Yllek. "Oh, and one other thing. You're hosting a little celebration tonight, in honor of reclaiming your title. Domi has been kind enough to loan you some of his staff to take care of the proceedings. He's even dressed fifty guardsmen in your House colors. Just for the night, mind. You really are going to have to arrange for your own men, you know."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Yllek turned back to the door to the Council floor. Opening it, and proceeding out, he was greeted by the entire assembly on their feet. From the look on Papa Domi's and mayor DiPietro's faces, he knew immediately that all had gone according to plan. Their plan.
~End Chapter 10~
~Continued in Chapter 11~
~Coming January, 2005~