by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 21, part 3; part 4
Chapter 22, part 2
appear in this issue.
part 1 of 2
Cato married Ludwig to Aurelia in a quiet ceremony at the penthouse, after receiving them into the Church. Slim acted as best man, the unwed Artemisia as maid of honor, and Dax and Claudia joined the party as usher and bridesmaid.
Following the wedding, Ludwig met with the Pontifex in private. Commenting to Cato on his baptism and communion, Ludwig said, “It seems redundant for me, since I crossed the river with Bambi, and shared your bread and wine.”
Smiling at Ludwig’s doctrinal implications in reference to their first meeting, Cato replied, “Your formal admission to the Church was important for the sake of publicity, my lord. A recent intergalactic poll shows your public approval rating at 99.9%. Thanks to you and Aurelia, we’re winning converts to the true faith by the millions.”
Seated next to the Pontifex in an armchair in front of a leather-topped coffee table, Ludwig poured two glasses of brandy from a crystal decanter. Offering a glass to Cato, Ludwig remarked, “Yes, Pontifex, thanks in large part to us and our patronage, your reconstructed religion should be a huge success.”
If Cato detected any sarcasm in Ludwig’s comment, he was careful not to take offense. Instead, he held his glass, carefully sniffed the contents and noted, “This is very good; Denebian cognac, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Pontifex, it’s one hundred years old, reserve cask.”
Cato tasted his brandy, smiled, and exclaimed, “No doubt about it; this was Finn’s favorite.”
“I sent two cases to the ex-Consul, in honor of our wedding.”
After enjoying a few sips of his cognac, Cato replied, “Your treatment of the ex-Consul has been very magnanimous; some might even think overly indulgent.”
Affecting a solemn tone, as he had when viewing General Artabazus’ corpse Ludwig quoted, “’Rejoice not over thy greatest enemy being dead, but remember that we die all.’ As long as I’m Emperor, Finn will have everything he needs.”
Impressed by Ludwig’s quote from the Apocrypha, Cato said, “I agree, my lord; and of course what he needs is a great deal less than what he wants. For a man like Finn, that’s punishment enough.”
“That’s true, Pontifex; Finn is much like the old earth Emperor Napoleon I, in his first exile on the island of Elba.” It had occurred to Ludwig that fortune’s wheel was ever turning and unpredictable.
Laughing quietly, Cato replied, “Well, if that’s the case, let’s hope there’s no need for a St. Helena.” Picking up his glass, Cato finished the last drop of his cognac and then continued, “Speaking of Napoleon, his coronation, like yours, was patterned after that of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. For political reasons, Napoleon made a slight change in the ceremony: he crowned himself. May I ask, my lord, if you plan to do the same?”
“Yes, Pontifex,” Ludwig replied, “do you object?”
Shaking his head in the negative, Cato answered, “Not at all, my lord. As I’ve already said, your popularity brings the multitudes to the truth.”
“Then I suppose I’d better remain popular.”
Cato didn’t comment on Ludwig’s last remark; instead, he observed, “I’d like you and Lady Aurelia each to choose a personal confessor. Of course, things said in the confessional will be held in strictest confidence; even from me.”
“Very well, Pontifex; I’ll talk to Aurelia about your request. In the meantime, I’ll choose for myself. I’d like to have the young knight who first recognized and greeted me at your castle; let him be my confessor.”
“You mean Perceval, my lord; an excellent choice.” Rising from his chair, Cato said, “I must be going now, my lord. I’ve much work to do in preparation for your coronation. It’s going to be an intergalactic broadcast with the two Michelles doing what they call ‘color commentary,’ while the new Minister of Public Relations, Dax, will call the ‘play-by-play’.”
“Yes, Dax is thrilled with his appointment, but he’d better watch out; I hear Michelle Jr. has her eye on him.”
Laughing, Cato replied, “I wouldn’t discourage it; I love weddings.”
“Taking Cato’s hand, Ludwig said, “Before you leave, Pontifex, I have a favor to ask. I want you to hear my confession.”
