Steve and Marcellus had lunch with Annette and Queen Elizabeth that afternoon. After the meal, Marcellus explained the basic itinerary for the Council. The Queen knew of Pacificana's Biannual Council, and had been invited to attend in years past, but Marcellus told them the plan anyway for Annette's benefit.
"You are welcome to sit in on the Council meeting if you wish, Your Majesty," Marcellus concluded. "As are you, Your Highness. And, of course, you are both invited to join in all of the festivities."
"Thank you, Prince Marcellus," Elizabeth said. "I am sure that Annette and I will enjoy the summit. However, there is another issue I would like to discuss with you. While I am pleased by your most gracious extended hospitality, I am naturally eager to see my daughter happily married as soon as possible. I am aware that you are waiting for the sorcerer to be caught before proceeding. Has there been any progress in the search?"
Steve sighed. "The reports are not as promising as I would like them to be, Your Majesty," Steve said. "According to Captain Martinez, only a few of the townspeople have seen the man, and even fewer have spoken to him. The Captain has not been able to glean much more than what we already learned from the archer we interrogated. The man is apparently about my height, with long dark hair and light blue eyes that tend to frighten people. Also, there have been several reports that he uses magic, which we also already suspected. No one seems to have any information about his whereabouts. We cannot even find anyone who has seen him leave town, so that we could ask what direction he took."
The Queen frowned. "That does not bode well at all. What of the magical trail? Have any of your priestesses been able to follow it?"
"No, Your Majesty," Marcellus said quickly. Steve tried to look like he knew all about magical trails and how they were followed. "Whatever spells he may be using have either been blocked, or are now too old to follow. Our priestesses cannot trace them to their source. Our only recourse now is to continue searching for a physical trace of the villain. Captain Martinez has already ordered the search area to be broadened. Perhaps someone else will provide more useful information, or the criminal will use another spell so that our priestesses can try to trace it immediately."
"That could potentially take quite a long time," Elizabeth said with a slight frown.
"I understand your eagerness perfectly, Your Majesty," Steve said. "I am also eager for the new wedding to commence." He hoped the words didn't sound like the utter lie they were. It wasn't that he didn't like Annette, even though he still considered her to be way too young for him. But Marcellus had made it clear that Steve couldn't bond with her. It had to be the real king. "Marcellus has informed me that the wedding planners are making arrangements even now, despite the slow progress in the hunt for the assassin. I do not want any ill to befall you, Annette, or any of our guests, but if, within a few weeks, we still have not caught the criminal, I may have to command that we hold the wedding anyway under heavy guard."
Annette wrinkled her nose. "I would rather wait, Sire," she said. "I want everything to be perfect. If guards are surrounding us, no one will even be able to see my wedding dress!"
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at her daughter. "I, too, think it would be wiser to wait until this danger has passed before proceeding with the wedding. However, Annette, I am not sure that our major concern should be who can and cannot see your wedding dress." Annette pouted slightly, and the Queen allowed herself a small, indulgent smile. "King Stephen and I will make sure that the wedding is as perfect as it can reasonably be, my child," she said. "Please continue to keep me informed, Your Majesty," she said to Steve.
"I will, Your Majesty," Steve replied.
The Queen stood to go, and they showed her to the door. Annette asked to stay behind with Steve and Marcellus. "It seems I've hardly seen you since the dukes began to arrive, my Lord," she said.
"Indeed," Steve said. "I must apologize for being so neglectful."
"It's all right, Sire," she said. "I know it can get busy at meetings like this. Do you think we could go out to the gardens, or to the bay? It feels as though I haven't seen the sun in ages!"
"Certainly," Steve said. "I think it might be best to stay on castle grounds for now. But I am sure we will be fine with the guards to protect us."
Annette sighed. "I was hoping we could go without the guards. I grow tired of being accompanied everywhere as if I were traveling outside the grounds."
"I'm not sure if that would be wise, Your Highness," Marcellus said.
