Before the Royal Progress
Prequel to Royal Progress Series
Published by ArbeitenZeit Media
Before the Royal Progress©2015 Pen Fairchild. All rights reserved.
Prepared in the United States of America. No part of this material may be printed, copied, broadcast, recorded, transmitted, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information contact: [email protected]
ISBN 13 Shakespir Edition: 978-1-941168-22-6
An Original Work (15 11 30)
Before the Royal Progress is an original work of fiction by Pen Fairchild. Names, characters, places, and incidents have been created to serve the needs of the narrative. Any resemblance to actual individuals, living or dead, events, locales, or entities, whether governments and their parts, businesses, companies, or any other entity, past or present, is purely coincidental.
A bird flying over Hautland early on a July morning in domain year 2744, 729 years from now, would observe a scene of comfortable tranquility. All is quiet, all is darkish, all is orderly in the warehouses where Automatrons rest, the streets of small houses and apartment blocks in which Citizenry live, the barracks of Monitors, the gated enclaves of Experts, and the large, enclosed complexes of Propertiers. As the bird approaches two even larger compounds in which sit the Residence of the Mosteminence and the Palace of the Buckstop, it might notice lights in the service areas, for in such places there is always someone at work, keeping everything perfect for the two most important men in the domain.
This is a flight of fancy, of course, for there could be no bird. Hautland exists within walls under a high weatherized dome, constructed 300 years before by the ancestors of the Mosteminence and Buckstop. At that time, all natural wildlife had either fled or been driven into the Outlands, and the only creatures to be found now — apart from a small number of household pets belonging to Propertiers — are animatronic. As there is no reason to fly a bird over the domain, the only animatronic birds are in one part or another of Amusiground in the form of swans that glide over lakes, songbirds that welcome spring or celebrate summer, or ground–bound game that move noisily through woods as their leaves are made to change for fall.
The distant ancestors of these people, who lived on an Earth from which the colonists to this world fled in the twenty-second century, might find this scene in which everything is designed to serve the needs of those who inhabit it monotonous and overly predictable. Or maybe they’d look at it and think, “At last, someone has figured out how to do it, how to create an environment that benefits everyone, from the lowliest street cleaner to the spiritual ruler of the kingdom.” That was certainly the attitude of the settlers who founded Hautland. They were tired of the endless turmoil that bubbled up in the older colonies on a routine basis. They were ready for predictability. They wanted only to be allowed to live without fear, without disruption, without violence.
Their leaders, the wealthiest and most influential of the group, direct ancestors of the current Mosteminence and Buckstop, recognized the depth and urgency of the desire. They knew that the reason the first colonies on this planet had failed, one by one, was because each had been based on an ideal that inevitably led to over–politicization. In Hautland, they decided, the goal would not be an ideal but rather need fulfillment. Society would be organized so that there was work for all, food for all, safety for all, entertainment for all. With their basic needs met, these highly intelligent men reasoned, people of all classes would be less likely to rebel against the system.
For 300 years all the domain’s energies and considerable resource have gone into meeting needs, and the result has been everything the first Mosteminence and Buckstop wanted. They made a plan, to which they and their descendants stringently adhered, and the plan worked.
For no one has the plan worked better than Wotan, the eighth Buckstop. Ruler since he assumed the title in 2730 at the age of twelve, Wotan is now twenty–six. A tall, handsome man with graceful manners, he lives in regal splendor in his 100–room Palace, surrounded by retainers whose only duty is to ensure that the Buckstop’s life proceeds exactly as he wishes.
On this particular morning, as on so many mornings these last two years, Wotan woke too early and reached for the body next to his, lightly stroking the soft skin of her arm, thinking that it was Guinevere, forgetting in his sleepiness that Guinevere was no longer there, would never be there again.
The Convenience, misinterpreting his gesture, slid out from under the covers, the dim bedside lamp catching only the briefest of red glints from her hair before she slipped out the foyer door, her gauzy nightwear barely through before it closed.
