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His Faded Idol


"Madame Griselda," Zoltan said with a graceful bow, "I am Zoltan Farkas. Will you allow me to present to you my cousin, Erszebet Farkas?"

Erszebet dropped a perfect curtsy, which had taken a great deal of practice (and drilling from her aunts) to learn, and rose from it almost as gracefully as Zoltan had bowed.

Griselda looked more ancient than the body of the Grand Matriarch had appeared, her thick coil of hair gone pure white and her little dark eyes peering out of a mass of pallid wrinkles. She was seated in a wingback chair in a parlor that had been conjured in one of the rooms in the convention center. Some corner of Erszebet, possibly the one that had listened to her mother and aunts talk about other families for decades, was strangely satisfied by this. It seemed good and appropriate that the deceased (Hungarian) Grand Matriarch had lived longer and looked finer than the (British) Grand Matriarch presumptive.

"Who are you, boy?" she demanded in a harsh voice not at all softened by her accent.

A very neatly buttoned-down woman in a dark skirt-suit bent her pale blonde head toward the old woman. "Grandmother, he is the favorite of the late Grand Matriarch."

The obsidian gaze narrowed. "Oh, you're Klotild's pet nelly, are you?"

The blonde woman winced visibly and offered Zoltan and Erszebet an apologetic look over her grandmother's head. Zoltan beamed at the ancient and said, "Yes, that would be me. I did earn my keep, as you may have heard."

"Yes," Madame Griselda said, looking him over. Then her gaze flicked to Erszebet. "You're too young to have a Household. Just larking about here in the New World then?"

"I am my family's representative to the funeral," Erszebet said, bowing -- trying desperately to look willowy as she did so. "My elders send their deepest regrets, but Budapest is somewhat... difficult at the moment."

The elderly woman waved a dismissive hand. "Budapest has been difficult since it was founded, my dear. No surprise they couldn't leave. Get out while you can." She looked back at Zoltan. "The daughters won't sell us the manor, you know."

He bowed. Erszebet suspected his bow was better than her own. "Klotild and her sisters built the manor, you understand; it holds great sentimental value for Magdolna and her sisters."

"Sentiment doesn't enter into it, you little pouf," Griselda snapped. "It's the center of the empire, and you know it."

Zoltan's smile didn't falter. The granddaughter looked ready to faint. "Ah, Madame Griselda," he said, "you have grown ever more charming as you have aged." He put a slight, barely-detectable emphasis on the last word. "Pardon me, but I see that Klotild's chief husband would like to speak to me."

Erszebet curtsied as Zoltan bowed, and then she followed her cousin. Griselda flushed brick-red, but held her tongue, glaring at Zoltan's back.

"Was that wise?" Erszebet said in an undertone. He was reckless, suicidal, and a pervert. What was her mother thinking, sending her here?

Zoltan shrugged. "Either they will use my services or they will not. Here, let me introduce you to Harald."

They caught up with the craggy, aquiline man who had caught Zoltan's eye. His hair was short, shaped carefully, and blindingly white. His bushy eyebrows rose upon Erszebet's introduction. "Delighted, my dear, absolutely delighted," he said, bowing over her hand. His homey accent was comforting after the encounter with Griselda.

"Getting used to being courted, my friend?" Zoltan said, shaking the man's hand warmly.

"No," Harald said mournfully. "Nor is anyone else, truly. So many enticing offers -- do you know, that egregiously arrogant woman, Juana Zalazar..."

"From New Mexico?" Zoltan said.

"The very one. Well, she has been most astonishingly kind about everything." Harald smiled sadly. "She even managed to head off that bi... harridan Griselda the second time she came around to 'sympathize with' the lot of us."

"Juana Zalazar must want as many of you as she can get very badly," Zoltan said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "How old is her mother again?"

"Certainly old enough to be in the running after Griselda," Harald said. The old man smiled at Erszebet. "Oh, my dear, it must all seem so very dull to you."

"Not dull at all, sir," Erszebet said. "Only, why are you being courted?"

The two men exchanged a glance and smiled. She flushed and said, "You must understand, I have been to so few funerals in my short life, and they are not spoken of at home."

Harald nodded and said, "Well, the tradition is that the Household established by Klotild and her sisters is to be broken up now they are all dead. That means that the men of her generation and her companions are free to do as they will, go where they want."

"It is considered rude in the extreme to offer to take on the companions as donors, of course," Zoltan said. "But companions of the Grand Matriarch are in great demand among politically powerful households in an advisory capacity."

"Often, the companions will have far more information than the men," Harald said, smiling thoughtfully. "Though I think that is not so true in our Household."

