|Returning to his quarters, Conan found his dress tunic cleaned and
mended on the bed. He draped it on the chair, stretched out, closed his
eyes and drifted into the still blackness.
He was riding through a dark wood, hypercats lurked in every tree. In
a clearing stood a tower surrounded by knights with hammers tapping away,
bringing it down brick by brick. From the window his friend Colin seemed
to call to him. A short, heavy-set knight with curly black hair began pounding
on the tower's door. Conan called out. The knights pounded harder and the
tower began to fall.
Conan sat upright in bed. The pounding on the door continued.
"Who is it?"
"Wake up call, Sir. The banquet will begin soon."
The banquet hall was enormous. Conan wiped his palms on his tunic as
he took his seat. He was uncomfortable with his weapons checked at the
door, a conspicuous seat at the head table, a speech to give, and Boots
the cat licking its paw behind the Crown Prince's seat, two chairs away.
As the servers moved among them, Conan observed the other guests. The
head table ran the width of the room, with ten long tables running perpendicular.
The Order of the Key filled the far table to Conan's left, resplendent
in tan tunics with maroon trim and the bright gold key insignia. He was
surprised they did not have a more central table. They seemed to be having
trouble gaining the attention of the serving girls. Filling the two tables
to the right of center were the their archrivals: Lord Reed and his retainers
in their colorful tartans seated with Lord Elsevier and his company sporting
the crossed sword and tulip. There, too, were the lesser knights of their
company wearing the insignia of a shooting star on blue field and the letters
L/N. The delegates at the next two tables were all dressed differently
except for their common device--a maple leaf with the letter T.
Of the rest of the room, the loudest voices came from the Knights of
the Hammer, while the wine stewards move frequently among the quieter delegates
from the Temples.
Dinner passed pleasantly as Conan shared the details of his adventures
and his companions shared the latest gossip, mostly involving shifting
alliances and the disappointment of the cabal of the T-and-Maple-Leaf over
losing the fealty of the L/N to the Reed-Elsevier diad. The most surprising
and unlikely rumor was that they would try now for an alliance with the
Order of the Key itself. Finally, the Crown Prince rose to begin the ceremonies.
Conan wiped his palms on his leggings before he stood, but the presentation
ceremony was over quickly and he watched with relief as the High Priest
of Cataloging carried the AACR2 to the Temple.
Prince Albert offered the first toast--to the success of the Conference--followed
by similar toasts from the other dignitaries at the head table. The next
to stand was Sir James the Lovable, leader of the Knights of the Hammer.
Conan did not remember ever meeting him, but somehow he seemed familiar.
The company grew restless with the long toast but all grew still when he
ended it with a look to Conan's left and the words, "to freedom--and a
media-neutral citation system."
Sir Vancealot rose then, his face pink. "To copyright, the best defense
of a free marketplace."
Sir Allan's toast was short and spoken loudly. "To a marketplace free
There arose a muttering in the crowd. At the head table, the gentle
Lord Robert of Berkeley rose and spoke.
"My friends," he began and the hall quieted, "we are all here with a
single mission. Let us drink tonight not to our differences of opinion
on how best to accomplish it, but to our common purpose."
But before anyone could drink, someone from among the Knights of Tap
shouted, "Easy for you to say, with your fat consulting contracts and all
expenses to the Conference paid by the Key!"
Sir Robert's many friends rose immediately to his defense and only the
occasional shrill overtones of Lady Chickerly could be distinguished in
the general commotion. Conan did not see who threw the first goblet but
soon knights were jumping onto tables, carving knives were pulled from
the platters of meat, and pieces of fruit and dinnerware flew through the
air. Prince Albert's personal guard rushed to protect the head table. One
knocked Conan off balance as he dodged a pineapple, causing him not to
see the pewter plate coming from the other direction toward his temple.
As the red mist cleared Conan found himself under the table, with Boots
washing blood from the side of his face with his coarse tongue. They stared
at each other for a second, then the cat darted out through one of the
curtains behind the table. Recognizing that the beast knew the exits, Conan
decided not to stay for the rest of the Conference.
© 1995, by Hadley V. Baxendale