This story takes place in the Kingdom of Ellendale in the Elven Dominion Beyond the Stars. It is a part of the saga that beings with ‘An Owl on My Sceptre’ and continues through to the ‘Royal Space Corps’. It is not necessary to be a subject of Justin 3 of Glorious Repute, to read this story; I’ve tried to make everything clear; but I doubt I’ve been completely successful.
So you should know that: the Elven Monarchy contains Humans, Trollians, Elves, and the Bwca who are also known as Tommy Knockers. There are Familiars everywhere, usually involved in magic, but not always working with a witch or wizard. Cameron is a great grey owl; he is a familiar but is the servant of the King who is not a wizard. There are Riffian aliens who invaded Earth, Mars, and Earth Prime. There are fully aware artificial intelligences who command battle cruisers in their own right. Two of them are married and in love. There is also interdimensional travel and time travel.
My profound thanks go to my valiant editors, the readers who urge me on, and Mike at Awesome Dude.
I hope you enjoy.
Gianni ran as though the hounds of hell were close upon his heels. He ran as if he could feel their sulphurous breath hot upon his neck. He ran as if he might soon suffer their teeth ripping through his tender flesh. He knew, though, that what he was running from was far worse than any figurative hounds of hell. Drunken soldiery intent on rape and plunder were real. Hounds of hell? Well, not so much.
Actually, he had made a clean getaway. No one was in pursuit. But Gianni had no way of knowing that.
Gianni had been startled awake by the sound of shouting, breaking glass, and screaming. He leapt from his trundle bed. Grabbing the violin he was charged to play and care for, he vaulted from the window of the music hall into the flower beds below the large ornate windows. He quickly left the flower beds and ran on the grass toward the orchard. Instinctively he wanted to leave as hard a path to follow as possible. Footprints in the soft soil and smashed flowers did not seem a good idea. As he ran, he heard more screaming and some loud bangs he thought must be gun shots.
Things had become increasingly unsettled the last few months. Wherever you turned there were stories of Imperial troops looting the countryside. Of course, if you turned in a different direction, the stories would be of French troops set upon the conquest of Venice who were looting the countryside: it was hard on the countryside in any event.
Gianni had no role to play in the affairs of Venice, or anything other than his immediate studies and duties in the musical establishment of the Villa Contarini. He was a student violinist charged with the care of his violin and the cleanliness and polish of the floors in the music hall. These studies and duties did not include an encounter with riotous soldiery.
None of the family had been in residence at the villa for several months now. Several weeks ago a caravan of carters had come and, at the direction of the villa’s major domo, had loaded several pieces of statuary, a large number of paintings, and all of the silverware and gold ware into the wagons which had then disappeared leaving the staff without instructions of any kind. There had been a large armed escort with the caravan.
So far as Gianni could tell, there was nothing for him to do but lay low and be as invisible as possible. So when the raid, or robbery, or rape, or whatever began, Gianni went for cover. He hoped that Fiorello and Ilaria, his two best friends had also escaped. Gianni was thought to be around twelve years old. This determination was made by a friar at the orphanage; Gianni knew nothing about it.
He sprinted down the lawn, through the formal gardens, and dodged into the orchard where he took cover beneath the drooping limbs of a fig tree that had not been pruned recently. He had managed to give himself some cuts and scrapes; he was barefoot, wearing only a night shirt that was now seriously ripped and torn. He hugged his violin to his thin chest. It was this violin that had given his life hope and meaning. He would die for this violin.
He looked carefully through the thick foliage and thought there was some light coming from the vicinity of the villa where no light should be. Fire he thought. The shouts and screams were more distant now, but not at all reassuring for that. There ought be no shouts and screams: nor firelight either.
He considered carefully. There was abundant cover where he was, but he thought he might be safer if he continued down to the river where there was also thick cover in the wood lot. Gianni was alone. Things had always been tough for him. He had been in the local orphanage. Then he had been portioned-off to the Villa Contarini to serve as a scullery boy. This was to repay his betters for the care they had taken of him all his life. But then, the first good thing that he could remember happened to him. The concert master heard him plucking tunes on a broken lute. The lute had been discarded as damaged beyond repair. But despite that verdict, Gianni had recovered it and managed to pluck out some recognizable tunes. This broken lute was the one bright spot in Gianni’s life and with it Gianni had managed to change his life. He was transformed. He was out of the kitchen and into the musical establishment where his affinity for the violin was quickly discovered and his lessons began. It was the best thing that ever happened to him.
The concert master was ecstatic about him. He called him “his little Lulli” and congratulated himself lavishly for discovering Gianni in the scullery. “A prodigy! A genius! And all thanks to me!”
Gradually, Gianni’s breathing slowed. He began to think about his friends, Ilaria and Fiorello; he hoped they were safe; they were like sister and brother to him. They seemed to him to be what a family must be. He did not yet know that friendships can be as meaningful as kinship. They were a family of necessity, not of birth. But he did not know how to help them. He resolved to think about it.
Ah! There you are! A voice casually commented behind him; a voice that echoed strangely and seemed both close and distant simultaneously. Gianni passed-out.
Gianni didn’t move. He had learned at the orphanage that it could sometimes be best to feign sleep rather than appear to be awake and aware. He began to check himself. He wasn’t in chains, or ropes; it felt as if he was in bed. Strangely, he felt clean. He was accustomed to bathing once a week as a member of the musical establishment and, usually, before any performance. He had never really bathed until the Villa Contarini. There he was forced to it as the Duca della Contarini had some very peculiar notions about bathing and, very importantly, the ability to enforce those notions. Strangely, he had come to enjoy his bath.
Ever so slowly, Gianni began to slit open his eyes so that he could begin to take in his surroundings. He was very worried. It had been the dark of night, but now there was plenty of light. He remembered that he had taken cover in the foliage of a mature fig tree; he could now see that he was in a small room, brightly lighted, it seemed, by daylight. He could see a clean white wall; without too much movement, there was an ornate rug hanging on another wall at the very limit of his vision. He did not think he was in a cell.
“Here you go lad,” came a cheery voice accompanied by the thunk of a door opened too energetically. “Some breakfast to start.”
Gianni opened his eyes, no point trying to pretend sleep any longer. He rolled over and sat up in bed. He’d been right. He was not manacled or restrained in any way; he could see his violin case on a table next to his bed. There were two windows and neither of them sported any bars.
A pleasant young man in what appeared to be a very simple light green livery was placing a tray on a portable table beside his bed. “Sit up now and have some breakfast.”
Gianni remembered to be hungry. This was not at all difficult as he usually was hungry. He was well fed at the Villa; better fed than he’d ever been at the orphanage. But still, he was always ready to eat.
“Look you here; I’ve some fresh bread, some sausages, a lovely glass of pompelmo juice. Here’s some espresso, a small glass of wine, a nice wedge of cheese. We’re not at all sure what you Eye-talians eat for breakfast so there’s some fresh fruit too.
“Oh and there’s a chamber pot under the bed. If you use it, leave it out so’s it can be emptied. The lavatory is down the hall. Turn right when you go through the door.
“As soon as you’re finished, we’ll check your bandages. Right back.” He was gone with a resounding thunk as the door closed enthusiastically behind him. Gianni looked at the door. There did not appear to be any lock or bar. He caught the aroma of espresso and focused on his meal.
Having finished every bit of his abundant breakfast, Gianni sat back on the bed. He was naked except for some bandages. There was a large wrap of bandages around his upper chest and back. There was another large bandage on one leg, and several smaller ones on both his arms. If he touched them, several registered sore, but the others felt normal unless he really pushed, then he might feel some small pain.
The door thunked dramatically as his keeper returned with an armload of folded clothing which he placed on top of the bureau that stood against one wall of his room.
“Excellent! Good appetite! That’s what I like to see in a young man. Please sit up here and I’ll check your injuries.” He brandished a pair of scissors and went to work removing the bandages around Gianni’s chest.
“Where am I?”
“Well, have you ever heard of Hawai’i?”
“Mayhap you call them the ‘Sandwich Isles’?”
“Never heard of ’em,” Gianni was pleased that his questions were being answered. His curiosity was piqued. “Where are you from, can I ask? I don’t recognize your accent.”
“Well, see, I learned to speak Eye-talian in school. I’m not from around here, see.
“What’s your name, by the way? I’m Hedrek Trengrouse an my friends call me ‘Heddy’.”
