Branwell was unsure what his first act as king of Angria should be.
The crowd had carried him aloft to the doors of his official residence at Wellesley House, where he waved to them from the portico, and entered. For the first time since his inexplicable transubstantiation, he was sober and alone.
He ascended the grand staircase, gazing upon the mystic, direful paintings of many a Spanish master that lined the walls. An enormous marble statue of Napoleon rose up, taller than the curving banisters: an inspiration, a reminder of the greatness of the Wellesleys, and, perhaps, a portend.
Rosier appeared, ready for orders.
“Send for my architect!” Branwell cried.
“Immediately, sir,” replied Rosier.
Branwell reclined in one of his many sitting rooms, on a velvet-upholstered divan, deep in thought. He wished Charlotte could witness his triumph. He sensed, from its tenor and certain turns of phrase, that his oration was of her authorship. There must be some permeability between the two worlds, he mused. Was there some way she could join him here?
Una de Trois sent up a card, but Branwell told Rosier he was “not at home to her, for the foreseeable future.”
Then, with a flourish, the architect appeared. His name was Antoine Goudy, and he was a well-known, flamboyant figure in Glass Town society, who had been knighted for his contributions to the city’s sublime public edifices, including the turreted Opera House, the mosaic-clad Cathedral, and the Baths, which are famous for their Moorish excesses.
“Which shall we discuss first, your majesty;” he cried gaily, “the palace or the duel?”
In the course of a brief exchange, Branwell learned that it was expected by all, high and low, that in consequence of Lucien de Rubempre’s treachery, the king would demand satisfaction. Branwell could not but agree that it was the proper and fitting thing for a gentleman in his position to do, but he wondered whether he would prove to have the marksmanship of Zamorna — or of Branwell Bronte.
Goudy was more than happy to serve as second. The challenge was sent, and the answer came back promptly: the duel was set for dawn on the morrow.
Rising from the roadside muck, sodden both inside and out, Zamorna pointed his steps up the steep and winding lane to the parsonage. A keen, high wind blew through the wanton arms of a row of Cyprus trees, moaning like the hordes of Hades.
He had no latch key, but it seemed someone was waiting. As he approached the rough-hewn manse, the front door swung cautiously open. He hoped for Charlotte — she seemed dimly to understand his plight — but it was the youngest sister, Anne, who faced him on the threshold. She was a young girl of maybe 13 or 14, although there was an ancient look in her melancholy, violet-blue eyes.
“My God!” she exclaimed. “What has befallen you?”
“Never mind,” he said. “It is of little importance.”
Nevertheless she insisted on leading him into the kitchen, where she cleansed his muddy wounds with warm water, and affectionately ran her hands through his matted, curly hair.
“That’s odd,” she said. “There’s a sort of indentation, a hollow spot in the back of your head that I never noticed before.”
“It’s always been there,” he said — Ever since I tumbled from my pony as a boy in the hills of Ellibank, he added mentally, feeling the mal du pais.
“Where is Charlotte?” he asked abruptly.
“She has been sequestered in her room, writing, all the evening.”
“Writing?” he asked irritably. “What is she writing?”
“About Glass Town, I suppose, and Angria. Haven’t the two of you recently promoted that wicked Zamorna into a king of some kind?”
His blood ran cold. She knew his name, and yet did not know him. Here, indeed, was a most sinister puzzle.
“Take me to Charlotte’s room!” he demanded.
She wondered why he didn’t go alone, but she complied. He burst into the room without knocking. Charlotte was seated at a little pine desk, bent over some scraps of paper, which had been folded and sewn into the form of a miniature magazine. He snatched up the manuscript, and read the words she had just written, in ink that was still wet on the page:
“The challenge was sent, and the answer came back promptly: the duel was set for dawn on the morrow.” What does he do next? Please return to the top of the page to vote on what happens next!