Disorder in the Court

Matthew stirred slightly, though he didn't wake up. It had been a long week and lately he had woken up as exhausted as he had fallen asleep. So his body was glad for any more rest it could get, to bring him back on track with the appropriate amount of energy.

His stirring woke Lilly up, who rubbed her eyes and stretched. Best let him sleep.

Another little stretch, and she looked around her room.

... wait.

"Uncle Matthew," she said nervously, turning to shake him awake. So much for letting him rest. "Uncle Matthew, wake up, please."

It was a relief when he did. Good. He was only sleeping. There was no enchantment currently keeping him down. That was exactly one good thing, to counteract the fact that she had no idea where they were.

"What's the matter, princess?" He yawned widely, shaking away some residual tiredness as he sat up, and stiffened immediately with suspicion. Even still waking up, his paranoia could recognise that something was wrong.

There was a ceiling above them, certainly. And there were walls. And a door. But none of these items belonged to them, he would have remembered that garish colour scheme. But this wasn't the time to criticise somebody's home decor. It was far more important to exit this decor. Getting to his feet quickly, he took her hand and strode towards the door.

Not locked. Huh.

Is that more or less suspicious?

Outside, the scenery continued to be unfamiliar. Pleasant, to be sure, the garden was quite lovely and the hedges were neatly trimmed into shapes that seemed familiar, though neither of them were paying too much attention to them to really identify what they were.

But unfamiliar.

"Where are we?"

"I really couldn't say."

    • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
      Negaduck's Biggest Stan

      The courtyard stretched out in all directions, surrounded on all sides by high stone walls.  In all actuality, it looked as if they were at the foot of a castle overlooking a small town cradled within the walls. A very prestigious spot too, lovely stonework paths and even a patch of flowers were planted outside their door.  It may have also been comforting for them to see that they were not alone.  There were a handful of people walking along the structures and beautiful topiaries some looking as distressed as they no doubt felt.

      To their left was the stairs leading up to the door to castle proper and there were guards on either side with large spears and grim determined faces.  Everything seemed calm.  Well apart from the raised voices.

      "For the last time... sir. Her Majesty does not admit low born peasants past the gate. Only the Lords and Ladies of the court are allowed entry into this district."

      "How, and I'm seriously asking, how does 'her majesty' know that I'm 'low born'?  And.. furthermore..." well that was a very familiar annoyed voice coming from somewhere down that garden path where a large guard on their side was arguing with someone on the other side of an equally large gate. "-if this Queen or whathaveyou didn't want to see me... and here's the key thing, are you listening? Ready? SHE SHOULDN'T. HAVE. BROUGHT. ME. HERE." There was a clang and an "ow". 

      "Please don't kick the gate sir. Return to your quarters, the Queen will surely address the public shortly, the court is nearly completely assembled so she'll be very pleased."

      "How... lovely.... for her."  

      • Lilly Teal
        Lilly Teal

        "The most worrying thing," Matthew mused as he looked around, "is that none of this looks even the slightest bit familiar. If someone had transplanted their castle into the middle of the city for some reason we should at least have been able to see a familiar skyline.

        What he was trying to get at was it would have been much harder to transport all of them far from the city, but the implication flew right over Lilly's head. She was just about to ask why that was the most worrying thing, when surely the most worrying thing was the fact that they were there at all, when the voice reached her ears.

        "Gladstone?" That annoyed irritation couldn't possibly be anything else! Wheeling around as she looked for the source of the noise, she went speeding down the garden path almost before Matthew could realise what she was up to.

        "Lilly come back here!"

        She failed to come back, so with a heavy sigh, the ibex decided to walk after her. At the pace each of them were going, she of course reached the gate before he did.

        "Gladstone!" Looking relieved, she smiled and reached for his hand through the bars of the gate. "There you are, I'm so glad you're alright. Do you... have any idea where we are?"

        Also do you have any idea why we're separated by a gate? And why there are guards everywhere? Speaking of, she looked up at the grim faced guard as politely as she could. No harm in trying, was there?

        "Please sir, can't you open up the gate? We won't cause any trouble, I promise." Gladstone was given a very slight side-eye as she contemplated whether he'd keep that promise she'd just made for the both of them. "It's just that he's my..."

        What he was trailed off as her brow furrowed in confusion, still looking at the gander out of the corner of her eye.

        "Honey, what's that around your neck?"

        It looks like a... broken pendant? I think?

        • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
          Negaduck's Biggest Stan

          The low born peasant had turned and taken a few steps away from the divider of classes. Guess he'd just have to ride it out and let his luck take care of it... no use in getting all riled up over something like this. Where was the point?  He'd get out okay and it wasn't like there was anything of importance on the other side of... He froze when he heard his name. It was the first familiar thing he'd heard since he'd woken up here.  Slowly he turned back to look as if he'd heard things and immediately ran back to the gate taking her hand through the bars and holding it to his chest.

          "Lilly!? How did you... why are you? Are you okay?" 

          "My Lady," The guard sent Gladstone a hard look as if to chastise him for his familiar tone before returning his attention to Lilly. "- of course you are free to leave the keep, I would recommend taking a detail with you to keep you safe from the rabble.  I apologize, I did not know you had servants in the town.  We will need to issue him a permit if he is to work in your household, I will send the paperwork along to your home."

          Servant. Work? These... were not great terms.  Unless he was a servant to love.  Which might not have been so... what about his neck?

          He attempted to look down but couldn't see around his bill. His free hand felt around and found a bit of metal attached to a thin band resting on his throat.  

          "What the..." His eyes fell to her neck. "You have one too. What in the world is-" He dug his fingers under the band and gave it a little tug. An electric shock pulsed through him causing him to let out a little yelp and his hand squeezed hers harder at the unpleasant sensation.

          "Leave your suits alone." The guard said wearily. "Honestly, does no one read the welcome pamphlets her Highness so kindly supplies?"

          "Pamphlets..." Gladstone held his hand over the shocking accessory. "...Lillypad... er... I mean... My Lady, can you come out here among the commoners so that I -" A dark shadow suddenly loomed over her and he felt dread slip over him. What else was in there with her? A giant monster? A soul-crushing Duke who would lock her in a tower and barricade the doo-oh.  His fear drained- well most of his fear drained- out of him as he recognized the imposing form. "Matthew..." he breathed in relief. "I thought you were-" some big scary creature who wanted to do me harm.  Huh. Well... best not to think of how close that fit the ibex some of the time... most of the time. 

          The guard bowed to Matthew, not lifting himself from his bent position.  As if waiting to be told to rise. 

          "Good day your eminence."