"But I thought the High Priestess put a protection spell on the king," Annette said. "He isn't in danger anymore."
"I have been put under the protection of the Great Waters," Steve said. "But that does not mean that the people around me are safe from danger. What if we were out, and you happened to come between me and another arrow, like that guard? I couldn't let something like that happen, could I?"
Annette sighed again. "I suppose not, Sire," she said. "But I will be very glad when this villain is finally caught!"
Steve smiled. "So will I. How about this? When we catch him, I'll make sure that we have a celebration. Just the three of us. We'll go wherever you want to go, and stay as long as you like, all right?"
"All right," Annette said with a smile. She was cheerful again when they walked through the garden, and she made comments on the decorations and the planned events. "I am so excited about the concert tomorrow! I don't think I want to sit through the Council, though. Meetings are always so dull!" She talked about which dukes and duchesses were up on fashion, and which ones had the most beautiful hairstyles. Lady Sheila caught them at some point, and followed them around for about half an hour talking excitedly about how well everything was going. When they were at last saved by the arrival of a troop of jugglers, Annette went into a lengthy and somewhat passionate discourse about the Minister of Hospitality's incredibly poor sense of fashion and decorum. Apparently, her mother would have a heart attack if Annette ever dressed or behaved that way in public. Steve could only nod, tsk, or shake his head during the rant. He was too busy trying to keep from laughing out loud to do anything else.
Eventually, Annette took her leave so that she could prepare for the evening's banquet. Steve would have liked to know what kind of preparations would require her to start five hours before the actual event, but he didn't comment. Most of the women he'd come into contact with took an exorbitant amount of time to get dressed for special occasions. He supposed that the time needed for preparation must increase exponentially in a place that had no running water, and where putting on pants and a shirt was a group project. Steve and Marcellus stayed out for a while longer before returning to the palace. They visited with Marcellus' parents for a while, and Steve managed to keep up his end of the conversations with relative ease. Marcellus commented later on how his speech patterns and even some of his mannerisms were becoming more and more like to the king's. Steve was pleased by the similarities. He wanted to blend in as much as possible, and it was getting easier and easier to feel like he belonged. He missed home, but the underlying wish that he could stay in Pacificana seemed to get stronger day after day.
After their visit with Marcellus' parents, Steve and Marcellus went to prepare for the banquet. They were bathed and dressed in semi-formal attire, then escorted to the large audience chamger where the banquet was to take place. When Steve saw it, he finally understood why they called the other one "small". The room was huge. It looked like it could hold at least a hundred people comfortably. There was a platform near the far end of the room similar to the one in the small audience chamber, but considerably larger. That, apparently, was where the throne usually was. However, now there was a long table sitting on the platform, and two others were set up to the right and left of the table, forming a "U". The attendants were stationed behind each table, and the center of the room was left empty. That was where the entertainers would perform when the time was right.
The food was excellent. The palace cooks provided food from all the different regions of Pacificana, and there were a huge variety of dishes. Almost all the dukedoms were in coastal cities, and four of the dukedoms were in Asian countries, so there was an abundance of rice and fish, but there were many other things to try as well. Steve was, of course, allowed to have anything he wanted, and when he noticed that no one was being shy about eating, he decided to go ahead and taste a little of everything. The dishes were all excellent, and the desserts tasted equally delicious. Even the drinks were good. There was wine, beer, and cool fruit drinks with or without alcohol. Steve was careful not to get tipsy, lest he start talking about the wrong things.
Steve enjoyed the entertainers as least as much as he'd enjoyed the food. The jugglers were better than any he'd seen before. One team actually performed a move where at least fifteen flaming batons were being tossed between four different people. There were contortionists who twisted themselves into some configurations that had Steve's eyebrows high on his forehead several times. There were a couple of magicians who performed what Marcellus called parlor tricks. However, there were no card tricks or pulling birds out of pockets. The magicians did things like make streams of water appear in mid-air, coalesce into human forms and dance with one another. They created indoor fireworks displays of incredible beauty and splendor. They manipulated balls of colored light into different shapes as if they were molding clay, then handed them out to people. When Steve hesitantly reached out and took his blue light-unicorn, it turned into a glass figurine. It was all he could do not to drop it in his shock. He made a mental note to ask Marcellus to elaborate the next time he used the phrase "parlor trick".