“Er, well, everyone calls me ‘Gianni’. I’m an orphan so they gave me the name ‘di Castellammare’ at the orphanage. I never knew my parents.”
“So what do you have in that beautiful case, Gianni?” Hedrek nodded at the beautifully finished wooden case with golden hardware.
“That’s my violin, to be sure. Given me by the concert master his own self.”
While Heddy and Gianni were getting to know one another, Heddy had been checking his injuries and changing his bandages. Gianni now sported a much smaller bandage on his left side; he was no longer swathed around his chest. He had some dramatic scratches on his cheek that he saw in the mirror; he had two other small bandages, and a couple of small cuts that Heddy had treated with an ointment and then left exposed.
Heddy changed the subject. “That shirt you had is ruint. So I brought you some new clothes. Here’s a tunic and trews that you should put on as you’ll feel more comfortable dressed, I’m thinkin’.”
Gianni had very little sense of modesty. It was never possible in the orphanage or the servant’s facilities at the Villa. Still, it’s not so comfortable to be naked when everyone else is dressed. He quickly slipped them on and was surprised at how well they fit.
Heddy looked young as Bwca so frequently do; but he was actually an adult from an ancient family of Tommy Knockers that had learned their craft in the tin mines of Roman Britannia. He enjoyed a little joke as all Tommy Knockers do. But he much preferred service in the Royal Medical Services. There, helping people was much more rewarding than only warnings and mischief. He had been in the RMS for the last twenty years.
“So you were going to play me a little tune on your violin.”
Gianni didn’t remember mentioning that, but he never missed an opportunity to play, particularly for an audience. Quickly, but gently and lovingly, Gianni removed his violin from its case and quickly tuned it with the tuning fork the concert master had personally given him. He then warmed-up playing a series of scales. “Here’s something new by Boccherini. It’s from a quintet in the galante style.”
Heddy smiled encouragement though he did not know what either “quintet” or “galante style” might mean; he’d never heard of Boccherini either.
Gianni did not have the piece committed completely to memory, so he improvised here and there, but he tried to maintain the ambience of the piece. The rich tone of his violin filled the small room to musical overflowing; it could as easily fill a concert hall. Gianni’s technique and preternatural ability contributed to the majesty of the music.
The door flew open and a young man in uniform stood framed by the doorway. He appeared to be about ready to speak but said nothing. Gianni glowered at him over bow and bridge but continued to play a number of bars until he came to another spot where he’d have to improvise. He stopped, lowered his bow, and disapproved of the intruder.
Heddy, too, was having none of it. “Here! Who the hell do you think you are? Barging into folk’s rooms like that! This is Kingstown you peasant matelot! We knocks on doors here! And then you waits to be invited in.”
“But wait,” the young man managed to utter.
“But wait yer ass! Get out! Then close the door gently. Knock in a civilized manner an we’ll invite yer in.” The young man seemed frozen in place; he had not expected this reaction. Heddy stepped formidably forward. The young man backed out and closed the door. There was a quiet knocking.
“Come in,” Heddy responded.
The young man re-entered, but he had also regained his officialdom. “Now you wait a minute. I’m Petty Officer Poirier of Artifact Recovery and I’ve come for that violin. That one there!” He pointed unnecessarily at the only violin in the room.
“So yer a thief is it? Well, as it happens, that violin. That one there. Belongs to Giacomo di Castellammare. That’s him there!” He pointed for dramatic effect, mimicking the petty officer. “Given him by a grateful employer. Yer’ll not be havin’ it.
“’Is a patients property anyhow. So, like I said, yer’ll not be havin’ it!”
“But wait. That fiddle was tagged for recovery years ago. It’s one of the missing Strads that didn’t make it through to modern times. The recovery monitor postulated its destruction in the sacking of the Contarini Villa and sent us to get it. It’s slated to go to the Admiralty.”
“Well it’s staying right here. You’ve asked for it and we’ve said no. So you’ll have to put in a claim of ownership-slash-restitution to the ombudsman. I don’t think you’ve got a leg to stand on. Your computer program thought the violin would be destroyed, it wasn’t. It was rescued by its owner. Your claim was over before it ever even began.”
Gianni has kept his violin close throughout these exchanges. With almost every comment he had more questions. He lovingly stroked the elegant purfling of his violin.
