My Brief Life and Tragic Death, Chapter 5

(Looking for Chapter 1? It’s here: Chapter 1. Purple Pumpkins.)

Chapter 5. Room Service

We hadn’t expected to fall asleep. If we had, we would have kept watch, or tried to, because we knew we weren’t safe. I woke around sunrise. To my surprise, I was in my bed, though I was still in my boy’s disguise and still wearing my sneakers. Frank was asleep in the armchair.

I saw a letter in my own handwriting, addressed to me, sitting on my desk. I got out of bed. My legs were stiff and painful, but that was true every morning. I sat in my desk chair and read my letter.

June X, 1972

Dear Flavia,

When I wake after midnight I remember that I can see the future. Not just one future, but variations depending on what we do based on my foreknowledge. I try to find actions that prevent disaster without triggering additional disasters. It’s very strange—the deed that makes things come out right can seem trivial and unrelated. Following my guidance precisely is essential.

I apparently forget everything that happens at dawn, even the fact that I was awake at all. I see some events with an Olympian detachment, but others … I’m grateful for my amnesia. Once gone, the memories are gone for good: just as inaccessible by night as by day. I only remember last night’s letter to Frank because he showed it to me in the library.

Did I sign yesterday’s letter to Frank with love because I already loved him? Alas, I don’t remember. I wish I could!

Yes, I suppose I must have written a letter to Daddy, too, but I don’t remember. I wonder what I said? Perhaps I’ll ask him some day.

What else? It’s important that I say as little as possible about future events because only focused foreknowledge can be used with predictable results. Broad foreknowledge affects too many decisions and the future becomes terribly blurred and confused. It can easily deliver the opposite of the results I most desire. So I’m not putting hints or even encouragement into this letter.

I need to keep the secret of these letters to just me, Frank, and Daddy.

Flavia

P.S. I’m you and you’re me. This is probably easier to grasp after midnight because I remember the events of the day. During the day, I’ve forgotten the events of the night, so there’s less continuity. It’s all one, though.

There was also a letter addressed to Frank, and another to Daddy. I crossed to where Frank lay sleeping, slumped in the armchair. I put a hand on his shoulder. “Wakey-wakey, rise and shine.”

He sat up suddenly, disoriented. “Huh? What?”

“I wrote you a letter last night, just as you asked.”

“Oh.” He stretched. “Pass it over.”

I did, and he opened the letter. As he read, I walked back and forth to limber up my legs.

Frank looked up from the letter and said, “You talk all lovey-dovey after midnight.”

“Do I?”

He handed me the letter.

June X, 1972

Dear Frank,

After reading this, ask me to share the letter I addressed to myself. It explains the basics.

There is so much I wish to say to you, my love! But it’s important that anything tinged with foreknowledge be said at the right time and in the right way, especially if it’s written down.

Meet me after midnight tonight so we can talk. It won’t the kind of romantic midnight assignation you may be thinking of, alas. I forget with the dawn, and I selfishly want to remember all my tender moments with you. But meet me without fail.

Your loving

Flavia

After I finished reading, I handed him my letter. I waited until he finished reading it before saying, “Do you think my personality changes at night?”

“I doubt it. I’ll let you know. Try calling me your love.”

“Good morning, my love.” I shivered. I hadn’t been prepared for how right it felt. Yes, I know my English is too formal, but that’s how I am; that’s who I am. Calling Frank “my love” was exactly right for me.

“Morning,” said Frank. “I love you too. I sure hope we get sprung in time for breakfast. I’m starved.”

I couldn’t decide whether to be angry at Frank for saying “I love you” for the first time so casually, or delighted that he’d said it at all. In the end I decided to be gracious about it. Frank had some strange notions. He might even imagine that “mine, mine, mine” was the same as “I love you,” which meant it didn’t count as the first time.

There was a knock on the door ten minutes later. “Who is it?” called Frank.

“King William,” came a voice. Daddy’s voice.

Frank looked at me. I nodded, and he called, “What’s the password?”

