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A Flight of Friends

Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004


Chapter 4

The Flight of the Zygo Mati


Dan Sewell Ward


Earl and Varenna had spent several more moments together, before striking out on their own, Earl to look up a few of his closer friends and Varenna to drop in on her local, semi-royal relatives. Both were encouraged by the fact that neither of them was alone in their 'minor difficulties' and that this was what the peasants often referred to as "having a bad day." Not being experienced with such happenings in their own lives, they saw the adversities as something rather out of the ordinary and faintly amusing. Or so they told one another.

Earl was walking with a lighthearted step to see a cherished and dear friend, who occasionally worked as a quaint fund raiser for a local and quaint charity, when he began to notice something odd. No matter in which direction he seemed to walk, he was always in the shadows of the village's quaint buildings, while the remaining members of the populace were found exclusively on the other side of the street. Moreover, when Earl crossed the street in order to enjoy the sunshine, a solitary cloud interceded between him and the sun, just as the other side of the street became somehow less shady (perhaps from the reflection off of the cloud). At the same time, the various passersby were going to extraordinary lengths in order to avoid passing by Earl and were ducking abruptly into various shops and stores, one unfortunate fellow mistaking a full length window for a door and crashing (as opposed to walking) through same.

Earl thought the combination of events to be quite strange, but continued on his slightly diminished but nevertheless merry way. Finally, after traversing more shady and quickly deserted streets, he came to the local and quaint Gathered Funds Consortium for Local and Prosperous Charities, Quaint and Otherwise (also known as the GFCLPC, Q and O).

Earl smiled as he approached the door, recalling the delightful times he and his friend, Grant, had spent at Cameseldom, laughing into the wee hours of the morning. Grant, undoubtedly, had the greatest collection of amusing stories of the unfortunate that Earl had ever heard. Even Fantaasia had found Grant amusing and often insisted on inviting him for tea and crumpets.

But just as Earl approached the door, it opened part way -- whereupon a hand reached out with a sign and just as quickly hung it on a small hook on the front of the door. The door then slammed shut. Earl approached the sign rather gingerly, reacting intuitively to the excessive and vigorous shutting of the door.

The sign was one of those clever ones with the hands of a clock indicating when the inhabitants could be expected to return. Only this one had no hands -- they had apparently been recently broken off. Furthermore, a hastily scribbled note had been penciled in as to when the inhabitants could be expected to return. The note read, "Eventually."

Earl straightened up and turned around to face the street. 'Just my luck,' he thought, 'to have missed them by seconds!' At the same time it was not at all clear when they might return. In fact, there was at the present time a great number of things not at all clear to Earl. Nevertheless, our hero was not deterred. Aloud, he said to himself -- the entire populace of the town having removed themselves from a two block radius of Earl -- "Well, no matter. I'll just drop by to see Grant at his townhouse. Hmmm... Let's see now... Where exactly is his townhouse?"

Earl thought for a several moments before remembering that he had never visited Grant at his townhouse, Grant having always made the trip to Cameseldom to see Earl. Let's face it, doing anything at Cameseldom was better than anywhere else, or at least that was what Earl assumed.

He had about decided that he would have to inquire of some passing citizen as to the location of Grant's townhouse, when the door of the Gathered Funds Consortium, etcetera, opened behind him and just as quickly slammed shut again. Earl turned in time to see a hand darting back inside and the door slamming, but nothing more. Then he noticed an additional sign swinging on the small hook. It read, "Mr. Razer is convalescing out-of-the-kingdom."

This note finally hit home. Earl was genuinely shocked! He hadn't even known that Grant had been ill!!

Earl turned and walked away, saddened by the news of his dear friend. For a few moments, he simply wandered, his purposeful stride of a few moments ago long gone. Street after street fell beneath his random walk, as he contemplated, in his own limited philosophical way, the whims of fate. Then intuition again raised its subtle little head and he realized that maybe, just maybe, something significant was about to happen.

It began as a low noise, a bit like laughter but with more intensity. There was also the rushing of wind -- any of several kinds. Then suddenly, Earl was nearly knocked down as the Zygo Mati made its most brilliant fly-by to date. The aerial maneuver had been neatly executed by a long sweeping glide along the quaint street and had managed to roar by Earl sufficiently close enough to singe a feather or two, but without actually colliding with anything.

