wonder_city: (Default)
[personal profile] wonder_city
His Faded Idol

11.

Erszebet and Zoltan arrived earlier than usual, both anxious to know what was happening. As they coolly made their way into the halls of the convention center, Erszebet's gaze was almost immediately assaulted by a middle-aged man in a miniscule leopard-skin loincloth pacing the halls in a manner he clearly thought resembled a stalking big cat.

"What is wrong with his skin?" she asked Zoltan behind her hand. "Is it jaundice? Some alien disease?"

"No, my dear," he said, pat-patting her shoulder, "that is the rather orange result of a chemical suntan. And that is the finest example of an out-of-date para you will ever see: Ran-Zor the Lord of the Jungle."

Erszebet studied him, from the thinning and graying hair that straggled down his back, to the signs of a sedentary occupation in the thinness of his arms and legs, to the bunion on his foot. She glanced at Zoltan, trying to ascertain whether he was having her on. "He does not look like a lord of the jungle," she concluded dubiously.

Zoltan shrugged. "He claims to be an English lord who was left to fare for himself in the jungle by the tragic deaths of his parents, who were notable explorers, though I certainly never heard of them. I think he was raised by pangolins or something." He gestured toward the man for the benefit of one of the werewolf guards, and a half dozen werewolves closed in on the lord of the jungle. "He always claims to be Mystikai, and so crashes our events. I think he likes being manhandled, personally." He swept Erszebet past the impending fracas.

They encountered Harald soon enough. The elderly man was pink in the face with excitement. "I expect you have heard the news!" he exclaimed, shaking Zoltan's hand vigorously.

"Full-bore Cotyngham withdrawal?" Zoltan said, grinning. "Indeed we have!"

Harald bowed low over Erszebet's hand and gave her a wink. "Perhaps we have not been so boring after all," he said.

"Not at all, sir!" Erszebet said, taking his arm and squeezing it warmly. "This has all been very educational."

"Oh, dear," Harald said to Zoltan. "I am truly old, my friend, when a pretty young lady tells me that I am part of an educational experience."

"We are all educational for my dear cousin, I fear," Zoltan said.

"You are," Erszebet assured them cheerfully. "That does not make you less charming."

"Flatterer," Harald said, but he winked at her again.

"So who is here?" Zoltan asked.

"All the Ancients," Harald said. "They all arrived early and have locked themselves away to debate. I expect we shall have a long evening of waiting."

"There is no convenient smoke to turn white when they make a decision," Erszebet said.

Zoltan and Harald laughed. "No," Harald said, "but I expect we shall know almost instantly."

It was, in fact, a long evening of waiting. Erszebet left the menfolk to their own devices soon after, and went in search of her various acquaintances. After an hour of sliding through the dense crowd of Family, paras, vermin, and others, she heard her name called.

"Erszebet!" Alicia called again, bouncing up and down and waving to her over the heads of several individuals in color-coded armor.

She gratefully made her way toward her friend and found Catherine there as well. "Whatever are you doing in this little hallway?" she asked, accepting the glass of wine that Catherine snagged off a passing waiter's tray in the main hall.

"The meeting room is just down there," Alicia bellowed genteelly over the roar that filled the convention center halls.

"The meeting room!" Catherine shouted, waggling her thick black eyebrows meaningfully.

"And Jeanne-Marie is in there, acting as a messenger-clerk for her grandmother!" Alicia said directly into Erszebet's ear, guiding her away from the majority of the press. "We're hoping to get news the next time she's sent out."

"We are inveterate noseyparkers," Catherine said, fanning herself.

"How exciting!" Erszebet said, drinking her wine. "I had thought my cousin got the news first and we would be here before all else, but it seems not to be."

"Oh, I expect your cousin was the one who sent out the news to our families," Catherine said with a knowing look. "He has resources in this town."

"Were the two of you as exhausted as I was?" Erszebet asked.

"Oh, yeah," Alicia said. "I have a couple of my regular donors with me, though, so that was easy enough."

