Disclaimer: Covington Cross and all related characters belong to Gil Grant, but since it has to have been at least ten years since the show aired on television, and since Gil Grant seems like a nice guy, I can't see why he'd want to sue me for borrowing his characters. In any case, I don't own any of them, and I'm not making any money at all from this!
Author's Notes & Lame Excuses: This bit of silliness was written solely for the fun of it, and no attempt was made to turn it into great literature. You are forewarned. After a long period of not writing anything, I started working on some of my unfinished stories and discovered that one of my characters had somehow taken on certain Mary-Sue-ish traits (oh no!). After watching some of my old videotapes, I decided to inflict her on the characters of Covington Cross (much to their dismay).
No fictional characters were harmed in the writing of this story. ;-)
Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes
by Lady Kate
The castle was unnaturally still when Armus woke, which was the first ominous clue that something was amiss. Without really stopping to think about it, he hurried himself out of bed with greater haste than usual and stepped out into the deserted hallway. Cedric's door opened at almost the same moment, and his younger brother fell into step behind him.
"Is this what I think it is?" Cedric asked, stifling a yawn and hurrying to keep up with his older brother's longer stride.
"If you are referring to an incoming storyline," Armus replied, "I fear that it is." That was usually the only explanation for the odd compulsion that caused them to drop whatever they were doing and gather together. By the time he and Cedric reached the main hall, Richard was already waiting there, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
Armus cast a questioning look towards his brother, who couldn't quite seem to sit still. "You seem unusually agitated this morning, Richard."
"I have a very bad feeling about today," Richard said glumly.
"What sort of feeling?"
"That— that horrible, prickly, itchy, crawly feeling," he sputtered, scratching at his shoulder. "As if there's someone trying to get into your skin. You know what I mean," he insisted, quickly flaring into annoyance. "Look, it's getting worse. I think I'm getting hives."
"You do seem to be somewhat allergic to new storylines, Richard."
"That's because most of them involve some combination of pain and anguish." He pushed his food away, untouched, and scratched feverishly at his arms. "This isn't just my imagination, is it? You do feel it too, don't you?"
Armus nodded readily enough. "Not precisely the same way you do, but there certainly is… something. I would describe it more as the awareness of another presence: as if someone else has suddenly entered the room. It's as if someone is watching us, listening to us… but we cannot see them."
"There's nothing to be done about it," Cedric shrugged fatalistically. "With any luck, the day will pass quickly and it will all be over soon enough."
"I cannot believe you're so calm about this." Richard glared darkly at both his brothers. "Something is going to happen today. Something bad."
"Something's definitely going to happen," Cedric agreed, "but it doesn't necessarily have to be bad."
"Oh it will be," Richard sulked gloomily. "It always is."
"At least you get actual character development. I usually just stand around in the background and wait for a pretty girl to chase after. Although," Cedric mused with a smile, "that does have its merits. Still, I don't understand why you two are usually given all the interesting storylines, whereas Eleanor and I—"
"You and Eleanor have dreadful accents," Richard interrupted, his own accent effortlessly perfect. "You're jarringly out of place. Did you never stop to consider that you might be taken more seriously if you at least made a passing attempt to speak the King's English?"
Cedric's mouth dropped. "I… I've been working on it." At Armus' skeptical glance, he insisted, more stridently, "I have!" He looked back at Richard, miffed. "And there's no need to be so sarcastic."
"I can't help it." Richard looked more than a little unsettled. "It must be my characterization for this story – I think it's already started."
Armus was dismayed by that comment, but Cedric – still stung by the criticism of his accent – shook his head and scoffed, "It can't have started already. Nothing's happened. And besides, Father and Eleanor aren't here yet."
As if on cue, their sister walked into the hall. "Father's just returning," Eleanor stated with forced cheeriness, obviously already caught in the grip of the unfolding storyline.
Richard looked back at Cedric with an 'I-told-you-so' look on his face.
"Returning from where?" Cedric prompted.
Eleanor stopped dead in her tracks and gave him a blank look. Apparently, the author didn't know.
Armus gave Cedric a quick jab to the ribs. "Don't do that. You're going to break the story."
"That might not be a bad thing," Richard muttered.
"And then again, it might be," Armus replied insistently. "You can never be too careful."
Eleanor shook off her momentary confusion, taking a step backward. The smile reappeared on her face, and she stepped forward again, speaking a little more loudly this time, "Father's just returning. He's brought someone back with him."
