Tote Sharpe would be damn fucked if he would allow another Lane to rule over this great land. No one could tell him that the reign of Malvern had been anything but a bit of Lane puppetry. Oh but they’d managed it cleverly enough. King Bruce II had kept them all unbalanced in his years, and then Lady Etta with all her maneuvering, making it look as though she had her House and pledged Estates firmly behind the General.
He’d been ready then, Tote had, the House of Sharpe had been united, fourteen Estates in their voting bloc, and enough on the fence that the slightest push from him could have brought their votes to his side. General Lane, he’d known, would never let it come to war between the Estates. All it would take would be to stand united until he folded camp. The General was a true Monarchist, anything for the realm. He would have seen that a Sharpe on the throne was better than years of bloodbath. Lady Etta had no other candidate than her husband. With him unwilling, the election would have been won and Tote would have been on the throne right now. But he’d misplayed it. The fucking Lanes.
They watched him pander to the strongest fighting Houses he could muster. The ones with long military traditions and seats on defense committees. But that had never been the kind of battle the Lane’s meant to wage.
The upstart fucking House of Malvern and their fucking money. No history of service, mind you, public or in arms; no place in the Congress of Houses until the last generation, and a bought House at that. Fucking meritocratic monarchy. Pour enough treasure into the coffers of the Kingdom and take your seat at the table.
Tote wouldn’t argue against the system, if taxes must be paid, an assumption he would happily argue against in every session of Congress, then a body should be able to get something in exchange for them. But over generations for fuck sake.
That was the way it worked. Your family labored in an industry, built it, paid its share, continuity over the years, tradition, devotion to a good or service that helped America grow greater. And then to prove that you deserved stewardship of a House, you must prove that the decades and decades of tax you have paid to the realm have come from that single source, not a conglomerate of businesses bought and added to your own. A family could struggle for sixty, seventy, a hundred years, and find their application to stewardship rejected by the Supreme Justice if she determined that the original stream of commerce had been polluted by too many tributaries of outside capital. That was the system’s bulwark against foreign influence in Congress. But Malvern and his sudden riches had jumped over the entire point of the thing.
Any sensible man, having invented and brought to market the first proper home computer would have moved his banking and much of his initial industry overseas. Any sensible man would have harbored the cash thus saved and poured it in equal amounts back into his business and his own pockets. But Malvern had eschewed all sensibility and exposed himself and his young business to devastating rates of taxation at the hands of the Office of the Exchequer. It might have all foundered, the idiot, he might well have lost everything.
Why hadn’t he lost everything? Because he was clever. A clever little shit, that’s why. Because he’d thrown for a long chance. He’d leveraged for capital to keep his business growing, holding his creditors and investors off with promises of unimaginable profits if they could forego dividends and repayment just a little longer, just a little longer.
Meanwhile the OE had pillaged, turning what should have been green ink to red. What was the asshole thinking? they had all wondered. And then the turn. He’d thrown long and won. Without any of the Houses seeing what he was about, he had, in seven years, paid enough into the Exchequer that he could apply for stewardship of his own House. And he’d never muddied the matter in those years. It became clear why he’d never gone to foreign banks for capital or used leveraged capital to pay his taxes.
With only seven years of records to sift, the application was settled in just another two years. Continuity was easily proved, as was the good the company had done for America as a whole, and every cent the OE had taken out had been the product of his own industry. Nine years from a garage in Palo Alto to a House of Congress. Unheard of.
Equally unheard of was the idea that Lady Etta would sacrifice the General’s Kingship for Malvern’s, but she’d done it. And in doing it, in putting the Lane House behind the upstart, she’d undermined all that Tote had built, and tumbled his own claim.
The golden reign of Malvern. What bullshit. It was just more Lane tyranny. They had pillaged the Kingdom for thirty-four years under Bruce II and then extended their time at the trough for nineteen further years by installing their puppet. And now the true stroke of brilliance in Lady Etta’s plan was clear.
The General was still hale and hearty, garlanded in yet more honors and victories after years of foreign adventures. At sixty-nine he was robust and active and never far from the public eye. As King Ben’s chiefest military advisor, he would provide continuity and a strong sense of security. Lady Etta had played the card of Malvern over Lane just so she would be able to place a new Lane over Malvern. It was as if she had always known King Ben would die young.
She had always know. Ha! She’d known. She’d planned the day of it, no doubt. Let no man who valued his head say the word out loud, but Tote wasn’t afraid to think it.
Tote Sharpe cut the head from another rose as he had been doing all morning. He’d come into the garden for some damn air. The palace was stifled with shows of grief. It was as if the Supreme Justice had declared that the throne would go to whomever could best morn the dead King. If that were the standard then Tote would be reduced to the status of a beggar. He had to be there, yes, but he was in a fury every minute he spent with downcast eyes, whispering over the "loss" America had suffered.
When would the Queen come out of her quarters and end this belabored lament so that the succession could properly begin?
No doubt it had begun, but behind closed doors, in broom closets, the toilets. And with not a single word spoken. Looks were being exchanged, but no more. Who will you back?
Will you place a claim?
Might you be with me?
There was so much raising of eyebrows and winking and tips of the head and slight shakes that you would think assignations were being launched moment by moment and that they’d all be in their bedrooms soon, fucking each other heartily.
Let the Queen stop that fucking blubbering so they could start fucking each other in the open. Time for the Houses to start saying what they meant to do and move this damn Election forward. He’d come out into the air where he could drop the mournful air and found the Rose Garden in full bloom. The air wasn’t fresh at all, it was clogged and unbreathable, like choking on a whore’s perfume. They’d let the damn place become overly fecund is what they’d done. A hallmark of the Malverns, nurturing a thing so that it would grown entirely out of order. Oh yes, the display was impressive, but where was the hand of the gardener in all of this? Anyone could pile on the manure and let a garden run riot, but where was the fucking plan? No design, no intent, just unbridled growth.
He’d found a pair of pruning shears in a wheelbarrow. They we’re meant for the cherry trees, long handles and broad blades. He’d scissored them three times, enjoying the slight grate as the flats of the blades slid one over the other. Then he’d snapped them at a pink rose, obscenely spread open, that had thrust itself directly into the footpath. It fell with a fleshy plop onto the gravel. And then there, there was another, jutting up where it didn’t belong. Snik. That one hit the ground heavily, several pedals bursting off when it landed, a scatter of red. And there, those two, what do they think they’re doing there? The blades were plenty long for Tote to deal with those two in one slice.
He’d moved on, stalking the paths of the Palace rose garden, putting it into order so that one could see what one was dealing with. And the deeper he went, the more he cut away, the more clearly he saw that it would all have to come out. Maybe some few of the plants could be saved, made to work in a new pattern, but most of them would need to be uprooted and burned. The ashes would help to make good mulch for a new garden. He could just about see how to go about it.
By the time he went back into the palace, Tote was feeling altogether rejuvenated, and the paths of the garden were littered with hundreds of freshly dead roses.