Chapter 170: A Scheme DeferredAlexandraErin on July 26, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Hazel Is An Overlooked Possibility
“…that’s your deep dark secret?” Ian said. “You’re changing dorms?”
“Hey, I never said it would be a big deal to anyone else,” Glory said. She looked at me. “I tried my best to convince you that it wasn’t anything, you know, portentous… because it’s not. I mean, it would mean a huge change for me and my girls, but… well… it’s not anything bad. It’s just something that the powers that be in Treehome would want to disrupt, if they knew about it.”
“You really think someone would try to mess up her move just for the hell of it?” Ian asked.
“Not for the hell of it… they’d have to, because it means she’s getting out,” Steff said. “Nothing makes a petty monarch’s blood boil like being reminded how petty their power really is… the rulers of Treehome don’t actually rule more than a small group of adolescent elves, and no matter how tightly they grip the throne they’ll never have more than a handful of decades in power before they get booted out on their asses.”
“Um… yeah,” Glory said. “Right. What you said.”
“And if someone opts out completely… that’s got to be both a huge slap in the face, and a dangerous precedent for everyone else,” Steff said.
“It could well dismantle the whole social structure that has evolved around Treehome,” Dee said.
“Which is so not my goal,” Glory said. “I mean, I would definitely see anything that undermines the high queen’s regime or the whole game in general as a good thing, but I’m trying to avoid wars, not start one.”
“Don’t you think there might be a diplomatic solution?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, it has to be fairly obvious to the people who play the game for real that you’re sort of deliberately hovering on the edges of it, which I would think would be similarly galling… they might welcome an opportunity to remove you outright in a way that saves face all around.”
“An exile,” Dee said.
“Yeah, well, the problem with that is that I couldn’t accept exile from the likes of Queen Ursula,” Glory said. “I have my pride, too… anyway, I’m glad that you’re grasping the essential points but I didn’t tell you all this so you could advise me how to handle my affairs, but so that you could advise Mackenzie. Now you know my ‘deep dark secret’… does anyone think it’s anything she needs to worry about?”
“…I’m sorry, but I kind of do,” I said. “If it’s such a huge transgression, I don’t see how you could avoid retribution.”
“Except that it would have to happen before I leave Treehome,” she said. “We have rules about how we act in the outside world. Attacking us when we live on campus would be the same as attacking anyone else in any residence in the university. And for that matter, attacking us anywhere outside of the deep woods is the same as attacking any imperial citizen-subjects on imperial ground. That’s why it doesn’t happen. Treehome’s a law unto itself, but only inside the bounds of Treehome. That’s why the secrecy is so important… once it’s done, it’ll be done, but until then I’ll be vulnerable.”
“You went from describing this like it was never going to happen to talking about it like it might, and now you’re talking about it as if it definitely is,” I said. “What’s changed?”
“Well, most recently, I’ve told all of you,” she said. “That puts an invisible, random time limit on the thing because sooner or later it’s going to get out.”
“Hey, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Hazel said. “Your trust is a precious gift.”
“I mean, an oath is an oath is an oath, but, come on,” Glory said. “Two of you will be talking among yourselves, or one of you will blurt something out accidentally, or you’ll say something you think is completely circumspect but isn’t… secrets are only secrets in your head, and this one’s out… so if I don’t act before it gets out, I’ll be punished anyway… that’s the most recent development. Before that… well, when I told you it wasn’t going to happen, that got me thinking about why it wouldn’t, and thinking about the obstacles helped me consider the ways that they might be removed.”
“What sort of obstacles do you mean?” I Asked.
“For one thing, I’m pretty sure that you have to be a full-time student to live in student housing,” Ian said.
“That’s been one of the sticking points, yes,” Glory said. “As things stand, we couldn’t simply move into normal student housing even if we wanted to… and believe me, I have no intention of ‘going native’ with the whole dorm life thing. I’m looking for a change of scenery, not a cataclysm. But here’s my thinking: if the student housing is relatively cheap because it’s restricted to full-time students, that’s another way of saying that they’re giving a discount to full-time students. And where there is a discount, there must be a full price.”
“Or to put it another way, if you give a university enough money, they’ll let you do whatever you want,” Steff said. “That’s the way it usually works.”
“Right!” Glory said. “There’s no written provision for this sort of thing yet, which means I’d probably have to pay more than market value to get what I want, because I’d have to get someone’s attention and then convince them to make an exception. And it would be hard to conduct that kind of negotiation in secret, because bureaucracies gossip almost as much as we do. Even just making inquiries could be dangerous.”
“You could phrase it as a gift,” Amaranth said. “I mean, if you were to endow a building with the understanding that you’d have use of part of it until you graduated… well, that would kind of leave the rest of your people out in the cold when you graduate, I suppose, but there would probably be a way to work it out. I think the university would be more inclined to outright accept a charitable gift with a few caveats than they would be to let a student buy exemptions.”
“That’s sort of what I’m thinking?” Glory said. “Only, I don’t have unlimited resources… if I had enough money to just outright build my own hall, I wouldn’t necessarily have to do it on campus to begin with. And producing a building in the kind of timeframe I’m looking for would cost even more. My actual plan right now is to pay for the renovation of an existing building… there are a few places on campus that the university hasn’t had the funds to keep up, or that are badly in need of an overhaul. I just need to find one that’s not too far gone, and then make the arrangements.”