Unfortunately, as streets in quaint villages tend to do, this one ran directly toward a small, square plaza wherein the local populace had voted several decades ago to erect a clock tower, several stories higher than the surrounding buildings. It seemed clear that the Zygo Mati had not fully accounted for the partially constructed clock tower and flew directly into the stone edifice.

Fortunately for the Zygo Mati, the citizens had decided the money to build the clock tower should come entirely from gifts and donations. Inasmuch as the tower was to be a mark of respect from the citizens for their beloved town, it was felt that that no taxes should ever be levied in order to complete its construction.

When the local fund-raisers led by Grant Razer had visited Cameseldom during the onset of the fund-raising drive, Earl had been quite generous. His first thought was to fund the total construction costs. However, as Grant pointed out with great delicacy, the expenses of the fund drive alone would, according to his estimates, constitute about three-fourths of the total cost of the clock tower. Just as gingerly, Grant pointed out that Earl's intended donation would only be enough to fund one fourth of the “total construction cost,” i.e. the cost of the tower itself.

Such might have been bad news to many an Earl, but our boy had hit upon a brilliant idea. He would fund the construction of one wall of the tower, and leave the other three walls to the remaining populace. This way, he thought, the presence of a single wall would be an embarrassing inducement for the townspeople to rally about and ensure that the other three walls were built.

As it turned out however, the other walls were never quite finished. And in fact this state of affairs had continued for over two decades after "Earl's wall" had been raised. Accordingly, the clock tower into which the Zygo Mati flew headlong, had only Earl's wall to contend with, the other walls never having been built due to a severe lack of fund raising success.

As the Zygo Mati blasted into that single wall, the wall disintegrated in a cloud of dust and collapsed in its entirety into a mound of rubble, filling the square-shaped plaza with below-grade debris.

As one might have guessed, it turned out that the construction materials used in Earl's wall had been of an inferior grade. This proved to be fortuitous as well for the Zygo Mati, since the poorly built tower wall constituted no significant threat to any flying object impacting upon its surface. In fact, it had become something of a local, quaint mystery as to how Earl's wall continued to defy the law of gravity and stand of its own accord considering its exceptionally poor construction. Many a bet had been lost as, miraculously, the tower wall defied the odds and stood for almost two decades.

Appropriately, it was the Zygo Mati who occasioned the final destruction of Earl's wall. Just as ironically, there was not a single outstanding bet in force at the time, surely a sad commentary on the townspeople's faith in the future.

For Earl, however, the abrupt collapsing of the wall and his dream of encouraging the townspeople to contribute something was the greater shock. In fact, the day's general run of collapses in Earl's life was beginning to take its toll . There are some things that one can simply not ignore. A collapsing clock tower is but one of many such events.

Earl turned to see if anyone else had seen the clock disaster, but no one was in the street. He began to run back along his previous route and then up another street, looking for someone. Anyone! Soon he turned up yet another street. And another. Until finally, upon turning one more corner, he again discovered people. He stopped abruptly as he came upon several souls going about their daily lives, more or less in their typical quaint ways, and as if they were oblivious to the clock tower wall's recent fate.

But when they saw Earl, they began to scramble for cover. One individual was quite close, however, and had little chance for a quick detour. The fellow had been walking along a long expanse of barren wall (barren save for an occasional graffiti decrying the lack of chickens in every pot). Thus there was no place to turn for the unlucky passerby. Earl was upon him immediately.

"The clock tower has just been destroyed!" Earl shouted to the man. "A great tragedy!"

The man looked at Earl, at first, with a sense of abject terror, then with the slow dawning of an idea, and finally the random grin of someone with severe mental incapacities.

As the grin became even broader and more incomprehensible, Earl looked closer at the man. 'Totally mad,' he thought. 'This must be the unfortunate former Member of the Prince's Advisory Staff who was reported to be deaf and mute, with a high probability of being dumb as well.'

Earl turned and passed him, looking for someone else to report his terrible news. Meanwhile the man's grin slowly turned to a relieved smile, framed with small beads of sweat. Earl began to run, searching for an undeserted street.

