Shine Cycle Précis: “The Adventure of the Royal Wedding”

“The Adventure of the Royal Wedding” is the next work in the third arc of the Shine Cycle, following The Adventure of the Suspended Rose. It’s the second “panel” of what I think of as a “triptych” about a famous detective. Today’s post is a brief introduction to this novelette.

Unlike every other piece of the Shine Cycle I’ve written a précis of so far, “The Adventure of the Royal Wedding” is actually more or less complete. My opening paragraph has usually ended “… a brief introduction to this planned work”, but while I’m uncomfortably aware of how badly it needs thorough revision, and so I’m not ready to send it even to “first readers” yet, I have an essentially complete plot and about nine thousand words of prose, instead of the usual “just an outline by sequence.”

The novelette began its life as my response to an open-ended class assignment to write a story containing the three elements of “a murder, a mystery, and a marriage,” after reading the story bby Twain. The “mystery” was to be (I intended) the identity of the narrator and main character, hinted at throughout but only revealed at the end. I have since dropped that title—and the preface explaining this relationship—and now consider the narrator’s identity an “open secret” rather than a “mystery” until the end, but I’ll continue to conceal it here, and in my précis of the third “panel” of the triptych as well.

Here’s the logline I’ve developed for the story:

Reluctantly drafted as the King’s investigator in a world of magic and high technology, [a famous detective] must foil an assassin before a royal wedding.

The story begins when the Minister of Justice arrives in the detective’s office, hat in hand as it were, to ask him to investigate the disappearance of some classified files from the Ministry of Intelligence. The most obviously relevant items in the list of missing files concern the security details of “the royal wedding,” the wedding of Princess Anvila and Prince Narcissus, which is only a few days away. (Both of whom hold their titles “at large” by Parliamentary grant, rather than by relationship to the King by blood or marriage, making the phrase a bit of a misnomer.)

Hildegarde, who had been the detective’s partner in his first case in the Empire, arrives to be his “native guide” to the “scene of the crime,” and a general assistant for the case. After the detective makes his preparations for an extended operation, including stocking a cabinet from which he can (with a powerful amulet) call any item it contains to him at will, they go to visit the proper location of the missing documents, in the Ministry of Intelligence.

The Ministry of Intelligence building has an unusual feature: each person sees and interacts with its contents through a different paradigm or “metaphor.” As it comes out, nearly everyone sees it as a sort of three-dimensional interactive hypertext infinite space, with “warp platforms” leading from section to section; natives to the Empire grew up around mages, while those from Earth have extensive experience with the Internet. But—after focusing his thoughts to eliminate something closer to an Escher painting than a useful mental model—our detective sees it through the lens of something similar the Reading Room of the British Museum.

This makes it possible for him to note that the place the missing documents should be is on the top floor in a recently-renovated section, and that there are fingerprints on the shelf, which (when Hildegarde runs them through the Justice Ministry’s database) belong to a “Verres Perna,” who should still be on Earth. To see the fingerprints, Hildegarde uses a chain that allows her to reach or move from one “metaphor” to another; “the Power is the same in all metaphors,” but she has to be able to see what she’s doing.

Later, Hildegarde brings the news that Verres Perna and another man from Earth had been brought to the Empire to stand trial for decades-old crimes (committed against people who are now Imperial citizens, and over which the Empire claims jurisdiction) under the pretense of inviting them to the wedding, without the operation ever coming to the attention of the leaders of any of the relevant Ministries.

The second piece of news is that there has been an assassination attempt against Prince Narcissus, which (unlike nearly all such attempts in the Empire) failed merely “by chance” and only at the last moment, and for which the Anarchists (proudly behind most for such things) explicitly disclaimed responsibility. At the request of the Queen herself, the detective’s mandate for the case is extended from merely investigating the missing documents to preventing the assassination of either Prince Narcissus or Princess Anvila if possible.

