Chapter 251: Counting Courtiers

on September 22, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Loyalty Is Precious But Not Priceless

Of course I realized that I’d signed myself up for another round of checking with people about plans involving other people before actually making those plans with those other people, but there was really no way around it. At least this time the order of operations was as obvious as it possibly could be.

There was no way I was going to approach Semele about anything… joining the court, joining what Pala had called the winter guard, any of it… without making that Glory was one hundred percent cool with it. If Glory said okay and then Semele wasn’t interested or I got a bad vibe off her about the whole guard thing, I didn’t think Glory would be that disappointed.

On the other hand, if Semele said yes and then Glory said no…

Well, the best case scenario there was that Semele would be heartbroken and Pala would be disappointed with me. That was the best case scenario.

The first obstacle was getting Glory to say yes.

Semele?” she repeated when I told her. I knew she’d heard me just fine, and I didn’t think she was asking me who I meant, but judging by her facial expression alone, it was hard to telll.

“She’s friends with Pala,” I said, which seemed like an appropriate response either way.

“Pala,” Glory said. “The giant? That’s… interesting.”

“Pala’s the one who suggested it, when I approached her… which I did, by the way,” I said, realizing too late that I should have led with that, to get Glory excited about something before mentioning the condition. Doing it the other way around meant that she would be thinking about the cost more than the benefit. “She made some really good points. I mean, if you think about it, wouldn’t it be weird to be extending the hand of friendship outside of elven circles but keep an elf out?”

“If I kept Semele out of my house, it wouldn’t be for being an elf,” she said. “Or for being copper.”

“I wouldn’t suggest otherwise,” I said. “But… I think there’s still an issue of basic fairness. I mean, I think the worst thing she’s ever done is imitate the worst things she sees and hears other middlings doing. I’m not claiming to have a lot of direct, first-hand knowledge of how she spends her free time, but that’s the impression I’ve had during my few interactions with her. At the risk of turning this into an after-school special… maybe she just needs some better role models to emulate?”

“What is an… after-school special?” Glory asked.

“It’s a… TV thing,” I said,” I said. “People learning life lessons and stuff. Saying no to peer pressure, stuff like that.”

“Ah… peer pressure,” she said. “That one I do know. Does it work?”

“I couldn’t really say.”

“Well… it’s true that Semele hasn’t done much,” Glory said. “I’ve always seen her as more pathetic than threatening, and… to be breathtakingly honest with you, that’s my actual problem here. I’m not sure anyone in Treehome would take her seriously as a defender… or take me seriously, if she’s under my roof.”

“I can see that,” I said. “But however this plays or doesn’t play back in Treehome, you’re not just sending messages to the west anymore.”

“I never would have pegged you for a political advisor, Mackenzie,” she said.

“It’s… not something that comes naturally to me at all,” I said. “Except when it does, in flashes.”

“A lifetime of introspection paying off?” she said.

“That must be it,” I said.

“Still, we must consider what message… if any… would be sent, to the rest of campus,” Glory said. “I don’t imagine she’s that well-known outside the elven student body, or any more highly regarded.”

“She’s friends with a lot of the theater kids in the bardic programs,” I said.

“Your face tells me what you think of that as a recommendation.”

“Yeah, but… I’m kind of an asshole, when it comes to bards,” I said. “If I can also be breathtakingly honest, I mean. The faces I make when thinking about them should never be construed as political advice. I’m also probably closer to an actual friendless loser than Semele is. What’s the saying about the good opinions of bards?”

“That is a point,” she said.

“And talking about Semele’s friends… like I said, I don’t know her very well, but the thing that hits me is that when I think the people I know who’ve been friendliest with her, they’re… well, I don’t want to say they’re my favorite people, because at least one of them I can’t stand,” I said, thinking of her friend Winnie, who laughed like a hyena automaton fashioned from rusty metal. “But they’re some of the best people I know… or at least, the most charitable and good-hearted.”

