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A Fire In His Hands

Chapter Text

President Richard Plantagenet stood hall outside the cabinet meeting. Even through the closed doors, he could hear his cousin Henry Bolingbroke’s wolfish shouts. He must be up to trouble again.

Give your cousin a spot in your government, they said. He’s also a grandson of our glorious father, they said,” Richard muttered in a high, sarcastic voice.

“Was that a remark about me I heard?” Richard’s chief-of-staff Aumerle was coming down the hall. Despite the oppressive heat, Aumerle always looked crisp in a navy, European bespoke suit, which so nicely offset the rich chocolate brown of his eyes.

Richard smiled. “Not you, cousin. I mean the rest of this proverbial nest of vipers. Though if there is one thing we never do again...”

“Say no more.” Aumerle put up his hands. “Shall we enter, Mister President?”

Bolingbroke’s voice still boomed through the walls, punctuated by his fist pounding the desk.

“Drat, I was so hoping our little Hen would wear himself out. I suppose we’ll see what his complaint is today.” He smoothed his uniform one more time before Aumerle opened the door.

Henry Bolingbroke barely raised his eyes towards the president when he entered, and he certainly didn’t close his mouth. The object of his tirade seemed to be secretary of war Mowbray, who watched Henry with a stoic sneer.

Bolingbroke was the young foreign affairs secretary who had been photographed with Mahmoud Abbas and was only ever seen wearing sandals from a well-known Union factory, which had endeared him to both the anti-American faction within the government as well as leftist urban youth. Despite careful monitoring from Richard’s secret police, there was no established link between Bolingbroke and the subversive organizations that mentioned his name in their online presence.

Bolingbroke slammed his fist again. “This is the type of tyranny we cannot stand for if we intend to grow our nation into a global power. Or would you rather end up like Egypt, huh? Does Libya sound like a good time to you? All our beautiful, modern cities bombed by fat American pigs, guzzling down their Coca-cola as they push the button--then, there goes a school with a hundred bright shinning children, there goes a gold-spired mosque glorifying Allah--that is what happens to venomous, corrupt governments in our part of the world, and I for one won’t sit back and--”

“Enough,” Mowbray, whose scowl had been deepening throughout Bolingbroke’s speech, finally spoke. “I can bear your slanders, but I won’t allow you to use our children and the name of our God as pawns in your political game. I bled for those children and our God during the 2004 revolts, when you, Bolingbroke were hiding from the fight in a Lebanese university.”

Bolingbroke narrowed his cloudy, mysterious eyes. “Yes, you bear my accusations like an ass, despite being what you are--a yipping American lapdog.” He leaned his body forward over the table as he spoke, hard and tall like a lightning rod so that he seemed to be gesturing towards Richard, despite never taking his eyes off Mowbray.

The president cleared his throat. “Gentlemen?” he said, and eyes moved towards him. He made a mental note of who was too slow to redirect their attention to their leader. His secret police had often confirmed that such innocuous signs of loss of respect often have deeper, more dangerous roots.

Richard continued, “Gentlemen, you speak in abstractions. Though your ability to fling insults rivals street urchins, tell us plainly, cousin--what is the charge you are leveling against Secretary Mowbray?”

Bolingbroke lowered himself into his seat, but his head remained tipped in the air, and with a grin he said, ”A thousand apologize Mister President. I’m ashamed to admit I have the bad habit of losing my temper in the presence of traitorous killers.”

Mowbray made a move to speak, but Richard waved him down. “To the point, cousin.”

“As you know, Secretary Mowbray controls the distribution of all our munitions. An important position given the importance of arms and defense to secure our country’s stability against the tide of religious and ethnic sectarianism destroying our Arab brothers around the world. But has Mowbray kept his sacred duty to bar our nation from civil strife? No, he funnels our arms and equipment to the America-lovers in the Free Syrian Army--insurgents with no respect for legal governments who ope the floodway of terrorism and civil blood.”

Not a bullet could leave the country without the knowledge of the chiefs of Richard’s secret police--Bushy, Bagot and Green. If they thought it was wise to hedge their bets in Syria, Richard couldn’t blame them. He didn’t think American puppets couldn’t be any worse for regional security than the third option.

Bolingbroke continued, “And furthermore, I declare, and will prove as much before a special hearing of the People’s Council, that traitorous Mowbray did plot General Gloucester’s assassination--slicing his white throat from end to end in an act of unquenchable barbarism, watering our dusty soil with the blood of our own people. On my honor, I will bring this savage to justice before our peers, or may my reputation never recover.”

Richard wore a mask of calm though he could feel his stomach tightening. Nobody dared mention Gloucester’s assassination before him. But, as the many faces of the cabinet awaited his response, he kept his voice light and said, “How resolute a man! And you, Secretary Mowbray, can you answer this charge?”

Mowbray’s sun-beaten face glowed red with anger. “Mister President, cover your ears while I tell this abortion of your aunt what shame he and his lies bring to Allah and to your family name.”

“Good Mowbray,” Richard said. “We are appointed officials in a fair and just democracy. Though he is my cousin, his citizenship is your equal. We won’t abridge your speech like a tyrant or a king.”

Mowbray pulled himself up by his slouching, chubby shoulders and tried to meet Bolingbroke eye-to-eye. “I never funneled munitions of any sort to the FLA, as the only thing that makes me sicker than you, Bolingbroke, is the thought of anti-government insurgents making children refugees. I had a surplus of rifles and rounds of ammunition and I supplied those, as we agreed, to president Assad's army. And as for your second charge, I don’t know how even a mind as devilish as yours could invent such a cruel slander, because if even the germ of a thought to harm good Gloucester ever entered my head, may Allah strike me dead. But I will defend my name before the People’s Council, and since unlike you I am a civilized man, may the cloud of dust you kick at my reputation settle on yours instead.”

“Why,” Richard said, “there must be some other way for two such great men to work out this grievance privately, rather than dragging it before tired old bureaucrats whose hearing may go on endlessly.”

Mowbray turned up his nose. “This petty little man has insulted me and my name here before all the cabinet, and I won’t be satisfied until an investigation overturns each of his devious falsehoods.”

Damn that dull, bull-headed Mowbray, Richard thought. He would allow Gloucester's death, which he knew nothing of, to be pulled into the public arena to protect his precious ego from insane rants.

“What about you, cousin. Will you drop these accusations?”

“Am I to sit here and govern our nation in a fair and honest way, while next to me sits a traitor, a murderer and a lover of American imperialism? Do you think I have no backbone? No pride in my country or my race? I’d have to be as unfeeling as a clod of dirt to leave our people’s security in the blood-stained hands of such a man.”

Richard sought the eyes of Aumerle, who blinked slowly and nodded. Richard knew then that there was no way out, for now.

“We present here are the commanders of this needy land, not squabbling lawyers arguing suits, but since you gentlemen will not be moved, the special hearing will be heard after Ramadan when the People’s Council reconvenes.” Richard lay his folded hands in his lap to hide their trembling. “Be ready, for your image in our people’s eye depends on it.”