Details from the night before came back to him. The girl was beautiful and amazingly creative given her age and obvious lack of experience. He wondered how she’d come to be assigned to the Houses of Pleasure and Pain, or did such girls volunteer? He had no idea, and the thought was fleeting. As with so many other aspects of his domain, Wotan did not bother with details as long as things worked as expected.
He lay back and thought about ’Vere, as he had called her, about the first time he’d seen her, about how his whole body had tingled with recognition. She’d felt the same, he knew, remembering how her big green eyes widened and the corners of her lips curled ever so slightly upward. He’d known at once that she was the one. That same night, he’d gone to his mother and told her that this was the girl he wanted as Stoptress and, if he couldn’t have her, he didn’t want anyone.
His mother, who had just begun to consider viable options, was surprised, but at once set to work. Within days, she reported back that ’Vere was acceptable, a respectable young woman only a few months older than Wotan, a distant descendant through the female line of Cletus, the third Buckstop, her father a Propertier who lived on Zianor. A year later, amid much fanfare, Guinevere and Wotan married.
It had been on the occasion of their engagement that his mother had redecorated this suite of rooms in lush colors and fabrics, with no reference to the taste of either her son or the bride–to–be. Luckily, ’Vere had tolerated the flamboyant decor and changed nothing until their son Asher was born, when she turned her adjacent dressing room into a nursery, with a door cut through its wall to the room beyond, where the Royal Nurserymaid slept. The Buckstopheir had lived there the first year of his life, after which he was removed to the Children’s Floor. The room had not been re–converted to its original use, however, as Wotan and ’Vere immediately decided to have a second child.
This time, ’Vere declared, she wanted to conceive and give birth in the traditional manner employed on Earth. He’d tried to talk her out of it. The dangers associated with the procedure were why cocooned surrogacy had been developed 200 years before, but ’Vere had read an ancient tome on natural childbirth in the world from which their ancestors came and demanded her way in this. He had given in, albeit reluctantly, after the Palace medical staff had assured him that, with proper care, everything should be fine, that things should go well. They hadn’t, of course. The baby, a beautiful, sturdy little girl, was healthy, but ’Vere contracted an infection that nothing in Hautland’s antibiotic repertoire could cure and died with breathtaking speed.
One day, Wotan was a proud father and the next a grieving widower, two years later kept company in the huge Palace only by those who served him, together with his mother Diana and his two children, four–year–old Asher, Buckstopheir, and two–year–old Bettina, “the spare”.
Wotan and Guinevere’s marriage had been a love match, and the Buckstop had not recovered from his young wife’s death, possibly why his thick, wavy brown hair already showed streaks of silver. This mark of tragedy in no way undermined his appeal, and there were few young women of appropriate birth in the domain who had not dreamed of catching his eye. In the last few months, quite a few of them had been paraded before him by Buckstop–Mere Diana, who decided that the time had come for him to re–marry and carry out his functions as Buckstop with a suitable Stoptress at his side. The procession of nubile, well–born flesh left the Buckstop cold. He was sad, and he was bored. Most of all, he was determined not to follow his idyllic first marriage with one entered into simply to please his mother. No one can take ’Vere’s place, he told himself, no one.
This interior dialogue, often repeated, was so intense that today he barely noticed when the door from the hall opened, and his valet Humorat glided through the foyer and into the bedroom, followed by several attendants in the white uniforms of their occupation.
After being groomed and dressed for the day’s first event, he went downstairs to the breakfast room, where his mother stood before a massive oak sideboard, considering options offered by the dozen or so platters and compotes ranged before her. As Wotan entered, Diana used tongs to remove a croissant from the towering stack onto her plate and then turned to assess her son’s appearance.
“The uniform suits you,” she said.
“Factory opening,” he said automatically, accustomed to explain anything to which she referred. “The usual kind of event.”
He helped himself to fruit and a piece of dry toast.