"Who?" Richard asked, a sickly greenish cast to his face as if he dreaded the answer.
Their father's footsteps rang through the hallways before she could give any reply. "Armus, Richard, Cedric, Eleanor! Where are you?" He stepped through the doorway. "Ah, there you all are. Good. My journey went well," he said, reciting the stilted dialogue with a professional, if not enthusiastic, air. "And I have brought back a guest." He gestured, and a small feminine form stepped forward. "This is the Lady Marie-Susanne."
"Oh good Lord, not another one," Armus breathed in dismay, and he and Richard both began to sidle inconspicuously behind Cedric, hoping to be overlooked.
Lady Marie-Susanne drew back the hood of her cloak. Of course, she was astonishingly beautiful. The bluest of blue blue eyes; the whitest of pale pale skin; and the most luxuriant honey-blonde hair any of them had ever seen. It fairly hurt their eyes to look at her.
Not that any of them could look away. Against their better judgment, and mostly against their will, all three brothers clamored forward to meet her, and the lady favored them each with a shy smile and a graceful curtsy.
And then Sir Thomas spoke the dreaded words: "I expect all of you to make her feel welcome here. Would one of you like to show her the grounds?"
Richard mouthed a silent prayer – please, God, let it be Cedric – but, to his horror, heard himself stridently arguing with his two brothers as they all vied for her attention. No amount of willpower on his part could silence his voice, which could mean only one thing: that part of the plot had already been written.
With a blinding smile – "Ouch," said Richard, squinting to protect his vision – Lady Marie-Susanne nodded her assent to his invitation, locking her arm possessively through his. Resistance was futile. Richard had only time enough to throw a forlorn look towards his family before he was marched from the room and straight into the storyline.
Eleanor's smile had been showing signs of strain for a while, but as soon as Lady Marie-Susanne left the room with the unfortunate Richard snared firmly in her grasp, the expression fell away completely. Immediately, she turned and shoved Cedric. "Don't you ever do that again!!"
"What did he do?"
"He went and asked a stupid question right when I was in the middle of my dialogue! Everything just froze up – I couldn't move, I couldn't even breathe. It was horrible!"
"It wasn't a stupid question," Cedric defended himself hotly. "It was perfectly reasonable—"
"Perhaps it was," Sir Thomas interceded, "but our definitions of 'reason' are often at odds with those of certain authors." Cautiously, he glanced about, wary of being overheard, but the oppressive weight of the air was lifting now that the author's attention had wandered further and further away from them. "In any case, this is neither the time nor place to be fighting amongst each other," he chided. "With another storyline upon us, we have enough to worry about as it is."
"What's to worry about? It's just a standard author self-insertion," Cedric scoffed, "and from the looks of it, Richard will be taking the brunt of it. Frankly, I think we should leave well enough alone."
"I don't know," Eleanor scowled. "These things can start out small, but the next thing you know, it turns into a runaway plot line that threatens the entire family."
"True enough," Armus agreed. "It wouldn't hurt to be prepared. What do you know of this Lady Marie-Susanne, Father?"
"Not much," Sir Thomas admitted. "Her backstory seemed sketchy. She simply 'appeared' and I was compelled to bring her here with no questions asked. It's most disappointing," he sighed heavily. "When I headed out this morning, I had hoped that I was being sent to retrieve Lady Elizabeth. I do rather enjoy the storylines that include her— Eleanor? Where are you going?"
"I think… I'm being written into the next scene," she said, careening back and forth as she tried to resist the urge to leave the room and leap back into the storyline. "Oh, I hate this! I hope this is a short story!" She came to an abrupt stop as she grasped the doorframe, bracing herself in the entryway.
"That won't work for long, Eleanor," Cedric noted. "You can't hold on forever."
"I know, I know. I'm just… mentally preparing myself." She grimaced, then took a deep breath. "Here I go – see you soon – I hope!" With that, she let go of the doorframe and off into some unknown plot tangent.
"There, but for the grace of God, go all of us," Sir Thomas intoned seriously. And then he turned to regard Armus and Cedric. "How are you two faring? No twinges of restlessness? No urges to go running off somewhere to further the plot?" Both his sons shook their head. "Good," he said, clapping them on the shoulders. "With any luck, we may yet escape this storyline. If Richard and Eleanor can put a quick resolution to it, we'll all be able to return to normal."
