Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Spell of 13 Years - Prologue

Alfonso Pugliesi de Damatta entered the anteroom to the palace’s Grand Meeting Hall and paused when he saw the workmen there.  
“A week since the coronation,” Pugliesi thought to himself.  “And they’re still trying to clean away the blood stains.”  And why should that surprise him, he wondered.  There had been so much blood.  So many wild, impossible things that have happened.  They could clean for a year at least and not wipe away the signs of what happened when that sorcerer and his co-conspirators appeared in the Grand Cathedral and let forth a maelstrom…
Pugliesi jumped.  His concentration broken into a million shards by the pounding that echoed throughout the anteroom as well as in his head. 
The Stewart of the Inner Chamber pounded his staff of office again against the floor.  As if he was going to assist the workmen by breaking up the marble tiles to have fresh ones replace those with rusty stains.  
“Sate your name, rank, title, and the nature of the business that brings you to his Grace and Majesty, Henrici Boravella, Prince of Damatta, and High King of the Twelve Realms of Nao.”  
“What game are you playing, Lodavico?  Eh?  You know who I am and exactly why I’m here.  You brought the King’s summons to me yesterday yourself!”  
Lodavico Purrelli frowned at Pugliesi’s response.  He pulled himself up to the extent of his meager height as if to return a scathing pronouncement.  But then, he shook himself and leaned toward Pugliesi, to whisper like a conspirator.  
“This is how it should be done, Alfonso.  I’ve been reading up on it.”  
Pugliesi huffed.  Lodacvio was like those birds they called “pappagallo.”  The brightly colored ones that could mimic a person’s speech that sailors like to have as pets.  No only in terms of his appearance, but the way he would do his best to make his the words and behaviors he thought were required.  
“And I’m sure there was a more proper way to announce me before, when Henri was  merely a prince of a border realm.  You weren’t so key for ‘proper’ announcements then.”  
“Perhaps not…”  Lodavico looked pained at the admission, but then raised a corrective finger into the air.  “But, as you yourself have pointed out, he was JUST the prince.  And JUST Henri.  Now…  He’s the High King.  And, he’s not JUST ‘Henri’ anymore, no?”  
Pugliesi closed his mouth.  He could see the look Lodavico was giving him.  He knew full well what he was implying.  
As if to confirm his suspicious, Lodavico leaned in closer.  He looked about to make sure none of the others waiting for an audience with the King nor the workers were close enough to hear.  
“It IS startling, it is, to all of us who have known him for all these years.”  Like bird he resembled, Lodavico cocked his head to one side and gave Pugliesi a sidelong look.  “To all of us save you, perhaps…?  To all us save you and the new High King, who was waiting for the opportunity that was presented…”  
“Very well, my Lord Stewart.”  Pugliesi pulled himself to his own, more considerable height.  The Pugliesi clan was descended from northern barbarians, and had the height and thickness of body that came from that lineage.  They also had the golden hair of those people too, though Pugliesi’s own scalp was importing more silver by the looks of it.  He puffed out his chest in imitation of Lodavico’s posture from before and gave a more proper self-introduction.  
“Please advise his Grace and Majesty that I, Alfonso Pugliesi de Damatta, Lord Mayor of the Grand Palace, Count of the West Reaches, is here upon summons of his Grace and Majesty to appear before him and do such service as it may please him.”  
Lodavico fairly hopped back to his position by the door and struck a formal pose himself.  “I see and acknowledge you, Lord Mayor of the Palace, and will forthwith advice his Grace and Majesty of your presence,  If you do me the honor of waiting here, I will do so and give you the High King’s reply.”
Lodavico leaned forward again.  Once more speaking to him like some actor on a stage whispering what was supposed to be a secret to the entire audience.  
“That was very good, Alfonso.  You do very well at this.  One point, though…”  His pointing finger extended itself once more.  “I think you can call it the ‘Royal’ palace now, no?  Henri HAS been transformed into the High King, no?” 
Ludovico straightened up, turned about on his heels, and crossed to the large double doors of the meeting hall.  As Pugliesi watched him pull the door open and step inside, he answered Ludovico’s last question to him in his mind.  
“In perfect truth, he has transformed.  And no one is in more awe, and fear, of this change than I.”  
Pugliesi heard Lodavico’s staff rap hard on the floor in the Grand Meeting Hall.  He heard Lodavico’s voice echoing in the space behind the door.  There was a moment of apparent silence.  Then the door opened.  Lodavico stood inside the hold and bowed, indicating for Pugliesi to enter with a sweep of his hand. 