Within a mere two blocks, Earl was able to find his victim, the notorious and lame Beggar Lady. The woman was painfully dragging her mutilated left leg, her disfigured body was hunched over, and her face was carrying the essence of utter hopelessness. Hearing his footsteps, she turned for a quick alm or two, only to stop in her dragging track upon seeing Earl. Her face dropped the essence of utter hopelessness and took on a version of wholesale panic, while she turned again and attempted to make her getaway dragging her mutilated right leg. 'Oops,' she thought, 'it's the left leg, dummy!'

"Beggar Lady!" Earl called out.

Seldom did anyone ever speak to BeLa. At first, she was left adrift at this singularly extraordinary event, not knowing just how to handle the development. She considered not standing for such treatment, but wasn't sure that she was allowed to stand. Or on which leg.

As Earl came up to her, he asked, "What is wrong with everyone? The clock tower has been destroyed! Yet no one seems to care."

"Alms?" BeLa's voice was plaintive and expectant.

Earl was now beginning to think. "As a matter of fact, no one seems to care about a lot of things."

"No alms?" Disappointment now colored her well-practiced voice.

"You know?" Earl said, "Now that I think of it, everyone seems to be avoiding me."

"A small alm, perhaps?"

Earl looked directly at BeLa, "Why is that do you suppose? Why doesn't anyone want to talk to me?"

"A partial alm? An insignificantly small...?"

Earl grabbed the beggar lady's ragged and misshapen shoulders. "Tell me! What is going on?" When BeLa only looked horrified, he added, in a much lower, controlled tone of voice, "If you do not answer me, I will be forced to have your fingernails removed one at a time, your body keelhauled on the nearest sunken vessel, your hair converted to a termite condominium..."

"No, no!" BeLa suddenly found her voice, "You mustn't go to any trouble."

"Your legs skinned in one inch vertical strips, your arms lengthened by the simple expedient..."

"I'm yours to command, oh Great Earl!" BeLa was not sure Earl could or would deliver on his threats, but somehow it seemed that the consequences were sufficient to override any lack of probability on the threat being carried out. There was also the fact the local, quaint members of the Torture Society might be willing to do volunteer pro-bono work, even for a recently 'diminished' earl.

Earl made it as simple as possible for the beggar lady, "Why will no one speak to me?"

'Oh wonderful!' BeLa thought, 'a question with an answer he is certain to find disagreeable.' But she persevered. "I'm sorry, Great Earl, and please realize that I had nothing to do with this. I am in fact a victim myself."

"A victim of what?" Earl's voice had developed a distinct edge to it.

"I fear my most glorious Earl, Knight of the Skewed Table, righter of wrongs, friend to beggars, worshipped by..."


"The 'Shunning'. I hope you're not displeased."

Earl was dumbfounded. "The shunning?"

"Capital 's', dearie," BeLa corrected.


"'Fraid so."

"What in the world is 'the Shunning'?"

BeLa related the agonizing, terrifying facts as gently as possible. "It's like nobody really wants nothin' to do with you. It's not like you have halitosis or body odor. But if they talk with you, you might ask them for a favor and they don't want that. Plus which they ain't too excited about hearin' 'bout your problems."

Slowly the implications found their way through the rainforest to Earl's consciousness. "No one is my friend any longer?"

"Wouldn't count on it, dearie."

"My community has failed me?"

"Not exactly. More like, this here place ain't what you'd call 'community'. They might call it that, but it ain't."

"How can you say that?"

"Community is when you knows some dirt on them and they knows some dirt on you -- kind of a 'mutual deterrence' or ‘mutually assured damage' thing."

"What's a mutual... whatever?"

"Beats me." BeLa shrugged her shoulders, and then continued, "But your problem is they knows the dirt on you and you don't knows nothin'."

"But my friends, my associates... They are of royal blood!"

"Ain't nothin' wurse for royalty than failed royalty. Like it sets a bad example."

"I'm a bad example?"

"And with minimal resources. Let's face it: What can they get from you now? You ain't got nothin' left wurth gettin'."

"This is terrible!"

"Trust me, dearie. It can get wurst!"

"I must talk to someone!" Then noticing the quizzical look on BeLa's face, he added, "Someone in authority." When her expression didn't change, "Someone who can understand my situation." Still nothing. "I mean... Someone in whom I can confide..." And yet more nothing. "Never mind."