"Cedric? Do you have something to say?"
"I very much doubt Richard is going to be cooperative, Father."
"And why should he not? We all want this little fiction to end as quickly as possible, I'm certain. And Marie-Susanne is a pretty enough girl – quite uncommonly beautiful, I'd say."
"Yes," Armus agreed hesitantly, "but Father, her type can be rather… cloying."
Sir Thomas found he couldn't argue that point. After all, he'd had to ride back to the castle with her. "Richard knows," he assured with a certainty he didn't quite feel, "– as do all of you – the responsibility we have to the storyline. I'm sure I don't need to remind any of you that the sooner we reach the 'happily ever after' segment of this story, the sooner we can all return to our real lives." Sir Thomas paced back and forth a moment longer, and finally conceded, "That being said, it wouldn't hurt to remind him of that fact whenever he reappears."
When Richard finally did reappear, he was ghastly pale and tottering unsteadily.
"Are you all right?" Armus left his chair by the kitchen fireplace (new characters didn't often venture into the kitchens, and so he felt safest there) and leapt to his feet. "What happened?"
"I was— We were— She— she put her— I tried to— her hand was— I kissed—" He stuttered on and on, horror-struck, never quite able to get the words out.
Armus didn't really want to hear it anyway. Taking Richard firmly by the shoulders, he steered him over to the table, quickly sitting him down and handing him a mug of strong wine. Richard gulped down the contents of the tankard a little more quickly than was probably good for him, then set down the mug with a pained expression on his face. "That… was… truly… awful."
"Was it?" Frowning, Armus sniffed at the liquor, then sampled it cautiously. "Seems fine to me. True, it's not the very best the wine cellar has to offer, but I was not aware your tastes were quite that refined—"
"Not the wine," Richard grated impatiently. "The woman. That— that godawful Mary-Sue—"
"Marie-Susanne," Armus corrected.
"Ah. Yes. I see your point. Well…" Armus cast about in his mind for some bit of comforting advice, but couldn't quite think of any. "Well, better you than me," he muttered in an undertone, clapping his brother on the shoulder in what might have passed for a consoling manner, except for the too-apparent relief lingering on his face.
"I should probably warn you—" Richard began, then sputtered to an abrupt stop as Armus' words registered. "Did I just hear what I think I heard? 'Better you than me'?!"
Armus hadn't meant for that last comment to be audible. "Er…"
"And just what precisely do you mean by that, brother?"
There was a dangerously combative note to Richard's voice, but under the circumstances, Armus supposed he could overlook it. He quickly shifted to diplomatic mode. "Only that you've certainly had more experience with, ah… female entanglements," he replied smoothly, "and are therefore better suited to the challenge." Armus probably should have stopped there, but couldn't help adding, "After all, there was Rachel, and there was that Wyatt woman, too — can't quite recall her name now, but—"
"It was 'Charlotte'," Richard replied tersely. "As you well know." He held his temper for a moment longer, then exploded spectacularly, "It always comes back to Charlotte, doesn't it?! I knew it. I knew it! You're still angry about that whole thing, aren't you?"
"Angry? Me?" Armus scoffed incredulously. "Don't be ridiculous—"
"How many times do I have to say it: Charlotte wasn't my fault! It was just the way the episode was written!"
"Poorly written if you ask me. Highly improbable."
"I already told you—"
"There's absolutely no need for you to get so agitated, Richard," Armus remarked, infuriatingly calm. "I don't blame you for stealing Charlotte the way you did. After all, you're quite right – neither of us had any control over the way the plot was written. And, I might point out, the same rule holds true now. If our current storyline requires a love scene or two with Lady Marie-Susanne, then all you can do… well, to put it bluntly, just close your eyes and think of—"
"Please don't say 'England'."
"—of… of Covington." Armus tried to give Richard a heartening smile, but his younger brother would have none of it. "Come, now, Richard; be reasonable – we've been through all these arguments before."
"I seem to recall." Though he must have been seething inside, Richard's voice was very flat. "Duty and family honor and the integrity of the storyline and all that."
Richard thought about that for a moment, his eyes narrowed and watchful. "And if our positions were reversed," he suggested archly, "I suppose you would do no less. For the honor of the family. For the sake of the storyline."
"Absolutely," Armus replied with conviction. He was not prepared for the deeply satisfied little smile that began to pull at the corners of Richard's mouth.