When the banquet was over, Steve spent some time talking to the dukes and duchesses. He made sure to have a word with everyone, as Marcellus said Stephen always did. Then, the two of them retired to Steve's office to review all the information he needed to know for the meeting. They stayed up late into the night, working until Steve felt completely confident that he knew everything perfectly. Then, at last, they went to bed.
The morning of the Biannual Council was beautiful. The sun was out, the sky was a clear, bright blue, and the weather was neither too hot nor too cold. Steve and Marcellus went over everything once more before breakfast. After the meal, Steve's attendants dressed him in his formal attire. He wore an incredibly fancy white shirt made of silk, the very finest pants, and a pair of extremely shiny boots. He was given a navy blue sash bordered in silver, with three silver medals pinned to it. This time, instead of the short, waist length cape that he'd worn on his first meeting with the Queen, he was given a floor-length version with a capelet of white fur dotted with black. The ceremonial crown was the most impressive part of the outfit. It was much like the royal crown of Great Britain, except instead of purple velvet, the cloth was midnight blue. There was a lining on the base that matched the lining of his cape. There was a two-inch band of platinum woven into intricate designs and studded with large white and blue stones. The criss-crossed arches were also made of platinum, and at the base of each bar was a humungous gemstone. Steve put the crown on reverently, hoping that he wasn't putting in on backwards, then headed out to greet Marcellus.
Steve's eyes widened when he saw the prince. The last time he'd seen Marcellus in formal attire was at the wedding, and he hadn't been paying attention to anyone's clothes at the time. Marcellus wore dark pants of the finest material, a blue silk shirt similar to Steve's, and a cape much like Steve's own, but only half the length. Marcellus also wore his prince's crown, which was a silver circlet edged with white stones. The royal seal was etched into a single peak in the center.
They walked together to the audience chamber where the dukes and duchesses were assembled. When they entered, Marcellus stood to one side and the council members bowed or curtseyed deeply. As rehearsed, Steve walked to the oval table and took his seat on the throne. Marcellus sat on his right and Lord Edward sat to his left. Then, the dukes and duchesses took their places at the table. Attendants gave small glasses to everyone, and Steve asked the Waters' blessing on the meeting. They downed their saltwater toast, and the meeting began.
The Council proceeded smoothly, just as Marcellus had predicted. The dukes and duchesses reported the revenues of their respective dukedoms, how the crops, if any, were doing, and whether the people seemed satisfied or disgruntled. They reported any concerns or questions they had, and Steve responded to each one. Then, Steve gave the speech that Marcellus had coached him on, praising everyone for an excellent job, and telling them what he needed from them now. When it was over, there was another salt-water toast, asking a blessing on the country, and on their new resolutions. Marcellus commented on how the meeting had gone extremely well, lasting "only" three and a half hours. They had lunch, then took a break before repairing to the large audience chamber to enjoy the concert. Steve and Marcellus met up with Annette and Elizabeth, and they went to the audience chamber together.
The furniture in the chamber had been changed to accommodate the performers. The dais now held four chairs - two throne sized chairs in the center, and two slightly smaller, but no less fancy chairs on the outside. There were several chairs on the floor on either side of the dais for the dignitaries to sit with their husbands and wives. There were also seats for Lord Edward, Lady Sheila, Count Graham, Dr. Rivell, and several other lords and ladies of the court who were invited to attend. Several yards away from the chairs was a primitive drum set, that looked very similar to the drum kits they used on stage. There was also a piano a few feet to the right of that for use by the musicians. Steve thought it was nice for everyone that there was room enough in the audience chamber for all the guests to fit in about four rows. No one should have a problem seeing. Not that it mattered for him. He would be on the throne, with a perfect view of everything. Just thinking about the fact that soon, there would be nothing but a few feet between him and the greatest rock band of all time set his head spinning.