With that Earl walked off with singular purpose, clear in his mind where he must now go. Away from BeLa. After that, he was not so certain. But first things first! Get away from this beggar! Her status might be contagious!

Intent upon his short-term mission, he never heard BeLa's last request: "How about a couple of alms for the consultation?"


Earl walked for several blocks, while he cleared the immediate environs of BeLa. Then, suddenly, Earl knew what he must do next. He must speak with the local Flock Leader of Erstwhile Ecclesiastical Consortium of Earldom, also known by its acronym. For Golda, the current Flock Leader had been Earl's friend since his first baby tooth. There was no one who could be better counted on to counsel Earl in his time of tribulations. Or, if nothing else, to simply be his friend. Earl fairly flew to Golda's local cottage. (His flight, in turn, causing a fair conflagration of townspeople scurrying out of his path.)

When Earl arrived at the cottage, he slowed down, breathed a sigh of relief and, knowing of his assured welcome, walked up the path with more peace in his heart than he'd had for a long time. Like all day. For here, there would be refuge. The old oak front door, for example, he immediately recognized. He had in fact, actually visited here when he was very small.

And now he was back, once again before the old oak front door, with all its comfortable memories. It was a return home, a return to a place of refuge, a port in an angry storm, a sanctuary for sorrowful souls -- inviting, comforting, and promising of solace. Apart from the relatively minor fact that it had been nailed shut, it offered refuge to the refugee. Fortunately for Earl's optimism, he saw that it had been nailed shut for a long time. And not just since his recent difficulties.

Also, there was a small arrow pointing to the left and slightly downward. Earl looked left and slightly downward to the path leading around to a side door. Dismissing the possibility of going downward, he made the clever deduction expected of him and went confidently to the side door. It was not nailed shut, nor locked. Actually it was leaning on its hinges rather haphazardly. Earl took its condition to be inviting, and stepped inside without any further hesitation.

It was a typical waiting room, with a small divan, inadequate lighting and a small cord hanging from the ceiling which either announced the caller, or called the faithful to services (whichever seemed appropriate at the time). (It was not real clear which time was now appropriate.) The room contained but one bright spot: the Lady Varenna. She was sitting on the small divan, looking bewildered, and then surprised by Earl's entrance. His own mood lightened as he recognized her.


Varenna smiled. Or tried to, considering the circumstances. "Hello yourself. What brings you here?"

"Just looking for an old friend to talk with." And for a moment, his voice betrayed his true emotions. "I've really been needing to talk to someone who is still a friend."

"Same with me. My so-called relatives were a bit less than friendly."

"Must be some sort of virus."

"If it is, it's contagious as hell."

"You may be right."

"What about him?"


"This Golda fellow. I've never met him. I just figured he couldn't very well turn me away."

"I wouldn't think so," Earl replied. "He was always kind to me when I was young."

"Let's hope he's still kind."

Earl decided not to risk commenting on Varenna's last statement. Instead he just stood there.

After only a moment's hesitation, Varenna moved over to make room on the divan. The divan, however, had been built to easily accommodate 1.8 normal sized persons, or 2.0 persons who were very much enraptured with one another's body. Inasmuch as Earl and Varenna were too shy with one another to be so enraptured, Earl ended up sitting with only a portion of his body on the divan. As they each maneuvered to accommodate the other, both smiled self-consciously. It quickly became obvious, however, that comfortable was not a word normally associated with this divan, at least when two people were attempting to sit on it. Perhaps, not even one. Eventually, more-or-less in unison, they gave up the quest.

Once the amenities had been dispensed with, both sat in silence for several moments. Then Earl asked, "Did you announce yourself?"

"Yes. The chambermaid went to tell him I'm here."

"Oh? Why didn't you use the bell ringer?" When Varenna only looked blank, Earl stood up and grabbed the cord. "I used to love to pull this thing," he laughingly said. Varenna smiled in sudden understanding, just as her new guide pulled the cord to demonstrate. But instead of bells calling the faithful or chimes announcing the bell ringer, a small portion of the ceiling came down with the cord, directly onto Earl's head. For a moment, he just stood there, as Varenna debated in her mind whether to laugh or cry. Then without acknowledging anything out of the ordinary, he dropped the cord and sat back down.

