(This is my “show” story, the longest thing I’ve ever finished and my most polished piece of prose. Until I got to college and started writing presentable poetry, it was my only really presentable piece. I’ll be posting it here in installments on Saturdays when I don’t have other material from now until it’s run out. If anyone sees where it’s going (or, for my Milan readers, remembers this), please don’t give it away in public! I’ll make any revisions that come to mind as I post, or that comments suggest and I think are warranted. The sources for the quotes are moderate spoilers, and so will be cited in the last post.)
A MURDER, A MYSTERY, AND A MARRIAGE
by Jonathan Lovelace
In 1876, Mark Twain proposed a writing contest where all the well-known authors of the day would have stories with the same skeleton plot, consisting of “a murder, a mystery, and a marriage,” published in the Atlantic Monthly at the same time. Unfortunately, no other writers took him up on it, and the novelette he wrote for his own contest was lost until 1998, when it was finally published. Not very many years after that, my American literature teacher had each member of the class write his or her own story or novelette containing those three elements. In my case, this was the result. Discerning readers may note that, as in Twain’s novelette, the “mystery” need not be actually present in the story; it might be a mystery on the part of the reader, though it will be solved by the end.
The ceaseless tolling of the bell brought the people to the throne room. A brilliant flash of light blinded the watchers, and the rightful King, whom we had not seen for decades, was seated on his throne. Another flash of light, and the room was packed with people, most of them in the robes of the Imperial Service. Confusion reigned until a gong cut through and silenced the noise. The King spoke, his voice filling the whole room without an echo.
“Welcome to a new chapter in the history of the Empire. The Banishment and Regency are ended. I present to you the newest portion of the Imperial Service, who appeared after me: These are my Chosen; I Chose them to follow me here from the world of the Banishment. They will all be given Imperial citizenship, by my order, and specific, predetermined positions in the Service. As this is news to most of them, at this time they will follow me into the conference room.” He raised a hand. A side door, which had been locked for the entire Regency, sprang open. He descended from the throne and led the way, pausing before the door to speak again. “Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister will please come also. All others are excused.”
CHAPTER THE FIRST
“You see, but you do not observe.”
That famous day is now centuries past. The lady who was then Queen, and High Queen until the War of Power, died in the war’s first affray and was granted a cessation of her earthly struggle.
But that is not the tale with which this narrative is concerned. This adventure began one fine morning a few days after Midsummer. I was in my office on the other side of the capital from the Palace. The office was originally a duplicate of the rooms I left in London but had been much improved and altered since then. On this occasion, I was enjoying the sunlight and mulling over the colourful, fragmented recollections that constitute my memory, when I heard a knock at the outer door. I glanced up at the framed photograph of the woman, Irene Adler, above the mantelpiece, before answering.
“Come in!” I said, raising my voice slightly. “The door’s not locked.”
I heard the outer door open with a slight creak, then close with a thud. Soft footsteps padded down the hall, and I turned to face the inner doorway. When I saw my visitor, I rose. He was clad in the robes of a noble, with a pair of large glasses above his nose. A few grey hairs in the mass of black hung down over his forehead, the only token of the centuries of experience he bore. On his fingers he wore the signet rings of his offices: the Earldom of Luddington, the Ministry of Justice, the Regency, the Chancellery, and the post of First Noble of the Realm. His shoes were soft leather, of the sort currently popular in an obscure province. I took down the “A” volume of my biographies, the set that His Majesty had graciously given me on my arrival, and read the two-paragraph summary:
Argentmentes, mayor of Luddington, Royal Region, in Sunshine Kingdom. He has been the Emperor’s second-in-command several times. Among the Chosen, and possibly the best mind on the Empire’s legal team.
His arrival with the rest of the Chosen as a mere Visiting Scholar was the beginning of a meteoric rise. His refusal to leave the executive branch of government is the only thing keeping him from the post of Prime Minister, and it is said that knighthood would be his for the asking.
“Welcome, my lord Minister,” I said. “Please be seated.”
“Thank you,” he said, taking a chair. I resumed mine and replaced mayor with Earl in the first paragraph of the biography and added a note to look in my one Earth encyclopaedia for his pre-Imperial career before closing the volume. “The Ministries are having a little problem,” he said casually. I leaned toward him. “The originals of certain classified papers have vanished. Rebecca, in Intelligence, dumped the case in my lap.”
“And you’re dumping it in mine.”
“If you want to put it that way. We want you to figure out how they disappeared and, if you can, prevent any untoward consequences of the missing data. If you could recover the documents, too, that would be nice. Will you take the case? I think it’s urgent.”
“Of course. I have a reputation to protect, and a duty to the Crown to fulfil. But I can’t solve a case on a synopsis, my lord. I need facts.”
“You’ll have them as soon as I do. I’m fairly sure Intel has more details, but Rebecca just gave me an abstract. Not even a good one, mind you.”
“Ah. . . Since this is an Intelligence matter, would you prefer that I gather my data alone?”
“The fewer people who know, the better.”
“All right. Once I have a detailed description of the problem in my hands, I will begin.”
This continues in Part 2.