D’Artagnan thought it wiser to have his audience with the King without cleaning up or dressing his wounds. As he strode into the court, he could tell that his fortunes had shifted slightly, and he felt bold enough to improvise a limp in his left leg. It was not a question of sanity; the regent had long ago lost all semblance of rational thought and personal restraint. The critical question was precisely what kind of insanity would his audience be treated to? The king was wearing his nightgown, playing with a superbly detailed twenty foot long model of a galleon. He was perched atop one of several footstools that provided access to the higher sails and crows nests. The king was in a happy state, and that bode well for D’Artagnan and the potentially displeasing news he had to debrief.
It was clear that this was the work of a master craftsman, likely a boat building architect in the employ of His Majesty’s Royal navy. The mermaid that adorned the bow must have taken weeks alone to carve and paint. The cannons looked as if they might actually be functional, and knowing the king, that was likely a formal request made of the builder. The sails appeared to be woven of authentic cloth, and all of the rigging and nets were similarly authentic. This was a vessel, no doubt seaworthy, that was clearly a labor of love by a true artisan who must have derived great pride from being allowed to share his prodigious gifts with the greatest of all patrons.
D’Artagnan caught the eye of the King, whose face lit up with incandescent happiness. His subject returned the look with the remarkable sincerity that befit a man of his skills and place. Excitedly, the king hobbled down from the ladder, raced to the bow of the ship and snapped the mermaid off from beneath the bowsprit.
“D’Artagnan! You simply must come sailing across the court with me. This mermaid will provide us with fair seas and may also guide us safely past the isle of wretched harpies that are spoken of residing in the far sea.” He pointed over to one of his attendants, how flashed the knowingly sad smile of a dog who knows that his ability to withstand vigorous beatings without protest is the only thing that saves it from being tied in a sack dropped from a bridge.
“Oh dear,” The King announced, sadly recognizing the mermaid in his hand. “It appears this boat is broken. Please have it taken away at once.” Being king means never having to address your requests to anyone in particular. D’Artagnan knelt at the feet of the King, kissed a ring upon a hand which smelled of feces and sugar, and was asked to rise. The King gave him a vigorous hug that betrayed how frail His Royal Majesty’s frame really was. D’Artagnan, familiar with this greeting, knew to return the hug, lovingly but softly so as to not bruise his brittle bones. The King clasped his subject’s biceps and held him at arms length, beaming with pride as he examined him. The head trauma did not appear to register. How better off the country might be if that boat were not so stable upon its footing and came crashing down upon the king. He thought of the king, trapped under the weight of the splintered boat. He imagined that the ruler’s courtesans would make a to-do, but none would actually help him, unless it appeared that he perchance might free himself.
The king continued his charade of sanity, clapping D’Artagnan on the back and leading him towards the thrown. The royal fingertips tugged up his nightgown gingerly, so as not to trip as he mounted the thrown. His left hand reached instinctively for the scepter, which he began to wag, catching the balled end in the palm of his other hand. Here, in the details, D’Artagnan could read the lack of reason; in the hands, the scepter was being aggressively toyed with like a cudgel - even while his eyes still twinkled with favor. Bits of dried blood were faintly visible in the crevices of the scepter. He had seen his liege administer but a few of the fatal beatings that helped lend its encrusted red patina.
“Have We reached an acceptable agreement with king Edmund regarding Our mountain retreat?” The acoustics of the room were designed to amplify sounds that came from the throne. Accentuating the fraudulently debilitated left leg, D’Artagnan lowered himself to one knew before making his reply.
“I think that we should have some success, my lord...” D’Artagnan paused “...I wonder however, if you strategy regarding Esmerelle was fitting for this particular scenario. I of course, would never think to question your well crafted strategy, but I do not think that Edmund took kindly to Esmerelle’s execution of your intended role for her.”
The king’s smile poured out of his face completely, leaving the empty bucket of a perplexed scowl behind. The scepter wagged like the angry tail of a cat. Chiffon again - not a good omen.
“We had no plan for Esmerelle. She was present, merely as your appointed assistant, as always. Of what execution do you speak? We would ask you to choose your words carefully, but we know that it is in your nature, and in the nature of your forked tongue, to do so.” Malice blew through the voice and countenance of the king, silently and undeniably as winter air creeping under a door.