“Breakfast,” said Daddy.

“Enter, friend!” said Frank. He unbolted the door.

Two soldiers came in first and did a sweep of my suite. Then Daddy walked in and embraced me. He hadn’t hugged me in ages. I almost cried. He was no longer carrying a submachine gun, just a holstered pistol. He held me at arm’s length, looking delighted by both me and my boy’s disguise. He noted the rope ladder, which Frank had left out, ready for a quick getaway. “Very resourceful.”

A sergeant pushed in a cart of covered breakfast dishes. He quickly set the sitting room table for three, set out the dishes, saluted, and departed, taking the two privates with him and closing the door.

When was the last time I’d had a private breakfast with Daddy? Or even been seated at the same table? I couldn’t remember.

I hurried to my bedroom to fetch the letter to Daddy and handed it to him before taking my place at the table.

“That was quite a light step, Princess,” said Daddy, setting the letter aside for now. “Another of Frank’s miracles?”

“Not me,” said Frank, who had decided to serve. “Who wants ham? Last call. I could eat the whole pig.”

Daddy and I both made sure we got our fair shares. I told Daddy, “It’s these high-top sneakers, Sire. They’re light and they have just enough support to keep my left toe up.”

I poured Daddy’s coffee and looked inquiringly at Frank, who shook his head. I learned later that, as part of his training regimen, he rarely drinks anything but water and, of all things, buttermilk.

Daddy and Frank were both very hungry. Frank, though much smaller than Daddy, matched his intake with that bottomless appetite of a boy in his teens. I ate about half as much as he did. Frank had good table manners, which was a relief.

After we had finished eating, Daddy said, “Where shall we start?”

“Perhaps by reading your letter?” I suggested.

“Very well.” Daddy read his letter carefully, then put the sheets back in the envelope and put it in an inside coat pocket. “Fascinating. We’ll go into all of that later. Before I give you a summary of the situation, do you have any questions?”

“Is Lady Lestrange in custody?” I asked.

“She is dead. Why?”

I was speechless only for a moment. “She tried to force her way in here, but Frank had bolted the door. Then she tried to talk her way in.”

“Locking yourself in with a princess is terribly improper, boy.”

“Daddy!” I said, shocked.

Frank scowled. “I dithered over closing that damned door for almost a minute. I’ll be quicker next time, Sire.”

Daddy nodded. “Yes, well done. Are you willing to continue protecting and supporting my daughter?”

“That’s an understatement, Sire.”

“Good. We will work out the rules and such soon. Carry on.”

Frank grinned. Daddy smiled sourly and said, “I meant, keep up the good work.”

He paused and gathered his thoughts. “It was a coup attempt, of course. A stuffy and pompous coup attempt, put together by people with no appreciation of their own stupidity. Not the usual pattern at all. Chercher le vampire.”

I didn’t understand. “What?”

“It means ‘search for the vampire.’ As a rule, it’s our vampires who do the scheming. It’s taken from a French expression, cherchez la femme, which is a maxim among French detectives. Search for the woman. To a proper Frenchman, a serious crime must involve love, or the whole world has gone mad.”

Frank quoted, “With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

“No doubt,” said Daddy blandly. “Yet in spite of the plotters’ incompetence, they almost succeeded. Had it not been for Flavia’s letters, she and I would be dead and the traitors would have won. Only momentarily, to be sure. They had no real support. And they enlisted far too many of their friends and relations. You will be needing a new maid, Princess.”

“What happened to Miss Parmalee?”

“She is dead.”

I almost burst into tears. I hadn’t liked Miss Parmalee and she hadn’t liked me, but we’d been constantly together for the last year. Was she dead because I was so unlovable?

I heard Frank shift his chair closer. He put an arm around me. I couldn’t help crying then, so I threw my arms around him and wept. It all seemed so natural that it took me some time to realize that Frank hadn’t paused to consider Daddy’s reaction. And yesterday I hadn’t let him near me when I cried.