Brief answers from Richard were never a good thing. Especially not when he was looking so awfully smug. "All right – what is it? What have you done? You're up to something," Armus said, leveling an accusing finger towards his brother. "I can tell. Whatever it is, it won't work. You know you can't rewrite the plot – we've tried it before, remember?, and it was a disastrous error. You're just going to have to endure it. The sooner you get that through your head, the better."
"Thank you, Armus, but I do remember the rules and regulations. And I will abide by them," he stated, obviously seeing the skeptical look on his elder brother's face. "I'm not in a rebellious mood today. I don't need to be."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I'm afraid I was not to the lady's liking. Well," he amended, "I was, but then I wasn't, if you know what I mean." Armus didn't, but on the other hand, he didn't particularly want to know. "Anyway, she changed her mind."
"Dumped by a Mary-Sue." Armus had to fight very hard to keep his smile from reaching his lips, and knew he wasn't entirely successful. "Poor Richard. That must be a bitter blow to your pride. Never fear, there will be others – of that, I am certain. The important thing is," he said, drawing himself up with no small measure of relief, "is that with that unpleasantness concluded, this whole story will be winding down and we can all go back to normal."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you."
"What do you mean?" Armus echoed flatly.
"I mean, my dear obtuse brother, that from the direction the plot seemed to be heading, I rather think she's looking for someone a little more— how do I put it? Someone a little less hot-tempered, a little more thoughtful. Someone taller, older, blonder… And preferably in line to inherit our father's estate. Remind you of anyone you know?" he asked archly. "I can't imagine what's taking her so long, but—"
A shadow moved at the top of the stairs. A moment later, a honey-dulcet voice rang out, saccharine-sweet and yet oddly musical. "Armus? Armus, are you there?"
Armus was certain he felt his heart stop in his chest. "Dear god, no."
"Ah. There she is." Richard got to his feet, a monstrously pleased smile on his face. "The plot thickens. I'd help out if I could – but you know how these things are. Duty calls. Make us all proud, Armus."
His brother was already darting towards a side exit, anxious to make his escape. Armus would have given anything to be able to follow, but found he was already hopelessly rooted to the spot. He was definitely being written into the next scene.
"Oh, and watch out for her hands," Richard suggested quickly, before beating a hasty retreat. "She only looks demure."
Once Armus had moved to the centre of the storyline, the rest of the family saw little of him, and then only when they were obliged to participate in various plot developments. Otherwise, they kept out of the way, usually retreating to unlikely corners of the castles in hopes of being overlooked.
Unfortunately, now that the story was so firmly centred around Armus, that meant the kitchens were out of bounds. Lady Marie-Susanne had decided that was Armus' territory, and it simply wasn't safe to venture there lest one be written back into the storyline, which no one was willing to risk. As a result, that meant the rest of the family was going hungry. Armus was constantly cooking special dishes for Marie-Susanne – whom Cedric had acerbically noted would soon be as fat as the friar (who was altogether absent from the storyline) if she didn't lay off the sweets – leaving the rest of them to fend for themselves.
One day passed, then two, then more, and still the story dragged on and on. Over the last few days, they had all begun to show signs of strain.
Currently free from the storyline, Eleanor and Richard sat alone in a dusty, sparsely furnished room overlooking the courtyard. Eleanor was constantly standing up and sitting down again, trying to find a way to lounge comfortably in a decidedly uncomfortable chair. Richard sat on a bench at a nearby table, occupied in cleaning and sharpening his sword. From the way it was gleaming, it was obvious that he'd already been at it for some time.
"You know what I hate about these stories?" Eleanor mused speculatively.
"The fact that, as the sole daughter, you always end up having to be bosom-buddies with the newcomer?" Richard suggested without looking up.
Eleanor made a face. "Ugh. No, that wasn't what I was thinking of, but thank you for reminding me. As if I'd ever willingly be friends with the likes of her," she scoffed. "She's a self-absorbed, pretentious, know-it-all. Did you know," she sputtered with increasing outrage, "that she picked up a crossbow this morning and outshot me?! I don't think she's strong enough to reload it in the first place, and besides that, it took years of practice before I was that accurate, and she does it all in one morning?!"
"I had heard," Richard commented. "Was this before or after she made peace with Baron Mullens?"
Eleanor's teeth began to make an audible gnashing sound. "During," she gritted. "Mullens and his men came barging in – exactly why, I still don't know; some subplot with Cedric and Alexandria – but I took an arrow in the shoulder—"
"Does it hurt?"