Heddy and the young man with the remarkable ears continued to argue hotly; but they had lapsed into a different language and Gianni could only be sure that they were angry. At length, the interloper left slamming the door ferociously as he went.
“Shithead,” Heddy remarked in Italian.
Shortly thereafter, a messenger delivered a formal document to the RMS Infirmary, Maui, it was a serious document receipt for which had to be acknowledged with a signature.
Dear Lieutenant Hardy:
It has come to my attention that you are in possession of a violin recovered by Artifact Recovery in accordance with the Alexandrine Protocol, section III, sub-section: Artifacts, portable, hand carry.
I request that you surrender this item to me instanter.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
In the fullness of time, a messenger delivered a formal document to the Alexandrine Library, Office of Artifact Recovery, it was serious too, and so receipt for it had to be acknowledged with a signature.
Great Library of Alexandria
Dear Magister Clarence ap Merlin:
This office is in receipt of yours to the Royal Medical Services Infirmary, Maui.
We have investigated the matter.
We respectfully beg to disagree with your assessment of the situation as it currently stands.
We willingly stipulate that the recovery was entirely proper and within the ambit of the operant sub-paragraphs of the Alexandrine Protocol.
However, the cited paragraphs are designed for the recovery of lost artifacts that are in immediate danger of destruction.
In this case, your operatives recovered the artifact in question, a violin by the maker Antonio Stradivari.
This Office is constrained to point out that when the operatives of your Office recovered a violin by the maker Antonio Stradivari, they also recovered the owner of the violin in question.
This being the case, the Alexandrine Protocol does not apply as the violin was in the possession of its owner when you acted. Additionally, neither the owner, nor the violin, were in immediate danger of destruction and/or death. They in fact, were in a fig tree. Therefore, the violin remains the property of the owner, and so must remain in the possession of said owner. There exists no cause for confiscation/seizure.
Lieutenant (AG) W Finnegan
Office of the Ombudsman
Cc HSH the Comptroller General
The Physician Royal
However, the march of time continued, as it does, and a document arrived at the Office of the Avocat Genéral, a serious one, signature required.
Lieutenant (AG) W Finnegan
Office of the Ombudsman
Dear Lieutenant Finnegan:
Your position in this matter is manifestly ridiculous.
You have awarded ownership of a priceless violin to a scullery urchin solely and exclusively because the said urchin says that the instrument was given to him.
As you know, or should know, these instruments are of great interest to HM the Queen.
In the real world, Stradivari violins are not given to scullery urchins.
The Recovery Agents had no option but to recover the said urchin with the violin as the said urchin had the violin in question clutched tightly to his chest. The rescue of the said urchin was also necessary as he, as well as the violin, was in immediate danger of death and/or destruction.
The notion that an aristocratic Venetian family would give a violin of any type, to the said urchin is patently absurd. The absurdity of the notion is compounded by the fact that the instrument in question, as we have noted, is by Stradivari and is a court embellished model. Or, one might say, the ‘top of the line’.
We would remind you that temporal maneuvers are extremely difficult and there is only one magister and two familiars who are capable of them in all the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars.
For these reasons, let the comptroller’s office debit for another violin for the said urchin and transfer to us, forthwith, the Stradivari. I remind you that it is earmarked for the Admiralty.
Very truly yours,
Office of Recovery
However, while time marches relentlessly on to achieve its fullness; it should be remembered that it is not a strictly linear march: there is a simultaneity involved. The march is on-going in other places and, indeed, in other dimensions. Time marches over a broad front. Most of the march is clouded, to be sure, as everything is not conveniently stamped: ‘signature required’.
“Heddy!” Gianni yelled across the grassy commons of the hospital grounds. Heddy smiled and waved, waiting for Gianni on the brick paved sidewalk.
“Please, Heddy, can you answer some questions for me?” Gianni was frequently poised to ask questions when something or someone interrupted the conversation and his questions went unasked.
“Well enough,” Heddy smiled. “Nought presses today. Here, let’s sit.” There were decorative wrought iron benches along the sidewalk where one could relax.
“Oh, thanks. Do you remember when first we met? I asked you where I was. You said some place I’d never heard of and I can’t remember how to pronounce it. Then you said something about sandwiches, and then we were interrupted. So, where am I?”