Frowning, Cato replied, “This is a bit irregular, my lord. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to wait for Perceval?”
“No, Pontifex; this is something I’d prefer to keep between you, me, and our God.”
“Very well, my lord.” Cato returned to his chair, and Ludwig sat next to him. The Pontifex said a few words in Latin, and then invited Ludwig to confess his sins.
“I took the Spear of Fate from the Temple of Vesta. Do you want to know why?”
Cato nodded in response. His expression began to show signs of tension in pursed lips, and a wrinkled brow.
“I wanted to know if the spear was a fake.”
“What do you mean by ‘fake,’ my son?”
“I wanted to know the source of its power, and I learned the truth. The force behind the spears, the Aureus, your castle, Aquilia and Finn’s illusions is the same; it’s the force of science and technology. God has nothing to do with it.”
Beads of sweat flecked Cato’s upper lip. He wiped them with a handkerchief and said, “You’ve learned some facts, my son, but you may be jumping to a conclusion by thinking you’ve learned the truth.”
Ludwig scowled. “What is truth, Pontifex? Tell me about my father, Karl Magnus, and why he ordered the spear from Plotinus Industries, and tell me about your duel with Finn.”
Cato’s face reddened and his hands trembled. Glaring at Ludwig, he exclaimed, “This is not a confession, it’s an interrogation.”
Ludwig remained calm. Changing his expression to a smile, he quietly replied, “Call it what you like, Pontifex. Let’s say we’re confessing to each other. We’ve both sinned, and we both need absolution.”
Cato regained his composure in response to Ludwig’s placid demeanor. He took a sip of brandy, and then began a cool, deliberate and thorough response. “Very well, my lord, but let’s end the farce. Karl Magnus was my closest friend. He wanted to rule as Emperor, and I was the leader of the party that supported him. Finn was the one who wanted to preserve the Republic, at least long enough to get rid of your father, and then take the Empire for himself.
“Years ago, I gained access to the forbidden books in the Republican Library, and I learned the Ludovicus legend. When you were born, I noticed the remarkable resemblance to Emperor Ludovicus, and the circumstances of your birth and parentage conveniently fit with the legend.
“I convinced your father to name you Ludwig. We ordered the spears, the Aureus and the eagle from Dr. Plotinus; they were all examples of the latest developments in micro-robotics and nanotechnology. What’s more, Plotinus entered your DNA in the Aureus and the spears, just as he entered your mother’s DNA in the eagle.
“Others, such as Finn, can manipulate the spears and Aureus, but your possession greatly magnifies their power. The objects return to you, because they recognize you as their legitimate owner.
“Karl Magnus and I believed that the legend, coupled with your public demonstration of these marvelous objects, would win the masses, ensuring the succession for generations to come.”
“Tell me about my family’s murder, and your duel,” Ludwig interjected.
“I’m coming to that, my lord. Finn got wind of what your father, Plotinus and I were plotting. We planned, with the aid of the Head Vestal Virgin, to keep the objects hidden in the Temple of Vesta until you were old enough to use them.
“Finn ambushed me within the Temple precincts; he was a better fencer then I was; he took the spear and wounded me with it. The disturbance aroused the temple guard. Finn ran before he could finish me, and the Head Vestal Virgin, Livia Drusilla’s predecessor, saved me.
“Following the duel, Finn sent his assassins to murder your parents and all their children. As I already told you, I rescued you and gave you to my trusted retainers, who brought you up as their son.”
“Why didn’t you tell me the complete story before, Pontifex?”
“To accomplish our goals, I wanted you to have faith in something greater than yourself. The ancient conquerors — Alexander, the Caesars, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and ultimately Dr. Vulnificus, the man who annihilated Old Earth — all believed themselves gods or godlike beings. Arrogance, ambition and untrammeled pride destroyed them and brought misery, suffering and death to billions.”
“So, you told me a noble lie?”