On cue, the chambermaid, a lady in her youthful years of something on the order of two hundred and ninety-five, came back into the waiting room. "His Leadership will..." (a quick breath to keep the air flowing)... see you now." Then the chambermaid looked at the portions of ceiling on the floor, overlaid by the cord which Earl had quickly dropped. Because of her stooped over condition, the maid was unable to verify the ceiling as the source of the mess on the floor and simply had to make a guess. Or rely on faith. Or perhaps dismiss it from her limited-resources mind. Meanwhile, Varenna, without a word, slipped through the door to the inner sanctum. Earl, considering the possibility of punishment for his accident, slipped in as well, following Varenna.

They found themselves in a small dining room, which had not been used as such for about fourteen years. Varenna glanced around the room and then at Earl. Earl smiled in apology. Varenna smiled back with a bit more gusto and Earl took that as permission to stay with her. Together they walked across the room to the open door on the right and peered into the next room.

Golda was more robust than his chambermaid. His physical health had not deserted him, even though perhaps some of his other faculties had. But he still had his manners. "Come in, come in," he enthusiastically responded to their tentative approach. "I hope you've not been kept waiting long. It takes such a long time for Gargle to make it from room to room. Sometimes, my flock loses faith and leaves without seeing me."

Golda chuckled to himself -- he dearly loved that bit of humor. Golda waved Varenna to a chair and then turned to Earl whispering to him as if they were both privy to some great conspiracy, "Lovely woman, lovely. I'm sure everything will be fine." With that he returned to his own chair and sat down.

Earl allowed himself to sink into the only other chair in the room, not quite understanding what was happening. But inasmuch as he had been in that condition for most of the day, he was fast becoming comfortable with it. This time, he just waited for what would happen next.

Varenna looked at both the men, who were patiently and gallantly waiting for whatever one patiently and gallantly waits for. Once she realized that it was up to her, she said, "Why don't I start?"

"Excellent, excellent," Golda replied, "Always give the little lady the first opportunity, I say. It's an old habit of mine. Never speak when the lady wishes to be heard. Being the gentler of the race, the lady is always given her due in my house. Yes sir! Never wish to interfere in that regard. An old habit of mine, I suppose, but bear with me. Been with me for years." For just a moment he hesitated, while he took a deep, replenishing breath. Then, "Long as I can remember, it's been that way. Yes sir... long as I can remember...." He hesitated again, trying to remember something.

Varenna grabbed the brief window of opportunity. "Things have not been going well lately."

"Ah yes," Golda interrupted, "Such is life. A little bad with the good, a little rain with the sunshine, a little child with the..." Golda trailed off, wondering what he was saying.

Varenna sensed she would have to leap in at every indrawn breath of Golda. "This day, in fact, has been terrible. I've lost so much..."

"Never say lost, my child! Nothing is ever lost. Perhaps misplaced. Or maybe... temporarily set aside. Or forgotten. Could be stolen. Could be at some lost and found. Maybe a pawn shop. But never lost."

"But you don't understand..."

"Marriages are like that. The love between a man and a woman is sometimes misplaced. Or temporarily set aside. Or forgotten. Or stolen. Maybe at a pawn shop."

Varenna continued to plow forth with her attempt at communication. "I independently owned in my own name, before my marriage, six separate and quite luxurious mansions."

Golda, in turn, continued to plow his own, strange furrows. "Home is where the heart is, you know. Where marriages can flourish. In a mansion or without. Many mansions or few. Marriages..."

Finally, Varenna was able to blurt it out. "And within the space of a few hours, they're virtually gone!"

"But who needs them, right?" Golda smiled his most compassionate smile.

Varenna missed his smile, her mind on other things. "I'm informed that my ice castle in Greenland has melted because of some 'greenhouse' thing..."

Golda was now on a roll. All the stock answers came easily for him. For example: "One must never let the coldness come into a marriage..."

Varenna was now ignoring Golda and simply unloading. "My mountain chalet had been declared a "UV" hazard because of a local ozone hole..."

"Oh," Golda said, rather sheepishly, "I'm afraid I can't recommend IUV's myself... You understand. The church?"