“You have been given permission to enter and approach his Royal Presence”  
Pugliesi squared his shoulders and marched forward.  He slowed his progress when he saw there were four people gathered around a large, gilded desk at the far side of the hall, at the footsteps of the dais where the throne was placed.  
“Don’t mind them,” Lodavico whispered again as Pugliesi came to a halt before him.  “The king is dismissing them.  They’ll be gone before you reach the desk.”  
“Ah.”  Pugliesi nodded, but didn’t move forward.  There were four of them.  Two he’d only recently met.  Henrissi Topoalo, former Commander of the Senovese Coast Guard, now High Admiral of the Twelve Realms, and Luis Kaler de Guiss, once Captain of the Border Guard for Calabria, now the High King’s Marshal.  Both men of good repute, capable and successful at their previous jobs.  
Of the other two, one was Alejandro Anjou-Pues, former Chief Sheriff of the Princedom of Damatta and now High Constable of the Twelve Realms.  A slender, weasel-like fellow, who almost seemed able to sniff out the person of from whom he could curry the most favorable opportunities for himself.  Pugliesi had to admit he had performed well as Chief Sheriff.  Damatta was accounted as the safest of the Twelve Realms to travel through.  But he also seemed able to make a deal of personal profit from his office as well.  His saving grace, if one could call it that, is that he known for saving his loyalty to whomever had purchased it.
And then, there was Henrici.  Of the four he should have been the one most familiar to him.  But strain as he might, he was at a loss to find something in the person that matched what he remembered of the kind-hearted, if simple, boy he’d raised since his sister passed beyond the Veil.  The one before him stood tall and straight.  No embarrassed slouch from him.  His gestures were firm, direct, commanding.  No fidgeting, or rubbing of hands nervously when speaking to those he knew poorly.  And he looked directly at whom he was speaking to and did not avert his eyes, looking only furtively at those that addressed him.  
And the men before him were another sample of what was so different.  All were capable men, able to do the job they had been chosen for, even Anjou-Pues.  But…  Pugliesi knew with certainty that Topoalo and Kaler de Guiss had not been on the list of candidates hand-picked by Otto “The Great” Boravella, Duke of Media, who had orchestrated Henrici’s name being put up for Selection.  He died during the events surrounding the coronation.  Assassinated by the sorcerer that died in the attempt.  Without his other, more famous and far more powerful uncle’s “guidance,” how had Henrici even heard of these men to pick them.  
Pugliesi clenched his hands into fists as he remembered hearing of the Great Boravella’s plan to put poor Henrici on the throne.  A more blatant act of creating a puppet to rule through could not be imagined.  It had infuriated him.  And nearly cost him his life when he spoke out against it.  
And now, watching his nephew command such men…  Seeing them nod and agree with what looked like unfeigned respect with what they were hearing…  Pugliesi could well understand the rumors that he’d gotten wind of.  That he, as the boy’s guardian, had engineered a most spectacular turn about of fortune.  He was being a man far more clever that Boravella had been deemed, and he had been called the most cunning man of his age.  
The only split in those that believed the rumor was whether Pugliesi had acted on his own, or in concert with the late, great Duke of Media.  The only thing that shamed him more than the thought that ANY person that knew him would suspect he would work with that…  Creature in using his nephew…  Was the thought that, knowing the rumors to be utterly rubbish, the idea that…  His beloved “Hen-hen,” had done it on his own.  Leaving him in the dark until now.  
But even that sounded too fantastical to be believed.  But…  There he was.  Something had happened.  And he had no idea what it was.  Nor, how deep the transformation had gone.  
“Alfonso…?”  
“Eh?”  Lodavico was looking up at him.  His brow furrowed with confusion, his eyes drenched with concern.  
“My thanks, Lord Stewart.”  He reached out and laid his fingers on Lodavico’s forearm.  “Wine, later.  If it please you.  When your duties are over.  In my chambers?”  
“Of course.”  He smiled, giving Pugliesi a poke in the shoulder.  “You know I’ll drink your wine whenever it is offered.”  The smile slipped from his face as his expression turned serious.  “Nothing is…  Afoot, is it?”
“No.  Not at all.”  The works came from his mouth quickly.  “Just…  Wanting to hear your thoughts on…  The way things are.”  He saw the three commanders of the High King’s forces step back and bow in unison.  Henrici responded with a gracious nod and gesture of acceptance.  