          • Lilly Teal
            Lilly Teal

            "Good... day," Matthew said slowly, still trying to process the scene in front of him before his eyes finally traveled over to the guard he had responded to, taking in his size, the heft and sharpness of the weapon, gauging how close his friends were. How long would it take them to arrive at this spot if they needed to provide backup?

            And the bent position.


            "Ah." He understood, or at least seemed to understand, what was expected of him, though he still couldn't figure out why. "At ease."

            The both of them seemed to have something around their neck. And come to think of it, his own neck hadn't been feeling quite the same either, though he resisted the urge to feel it in front of the guard,

            "She won't be needing a detail. I'll be going with her," he added, fixing the guard with a look that seemed to say 'just try to tell me I need a detail too.' "Just to look around, you understand."

            "We'll be back in time for the..." what was it, "Queen's address!" Lilly added brightly. Yes, good Uncle Matthew. Maybe once we're out of this gated spot, we can find a way out of here!

            "Indeed," Matthew added seriously, shifting his arms. Something rustled, and he patted his breast pocket with some confusion. "Ah, the pamphlet."

            It was brightly coloured, the fonts were terrible and very big, and it seemed to have been drowned in a vat of exclamation marks before being fished out and left to dry.


            YOUR QUEEN WELCOMES YOU Ace of Clubs (this was penned into the blank) TO HER COURT! TO YOUR NEW LIFE!! THE LIFE YOU WERE ALWAYS MEANT TO LIVE!!!


            Was it noon yet? Not quite, they had perhaps ten minutes. Just enough time to poke around a little, right?



            THE QUEEN

            • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
              Negaduck's Biggest Stan

              The guard straightened up once informed to do so and with a concerned look at the two of them and the 'ruffian' on the other side he relented and moved to open the gate.  He gently placed a hand on Lilly's elbow to move her aside and made little smacking motions at Gladstone's hand as he still clung to her.  

              "Please make sure you are on time for the address, as there are rumblings of a major change to the hierarchy being made." The guard pulled out a key ring and started to unlock the gate.

              Gladstone stood back, impatient to be reunited with Lilly and to try to piece together what had happened. Oh.. and Matthew too... he supposed.  It was heartening to know that they had his might on their side.  He'd probably be able to punch a hole clean through the castle walls.  That'd be one way to make an escape. 


              Gladstone jumped, being pulled out of his reverie by a shrill angry... no, livid, voice.  He blinked at a curvaceous brunette as she stormed over to him.  Her hair was a warm brown with a flash of red in the center of her bangs to add a pop of drama to her already dramatic victory rolled hair.  At a loss he pointed to himself.

              "DON'T YOU PLAY DUMB WITH ME!" She roared as she closed in on him, her jade green dress hugging her generous curves tight enough that her impressive chest visibly heaved. Gladstone lifted his eyebrows and opened his mouth to reply when she descended on him grabbing him by the collar and shaking the living daylights out of him. "THE MAID!? THE MAID GLADSTONE!? THE WOMAN WHO DOES OUR LAUNDRY!?"


              "If you're going to sleep around could you at LEAST keep it out of the household? She's ruined my favorite blouse to try to win your favor!" The woman continued, still shaking him. 

              "WHO ARE YOU? What maid?!" He pried her hands off him and tried to retreat but she closed back in. "Wait wait!!" He held up his hands and she paused, anger was rolling off her in waves. "I know you... you're that actress... Glory... no!" he snapped and pointed at her, she looked unimpressed. "Gloria Swansong! You were on one of those soap operas right?   Is this..." He looked around as he tried to fix his rumpled clothes. "...a movie set?"

              "Are you really doing the 'amnesiac' routine again?" Gloria said flatly.  "Fine, have it your way, I'll play along." She smiled at him sweetly. "My name is Gloria Gander, you are my husband and we're a breath away from being part of high society if you would just-" She slapped his arm. "-stop sleeping with every trollop who comes to the door."

              "'Husband'?" He croaked and sent a terrified look at Lilly. He made frantic hand motions to indicate that he had no idea what she was talking about and look! No ring! 

              "What are you doing out here anyway?" She grumbled and finally noticed the trio at the now open gate, the guard was watching with unmasked interest. It was nice to have such entertainment within the walls. Gloria winked at the guard who went pink then noticed the other two and quickly bowed, she grabbed the front of Gladstone's shirt to pull him down into  a bow as well. "My Lord, My Lady... I'm sorry if my husband has been bothering you.  I'll make sure that he answers for whatever he's done-"

              "I haven't done-" he pulled out of her grip hotly and smoothed down his shirt again. "-anything! What... what is going on here?" 

              "Noo~ My love~! Leave him alone~!" A buxom canine bounded up and pushed Gloria. "He doesn't want your wrinkled old self anymore he loves me now! Tell her baby!"


              "OH no you don't!" Came another raised voice as Gladstone was grabbed by a voluptuous vixen. "This one is mine! You should hear the things he says to me when we're-"

              Another hand grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and jerked him backwards into the embrace of a muscular woman in guard's armor. 

              "Enough all of you!" She barked and the growing mass of apparent lovers all looked a bit chastised. Until she flipped up her visor and gave Gladstone a coy little flutter of her eyelashes. "He's told me that I'm the one he truly loves... so you all can just back off!" 

              Gladstone's eyes were locked on Lilly as the fighting started and he was jostled around and pulled every which way by amorous hands.

              "Help?" He  begged. 

              • Lilly Teal
                Lilly Teal

                Lilly had watched the entire escapade with stunned bemusement as first one, and then another incredibly beautiful, incredibly... endowed woman grabbed and pulled and pawed at her boyfriend.

                Is there time to feel just the teensy bit self-consiou- ah! Help! Yes! As Gladstone's plea reached her ears he his eyes met hers, she snapped out of it and jolted forward.

                "Please, can everyone just- can everyone just calm down?"

                Would it help or make things worse to do what she really wanted to do? Because what she really wanted to do was smack everyone's arms and say 'He's MY boyfriend so everyone go away!'

                It probably wouldn't help. So she timidly tried to get them to stop fighting, first pulling at one woman's arm and then another's. "Don't fight, can't we talk about this?" Unfortunately any and all reasonable requests were drowned out by the shouting and squabbling, and she was this close to raising her voice herself.

                Matthew just watched, almost as amused as the guard was. That was right until Lilly was accidentally elbowed in the chest, and she let out a pained little squeak.

                "That's enough." It was not exactly a shout, but his voice was strong and firm, raising over the general level of noise with a strong undercurrent of 'the next person who starts a fuss is going to have a very bad time.'

