OMFG short story! (Part 1 of 2)
current location: The Cell
current mood: accomplished
current song: The Cruxshadows's "Windbringer"
Technically, it's Sol now. All that makes me is a pedant, however, so mneh.
Split into two because LiveJournal sucks for this sort of thing. I bet if there was hanky panky they'd let me post something of this size.
Edmund was very pleased with his door. It was big, which was expected of someone in his position and necessary for someone of his stature; primarily made from oak, which made it solid enough to drown out the hubbub resounding through the castle; and opened outwards, which was requirement for kicking people through it. It was the kind of door that spoke to people, albeit solely in phrases of two words, the latter being "off".
The Zweihanders, Claymores, great axes and giant hammers—those were mostly just for fun—that he owned would barely be able to chip a stake out of the door. In truth, it could probably stand up to more punishment than the rusty old gatehouse that guarded the castle.
Its purpose, however, was altogether more mundane. It was in place primarily to keep him from interfering. Edmund made no secret of his bristling dissatisfaction at the audacity of his servants, yet he ultimately tolerated it.
Firstly, because he had long ago realised that in the giant social machine that kept the world turning, the nobles were the little cog that made a brightly coloured flamingo pop out every hour to remind the Gods that it was time for their afternoon cucumber sandwich. The real work was done by the servants; they were the giant gears and pendulums that kept all creation to its self-guided schedule.
Secondly, he wasn’t a real nobleman. He was an animal, raised by wolves and barghests and Hretha-knows what other beasts that would terrify the skin off these Cityfolk—if their teeth didn’t get in there first. No matter what rung of the ladder of society he clung to, his desires were basic and belied the beast within him.
His hands itched. He could already smell the latter stages of preparation for tonight's Wolfyule banquet, the first real meal of the New Year, and there was a part of him that longed to scamper down the hallways and into the kitchens to help out. It was only through a monumental effort of will that kept him from doing so.
What remained of his administrative and domestic staff after the latest budget reallocation greatly disapproved of his tendency to get involved in the work below stairs. It was conduct unbecoming of the City's Lord Lieutenant. His only official responsibility was to be told what to do by the nobility; which meant, of course, that his actual—if unofficial—role was to tell them what to do. Food preparation was an entirely different and unconnected vocation that was not to be undertaken by a nobleman.
Of course, the kitchen staff didn't really welcome him either, on the days when desire triumphed over will. He was muscling in on their empire and, as muscle was a physical attribute that he had been particularly blessed with, the Chef de Cuisine was usually left with little more than a small enclave for making mushroom gravy. As expected, they would never dream of voicing this to him, though Wexford “No Thumbs” Whelps had barked an indignant “gerroff” at him a few seconds before gaining his nickname.
There were two knocks at the door. Edmund smiled, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. It wasn’t yet time for the banquet to begin, which meant only one thing: something needed doing. He took another few sniffs.
"Come in, Mr Rump". Now, this would be fun. The Gods smile on those who are bored.
The door groaned as it parted, but otherwise had no complaints. A nose peered through the door, and just as Death was followed by the legions of Hell in Mithran Scripture, so this nose preceded its spiritual companions. One could look at Mr Rump and come away with the not wholly misconceived opinion that he was all nose.
"Thank you, My Lord,” he said, shuffling through the door and closing it behind him.
Edmund had never really cared much for staff members with allure, and in that respect Mr Rump had all the job security he would ever need. He had the look of a man destined for obesity, but through a cruel twist of fate—the eternal enemy of destiny—stress was deflating him at the same rate genetics and food were expanding him. He therefore had the appearance of a man both larger and smaller than the eye was expecting.
His frock coat was spattered with the carcases of an entire legion of tomatoes. Mr Rump was officially his secretary, though he had shown himself to be a dab hand in the kitchens and Edmund, who was always eager to promote personal development among his staff, had appointed him Commis-Entremetier to Mr Berk. That new job description had only served to increase his anxiety, but Edmund was more than capable of diffusing dissent among the ranks, and Rump's pleas of: "Oh, my Lord; a title in the Frankish language?" had been met with little more than a Look and a low Growl. He hadn't complained since then.
“I wanted to keep you informed as to the progress of tonight’s banquet,” said Mr Rump. His voice resembled a low squeak, and although he had the demeanour of an action hero it was one that would only enthral rodents and small birds.
“You do.” It was not a query.
“A-and everything is going absolutely fine,” said Mr Rump. He was starting to show the first signs of cracking, as he always did, under his lord’s predatory gaze.
Secretly, Edmund was disappointed. He had learnt a great deal about a master’s relationship with his servants from the other aristocrats. This was a painfully obvious attempt at stamping on any ‘funny ideas’ he might be having before he went anywhere near the kitchens.
“Are you certain you don’t need any help?” he said. He flexed his hands, his tautly tailored uniform betraying the rippling skin beneath.
Mr Rump gulped. “Oh, but my Lord, I’m afraid that will be quite impossible. The kitchens themselves are already full to capacity, and—and—Emilé says the sorbet is not entirely up to the usual standard. He needs time to prepare and—oh my Lord—you know how nervous he gets when you stand over his shoulder!” he said.
“You’re babbling, dear Walter. Don’t worry; I’m not going to eat you.” Edmund grinned, his smile wide enough to ensure that Mr Rump glimpsed his long teeth. For some reason, this did not appear to alleviate Mr Rump’s concerns. There was no further need to toy with him, Edmund thought, when a swift bite to the throat would be far more effective.
“Nor will I interfere, on tonight on all nights,” he continued. “My Lord has placed his fullest confidence in me, and I am doing the same to you.”
The last vestiges of colour drained from Mr Rump’s face, and he backed away instinctively. He was clearly intending to leave the room, and Edmund turned away, but he sensed that Mr Rump and moved forwards again. He turned back to his secretary.
“Was there anything else you wanted, Walter?” he said.
“There is one more thing, my Lord,” said Mr Rump, shifting nervously.
“And that is?” said Edmund. His disappointment turned to hope.
“I’m afraid we have still not received any reply from Sir Antonio Ruthven."
"Oh?" This was serious, but not entirely unanticipated. Sir Antonio generally didn't open envelopes that didn't look like they contained a cheque. Normally that would be fine, but that hoarfrost-hearted harpy had insisted that both Edmund and Antonio should be present for the banquet.
“Send my driver to collect him. I will write a personal letter to ensure he is,” he paused, “motivated to attend.”
Edmund strode over to his desk, but a strangled cough from Mr Rump stopped him from sitting down.
"You didn't have enough money to keep your driver, my Lord,” said Mr Rump. “You had to let him go; no doubt to afford some more tongs."
Edmund respected Mr Rump's candour, particularly when it came to defending what he saw as tradition. The Lord Lieutenant was the first to admit that he didn’t really have a grip on how to manage a household, let alone the infrastructure hub of the City. But then, where was the fun in knowing what you were doing?
"Very well, I'll deliver it myself,” he said.