“Later then.”  
“I am always at your service.”  
Pugliesi restarted his march toward the High King’s Presence.  At about the halfway point across the hall, the three of them, moving in a line toward the door, met him.  Both Toapolo, in the lead, and Kaler de Guiss, behind him, stopped to bow to him, but said nothing more than, “My Lord Mayor,” before straightening up and leaving.  
Anjou-Pues, however, as one might suspect, did something different.  
“No need to be so stiff and formal with me, my good Alfonso.”  He patted Pugliesi on his shoulder and used his hand to keep him upright and out of his intended bow.  “Betweeen us, it is I that need to curry favor from you, now.”  
“I have never curried favor from any man.”  His reply had to slip out past clenched teeth.  He shot a glance toward his nephew.  He was sitting now.  Looking over some maps left there from his last meeting.  
“So true.  It is one of the reasons I respect you so.  And now, you are the favorite of the most powerful man in the realm.”  
That brought Pugliesi’s eyes back to Anjou-Pues.  The man was looking back at the King.  His hand still on Pugliesi’s shoulder in a comradely fashion.  
“It makes me wonder…”  Anjou-Pues turned his eyes to meet Pugliesi’s.  An utterly charming smile was on his lips.  “What other secrets you have hidden up your sleeve.”  
Pugliesi pursed his lips.  He turned away, looking back at Henrici, who was now gathering some documents together.  
“I don’t take your meaning.  I have no secrets.”  
Anjou-Pues barked out a laugh.  “Just as any man with secrets might say.”  He narrowed his eyes at Pugliesi.  “And as recently as a week ago, I would have believed you.”  
“Are you saying I speak falsely, Sir?”  
“No, my good Alfonso, no.”  He gave Pugliesi’s shoulder a good shake before, with a look of judicious prudence, decided to release his hold.  “If I’m saying anything it’s that you are a man that knows how to keep your peace and let people think what they want of you.  And…”  Now came the bow that he hadn’t offered before.  “That you and I are on the same side now.  My word on that.”  
“Again, your meaning is unclear.  I serve the King.”  
“As do I.  Completely.”  He looked back toward the gilded desk and the boy…  The young man, Pugliesi corrected, that sat there.  
“He fooled us all, he did.”  Anjou-Pues nodded.  A look of professional appreciation on his face.  “A true survivor he is.  Clever beyond expectation.  I’d be an overripe fool if I didn’t recognize the one man in the Twelve Realms I needed to be on the right side of.”  
He regarded Pugliesi again, his charm now bubbling over again.  “And being how we both serve the King with all our hearts, I would be oh, so appreciative if you would clue me in with whatever you are planning next.”  
“Just provide good, honorable service to His Majesty.  Then I won’t have any need to reveal anything to you.”  
Anjou-Pues laughed.  Whether it was at his awkward attempt to play at one of his games or just an appreciation of his willingness to do so, Pugliesi had no idea.  
“We must have dinner sometime.  Soon.  Very soon.  At my manor house.”  He reached out to clasp Pugliesi’s hand, to which Pugliesi relented and allowed him to do so. 
“And please…”  He jerked his head in the King’s direction.  “Do speak well of me.  And know that I do the same for you.”  He broke off the handshake.  He gave Pugliesi another bow then turned and strolled off toward the door behind held open by the Lodavico.
Pugliesi glared into Anjou-Pues’s back.  Could the man feel the heat of his ire as he strolled so casually from the King’s Meeting Hall.  For him to think that they were now somehow the same.  “On the same side,” as he put it.  If he kept his hands clean and did Henrici good service, then he might be considered a good and faithful servant.  But just that.  
He found Lodavico watching him.  When their eyes met, Lodacvico lifted his chin toward something behind him.  
Pugliesi turned and found Henrici done with his business at his desk.  He was slouching in the high back chair, hands clasped together in front of his chest.  He was watching him.  When his eyes met his, he smiled and gave Pugliesi a friendly nod.  
Pugliesi bowed toward Henrici.  He hurried forward.  His steady march now a quick-step into formation.  No matter the relation from before, it was not good to keep one’s king waiting.  
Pugliesi came to a halt when he reached the side of the desk.  He planted his feet shoulder width apart.  He bent himself in half in a formal bow.  