                Never mind that all of them were women, and he did always try to be a gentleman. He was still entirely capable of being threatening when need be, regardless of age or gender. Particularly when his niece was touching a sore spot with a small, sad, "ouch".

                "Now if you will all kindly let go and step away, I need to have words with this man before the address starts."

                Oh gosh, did you mess with his Eminence's... what was she? Daughter? Ward? Are these words going to involve... non words? Like fists? It was as good a way to shut them all up as any.

                • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                  Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                  At the bellowed proclaimation all the contenders froze.  This resulted in a strange tablaeu of stopping mid cat fight. Hair was being pulled, skirts ripped, and stockings just.. well just ruined is what.  In the center of it all Gladstone was being held practically overhead by the female guard as if they were engaged in a game of keep away.  As the reality of who had made the rumbling request sunk in the women untangled themselves from one another and the goose was reluctantly placed back on his own two feet.  There was a murmur of apologies as the women looked as if they were plotting a time and place for a rematch. One by one they left, each paying bidding goodbye to Gladstone. One waved, another blew a kiss, the vixen ran her hand through his hair with a salacious little wink and Gloria... 

                  "We'll settle this when you get home... you bad boy." She growled almost... excitedly? And slapped him on the rear as she went causing him to jump again.

                  Now thoroughly disheveled, his clothes pulled every which way, his hair tousled into madness and feeling a little violated Gladstone stared after the retreating line of women before he slowly turned his attention back to Lilly and Matthew with a nervous smile. 

                  "I... don't know them." He stated weakly.

                  The shock started to wear off when he registered  that Lilly had been hit and he approached her, letting his hands hover over her arms rather than touch her. As someone who had just experienced how taffy must be made first hand he wasn't sure if grabbing her was the best course of action.  His eyes lingered on the hand on her chest then to her face.

                  "Are you okay-"

                  Someone cleared their throat loudly from the gate.

                  "...My lady?" Gladstone, to his credit, ignored the guard and said the words as if they were a cherished nickname rather than a title. 


                  • Lilly Teal
                    Lilly Teal

                    "I'm fine." She let out an experimental breath to make sure her sore ribs were still working, and gave them a final rub before turning her attention to the mess that, somewhere inside it, contained Gladstone.

                    "What about you?" Her hands came up to drift over him, before settling on his shoulders.

                    Grabbing? Oh, no, she was straightening his shirt, smoothing out the creases and re-aligning the collar before shifting her ministrations to his hair, which was in desperate need of smoothing out.

                    "Are you alright? You poor thing," she soothed. "What on earth was that?"

                    One of the other guards who had drifted closer in interest during the chaos (and yet made no attempt to stop it, they were such helpful guards, these), made a small, scandalized sound at how much the Lady was fussing over not just a commoner, but a man who clearly had no qualms in using his wiles to take advantage of willing women.

                    She's been ensnared!

                    But once again, all meaningful noises from the gate were ignored. Matthew had drifted closer to them, more to be out of direct earshot of the guards than any real concern for Gladstone's health, and spoke to them in a low voice under the guise of looking out over the city.

                    "Either someone is playing a very elaborate trick on us, or those women all truly believed you know them."

                    A case of mistaken identity? But they'd called him Gladstone. In which case... did they really think they were all in relationships with him? Actually him, and not someone who looked like him and had a fondness of flirting with anything with the correct chromosome combination?

                    Some magic at work, perhaps? Mind... effecting magic?

                    The idea did not sit well with him at all. Now that his back was to the guards, he could relax enough to feel the pendant around his neck, though from Gladstone's past experience he chose not to try and remove it.

                    Ace of clubs, the pamphlet had said.

                    He leaned over slightly to get a better look at Lilly's neck. Hearts. And Gladstone? Diamonds. Was there a particular reason for the suits? This was all very strange and bore investigating. Unfortunately the fight had taken up most of the ten-minute chunk they were supposed to use to get their bearings in this strange new location. Investigation might need to be put on hold.

                    A loud cheering rose up as people from the town started filling up the clear space outside the gate, and the people from the gated community collected and turns their heads to one of the castle balconies.

                    "MY PEOPLE!" The Queen trilled as she made her long-awaited appearance, basking in adulation. Her dress was excessively big and lavish, and seemed to be made out of layers upon layers of lavishly embroidered rectangles of cloth made to look like playing cards. A similar motif made up the standing ruff that fanned out behind her head. She gestured dramatically as she spoke again, seeing to need nothing to amplify her voice.


                    Well she certainly seemed excited about it. Putting her hands on the railing, she swept her gaze over her assembled people with satisfaction. Yes. Yes, this felt so right. Ah, but everyone needed to have things clarified for them, so things could run smoothly. Glad she thought of that. What a magnificent Queen she was.

                    "YOUR ROLES." Removing her hands from the railing, she took one step back and she retrieved something from a box hanging from the wrist and held it high in the air, not that anyone would have been able to work out what it was at that distance. It was the effect that counted. The drama. The moment. "YOUR ROLES ARE YOUR SUITS. SPADES WILL LABOUR FOR THEIR QUEEN, THEY WILL BRING THE KINGDOM THE SUPPORT IT NEEDS! DIAMONDS WILL BRING THEIR PERSONAL RESOURCES IN THE SERVICE OF THE KINGDOM. HEARTS WILL BOOST THE KINGDOM'S MORALE. CLUBS WILL DEFEND THE QUEEN'S KINGDOM!"

                    Ah. Matthew blinked. So what's what he was here for.


                    That's... nice?


                    "Hail to the Queen!" cheered a majority of the crowd, the other half looking more confused than ever.

                    • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                      Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                      "Yeah. Woo." Gladstone droned in the final cheer. "Anyone understand any of that...?" His eyes fell on the other two's pendants. "Ah. Matthew you're uh... congratulations on your promotion?" 


                      "LO AND BEHOLDEN THE FOLLY OF MAN!" In the wake of the Queen a gentleman had moved in to take the podium.  People who had started to mill away stopped and stared up at him. He was outfitted in a similar fashion to the Queen and even had a crown on his head, although he was not nearly as regally outfitted as her highness. "SOMETHING IS FOUL IN KMART, SOMETHING WICKER THIS WAY COMES~" He held up a skull and brandished it.  Two guards kindly approached him and turned him around helpfully. 

                      "Yes, yes your majesty. Quite right."


                      "Oh is that this summer my liege? I thought that was next year?"

