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His Faded Idol


"I spoke my mother this morning," Erszebet said as she sat down to Zoltan's table for a brief supper before dressing for the evening's activities. "She said that as long as you felt that my trip with the Zalazars would be more valuable than her time with the Cotynghams, I could go."

"You could spend an evening with Ebb and Flo, waiting tables in their cafe, and have it be more valuable than Rosza's time with the Cotynghams," Zoltan said, putting two buttermilk biscuits on a plate and ladling gravy over them. He placed the plate before his guest and said, "I have no doubt that a visit with the Zalazars will be extremely educational."

Erszebet studied her supper gravely for a moment before taking up her fork and trying a bite. It was hot, savory, and peppery, and the biscuits beneath were delicately flaky. She turned her pleasantly surprised look on Zoltan.

"American cuisine," he said, settling to his own with a small smile, "is often both filling and comforting, I have found."

"I see," Erszebet said. She took another bite and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. Then, she swallowed and said, "No one seems to like Griselda much at all."

Zoltan pursed his lips but didn't look at her. "There is not much to like in her, I admit."

"Some of the people I have spoken to feel she will be an embarrassment to the Family," she pursued.

"Sometimes," he said, still not looking at her, "embarrassment must be endured."

"They seemed surprised when I told them that the eldest does not always automatically become Grand Matriarch in Europe," Erszebet said, watching his face.

His lips tightened into a flat line and he glanced at her. "I see," he said. His emotions were not nearly as well-controlled as usual, full of conflict and annoyance and disapproval.

"Cousin, your name is virtually synonymous in the Family with rebellion," Erszebet finally said. "Why are you so determined that this old bat become the next Grand Matriarch?"

"Because that is what is done," Zoltan said, voice strained.

She emitted a sound of exasperation. "Just like an American," she muttered.

"What?" he said, offended.

"Just like an American!" she repeated. "Americans voted an incompetent, embarrassing puppet of a man into their supposedly most important political position because of, as far as I can tell, stubbornness and stupidity. As a result, people in my part of the world think of the United States as barbaric and pathetic. A hundred years of reputation, gone in an eyeblink of two terms of office. It will take a hundred more years of intelligent leadership to reestablish that reputation."

Zoltan shifted in his chair uncomfortably. He looked furious.

"Now think, cousin," Erszebet continued, "what Griselda will do to this continent's Family reputation in whatever decades are spared her. And how long it will take to rebuild it. All Klotild's good works, useless, destroyed."

"ENOUGH," Zoltan roared, bolting upright from his chair. Erszebet rocked back from the table under the emotional force behind the word. "I know all this, cousin. Do you think me completely insensible?" He strode angrily into the kitchen.

She followed, knowing she was possibly being foolish. He was at least a hundred years her senior, possibly more, she wasn't sure, and could certainly crush her like a bug if he chose. "Then why don't you use your influence against her?"

He turned on her, hissing, "Because..."

Erszebet found herself on hands and knees, her skull splitting with pain, unable to focus on his subsequent words. Squashed like a bug after all. After an eternity of white-hot fury, the pressure vanished, and she felt his hands take hers.

"Cousin, forgive me," Zoltan said, helping her to her feet. He was under control again, neatly buttoned down as ever. "I should not be angry with you."

Erszebet wavered on her feet for a moment before relinquishing his support. Her vision was clearing and the pain was slowly receding. "Who are you angry with?" she asked, still dazed.

"Myself," he said, watching her. "And Klotild."

"You hate Griselda as much as anyone," Erszebet said, that awareness filtering through from the overload of information with which he'd just pummeled her. "More, even. Because of Klotild?"

Zoltan motioned her back into his dining room. "Klotild thought that... well, most of the great families came here during colonial times. The old girls tend to still think of this place as a pioneering adventure, where there is less politesse and more... drawn guns at high noon, you see? It seemed to her that the only way to avoid a Family civil war was to establish an American Tradition."

Erszebet sat back in her place, though her appetite was quite thoroughly gone. "She did not think highly of her fellow Ancients, did she?"

"Griselda," Zoltan said, in a tone that suggested the old woman was an adequate explanation.

"So Klotild is the source of all this... this rhetoric about what is and is not 'done' here?" Erszebet said.

"Yes," Zoltan said. "And she made me... she asked me to swear that I would do everything in my power to support the 'tradition.'" He shrugged and grimaced. "It seems my name is nearly synonymous with rebellion in the Family."

Erszebet laughed painfully.

He poked his congealing gravy and biscuits with his fork. "I may not be dependable in many ways, but I have a duty to my word." His shoulders slumped and he put the fork down.

She rose and walked to his side of the table. Hesitatingly, she put a hand on his shoulder, then kissed his cheek. "You are a good man, cousin. I am sorry for giving you trouble."

Zoltan looked up at her, surprised. She smiled.

"I am going upstairs to dress for tonight," she said. "It is later than I thought. I will see you in an hour?"

He stood and went into the kitchen for a moment. When he returned, he handed her an ice pack and a dishtowel. "In an hour, then," he said.

It only took about fifteen minutes of lying down in a dark room with the ice on her head to make her feel better, which meant she had a whole three quarters of an hour to dress.


Author's Note:

"I talked to Zoltan and all I got was this stupid migraine."

Date: 2012-05-01 08:07 pm (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
Erzsebet doesn't think much of Americans, does she?

Thanks for writing!

Date: 2012-05-02 04:28 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I think she thinks of Americans as this big, somewhat unreasonable child-like monolith with too much money and too little sense. :) Perhaps her ideas will change after being dragged about by the Zalazars for a few months.

Thanks for commenting!

Date: 2012-05-10 04:10 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I think that's not an entirely inaccurate picture of the country, actually. Americans as individuals, on the other hand, are not such a monolith.


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