“My apologies for keeping you waiting, Your Majesty.  I should have not allowed…”  
“Uncle, please…”  Pugliesi looked up to find Henrici getting up from the chair.  He straightened up as the boy came around, arms opening wide.  Henrici came up and wrapped his arms to his side with his.  The boy squeezed tight.  
“We have no need of such formality Uncle.”  He squeezed again.  Pugliesi felt his concern begin to ease.  He started to raise his arms to give him a hug back…
“Not when you are in our presence, certainly.  It is our wish that you speak to us as frankly as you did before.”  
Pugliesi dropped his arms to his side.  Henrici looked up at him.  A question was on his face.  His grip loosened.  Pugliesi stepped back out of his embrace and bowed.  
“You are the Prince of Damatta…”  Pugliesi kept his tone solemn.  
“We were that before.”  
“And now, you are the High King of the Twelve Realms.”  
“Yes.  THAT has changed for us.”  
“I must give you proper respect.  Especially when I am here at your summons.”  
Henrici opened his mouth as if to protest.  He closed it without speaking.  His eyes looked sad for a moment.  He reached out and gave Pugliesi’s arms a gentle shake.  Just as when he was small and wanted a treat.
“Have I erred?”  Pugliesi looked into the boy’s eyes.  Had he missed the opportunity to reconnect with his beloved nephew?  It had been the royal plural.  Used so naturally, when before he could barely get him to speak at full voice without stuttering or hawing about his words.  
“We suppose that you are right.”  He stepped back and clasped his hands behind his back.  “It is not as if you can call us ‘Hen-hen’ anymore, is it?”  
Pugliesi guffawed, then caught himself.  “No, Your Majesty.  That would be…  Inappropriate.”  
“Truly.  And we think that we have outgrown it.  Finally.”  Then, as if reminded of something important, he lifted his chin and brought his right hand out, his finger pointing in the air instructively.  “But when we are alone with you, in private session as we are now, we hope to continue the familiarity and confidence we shared with you in the past.”  
“As Your Majesty commands.”  Pugliesi bowed his head forward.  That was it in a walnut’s shell.  The boy he’d loved and raised for years.  The King he had pledged his undying allegiance to.  Which stood before him now.  Or were they truly one in the same.  
“And to that end…”  
Henrici was moving back to his chair behind the desk.  He nodded toward a set of chairs set aside a few paces away.  Pugliesi moved to grab one and pull it next to the desk.  
“I am…  Adding to your office.”  
“Oh?”  Pugliesi was halfway to being seated when he stopped to regard Henrici.  He was pulling one of the stacks of documents arrayed on his desk in front of him.  
“Yes.  These first…”  He pulled a sheaf of documents clad in a brown leather cover.  He extended it toward Pugliesi.  “And do sit.  We will be here a while.”  
Pugliesi nodded and sat down.  He took the sheaf from Henrici’s hand and began to unwind the stays holding it closed.  “And these are…?”
“Pardons for various people.”  
“Pardons…?”  Henrici was smiling at him.  He nodded toward the sheaf.  He waved his hand at it, like someone giving another a present, waiting to see the reaction when it was opened.  
“Gestures of goodwill.”  Henrici spoke with Pugliesi continued untying the binds on the cover.  “The righting of wrongs.  Relieving unjust punishments.  A way of showing that our reign will be kind and merciful.”  
Pugliesi flipped through the documents, scanning the names.  Some he recognized as people needing redress, for sure.  But as he proceeded, there were others that made his eyes go wide.  And some that brought a frown to his lips.  
“Some of these won’t sit well with your father’s side of the family.”  He straightened up in his chair when he reached the last of the pardons.  “Especially these…  These people were arrested after the coronation.”  He looked up at Henrici.  “After your uncle Otto Boravella was assassinated.”  
“That is the ‘relieving the unjust punishment’ part.”  Henrici shrugged.  His smile faded, as if disappointed his uncle didn’t like the gift as much as he had hoped.  “You don’t need to make a grand pronouncement for all of them, though most should have some public display.  Just make sure they are set free from wherever they are being held.  Before someone decides to implement their own form of ‘justice,’” 
“As your majesty commands, but…”  Henrici raised his hand for silence.  Another sheaf of documents, a twin to the first, was being presented to him.  
Henrici waited until Pugliesi set the sheaf of pardons on the desk an took the second from his hands.  “And these…  Are warrants of arrest and detainer.”  