Lady Sheila was already in the audience chamber when they arrived. She curtseyed, then bustled over to them. "Your Majesties! How wonderful! And how are you, my dear Princess Annette and Prince Marcellus? You are all in for a simply marvelous treat this afternoon!" Steve resisted the urge to tell her that of course he was, since he'd chosen the groups himself. He just held his tongue and let her usher him to the platform. "Please, please, take a seat! Be comfortable!" Steve and Queen Elizabeth took the thrones, while Marcellus and Annette sat in the outside chairs. Their company of guards organized themselves around the dais, making sure to stay out of Steve and the others' line of sight.
There were already a large number of guards stationed around the empty chairs, ordered to be there by Captain Martinez just in case anything should happen during the concert. Lady Sheila bustled over to one of the many attendants stationed near the seats and shooed her over to the platform to offer the royalty some refreshments. Then she bustled about some more, going to all the attendants and making sure each of their small tables had enough of the right supplies on them. Gradually, the guests arrived. They bowed and curtseyed to the royalty before Lady Sheila showed them to their seats and bid them all prepare for a wonderfully maahvelous event.
Finally, when everyone was settled, Sheila called in the first group. Steve was somewhat confused with five Black men in matching outfits entered the room, followed by several people, some of whom carried what looked like violins, violas and trumpets of different sizes. Everyone bowed, then the musicians organized themselves according to their instruments. The five men in matching outfits stood in the forefront, with about an arm's length between them. Steve looked closer at them and a broad grin spread across his face. The Temptations! Man it's good to be the king. The Temptations put on a wonderful show. Steve recognized all the songs, and he loved it that they still performed their signature choreography. Steve clapped vigorously when they took their bows. Everyone else had enjoyed them as well, and clapped politely, if not as ecstatically as Steve.
The next performer was an Elvis Presley look-alike. He actually wore a white suit and a cape with the jeweled eagle on the back, and he had the Elvis hairstyle and everything. He sounded almost exactly like Elvis, and Steve had a great time pretending. After "Elvis", there was another solo artist. Steve recognized the face immediately, but couldn't quite believe his eyes. He blinked a few times, then leaned toward Marcellus when the man took his bow. "Is that who I think it is?" he whispered.
"If you think it's Sam Cooke, then, yes," Marcellus whispered back.
"But Sam Cooke is dead."
Marcellus only smiled and shook his head. "Not here."
Steve turned back to the center of the room, where Sam was politely waiting to begin. Steve grinned so widely that his face hurt, but he couldn't help himself. His idol. The man he spent hours and hours a day listening to and molding himself to. The man whose voice could make him melt just from hearing it on the radio as a kid. In the flesh! Steve nodded to him, and Sam signaled for his players to begin. Steve clapped involuntarily. Cupid. One of his favorite songs! Steve had a wide, silly grin plastered to his face for the duration of the set, and when it was over he had to give a standing ovation. Everyone else in the room stood as well, whether from respect for the king, or excitement over the performance, Steve wasn't sure. Steve told Marcellus that he wished he could hear a few more, and there was an instant encore that lasted as long as Steve wanted. He decided to give the guy a break after the third extra song, knowing from experience how tiring performing could be, but he made it clear that he wanted Sam Cooke to sit at his table during the evening's banquet.
There was a short break, during which refreshments were handed out, and several attendants went about moving the piano out of the room, and bringing in a different one. They also set out a contraption that looked like a wooden guitar stand, and replaced the drum set. Steve gasped when he saw the bass drum, and nearly clapped just for that. The emblem was there, looking remarkably similar to the one he knew so well. "The BeaTles", written in their special way, but apparently hand-painted onto the drum. Steve was considering going down to touch the kit when suddenly, Lady Sheila was there, fluttering around him asking if he was all right, and if he was enjoying himself, and if he needed anything. Steve was occupied for the rest of the break, getting Lady Sheila away from him, and listening to Annette talk excitedly about how much she loved the performers, and how she couldn't wait for the next ones to begin. After a while, Lady Sheila felt that everyone had had enough time to rest and stretch their legs if necessary, and she got everyone to settle down so that she could call in the next group.