I had thought this was a really good point, but Glory seemed to be more interested in the premise than the conclusion.

“Since you raise the subject… do you really think you know enough about Semele to entrust her with this?” Glory asked.

“Actually, you probably know her better than I do,” I said. “I’m honestly not comfortable vouching for her on the basis of the interactions I have had with her, but I was planning to talk to her… I think it’s worth giving her, I don’t know, an interview or something… after clearing it with you. Anyway, Pala also made the point that she wouldn’t have to be part of the winter guard to join the court.”

“Winter guard?” Glory repeated. “I like that… I like that a lot. And she’s right, but that might get into questions of fairness in the other direction. Since I’m not opening the floodgates to outside members yet, outside the guard.”

“But she’s not actually outside, is she?” I said. “She’s another middling. And if anybody else in Treehome is wondering if they’d be accepted… well, maybe that would give them their answer?”

“To be honest, the main reason I’m inclined to tell you to go ahead and talk to her is that I get Pala, too,” Glory said. “I am understanding that correctly, aren’t I? I would terribly disappointed to learn that Pala demurred and put Semele forward as an alternative, because that’s not even a consolation prize.”

“…contingent on acceptance of Semele, yes, we have Pala,” I said. “I don’t think she expects you to sign a middlingtime contract or anything. If Semele gets a chance and blows it, I expect Pala would understand. I said Semele’s friends are generous, not actually, you know… stupid.”

I kind of hated saying the word, even more so since I knew that on some level it was hard not to think of Pala that way, even after I’d seen her outwit some very fast and cagey opponents on a moment-by-moment basis. But I couldn’t figure out a better way to get the point across.

“I can give her a chance, yes,” Glory said. “But… here is the other thing that concerns me, and I’m not sure how I feel about admitting this. Letting Semele in might mean some of my girls leave. And while in the long term, that kind of attitude is not what I would like to encourage at my court… in my house… I would like to give them a chance to change over time, and not simply push them out the door by bringing things to a head too soon.”

“That’s… fair, I guess,” I said. “But does Semele deserve any less of a chance than they do?”

“From me?” she said. “Yes. Whatever Semele does or not deserve in the general case, I don’t personally owe her anything. Loyalty is a two-way street. The girls who put their faith in me and who have stuck by me deserve my loyalty in return.”

“I guess I can’t argue with that,” I said.

“No, you really can’t,” she said.

“So, what would you like me to do, my queen?”

She sighed.

“…figure out an easy answer for me,” she said. “Failing that, figure out how to have this come to a head after the trip but still have Pala for me during it. Then I can work on getting people used to the idea while we’re all safe from attack and having a good time as a group.”

I tried to imagine the timing. Maybe it was uncharitable, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t really trust Semele to keep a secret for long if she felt it was something worth bragging about.

“…that could possibly be done, but it would mean cutting things a little close,” I said. “It would mean not coming to a final accommodation with her or Pala until just before… or, wait. No. Pala’s acceptance is contingent on us giving Semele a chance, but even though she’s not big on keeping secrets, I don’t think she’d have as big a problem with having it be a surprise for next semester.”

“That does sound surprisingly easy,” Glory said. “Do you think Pala will take you at your word like that, though?”

“If she wasn’t willing to do so, I don’t think she’d be talking to me about this to begin with,” I said.

“With Pala in the mix, how many people do you have?”

“Two, with a third who is considering it,” I said.

“That is in addition to Steff?”

“…that’s counting Steff,” I said.

“So two people total,” she said.

“More than that by volume,” I said.

“A giant, even a small one, is formidable,” Glory said. “But what she is not is particularly alert. If she doesn’t have someone a bit more acute backing her up… and Steff is a start, but only a start… then any reasonably cocky elf will figure she can take her by surprise.”

“Believe me, the other person I have on the line will be way more than a start,” I said. I didn’t want to say more, because if she was worried about people defecting over the inclusion of a disfavored minority among surface elves, she would definitely have second or third thoughts about extending a hand of friendship towards a subterranean one.

