You’ve been outright offensive for so long now

Keenan fumed silently as Melody spoke for him. It was her job, as it had been Trenton’s before the election. The problem wasn’t that she changed his words. Trenton had done that! The problem was that she changed the intentions behind those words.

He was angry, but you couldn’t tell that from the way she was speaking. From the way she spoke, he might have been confused. He might have been… apologetic. He wasn’t confused and he certainly wasn’t apologetic. He was angry and getting angrier by the moment.

He sent Bertram a look that told him what he wanted immediately. Bertram didn’t need to hear his thoughts – the way Melody could – to know what he wanted. That look said all he needed. Melody stumbled over her words and looked at him, then at Bertram – who was approaching.

“Pardon me, Lord Alaric,” Bertram said. He made a beckoning gesture at both Melody and Keenan.

Nodding, Keenan strode away from the crowd. As soon as Melody and Bertram were near, he rounded on the woman. “Do you get that I’m angry?” he hissed. “Do you – do you not sense it? Can you not tell by my tone? My phrasing?”

“Yes, highness,” Melody said, her voice equally soft, “I thought… we wouldn’t want Lord Alaric to be offended.”

“So you’ll let him offend me?” Keenan asked, his tone incredulous. “Melody! Your job is not to protect other people. Your job is to change my phrasing so that, when it’s carried on into posterity, I sound eloquent.”

Bertram nodded. “Alaric needs to know that he’s trending close to offending the Sovereign. That cannot be tolerated, Melody.”

“I’m sorry, Highness,” Melody said, bowing politely.

Keenan blinked. For the first time since she became his Voice, the bond opened up so that he could hear her thoughts. She was… frightened of him. She was terrified of speaking for him – afraid she might say the wrong thing at the wrong time. She wasn’t stupid, just over-cautious.

“Damn it, Melody,” Keenan sighed, his anger dissolving like dew on a summer day. “Just tell the man he’s pissing me off.”

Melody smiled and then turned back to Lord Alaric. Keenan slapped Bertram on the shoulder and trailed behind her. “Forgive us, Lord Alaric,” Melody said, as Keenan bowed politely. “We meant to say, ‘You have been – for some time now – offensive to us. Insinuating that our past deeds continue, hinting that we might be plotting against the High Council. We would ask that this behavior stop or we will be forced to bring your actions to the attention of the Lord Elder.”

Alaric blinked and said, “My apologies, Prince Allian.” Then, looking vaguely bemused, he made his way towards the buffet.

“Much better,” Keenan said, giving Melody a smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Highness,” Melody said. Maybe – just maybe – she wasn’t so bad after all.

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Who ya gonna call? Those —-!

“Why?” Keenan growled, turning to Bertram. He shook his head. “Why do we have to go to them for help?”

“They’re the only ones who might have a hope of dealing with this problem before it gets out of hand, Keenan,” Bertram said, his tone soft and reasonable. “Try to think about what’s best for the people. Swallow your pride and ask them for help.”

Keenan cursed and slammed his fist down on the smooth wooden surface of the desk. “I hate this! They – they’ll make me plead with them and draw it all out and get pleasure out of the fact that I need their help.”

“I know that,” Bertram said, maintaining an even tone.

Sighing explosively, Keenan flopped into his chair. He grabbed his telephone and dialed a number. After a moment, he said, “Listen good, ’cause I’m only saying this once. I… need your help.” There was a pause and Keenan nodded. “We’ll be waiting for you.”

As he replaced the handset, Bertram said, “They agreed to help?”

“They want to negotiate face to face,” Keenan said, shaking his head. Then, he used a word that, while describing them perfectly in Keenan’s mind, made Bertram flush and scold him. Royalty wasn’t meant to use such coarse language. Keenan never seemed to care, even if Bertram did.

I left my brains down in Africa

“I left my brains down in Africa,” she sang, loudly and rather off-key.

Keenan choked back a laugh and looked over at Bertram. “Explains a lot, doesn’t it?” he said, arching an eyebrow.

Bertram’s cheeks turned a brilliant red. “Keenan,” he hissed. “Don’t forget: she can hear your thoughts.”

“So what?” Keenan said. In a voice that was far too loud for Bertram’s comfort, he added, “All that means is that she already knows what I think of her.”

Melody peered into his office and shot him a glare. “What are you going on about now?” she snapped. She sniffed and added, “As if I like being in your head? Half of what you think makes absolutely no sense!”

“You have the lyrics wrong,” Keenan explained, rolling his eyes. “It’s supposed to be ‘I love the rains down in Africa’.”

“That makes even less sense! It doesn’t rain in Africa,” Melody countered. Then, she spun away and left them alone.

Keenan squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “How I hate her, let me count the ways,” he said.

“Let’s not,” Bertram replied. He pointed at the papers piled on Keenan’s desk. The size never seemed to decrease. That might have had something to do with the fact that Keenan hated paperwork. “Try to make some headway on that instead.”

Hope the city voted for you

“An election?” Bertram said, frowning.

Keenan nodded. “I figured I’d introduce the idea of democracy to the people,” he said. A broad grin split his features. “There are actually a couple people running against me. They’re all family, but it’s a start.”

Bertram looked vaguely disappointed. “I wish I’d known you were going to pull something like this, Keen,” he said.

Rolling his eyes, Keenan said, “Yeah, you would have voted for me. You’re my friend. It’s practically a requirement.”

“Keenan!” Bertram snapping, his tone rather scolding. “I would have voted for you because I think you should be our sovereign, not because I like you!” He scowled. “Hopefully, enough people voted for you that you don’t need my support in that manner.”