The door opened, and Steve moved to the edge of his seat. However, the first person he saw was not a Beatle. It was a pair of guards. Steve had nearly forgotten the requirement of extra-tight security that Marcellus said went hand in hand with any Beatles performance since the assassination attempt. Attempt, he thought happily. There were already many more guards in the room than would normally have been stationed at such a small gathering of nobles, thanks to Steve's own assassin. No less than fifty more trooped in. They bowed at the door, then split as they entered the room ald walked along either wall. In a few minutes, somewhere between fifty and sixty guards lined the walls of the audience chamber, armed and ready. At last, when all the guards were at attention, the Beatles came in.
Steve couldn't stop an excited cry from escaping his lips. Great Waters! he thought, not even noticing that he'd just used a Pacifican phrase without needing to. They really are here! All of them! They were wearing their Sgt. Pepper uniforms, which pleased Steve no end. They looked much like they had during their recording of that album, only with slightly longer hair. John had even managed to find someone who could fashion a pair of glasses for him that looked like the ones Steve was familiar with. From what Marcellus had told him in earlier discussions, getting glasses shaped that way (instead of using a simple eyepiece) could only be done by a specialist at great expense. They walked side by side with matching steps to the front of the room, and bowed twice - once for Steve and once for Elizabeth. Then, they all took three steps back, and Ringo continued to walk backwards until he reached his drum set.
Three other people had walked in behind the Beatles that Steve hadn't even noticed until now. Each one carried an instrument, nearly as reverently as the attendants carried Steve's crown. They bowed to the royals, then gave up the instruments. Steve was surprised to see that even though Paul's bass was the same size as an orchestral bass, it still bore the same basic design and coloring as the famous Hoffner. It was even left-handed. In fact, everyone's guitar resembled the ones Steve was familiar with. George had something shaped very much like a Les Paul, and John had his famous black and white Rickenbacker. The Beatles' assistants bowed again and stood aside. John counted off, and the music began.
Steve was so excited he could barely keep his seat. He watched the performance with rapt attention, wanting to commit every sound, every move, every expression to memory. The music sounded as close as it could come to the sounds produced by his world's Beatles without the benefit of electricity. Whenever a different instrument was needed (other than the harmonica, sitar, or piano), one of their personal assistants would play the part. They played many songs, each of which was greeted by loud and long applause from Steve as well as everyone else. Steve was depressed when, after an hour and a half straight, they played the reprise to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and took their final bow. Steve begged for an encore, and to his great delight, they readily obliged him. He managed to get another five songs out of them before he started to feel guilty, and let them end the set and rest before the banquet.
Steve didn't even have to ask that the Beatles be seated at his table as well. When they returned from their second break, and the tables had been set up, places had been set at Steve's table for Elizabeth, Marcellus, Annette, Sam Cooke, and all of the Beatles. Steve's experience at the banquet was so glorious as to be surreal. He kept having to pinch himself to make sure he was really awake. Of all the insane things that had happened to Steve since he'd been mysteriously transported to a different universe, this evening's events were the hardest for Steve to believe. He was in such a good mood that he even gave Lady Sheila and Count Graham high praise for organizing everything so well.
Finally, when Steve couldn't in good conscience make his guests stay up any longer, he bid them goodnight and went back to his quarters feeling high as a kite. He was still too excited to actually sleep, and he kept Marcellus up a bit longer, adding one more glorious event to the already euphoric night. At last, he went to sleep, when he was literally too exhausted to stay awake, no matter how much he wanted to. He dreamt of music and his idols and complete happiness.
It was then that everything went straight to Hell.