Cato shook his head, and answered, “I’m sorry, my lord. We’ve both sinned. However, we can still work together: my Church and your state can do a great deal of good. As for the Creator, in my heart, I still believe. I hope it is the same for you and Lady Aurelia.”
Ludwig looked down for a moment, and then faced Cato with a sad smile. He grasped the Pontifex’s hand firmly, and declared, “I can’t speak for Aurelia; at least I know my limitations. I’ve experienced terrible things in the Algolian Wars, on the streets of Iron Town, in the Arena, and here, on Capitol Hill. I believe we can make significant changes for the better, and I’m committed to working with you to accomplish that.”
Appearing relieved, Cato smiled and replied, “Thank you, my lord, that’s all I ask.”
After the Pontifex and the remainder of the wedding guests left the penthouse, Ludwig joined Aurelia in the roof garden. Aurelia had changed from her Alexandra Dax wedding dress to a comfortable forest green pantsuit and Ludwig from a morning coat to a pastel blue shirt, charcoal gray flannel slacks, and short leather jacket.
Standing at the edge of the terrace, drinking Chateau Deneb Champagne from crystal flutes, they watched the sun set over the ocean.
“You spent a lot of time with the Pontifex,” Aurelia said. “Did you talk about the coronation?”
“A bit; we mostly talked about things like mortality, and pride. Rank has its privileges and its obligations. As Emperor and Empress, we carry the heaviest burden of all.”
“That’s a gloomy thought.” After taking a sip of her champagne, Aurelia added, “Beautiful sunset, isn’t it?”
“Yes, your father thinks I have a lurid imagination when describing such things.”
Turning to Ludwig with a puzzled smile, Aurelia said, “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘lurid imagination’.”
Gazing at the sky, Ludwig observed, “Take that cloud, for example. Do you see the way the setting sun highlights it? It looks to me like a white pillowcase smeared with blood.”
“Hmmm, I see. Or maybe a blob of your favorite hot sauce splattered on a clean, white tablecloth?”
“Very good,” Ludwig replied, “I think we both have the knack.” Brushing his fingers through Aurelia’s rapidly growing hair, Ludwig turned her face toward his, and said, “Let me kiss your lurid lips.”
Following their embrace, Aurelia whispered, “That was nice. Your lips go well with Denebian champagne.”
Ludwig refilled their flutes from a chilled bottle taken from a silver, high-standing ice bucket, handed a glass to Aurelia, and said, “Cato wants us both to take confessors. I’ve already chosen mine. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?”
“That’s a bit dicey; I thought you had your doubts about Cato.”
“I’ll admit I had some misgivings about the Pontifex, but we had a very frank talk. We’re reconciled, and I have no problem with your taking a confessor. Just try not to leak state secrets, and avoid guys with names like Rasputin.”
Aurelia laughed, and put her arm around Ludwig’s waist. They watched as the sun disappeared, and the full yellow moon came out from behind the clouds, its beams shimmering in reflection on the dark purple sea.
The coronation ceremony took place at the newly consecrated St. Peter’s Church (formerly the Temple of Jupiter Capitoline) on December 2, 5112. Ludwig and Aurelia rode in an open hover-limousine; alternately turning to the right and to the left, the royal couple smiled and waved at the crowds. A protective force field surrounded Ludwig and Aurelia, and an elite company of the renamed Imperial Guard provided the escort.
Despite gray skies, mist and drizzle, hundreds of thousands of cheering citizens lined the Capitol Hill Boulevards. Among the exultant multitude were members of the lower classes, including android and cyborg servants who were, by Ludwig’s orders, for the first time permitted entry into a restricted area for a reason other than service.
The procession entered the sacred precincts through an arched gateway, along a private avenue opening onto Imperial Way. From the entrance, to the Church’s great, white marble staircase, the crowds were more subdued, consisting of invited representatives of all classes, both human and android. Nevertheless, when Ludwig and Aurelia exited their hover-limousine, this more dignified group broke out into loud cheers, and rhythmic applause.