Keenan grimaced. “With my luck, the whole city did!”

“You think?” Bertram said.

His hopeful tone made Keenan’s scowl deepen. “Shut up, Bertram,” Keenan said. He turned on the television. The news was following the election closely. The exit polls made him sigh.

The queens and the court jesters

Keenan hated this part of his court duties the most. He knew he had to mingle with his guests. He intended to. He just needed a drink or two to take the edge off. If he wasn’t so tense, he was less likely to say something inappropriate.

Stifling a sigh, he glanced over at Bertram. The man had a crowd of women around him and he was charming all of them. However, Keenan could see in his eyes that he was only being polite. He was entertaining them with stories. His heart was miles away – in the capitol of another country.

Tossing back the last of his drink, Keenan set the shot glass on a passing tray and stepped away from the wall. If Bertram could charm the ladies, Keenan could tolerate the dignitaries.

The End of Something

“What are you looking for?” Bertram said, frowning as Keenan dug into his many pockets. He sighed when his partner stalked over to a desk and began rifling through that as well. “Keenan!”

“What?” Keenan snapped, looking up.

Bertram sighed and stepped over to him. In a calm, steady voice, he said, “If you tell me what you are looking for, I can help you find it.”

Keenan flushed and released an exasperated sigh. “I lost the cap to my pen,” he said. He looked chagrined and added, “I know it’s nothing hugely important, but… I like that pen!”

“What’s the cap look like?” Bertram said.

“It’s got a little… knot of gold on the clip and a little reddish jewel at the top,” he said, frowning. “You haven’t seen anything like that. Have you?”

Bertram frowned thoughtfully for a moment. Then he moved with smooth, confident steps to the trash bin. He dug in the papers and tangled bits of string for a moment. Then he smiled and snatched something from the depths. He tossed it to Keenan.

As Keenan caught it, he looked at it and then at Bertram. “You threw it away!” he rasped.

He shrugged. “It was the end of a pen, Keenan,” Bertram said. “I didn’t realize whose it was and it was on the floor. You really need to be more careful with your things.”

“I… I can’t believe you threw it away,” Keenan murmured, then he sat down at his desk and began working, all the while mumbling to himself. Bertram only listened for a moment, then he turned away and returned to his own work.

Perhaps it’s because it’s not sad enough

Keenan sighed softly. He looked at the lonely little tree that stood at the center of the courtyard. “It’s kind of sad,” he said.

“What’s that?” Bertram said, looking up from his paperwork.

Pointing, Keenan said, “That little tree is all by itself out there. All of the other trees have flowers planted around them, but not that one. I wonder why?”

“I seems to be doing just fine without them,” Bertram said. Then he returned to his work. He was glad he’d given up trying to understand how Keenan thought. “Paperwork,” he reminded his partner.

“Fine, fine,” Keenan said, gathering up his papers. Then he grinned. “I’m going to work outside and keep the tree company.”

“No, you are going to stay in here, where I can make sure you actually work,” Bertram said. His eyes flashed angrily when he looked at his partner. “Keenan! No tree is sad, even ones without flowerbeds around them.”

“Says you,” Keenan said, flopping down at his desk. After one final glare at Bertram, he got to work.

Faith is a series of calculations

“But how can you know that?” Bertram said, shaking his head vigorously.

Keenan frowned and tilted his head to one side. “I don’t,” he said. Then he smiled and shrugged. “I just… feel it, Bertram. I feel it so strongly that I can’t doubt the truth of it.”

Bertram blinked. “I guess… that makes sense,” he said. He looked out over the city and smiled. “It’s a pretty view.”

Nodding, Keenan said, “So, we’ll enjoy the view while we wait for someone to come back and open the window.” He looked over the edge of the building at the ground far below and grimaced. Then he looked back at the shut and locked window. Someone had to come back eventually.

“When we get down from here,” Bertram said, his voice soft, “I’m never going to follow Tia’s cat again.”

“I didn’t know it could fly,” Keenan said, his cheeks flushing.

So Eden Sank to Grief

Keenan made a beckoning gesture to Bertram and waved at the painting on the wall. The color had faded with time and some of the details had been lost. “The last prince of Shynia – before me, you know?”

Nodding, Bertram said, “You can hardly see more than the basic form, it’s so faded.”

“Yeah,” Keenan said. He shrugged. “All beauty fades with time. People grow old, colors fade, paint chips, stone wears away, songs are forgotten. Nothing has any real permanence to it.”

“Seems a depressing thought,” Bertram said, frowning slightly at the picture. He wondered if Ezra would be able to restore it.

what I see I know to be so

“You need to have a little more faith,” Keenan said, without looking up from his work. When he didn’t hear a response, he frowned. “Bertram?” he said, glancing towards his partner. “Are you listening to me?”

“Faith?” Bertram said, arching an eyebrow. He shook his head. “Forgive me, Keenan, but that seems a bit strange coming from you.”

Keenan tilted his head to one side. “Why strange? I have faith.” His brows furrowed and he looked back down at his work. “Loads of faith.”

“In all the wrong things,” Bertram pointed out. “In the fact that people are out to get you!”

“They are!” Keenan felt his cheeks warm.

“In the idea that they mean to take advantage of you.”

“They will,” Keenan hissed. Given half the chance, people would take as many advantages as they could get – even if it meant hurting others. “I’ve lived long enough to know a few things, Bertram.”

“You’re a pessimist,” Bertram said. “You see the worst, because you expect the worst. Forgive me, if I find it ironic for you to tell me to have faith.”

Keenan frowned. “So,” he said, “maybe we both need to have some faith.”

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