“I beg your pardon, my liege,” D’Artagnan began. He knew the best route with the king was bored detachment rather than obsequiousness. The king found quivering fear delectable, and poorly feigned confidence was like the shell on a crab that needed to be removed, before the soft innards could be gnawed upon. Besides, the king’s envoy knew he was not at fault; his goal was to ensure that this recent diplomatic catastrophe would be Esmerelle’s final contribution to D’Artagnan’s career. He would settle for having her detached from his appointment, but truth be told it took only a modest amount of wine for D’Artagnan to share his dream of Esmerelle’s head being detached from her neck.
“I had only assumed that such a brazen act was one that you must have orchestrated. If that’s not the case, I fear that Esmerelle has thrown my Majesty’s interest into a most precarious position.” He waited for the sign - the king’s knee began to bounce impatiently; D’Artagnan then grinned inwardly outed Esmerelle.
“It pains me to inform you that my attendant slept with with Edmund’s sons.” D’Artagnan locked his eyes with the king; it was another bold move learned from experience. A preemptive and strong stare did several things; it displayed strength of position were a debate to break out, it prevented the king from doing so first, and it allowed him to peer into the king for a reaction. The kings face melted into slightly baffled surprise. “Sons, you say?”
One of the great ironies of sovereign rulers is their need to be supplanted in the right manner. D’Artagnan knew it was in human nature to desired what one could not have; indeed, it was D’Artagnan’s knack to discover that want, and dangle it’s possibility like a carcass in front of a hungry dog. A king and queen’s wants were seemingly easily satisfied. It left rulers feeling empty and frustrated; D’Artagnan knew that this was an oversimplification, and untrue. This highest echelon of nobility thirsted for two things; to become anonymous and to be dominated. The key was to bring satisfaction to these two wants in a way that did not unhinge a cushion of comfort. The king or queen must be able to indulge in escaping the role, without ever feeling that their authority and rule is credibly at risk. It was a dangerous road to navigate, but D’Artagnan charted the map. As he continued, he used the stern tone of a tutor whose student was slow to learn the lesson.
“Yes, your highness, sons. We have confirmation from an attendant who caught her in the act of pleasuring both of the King’s two oldest sons simultaneously.” D’Artagnan behaved as him the King were the last man in the Kingdom to know. The way gossip traveled the streets and taverns, it may well have been true.
“Simultaneously, you say?” The king seemed to be waffling closer to confusion.
“At the same time. It was clear that the boys were both heavily intoxicated. I cannot verify all of the details, but it appeared that the three were fully engaged with one another. Suffice to say, the scandal broke quickly throughout the castle and kingdom. Now the bloodline has been called into question, and each of the respective families of the betrothed have negated their agreements. The king is said to be considering making his third son heir to the kingdom.”
“But the youngest has a clubbed boot, and stricken with brain fevers.” The king forgot himself and gasped with genuine concerned for the fate of his adversary’s throne.
“Yes. That is true.” D’Artagnan slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to lift himself off of his knee.
“But the older boys. The middle boy is only fourteen years of age.” The king’s eyes wandered and lost focus. The gears started turning, his voice had a fuzzy giddiness. There was something good for the king at the end of this line of questioning, he just hadn’t figured it out for himself yet.
“Yes. That is true. We were lucky to escape with our heads attached to our necks, once Edmund learned of what had happened. We were chased to the channel, and his navy even gave chase for some time before turning back. Unfortunately, we are left with a pitched battle to obtain the retreat. I mean that figuratively, of course, your Majesty. I am loathe to bring this up at such a time, but this is not the first time that Esmerelle has sabotaged either your goals or my ability to execute them diplomatically. I strongly urge you to reconsider my request to-”
The king waved his hand at D’Artagnan, absently dismissing him. “No, no, that wont be necessary. I know you are quick to sever your ties from the woman, but I won’t allow it. Not yet. I know that you lack the vision, but trust me when I say that she has a part to play in your story yet. Of course, I will discipline her severely. Most severely.” the King’s fidgeting and absent smile betrayed an engorgement of the royal plumbing.
“You certainly are hot to have her dismissed, D’Artagnan,” the king continued “but what I still have yet to understand is that if you detest her so much, why on god’s green earth did you marry her?”