Again, Pugliesi stopped to regard his nephew.  A faint smile was there, but his eyes were more serious.  Henrici was waiting for him to say something.  Pugliesi decided to oblige him.  
“As the Royal Mayor of the Grand Palace…  Now Royal Palace…  I do not believe that my powers extend to the serving of pardons nor warrants upon individuals.”  One of Henrici’s eyebrows arched up.  It stayed there until Pugliesi added, “Your Majesty.” 
“That is true.”  Henrici gestured toward the sheaf of warrants.  Pugliesi returned to untying its stays.  “That’s why I’m adding to your office the Directorship of the Office of Sundry Matters of the Interior.”  
Pugliesi heard what Henrici said just as he was opening the cover to the sheaf.  It fumbled from his hand to the desktop.  He looked up at his nephew.  He could feel his eyes bulging from his head.  His jaw had fallen to his chest.  
“You…  Want me to be…  Your spymaster?”
“You see, Uncle…” 
“Your chief interrogator and torturer?”  
“Such harsh terms.  What we want…”  
“No!”  
“Uncle.  Please…”  
“I can’t.  I won’t!  I am not suited for such a task.  I…”  
“Listen to our reasons, Uncle.  We choose you…”  
“Choose someone else.  Anjou-Pues.  He’d be good at the job.  I can be Constable…” 
“It is NOT a request, my Lord Mayor.”  
Pugliesi’s mouth snapped shut.  He sucked his eyes back into their sockets.  There had been command in that voice, that tone.  Henrici’s face was hard.  Unyielding.  Determined.  He was a king that would brook no refusal.  
The idea of being the Director of Sundry Affairs terrified him.  But having the office thrust upon him by the boy he used to sing to sleep when he had bad dreams…  One that was so completely…  Different, than before…  That was the horrifying part of this moment.  
“We chose you, Uncle…”  Henrici took a breath and let it out.  “BECAUSE we need Sundry Affairs to change.”  He took another deep breath, then another.  He was a man fighting his agitation.  “We need it to be an instrument of protection for the realm and its citizens.  Not a tool to gain personal power.  We need to use it to unite the Twelve Realms.  Not pit them against each other to make one dominant over the rest.”  
“But mostly.”  Henrici closed his eyes releasing another deep breath.  He leaned across the desk.  He took Pugliesi’s hand in his.  He locked his gaze on to Pugliesi.  
“Mostly…  We made this choice…”  He stopped.  His lips quivered.  His gaze dropped.  “I…  I made this choice…”  He met Pugliesi’s gaze again.  “This choice was made because we need someone in that office that we can trust.  A ‘spymaster’ we won’t have to spy upon.  Someone who will, once those warrants are issued, be on guard for any act of retribution that may be directed toward us, and have the will and determination to stop it.”  
Pugliesi could feel his body trembling.  He hesitated even to breath least the shuddering breath that would come would display his fears.  THe looked at the warrants.  The names written there.  Powerful nobles and distinguished families.  Allies of the Boravella.  By the True God’s Being…  One had the name of the Inquisitor-General of the Church written on it, followed by one of his cousins, a prince of one of the Twelve Realms.  Such people would not meekly go to prison, exile, or face the chopping block.  And even if they did, there would be others to take up their fight. 
He noticed that the charges and specifications were left blank.  A cold lump grew in the midst of his guts.  He forced himself to look his king in the eyes and ask what he needed to ask. 
“The charges against these people.”  He shook the sheaf of warrants at Henrici.  “Would I be expected to investigate them to determine their guilt.  Or, as Director of Sundry Affairs…”  He took a moment to swallow the bitter taste those words left on his tongue.  “Would I be expected to fill them in per your majesty’s desires and…  Locate evidence to support them later?”  
“We expect you, Lord Mayor and Director…”  A foul grimace crossed Henrici’s face.  “To perform your duties and fairly and honorably as you see fit.  Within the guidelines as we have stated for you.”  
Henrici lifted his head.  Pugliesi could hear his heavy breathes coming one upon the other.  “It’s not as if I’ve given you a list of monks and nuns living in convents.  You yourself have spoken on their behaviors, and have wished aloud in our presence in the past that ‘someone’ could prove their criminality.  We have appointed you as that ‘someone.’”  He nodded at the sheaf Pugliesi was holding out at him.  “Now is your chance to reveal the truth.”  
The sheaf suddenly felt like the warrants were written on sheets of lead.  The weight pulled his hand to the desk.  