Ludwig and Aurelia ascended the two flights of red-carpeted and rose-petal strewn stairs, followed by noble retainers carrying the trains of their purple and crimson, ermine lined and trimmed velvet robes. Most prominent among the retainers was ex-Queen Artemisia, taking first place in holding Aurelia’s train.
Solemn music played on the Church’s electronically amplified computer-organ, accompanied by the Imperial Guard Band. Following the example of Napoleon I, Ludwig wore a gold laurel crown, and carried a scepter in his right hand, while his left rested on the exposed hilt of his sword, thus displaying his sovereign authority prior to entering the Church.
In addition, Ludwig wore the Aureus around his neck, having ordered Dax to feature it in close-up shots, and to ensure that the two Michelles thoroughly expounded on the legend for the benefit of the intergalactic viewing audience.
Ludwig chose a group of highly decorated Imperial Guard Generals, Fleet Admirals and the Space Marine Commandant to bear the Imperial regalia. Ludwig awarded the coveted place of sacred spear-carrier to Dax’s uncle, raising him to the rank of Field Marshal to be consistent with the honor. This gesture pleased the Guard, and the ubiquitous Dax family, but it also led to inevitable grumbling among the competing services.
Following Ludwig’s profession of imperial faith, Cato celebrated the solemn mass, blessing the insignia and regalia in the presence of an intergalactic viewing audience enlightened by Dax’s play-by-play, and the Michelles’ color commentary.
During the ceremony, Ludwig managed a brief surreptitious wink at his old, cyborg pal Slim. Standing among the new Ludovican elite, Slim and Claudia wore Major Generals’ uniforms adorned with the Order of the Imperial Eagle, First class. Ludwig recently awarded his loyal friends with promotions and high decorations, greatly increasing their pensions and ensuring premium seating for the coronation.
Finally, at the end of the mass, Ludwig ascended to the altar, took the crown, and placed it on his own head. This act, in imitation of the Old Earth Emperor Napoleon I, surprised almost everyone, including Aurelia. However, the forewarned Pontifex Maximus calmly accepted it, and the prepared Michelles gave it positive spin according to Dax’s instructions.
After crowning himself, Ludwig took the empress’s crown from the altar, stood before the kneeling Aurelia, and placed it on her head, while the Pontifex recited an Old Earth Latin prayer. Thus crowned, the imperial couple, surrounded by the new elite, including the officers carrying the regalia and insignia, began a recessional to the Church entrance, where the imperial throne was located. There, Cato enthroned Ludwig according to an Old Earth formula and then returned to the altar for a Te Deum, concluding the mass.
Finished with his part of the ceremony, the Pontifex retired to his private chambers, while the elite of the New Imperium swore an oath of fealty to Ludwig before billions of intergalactic viewers.
Following the oath, Ludwig arose from his throne. Taking Aurelia’s hand in his left while holding the scepter in his right, they descended the red-carpeted stairs followed by their regalia and train bearing entourage, to the sounds of the electronic organ and Guard Band, booming plasma cannon, ringing bells and cheering crowds.
As they walked down the stairway, as if on cue, the sun emerged from behind gray clouds, its aureate rays sparkling on the imperial crowns. Bird-handlers released hundreds of captive white doves: cooing and fluttering their wings, the freed doves darted into the sky, flying toward the sun, circling and hovering high above Capitol Hill.
Dax: Well, folks, there you have it; our new Emperor, and Empress, God bless them. Long may they reign over us in peace, health and prosperity.
Michelle Sr.: Amen to that, Minister Dax; and aren’t they the most fabulously gorgeous couple in all the cosmos?
Michelle Jr.: They sure are, mom: and don’t they look swell in their Alexandra Dax original coronation robes?
Dax: You hear that, Alexandra? (Pause for laughs) Citizens of the Empire, allies and friends throughout the galaxy, and beyond, we’re coming to you live from the new St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill. This is Minister Dax...
Michelle Sr.: Michelle Sr.
Michelle Jr.: ...and Junior.
Dax: Saying it’s time to party and celebrate the New Imperium.
(Cue upbeat music, and cut to credits).
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder