Nautical Note: When there is an eddy in the current, it is like a hand reaches and pulls you in an unexpected direction. When sailing, you can find yourself being inexplicably pulled off course, or pushed forward in a most unexpected way.
Bartlett Crowe laughed out loud. The after party he and Russell were hosting for the Friends of Fishers Renaissance Faire was in high gear. When Bartlett had decided to move his court from Indianapolis, there had been some concern. But the King and his partner, Russell Edgington had been delighted with Fishers. It was convenient to the city and their interests. It was still relatively lightly populated. The standard of living was more than adequate. The town had been written up as one of the best cities in the United States by Forbes Magazine. And every year there was a Renaissance Faire that drew performers from across the country. For Bartlett it was a grand time – a chance to dress as he once had – without drawing too much scrutiny. Bartlett was well aware that he showed well in Tudor dress and hose.
Because the Faire proper was held during daylight, Russell and Bartlett had decided to become primary sponsors. It provided them the excuse for their annual party. They paid the players to stay the extra night and perform for the Kings and their guests. Last year the jousters had shown up and given their entire routine on the field within the royal compound under special lights.
October could be a dicey time of year in Indiana. But the past few years the party had enjoyed perfect fall weather under starry skies.
Bartlett turned to look at Russell. They had now been married six years. It seemed like only yesterday. Bartlett found himself thinking about how quickly their time had passed. Each day they seemed to find something else about each other that was new and wonderful. Sometimes it was a mutual discovery. Sometimes it was a sharing of some small thing that one of them had experienced over their long, long lives.
Unlike most political marriages between monarchs, theirs was based on mutual attraction. When Bartlett was feeling particularly sentimental, we would tell Russell he was almost sure it might be love. And Russell would roll his eyes and make some comment about figuring out whether they were Kings or Queens.
During the first few years, they had kept human pets. It was their habit and almost expected of men of their rank. But once the Federal Bureau of Vampire Affairs had organized the donor pool, both men had decided to become ardent supporters. No more private donors or the risks that came with it. Instead they made arrangements for a carefully screened procession of young men who arrived, fulfilled their duty, and left. Bartlett and Russell found the arrangement convenient. It also eliminated any lingering concerns about jealousy or possessiveness between them.
As vampire, they were by nature possessive. While they had taken care not to feed too often from the same donors, it had been inevitable that there would be some misunderstandings. Or the donors themselves would become problematic; becoming too attached to one man or the other. Now the distraction of those conversations was at an end, and their relationship had blossomed without the stress.
Russell saw his partner watching him and detached himself from the Mayor and his wife. He grabbed a second glass of Royalty Blended from the waiter that stood ever ready at his elbow and walked toward the taller man.
Bartlett looked wonderful under the lights. His blond hair shone like a bronze helmet. His beautiful, strong face mellowed with a smile. It was that special smile that was Russell’s alone. Bartlett stepped forward to meet Russell halfway and held out his hand. Then he drew his partner to him for a kiss. Russell’s arm slipped around Bartlett’s waist as he handed him the goblet. Together, they turned toward their guests.
“It is a perfect night. Another triumph.” Russell smiled and sipped.
“Yes. We must remember to reward our day men. They worked exceptionally well with the E(E) E people. This year is even better than last. The Mud Wrestlers were particularly well received.”
Russell looked at the stage area. Guests were sitting on benches, listening to ribald humor and clearly enjoying the simple, uncomplicated humor that was slapstick. “There was a suggestion that next year we ask that guests donate, and that all the money be donated to the local food bank or some other good cause.”
Bartlett wrinkled his brow. “I really am not sure about that idea. This is supposed to be a pure party to thank everyone who took part in pulling the Faire together.”
“And an excuse for you to show off your rather lovely legs.” Russell smiled at his consort.
“Well, yes. That too.” Bartlett squeezed Russell. “But seriously. I think we can come up with a different event that can support charity in a more straight forward way. Maybe a ‘Stuff a Bus’ event or ‘Match the Donation’ thing. I just don’t want to lose the whimsy because people feel that they need to pay a price for admission.”
Russell smiled. “Of course, Buttercup. As you wish.”
Bartlett laughed out loud. “Oh grow a set!” Bartlett stepped away from Russell and took his hand. Together they walked toward the pond that sat on the property. They had discovered they both loved lake fishing. So the pond had been stocked with bass and pike. They stood watching the ripples that the aeration fountain made on the water surface.
“Have you read the latest numbers from the Indiana plants?” Russell didn’t make eye contact. He kept his eyes on the moving water.
“It is intolerable. How can we maintain acceptable profit margins when the cost to ship is escalating? That bastard de Castro will kill us all.”
“I agree. There is a new report you’ll see Monday morning comparing transportation costs. We could ship through the Great Lakes, but we’ll end up on rail or truck to get to the seacoast. And with the markets in Asia, we end up the long way around.”
“Not to mention that even if we do go the Suez route, it’s a veritable shithole of pirates and scum. We have to have access to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.“ Bartlett finished his blood in one gulp. He looked behind Russell to gauge the distance between themselves and their guests. “You know we can’t be the only ones hurting. Isaiah has our problem in spades. With the auto manufacturing he’s doing for Japan, he has got to be choking on this. It’s not our fault de Castro has been bankrupting himself on those stupid casinos. And he’s not smart enough to figure out that Louisiana is a treasure trove of oil and natural gas.”