"Not too much now," she said, checking the wound again. "I don't think she really has an inkling as to how much damage an arrowhead can do. Fortunately for me. But of course, I dropped my crossbow as soon as I was hit. Marie-Susanne valiantly retrieves it and starts picking off Mullens' men, saves Father's life, then gives her 'why can't we all be friends' speech."
"I'm sorry I missed it."
"You are not," she scoffed. "However, in all honesty, it was almost worth it to see the expression on Mullens' face. He despised every instant of it. If the plot hadn't been holding him back, I do believe he would have ripped Marie-Susanne's head off with his bare hands."
"That would have been an unexpected plot twist."
"Indeed. As it was, though," she sighed in disappointment, "he and Father were compelled to shake hands and agree to try to get along. It was completely contrived. And highly unrealistic."
"Does that really surprise you?" Richard asked in a distracted tone. He eyed his sword, seemed to find some tiny flaw, and continued to work on it. "We've all seen her type before."
"Yes," she acknowledged, "but I don't have to like it." She leaned back, staring up at the ceiling. "And I don't like sitting here and waiting either. This is dreadfully boring."
"Was that what you were going to say, then? What you hate about these stories?"
Eleanor grinned over at her brother. "Yes, that was one of my many complaints. I hate having to skulk about in the back rooms like this with nothing to do until we're written into another scene, or until the story comes to an end. It's like being in prison. And the way everyone else just disappears is unnerving," she added. "The castle is so empty right now – there aren't even any servants!"
"Better to have no servants at all than those sketchy, half-written ones that are lurking in the background in some stories," Richard countered. "They don't speak, and half of them don't even have any faces. It gives me the shivers."
There was a clatter of footsteps coming down the hallway – both Richard and Eleanor sat up in alarm, relaxing only when their younger brother appeared in the doorway.
"Cedric!" Eleanor was highly relieved that it wasn't the ubiquitous Marie-Susanne. "What are you doing back so soon? I thought you had a love scene with Alexandria."
"It was exceedingly brief." Obviously disappointed, Cedric plopped himself down next to Richard. "We had to thank Lady Marie-Susanne for bringing us together, and then we went for a walk. Next thing I know, Alexandria says that was it, she wasn't in any more scenes, and her father would kill her if she stayed longer than she had to, so she left."
"No more scenes?" Eleanor perked up. "Do you suppose that means the story is winding down?"
Richard frowned and shook his head. "I think these kinds of stories usually require either a wedding or a funeral."
"Oh, bother," Eleanor sighed, lounging back in the chair again. "Well then, I wish Armus would just pop the question. The two of them could have a quick wedding, and then – poof! – that's the end of the story, and she'll just disappear."
"Except that he'd then be risking countless sequels in her company," Richard noted. "Not to mention the inevitable gratuitous love scenes. If I were him, I wouldn't chance it either."
"You nearly were him," Cedric pointed out. "She seemed to take quite a liking to you at first."
"There are distinct advantages," Richard smirked, "to not being the eldest son. Which I pointed out to her every chance she gave me a moment to speak."
"I'll remind you of that," Cedric replied helpfully, "the next time you're whining about Armus taking all the titles and honours—"
"I do not whine—"
"If there's one thing I can rely upon," another voice interjected, and all three turned to see Sir Thomas now standing in the doorway, "it's that whether we're in the midst of war, famine or whatever else the storyline demands, my children can always be found bickering." He was obviously in a short temper.
"You look tired, Father." Eleanor relinquished the room's sole chair to Sir Thomas, moving to sit next to Cedric and Richard on the bench. "Is there any sign that the story is coming to an end?"
"It's difficult to say," he sighed, gratefully sitting down. "Mullens just departed. Once we were outside the plot lines, he made quite an unpleasant scene – he accused us of being in league with Marie-Susanne. He said that if he doesn't start getting some better character development and winning some battles, he's going to recruit his own authors."
"Can he do that?"
"I certainly hope not," Sir Thomas replied emphatically. "We fare poorly enough with the authors who are supposedly our allies. The last thing we need is one who's eager to pen 'The Vengeance of John Mullens'. It doesn't bear contemplating."
With that grim thought to ponder, everyone fell briefly silent.
"This is ridiculous," Richard exclaimed angrily, standing up with his sword firmly in hand. "Why are we all just sitting here? If we don't do something, this story could drag on for weeks."
