A Dinner at Blackhall

“Well, this is nice,” says the man, looking around the modern décor of the restaurant. “I like what he’s done with the place. That special blend of silver service with a Playboy club of the sixties yanked by the scruff of its neck into the twenty-first century. Still – at least you fit in dressed like that.” he adds to his almost naked companion sitting opposite.

“You know how I feel about clothes. I’m proud of my body, and it’s a statement of status and defiance. I wear nothing, because I fear nothing. Nobody dare attack me, because it is futile.” she replies, looking back at the man who is wearing a tuxedo and black tie.

“And we both know what utter codswallop that is too, don’t we.” he says in a scornful voice. “Even with the protection this place supposedly offers, I can think of at least a dozen ways that your well being could be compromised, and they’re doing amazing things with Kevlar ball gowns these days.”

“Oh give it a rest, will you. You sound like a broken record.” She looks at him exasperatedly. “You’ve just never managed to move in to the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. I look damned good and you know it.”

“Yes, well. Let’s try and move on from what you’re not wearing to why you invited me to have dinner with you tonight. And why you chose here.” he says.

“Yes, well, indeed. I chose here because we won’t be overheard. There’s a conversation I need to have with you that I couldn’t have back at the House. Or in Lorraine, or in Amber, or anywhere else.” she says.

“I see.” he says. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that someone just came nearer to killing you than anyone has since the Ani Erikson’s wedding would it?”

“It might have.” She says in reply. “It occurs to me that if anything should happen to me, the succession in the House is not well taken care of at all. My own direct contribution to the House is negligible. One child out of twelve still active.”

“Yes, but you can’t exactly count the four that are dead.” Says the man. “But true, your one active daughter is not even in the top hundred on the scale we all know and love.”

“Exactly.” she says.

“So we’re back to pussy footing around this old thing again, then?” he asks. “Isn’t it a bit late for this conversation? Like over a thousand years late, perhaps.”

“In all normal circumstances, yes. It would be. But a thousand years ago in your time, our mother was still alive and well, and doing her invariably good impersonation of immortality. As we agreed back then, I was free to marry for love. Duty was well covered by the venerable Mater.” she says. “Patternfall changed all that.” She adds sadly.

“Yes, well. So doesn’t this all seem a bit academic then?” he says, raising an eyebrow.

“Not so much.” she says. “To coin a popular phrase, I have a cunning plan. So cunning, you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox.”

“Really? Has Blackadder only just got to Thelbane?” he asks astonished. “The BBC really does need to give it sales force a wake up call.”

“Not at all. It was just that seeing Sergei talking down that idiot Alaric reminded me of the expression.” she replies. “But anyway, back to my plan.”

“I’m all ears.” He says.

“No, you aren’t you’d look really stupid if you were covered in ears.” she chuckles.

He gives her the look. Everyone knows the look. The eyebrows narrow, and the nose becomes a ski ramp to hell as he peers down it at his subject. His nose was particularly apt for such a look, being as it was his most characteristic facial feature by far.

“You and I.” she says. “We get married and have some babies. I keep the daughters, you keep the sons.”

“Hmm. Not really getting how this helps. Setting aside that fact that we are sufficiently closely related that many people would be screaming in horror at even the thought, there is the small issue of the fact that unlike you, your mother had a lot of issue that stayed in the House, and they all had issue that stayed in the House, with the nett result that there are about a gazillion people who would be way ahead of any children we might make in the House succession.” he says.

“Yes, I know. But you haven’t heard the cunning bit yet.”

“Really. Am I going to like it?”

“I think so.” She pauses for effect. “We go back in time, and have the babies before my first marriage!” she looks triumphant at him.

“That’s it? That’s your cunning plan? Have you been snorting too much of that battle weed that your people jam up their noses before a fight?”

“What’s wrong with it?” she asks, looking offended.

“Well, let’s start with the obvious, which is the going back in time bit.”

“Ohh poo. We go do a deal with Queen Hecuba of the 11th Abyss.”

“Just like that? Have you ever met her?”

“Well, no. Not actually met her. But she’s the one that’s delved deepest into time magics.”

“Yes. Well. That’s it in a nutshell. I’ve not met her either. Almost nobody has. And there’s a good reason for that. You know how Delwin went fruitcake after just doing a very few experiments with Abyss time magic? Well guess what. Hecuba has drunk deeply from that well, and is as crazy as a sack of cats that have been thrown in a lake. There’s no guessing what she would ask as pay for sending us back in time. And even less guessing what she’d ask to bring us back again.”

“We’ll do a deal. We have command of the two greatest military forces in all existence. Between us there can’t be anything she could ask for that we couldn’t come up with.”

“I think you might be ambitious to say that we command the two greatest. Combined, we might be up there, but you should never forget my father, and you should never forget the Inside. And just because there may well be nothing she could think of that we couldn’t come up with, that doesn’t mean we actually should agree to it. She’s probably going to want blood. Lots of it.”