                      "I like him." Gladstone nodded to himself and pointed to where the king had been. "Seems like the more stable of the two.  Can I ask though... please tell me this isn't a spade?" He tapped his necklace and his finger tried to determine the suit. "Feels... diamondy. What the heck does any of this mean? Oh.. thank you Lillypad." She had managed to get the last of his hair out of his face and with all the muttering going on from the crowd no one overheard to correct him. "Follow up question, do either of you remember how we got here?  Last thing I remember was walking to my car... then I'm laying in a double bed in a garish condo. This-" he leaned in to whisper to Lilly as a thought occurred to him. "...this doesn't feel like a Briar thing right? She's never this quiet about things... and there's not enough glitter. ...There's no glitter at all actually."

                      So yeah, probably not Briar.

                      • Lilly Teal
                        Lilly Teal

                        If there had been a more obvious Wonderland motif, sure. But like this? No, definitely not Briar.

                        "I don't think so. And I just remember stepping out to buy more sugar for the shop, that's all."

                        "I was at work," Matthew shrugged, still frowning up at the now empty balcony. "How someone got in I don't understand."

                        Much less got me OUT. It was a little embarrassing honestly.

                        Lilly looked around, her hand seeking out Gladstone's for comfort. "There's so many people. And many of them look as confused as we are. Has everyone here just been... minding their own business and then woken up here, do you think?"

                        Are we technically kidnapped?

                        "Well we're certaintly not hanging about here. We should inspect the perimeter wall, Matthew said with a flash of inspiration. It was an idea worth running with, and he tried to look official as he turned to one of the guards.

                        "Where's the nearest gate in the bounding wall? I'll start there."

                        "But... your eminence, you've been marked down to see the Queen in an hour."

                        Heavy sigh. "Of course I have."

                        "And your niece, sir. And... nine of diamonds."

                        "Of course they have."

                        • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                          Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                          “‘More sugar for the shop’...” he said thoughtfully before a smile crept over his face. “-with you around who needs sugar?”

                          He would have stolen a kiss if his peripheral vision wasn’t full of ibex. So instead Gladstone watched the faces in the crowd. Some of them did look just as confused at he felt.

                          “You know you might be onto something there Angel Face, we’re not the only ones scratching our heads right now.” A woman in the crowd caught his eye and she winked at him, he quickly looked away. “But there’s a whole bunch of them who are acting like this is totally normal.... which... you know... it’s not.” When Lilly’s hand took his he gave it a little squeeze and turned his attention back to their little group. “Weird that we all got snatched up separately... unless we did come here together on our own... though I can’t imagine why we’d do that.”

                          Him and Lilly, sure. But Matthew too? Unlikely. No offense.

                          But ooo! Matthew had a plan! Gladstone straightened up, get ready outer wall you’re about to get Halden’d! But it seemed Matthew wasn’t the only one with a plan for them. Nine of... oh that must be him. An audience with the overdramatic Queen? That... probably would be... interesting. But if they could get away first...or at the very least get a glimpse of where they might be.... What this called for was some charisma. He needed to get some information from these guards. Had to start strong....

                          “Er... “ yep. Nailed it. “Excuse me gentlemen, I’d hate to overstep any boundaries but I had promised to provide his eminence and the Lady with a tour of the grounds as they so rarely get a moment to see them. And his... eminence...ness, has so little time for such frivolity with how hard he defends her majesty’s realm, just... 24/7. Around the clock defending from this guy.” He gave Matthew a chummy slap on the back. He was not instantly maimed the guards noticed. “So we must make the most of this time.” He said this all with such smooth calm it was easy to believe, the guards glanced at one another as he continued. “But you know me...”

                          “Oh we know you alright. Half the women in town ‘know’ you too.” One guard quipped making his comrade chuckle.

                          “...so then you must know how soft my brain is. All this wanton lust and adultery must have melted my poor poor mind. It’s a shame of the highest degree truly. But you see I can’t remember where the closest gate is... I’d hate for us to be late but... “ He patted Lillys hand. “Her Ladyship SO had her heart on seeing it. And it would be the greatest crime of all to see these dazzling blue eyes drowning in disappointment... don’t you agree your Lordship?”

                          “Well,” said one guard slowly. He certainly did not want to see even an ounce of dismay on the Lady’s beautiful face. “-I guess if you went to the east gate and came right back you could make it.”

                          “East gate? Grand! And how does one-“

                          “Go straight down the main road until you reach the statue of his majesty’s favorite hobby horse then keep left.” The guard pointed them toward the heart of the square. “You won’t have much time to look around My Lady but I hope a glimpse will do for now?” He asked as his eyes hovered on her dreamily.





                          • Lilly Teal
                            Lilly Teal

                            Look at the both of you, working together to find us a way out of this! She was so proud of the both of them, their confidence and quick thinking under pressure. And also badly suppressing the urge to giggle at this continued flirting in the face of potential kidnapping. He was absolutely incorrigible.

                            And it was wonderful, in a worrying situation like this. 

                            Matthew was significantly less pleased. While he didn't maim the gander after the comradely back slap, he was an ally after all, he nevertheless directed a look at him that would have frozen the blood of a lesser man.

                            Lilly didn't seem to notice, too pleased with how well things seemed to be going, and how brief the directions to the east gate sounded. The dazzling blue eyes already directed at the guard were paired with a dazzling smile of gratitude. Deadly, to be sure.

                            "Thank you, sir, that will do wonderfully." Oh don't call me sir, my Lady, really! "This is most kind of you."

                            Kind or not, they were now officially on a time limit. Matthew cleared his throat and turned his head towards the town square. "Shall we be off, then?"

                            "Lead the way, Gladstone," Lilly added softly, leaning her head towards him to keep her voice low. "Since you're taking us on the tour."

                            A slight lean back to raise her voice to normal levels. "This is terribly exciting! I'm sure every part of this place is as beautiful as the next."

                            Particularly the gates! Particularly the way they could be potentially opened!

                            • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                              Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                              Ah but the blind optimism of  a lesser man could misinterpret any blood chilling look into playacting! Such a good sport that Matthew! Really into character. Right?  .... right buddy? Haha.. ha... hm.

                              Regardless of the chill in his veins he did take the lead. 

                              “Yes My Lady it’s lovely!” He said loudly as he made for the square. “You’ll notice how...” gauging their distance now safe to drop the charade to a more manageable volume  level he did so, but with people still wandering around it was probably best to at least keep up the appearance somewhat.. “... I have no idea what I’m talking about! Look at these brick type things! Aren’t they bricky!  And my look at those ... lampposts, I bet they come on when it’s dark. “ His voice was a sing song, one that might be used by an enthusiastic theme park worker during peak season,  as he motioned to random things  as if they meant anything at all. 

                              There were little shops set up in the square, the basic necessities.  A grocer, a clothing stall, a doctor of... some kind.  As they went they attracted the momentary attention  of a few other confused looking people.  One of who, sensing that he might learn something, started tagging along nervously.  The young man with the two of spades around his neck seemed disinclined to approach Matthew and his ward but... that smiling friendly looking chap...

                              “Excuse me? Can you tell me-“

                              “Ah! Yes come along the tour is in full swing!” Gladstone grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into line and he lowered his voice. “-look I have no clue what’s going on but we’re heading for the gate. You in?”

                              Two of Spades nodded frantically.

                              “That’s.. uh... WOW I NEVER knew THAT.” He said loudly and Gladstone nodded in approval before continuing on. 

                              “You know-“ Tour Guide Gladstone continued brightly as he turned to face them, walking backwards to keep the motion going. “-There’s only fifty-two cards in a deck.  If we’re all wearing one... that ‘s not that many people at all. Not much of a kingdom. How long have you been here Twoie? Seen more than fifty-two people at any given time?”

                              “Uh...” Twoie  seemed to consider the question for a while. “I’ve been here... three days?  And... I ... don’t think so?  This is the first time I’ve seen the Queen or... anyone from...” He glanced at Lilly and Matthew anxiously. “The inside...”

                              “Don’t worry about them. They’re with me. We’re friends.”  Gladstone locked eyes with Lilly for a moment and sent her a wink before returning his gaze to their route.  “Ah... more guards.” He stopped in front of a ten foot tall statue of the King mid gallop mounted on a broom with a goofy looking horse’s head crammed on one end. “AND HERE WE HAVE OUR BELOVED KING, ASTRIDE HIS PREFERRED FILLY AND MY ISN’T THAT A BIG GRIN ON HIS FACE.  THAT KING IS SUCH A CARD, ALWAYS HORSIN’ AROUND.”

                              The passing guards groaned.  Those sounded like Tour Guide jokes alright.  Nothing suspicious here, better to be out of earshot as soon as possible before he starts rattling off more.

                              “AND TO OUR LEFT-“ Gladstone paraded them down the indicated path. “-is hopefully a very lightly guarded gate that we can sneak out and be home by dinner.   What are you guys thinkin’?  Hamburger Hippo?  Grillby’s?  I’m sure we’ll breeze on out of here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. “

                              All in all they made pretty good time.  It took about twenty-two  minutes to reach the gate which meant they had about fifteen minutes  to examine it before they had to head back if they couldn’t find a way to open it.   It came into sight very clearly  as it was a thirty foot tall wall of stone with a giant archway cut in it with a sturdy portcullis held within.  The iron bars were as thick as one of Matthew’s substantial arms and there seemed to be no visible mechanism to lift it.  There also were no guards... which was more than a little odd.  Through the slats a green field  stretched out around them and was interrupted by thick clumps of trees that eventually faded into a dark forest.   

                              “...that’s... not helpful. “ Gladstone intoned helpfully at the view.  He sighed and put his hands on his hips craning his head back to try to see the top of the gate, but it made his neck ache so he stopped.  “Anyone... ever heard of a castle in the middle of some woods just... hanging out with a Poker aesthetic and loopy royalty?”

                              • Lilly Teal
                                Lilly Teal

                                Matthew shook his head. It was a very specific story and he was sure he'd remember if he'd been told it. "Not to my knowledge."

                                But he was far more occupied with the gate, and he 'conincidentally' got between Lilly and Gladstone, blocking any and all future winks, as he stepped forward to inspect it. It was huge. And worrying, not just because there seemed to be no visible way to open it, but there didn't seem like there was a way to open it at all. It looked like it had been made to look like a gate, not something that was very planned to be used.

                                As if someone, while creating the castle and surroundings, was aware that gates had to exist, for the look of the thing, but didn't want to create any viable exits...

                                But there had to be at least one. They were brought here somehow, there had to be a way in and out. But naturally, if one thought about it, why would they take the risk to direct people towards working gates?

                                ... did any of the gates work? Perhaps the entrance was hidden in the stonework somewhere.

                                It would explain why there were no guards. Why guard something nobody could pass through? Unless you were incredibly thin, determined, and didn't mind dislocating a few bones and compressing your skull on the way.

                                Somewhere in the back of his mind, a thought was calling for attention.

                                "She did look familiar."

                                "Have you met her before, uncle Matthew?"

                                "Me? No. But she was in the papers."

                                Lilly looked at him for a long moment, her brow furrowed. "The papers?"

                                "Mm. She was arrested for something. Rigging gambling matches or something like that."

                                Kidnapping people, maybe?

                                "Oh! In the papers last month! The lady who was rehabilitated!" Lilly said brightly. Did that look like a stable, rehabilitated woman to you, honey? "Everyone was very excited about it!"

                                After all, it's clearly gone SO WELL.

                                • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                  Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                  "Rigging casino games? Like you mean counting... cards. Oh, this is ridiculous." He huffed as he folded his arms across his chest. "Hold onto your hats guys," He said flatly. "-because I have a sinking suspicion that she may have relapsed. And what's the deal with the whole..." he made a vague motion into their surroundings. "...well the castle is one thing.  But the roles and social classes?   Doesn't anyone just rob banks anymore?  Why go to all this trouble? ...these are all rhetorical questions by the way."

                                  "I remember seeing something about that in the paper too." Twoie said slowly.  "But I don't get it. I haven't seen any gambling here.  There aren't any games at all..."

                                  "We're the game." Gladstone said darkly.  "Shuffling us around like pieces on a chessboard. She'll probably pit us against each other too just to see what happens."

                                  "..there HAVE been a few people who have been holding secret meetings about overthrowing the other suits.  I was at the spade one the... uh..." He seemed to realize that between the four of them all the suits were represented. "...I don't care about any of that." He finished emphatically to Matthew as he was the biggest and scariest. "I just want to go home.  I have to feed my goldfish."

                                  "We'd all rather be feeding goldfish believe me. What's this lady's problem?"Gladstone flared suddenly.  Uh... we literally do not know Gladstone. That's what we're trying to figure out?  "Where does she get off casting me as some slimeball reprobate? I'm not some sleazy cheating-"

                                  "Wait... wait I know you!" Twoie pointed at the goose who stopped mid-rant to eye him, well yeah people did tend to know him, he was kind of a big deal.  Recognition lit up the man's face and he snapped his fingers for emphasis. "Gander! Right? The lucky one? It is you! I recognize you from the Rumor Mill section of... the paper..." he trailed off. "...I know that because that was the day they ran a piece about the neighborhood  garden I started..."  He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "... you don't think..." 

