Uncalled For Actions (12/?)
Days 78 – 84 of the experiment.
“That is the most important question,” Seffie said excitedly.
“Yes, Seffie, it really is,” Gil slurred.
They all stared at him, waiting for the big reveal, but Gil only slumped over, his mouth slightly ajar as he started to snore. Tarvek pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation then smacked Gil’s leg hard enough to jolt him awake.
Gil shot upright, blinking around the room before finally squinting at Tarvek.
Barkley stepped between them before any punches were thrown. “Master Gilgamesh, you were about to tell us who poisoned you?”
“You really have to ask?”
Barkley looked at the other children then nodded. “We won’t know unless you tell us, correct?”
Gil fell back on the bed again. “When in the den of thieves-”
“Wait,” Tarvek said, “are you saying we did this to you?”
“Why would Father poison the Baron’s apprentice?” asked Anevka, brow furrowed. “Politically, it would be suicide–the Baron would lock Balan’s Gap down hard until they found the culprit. I’ve seen it happen in other towns for less important people.”
Gil rolled to the side, shoulders shaking, and for a moment, Tarvek thought he was going to be sick all over the bed, but then he sat up, giggling.
“No, not you,” he told Anevka with that cheesy grin he seemed to think was charming. “You’re too nice to poison me.” His head whipped around to Tarvek, the smile replaced with a sneer. “Now your brother, on the other hand–he’s a duplicitous, treacherous snake so I’d expect that from him.”
Tarvek’s blood instantly boiled. “Now wait a minute,” he shouted, taking two steps towards the bed before both Anevka and Barkley blocked his way. “Why would I poison you?”
“Please, Your Highness,” Barkley whispered, “calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down–I’ve just been accused of a crime in my own house. I will not be calm.”
“Tarvek,” Anevka said, pushing him back with a hand on his chest. “You did beat him up a few hours ago so it’s not too far a stretch-”
“You’re taking his side?” His voice came out way too high and screechy. How could she take his side?
The hurt must have shown all over his face because she dropped her hand and took a step back, but Tarvek didn’t want to hear her apologies anymore. He backed out of the room, ignoring her calls then stormed past the Baron’s other assistants and out the door of the suite.
People darted out of his path until he suddenly realized there was no one left in the halls. Tarvek glanced around, taking a second to orient himself before turning back the way he’d come, still shaking with anger and betrayal.
That’s all Holzfäller was good for–betrayal. If he wasn’t the one betraying, he was setting someone else up to do it for him.
“My own sister! I can’t believe it.” He slumped against the wall. “Of course, I can believe it–she’s always up to something.” With that thought, he slid to the floor feeling like he’d been run over by a train. An emotional time-bomb of a train set in motion by Holzfäller.
He should have just left him at the table–let him get sick all over Seffie or Cousin Pearl. Should have let him make a big scene in front of the Baron so he’d see exactly the kind of low-brow trash he’d taken pity on with this apprentice charade.
That would have been the smart thing to do, but no, he had to be a nice guy and try to help the idiot when it became obvious he couldn’t help himself anymore.
And what do I get in return? Accused of poisoning him at my own table. “The nerve!”
Tarvek sniffed then wiped at his nose, realizing then that he’d been crying. With a sound of disgust, he hopped to his feet and scrubbed his face clean on his sleeve.
He needed to get a grip before someone saw him breaking down over something so stupid as an unfounded accusation by a nobody like Holzfäller. If he cried every time someone said something bad about him, he’d be swimming in his own tears daily.
There was a small voice in the back of his brain that kept whispering that this was different, though, but it wasn’t–not in Tarvek’s opinion.
“Why would I poison him? It’s ridiculous–what do I have to gain?” But that’s not the real question, the voice said, now is it? Tarvek frowned at his dirty, scuffed boots, the realization settling heavy on his shoulders.
“No, it really isn’t,” he mumbled.