“We can do blood. Hell, even if she wants you to shag her, it’s not that big a burden for you is it?”

“Oh – so you’re pimping out my manhood now, are you sister? Tell you what. For every woman you need me to shag to pull this plan of yours off, I get to pick some guy that you have to let shag you? How does that sound?”

“Do you think that scares me? Every Hell Maid in the House knows that any day she loses a fight, or perhaps only if she loses a bet, she might end up on her back. Hell, they often go into fights with every intention of losing just so that they can get taken by the winner. Why would I not be willing to do anything I ask any of my House to do? Bring them on brother!”

“Sister, you are such a slut. Pater did you no favours when he let Mater have total charge of your upbringing. But anyway, we are off the subject. Back to your cunning plan. It’s not going to work.”

“Why not? We pay Queen Hecuba to take us back a few thousand years Thelbane time, and you give me a baby. Possibly twins to be on the safe side. What’s the problem?”

“The problem dear sister, is that thanks to time flows you’ve spent around 5,000 years, and I’ve spent around 1,000 years valiantly trying to stop ourselves doing exactly that, for all the reasons that Oberon didn’t want his children shagging like farm animals. We have absolutely no idea whether what we would make would be man, woman or monster. There’s every chance it would be uncontrollable. And you say ‘twins to be on the safe side’? What if we get one of each, and they decide to do exactly the same thing we’re talking about doing. You’ve got the seeds of a race of insane uber-powerful freaks, that will destroy everything.”

“Ooh poo. Oberon’s edicts were all about Oberon’s phobias. You’ve been drinking too much of the Amber cool aid. Thelbane Houses have been keeping it in the family since the Ark of Cornelius. Think about it? Three guys and seven women are the parents of the entire Cornelian race? Luna-Lei Jaygirl has that bit right at least. A brother and a sister is the most natural thing in all existence. We will have beautiful, powerful, wonderful children.”

“Beautiful, powerful illegitimate wonderful children. Or had you forgotten that little detail?”

“Not at all. We get married when we get back there. Short term marriage, two children and we’re done. No trouble.”

“Don’t you think Bances is going to notice? You know, like, that we’re kind of ancient, when we turn up at the cathedral?”

“True. We’d have to pay him off too. Maybe you’d better pick him as one of the men I have to shag to pay back you shagging Hecuba.”

“Oh good grief.” He puts his head in his hands. Then he looks up. “There’s just one more problem. And this one can’t be fixed. All it takes is some suspicious minded person to put you in front of a priest of truth and have him ask you to list the order in which your children were born. How are you going to get round that one?”

“Bugger! You’re right. We’ll need the version of me that is resident back then to have the babies.”

“WHAT! You mean we go back in time and I have to knock up the you from back then?”

“No. We go back in time and you have to marry the me from back then. And then you knock me up.”

“I don’t believe you’re even still talking about this. Are you seriously telling me that you’re OK with us going back 5000 years and forcing the version of you that is a fresh faced teenager to marry a version of her brother from what for her is the far future, and have his babies, and then kiss him goodbye, forget him and carry on with the rest of her life like nothing had happened? What about the me that is from back then?”

“You said it yourself. The you from back then went off with Pater. We hardly ever saw you. Avoiding you for like 9 months would be a total piece of cake for the me back then.”

“Hang on a minute? Either this idea is going to go utterly pear shaped and we are about to get lost in the Abysmal voids of time if we’re lucky, or surely you remember this already happening? 5000 years ago, your brother from the future and yourself from the future rounded you up, married you, fucked you and left you. Unless we somehow cause a paradox, every individual lives a linear personal timeline.”

She stands and walks round the table before sitting across his lap and pulling his head so their noses almost touched. “Yes, brother. The memories are fuzzy. I think we did that to me, so that it wouldn’t be obvious until the time was right, which is now that we are actually going to do it. But trust me, we won’t have to hold me down kicking and screaming. At that age, I had the most enormous crush on you, brother. In fact, now I realise, we absolutely will have to futz with my memories. That’s the only way are going to be able to crowbar me off of you again, so I can go back to the life that we all know I have lived so far.”

He looks at her confused. “You mean you…”

“Yes. Always. And somehow, I knew it would eventually happen again in its right time, so I didn’t worry about it. Trust me. We are doing this thing because we have already done this thing, And when we get back and I reveal my long hidden heir to the House, you will be standing beside me. I won’t have to hide my feelings any more. I am taking you as my consort. We did it before, we can do it again. And right now you are going to lay me down on this table and reclaim what was first given to you 5000 years ago.” She kisses him deeply, and the sound of tearing clothes and crashing plates soon gives way to the grunts and screams of a reunion that she had realised was five millennia overdue.