Unfortunately… or maybe fortunately, in the long run… Glory picked up on what I was talking around.

“…Dee?” she guessed. “That’s… that’s actually brilliant. Do you know why she’s hesitating? I mean, I can venture some guesses…”

“I don’t think your guesses would be far off, but to be honest, I think the main reason is she wouldn’t do it without deliberation, either way,” I said. “Well, deliberation and prayer. She thinks it’s possible that it might be part of her divine purpose to help you, to be honest.”

“That doesn’t seem likely, but… she’s the priestess, I guess,” Glory said.

“Well… it doesn’t seem likely to her, either,” I said. “That’s why I said ‘possible’.”

“I don’t think she’ll make a believer out of me, but as long as it leaves her inclined to help, I won’t be inclined to doubt,” Glory said. “Although… do you think she’s likely to say no if she doesn’t get a direct answer telling her yes?”

“I get the feeling that Dee’s goddess deals more often in what my grandmother used to call ‘leadings’ than, say, visions or televised interviews,” I said. “Beyond that, I couldn’t really say what she’s looking for, or what would help her make up her mind.”

“Still… I would ask you to tell her from me that I appreciate her consideration, and would value her assistance,” Glory said. “And that she would be welcome in my court at any time, as a visitor or member.”

“If you’re sure,” I said.

“I’m not sure of a lot of a things in the long run, but I am one hundred percent certain that I would feel better knowing that Delia Daella has assumed responsibility for my property in my absence,” she said.

“…even if that alienates others?”

“Loyalty is precious and a thing to be treasured, but my ability to do anything else for my girls kind of depends on having the house,” she said.

“Well, I guess I’ll talk to Pala and Dee, then,” I said. “I won’t say it’s definite, but I have a hard time imagining either of them saying no to these terms.”

“Good,” she said. “But…”


“Four or five would still be better than three,” she said. “No matter how puissant or unsettling… or both… those three may be.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try to figure out someone else… but if it comes down to it, isn’t it better to stick with the three people we’re sure about than those three plus one or two others we can’t count on? I mean, otherwise, we might as well put Semele in the guard.”

“It was a stronger point until the end,” Glory said. “My doubts about Semele aren’t wholly down to her being an unknown quantity… I’m sure you can stir yourself to think of one or two other people who are somewhere between her and Dee in terms of reliability and prowess. That is in fact where I would rate Steff, who was your first choice.”

“Okay, I see your point,” I said.

“And I do see yours,” Glory said. “If you can come up with some candidates who are at least in the same neighborhood as Steff, proceed… but don’t feel the need to fill a quota. Don’t add anyone to the party unless you’re certain that they will add rather than subtract from the mix. Is that clear?”

“Yes, my queen,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Now go forth and do my bidding, Mackenzie Blaise.”

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25 Responses to “Chapter 251: Counting Courtiers”

  1. Hey, folks… if you read my blog, you may already know that my cat, Dorian, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep this weekend. He was just a bit shy of ten years old, and terribly shy of everything else. It has hit me pretty hard. I’m pretty well set up for rolling with the unexpected right now, and I’d much rather keep busy than the alternative, so I don’t expect a disruption in service.

    But still, there might be a few more bumps in the road in the near future than there have been in the recent past.

    Current score: 20
    • Elle says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, AE.

      Current score: 6
    • clodia says:

      My sympathies on your loss. Take care of yourself, the rest will fall out as it must.

      Current score: 5
    • Poe says:

      Please take the adding of a heart not as a ‘like’ about the news that you lost your cat, but more that I thought you could use a little heart.

      Current score: 17
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      My deepest condolences. Losing a pet is like losing a child, and I understand your pain all too well. The newsletter brought tears to my eyes. *hugs*

      Current score: 1
    • Sapphite says:

      *clutches her kittens close* So sorry to hear it AE, keep his purrs long in your heart.

