Chapter 21:

Gilbert Gloom

The Songstress of Avalon

Gilbert Gloom was shown into the drawing room of the del Fiore mansion, and only three minutes later, he was being told that the prince was now ready to receive him. Having not had even a sip of his complimentary tea, Gloom stood up and entered the Prince del Fiore's office, who eagerly gestured for him to sit down.

"I hear you're one of the finest legal minds in the realm."

"You overestimate me, your highness."

"And it says here," Prince del Fiore made a cursory glance at the papers in front of him, "that you were a member of the hero's party."

"I was, indeed," Gilbert Gloom nodded solemnly. "In many ways, I was his right-hand man."

"Right-hand man?" the Prince raised an eyebrow. "You're telling me you were the hero Ayato's right-hand man?"

Gilbert made a face, somewhere between a scowl and a grimace. "The hero I served was named Arturo Artois."

"That's precisely what I wanted to hear," Prince Lorenzo nodded sagely. "Then you'll do nicely, Gloom. I think our interests align."

"I'll do nicely? For what? What interests are you talking about, your highness?" Gilbert looked confused. He uncrossed and recrossed his legs, something he often did when he was rattled.

"I want you to draft a letter to King Ambroso for me. A request for an imperial decree compelling the Avispan embassy to give up the fugitive its harbouring. She has committed a crime against me, you see, and I'd like the king to grant me his blessing to pursue justice."

"This is a serious thing, your highness. I don't believe King Ambroso will want to anger the Kingdom of Avispa. It's not likely that he'll grant your request..."

"I have it on good authority that the fugitive is not an Avispan citizen," Prince Lorenzo's eyes darted towards the door which separated his office from the reception room. Lurking behind that door was Trajan Araya, who had supplied him with that tidbit of information.

"She's one of their ambassador's playthings. He's offered her his protection, but likely without the Avispan King's blessing. If we can get our hands on her, the only one who'll be aggrieved is the ambassador himself."

"The ambassador..." Gilbert spoke the words with disdain. "In other words, the Hero of Contingency."

"That's why I believe our interests align, Gloom," the Prince replied. "By helping me, you can deal Ayato a blow to the gut. The king trusts your opinion on all legal matters, so any request coming from you will be expedited."

Gilbert Gloom looked unsure, but not because he was having any moral qualms. He truly hated Ayato, not because the man had ever done anything to him personally, but simply because his status as a 'hero' undermined the legacy of his beloved Arturo Artois. Even so, he had to consider his own position - after his stint as one of Arturo's holy knights, Gilbert Gloom had become one of the realm's great barristers.

"And you're sure there won't be any repercussions from the King of Avispa?" Gilbert asked - after all, he still had his reputation to think about.

Prince Lorenzo shook his head.

"None at all. He'll make a move to protect the girl, perhaps, but if we act fast and take her into our possession quickly then his hands will be tied. If he tries to do anything after that, then it'll become a diplomatic crisis. That can only end with Amalfian soldiers on his borders."

"If we enter their embassy then it might be Avispan soldiers that end up on our borders."

"A war," the Prince began haughtily, "over a girl who isn't even a citizen? No, I can act boldly because I know all of the principal actors are rational. I have a legitimate grievance against her, and the King of Avispa won't begrudge us for holding an alien accountable for her crimes. Now, will you help me?"

An image of Arturo Artois flickered through Gilbert Gloom's mind - noble, beautiful, dead.

This recollection caused Gilbert to tremble with anger, but these irritated tremors soon gave way to zeal. When the Demon Lord was vanquished, he had vowed to give up revenge for any wrongs that might have been committed against him during the war. They were strange and desperate times, after all, and people did strange and desperate things.

Even so, he couldn't forgive anyone who tarnished Arturo's memory - the great hero whose name had been relegated to being a mere casualty.

"I'll do it, your highness," Gilbert agreed, barely managing to conceal the excitement in his voice.

"Good, good," Prince Lorenzo smiled his charming smile. "You know, I think it's what Arturo would have wanted."

Steward McOy