* * *
Gil woke with a start, sitting straight up in bed and regretting it a moment later when colors popped in his vision while the room swayed dangerously. He fell back with a groan that sounded like a freight train running through his skull.
“I’m gonna be sick,” he muttered, a pressure welling from his gut into this chest.
“In the bucket, please,” someone said from the other side of the room.
He lifted himself enough to see Barkley sitting on a chair, reading a newspaper in a robe and slippers shaped like bunnies.
“What?” he managed to slur just as the contents of his stomach launched upwards, and he rolled to the edge of the bed where he found a half-full bucket and managed to keep most of the mess inside. When he finished throwing up, he sat back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
After a moment, Barkley snapped his newspaper shut and got up with a yawn. “I will tell the Baron you are awake–you have twenty minutes to be ready, mind you.”
Gil stared blurrily at the ceiling, trying to figure out what Barkley was talking about because his entire head felt wrapped in cotton-wool and filled with molasses so thick even his thoughts were bogged down. He shook his head, trying to clear the haze, but it persisted, and the shaking did nothing for his roiling stomach.
There was one thing he knew, though, if the Baron said he had to be ready in twenty minutes then he better be ready in twenty minutes. Or as ready as he could be, he thought as he dashed into the en suite before he hurled on the carpet.
A few minutes later, he was splashing cold water on his face and taking deep, slow breaths hoping to calm his frazzled nerves. He needed to get a grip–figure out what happened, how to fix it, and be ready in fifteen minutes. Ready for what he wasn’t sure yet but he knew it was important.
There was a small spark of sense somewhere in his addled brain that said this was important. Outside the room, he heard the Baron’s angry voice getting closer.
He was in so much trouble. Trouble–right! “I’m in trouble,” he said to his reflection that stared back with dark circles under his eyes and a busted lip. “This is all Tarvek’s fault. That weasel–he drugged me”
His heart rate calmed some once he began to make sense of the garbled memories bouncing around his head. That crazy miniature Smoke Knight of his and the darts–that’s why he’d been acting weird. Why he almost let so many things slip.
Things could have gone so much worse if his father hadn’t taught him all of those tricks on self-control and resisting tortures. He’d thought his father insane at teaching a ten-year-old to resist torture, but he’d been right after all. Gil wasn’t sure what that said about any of them, but at the moment, he was just grateful or he’d be in even more trouble.
With his previous night somewhat sorted out, he quickly washed up and got dressed, finishing the last buttons as the door slammed open to an agitated Barkley followed by the Baron.
“I told him you weren’t feeling well, Master Gilgamesh,” Barkley said, the words ending with a soft whine.
“You’re ill?” his father asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
Gil stood up straight despite his sore back and head and shook his head. “Must have been the fish–I feel fine now.”
His father studied him longer, probably waiting for him to break into a cold sweat and tell the truth like most people do under his scrutiny, but those were other lessons he’d already subjected Gil to. They stared at each for a long moment until the Baron was satisfied with Gil’s apparent truthfulness or just didn’t care enough to question them further.
“Let’s go then,” he said to Gil as he left the room without waiting to see if Gil would follow.
They arrived early to the morning meeting–the conference room was filled with only empty chairs as servants set out pitchers of water at each table.
Gil headed straight for a coffee engine in the corner, eyes nearly bugging out at the complicated yet elegant design as he waited for the server to explain how it worked. The thoughts started as a whisper in the back fo his head, becoming louder and more insistent as the information grew. His heart sped up, breath caught in his chest, heat burned his skin.
He needed to touch it–to take it apart and see how it really worked. Time slowed down the longer he considered the contraption, and it was almost as if he could see right through the steel and glass right down to the molecules that made up each substance–maybe even down to the atoms themselves.
He reached towards what was obviously a misconnected set of regulator tubes when the server smacked his hand away then looked terrified for what she’d just done while Gil just simply stared back at her.
“Ow,” was all he could manage to say as the brightness of the engine faded back to reality.