“Ah yes, ceremonial but with a touch of personality conveying your enthusiasm for the direction in which the Propertier is taking his business to benefit the domain. Guinevere was good at that sort of thing. She gave the impression of total sincerity.”
“Because she was sincere,” Wotan replied. “She admired progress, and she was a nice person who liked to make others feel good. It’s a rare quality.”
There was silence while he chewed and his mother looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
Diana sighed, loudly. He ignored her, knowing where this was leading, and determined not to encourage it.
“It wouldn’t hurt you to think of marrying again, you know.”
“So you say,” Wotan told her, the emphasis on the “you” as confrontational as anything he’d dare with his mother, who had never lost her ability to intimidate him.
“What if I could find a girl like Guinevere?” she asked.“There’s no one like ’Vere,” he said, turning red, irritated with himself more than with her. Each time they had this conversation, he vowed he wouldn’t let her get under his skin. Each time, she did.
“We’ll see,” Diana said as she used her knife and fork to dissect the croissant.
The look she gave him from under suddenly lowered lashes convinced him that not only had she continued to explore matrimonial prospects, but had one or more firmly in mind.
Wotan might not be the brightest bulb in the box, as his mother had once said, but his guess was correct. Diana had not only found someone, but also knew instinctively that this girl would be eminently suitable for both Wotan’s purposes and her own. Daughter of a wealthy Propertier on Zianor, direct descendant of the third Buckstop through the female line, just like Guinevere, Allegra possessed an impeccable background. Without pausing for a deep breath, she had passed all Diana’s silent tests during the vetting process. Just twenty, she was beautiful, with lustrous black hair, violet eyes, a lush body, and an air of infinite possibility that suggested capacity in both boudoir and the wider world. Diana did not see how Wotan could fail to respond on a purely physical level. Also, the girl was smart enough to be taught the drill — what parts of it she did not already know or intuit. She was so ambitious that she’d be willing to do whatever had to be done to enhance the Buckstop family’s power and, through it, her own. Yes, Diana was completely satisfied.
Allegra, the object of Diana’s acceptance, was more than satisfied. Even as the Buckstop and the Buckstop–Mere were sparring over pain au chocolat in the breakfast room at the Palace, she was lying in the canopied bed of her jewel box of a bedroom in her father’s villa and thinking how well everything was working out. She’d always known she was destined for great things, had known it even when she’d played hooky six years before to watch on the interstellar communications system as her distant cousin Guinevere married Buckstop Wotan. While the announcers cooed about how fabulous a couple they were, Wotan in his ceremonial robes and Guinevere in a gown of gossamer white that seemed almost to float, Allegra had gritted her teeth, so irritated she could spit. Looking at the handsome Wotan, all she could think was: Why hadn’t he waited? Just three or four years and it could have been Allegra in gossamer white at his side. And she was more beautiful, not that he knew it since they hadn’t met since she was six and he an awkward twelve. Where Guinevere was red–headed and fair with faint freckles, Allegra had long, flowing, almost black hair and skin the color and consistency of natural cream, the kind surreptitiously produced in the dairies subsidized by Zianor Propertiers. Where Guinevere was short and slight, Allegra was tall and with a bosom so fine that dressmakers had had to take exceptional pains to downplay it by the time she was twelve. She was, as a teacher at school had put it in an unguarded moment, a “toothsome morsel,” whatever that was. She’d have been a better Stoptress in every possible way. So why couldn’t Wotan wait?
Her frustration only increased when the marriage appeared to be a success. It was easy to see from photographs that the Buckstop, however inexplicably, adored his short, red–headed, pug–nosed wife, and that she felt the same about him. Then, in short order, Wotan and Guinevere produced an heir, and joy was universal and extreme. Then, they had decided to have a second child. Amid much publicity, Guinevere insisted on natural childbirth for this one — a choice Allegra found incomprehensible, given the risks. Why chance your health, much less your figure? During Guinevere’s well–publicized pregnancy, which coincided with Allegra’s emergence onto the Zianor marriage market, Allegra was on the verge of telling her father to accept the proposal of a handsome neighbor when, joy of joys, it was announced that Guinevere had lost a very big gamble. Her daughter was born healthy; but the young mother was gravely ill. She lay dead within the week.
