TITLE: Traditional Values
SERIES: The Adventures of Lord Sam and Lady Brooke
AUTHOR: Jos Mous
DISCLAIMER: Some of these characters really aren’t owned by me and I’m not making a profit out of any of them.
RATING: PG to PG-13
PAIRINGS: Sam/Brooke; Jessica/Cassandra and others.
NOTE: This fic started several long months ago under the title “Candlelight” and was supposed to be a parody of a certain well-known fairytale. It kind of mutated into this, however.
The room was filled with anonymous men. Not really, of course. They did have names and they all knew them. And they weren’t just any old names either, they were great names, noble names, names that had seen the glory of centuries.
But right and now as they sat in these high chairs, sipping their expensive brandy, they were anonymous.
The one who had arranged this little gathering put his glass down on a little side table and said, “Well now, Lord Sam.”
The people in the chairs shifted slightly and the tension in the air changed.
No one said, “What about him?” They already knew that.
One did say, “You have a plan?”
And the first one said, “More or less.”
“‘More or less’”? one said.
“Lord Sam is quite clearly lost, but his son still has some potential. With the right. . . guidance, of course.”
“Of course,” said one.
“And how do you propose he gets that guidance?”
“The prince will be turning eighteen soon. There will be the royal ball and, if all goes well, the wedding. With the correct wife.”
“You already have someone in mind?”
“My own daughter, as a matter of fact. She has been. . . adequately schooled and prepared.”
“Not schooled at Madam Brighter’s Boarding School For Girls, I hope?”
“Of course not. Don’t be foolish.”
The chairs relaxed somewhat.
“Why does it have to be your daughter?” one slightly more ambitious chair said. “My own daughter, for example, would be quite suitable.”
“This isn’t about social climbing,” the first one snapped. “My daughter can make sure that the prince will rule the way he should.”
“Let us say he will not be able to resist.”
“Even so, Lord Sam may be able to live for quite some time. The damage he will do to the country may be irreparable.”
“Certain matters can be arranged in due time, let me assure you.”
“So what part do we actually play in all of this? You seem to have things under control.”
“I merely wished to inform you of the changing tide,” the first one. “To make sure you would not stand in the way. Now, would anyone care for some more brandy?”
The tension drained from the air and lighter subjects were broached.
But one chair hadn’t said anything since the name of P’p’l’r’s king fell. The one who felt that he was the only one who really realised that there was a servant standing behind him ready to refill his glass whenever it was empty. This chair had grown up in Dunc between the Evil Overlords and the Mistresses of Darkness. He’d moved to P’p’l’r because, frankly, the survival prospects over here were a lot better. He’d started a small business which soon became a rather big business selling items that nobody ever bought. Or at, would never admit to buying. And once he’d accumulated a certain amount of wealth he’d bought a baronial title off a baron with a love for gambling but with a certain blindness when it came to telling the difference between poker and blackjack. He hadn’t really wanted to be a baron, but the wife had insisted on it and who was he to argue?
And now that he was here, he’d learned that the Evil Overlords and the Dark Mistresses from the land of his birth were nothing compared to some people.
Prince Jessica looked over the throne room with something resembling despair. It had been turned into a ballroom for this one special occasion – the great Royal Ball where Prince Jessica would choose her wife, as if the ability to dance well and look good in a dress were good qualifications for a position of power. She felt quite strongly that the whole exercise was completely useless since everybody already knew full well that she was going to marry Cassandra.
Well, everyone with a bit brainpower anyway. Which, considering this was P’p’l’r, was almost nobody, but still.
Prince Jessica took a deep breath, adjusted her official dress armour (which, in battle, would be about as useful as a sign saying “Please Don’t Hit Me”) and stepped into the ballroom. Young woman immediately accosted her from all sides, swooning with delight, telling her how wonderful she was and how great an honour it was for them to finally meet her and, really, that they were sure they were destined for each other.
Prince Jessica struggled through the tide of girls until she reached the thrones, where she was left alone. She leaned against her mother’s throne and tried to get breath back.
“Having fun, dear?” said Lord Sam.
“This. . . is. . . Hell,” said Prince Jessica.
“Well, I survived it too,” said Lord Sam.
“Why are we doing this anyway? I won’t find a wife here.”
“Neither did I,” said Lord Sam. “But it’ll keep the aristocrats happy for a while so you’re doing it.”
“Why don’t you just give me a cyanide pill right now?” Prince Jessica grumbled.
“You’ll just have to rough it,” said Lady Brooke. “If it helps, just close your eyes and think of P’p’l’r.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Prince Jessica. “Oh well. Once more into the breach.”
Prince Jessica hadn’t set both her feet onto the dance floor before she found herself dancing with some young woman who she’d never met before.
“I feel so honoured that you’d share this dance with me,” she said.
“Really?” said Prince Jessica.
“So tell me honestly, how do you really feel about the way your father runs things?”
“Well. . .”
“I’m sure you’re as appalled as I am,” said the girl. “Really he just lets anyone into the country. First it was the dragons, then there were those cat people, a whole bunch of foreigners and now those hideous snake creatures. Honestly, our proud traditions are being compromised.”