                                  "...what the heck is the Rumor Mill?"

                                  "-have either of you two been in the paper lately?"

                                  "Is this one of those... sensationalist magazines? Did they say I was a space alien from planet ding dong sired by bigfoot too?"

                                  "Because... I mean c'mon it's a little too coincidental don't you think?" 

                                  • Lilly Teal
                                    Lilly Teal

                                    Lilly shook her head, at the same time as Matthew nodded.

                                    "Yes you were, princess."

                                    "What? When?"

                                    "We took out an ad for your shop, don't you remember?" he said patiently as she frowned at him. Then her face cleared as memories resurfaced.

                                    "Oh yes. I'd forgotten all about that." What with, you know, getting increasingly worried that we have only a few more answers than we had to begin with, and many more questions. "So, we were all in the newspaper lately? This is too much to be a coincidence but..." It still doesn't answer anything.

                                    Again, more questions being raised than actually being answered! She looked at the gate again. Somehow even the forest visible through it didn't look like freedom. It just looked like part of this very large set they had been placed into, along with the castle and houses and things that did not actually open.

                                    "And what does she even want? Just to keep us here?"

                                    "I'd imagine we'll find out once she speaks to us." Matthew's tone was grim. "Doesn't she want to see what we can 'bring to her kingdom'? She won't be content to simply play dolls with us, I'm sure."

                                    Though it did seem that playing dolls was part of the fun.

                                    "But I agree, this is quite a step up from cheating at cards." If that is really all she was doing. If only he could remember the details from the paper clearly. It had focused mainly on her 'successful', if apparently forced, rehabilitation, and he couldn't recall if there was anything particularly special about her. Clearly though, there was, if only because she seemed to have so many people working for her.

                                    "That being said," he went on, reaching for one of the bars on the gate. "There doesn't seem to be any use in wasting our time with thi-"

                                    His card gave him a jolt as he wrapped his hand around the bar, much like Gladstone's had done when he tried to pull it away, and Matthew released his hold with a growl that was more anger than pain. Lilly looked worriedly between both Matthew and Gladstone in their flared moods, trying to press both their shoulders comfortingly. This wasn't good, was it?

                                    "Right. I say we go hear what she has to say," he growled.

                                    • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                      Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                      No Lilly.  It wasn't good.  Gladstone came out of his funk slightly when she touched him. He sent her a weary look that had everything to do with their situation and not a thing to do with her.  Even though he was sure the opportunity wouldn't come the second Matthew wasn't physically between them or acting like a chaperone at a school dance, he'd try to steal a kiss. But for now his hand fell on hers and he gave it a little pat. 

                                      "I agree." He said to the ibex.  "This lady's got some explaining to do."

                                      "You're going to see the Queen?" Twoie inquired nervously. "I'm... I think I'm going to stay here.  Good luck, and... maybe just... I mean... you all be careful?" 

                                      The walk back from the gate seemed much longer.  Mostly because they weren't distracted by the thought of possible escape.  Gladstone didn't carry on with his tour guide routine but he did take the lead.  When they arrived back at the partition that separated the lower from the upper class two guards were throwing a severe-looking toucan out into the street.  

                                      "You cannot do this to me!" The toucan fumed at the guards. "Where are my belongings! My ledgers! My books!"

                                      "Those belong to whoever holds the office, they were never yours." The crueler looking of the guards informed him darkly.

                                      "Just let me SPEAK to her majesty I'm sure that she'll-"

                                      "Your services are no longer required, and her majesty does not mix with the lowborn other than on her own invitation now you ought to run along and report to your new lodgings six of spades."

                                      The toucan got to his feet looking absolutely livid.  

                                      "This isn't over." He snarled and shot a nasty glance at the small group that had appeared. His eyes hovered on Matthew's horns for a moment before they narrowed. 

                                      "Ah, you three. " The sentry waved them over. "You've been expected. Please head to the audience chamber, her majesty is awaiting your arrival, your eminence."

                                      The toucan scoffed as the guards moved aside for the trio to enter the inner sanctum. 

                                      • Lilly Teal
                                        Lilly Teal

                                        Matthew nodded, giving the toucan only a flicker of his eyes in response to the glare. Services no longer required? Whoever holds the office? Sudden and apparently baseless hostility at the sight of the ibex? None of this sounded very promising, and while he shouldn't be making assumptions it was a close bet that this was the previous Ace of Clubs, or at least someone who had gotten a similar demotion.

                                        He didn't incompetent. Either something had gone very wrong, or the queen was shuffling her deck in a very arbitrary manner. Whichever it was, it didn't make Matthew feel very secure. But then what did?

                                        The guards saluted to Matthew and gave Lilly respectful nods as they passed, the one who had sent them off in the first place giving her an encouraging smile.

                                        Aw, they seemed relatively nice!

                                        Probably because you're both high value cards, honey. Gladstone was functionally ignored. But it was a step up from people trying to throw him out. The castle as they walked through it was truly spectacular, with high, soaring walls and long, elegant windows to let in the light, making it a far cry from the dingy, slot windowed, thick-walled fare that was usually reserved for actual castles meant to withstand a siege. This was altogether more... the ideal of castle. Royal furnishings, open spaces...

                                        "MY PEOPLE," declared the queen almost the second they entered the audience chamber. My she was keen, wasn't she? A long, deep red carpet led from the door, up a few steps, and to her throne. She had laid out her skirts to the fullest effect, comfortably installed as she waved them over with a languid, royal motion.

                                        "Enter, enter. STAND before me, that I may LOOK UPON YOU. Ah, Ace of Clubs. We have MUCH to discuss. MUCH, for the defense of the realm!"

                                        Sure. Discuss for the defense of the realm. Look, I'm close enough that I can grab you by the neck and-

                                        As his fingers twitched and he prefaced the motion with "Listen-", the queen smiled serenely, her fingers sliding over... something on the arm of her chair. Matthew fell to his knees with a much louder grunt of pain than last time as the jolt hit him.

                                        "Uncle Matthew!" Lilly darted forward to put a hand on his back in worry. "Are you-"

                                        "We mustn't speak out of turn!" Well you've waived that right for now. "Nine of Diamonds," she snapped her fingers. "Come forward. I hear you have much to offer to the realm, in financial support. Speak."

                                        • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                          Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                          Gladstone grimaced as Matthew fell.  But he was addressed by her majesty now.  It seemed like open defiance was a good way to get electrocuted so best to just grit your teeth and try to charm some information out of her. So in reply he bowed to her before taking a few steps ahead of the others.