When I recovered and disengaged from Frank, I looked at Daddy. He wore a strange expression that I couldn’t figure out at all. As if nothing had happened, I asked, “What happened to her?”

“Lady Lestrange, Miss Parmalee, and two others hid somewhere in the palace until dark, then made a break for it on foot. They reached their hiding place, but it wasn’t proof against vampires. The vampires fed lavishly and all four traitors died. A regrettable act of violence by persons unknown.”

Frank shifted uncomfortably. I, too, suspected that Daddy knew exactly who the vampires were and may have sent them himself. After a moment Frank said, “I don’t suppose you happened across Spike.”

“Louisa Maréchal graciously volunteered her assistance. She’s helping to track down the remaining traitors. Shall I send her to you when she returns?”

“Yes, please. How about Maria and Charlotte?”

“As far as I know, they were not involved in any of this.”

“That’s a relief.”

I asked Frank, “Who are Maria and Charlotte?”

“Two of Grandfather’s dependents.”

“Whose dependents are they now that he’s gone?”

“They’re pretty much on their own. Uncle Nestor doesn’t like them.”

Nestor was the new Count Woodville. Frank’s grandfather had died two years ago. “How old are these girls?”

“They look and act about twelve. In reality they’re between eighty and ninety.”

“How is that possible?”

“They’re vampires.”

“Oh, of course.” I’d read that children who became vampires stopped developing physically and emotionally, though they learned new facts and skills readily enough. But I’d never met anyone like that.

I was twelve myself. They’d certainly be strong and graceful. Were they pretty? Would I have to compete with them for Frank’s affection? Vampires used their glamour to influence humans; even to enslave them. It was worrisome.

“Let’s not discuss Charlotte and Maria at the moment,” said Daddy, “though I’m sure we all have concerns.”

Frank said, “How much is left of the palace staff?”

“That’s not yet clear. No more than two-thirds. It was an odd sort of coup attempt. No real military involvement. The palace staff imagined that they ran the country already, and their vast experience meant that obviously they’d be kept in charge if we were killed, at least until the new monarch could be elected; a rigged election, no doubt. The princess and I seem to have been their only targets.”

The way our constitution works, direct heirs (that is, Daddy’s children) can inherit the crown directly, but any other succession requires an election. Since I’m crippled, there’s a school of thought that holds that I shouldn’t succeed without an election, either.

Frank said, “I keep hearing about the incompetence of the palace staff, but I don’t know how it happened.”

“Few of the staff positions are important in reality, so the palace attracts second-raters. The second-raters repel the men of talent. I find this immensely frustrating. So did my father. A tiny government like ours can’t really attract the best men, anyway. There are so many wonderful opportunities in the larger world. Most of the crucial work is done part-time by leading men like your late grandfather or Dr. Wright.”

I wanted to point out that it’s “men and women,” not “men,” though in fact few women held positions of prominence. Daddy would have agreed with me and then continued just as before, on the grounds that everyone knew that “men” means “men and women.” I have my doubts about that.

Frank told Daddy, “I’m only willing to fill in as Flavia’s tutor and maid until school starts.”

Daddy chuckled. “What do you think, Princess?”

“Do we have to be so formal when it’s just the three of us, Sire?”

“I suppose not. I’m a little gun-shy after Louisa’s example.”

“She calls him Billy,” Frank told me, not even pretending to keep a straight face. To Daddy he said, “How about if I call you ‘sir’ in private?”

“Perfect. All right, Flavia. Informal it is.”

“Thank you, Daddy. I need a new maid. One who respects Frank. And me. And us.”

“I draw the line at Louisa,” said Daddy.

Frank chuckled. “I’ll write Mom for suggestions. Spike might have some ideas, too. Sir, do you know anyone who’s okay with the necessary girl stuff and has nerves of steel?”

This upset me. “I’m not that hard to get along with!”

Daddy said, “I think Frank is thinking ahead to your midnight meetings. The usual servants’ gossip will create intense interest in your friendship and put pressure on me to separate you, though you’re still very young. The right companion will minimize this.”