The boy was right.  All of them were individuals he had railed against at one time or another.  Uselessly, for they were always just beyond the reach of the law.  Always just within the protection of Otto Boravella, whom they all served.  They would stop at nothing at keeping the place of privilege they enjoyed.  Or at getting back at whoever challenged them. 
Pugliesi wondered if what he feared most was, after investigating them, discovering they were more innocent than they appeared.  Or at least not worthy of punishment.  What would he do then, as the Director of Sundry Affairs?  Create the evidence to support his long held beliefs?  The shudder he had forestalled now overtook him.  He let it run its course before facing his nephew…  Facing the king, once more.  
“I…  Will try…  Your Majesty.”  
“We recall, when you taught us archery, you telling us there was no such thing as ‘try.’” 
“I remember that.”  Pugliesi took a breath.  He shook himself.  He embraced his decision…  Or rather, his acceptance, as best he could.  
“I will do…  My best…  Your Majesty.”  
“I can ask for nothing more.”  Henrici closed his eyes took a deep breath and then let it out through pursed lips.  When he opened them Pugliesi could see it.  For the first time since entering the Meeting Hall.  There was…  Something of the little boy he remembered.  The part of him that would sorrow over having caused his uncle grief.  Looking at him now.  
But this time, without apology.  Not this time.  Nor, Pugliesi imagined, ever again.
“And now…”  Henrici pulled himself up and turned toward another stack of documents.  “For the final matter of the morning.”  He grabbed three volumes that were set aside from the rest and moved them to a spot before him.  “One which will take the longest to go through.”
Henrici placed his hand on top of the stack.  Bound they were.  With straps and locks to prevent idle viewing.  He kept his eyes on them as he spoke.  
“We are certain that you have been pondering…  The change in us…  In…  Me.  Since the coronation.”  
“I…”  Pugliesi swallowed.  “Am uncertain as to what Your Majesty refers to.”  
A smile of genuine mirth stretched across Henrici’s face.  He turned to display it to Pugliesi.  
“You don’t do the ‘dissembling courtier’ very well, Uncle.  Perhaps you should spend some time with Anjou-Pues and have him teach you.”  
“Pfah!”  
Henrici chuckled.  He nodded toward the doors to the hall.  “When we saw him stop and talk to you, we imagined his words of congratulations for the subterfuge he believes you crafted for all those years.”  
Pugliesi felt his face screw itself up.  “I’ve…  Heard speculation in that regard.  It was the first time anyone had ever spoken to me directly on it.”  And the last if he had his way.
“It hurts you.”  
Pugliesi looked up.  Even more of “Hen-hen” was there now.
“To think I fooled you for all those years.”
Pugliesi gave a single, simple nod in reply.  
“I am sorry for that.”  The boy suddenly pulled himself together.  He shook his head, as if rejecting an idea that came from the evil flesh shaped by the Creator God that encased the True God’s breath that was the basis of his soul.  “In Perfect Truth, it was those rumors that gave us the idea of making you Director of Sundry Affairs.  When your appointment is announced, those rumors will be come to be accepted as true.  And people will think they have woefully underestimated you.  And…”  Henrici raised his hands from the tomes to shake his finger in the air at Pugliesi.  “They will wonder what other long deep plan you have laid out they might already be entangled in.”  
“I can’t say that I appreciate what such a change of regard might mean for me.  
“But it will be of benefit to you, and by extension, to us.  It will at least give you time to get used to your new office before they think to move against you or us.”  
“However…”  An expression most grave now took hold of Hebnrici.  “To be truly effect in your office you must know the truth behind the matter.  And that truth is contained…  Here.”  He used his hand to pat the volumes before him, the way one might stroke the head of a loyal yet vicious guard dog.  
With a sudden movement, made from a decision to act to Pugliesi’s mind, Henrici spun the top most volume around to face him.  He used his seal ring, inserting its face into the lock and turning it, to free the straps from the lock.  He picked it up in both hands, straps dangling loose, and offered it to Pugliesi.  
Pugliesi took the volume from him.  He looked at it as if hearing the growl from that guard dog.  
“You should know that We’ve issued a proclamation that any who read these volumes are to face immediate execution.  Without review or opportunity for pardon.”  
Pugliesi looked up at Henrici.  His jaw dropped.  
“Uh…  Majesty…?”