                                          "Your majesty you are looking radiant today! What an honor it is to be not only hand picked by your grace but also allowed into your presence so swiftly.  Whatever wealth I have is more of the... cultural and social variety. I'm not so much a man of fortune as I am a fortunate man. I wonder if you could enlighten me, your humble servant,  where exactly we are as well as what I can expect my role to be? Do forgive me if I'm being too forward, it's just... as you know I'm not a particularly bright person, despite my dazzling personality and looks. Ah... also, it has come to my attention that I've been assigned-"a completely insulting place in society but also "-a wife? Are there any negotiations permitted as to recast that role?"

                                          He didn't look at Lilly. Probably because he wasn't sure that Matthew wouldn't get to him before he was zapped again. Look it would just be easier to figure things out if they stuck together... right? Yes. Yes that was it.

                                          • Lilly Teal
                                            Lilly Teal

                                            He had guessed correctly. The woman's sense of vain superiority was instantly appealed to. The compliments were accepted with a highly overacted sense of false humility, a 'oh go on with you, I AM wonderful, aren't I' motion of the hand. And he knew just how to sound polite and subservient, which was doing wonders for her ego and deep belief that she was ruler of all she surveyed. She smiled.

                                            Top marks, Gladstone.

                                            "Perhaps I should have cast you as a Heart, Nine of Diamonds," she said as Matthew pushed himself back to his feet, waving away Lilly's help, but letting her hug his arm to reassure herself that he was alright. "You are in my Kingdom. Away from the HIDEOUS trappings of the CITY and CRUEL, UNFAIR, ARBITRARY LAWS."

                                            The Queen slammed her fist onto the arm of her throne in a flare of temper, apparently oblivious to the irony of her own statements. Yes indeed, surely this place had nothing of the sort.

                                            Soooo, outside city limits, eh? She didn't elaborate further, taking a deep breath and settling further back in her seat in an attempt to calm herself. "This will be better. Unfortunately such a STUNNING community requires financial support. The role of a diamond is to provide! A shame that is not where your talent lies."

                                            I should really just recategorise you. Or throw you in the dungeons. Or wipe your mind and throw you out. But you've been so flattering. She tapped the arm, fingers ghosting over by not quite touching the whatever-it-was that had shocked Matthew as she looked at Gladstone thoughtfully.

                                            "Perhaps your role and assignments could be negotiated if you please me, Nine."

                                            And consider, put in the sensationalist part of her mind, how entertaining it would be if he added another notch in his belt by seducing one of the nobility. That's the only torrid affair he hasn't had yet.

                                            Given what she'd read about him, all she had to do was give him a job on this side of the gate around the nobles, and the story would practically write itself.

                                            "A party. Yes! We shall have a feast, commemorating the completion of our first deck!" ... first... deck? She clapped her hands together in delight. "What a marvellous idea! And what better way to put the skills of my Club, my Heart, and my Diamond through their paces? You are socially fortunate, you say? Then put such skills to use! You will be allowed on this side of the gate in the meanwhile."

                                            Truly, I am brilliant!

                                            "Ace of Clubs!"

                                            Matthew suppressed a sigh. "Yes, your Highness?"

                                            "You will ensure that the security and civilized order of my feast will be beyond compare! Polish up the guard's parade ground manner! And acclimatize yourself to your new office of course. And Queen of Hearts-"

                                            She gave a slightly superior little laugh. "Of course... there is only one Queen." But you can't go about changing card names, can you? If you do that, where does the anarchy end? "Duchess, perhaps. NEVERTHELESS.Invite. Cajole. Draw in the people meant to attend, and boost the morale of those already part of the plan. Be sweet to the guards so their training sits easier. Be sparkling with the commoners so they wish nothing better than to attend and worship at the feet of our nobility. As a heart should!"

                                            There, what a great plan!! I am so good at queen?!!

                                            • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                              Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                              To his credit, his smile never wavered.  Not even when her hand hovered over the trigger for the shock collar... although he had sucked in a breath and held it until she'd moved on.  'Role and... assignments', keep smiling Gladstone. Just keep smiling. 

                                              "A party..." he repeated in a far more pleasant voice then he felt. "-what a glorious idea your majesty.  And thank you for extending my... reach. It will be much easier to appeal to such extravagant standards as your highness deserves if I'm permitted to interact with the upper class. You're very wise." Because that's exactly what we need, to be together under royal decree working on the same thing when we're really just trying to figure out how to get out of your stupid STUPID kingdom. "I am sure we will work swimmingly together. " He turned to the other two so that the Queen could only see him nod to them and certainly not see the way he rolled his eyes. He returned his attention to the queen. 

                                              "I wonder if I might ask you a question, your highness? It's only..." He put his hand to his heart and bowed his head. "-I am enamored with this kingdom you've built, and if you'll excuse me if this is too personal but I remember seeing you before.  In that lawless, wasteland that you rescued all of us from you were not given the respect you so deserve.  Every great monarch has a humble origin... I only wonder... how did you stumble upon this Camelot?  If we are indeed as far as you say from that horrible city." 

                                              He was probably pushing it... but if they could get at least an idea of where they were it might help?

                                              • Lilly Teal
                                                Lilly Teal

                                                "Ah, ah ah!" she trilled. If she had been any closer to him, she would probably have slapped his shoulder lightly for this teasing pry. She certainly did look very pleased, though.

                                                "Stay your curiosity, Nine. That story is for the party! I must give a speech to my people!" As if you need an excuse, you literally just gave a speech to your people. "All questions about your glorious queen will be answered then, within reason!"

                                                Barring questions about her weight and age and criminal record.

                                                "I will tell you only that I built it myself, when I found a wide open space that called to me, the beginnings of building already begun as a sign."

                                                So... so, an old construction site you took over? Away from the city? Probably abandoned since nobody seems to remember but must have been in the papers at one time? Matthew's mind was already working overtime.

                                                "Now be off with the lot of you." She waved her hand, sparkling with delight. "Ace, to your office. Look over the kingdom plans and begin preparations for security."

                                                Kingdom plans. Kingdom plans. Potentially with all the entrances and exits marked! It was a faint hope, but it was a hope, wasn't it? The ibex kept all ideas of hope off of his face as he nodded formally.

                                                "Of course. Immediately. If I may bring my niece and your new planner with me, so we can decide how best to begin?"

                                                "Hmmm... granted. But no funny business~ and then Hearts, you must go with him and see that the guards are willing and eager to protect us all. Being Queen is such a busy thing. I cannot go around making sure everyone loves me all the time."