Russell nodded. “God only knows when he received his education, if at all. As far as I can tell, he was the product of some inbred Spanish noble house who valued lisps and bad teeth. He could make something of himself, but he refuses to see the world that could be. He just revels in the political back biting of the past.”
Bartlett looked across the water, his gaze on the horizon. “We have such opportunity. We can be so much more now that we aren’t forced to live in the dirt and hide our faces. Why are we still surrounded by these hold-overs? It’s like living in a bad Hollywood movie. Have you seen the cape? What is that all about?”
“Oh I don’t know,” Russell said, leaning toward his mate. “He might make someone a good Queen. He thinks he had the fashion sense for it.”
Bartlett shuddered dramatically. “All he needs is that shoe-black slicked back hair and the oily voice. Oh wait… he does have that!”
The monarchs laughed. But then they took a more business-like stance. “You know it’s not really funny. Everything we do is so much more public. You have a joker like that running around, it hurts us all. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously. And with the government willing to believe that we glamour our way to our fortune, or that we’re resorting to some nefarious plan, it’s just all the more pressure. And now we prey on each other, trying to financially cripple our own kind? We should be working on the same side. Not feeding into petty jealousies.”
“But how are you going to convince someone like Count Chocula to step up to the board room? He barely understands the part humans must play in all of this. He certainly doesn’t respect them. He acts like we are still in the crypt.”
Bartlett turned back toward their guests. “We really should rejoin the party, darling. It’s getting late and the local folks will be leaving soon. Besides, we’ll have an opportunity to sound Zorro out at the upcoming summit in Nashville.”
Russell stepped forward and caught Bartlett’s hand and then caught his eye. “Then you haven’t heard. King Felipe has declared that Louisiana and Arkansas are now part of Narayana clan. He had no intention of attending any more Amun summits. He has told our Clan directors that in future if we wish to negotiate trade terms with him we need to come to his Clan summit as supplicants.”
Bartlett hissed, his fangs descending. “He goes too far.”
Russell nodded. “I agree dear one. We have much to discuss with our colleagues in Nashville.”
As they drifted back toward the crowd, they saw Stan Davis, the King of Texas approaching. Their connections with Stan were long-standing. Although he was Zeus, and by definition a competitor, he was one of the people that they both held in high regard.
“Greetings, Stan. So happy you can make it. And, might I say it is always a pleasure to welcome the dead back from the dead?”
Stan smiled. “You know, it’s funny every time you say it.”
Stan had been injured at a previous summit in Rhodes. Fanatics had bombed the hotel and many vampires and humans had lost their lives. Stan had gone into hiding as his limbs regrew. But an assassin had found his crypt and tried to end him. Stan’s resemblance to Bill Gates was well founded. He had a grasp of technology and the strength it created. He had the foresight to install state of the art surveillance and monitoring equipment. He had been able to see danger approaching and had survived the attack.
Stan had understood that being declared finally dead could work to his advantage. He had spent the remainder of his convalescence flying under the radar. This led many to believe that the assassin had been successful. But once he had fully recovered, he presented himself to the Zeus directors at the next Summit. He had been summarily reinstated to his throne.
Since that time, he had been approached by monarchs from all clans as well as Canada and Europe asking for assistance with similar security webs. Stan used the additional income to invest in nanotechnology, looking into the use of mini-robots to automate some of the more hazardous aspects of shale oil drilling operations. It was still years away, but Stan, like the married monarchs, understood the value of the long plan.
Seeing Stan still among them, Bartlett and Russell were reminded, not for the first time, how fortunate they had been to have left the Rhodes Summit before the end of the proceedings for their honeymoon.
“Lovely party. And you both look wonderful. Indiana seems to appeal to both of you.” Stan gestured toward the lawns and pond.
“Yes. Indiana is lovely this time of year. But we’ll be returning to Mississippi in another month. Always so much to do and so much to arrange.
Stan nodded. He took a sip from his goblet, then swirled the liquid. “You hear the latest about de Castro?”
“If you mean that the bastard is carving up our territories – then yes. Why? Is there something else?”
Stan shook his head. “Besides the usual interference? No. I heard the same thing.” They stood together in silence for a while. “Of course, you don’t have a raving psycho bitch just over your border either. Any day now she’s going to rip some poor human up in a very public way. And we will all be paying the price.”
Russell and Bartlett waited. They knew an opening when they heard one. Stan had something to say.
After a few minutes of watching the crowd, Stan let it out.
“I had thought that when she and the Viking married that they would become the power couple of the country. After all, he knows his way around a negotiation and she’s ambitious. But talk about a disaster. They don’t even look good together. He looks like a zombie and she looks like a were witch on V. She needs to let Northman out of the marriage and get herself someone who is going to work with her.”
“Do you really think she will figure that out?” Bartlett looked bored. He had seen Freyda a couple months past. She was brittle and nasty. She had made statements that demonstrated her inattentiveness to her realm and her interests. Bartlett had been left wondering how she managed to make it this far.
Russell spoke up. “You know I’ve always had a soft spot for Northman. I had thought that if anyone could get out of the noose his maker made for him, it would be Viking. But I have to hand it to him. He stood by his obligation.”
Bartlett took Russell’s hand. “You know he married us? Eric Northman?”
“Yes, I remember,” said Stan. “This business with Freyda is costing him every part of himself. He was a good man and a strong vampire. It’s pathetic.”
“What’s pathetic is that we don’t have a way to regulate ourselves. Bartlett and I were discussing how things need to change. This whole situation is just another case that makes the point.”
Bartlett took Russell’s hand. “You are right, dear one. So much to talk about in Nashville.”