Varenna didn't understand. She had reached her traumatic climax. "And I suspect that it's all the doing of my husband, with whom I've recently become separated. Suddenly, my credit, my social standing, everything is gone!"

"Ah yes, it was a wonderful one!" Golda smiled, reminiscing. "Gone with the Wind. Or left dangling in the wind. Or A Wayward Wind. Or Wind out of Java." His smile turned to a perplexed look. "Or perhaps some other wind."

Varenna stopped her own train of thought, grasping for what Golda was saying. "What are you trying to say?"

Golda turned to Ear, thinking that Varenna, being the female, was simply confused. Gently, he asked, "Are there any children?"

Earl was bewildered himself. "Where? In the chalet?"

"Oh, I see it all now," Golda responded, turning to each of them in turn. "There is just no communication is there? Didn't know you had children, eh what? Forgot to tell him, did you dear lady?" Folding his hands, Golda added, "It's essential that you talk to each other you know. Communicate. Let each other know what's happening in your lives. Tell each other about children. It's so important!"

"But..." Varenna said, "He knows nothing about it."

"Which is precisely my point, little lady. You should have told him," Golda chided. "There is no excuse for withholding anything." Then to Earl, "And you must listen, open your heart, bar nothing that your love wishes to tell you."

"I don't understand," Earl said, total bewilderment written on his face.

"Sir," Varenna said to Golda, "Please try to understand. I've lost my home; my position is in jeopardy..."

Golda's voice took on a dismayed air as he turned to Earl. "Don't tell me that you've thrown this darling little lady out of your home!"

Earl gagged, "Me?"

Varenna rushed to his defense. "He didn't do anything!"

"I just lost everything myself," Earl added!

Suddenly the light dawned in Golda's mind. About 10 watts worth. A light of sorts. "Ahhhh. Now I understand! You've both lost your happy home!" When neither Earl nor Varenna could understand quickly enough to be able to reply, Golda charged ahead. "But such difficulty is no reason to fall out of love!" Suddenly their understanding seemed even less, so Golda continued, driving each point home.

"Encountering life's little difficulties is no reason to break apart. Everyone goes through hard times. Even the church. You may have heard that there is a schism now: four or five factions claiming popes, alternate popes, sub-popes and anti-popes. Even a pole or two. But just because you've run upon hard times is no reason to split. You must not let the splits in the church justify divorce. Just because two people are going down opposite paths, does not mean they should bail out of a marriage made in heaven."

"No, no," Varenna intervened.

Golda smiled and hushed her with his finger. "All we have to do is have one of you switch around and forget your own path, your own selfishness. Or, if you like, both go on a path that neither wants -- a true marriage of like minds."

"We're not on a path," Earl muttered.

"Wonderful!" Golda replied. "Then you've nothing to lose. Just give in to one another and you'll once again find your love. And your marriage will blossom! And bloom! And... Even grow."

"BUT WE'RE NOT MARRIED!" Varenna shouted.

"It's not too late," Golda reassured her. "Forget your selfish desires to follow your so-called destiny. Instead, go to confession and repent. Say four hundred and forty times: 'Way-to-go-Prince-of-the-People!' Then simply leave a generous contribution in the offertory, and be assured that remarriages are even less expensive than marriages."

"Less expensive?" Varenna muttered.

"We use day-old flowers," Golda replied.

"But what of my friends?" Earl demanded.

"And we don't invite friends," Golda was quick to add. "They're usually part of the cause of the divorce anyway." Smiling, the leader of the flock stood up. "I'm so pleased and so totally confident that things are going to work out now for both of you. Just don't let your own destinies get in the way of making the marriage work. Sacrifice! That's the key! Better to be unhappy together than happy apart! Trust me on that."

"But," Earl tried to interject, "We only just met at the bank, where..."

"Oh no!" Golda was adamant. "Let's not start on the banks. Every church is bound to have an occasional banking scandal. What do you expect with all that money flowing around? But we must not lose faith. We must not let hard times detract from our tithing. All of us must pull together and keep supporting our faith. For without everyone contributing, the church would be nothing."

Varenna got up, still bewildered, but now beginning to recognize the inevitable. "I'm leaving," she muttered to no one in particular.

