Iorek immediately started snarling. (At least we'd upgraded his armor by then. That is a seven-piece suit of bonafide skyfoil armor, let me tell you, with plates of reinforced cardboard tube, extra pieces for his throat and underbelly, and a heavy-duty overcoat.)
"No, Iorek, don't hurt him!" cried Lyra, pulling him back. "Let the Gyptian lady do it."
Anna, who had been sharpening her sword on Lyra's metal bookmark, strolled over. "So, when do we get to kill him? I was thinking high noon. If you're not into actual fire we can just dismember him and feed him to the cat. But I can definitely whip up a pyre in five minutes, maybe ten--"
"Look, there's not going to be any killing, okay?"
I sighed. "Okay, everybody, gather round, because I'm only doing this once."
(Man, we've got quite a crowd going now.)
I sat down on the bed with my legs folded. Edward refused to stay in his Tupperware holding pen, so I had him stand right in front of my shins in case I had to reach out and 1) protect him from a sudden mob outbreak or 2) prevent him from flinging himself upon their tender mercies. I'll tell you the truth right here, that boy ain't right in the head, and I was not counting on him to mount a proper defense of himself.
"Okay. Let me tell y'all how it's going to be. This was not his fault. It was mine. He had to eat something, and I didn't look out for that."
The High Council for Shelf Justice broke out into a loud buzz of disgust, disbelief, disapproval, all kinds of dis-things (although Eowyn looked more disappointed than anything). The first coherent retort was from Purple Arwen:
"We don't have to eat, and we get along just fine! I mean, I like pie, but I'm not going to kill someone if I don't get it!"
"Yes, well, I guess that's what makes vampires different then!"
"WELL MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE YOU BOUGHT ONE!"
"Then--again, that's my fault, isn't it? So I'm not letting him suffer for my mistakes--"
"I deserve to suffer! Leave me to the mercy of the mob! Let them tear me apart!"
"--and we're going to settle this like civilized people, and we're not going to kill him, and quite frankly, we're not going to punish him either. Trust me, he'd only enjoy it."
"As Queen of the Golden Wood, I feel like I should have some input here."
"Yeah, and we're Queens of Gondor--"
"I AM THE PRINCESS OF MY PEOPLE!"
"Look, when everyone's a queen, no one's a queen." Gladdy narrowed her eyes. I immediately began to regret that particular statement. "My point is, it's my job to look out for everyone's welfare, kings and queens and everyone else, and I fell down on this one. Edward was hungry and he didn't tell me--he was too proud to tell me, and he wanted to try to abstain completely. He wanted to be good. And yes, that pride was a failing in this case. But don't any of y'all with your king this and queen that look at me and say that you don't have the same failing, because I don't even want to hear it." I paused. "Well, maybe not White Arwen, but you see where I'm going with this. And I'm sure some of y'all know what it's like to be tempted." I looked Galadriel in the eye. Galadriel is not the kind of person who averts her eyes when challenged, even if you're in the right, so she looked straight back into mine. But the mood of her gaze changed. "And I'm sure we all know what it's like to make mistakes," I said, twisting the knife a little deeper, and then the look on her face really changed. (Yes, I am going to push the You Screwed Up Faramir's Introduction button as often as I have to, and without the least smidge of guilt, because Gladdy really is the closest thing to a Shelf-wide authority and I need her on my side.) "And my mistake--one of many--was to not check in and make sure he was... vampiring properly, or whatever. Do you know what he had been eating, until he ran out? Dust bunnies."
In retrospect, I think this was the turning point in the trial of The Shelf v. Edward Dollen, because most of those present shuddered visibly. Anna just seethed, but that was to be expected.
"And then I cleaned up, and he didn't have any more--"
"And how was he supposed to know you'd clean?" Eowyn blurted out. "You never clean!"
"Yes. Thank you, Eowyn."
"YOU ARE NOT SERIOUSLY BUYING INTO THIS!"
"MY POINT IS, then he didn't have any more, and I didn't check up like I should have, and that's how we ended up with--what happened the other night. For which he is very sorry."