"Lucky," Catherine said. "I had to drop by one of the approved hunting grounds. Did your cousin provide for you, Erszi?"

"Yes," Erszebet said. "Though it was... um, strange."

"This whole city is a weirdness magnet," Alicia said. "I'll be glad to get home."

"To San Francisco?" Catherine said, grinning. "That haven of normalcy and WASPy Puritanical values?"

"Shh!" Erszebet said, cutting off whatever Alicia was about to say. "Here comes Jeanne-Marie!"

Jeanne-Marie was trying to combine dignity with speed, striding down the hall in a very plain grey pantsuit and practical shoes. Her face was flushed and she was perspiring lightly. She paled a bit when she saw the trio lying in wait. "I cannot say anything!" she said before they could start in on her. "It is a heated discussion, in more ways than one, and my grandmother will brook no delay. Also," she said, pausing to give them a regretful grimace, "much of what's being said is not for my ears." With a wave, she hurried away.

The trio looked at each other, and Catherine relieved the curiosity of the younger women by saying, "Telepathy. By the time you get to their age, all this empathy we wrangle has sort of... transcended."

"I didn't know that," Alicia said, rather awed.

"Neither did I," Erszebet said. She and Alicia exchanged glances, both leaking discomfort that probably reflected thoughts of what their grandmothers and great-aunts -- and possibly mothers and aunts -- were saying about them when they couldn't hear.

The trio drifted away, since they were going to get no scoop from their friend, and over the next couple of hours, they drifted apart into other conversations.

Finally, the tolling of a massive bell shook the halls into wide-eyed silence.

Just as people were beginning to ask where the bell was, a second sounding of the bell rattled everyone's ribcage and teeth and bones.

The loudspeaker system came on and Zoltan's cheerful voice rang out: "Will everyone please convene in the auditoriums? The main auditorium is reserved for Family, but the subsidiary auditoriums all have screens and live broadcasts."

Erszebet found herself jostled up against Isolde in the press to get into the main auditorium. Isolde linked arms with her. "I've gotta have someone to talk to in this mess," she told Erszebet. "The suspense is killing me."

"This is very exciting!" Erszebet said. "Do you think your grandmother...?"

"I try not to think anything about my grandmother," Isolde said. "She always surprises me, no matter what."

They settled into seats in the balcony, giving way to their elders. Erszebet spotted Alicia across the auditorium, but could not locate Catherine or Jeanne-Marie.

It took at least half an hour to settle everyone in the main auditorium. Erszebet was vibrating with the excitement that everyone was radiating.

At last, Zoltan appeared on stage, immaculate in his perfectly tailored black tuxedo and starched white shirt. There was a scattered round of applause that he waved into silence.

"My friends and Family," he said into the microphone he was holding, "it is my distinct honor to be able to present you with our Circle of Ancients."

Silently, the oldest women in North America filed onto the stage, all wearing the most beautiful black gowns Erszebet had ever seen, some remarkably anachronistic yet still gorgeous. They arrayed themselves in a semicircle around Zoltan.

After a dramatic pause, Zoltan said, "And now, the moment we have all been waiting for: the name of the new Grand Matriarch of North America." He drew an envelope from his pocket, tore open the end, and drew a folded sheet of paper from it. He looked at the paper, and Erszebet, even from her balcony seat, could see his eyes widen, though he was too polished and well-controlled to show any other response.

There was an impatient rustle through the audience. The Circle of Ancients, however, might have been carved from stone.

"I will read you what is on this paper," Zoltan said, his voice wavering just a little. He cleared his throat. "'It is the consensus of the Ancients that in light of the remarkable changes the past two centuries has brought to this land, the original territorial lines of the Dominion of North America may be over-ambitious, if we extrapolate for even simply the century to come. As a result, we have redrawn the territorial lines.'"

An explosion of noise throughout the auditorium caused Zoltan to lower the paper and wait. He glanced once over his shoulder, though Erszebet could not make out who he was looking at.