Henrici’s eyes narrowed.  Pugliesi kept the volume in his hands, holding it between them.  Then Henrici’s own eyes went wide and he started to nod rapidly.  
“Ah!  Yes, yes!  We’ve added an addendum…”  He was patting the air over the volumes, calming the guard dog down.  “One that gives you special dispensation to read it.”  He started to chuckle.  “Sorry, Uncle.  We should have made that clear before handing it to you.”  
“That would have been…  Helpful.  Your Majesty.”  
“Yes, yes…  It certainly would have been…”  Henrici continued to chuckle.  He nodded at the volume in Pugliesi’s hands.
Pugliesi sighed.  He set the tome on the desk before him.  He set it there as if it might bite him if he handled it roughly.  
He looked up at his nephew again.  The boy’s mirth was fading, though a smile still ghosted his lips.  He made a gesture with his hands for Pugliesi to proceed. 
Taking the uppermost corner of the cover between his thumb and pointing finger, he eased the volume open.  The leather, so stiff and new, cracked and squeaked as if warning him to not look at what was inside.  The pages were stiff, unwilling to bend.  The first was the proclamation Henrici had told him of, warning him to close the volume now.  The second page was the addendum, granting him immunity from punishment, per the King’s order.  The third page…
Pugliesi pulled the volume closer.  It was not written in the hand of a professional scribe.  The writing was tight and neat.  The letters were well-formed, but idiosyncratic.  None of the standard formatting one would expect to see in formal court documents.  
“As commanded by authorities…”  Pugliesi read the opening line softly to himself.  “I hereby account those things in my history that lead to my involvement in the incident that occurred in the Holy Cathedral of Damatta…”  He skimmed forward, then looked up at Henrici.  
“This…  Was written by one of the conspirators.  The one from Senovese that…” 
“Yes.”  Henrici extended his hand.  A royal gesture of encouragement.  “Read on…”  
Pugliesi breathed out, a quavering breath.  He turned his eyes back to the page.  He offered a quick prayer of 13 seconds that the True God would inspire his nephew to not regret his decision to have him read this…

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Walking Rules of the Road during the Pandemic

Walking has been my primary form of exercise for several years now.  I’ve averaged 19,268 steps a day since the start of the year, according to my Fitbit.  That’s a little short of 9 miles a day.  
So when the order to be “Safer at Home” was issued by my state, with the caveat that we could go out for “essential services,” like groceries, or get some exercise, I knew my routine wouldn’t change very much when it came to what I did to stay fit.  
Only it did.
I noticed in the first week of the stay at home order that the number of people walking or running around my neighborhood jumped up.  A few at a time at first, but pretty soon it was getting…  Not crowded.  In the freeway reports they’d probably call it, “busy but moving.”  
There was just more people out there.  And there were times, mindful of trying to keep my distance from people, that is not possible to stay six feet away from other people on the sidewalk.  I decided to opt for a “scoot faster than a virus can catch you” approach.  Moving to the other side of the sidewalk and picking up speed to get past oncoming walkers, or move to one side and hitting the accelerator to pass people in front of me walking slower than I was.  
Things got more complicated the second week, after the government warned people to take the stay at home order seriously and not go to the beach or the park like it was a holiday.  They repeated the warning to keep one’s distance from others.  And later added that you needed to wear a mask outside.  
It was shortly thereafter I noticed it.  One morning, someone wearing a mask was coming toward me.  I was wearing mine.  I moved closer to the right edge of the sidewalk to put as much distance as I could between us when we passed.  
The other person then stepped off the sidewalk and into the street.  He walked around a parked car as I slowed down to watch him.  At a driveway, he cut back onto the sidewalk and got back on the sidewalk.  
He had avoided me.  It took only a moment to realize he was doing it as a social distancing measure, but it still took me by surprise.  There had been an instant flash of, “What do you think is wrong with me?” when he made his move, clearly to stay away from me.  
I kept walking.  I got it.  Six feet is six feet, and a sidewalk was half that distance or less.  
It happened a couple of more times on that walk and I was starting to wonder if I shouldn’t be stepping off into the gutter a time or two.  Sometimes I’d think, “Oh-kay…  This will be my turn to step off,” when I saw someone to coming, only to see them move off the sidewalk well before the point I’d picked to move aside.  
The first time I did move out of the way I was pretty much forced to do so.  It was a couple, walking side by side, taking up the entire sidewalk.  I thought that at some point they’d go single file, like other people had done.  But when they made no indication of doing so, I stepped into the grassy median then into the street.  