      Current score: 1
  2. Alderin says:

    Always very sad to lose a feline friend. I’ve never completely gotten over any of those that have left me. *HUGS*

    Current score: 4
  3. Marianne says:

    I am sorry to hear that. Losing a pet is like losing family; it hurts and can leave us feeling lost. Take care.

    Current score: 0
  4. Order of Chaos says:

    Sorry about your loss.
    Now the big question is will I get to use “Now go forth and do my bidding” before I use “Inefficient austerity” in some context?

    Current score: 1
  5. adsipowe says:

    “Winnie, who laughed like a hyena automaton fashioned from rusty metal.”

    who laughed like an angel (causing a specific demonblood to feel pain 😛

    Current score: 7
  6. Anthony says:

    Just tossing ideas around here, but does anyone else get the feeling that Belinda is going to end up invited into this group?

    Current score: 6
    • Nocker says:

      Possibly. Belinda, Hissy, and Rocky are all skirmishers with a ton of fighting experience and the skills to make people pause. Half Ogres on MU have a reputation for tearing arms clean off. Hissy is a Subtle Artist with extrahuman sense. Rocky is mostly human, but her enhancements make her ideal to block the light, rapid attacks Elves seem to favor, or at least blunt most of the damage.

      Busting out members of the skirmish teams monster squad AND Callahan’s best fighter is one hell of a nuclear deterrent.

      Current score: 3
  7. Elle says:

    Television interviews, ha.

    Current score: 3
  8. pedestrian says:

    Alexandra, I have been reading your postings since the unfortunate loss of your beloved pet Dorian.

    I want to extend my condolences and my sympathies to you and my best wishes for working through and overcoming your grief.

    When my wife passed away, I had to care for her peke, whom she had loved very much.

    When age and advancing medical conditions made the dog’s life an utter misery, I had to put him down.

    The anguish I felt was redoubled as it seemed that not only was I losing an affectionate companion but also the past he represented.

    That sad ending to his life dredged up so many memories of my wife’s life and death, that I never expected. Took me months to get pass the depression.

    Current score: 7
  9. Glenn says:

    I’d also like to extend my sympathy. Losing a beloved pet can be very hard.

    Current score: 3
  10. Lunaroki says:

    I’m so sorry AE. I feel for your loss. I know from experience that losing a beloved pet is never easy.

    That said, I kind of feel like a heel doing this but…

    Typo Report

    without making * that Glory was one hundred percent cool with it.

    Missing a “sure” or “certain” after “without making”.

    it was hard to telll.

    Too many “l”s in “tell”.

    but the thing that hits me is that when I think * the people I know who’ve been friendliest with her, they’re…

    Seems to be missing an “of” or “about” after “think”.

    Current score: 1
  11. Miz*G says:

    Oh no AE that sucks. :(. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Fun chapter, but “…TV thing,” I said,” I said.” Needs fixed.

    Current score: 1
  12. Zathras IX says:

    Loyalty is a
    Two-way street but can often
    Have intersections

    Current score: 5
  13. scifi_chic says:

    Sorry for your loss.


    As for the guard, I can’t help but think of Two and her friend Hazel; but both would likely be underestimated by the middlings, so that might make them less than ideal as choices.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      Two’s kind of useless in a fight and they might not even notice Hazel. The point is to take all the badasses at MU that Elves would be afraid of and put them into a spot they don’t want messed with.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Ya, if she was just choosing someone to take care of the building those two would be the best. But as guards they wouldn’t be very effective. Certainly not against elves.

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          well…. I dunno. They’d never see Hazel coming. *ba dun tis*

          Current score: 0
  14. Whoever says:

    Presuming that Mackenzie herself will be one of the people helping guard the house, I wonder whether someone else will be with the elves storming it, err, trying to vigorously welcome the inhabitants of the house. You know, someone bearing a pitchfork… someone that we haven’t seen in a very long time…

    Current score: 0
  15. spess imvader says:

    Wonder why Glory wasn’t told the dwarves thought the attack was certain. Oh,

    Current score: 0