Allegra immediately recognized opportunity. She’d missed being Wotan’s first Stoptress by a scant few years, but there was no reason she couldn’t be his second. She at once told her father to reject all applicants for her hand and began to learn all she could about the Palace and its inhabitants. As she researched, she had her father turn a little–used meditation room into a exergym and hire a trainer. She intensified her personal–care regime. She found a historian retired from the Lyceum to tutor her in domain politics.
Most of all, she played a waiting game. She did not, like several girls of her acquaintance, cadge invitations to Buckstop events, nor in any other way did she “manage” to be where Wotan would be as well. From the publicity that surrounded him, she knew that in those settings she’d be one of many. She wanted a different sort of introduction, one where she’d be the star from the beginning. The more she researched, and the more attuned to the current climate she became, she saw that the key to the situation was almost certainly Diana, Wotan’s mother, so it was Diana on whom she focused, looking for elements that would permit a logical connection. Diana collected antique needlework, so Allegra formed a small but exquisite collection of her own and, in addition, took a class in how to execute the more difficult stitches so she could talk about it knowledgably. Diana liked music played on old styles of instruments, so Allegra bought a reproduction harpsichord and took enough lessons to learn to pick out the Hautland national hymn. Diana liked girls who were more modest than flamboyant, so Allegra stopped dressing in pants and tunics and ordered a raft of lovely dresses and gowns, all fitted to reveal her spectacular shape as subtly as possible, none revealing enough skin to bring a blush to the cheek of even the most squeamish of high–born ladies.
Her father did not question her new focus. Whatever she felt she needed to do or get, he facilitated without comment. At times, she suspected he knew what she was about, and wondered what she would say if he confronted her. Recognizing his pragmatic nature, she decided that she’d simply tell the truth. He had not become so wealthy by being inattentive to political reality. So far, however, there had been no questions, just the occasional lifted eyebrow and even more occasional knowing grin.
After two years, Wotan remained unmarried, and at last Allegra’s studies paid off. She’d cultivated Baumont, a neighbor and friend of her father’s, because it was known that he was an old friend of Diana and her late husband, Buckstop Thrum. She’d attended more than a few boring tea parties given by his hopeless daughters and pretended an unlikely degree of interest in Baumont’s collection of memorabilia relating to antiphonal music. It was only natural that, when he decided to give a party honoring Diana’s 50th birthday, he invited his beautiful young neighbor. It was to be a major event, and Baumont’s daughters couldn’t stop talking about the frilly dresses they were ordering and the fact that their father was having the ballroom redecorated specifically to house the reception.
Allegra spent weeks deciding what to wear (definitely not frills) and another week researching the precise etiquette of meeting royalty at such an event. On the day, she knew at once she had made exactly the right impression. First, there had been the appraising glances, then the surreptitious conversation during which both Diana and Baumont had avoided looking at her so obviously that it was almost funny. After that, came a series of supposedly idle conversational gambits. It had been like a game, and her preparation helped her win it. The very next week, Diana returned to Zianor and invited her for a leisurely, ostensibly casual lunch, and without a word being spoken, Allegra knew the deal was sealed. The call to her father that followed, requesting permission to open negotiations with Wotan on her behalf, had been no more than a formality. If Diana had her way — and Allegra suspected she usually did — she would be the next Stoptress.
The girl hugged herself, thrills coursing through her body. First would have been ideal, but second wasn’t bad.
Things moved rapidly after that, sometimes in unexpected ways. In addition to visits from Diana’s personal Decor Master, Costumier, Couturier, Shodsmith, Hattier, Perfumier, and Cosmetron, there was an eye-opening session with two young Courtesans who had frequently serviced Wotan since Guinevere’s death.