“Well, yer on the Island of Hawai’i. Smack in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. An you knows this is an ‘ospital. We’re next to a royal palace and we’ve access to the beaches, gardens, and grounds of the palace as well. The king’s not there just the now, but the queen and the young princes is.
“Also, you need to think about when you are, as well as where. See, you was rescued from the late 18th Century on Earth. Here, it’s the early 21st Century an we’re on the planet Quartus Earth. There are more new things for you, than you can shake a stick at. An we got nothin’ like time enough to talk about ‘em all right now.
“Now look, you’ll be in what we calls physical therapy soon, prolly a week or so. When that starts, you’ll also start going to school and they’ll explain things and they’ll be able to answer any question. I can’t. There’s lotsa stuff around here that I use every day and I couldn’t explain it. But come by my rooms anytime and we can chat. Otherwise, relax. It’s a whole new world, but we have a good king and our world works. Even if there’s a lotta magic in it. Yuh need to keep playin’ the fiddle, that’s a sure.”
“I am, Heddy, I am. Can we have dinner together tonight. I always seem to eat alone. Please.”
Gianni had immediately taken Heddy’s advice and started playing in the Infirmary restaurant during lunch and dinner. He enjoyed playing for an audience and had started several days ago. Technically, he remained a patient though he had only one wound that still required dressing. He was getting around without difficulty and his physical therapist told him that playing in the restaurant was an excellent idea. He was looking forward to eating with Heddy, and then playing for the diners.
Interestingly, many of the diners had started leaving a few coins on the table next to where he stood while playing. He had no immediate need for these coins, did not know their worth, and did not know where to spend them. But he kept them carefully as he planned on asking Heddy about them. It was certainly money and you never know when you might need money.
Then there was the afternoon, toward the end of lunch, when Gianni fell into what he knew must be love. Gianni was improvising on a theme by Albinoni when two handsome boys entered the dining room. They appeared to be about his age; they made no effort to seat themselves, but approached his table and gave him their complete attention. Smiling and appearing to enjoy the music; they were obviously twins: dark golden hair tousled, glowing brown eyes attentive, dimpled identically, dressed in what appeared to be a casual blue uniform of some kind. But maybe it wasn’t a uniform after all, neither of them wore hats.
Gianni was in love. He had fallen in love with these two boys. He had fallen in love at first sight, and he had managed to do it twice at the same time. Stunned by the knowledge that he was in love, Gianni almost faltered in his music; though young, he’d had excellent training and had been living in an almost exclusively musical environment for the last three years. He feared he might falter with his bow, so he improvised pizzicato for several bars. Equilibrium restored, he swept through some double stops for dramatic effect and came to a conclusion.
He lowered violin and bow while the two paragons before him applauded smiling even more broadly. Gianni, mildly embarrassed and thoroughly enchanted, gave a small bow and smiled in return.
“Hi,” one of them announced, “I’m Leo and this is my brother Lewis.”
“We play the violin too,” Lewis continued with a barely noticeable pause.
“Maybe we can all play together. Be a famous trio, you know?” Leo rolled on.
“And I’m Lewis the older brother,” the other twin grinned. “It might take us a lot of practice to become a famous trio, but it would be fun to play together.”
“But always remember me, Leo,” thumping his chest. “I’m the smarter, younger, dashing, and altogether better looking brother.”
Gianni was trying to frame an answer for these beautiful young men but was having trouble engaging his mouth. He was further inhibited by the sight of their beautifully pointed ears, only partially emerging from the glory of their hair. ‘I wish I had ears like that,’ he thought to himself.
“I wish I had ears like that,” Gianni gushed without conscious thought.
Leo and Lewis grinned hugely. “You will if you stay here,” Leo observed.
“If you love Ellendale, or one of the elves, you become an elve too.” Lewis explained.
“But don’t believe any of those old kids’ stories you may have heard back home.”
“Yeah,” Lewis continued Leo’s dialogue, “we’re none of us anything like that.”
“So do you want to play with us?”
“Yes! Oh yes. I want to play with you.” Gianni managed to get out.
“Let’s go, we got a music room and everything.”
They carefully returned Gianni’s Strad to its elegant case, and carefully placed Gianni’s takings in an envelope. Then the three of them departed. Gianni blissfully happy, was beginning to get the odd word in edgewise every sentence or so.
Via interdepartmental mail.