“And if I became your agent, what would my involvement be?” I asked. “I hope you’re not looking for a go-between with the university. Not only is that way outside my skill set, but… I’m not exactly friends with anyone in the university’s leadership.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “The most I would ask you to do is scout some locations for me… if anyone knew I was interested in them, that might give them ideas even if they don’t know what I want them for. Moving out of Treehome entirely probably wouldn’t occur to many of them, but the idea that I might want some kind of stronghold on campus isn’t, since I’m known to spend so much time here anyway.”
“It sounds to me like there are a lot of ways this could go wrong,” Amaranth said. “I mean, your overall goal is to walk away from conflict, which I definitely approve of… but it seems almost certain that there would be consequences, and counting on the laws and rules that exist outside Treehome to protect you seems… um… let’s just say ‘optimistic’.”
Amaranth would probably be the last person to call someone naïve, but I had to agree with that unspoken judgment. Still, I found myself wanting to argue against her objections. If this plan of Glory’s worked the way she hoped it would, it would solve my main objections to associating with her… because I would just be associating with her and her friends, not all the elves of Treehome.
“But it’s not the human rules that would stay anyone’s hand,” Glory said. “It’s our rules… you just don’t do that. Sure, there’s… isolated hijinks, from time to time, but you don’t bring an all-out war out of the woods.”
“Would this be more unthinkable than taking a court out of the woods, or less so?” Dee asked.
“There’s something the ri… a… person I know keeps trying to tell me,” I said. “About unprecedented events. If it’s never happened before, there’s no way of knowing how it’s going to turn out. So I really don’t think we could rule out the possibility of retribution of some kind, even if we couldn’t predict what it would be.”
“So… you won’t help me, then,” she said.
“I can’t,” I said. “This is everything that’s been keeping me from committing to an arrangement with you all wrapped up in a bow… it’s intrigue, it’s danger, it’s uncertainty… it’s a target on my back and a reason for the other middlings to care about me. I can’t help you with this, Glory.”
“Well… I guess I don’t need to ask if that’s final,” she said. “You’re being plain enough, and I thank you for that.”
“Then… let me be a little bit plainer,” I said. “This isn’t final, it’s… for now. I can’t help you with this, but if you can pull it off, then all my problems are gone. I don’t have any reason to say no after that.”
“Really?” she said. “Seriously?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I… like you a lot, Glory, you and your sister. My reluctance has never had anything to do with you, just what I might get entangled with by associating with you. So if you can cut ties with Treehome, then as far as I’m concerned, I’m… your agent.”
“I don’t have anything to add to that,” Amaranth said. She looked at Ian, who nodded. “Well said, baby.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well… then I guess I’ve got some planning to do,” Glory said. “I’ll have to talk to my banker and figure out if I can do this without borrowing from adult-me, and I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to scout out locations without being noticed…”
“You could confide in your sister,” Amaranth suggested. “She’s got an excuse to be sneaking around secluded and forgotten spots on campus, after all.”
“I would love to make Grace a part of this, but she doesn’t have the head for intrigue,” Glory said. “I’ll just have to figure out who among my court is most trustworthy, or will be able to do what I need without needing now.”
“My friend Hazel could do it,” Two said.
“Excuse me?” Glory said. “I wasn’t sure you were even listening to us.”
“She kind of fades out of conversations where she doesn’t have anything to say, but that doesn’t mean she’s not paying attention,” I said.
“I’m not one to put myself forward, but she’s not wrong,” Hazel said. “I’ve, well… I have a bit of a nose for quiet and secluded spots myself, and people don’t seem to pay much attention to me.”
“Well, I do keep forgetting that you’re here,” Glory said. “And no one would expect me to associate with a burrow gnome…”
“Mind, I’ll take whatever you’d pay Mack here, plus reasonable expenses,” she said. “Scouting is hungry work. Scouts are soldiers, and an army marches on its stomach.”
“Aren’t you on the campus meal plan anyway?”
“They cap it off at three meals a day, for some daft reason,” Hazel said.
“How about I pay you a five gold finder’s fee if you can find a place that meets my requirements?” Glory said. “You can pay your own expenses out of that.”
“Fair enough,” Hazel said.
“And Mackenzie, do I have your word that you’ll be my agent if I can remove myself safely from Treehome?” she asked me.
“…I can’t swear another oath or anything,” I said. “I mean, the whole deal depends on me being available, and being able to walk away at any time I need to if something comes up between now and then… well, I mean, I could become your agent and then immediately turn around and quit, but it just makes more sense to say ‘if I can, I will’.”
“I guess that’s fair enough, too,” she said. “Well… this didn’t go exactly how I planned, but now I’ve got two compelling reasons to get moving on this, and I guess that’s probably what I really need. Whatever happens, Mackenzie, I’m glad we met, because otherwise I could have spent all my remaining years of middlehood dreaming and wondering and hoping about this instead of actually doing something.”
“I don’t know how much credit I actually deserve,” I said. “But I’m glad we met, too.”
“I should ask, just to be clear… are you still going to be helping Grace with Nicki?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s not going to change… I’m guessing that Grace is low enough on the ladder that it won’t matter if people think I’m helping her?”
“Yeah, no one will care about that,” she said. “So I guess we just go back to what we were doing, there. Anyway, thank you all for listening, and remember: not a word to anyone about any of this.”