                                                That's what the Hearts are for.

                                                "I hearby deputise you. Make everyone adore you and thus enthusiastically participate in my plans."

                                                • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                                  Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                                  "Thank you, your majesty.  I think I speak for us all when I say we will work tirelessly toward our goal."  That it was a decidedly different goal then they'd been assigned was irrelevant.  

                                                  At being dismissed the guards moved forward to signal the audience was over and if they could not find the door themselves that they would be aided physically through it.  Gladstone gave the queen another stiff bow before he exited the chamber with the others.  A steward was waiting to lead them to the Ace of Club's office which turned out to be a rather small room with mountains of paperwork piled on a desk and on every available chair.

                                                  "Here you are your Eminence." The steward nodded to Matthew cordially. "If you require any additional assistance I will be just outside. Please don't hesitate to call." He then closed the door, leaving them alone.

                                                  The second the latch clicked closed Gladstone sent a punch and a kick at the air toward the throne room.

                                                  "Of all the self important-congratulatory-arrogant-conceited- A PARTY?!" He fumed before he held up his hands as if to press against a glass wall and exhaled deeply and inhaled the same. Okay. Calm down. "...so okay.  We gotta plan a party.  What are you guys thinking? Bounce house? Clown? Balloon animals? Guillotine? Sundae station?" 

                                                  He sighed and took Lilly's hand. 

                                                  "And you have to be her door to door hype man Lillypad, that's rough. But I'm sure you'll have them eating out of your palm in no time." His free hand pinched her cheek softly as a light smile spread across his face. "What with your sweet smile and warm hugs who could resist?" I know I can't. Even though they were in trouble again he felt happier just being near her.  The thought of having to be on the opposite side of a sturdy gate from her had rattled him but thankfully he'd talked his way out of that one.  He had no idea what to do but... with their powers combined he was sure someone would think of something.

                                                  Gladstone realized he'd been staring in silent adoration into Lilly's eyes for quite a long time and quickly cleared his throat and looked away to Matthew. 

                                                  "So Ace Of Base, I can practically hear the wheels in your head turning from over here... what's the plan?" 

                                                  • Lilly Teal
                                                    Lilly Teal

                                                    While Gladstone raged, Matthew had been running his eyes over the desk and shelves in the quite comfortable office, and finally reached over to pull out a large rolled up sheet of paper.

                                                    "First thing's first," he said, keeping his voice low and striding over to the desk to roll it out. A clean mug, a paperweight and... was that... a dagger(?) sufficed to weight down the corners to keep it rolling back up. "The plans. We find where the exits are. Or at least hope they were added in."

                                                    There was no way nobody knew how to get in or out. She had to send people to collect her decks, didn't she? It simply wasn't feasible otherwise. You could blindfold them on the way out, but then how would they know how to get back in? And incidentally, she'd have to lead them all out individually.

                                                    No. Some people knew. And the fact that they weren't taking advantage of it meant they were either being brainwashed, or they would get an electric jolt if they tried. And if he was head of security... shouldn't he have that information, in case anyone DID try to make a break for it? Or came across them by accident if they're disguised?

                                                    Hm. Hmmmm.

                                                    "The good thing is that Gladstone's flattery seems to have caught her off guard a little. At least we're allowed to be together to progress. Good work." Highly unlikely she'd have allowed that if we'd just asked.

                                                    He didn't look at Gladstone as he said it, but it was acknowledgement nevertheless. "She's essentially allowed us to go wherever we want. Let's make sure she regrets that."

                                                    Tracing a finger around the outer wall, he tried to find something. Anything.

                                                    "Nothing. Maybe my predecessor had some notes."

                                                    "I could ask the steward?" Lilly piped up.

                                                    "I doubt he'd tell us anything if we're not supposed to know it, princess."

                                                    "But there's no harm in asking!"

                                                    And anyway, if I'm supposed to be nice to people, might as well start now! Still holding Gladstone's hand, she cracked open the door and peeked around it until she sighted the steward who was, indeed, just outside.

                                                    "Excuse me sir," she said sweetly. "My uncle is having some trouble sorting through the office. Did the previous owner keep an official diary or make any notes that could help us... um, organise security how the Queen wants it?"

                                                    • Negaduck's Biggest Stan
                                                      Negaduck's Biggest Stan

                                                      Having his name said in the same statement as "good" made the gander puff up proudly.  The second time the word was said made him inflate even more.  Yes, yes I am an invaluable member of the team.  "Quick thinking" Gander that's me! So carried away with his own internal back patting he was caught a little unaware when he was lightly pulled toward the door by his hand. He watched as Lilly... Lilly'd.  

                                                      The steward who had been staring off into space jumped slightly but when he saw who was addressing him quickly took off his hat and bowed his head to her.  Gladstone lifted an eyebrow at the blush that crept across the canine's face.

                                                      "O-oh I'm not  really sure where he kept them my lady." His green eyes hazarded a look at her face and he bashfully looked away. "I think he may have hidden them.  However I do remember him spending a lot of energy moving the small book case farthest to the right. He moved it at least once a day but always put it back. I... um. I heard it but the previous Ace was not, much of a, well he was a private man." 

                                                      Gladstone turned to look at an under stocked book case then down at the scrape marks along the stone. 

                                                      Secret room? he mouthed to Matthew.

                                                      "Well that's very helpful of you!" Gladstone said brightly as he returned his attention to the steward. "I'm sure the new Ace would love to get to know you better another time until then we have very important things to-" He put his hand on the door to close it but the steward stopped it closing with his foot. 

                                                      "M-my lady, I have heard that you're planning a party in her majesty's honor.  Uh-" He swallowed thickly and pressed on in a hurried stream of words. "-i-hope-that-you'll-save-a-dance-for-me-that-is-if-you're-willing-and-you-see-fit-to-invite-me-I-give-you-my-word-that-I-shall-not-stomp-on-your-feet-and-that-I-will-be-a-perfect-gentleman-unlike-some-company-you-may-be-currently-saddled-with." His eyes darted to Gladstone for the briefest of moments with such clear distaste that the goose felt as if he'd been slapped. The steward clapped a hand over his mouth and bowed deeply. "Forgive me I've... I've spoken out of turn.  I... I'll go fetch you refreshments."

                                                      Without waiting for answer the steward retreated down the hall and out of sight.

                                                      "...'currently saddled with'. Pah." Gladstone spat bitterly. "You know Lillypad you're going to have everyone desperately in love with you by the end of all this." His thumb slid across her knuckles gently. And I'll be the most hated man around.  I've had lots of practice at that, so nothing new there.


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