Sir St George K Davids, KT, OM, DSO, SSM
Rear Admiral Commanding
Dear Admiral Davids:
Temporal Magister Clarence ap Merlin has asked me to keep you apprised of the status of the Stradivari violin that has been slated for award to the Admiralty.
Succinctly stated, the violin was recovered; but it was recovered with its owner. We are working to resolve the procedural complexities involved in the separation of the owner from the violin and anticipate delivering the Stradivari in question with all possible dispatch.
We hope this minor contretemps has caused you no inconvenience.
Very truly yours,
Clarence ap Merlin
C Collins Griffith
Lieutenant (S) RSC
/s/ C G Griffith
Via interdepartmental mail.
C Collins Griffith
Lieutenant (S) RSC
Dear Lieutenant Griffith:
The Admiral is in receipt of your recent letter with respect to the Admiralty Stradivari. The Admiral appreciates your industry and concern.
Very truly yours,
St George Kilverstone Davids KT, OM, DSO, SSM
Rear Admiral Commanding
J J McIllhenny
Chief Yeoman, RSC
/s/ J J McIllhenny
Via Royal Mail.
You cannot begin to imagine how I envy you.
There you are on a brand new battle cruiser preparing to lead an interstellar expedition to locate the Riffian home world. What an adventure that will be.
Here I am, stuck in the Admiralty 90% of the time. I hardly ever get to the Moon, even. Mostly it’s routine, but we do have an engaging little drama in progress. Someone decided that the Admiralty needs a violin. As near as I can figure, they know how the Queen is involved in the rescue of old musical instruments. So it was somehow decided that if the Navy had one, the Queen would instantly become more agreeable to designs and applications that aren’t necessarily so streamlined and elegant as she might like. Whoever came up with that idea, obviously never met the Queen. I’m sure it must have come from an engineer or a constructor moiling deep in the guts of the Bureau of Ships.
So then, Mister-I’m-so-important-cause-I-do-time-travel-Temporal-Magister-moi located a violin that was going to be destroyed in a looting and rescued it. But he screwed-up and rescued the owner of the violin too. So then he tried to take the violin away from the owner. The owner, a kid, was injured while trying to escape from the looters while protecting his violin. He’s a musician, see, and you know how they can be about their instruments. Anyway, his nurse wouldn’t let the minions of Mister, etc, etc, near the kid or his violin. The nurse called the Ombudsman in so the kid could keep his violin. Now salvoes of bureaucratic threats and imprecations thunder through the halls of government. And there you have it. The kind of adventures that cross my desk. I envy you.
I will be thinking of you. I will wish for your safe and speedy return
as I’m thinking you’re up for some Admiralty time when you get back.
No seriously, be careful. Love,
PS Val sends his love too.
What a swirl it had been for Gianni. The two beautiful boys he’d fallen in love with turned out to be Royal Princes. He no longer had a trundle bed in the music hall of the Villa Contarini; he had his own apartment in the Kingstown Palace. He had a servant, Pedro, who was more like an uncle than a servant and that suited Gianni. He was in charge of a musical establishment. At the moment, it was a small establishment. But they were all young. There were the two princes and himself on the violin; but a cellist had just been added to their ensemble. She was a young student, like the rest of them; she was attractive, for a girl, but was also very talented. Gianni hoped to get a violist and a double bassist which would give them a lovely sextet representing all the great stringed instruments. They would make music sublime.
The four of them had been working on some gavottes and an arrangement of a theme by Salieri. One of their teachers was primarily concerned with musical theory and composition and it was her urging and training that was leading them to try new things. They had just completed playing a wonderful modern tune called ‘Let It Be’2 when there was a commotion at the door and a uniformed man and several sailors pushed past Uncle Pedro and entered the music room.
Uncle Pedro immediately recovered and again stood between Gianni and the intruders. Julie carefully set her cello down. It was a Maggini and priceless in its quality and rarity. Then she jumped forward to stand beside Uncle Pedro with the sharp end of her bow presented in a most unmusical way. Actually, ‘Julie’ was just a nick name. Her real name was Gugu which means “treasure” in Zulu. Her Grandfather had used his assegais to fearsome effect during the Riffian invasion of Earth Prime. Leo, or was it Lewis, had also settled his Amati carefully and then knocked over a music stand in his haste to get next to Julie. Gianni stepped back clutching his Strad; he wanted to fight to protect it, but feared that if he set it down, one of the enemy might grab it in the melee.