The detective, with his partner Hildegarde, goes and carefully inspects the location of the assassination attempt. Most of the Prince’s guard had not noticed the slightest thing, but a hint from one man leads to the discovery of the bullet, buried in a rafter. Hildegarde runs the battery of metaphysical tests that the narrator calls the “Locked Room Toolkit,” which easily solves most “perfect” crimes, but it rules out all “the usual suspects.” And his own tests show that the bullet and gun were almost certainly perfectly ordinary.

As they are leaving the Palace—in which this attempt had taken place—the detective notes that one set of footprints seems to vanish at the palace gate, then reappear separately and lead out into the street.

The next day, after further investigating the relevant section of the Ministry of Intelligence building, the detective has Hildegarde place a metaphysical working in his eyeglasses to let him see—if dimly—into all “metaphors” at once. He also has her give him a metaphor-change chain. In discussion of the footprints, which he had copied, they learn that the shoes were made in Earth in the last decade, and are coming apart at the seams despite being hardly worn at all because they are shoddily made and too small for their wearer, a combination no self-respecting Imperial citizen, native or non-recent immigrant, would wear.

The detective believes he has sufficient evidence to arrest this Verres Perna, and sets out to visit the marshal for a warrant. But on the way, he runs into a crowd that has gathered to see the carriage of Prince Narcissus pass by. He sees a man, who is only half there even in his new metaphor-sight, readying a pistol, whose tip glints with the color of a metaphor-change chain. Even though he passes through the man as if he wasn’t there, the detective foils the assassination by holding the rapier he carries directly in front of the muzzle of the gun. But the gunman apparently doesn’t notice, so the detective goes first for a healer—Hildegarde does a good job at first aid, including several workings that leave him heading toward good-as-new, but she has an urgent job to do to collect more evidence for the case and isn’t a healer-specialist mage—and then for the warrant. Because the next day is the wedding, he makes what preparations he can to try to catch the assassin at the wedding, and that morning adopts an old disguise.

When the assassin arrives in the chapel, almost invisible even to the detective’s enhanced vision, Hildegarde sets up a working to reflect bullets, but the criminal somehow makes it fail as if in a crash, sending a shock to her system. The detective slowly makes his way over to the gunman, but is not quick enough to prevent him from killing Prince Narcissus. Before he has a chance to reload, the detective reaches into the metaphor of nothingness to take the gun away, to use an artifact (established earlier, of course) that delivers a shock in proportion to a person’s guilt to knock him out, and then to drag his unconscious body out into plain sight.

As they leave the chapel, because Hildegarde tends to want to work through shocks like this by talking them out, the detective explains some of the connections of his reasoning that were not immediately apparent to her, and they discuss some of the loose ends to the case that still remain and tied up when the assassin is questioned. When he returns home, he finds a note from the King, acknowledging the failure to protect Prince Narcissus but giving him a reward for preventing a double assassination: the deed to a piece of property he’s had his eye on for some time. To which he signs his name, making the end of the story finally reveal his identity.

The two principal characters of the story are the detective and his partner for the case, Hildegarde, and their relationship shows the growth of their character since he arrived at the beginning of The Adventure of the Suspended Rose. He’s no longer insistent on self-reliance, accepting a partner only for companionship but keeping his own counsel; instead, he has come to rely on Hildegarde’s help and expertise for cases like this, even to instinctively and habitually ask for her help from the beginning, rather than as a last resort when all else fails. And Hildegarde, who felt little but frustration with him from the beginning of their working relationship because of severe culture clash, and displeasure at involving an outsider who couldn’t manage the simplest task every five-year-old in the Empire did without thinking—but also a grudging pity, because she had done the initial medical and metaphysical triage on his arrival, and saw the condition a life in Victorian London and use of tobacco and opium had left him in—now esteems him as a respected colleague, and something of a friend. She even feels some degree of affection for him, though that is vanishingly unlikely to come up in the course of this story.

Do you have any thoughts about my plans for this story?

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