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One of the Club’s Private Dining Rooms – Getting Cute –

In one of the Club’s private dining rooms, long tables have been laid with dazzling white cloths and arranged in a blocky U. Two places have been set, on either side of one of the corners: bread plates and soup plates, fish forks and salad forks, butter knives and steak knives, wine glasses and tea cups. Dressed all in black the Queen sits before one of the settings, facing the door, her back to a window overlooking a parking garage. Her head nods. Her eyes close. Her chin brushes her chest. Behind her stands a woman wearing narrow black-rimmed glasses and a black sweater over a white shirt with an enormous stiff collar shading her shoulders. At some unseen signal she bends down to whisper in the Queen’s ear. The Queen sits up, blinking. Smiles uncomfortably.

There is a bustle at the door.

The first to enter is a young man backing carefully, both hands held out with some concern, murmuring encouragement to an old man tottering slowly on two grey orthopædic canes. Ivory hair makes a wild crown about a pink head bobbing loosely, a delicately balanced counterweight to every hesitant step. His arms and legs are quite thin, lost in the copious folds of a soft blue suit, but his belly strains its buttons as raises up a little and croaks, “You’re losing it, Duenna.”

“Grandfather Count is honored as ever to join you for brunch, Your Majesty,” says the young man over his shoulder, “and he offers his every felicitation to your illustrious reign. May it last forever.”

“And we are delighted, as ever, by his company,” says the Queen.

“That girl of yours is like honey,” says the Count, making his slow, torturous way outside the tables toward the Queen, each shaky step braced by a cane in the opposite hand. “Leave a pot of it outside your tent,” and he lifts a cane, poking its rubber tip in the general direction of the Queen, “and the bears get frisky!” He almost falls from the force of his rhetoric. The young man catches an elbow. He, too, wears a soft blue suit, and his shirt is a blushing pink. His hair is also white, just touched with hints of pale gold, and it hangs in tangled dreadlocks down past his shoulders. “There are, of course,” he’s saying, as he helps the Count into his chair, “some matters Grandfather wishes to discuss,” and the young man favors the Queen with a quick nod. “But none so pressing, ma’am, that they cannot wait until after we have eaten.”

“If I might recommend,” says the waiter, who in his white apron and black tie has appeared quite silently on the other side of the tables, “today’s omelet is delicious – wild chanterelle mushrooms, leeks, walnuts – ”

“Boca!” blares the Count.

“I also have black bean chili,” says the waiter, brushing his walrusy black mustache.

“I want my Boca!”

“With,” says the waiter, “semi-sweet chocolate base. And a delicious risotto with lemon and pomegranate – ”

“I want my goddamn Boca burger!” The Count bangs a fist on the table and the silverware chatters. “On sourdough! Made from the goddamn Yukon Gold Rush culture!” Bang! “I want a slab of Irish cheddar steeped in whiskey! None of your goddamn skimping on that – I said a slab and I want a goddamn slab! I want mango chutney and I want my jo-jos fried in goddamn peanut oil and I want fresh coriander leaves, fresh, dammit, you hear me, cut this goddamn morning, and I want the last tomato of summer!” Bang! “And gimme a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, you hear me?” Bang!

The waiter clears his throat. “I also have many surprises for dessert, but will tempt you with them later.” He bows slightly and stiffly.

“Grandfather will have his usual,” says the young man.

“The omelet,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses standing behind the Queen’s chair. “A light salad, oil and vinegar on the side. A cup of coffee. And please make sure we have some Splenda on the table?”

“Of course,” says the waiter.

“Nothing but a jumped-up khokhol in a stuffed shirt,” mutters the Count.

The waiter’s mouth tightens at that, and his steps as he leaves are crisp.

“We should probably begin,” says the Queen, “by discussing our plans for the upcoming year’s end festivities.” The woman in the black-rimmed glasses plucks a manila folder from the leather case at her feet and walks it over to the young man.

“Not while people are dying, we don’t,” says the Count. The young man pauses in the act of taking the folder. “Grandfather,” he says, “is gravely concerned about a recent, incident? Involving the Princess, and some of the Duke’s men – ”

“We fail to see how that concerns the Count,” says the Queen.

“Gallowglas,” says the Count. “That’s how it concerns me, dammit.” He coughs. “All of us. Goddamn outsider, threatening everything. Your girl got cute, Duenna. Whether she meant to or not.”

“Meant to?” says the Queen, arching one thin black eyebrow.

The young man says “What Grandfather is trying to say” as the woman in the black-rimmed glasses says “The Queen must insist that this matter be kept – ”

“Bullshit!” blares the Count. Bang! “She! Got! Cute!” Bang! “And you’re trying to teach her a lesson.” The Count waves this off. “But it’s getting out of hand.” He leans back from the table with a slow push. “You have to call it off.”

“Frederic,” says the Queen, quietly. “You would do well to remember who I am. And that no one – not you, not the Duke, certainly not my daughter – dictates my actions.”

“The Count is invited to note,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses, “that the Princess and her guardian are effectively isolated from the court.”

“Grandfather doesn’t feel they’re isolated enough,” says the young man, eyeing the Count closely.

“If the Duke hadn’t tried to kidnap the Princess,” says the woman in the black-rimmed glasses, “none of this – ”

“That’s enough, Anna,” says the Queen.

“Well?” says the Count.

“We have no intention of accepting the Gallowglas at court,” says the Queen. “We have no intention of rescuing our daughter from the consequences of her actions. We will not insult one of our knights by making any more of his recent – indiscretion, and we have no intention of allowing the Duke’s complaints to determine how and by whom the Princess is guarded. We trust this is clear?”

“Nothing will change,” says the young man. The waiter has reappeared. He sets a small plate of dark little pancakes and a bowl of yogurt before the Count.

“Unless I change my mind,” says the Queen. The waiter sets an omelet and a small salad before the Queen, and then he holds up a couple of creamy envelopes. “These were delivered to front desk,” he says, laying one before the Queen and one before the Count.

Anna lifts the envelope and rips it open with a finger. She tips out the card inside and scans it quickly as she hands it to the Queen.

“An invitation,” she says. “From the Duke.”

“To the court,” says the young man, looking at the other card. “A hunt, in honor of the Princess.” He looks up. His face is carefully blank. “This would seem to work against their isolation,” he says.

The Count snorts as he scoops up a small spoonful of yogurt.

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