"Other Households will therefore offer the companions a place to come to die of old age," Zoltan said, "and the men someplace new to live where they will not be inconveniencing the daughters and their Household men."

"So they court us, mostly," Harald said. "Though Griselda seems to think that she inherits us by default."

"Griselda thinks she owns many things by default," Zoltan said. "She had the cheek to complain to me that Magdolna and her sisters were not going to sell the manor."

"Will Madame Griselda come to Wonder City then?" Erszebet said. She could not imagine that shriveled shape surviving through the hardships of moving. Then again, she could barely conceive of the woman traveling, but she must have.

Zoltan put his head to one side and glanced at Harald, one eyebrow raised. Harald shrugged. "No, I think she will not," Zoltan said after a moment. "Moving is so much worse than traveling. No, I think she will make some of her daughters move here, and try to run her 'empire' from Chicago."

"Her daughters will not love her for that, I think," Erszebet said slowly.

Zoltan smiled. "No one loves Griselda, my dear. Excuse me, both of you, Julianna is trying to catch my eye." He nodded to them and strode off into the crowd.

Erszebet turned back to Harald with a smile. "Shall I squire you in your cousin's stead, my dear?" he said, offering his arm.

She took it, murmuring polite thanks. She felt oddly secure and insecure at the same time. Without Zoltan, she felt the tension in the air more keenly, and despite Harald's age and obvious influence, she felt undefended.

"Was the trip across very difficult?" Harald asked as they began to slowly move through the crowded, noisy hallway outside the parlor.

"Oh, no," she said, astonished by the array of formalwear they met with, from staid gowns and tuxedoes to costumes more suited to Carnival. "It was quite pleasant."

"I wish I could travel more," Harald said, bowing and nodding to people as they passed. "The airplane feels so strange, and leaves me so enervated these days. I thought I could get used to it, like automobiles, but it just never happened."

"My mother Rozsa thinks it has something to do with not having your feet on the ground," Erszebet said.

"How is Rozsa?" Harald said. "I haven't seen her since she traveled here in... oh, 1935 or so. The War trapped the families over there for so long after, and we heard little news for many years."

"My mother came here?" Erszebet said. Her mother had, in fact, never mentioned it.

"Oh, yes," Harald said. "She was the family representative when Kathalin died. A much smaller affair than this, of course; just the Magyar families and some other friends."

Erszebet chewed on that for a while, as she and Harald circulated through the hall. He dutifully introduced her to the people who stopped to speak to him, and Erszebet could only concentrate on polite greetings, though she occasionally wondered, when she clasped a particularly cold hand, if the individual was vermin. She could never tell.

They ended up back in the room with the coffin. People were milling around on the floor, drinking and speaking in subdued tones. The werewolf security guards were relatively unobtrusive, but Erszebet could sense their barely-bridled tension and the general disquiet they caused among the majority of her folk in the room.

A human, on the edge of elderly, a black turban concealing most of her greying hair and her matronly form adorned in a somewhat-too-young black gown, drifted near on the arm of a young Asian man so well-dressed as to be foppish. Harald paused to bow to her. "Madame Destiny, so glad you could attend."

Madame bowed in return and extended a gloved hand. "Harald, of course, I couldn't miss a chance to pay my respects. Klotild was very encouraging when I was young; I only regret I could not repay her adequately."

He took her hand and kissed it in an extremely courtly fashion, and Erszebet was struck by how outdated the manners of her people seemed to her after spending time in college.

"This is our friend Zoltan's young cousin Erszebet," Harald said, and Madame took Erszebet's hand.

"Well," Madame said, blinking, "you certainly have a time ahead of you this week, Ms. Farkas."

"Um," Erszebet said, caught by surprise by the human. "Thank you?"

"You'll be fine," Madame said, squeezing her hand and releasing her. "Just think it all through logically."

Madame's young escort steered her away and gave Erszebet a sympathetic smile. "It won't make sense till later," he said in a surprisingly light voice.

Harald and Erszebet watched them disappear into the crowd. Erszebet said, "Huh."


Author's Note:

I apologize for being slow with the last two readings. I'm working on them!

Date: 2012-03-27 07:12 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
Madame Destiny! She is there!

I am also wildly amused that Erzebet can't read X's gender correctly.

Date: 2012-05-10 03:27 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Seems accurate from my own experience with Eastern Europeans.

Date: 2012-03-27 11:42 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore

It seemed good and appropriate that the deceased (Hungarian) Grand Matriarch had lived longer and looked finer than the (British) Grand Matriarch presumptive.

.....that is actually so dead-on Hungarian, it is hilarious.


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