It was not the first time the Queen’s Knuckles was met with a grave-like silence on what should have been a busy evening. Family matters and emergencies were things that occasionally cropped up. Holidays, too, and other civic affairs did occur, and medical incidents, and so on. Closing up was not something Grace and Rishard enjoyed doing when they could be making money, but they accepted that this was a thing they would have to do now and again and socked away their earnings accordingly.
The horde of Union politicians had been dismissed. The only two left were Stonild Lark (naturally) and Jacques Capet, the latter having just returned from issuing highly specific descriptions to the various MPs regarding what would happen to them if they let slip about that evening’s events to anyone. (The descriptions were even more specific about what would happen if they were so foolish as to, say, chat with a journalist, or a member of the Curlers. Not for nothing was Capet known as a man of great vision and imagination.)
Lark and Capet were seated on one side of a table. Grace and Primus were seated on the other side, feeling like rabbits in the sight of a fox. Primus had never seen a rabbit, or a fox, and was only recently introduced to the concept of ‘fear’, but had this all been explained to him, he would have appreciated the simile. He rubbed his now-bandaged hand. It itched. What an annoying feeling.
“Stop touching it; it’ll only make it worse,” whispered Grace. Primus stopped. It was hard, but he stopped, flexing his fingers to distract himself.
“Primus, please make Prime Minister Lark a Corpse Reviver,” said Grace. Wordlessly, Primus got up to do so. As he assembled the ingredients and poured them into the cocktail shaker, Lark began to speak.
“I’d ask you where it really came from, but a possibility comes to mind.” She had her elbows propped up on the table, in defiance of every etiquette book, fingers steepled. “Harlock’s sister. Dorothy. Odd girl, always smudged with dirt, always smells faintly acidic. I am right, aren’t I.”
Grace nodded. There was no point in denying it. Doing so would only delay the inevitable, and make it worse for all when it did.
“Tell me what you know.”
And so Grace did. She recounted everything she knew from the time Kit and Dot showed up at her door, Primus in tow – every detail they imparted about Primus’ creation, her own experience training him, all to the very moment Grace was no longer able to protect her employee – no, not employee, her charge – against the curiosity of others and himself. By the time she finished, the Corpse Reviver was sitting untouched in front of Lark and Primus was sitting back down, twitching his fingers again and apparently unable to decide whether Grace or Lark was more important to look at.
“Why did you agree to this in the first place?” asked Lark.
“I felt I owed Kit. She was the one who originally had you come here – had the queen come here, gave the place it’s name. It wouldn’t be the Queen’s Knuckles without her. It would still be the Bear’s Hand, like it had always been. Please,” Grace said, gesturing towards the cocktail. “Try it. I taught him how to make it today.”
Lark raised the glass and sipped and placed the glass back down. Grace thought she might have seen a ghost of a grin on the very corners of the Prime Minister’s lips, but she also thought that wishful thinking would do her no good. “Well-executed,” declared Lark. “It does not eliminate the issue. If the city finds out, the newspapers, the churches… Grace, I consider you a friend, but I do not have the ability to keep the pitchforks from your door indefinitely! Especially if I’m no longer in office!”
She continued, after a beat. Grace’s own heartbeat felt like it had stopped. “Besides which, learning how to mix a cocktail is a great deal simpler than learning how to become a fully-functional, law-abiding citizen. How will you ensure that? A pub is a terrible place for that, much as I enjoy this one.”
Primus coughed. He had never felt the physical urge to cough, but he had learned through observation that coughing could also serve as an unobtrusive way to acquire a person’s attention. “I’d like to say some things. Is that all right?” Lark nodded. “Oh, good. Dot taught me a lot during my first 72 days. She didn’t teach me everything, but it would have been more if she had more time. But I think it was a good start to being moral. Don’t kill anyone, don’t take over humanity…”
“And also Kit gave me the most up-to-date copy of the laws of Norland and I should be able to read and memorize it by the morning. I won’t have any problems following the law after that, unless some laws contradict each other. Kit says that is sometimes a problem.” He smiled. He hoped it was a good smile.
” That still leaves the issue of ‘fully-functional.’ Grace, it- sorry, Primus – needs to be socially educated, and frankly, I don’t see how you’ll pull that off without detection. Do you have a notion? Do tell ”
As it happened, Grace did have a notion. She was not keen on said notion, as it would necessitate hiring yet another employee to make up for Primus’ occasional absence along with shelling out for expenses. But needs must and she’d send further bills to her nieces. “Rishard and I have family all over the province. We’ll farm Primus out to them – say, two weeks at a time. In between, we’ll test him out in the pub, and then out in the city when we think he’s ready. Now. What will you want in exchange for looking the other way?”
Stonild Lark bared her teeth. There was a great many to bare.
“Oh, nothing special. But election isn’t far down the track and I may request your sponsorship of the occasional campaign picnic…”
“And perhaps of my dinner parties…”
“And perhaps you can comp my drinks, as well as Jacques’…”
“The rest of those bastards can pay for themselves, of course.” The Prime Minister spread her arms in a gesture of divine benevolence. Grace felt the saliva dry in her mouth and she wondered how much Kit could be charged on her government salary.
Lark snapped her fingers. “Jacques, let the rest of the party know what my verdict is and let your dire warnings stand, if you please.” So he did, and the party was reduced to three. Alcohol was drunk, in moderation, to seal the bargain.
Everything was all right. For the time being.
If you enjoyed the story, please consider throwing a tip my way via PayPal or Patreon. Again, if there’s some little aspect of the world you want to know about, put it in a comment and I’ll see if I can’t write something about it. A new story set in this world will be posted on Tuesday. Cheers!