“I’m so sorry,” the server whispered, nearly in tears, “it’s just it gets really hot.”
Gil blinked at her then at the machine and back to her.
The girl–who couldn’t be much older than Gil himself was still babbling her apology when an older man in a starched uniform came over. “Is there a problem Arabeth?”
Her lip started to tremble, twisting Gil’s stomach into a knot–he remembered that kind of fear; the kind that came from knowing your place in the world meant nothing and your disappearance would mean even less.
“No, no problem,” he said before Arabeth could answer.
“She just kindly pointed out the dangers of the machine before I could injure myself.” He pointed at his bruised face. “I do have a tendency.” He laughed dryly, but the man didn’t find him at all funny while Arabeth just bit her lip so hard Gil was afraid she might draw blood.
The man huffed when Gil continued to only smile pleasantly, and he could find no other reason to berate his subordinate. “Very well, then; no dawdling Arabeth.”
Gil let out a long breath once the man was gone and leaned against the table–was everyone in this castle so tense all of the time? Not even a military vessel like Castle Wulfenbach was on high alert all of the time.
“Thank you,” Arabeth said to her shoes.
Gil shrugged. “I should be thanking you; you just saved me from yet more humiliation at my own hands. I can use all the help I can get.”
She finally glanced up at him so he shot her a genuine smile because she was awfully pretty, and he felt connected to her in some small way.
Arabeth blushed so bright and so fast it nearly blinded Gil, and he found himself laughing until she turned away quickly, shoulders slumped then handed him his coffee without looking up.
Crap–he really was bad with girls.
He tried to get her attention again, to apologize for being a complete bonehead, to try to make that connection again, but his father stepped between them to retrieve his own cup of coffee.
“I hope you are planning to be on your best behavior this morning–no more of this tomfoolery with Prince Sturmvoraus.”
Gil’s mouth tightened into a thin line at the mention of Tarvek and the day before like he could forget even after being drugged which was something he was not going to mention to his father ever.
“The apprentice position is a learning experience more than anything and one of the most important lessons you must learn in politics is dealing with people you find absolutely reprehensible.”
Well, he knew Tarvek well enough; Gil only nodded and sipped his coffee.
“Leading is about more than control-”
“Leading isn’t about control at all,” Gil said suddenly, surprising them both. He groaned inwardly–obviously, he was still feeling the effects of the drugs because never in a million years would he interrupt his father like that and definitely not with something so obviously confrontational.
His father sipped his coffee a moment, eyebrow raised then motioned for Gil to follow him to their seats at the empty head table. “Care to elaborate on your statement?”
Gil swallowed the hot liquid, scalding his throat. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said quickly, feeling his face burn as hot as the coffee.
“No,” his father said, “please continue–I’d like to hear your opinion on leadership.”
“You would?” Gil could never be sure if his father was serious or testing him in some way that would come back to bite him in the ass or humiliate him or both–usually both.
His father nodded. “Of course.”
Gil took a deep breath feeling suddenly very exposed and also five-years-old and terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing. “Well,” he finally said, spinning his nearly empty cup between his hands, “a ‘leader’ by definition doesn’t control the people under him. Leaders lead–they guide through their actions and intellect. You’re not really much of a leader if the only way you can get anything done is by iron-clad control of wills. That’s not a leader–that’s a dictator.”
He forced his hands to stop shaking and slowly looked up at his father–it wasn’t often that he contradicted anything the man said, and he was more than a little scared to find out what would happen, but his father only nodded.
“A very astute observation although there are times when speeches and persuasion can go only so far.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Gil said glumly.
His father squeezed his shoulder. “But a good leader knows when to lead and when to dictate for the greater good, and if you are good at the former than the latter is rarely needed.”
A swell of pride Gil had never experienced before nearly overwhelmed his senses as he fought to keep his head on straight and his expression neutral lest his father know how much his approval meant.
[ Part 13 ]