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All at the Ball


High time for a fiction excerpt! Here’s one from Royal Flush.

Frederick’s music was mesmerizing. The King knew this because nobody at the ball he had thrown to celebrate his new fiddler was talking with one another—or with the King. Instead they gazed at Frederick and his fiddle; listened intently to the divine melodies there produced.

The fiddler left off for a coffee break, and conversation gradually resumed. The King wandered among his guests, fulfilling his duties as gracious host.

“Don’t scuff your feet!” he snapped at a passing nobleman. “You’ll mark the hardwood!”

The King rarely used the ballroom, and so it was slightly less dilapidated than the rest of his castle. It was still rather dilapidated. The paint was peeling from the walls, and the ancient chandelier looked in danger of falling. He grimaced at the cacophony of squeaks the floor produced as his guests milled about.

In the crowd’s shuffle Sir Forsythe appeared before him, toting a glass of brandy.

“Good evening, Your Majesty. Your new musician plays like a virtuoso. Where did you find him?”

“In the exotic jungles of the south, while hunting a lion that was troubling some villagers there.” The King had never been to a jungle, but the accomplished Sir Forsythe made him feel inferior. He felt justified in obscuring the truth a little.

“Fascinating. By the way, Your Majesty, I must thank you for the scalpel you gave me. It’s first-rate.”

The King gestured airily. “A mere knickknack. In any case, I felt I should repay you for—well, in retrospect, you didn’t do anything, did you? Can I have my scalpel back?”

“No,” Sir Forsythe said, and dissolved back into the crowd.

The next face the King encountered was as hateful as it was familiar.

“Duke Edward,” the King spat. “Funny. I don’t recall inviting you.”

The Editor of the Kingdom Crier smiled broadly at the King. “That’s a relief, Your Majesty, because I don’t recall being invited. I’m glad to find my memory is as functional as it always was.”

“How did you get in? You aren’t on the guest list.”

“Yes, your doorman mentioned something along those lines, but he seemed too busy getting my autograph to turn me away. Besides, I have a press pass.” He indicated his head, where a stylish fedora sat. The word ‘press’ was stencilled across a slip of paper stuck in its band.

“You won’t find any news here,” the King said. “Only the appreciation of good music. You know—culture. Are you familiar with the term?”

“Your idiocy alone makes for an excellent story, Your Highness. At any rate, you’re bound to slip up. You can barely manage your sock drawer, let alone a roomful of drunken nobles. As for your fiddler, you have me to thank that you ever laid eyes on him. It was my newspaper he read your ad in, after all.”

“That ad cost me thirty thousand pounds!”

“Business is business, sire.”

The King drew himself up. “The only thing I have to thank you for is a reputation as a cross dresser. And by thank, I mean murder.”

“Ah, yes,” the Editor said. “I think now would be the appropriate time to introduce you to the soldier I was talking with before you…introduced yourself into the conversation.” He beckoned to a young man wearing a black uniform who waited politely nearby. “Private Reginald, this is the ruler of this Kingdom. He likes to wear women’s clothing.”

Private Reginald tried to maintain a courteous level of interest. “Is that right? I have a friend who’s into the same sort of thing.”

“Really?” said the King.

“Yes, quite.” The soldier faltered. “Er…she’s a girl.”

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