Earl still hadn't made the leap into understanding. "But what about all of my friends, my business...? That's why I'm here!"

Golda, now starting to push them out, replied, "Make a friend of the church. It will never forsake its benefactors." Then as an afterthought and under his breath, "As long as they continue to benefact, of course."


Earl let himself be shown outside, Varenna holding his arm and guiding him while Golda pushed. When they were alone, she continued to hold him. Staring straight ahead, she said, as gently as she could, "They're gone, you know."

"Who's gone?" Earl asked, even though he already knew.

"Our friends. They've written us off."

"No, no!" Earl pleaded, "Not really..."

"They were never really our friends, I think. It was our titles and our money that they befriended. It was the power that we could give them that they nurtured."

Earl finally got it and then promptly lost it. "OH NO!! I CAN'T STAND IT!!! I CAN'T STAND IT!! IT'S JUST TOO MUCH!!"

Varenna grabbed him. "Take it easy! Take it easy! It's okay. I'm here!"

Earl stopped his rampage as soon as he had started it. Then with calm descending over him, he said, "It's okay. I'm all better now."

Watching him, she asked, "Would you like for me to be your friend?"

Earl considered the offer, for the first time in his life, looking at the possibility of ulterior motives. "But I don't seem to have a lot of offer you."

"Maybe that's not important to a friend," Varenna suggested.

"Possibly," Earl replied, considering the radically new idea. Then, in stages, he replied with increasing confidence, "Yes. I think I would like being friends."

"So would I," Varenna answered. She smiled.

Earl felt the warmth of Varenna beside him and began to feel better. And as the good feelings sprouted, he found his optimism, still intact, in a little used corner of his being. Admittedly, it was cowering in its corner in an apparent blind terror. But it was not yet defeated.

"Hey!" Earl announced, his optimism returning, "Things aren't that bad."

Trying to help him, Varenna confirmed, "Of course not."

"I still have my loving and devoted family!"

"I still have my husband!" Whereupon she hesitated, "I think."

"We still have our health!"

Dismissing her previous concerns, "Not to mention our titles!"

"Calm seas, warm weather..."

"Beneficial tides..."

"And," Earl added with Varenna joining in harmony, "A kinder and gentler Prince of the People."

They both smiled. Then Earl added, "That has sort of a catchy tune to it."

"You know, you're right! We just have to look on the bright side. Look for the silver lining!" Then an intriguing idea hit her. "Perhaps one to match my diamond tiara."

Earl was more than agreeable. "Why not?"

"Shopping is the key!"

The non-sequitar caught his attention. "Shopping?"

But she was in her old paradigm now. "If only I could straighten out the thing with my credit cards!"

"Maybe..." Earl replied, not quite convinced of Varenna's latest 'truth'.

Then Varenna's face lit up. "Why don't we try bartering? Give them something other than money."

Earl suddenly stiffened. "You don't mean...?"

"No." Varenna was very adamant about it. Ignoring his "Oh", she quickly clarified her idea. We give them some of our valuables."

Earl agreed. "Maybe I could give them my land or my castle."

"Or even your title!" Varenna laughed and Earl joined in.

Then Varenna became more practical. "Why don't we see if we can rustle up something to trade for food. Then we can meet again, later, for a light-hearted dinner."

"Good idea! A rendezvous!"

"Wonderful! How about that charming plaza with the clock tower?"

"Earl's enthusiasm was suddenly dashed. "The clock tower?"

"Of course! That wonderful little square with the one wall tower. Such a strange little piece of architecture!"

Earl chose his words with care. "We might want to choose somewhere else. I understand they're doing a little renovation on the clock tower right now..."

"No matter! Why not meet outside the local pub?"

"Ah yes! The quaint one!"


"See you soon!"


With the enthusiasm of teenagers, Earl and Varenna strode off in opposite directions (due primarily to the fact that neither of them had any idea of where they were going -- a condition often attributable to teenagers). Both were nevertheless fully charged for whatever fate had in store for them. Considering their day so far, their enthusiasm could only be viewed as... well... strange.

Or perhaps weird.

No. More like strange.


Back to:

Chapter 3 – The Friendly Banker

Forward to:

Chapter 5 – The Apothecary


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