As we passed the woman gave me this smile that seemed to say, “I’m so glad you recognized that it was your place to step into the gutter and NOT ours.”  
And there were other times when it was clear I had to be the one to give way.  A parent pushing a baby stroller.  Couldn’t expect them to take that thing four-wheeling over a curb.  Or someone walking two dogs, where one was sniffing a tree on one side of the sidewalk and the other was doing its business in someone’s yard on the opposite side.  With the leashes covering the path like police tape I wasn’t going to cross, I got into the street.
There was one time when me and the other person did a long distance version of you first.  I moved early into the gutter.  Then looked up to see that she had done the same.  I got back off to see her with one foot off the sidewalk to give it up to me again.  I decided to steam ahead forward.  She took the sidewalk and steamed forward herself.  We nodded at each other as we passed.  
So, with the quarantine giving us all more time to think over silly stupid things, I’ve decided to think up what would be good walking etiquette in the time of the pandemic.  I share them with you hear.
Walking Rules of the Road during the Pandemic
(Or, How to decide it’s YOUR Turn to Step Into the Gutter)
First, a definition: “Your Side of the Sidewalk” is the right side of the sidewalk in your direction of travel.  This is the same as how we drive so it should be easy to remember.  Right?  Right.  
Basic Rule: If Your Side of the Sidewalk is closest to the street, and you meet an on-comer during your walk, YOU should be the one to step into street to maintain social distancing.  
Or, put more generally, the person whose Side of the Sidewalk is closest to the street is the one that should give way and step into the street to maintain social distancing.  
Obviously, stepping into the street should only be done when it is safe to do so.  When there is no vehicular traffic that could endanger you.  If there is a median between the sidewalk (those places where they have trees growing or signposts planted), and walking there allows you to maintain social distancing, then it is fine to use the median instead.  
Personally, since its the grassy median in my neighborhood that serves as the most commonly used canine pooping spot, I prefer the street.  
Parties walking together should, when an on-comer approaches, form a single line and then follow the Basic Rule above.  The leader of the line is whoever is ahead at the time the on-comer is spotted.  Groups become a living train or big truck carrying a trailer, following the rules of the sidewalk after that.  
Driveway cuts in the sidewalks should be treated as passing lanes on mountain roads, to go around slower walkers while maintaining social distancing.  
Exceptions to Basic Rule
People pushing baby strollers have the right of way.  This is mainly because they tend to take it anyway, but also because we don’t want to encourage people to take their children into the street.  Children are our future.  It takes a village.  We should make sure these innocent babes are protected.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  
People walking multiple dogs (more than one) are excepted as well.  Mainly because the dogs are moving however they please and almost no one these days seems to take the time to train their pets to heel and walk with them in an efficient organized fashion, but also because we don’t want to encourage people to take their precious fur-babies into the street.  Doggies are our future.  It takes a village.  We should ensure these innocent creatures are protected.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah. 
People with just a single dog should be expected to follow the Basic Rule above.  If you can’t keep a single dog on a leash under control, then you have clearly abdicated your darwinistically derived place as a member of the top species on the planet and don’t deserve special consideration.  
If there is any confusion as to who should be abdicating the sidewalk to the other, then hand gestures should be used to indicate which direction everyone intends to go.  The gesture should be big enough to be recognized and unmistakeable.  Look at the NFL rule on signaling for a Fair Catch for guidance.  The person who makes the strongest, clearest indication of direction first will be allowed to maintain right of way on the sidewalk.  The other person…  Well, if you find yourself in the role of the “other person” more often than not, you just need to be more assertive in general, I imagine.  
I was fully prepare to start implementing these rules on my own this week.  If I did it forcefully and consistently enough, other people would pick up on it and follow along.  Just as I picked up on my responsibility to occasionally step into the street to maintain social distancing.  The rain storm that swept through Southern California removed the necessity of doing so.  During my walks this week I’d had the pathways pretty much to myself.
Yes, I walk even when it rains.  That’s what umbrellas and Tilley hats are for.  
But now that I’ve posted my proposed Basic Rule and Exceptions, I’m hoping everyone will see the underlying logic behind them and adopt them as the most reasonable way to maintain social distancing while keeping from going stir crazy staying inside all the time.  
Or, all this walking will turn out to be a fad for other people and I can just go where I darn well please like before.  Wouldn’t that be nice.