“What proud. . .”
“And I find it truly horrible that those snakes are usurping our culture,” the girl continued. “I’m sure you’ll agree with me that all that sculpting and painting and everything will be a bad influence on us all.”
Prince Jessica briefly considered pointing out that, up until very recently, P’p’l’rarian culture had consisted of exactly three paintings that had been looted from Dunc in some war a couple of centuries ago and one piece of music to be played during the Royal Ball. She didn’t actually say this because the girl was already talking again before Prince Jessica had had the time to finish considering.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to make it all better once we’re in power.”
“Will we?” said Prince Jessica. “Oh, listen to that, the music has stopped. Well thank you for a very enlightening dance,” she said, quickly letting go and stepping away.
“Goodbye my Prince. You know my name. I’m sure we’ll see each other again real soon.”
Prince Jessica didn’t and didn’t want to know it. She did want to go take a really hot bath to wash the filth off.
And then, like a scene from some fairy tale, the crowd parted and Prince Jessica’s mouth fell open in sheer admiration. There, at the other end of the room, was the most beautiful girl Prince Jessica had ever seen. She strode confidently across the room and stopped in front of Prince Jessica, who’d been nailed to the spot with awe.
“Hey,” said Prince Jessica, smiling pathetically and not caring that she did.
The most beautiful girl in the world curtsied. “Greetings my Prince. I am glad to make your acquaintance.”
Prince Jessica gave her a strange look. “Thanks. Who are. . . what the Hell is that girl doing? Excuse me.”
Prince Jessica walked away from the most delectable creature the world had ever seen and towards the buffet table where one of the guests was busily polishing a glass with the hem of her dress.
“Uhm. . . hello?” said Prince Jessica.
Startled, the girl looked up, then anger appeared on her face again. “Look at this. Look at this. Can you believe it?”
“It’s a glass?” Prince Jessica hazarded.
“It has a stain!” the girl shrieked. “This has not been cleaned properly. It’s an outrage.”
Prince Jessica squinted and looked very, very closely. There was a stain. Sort of. A place where the glass was slightly less transparent than everywhere else in any case.
“Honestly, if you want a job done properly you have to do it yourself,” said the girl.
“That’s true I guess,” said Prince Jessica. “And you are. . .?”
“Oh I’m sorry,” said the girl. “I’m Candlelight.” She sighed. “Honestly, I’m really no good at these kind of functions but my stepmother insisted. I don’t want to marry the prince, I don’t want to rule the country. Just give me a floor to clean and I’m happy, you know?”
“Not really,” Prince Jessica said.
“I’m just not cut out to be a ruler of anything,” said Candlelight. “But there’s something wonderfully uncomplicated about a clean floor. You can look at it and say ‘that’s a clean floor, that is’ and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done. You don’t get that with ruling.”
“No,” said Prince Jessica. “You don’t.”
“Anyway, what’s your name?” Candlelight asked.
“Oh. . . just. . . Jessica.”
“What, like the prince?” said Candlelight.
“I never knew he liked women who can fight,” said Candlelight, looking pointedly at Prince Jessica’s armour. “So hopefully he won’t have any interest in me whatsoever.”
“Well, I’ve heard from someone who knows about that kind thing that the prince is already set on marrying someone else and this whole ball is just a sham to keep the nobles happy.”
Candlelight cheered up considerable. “Really? Oh, I hope so.”
“And hey, you know this place has valet horse parking? I’m betting the stables are a real mess right now. If you’d ask politely you’ll probably be allowed to clean them out if you wanted to.”
“The royal stables? Honestly?”
“Well in that case, what am I waiting for?”
Candlelight hurried off. Prince Jessica watched her go with a smile on her face. She’d rather enjoyed talking to the girl, in a strange kind of way. And, sadly, she realised that Candlelight would do great in a position of power simply because she didn’t want any.
Prince Jessica’s musings were interrupted when someone grabbed her arm.
“My lord, you must come with me at once.”
Before Prince Jessica had time to reply, she was dragged out of the ballroom, mostly because she had decided not to put up a fight at least until she was really out of the ballroom.
Prince Jessica was led to a small, forgotten room somewhere at the edge of one of the main hallways. It was completely devoid of any kind of furniture, but quite clean all the same. Someone was waiting for them. A middle-aged woman with red hair in a prim little bun and wearing a severe black dress that covered the whole of her body, yet suspiciously drew attention to some of her more prominent features. The man who’d taken Prince Jessica here had black hair going grey in several places, a full beard and had obviously enjoyed one meal too many.
“OK, what’s all this about?” said Prince Jessica.
“My prince, there is a plot,” said the man. “A plot to make most dreadful things happen.”
“Count Astur is planning to have you marry his daughter so that he may rule P’p’l’r through her. He plans to return to the. . . good old days.”
“That is serious,” said Prince Jessica.
“I fear he may have. . . done something to his daughter to make irresistible.”
“He has,” said Prince Jessica. “He put a spell on her.”
“Oh Gods, then we’re too late!” said the man.
“We don’t look too late,” said the woman. “How did you know that my Prince. . . ess?”