"Words cannot express the depth of my sorrow and regret--I can't even begin to beg for forgiveness, I am a hopeless irredeemable monster and I deserve to--"
"VERY, VERY SORRY."
"Well... even if we let this go..."
"I DON'T BELIEVE THIS."
"...we need to have some rules."
"Oh, of course. Absolutely." I looked down at Edward very sternly. "No biting people. Or elves. Or any bipedal beings of a vaguely humanoid nature. Or daemons. Or any stuffed animals not specifically designated for explushination. Or my dogs. You can bite the cat if you want, good luck catching him. And of course, I'll make sure we have plenty of cotton balls. If you get hungry and you can't find appropriately regulated food, you have to tell me. And I'll make sure you stay fed. That's only fair." And then I addressed the others: "In return, everyone else has to BACK OFF. You don't have to be friends, but there will be no persecution, ANNA."
"I DO NOT AGREE TO THIS!"
"Well, tough, because I'm not giving you a choice. And take off that stupid hat."
"HE CAN READ MY MIIIIIIIIND!"
"Well, he can just stop, can't he?" I looked back down at Edward. "No reading people's minds without prior permission. Written permission, even. You can block it out, right?"
"It takes a good deal of effort to block out people's thoughts--it's not necessarily something I choose to do, and given what a weak, irresponsible--"
"Well, you'll just have to work on that, WON'T YOU?" Supposedly he can't read mine, but I was thinking WORK WITH ME HERE, YOU LITTLE SHIT quite vehemently at this point. "All right? All right. No mind-reading, no unauthorized vampiring, NO TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS. By which I am referring metaphorically to A WIDE VARIETY of vampire-hunting implements, ANNA."
Everyone stared at Anna, who stared at me as if her head were about to explode. Elizabeth, hesitantly, reached out to touch her shoulder, and that was when Anna slapped her hand away and stormed off. But once she was gone, the air seemed to clear a bit.
"So. Right. Well. Let's go get some of that pie, then. Pie for everyone! Off you go."
Lyra was one of the last to leave; she pointed her big metal bookmark at Edward and declared "YOU EN'T FORGIVEN" before she marched off.
"I think that went rather well," I said.
After the High Shelf Council Meeting for Great Justice was over, Galadriel pulled me aside. I was wondering if she was going to get onto me for "no one's a queen" remark, but her face was anxious. "Over here--I don't want Lyra to hear us."
"Lyra? What's Lyra got to do with--"
"Shhhh!" We went back to my desk and she pushed my keyboard back so she could stand close and whisper to me: "She pulled out the alethiometer after you took Edward away that morning, to see what would happen next. And it went wild--it pointed to the Madonna, the cauldron, the angel, the horse, the chameleon, the sword, the walled garden--to the griffin and the helmet several times--oh, I can't remember the order, but again and again, it went back to the Madonna. The mother."
She paused. "You didn't buy a Mrs. Coulter, did you?"
"No--there were a ton of them on sale, but I never did--you know how I am when I see a good deal" (shopping is a spectator sport in my family) "but I knew it'd be a terrible idea to get a Mrs. Coulter, I didn't want one anywhere near Lyra. Someone was selling her fur cloak separately on the cheap, I thought about buying that, but--"
"You're sure you didn't buy a Mrs. Coulter?"
"Absolutely sure. I haven't bought anything since The Littlest Edward." I glanced back over my shoulder. "And you see how that turned out. But no--I haven't ordered anything."
Galadriel sighed: a frustrated little huff. "But it keeps going back to 'mother'! It has to mean something!"
"If Lyra understands the alethiometer better than anyone--what's she getting out of it?"
"She can't make it out--as far as she knows, her mother's dead." We exchanged wary looks. "She thinks it might mean that her mother is watching over her from heaven, but--why would the alethiometer tell her that now, when there are far more important things to address? And--well, you and I know that's not the case anyway."
"Do you want to get the Mirror out again?"
"Perhaps tomorrow," she said. "I'd rather stay here for the moment. With the others."
I looked back over towards The Shelf. Purple Arwen was passing out slices of lemon meringue; Anna was sulking blackly on top of my night lamp.
"Yeah... that might be a good idea."
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