“Now wait,” the young officer, holding his hands up placatingly, assured them. “See here, I’ve a writ from the Board of Inter-Governmental Review and Assessment awarding a violin to the Admiralty. So I ask you to please surrender it without delay.” He looked around bemused, “which one is it, please.” He attempted to smile. “If you refuse to obey the writ you can be subject to sanctions.” He continued to look earnestly into the almost palpable hostility radiating from the musicians.
“You can just go fuck yourself,” snarled Leo, or was it Lewis, temper roiling. “This is the Royal Palace and you don’t just come in here waving papers around. And you DO NOT speak until spoken to.” He was coming off the boil and remembering who he was. “I am Llewellyn Edward Winthrop Henry Karl ap Justin 3 and you address me as ‘Your Royal Highness.’” [So it had been Lewis all along.]
Meanwhile Leo, sensing the need for reinforcements, had dashed down the hall to the library where his mother was reading The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.
“Mom,” Leo called to Her Majesty Cecilie Eugenie Margaret Eleanor Queen of Ellendale and of the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars. “Some creep is in the music room trying to steal Gianni’s violin.”
“Oh. Really?” She carefully marked her place and put the book, an autographed first edition, down. She rose and they started down the hall at a hurried, but still regal, pace.
One does not do tumult in palaces, and when the Queen and Leo returned, an under butler, three footmen and a hall boy had arrived to support Lewis and company.
“Harold,” Her Majesty inquired of the under butler. “Whatever in the world is going on here?”
“Your Majesty,” Harold bowed. “This lad,” nodding to the young officer who clearly wished to be somewhere else—anywhere else—“has been sent here to recover a violin that the Admiralty thinks belongs to them. However, Giacomo here, insists that the violin was given to him by the concert master of the Villa Contarini and has been in his care ever since and that it was he who saved it when the villa was sacked by Bonaparte.”
Silence reigned for a long moment.
“Tell me, Leftenant, whatever does the Admiralty want with a violin?”
“Well, er, as I understand it, they want it as a token of respect for Your Majesty.”
“So they send you and your boarding party. Here.” The Queen spoke with precision that gave her words a sense of rising menace. “To disturb my children and their guests! In the palace? While they are making music? As a show of respect!”
The Queen’s eyebrows arched. “Give that paper, whatever it might be, to Harold.
“Harold, send someone for my secretary.
“We’re going to resolve this matter right here and right now.”
It only took moments until the Lady Alice, Principal Private Secretary to HM the Queen arrived, notebook in hand.
“Alice, dear, there’s a species of dispute in progress here that we are going to resolve. Apparently the Admiralty thinks they have a claim to that violin. We are going to restore the domestic tranquility by granting that claim. Additionally, draw up the necessary papers and commission that young man, I only know him as Gianni, as a chief warrant musician in the Navy. He’s to have full pay and benefits from the first of the month. He’s to be appointed custodian of the Admiralty violin and is assigned to the household of my sons, Leopold and Llewellyn, until further notice. He is not eligible for reassignment, or transfer; neither is the violin eligible for reassignment, or transfer, without my express permission. My express permission in writing.
“You will advise the Admiralty, Leftenant, that as a token of my esteem, I shall commission an oil painting of Gianni, in full uniform, with the violin and I shall expect to see it hanging in the Admiralty. And that will be the end of this.
“Harold, please escort the naval party out.
“Children, have some tea, or make music again, as it pleases you.”
She swept out.
In one fell swoop she had out arbitrated Solomon and established ownership with no threat of division or deprivation. The Admiralty had a Strad and so did Gianni.
There was a moment of reverence and then reality returned.
“I bet the eclairs are fresh. I think tea first!” Leo, or was it Lewis, offered.
“Yeah! And custard tarts,” Gianni chorused with glee.
1 Jean Baptiste Lulli (AKA Lully) was a noted dancer and musician in the court of Louis XIV. He is considered to be the father of modern ballet. This bronze is in the author’s collection. The story is that he was a kitchen boy found practicing his violin in the scullery. Almost certainly apocryphal, but a fun story nonetheless. It explains the outfit, the pot, and the head of cabbage in the sculpture.