Sir Thomas blanched at that thought. "What do you propose?"
Richard's answer was as prompt as it was impractical. "Kill the author."
"Don't be foolish, Richard," Eleanor scolded. "You're better off not even trying – it never works – the author always sees you coming, and then you get written into some sort of battle scene and end up grievously wounded. But if you weren't carrying the sword in the first place, maybe you wouldn't get pulled into those storylines—"
"Eleanor is right, Richard. That is not a wise course of action," Sir Thomas counseled. "Tempting, perhaps, but not wise. Aside from the technical difficulty involved, we don't really know what would happen if the narrative simply stopped. What if we stopped with it?"
"Then at least we'd all be out of our misery," Richard grumbled stubbornly.
"What if there were some other way to be rid of Marie-Susanne?" Cedric ventured. "This whole storyline revolves around her. If we could convince her that she's urgently needed elsewhere, or if there's some tragic secret reason she has to leave… Or if something should happen to her," he amended, correctly anticipating Richard's preference, "the end of her would be the end of this story. And once she's gone, we'd all go back to normal."
"One must be extremely careful when dealing with Mary-Sues," Sir Thomas cautioned. "We mustn't forget that it is really the author personified – and they rarely handle rejection well."
"So we need to make sure it doesn't look like rejection," Cedric improvised. "It could be an accident. Accidents happen all the time."
"Does the proposed accident involve some sort of weapon?" Richard queried hopefully.
"I was thinking more of a fall from the battlements," Cedric admitted, "or a skittish horse that might trample her. Something a little less …incriminating… than a sword in the back."
"I do not at all care for the tone of this conversation," Sir Thomas admonished severely. "In my experience, it is always wisest to allow the story resolve itself. You simply cannot defeat these creatures. It's like trying to slay the Hydra — every time you cut one down, another one appears. Let us be patient and wait. Surely, the end cannot be far off now."
As if on cue, there was a sudden commotion from outside. "Help help!" shouted Armus from the courtyard below.
"'Help help'?" Cedric echoed skeptically. "That doesn't sound like Armus."
"None of us write our own dialogue," Sir Thomas reminded him pointedly, "we just speak the lines as they're written."
Eleanor and Richard had already leapt up and were leaning out the windows to see what was happening. "Look," Eleanor cried, "he's carrying Marie-Susanne!"
"Is she already dead?" Cedric asked hopefully.
"Doesn't look like it," Richard frowned, but added encouragingly, "although she does look dreadfully ill."
"Alas, the mortality rates for our time period are distressingly high," Sir Thomas commented, not overly distraught by that grim fact. "Except, of course, for main characters."
Both Cedric and Richard bolted from the room with unseemly eagerness: "Time for the medieval medicine – Richard, you start bleeding her; I'll go get the leeches."
Sir Thomas only shook his head and sighed.
"There lies my dear departed fiancée," Armus said solemnly. "May she rest in peace." They all stared at the extravagant tombstone.
"Do you suppose she'll come back?"
"Richard! Perish the thought!" Armus' look was severe. "Besides," he added, with no small amount of relief, "she's dead."
"Yes," Richard agreed, "but it was so stupid. She died of the plague? That's a dreadful cliché."
"As was she," Sir Thomas noted. "For that reason alone, her death has a certain poetic justice."
Richard wasn't willing to let it go. "It's not as though the plague kills in one-person increments. And it doesn't just spontaneously materialize out of thin air. Don't we have to have an outbreak or something? Massive societal upheaval and panic throughout the land?"
"Maybe it was something else, then," Armus said stoically, refusing to analyze the situation.
"Maybe she's just in an allergic coma or something, and she'll wake up later tonight and—"
"Enough!" Armus bellowed. "Don't go giving the author any ideas. My darling departed Marie-Susanne is dead," he stated loudly, obviously wanting the author to overhear and take the hint. "It's tragic, but somehow, I shall learn to live with the pain."
"But what if—"
"DEAD, I said," Armus repeated, then grabbed Richard's arm and hauled him away from the gravesite. "Don't think I don't know what you're up to, brother," he muttered under his breath. At Richard's questioning glance, he added, "You just want her to come back because she wasn't interested in you."
"That was part of her charm," Richard agreed equably. "I believe you put it best: 'better you than me'."