We talked it over for a few minutes. I would join Frank at his lessons, which would resume tomorrow. If this worked out, a new tutor could wait until September. As for a maid, we might do that in stages, with someone to come in morning and evening to help me dress and undress and someone else to tidy my suite every day.

The emphasis might even be shifted to guards rather than chaperones. Since my previous chaperones had tried to kill me, this seemed natural enough! The soldiers were intensely loyal to Daddy in ways that courtiers rarely were.

Frank displayed his willingness to ask for the moon and stars by suggesting that I be given a new suite, no higher than the second floor, with an adjacent room for him, connecting via a door that was secret or at least so securely locked that no one would guess that he used it every day.

Daddy turned his best penetrating stare on Frank, who met it calmly at first. After two or three seconds he began to scowl. His face gradually turned red, then he stood and put a hand on my shoulder, still glaring at Daddy. Daddy’s face was like stone.

“Take that back,” said Frank.

“I didn’t say anything,” said Daddy.

“She trusts me,” said Frank. “It’s the only reason we’re still alive.” His voice rose to a shout. “Do you want her dead? Do you? Then go ahead. Act like any of this is normal.”

I don’t know how Daddy reacted to this. Frank’s grip on my shoulder had become so painful that I gasped. He looked around wildly, then let go as if my shoulder were red hot. He met my gaze in alarm and contrition.

“It’s all right,” I whispered.

He flinched at my innocuous words. He stared at me, wide-eyed, suddenly horrified and strange, as if he’d only half-wakened from a nightmare. Tears rolled down his cheeks. His mouth opened and closed without any sound, then he whispered, “In my … in my dream, I saw everything twice. The one time I saw events just as they happened. In the other, I dragged my feet for no good reason and they … they shot us both. You said ‘it’s all right’ then, too, just before … just before … just before you died. Oh, Flavia, I’m so sorry!”

He began to weep in earnest, in that heartrending way that boys have, struggling against each sob. I stood and took him in my arms, then pulled him down to sit next to me.

After Frank began to subside I looked at Daddy. He was wiping away tears of his own. He murmured, “I concede the point. Where did his dream come from, Flavia?”

I didn’t remember, of course. “At a guess, I sent it to him when I put the note on his nightstand.”

Daddy said, “It seems awfully harsh.”

Frank said, “No! It was perfect, because it worked.” He wiped his tears on his napkin. He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to relax into my embrace without much success.

He soon pulled free and gave me a ghastly imitation smile that suddenly turned genuine. “The important thing is, you have excellent taste. You chose me.”

“Any port in a storm, my love.”

He chuckled. “Likewise. Any brilliant and beautiful psychic princess named Flavia will do for me. I wouldn’t want people to think I’m fussy.”

Daddy stood, looking diplomatically bland. “I must leave you now. There is a trusted sentry on the door. I’ve given orders that he will prevent anyone from entering unless he receives your permission. Leave the door open or closed, bolted or not, at your option. Stay in the suite until I give you the all-clear. Probably in time for lunch. Frank?”

“Sire?”

“You’ve convinced me. We must all trust each other. In areas not related to her … ah. We need a code phrase for this new talent. See what you can come up with. In other areas, you’re nothing but a pair of child prodigies. For you, Frank, being too big for your britches is as natural as breathing. It’s a family trait. Together, you two can surely get yourselves into trouble no one else could even imagine. Getting out again? I think not. I have no idea what to advise. Maybe assume that you’re only half as smart as you think you are.”

“That’s still mighty impressive,” said Frank, who had recovered nicely.

“No doubt. In anything remotely ordinary, seek advice from trusted friends.”

I said, “I don’t have any except Frank. And you, Daddy.”

“Help her find some, Frank.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Search beyond the obvious. And I’ll work out a schedule where we meet daily. Private breakfasts may be ideal.”

With that, he departed.

Continued in Chapter 6, “Ticklish Situation.”

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