Prince Jessica smiled with surprise. “Well, there’s only one half human/half dragon in the whole country and I happen to know her rather intimately. But the one that approached me just now didn’t seem to know me.”
The woman laughed. “So the rumours really are true then. You are going to marry that Cassandra girl.”
“I plan to. Now, mind telling me who the two of you are and how you know all this?”
“I’m the baron of Cantur,” said the man. “The new one, you might say. Count Astur accidentally invited me to his meeting.”
“I’ve heard of you,” said Prince Jessica.
And absolutely didn’t add that she, in fact, really did not possess certain items he offered for sale and if her mothers somehow managed to find one of those certain items carefully hidden in her room somewhere, then Prince Jessica really would not know how they got there.
“And this is Miss Brighter.”
“Madam Brighter,” said Madam Brighter.
“From Madam Brighter’s Boarding School For Girls?”
Prince Jessica nodded. She’d heard of her too. All-girl schools weren’t all that uncommon in P’p’l’r. After all, before she could get married a girl would have to learn about obedience. And also cooking and cleaning and knitting and sewing and all that. Madam Brighter’s school, however, didn’t produce meek housewives, but confident young women who also tended to get married and start a family but who, for some exasperating reason, didn’t blindly follow their husbands and even hit back. The people of P’p’l’r just couldn’t comprehend how the school managed to stay in business. They also couldn’t comprehend that they were really the men of P’p’l’r and didn’t realise that their own meek wives were tasked with arranging the future of the unimportant children.
“So why are you here?” Prince Jessica asked.
Madam Brighter smiled almost nastily. “I wasn’t always headmistress, you know. Although you might say I was a mistress.”
“Of the Dunc variety, I take it?”
“Quite right. And really, I did enjoy the freedom and the power and the pain.” Her eyes misted over. “Oh yes, the pain.” She cleared her throat noisily. “But I didn’t much enjoy being evil, so I moved here. And now I still have freedom and power. And the occasional bit of pain.”
Prince Jessica frowned. “That’s not particularly ethical, you know.”
“It’s just a bit of naughtiness compared to some other schools I could mention.”
“Hmm,” said Prince Jessica. “And you were here because?”
“I have some way with girls,” said Madam Brighter. “Especially those with no real mind of their own. I’m sure I can persuade her.”
“Persuade her of what?”
“It’d be best if you don’t know.”
“And for your own protection, my prince,” said Baron Cantur, “I think it’d be best if you stayed here until the ball ended.”
Prince Jessica didn’t have any problems with that at all.
The lights were out and all was dark when Prince Jessica entered the ballroom again. She was happy that it had reverted back to just being the throne room. It was blissfully empty, although she did have to be careful where walked or she’d be crushing glass shoes left and right.
Two red eyes gleamed in the shadows.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Hi Cassandra,” Prince Jessica said, smiling pathetically.
The half dragon glided through the air until she had her arms and tail wrapped around the prince.
“Your mothers are so mad at you for disappearing like that.”
“Missing the ball was worth it,” said Prince Jessica.
Cassandra grinned. “Good point. You did miss a lot of excitement, though.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“Well, there was this one girl who looked a lot like you. And then some lady started talking to her and before you knew it, the girl was naked, kneeling and on a leash.”
“Oh now you’re just pulling my leg,” said Prince Jessica.
“I’m really not,” said Cassandra. “It was quite a scene.”
“So instead of being her father’s slave she’s now an ex-Dark Mistress’s slave, is that it?”
“Basically, but it’s better that way. At least she’ll know some happiness,” said Cassandra.
“That’s a really strange definition of happiness,” said Prince Jessica. “What was her name, anyway?”
“She didn’t have one,” said Cassandra.
“Oh come now.”
“No, really, I’m serious. Her father didn’t deem her important enough to get one,” said Cassandra. “Trust me on this as the great all-knowing Goddess.”
Prince Jessica shook her head. “This is one screwed-up country.”
“That’s why your mom is in charge of it. That’s why you’ll be in charge of it.”
“Hurrah,” said Prince Jessica. “Speaking of which, you’ll have to get kidnapped by some monster one day. I’m just saying in advance.”
Cassandra looked confused. “What? Why?”
“I thought you were all-knowing?”
“Yes, but not all the time. Otherwise it’d take all the fun out of life. So?”
“Well, you know, the ball was a bust so the marriage isn’t going to happen. That means I’ll have to marry some fair damsel I saved while she was in distress. And I’ll be damned if it’s gonna be anyone other than you.”
Cassandra smiled. “I’m sure matters can be arranged.”
“Yeah,” said Prince Jessica. “So, before my moms ground me for life, your room or mine?”
“Yours. Mine is being cleaned right now with a worrying amount of fanaticism.”
Prince Jessica grinned. “You know, maybe we’ll all live happily ever after after all. In a really seriously disturbing way, but still.”
“Not everyone. I know one or two people who aren’t gonna be happy about how tonight turned out.”
“Well then the rest of us will live even happier, right?”
And with that the girls walked away into the sunset, except that they were inside and it was already dark outside.
And nothing more could be heard in the Palace except the occasional crunch of glass.
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