"This never happens," Erszebet muttered to Isolde. "My aunt has never said that there has been redrawing of the lines in anything like recent memory -- only wars to take existing Family territories."

"It's still a new land," Isolde said, eyes locked on the stage. "Evolving traditions and all."

A wave of impatient severity rippled over the room, silencing it almost immediately.

"Oh, Grandmother," Isolde said with a grim little smile.

Zoltan looked to the paper again. "'Be assured, beloved Family, that we have carefully negotiated these lines, agreed to the required alliance conditions, and signed the necessary contracts.'" He folded the paper and tucked it into his pocket. "It is my honor and pleasure to present to you the Grand Matriarchs of the East and the West, respectively: Dame Geneviève de León and Doña Consuela Maria Mercedes del Santiago Zalazar!"

The two women stepped forward to either side of Zoltan. Dame Geneviève gravely bowed to the applause while Doña Consuela waved and smiled enthusiastically.

Erszebet applauded till her hands hurt, and only when the applause began to die away did she notice that Isolde's applause was somewhat more restrained. "Are you all right?" she asked.

Isolde gave her a pained smile. "Well, you know what 'required alliance conditions' usually are, right?"

Erszebet frowned. "I expect those would be marriages."

Isolde nodded and gripped the seat back in front of her. "First marriages, of course, because secondary or tertiary spouses would not have nearly enough clout. And I'm the oldest unmarried woman in my family."

"Oh," Erszebet said. "Oh, Isolde." She laid her hand on Isolde's.

Isolde laced her fingers with Erszebet's and squeezed. They both looked back at the stage and over the jubilant auditorium in silence.

---

Author's Note:

No one expects the Spanish Disposition!








Date: 2012-05-15 06:12 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
This is delightful and well-written and I STILL do not forgive you for your Author's Note!

Date: 2012-05-15 06:22 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Even if I offer it to the Parking Goddess? Surely it will get us parking in Harvard Square. :)

Date: 2012-05-15 06:55 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
AHAHAHA.

Date: 2012-05-16 12:11 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
BAHAHAHA. Brilliant.

And I look forward to seeing the rest of the denouement! <3

Date: 2012-05-16 02:24 am (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you!

Date: 2012-05-15 06:29 pm (UTC)
finch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] finch
Well, with any luck, there's still ONE MORE tradition to be overthrown...

Date: 2012-05-15 08:03 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Y'never know...

Date: 2012-05-15 06:55 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I am really loving this story! I am so glad it blossomed on you. It was a real treat to read it esp today.

Date: 2012-05-15 08:03 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it!

Date: 2012-05-15 07:23 pm (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
This outcome is a really big deal. You've set that up very well. Poor Isolde.

Thanks for writing!

Date: 2012-05-15 08:03 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you so much!

Date: 2012-05-16 12:53 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
....there's more, right??

also this

"Oh, dear," Harald said to Zoltan. "I am truly old, my friend, when a pretty young lady tells me that I am part of an educational experience."
"We are all educational for my dear cousin, I fear," Zoltan said.


was so urbane and cute, I loved it.

Date: 2012-05-16 02:03 am (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
2 more sections, yes.

Eehehehehe. I've gotten very fond of Harald.

Date: 2012-05-16 06:23 am (UTC)
sepdet: (Writer's Block)
From: [personal profile] sepdet
ARGH!

I keep trying to start with the earlier stories and still haven't caught up, so I'm jumping in media res, but have finally given up and...

ARGH!

Evil punchline is evil. Also, excitement.

Date: 2012-05-16 01:58 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
:)

Date: 2012-05-16 02:49 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
P.S. Raised by pangolins. Does he curl into a ball when threatened? I WOULD PAY TO SEE THIS.

Date: 2012-05-16 05:30 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I MAY HAVE TO WRITE THIS. But it would only be good if illustrated.

Date: 2012-05-18 01:39 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
This needs to happen! Please!

Also, yes, poor Isolde.

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