Armus ground his teeth. "You are so unforgiving—"
"Part of my charm," he retorted, and then added, "Besides, the story isn't done. We've buried her, and yet the author is still hovering around. The obvious conclusion is that something else is going to happen."
Armus blanched at that thought. It was true: though the overbearing presence of the author had receded somewhat since Marie-Susanne's timely demise, the air was still heavy and uncomfortably thick. Casting an apprehensive glance back towards Marie-Susanne's grave, Armus lingered there while the others began to leave.
The rest of the family continued on without him, walking back toward the castle. "Look," Eleanor said, stopping abruptly and pointing toward the horizon, "someone's coming!"
"Oh, good God," Sir Thomas sighed, sounding dreadfully tired. "What now?"
A single rider was approaching, heading directly towards them.
"Who is that?" Richard demanded, his hand already on his sword. Almost as an afterthought, he muttered darkly, "It better not be Gary Stu…"
"I think…" Sir Thomas squinted, then fell abruptly back into character as the rider pulled up before them. "Richard! Don't you recognize your own brother?!"
Visibly puzzled, Richard began counting off siblings on his fingers. Armus – Cedric – Eleanor… A sudden light dawned. "Oh. Oh! Er… William, isn't it? Where the hell have you been?!"
"He was at the Crusades," Sir Thomas explained, for anyone who might have missed the two-second explanation that had been mentioned briefly in the second episode. "Welcome home, William! Not a day has gone by that we have not thought of you, spoken of you," he lied extravagantly.
William didn't say anything. Slowly, everyone began to realize he wouldn't. Having had so little canon development, the author didn't really quite know what to make of William. Though his mouth worked, no sound came out. William glanced helplessly about, visibly frustrated.
"There, there," Sir Thomas soothed, putting an arm over William's shoulder. "Sometimes it takes an author a while to find a character's 'voice'. Literally, in your case. But never fear – I am certain the author will eventually get the hang of writing you."
"Come for the funeral?" Cedric asked cheerily. "We've already buried her," – he jerked his arm toward the graveyard, where Armus was surreptitiously piling heavy rocks atop the fresh mound of earth, apparently in hopes of keeping Marie-Susanne there – "but won't you stay for dinner?"
With considerable effort, William finally managed to squeak out an audible "Yes."
"Wonderful." Sir Thomas beamed, immensely pleased. "Everything seems to be resolving rather nicely." After all, his family was intact, and the invading Marie-Susanne had perished before she could inflict any significant damage to his family tree. By any measure, that was a successful conclusion. "Armus," he called over his shoulder, "come along now. I don't believe you need concern yourself about her any longer."
As Armus hurried to catch up with the rest of the family, Sir Thomas turned around to find William and Richard eyeing each other warily, already settling into combative stances. "Don't you two even start," Sir Thomas warned, separating them before they could inevitably begin to fight. Their competitive natures were, unfortunately, one of the few character traits that had been set in canon before William vanished.
"Father," Cedric ventured, eyeing Richard and William, "this may be a foolish question, but… which one is older? Richard or William?"
"Not now, Cedric!" Sir Thomas scolded impatiently. "We don't have nearly enough time to deal with that issue; the story is about to end."
"It's certainly taking its time about it," Richard complained. "What do you suppose the author is waiting for?"
"Possibly an appropriate closing line," Eleanor realized. There was a general murmuring of agreement to that suggestion.
"Well, then, does anything have anything appropriate to say?" Sir Thomas prompted. "Something profound, perhaps?" No one seemed inspired. "Even mildly witty would do." Blank looks all around. Sir Thomas sighed. "Look, I know we're all tired. But it's something that must be done, so let's just get it over with and go home. Armus?"
"I've done more than enough already in this story," his eldest son grumped sourly. "I'm not going to spout any more platitudes for her."
"Very well then. Cedric."
"Um…" Cedric hesitated for a long moment, obviously casting about for inspiration. "Please don't write a sequel?" he suggested. He glanced around hopefully, but was disappointed as the author failed to depart. "Hmm. Guess it didn't work."
Sir Thomas looked toward William, who simply shrugged mutely, then turned toward Eleanor. She spoke before he could: "Why don't you impart some piece of fatherly wisdom to us?" she suggested. "That might do it."
"I don't believe I have any that are applicable to the situation—"
"Oh, for god's sake!" Richard snapped, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "This entire story has been an awful cliché from the start. You want an appropriate line to end it? Fine. THE END."