There were also meetings of a more challenging nature. First, Allegra was introduced to the Palace staff by Diana. That went well. Allegra was accustomed to handling staff. What went less well was her formal introduction to the youngsters who would be her stepchildren, four–year–old Asher and two–year–old Bettina. Necessary as she’d accepted the meeting to be, Allegra had been dreading it, a feeling clearly shared by the children. In spite of the best efforts of the boy’s Governess and the girl’s Nurserymaid, they misbehaved throughout, the boy screaming and trying to pull away, the girl sitting mute and staring at Allegra with large hazel eyes that seemed to see through her and did not like what they saw. It was not a good beginning.
The wedding, however, went well, manifesting all the splendor Diana and Allegra could between them come up with. The ball afterwards was equally successful, with an incredibly handsome Wotan whirling Allegra nonstop around the dance floor, her wide skirts trailing, her long dark hair flying, her lovely face flushed a becoming pink, her girlfriends looking on enviously.
The first night in the Palace in the huge connubial bed was surprisingly tame, but the subsequent nights of their honeymoon at Tremblors’ Treetops had been better, providing clear proof that the young couple was more than compatible in the bedroom.
Tremblors’ was the setting for two moments that defined the balance of the relationship between Wotan and Allegra. First had been the night when, after an energetic, even deviant bout of sex that was more attack than connection, he had buried his face in her long, dark hair and cried. She suspected he was thinking of Guinevere, that no matter how desirable he found her or how expert her response, he would probably always think of the girl who’d been his first love. Guinevere might be dead, but she would never be absent. Fighting a surge of jealousy — for none of this was about personal emotion, she reminded herself — she held him, cooing comfort as much as love. He settled into her arms as a desperate man finding refuge, and the crying ceased. The second significant moment occurred when, on their last morning at Tremblors’, as they lay naked in bed, Cylan, Wotan’s Chief of Staff, called him on the hot–line communicator to say that several of the Propertiers were demanding an appointment the following day.
“They still want changes in the Propertier supply agreements,” Cylan said. “It’s got to be dealt with.”
Wotan stood, communicator in hand, handsome face frozen in a study of frustration. It was the first time Allegra had been around when Wotan faced a decision related to his official role, and she had a flash of inspiration.
“Tell him you’ll call him back,” she whispered in her husband’s ear. “Sound impatient, as if you’re really irritated.”
Wotan looked puzzled, but did what she’d said and did it well.
“They’re mad,” Wotan said after he disconnected. ’The problem is, if I give them what they want, it will alienate the Experts.”
“In what way?” Allegra asked, and settled back to listen as Wotan explained one of the intractable problems he faced on a more or less daily basis. As she listened she realized her new husband was far from stupid, just temperamentally ill equipped to deal with confrontation. The immediate solution was obvious to her long before he finished talking, but she pretended to give the matter some thought then gave him a tactfully worded suggestion as to the direction he should take. He picked up on the cue with no difficulty and no offense. The look of relief on his face when he called Cylan and gave him instructions confirmed her suspicions — every unpleasant decision she could make for Wotan would strengthen his resolve and confidence. It would also increase his dependence on her. Guinevere might have his undying love, but it was Allegra who would be here, in this present moment, to meet his needs, all of them.
That strategy would serve her well — until the day it didn’t.
End of The Beginning
729 years from now, in the "perfect" domain of Hautland, the 26-year-old Buckstop still mourns the death of his wife in childbirth. When his mother presents him with the smart, beautiful, sympathetic Allegra as candidate for his second queen and stepmother to his two children, the way she makes him feel is the answer to a dream. What he doesn't know is that it's the beginning of a nightmare. This 3,900-word narrative is the complete prequel to the Royal Progress Series in which the perfection of the carefully designed domain collides with human nature, greed, and all the other evils that flesh is heir to.