Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The conversation with the wizard was the second-last good thing that happened at the ball.

The first bad thing that happened was that I took a sip of punch. If that’s what it was. It was in a big bowl, like punch, and you served it yourself with a ladle, like punch. It tasted, however, like a combination of grapefruit, ashes and dog crap.

The second bad thing... my main mission at this thing was to sound out members of the Airbright family about whether they were going to come down for or against the king. The Airbright colors are blue and yellow so it was easy for me to pick them out of a crowd. I intercepted one of the Airbright daughters on her way along the far wall and asked her to dance.

"With you?" she said. She looked across the room and gestured at me.

Seconds later a crowd of young nobles had gathered around me and were hustling me out of the ballroom. The leader of the mob was wearing white and purple, which made him a Bellhound. The Bellhounds were part of the Spinbryony faction. So bad news, then. Once we were out in the courtyard they started shoving me back and forth. I thought I had left all this teenage shit behind me. And some of these guys were older than me! Ridiculous.

There was a bit of taunting that I let go in one ear and out the other, and they eventually tired of their game and chucked me in a manure pile. I took a few minutes to wash off and headed back in, trying to figure out what ‘plan B’ was.
Before I made it, though, I was intercepted by a tall skinny elegant guy in a black ensemble. "You have to move swiftly," he told me.

"Glad to," I said, "but you’re blocking the corridor."

He didn’t smile. "Baron Spinbryony is going to bid for Princess Moon-Sabrique’s hand in marriage tonight, and the king doesn’t have enough political capital to refuse him. The only solution is for him to accept someone else first, and that’s where I come in. You have to get me to the king before Spinbryony arrives."

"And who are you?"

"I represent His Most Puissant Draconic Glory, Fablidar the Crimson. I am here to bring to King Perethur an offer of marriage for his daughter."

I gaped. "Time out. Is this the dragon who’s supposed to be part of Spinbryony’s rebellion coalition?"

"His Crimson Glory is aware of rumors to that effect. And time passes while we discuss it."

We headed into the ballroom and Greyghost grabbed my arm. "We’re too late. Lord Airbright--"

"Never mind that," I said. "This guy’s from the dragon. He’s got a marriage proposal in his pocket for the princess."

Greyghost stared, whirled, and cut through the crowd on the way to the king, who was receiving advice from the wizard at the moment.

I could see how this was going to develop, so I said, "Stay here" to the dragon guy, and jostled off to find Princess Moon-Sabrique. She was dancing and flirting with a redheaded Watersound nobleman. It took me about half a minute to whisper the situation into her ear, during which she turned chalk white.

"I’m not marrying a dragon!" she said. "I’m not!"

"It’s a way to get out of marrying Spinbryony," I told her. "Take your pick."

She looked over at the king, who had just finished talking to Greyghost and was obviously about to make some kind of announcement, and said, "No. There’s another way." She raised her voice. "Father, loyal Lortraieans, guests, I have wonderful news! I have the great joy to announce my betrothal to Prince Dennis of Out-World!" That bitch.

It was tempting, for a second there, to say something like, "I have no idea what she’s talking about." But no. Greyghost would have been superpissed at me. So I just stood there and went along with it. The king looked kind of relieved--fair enough; I wouldn’t have wanted a dragon in my family tree either--but Greyghost and Perseid were both totally shocked. And the dragon’s ambassador was definitely unhappy. Among the other aristocrats and ball guests, there were a lot of slitted eyes and mutterings.

Everybody was shifting into different conversations--the princess with the king, and the dragon guy trotting over to join them, while Greyghost and Perseid converged on me. They strongarmed me out into a hallway, where I said, "Entirely her idea. I would have stopped her if I knew what she was going to say."

"Not important now. You have to get out of here."

"What? Why?"

"So you don’t get assassinated. I don’t know if the dragon will want you out of the way or not, but Spinbryony certainly will."

"Uhhh," I said intelligently. "Okay. Good. Any ideas where I can go? How about home?"

"Potentially difficult to arrange, and unproductive besides."

"I have an idea," Perseid said slowly. "It’s kind of a stupid idea, and you’ll both hate it, but I think we should do it anyway."

"Let’s hear it," I said.

"You should go visit the dragon. Wherever it is."

"It’s kind of a stupid idea and I hate it," I told her.

"What’s your reasoning?"

"Well," she said, "we just found out that the dragon doesn’t seem to be entirely on Spinbryony’s side. So maybe Dennis can get it on the King’s side. He can explain how the betrothal wasn’t his idea and maybe he can even apologize."

"It puts him in a lot of danger, though, if the dragon decides that the simplest thing is just to kill him."

"Yeah," I said.

"That’s why I’d, um, come along," she said.

"Mm," he said. "All right. Go."

"Hey!" Do I get no say in this at all?

As it turned out, we couldn’t leave right away. King Perethur, after talking to the dragon’s flunky, decided that things were getting too hot around there for the princess and we’d stand a better chance of talking the dragon around if she were there too. Which was kind of a pain, because she wasn’t looking at this marriage thing like the political ploy it was, and kept saying things to me about what a good wife she’d try to be and all that stuff. It actually started to freak me out.

Because here’s the thing. Gluteus Maximus can talk all he wants about infinite worlds, but I know a fake world when I see one, and I see one. And the other thing I know is when someone’s trying to sell me something, and that’s what this marriage was. Someone or something in this world wants very much for me to believe in the place, and thinks that if this teenybopper bats her eyelashes at me I’ll cave. I’m not buying this world, and I resent the attempts to make me.
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