A Meeting Gone to Chaos- (Excerpt from Keltill)

December 1, 2008
By Matt Resnick, Dubuque, IA

The vast hall had finally quieted down and just the Chief, my cabinet, and me remained in the room. We moved our chairs around the high table into a circle formation, so that everyone could see each other. A few of the wiser citizens of Gravatix had been invited by members of my cabinet to join us and give their input on the topic of war.

The fire pits in the room had been extinguished, drenching most of the hall in pitch blackness. Our table was lit by four bronze braziers that hung from the ceiling, casting everyone in a dim, eerie light.

I rubbed my hands together vigorously and started the meeting.

“I would first like to begin,” I said. “With going around the circle and taking suggestions. Brownnose, why don’t you start us off.”

“Me, sir?” he asked, slightly nervous. “Well, alright.” He got to his feet and addressed the room. “Auspicious participants of this convocation, we agglomerate on this eventide to confabulate the welfare of this municipality. As we all know, our ally, Gravatix faces extirpation from the multitudes of sanguinarius Dacians. I propound that we endeavor to attain a cessation of hostilities by means of mutual consent, and that I be the one take on this task.”

“You mean negotiate with them?” the Chief grimaced.

“The Dacians only understand one language.” Gerald murmured darkly. “And use only one tool to carry it out: the sword.”

“Actually, if you think violence counts as a language,” Brownnose pointed out. “Then they speak two languages. They do speak Dacian, remember? And some of them even speak Raetian!”

Gerald reddened, embarrassed by his ignorance.

“Yes quite right,” I said, tired of his banter. “Sit down, Brownnose. Who’s next?” I spied a young peasant sitting next to my Ambassador. “Ah, yes, go ahead, lad. Perhaps your youthful wisdom will give us the answer.”

The small boy that was sitting next to Brownnose stood up and looked directly at me.

“Lord Keltill,” he said excitedly. “I think I have a certain solution to your problem.”

“Yes?” I asked. My heart raced. Could it be that the answer to the Dacian threat was in a small boy less than nine years old?

The boy paused and said, “The solution is… the Dacians don’t exist. They are just a myth made up by mothers to keep their children from doing naughty things.”
The only sound in the room was the crackling of the fire from the braziers. Several long moments passed as everyone took this in, shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
I stood up and walked behind the lad and put my arms on his shoulders and grinned down at him in a fatherly sort of way. Then I picked him up off this chair, wheeled him around and headed straight for the back door to the hall behind the high table, opened it, and tossed him out.
“And stay out!” I shouted, slamming and locking the door. “Who told him he was welcomed here?”
Bryehn lowered his head in shame.
I resumed my seat.
“Right, Bryehn, you’re next.” I said, rubbing my forehead. “What’s your suggestion?”
It seemed Bryehn was determined to make up for his poor choice in guests with a particularly profound piece of advice. He stood up slowly and dramatically.
He unsheathed his sword and plunged it into the wooden table, cracking the intricate woodwork. He looked around at every face with an intense gaze. I waited for him to speak. But he simply yanked his blade from the table, sheathed his weapon and sat back down. I couldn’t agree with Bryehn’s intentions, but I could tell they were heartfelt. But too costly.
“If that’s all from Bryehn, lets move on to you, old man.” I said, indicating the elderly farmer sitting next to Gerald. “What be your name?”

“My name be Bari, my lord,” he said in a creaky voice. “And this be my piece of advice. We should to to the Dacians as I did to my wife when she used to get angry. I’d whittle her a new spoon or a comb for a few hours, and then give it to her as a present. She’d get so happy, she’d forget why she was angry with me. Then, she’d bake me a pastry. Then I’d eat it. Those pastries were so delicious.”
He grinned a toothless grin as his eyes sparkled with tears.
The Chief’s brow furrowed in frustration.

My head was really starting to hurt. Struggling to keep my voice kind and steady, I said, “The wisdom of your age is truly admirable. I hope I live to gain such knowledge. But I’m afraid that the Dacians are nothing like your wife. Be thankful for it, too. Next!”

Gerald, seeing my distress, said, “What if we send Bryehn’s cavalry to the field of battle to fortify Gravatix’s ranks, then send in all our infantry.”

“Is that all you can come up with?” I asked, dismayed. “Simply send in some horsemen so they arrive slightly earlier than our foot soldiers, which they would do anyway, since they’re faster?”

“Well, what would you suggest?”

“We need a more inventive approach,” I replied. “Perhaps something to do with dressing up like bears and running at them like a stampede of rabid animals or capturing their warlord and ransoming him for all their loot without spending a copper of ours.”

“With the utmost respect, lad,” Gerald said. “I don’t believe that any of your strategies will help us in the slightest.”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I snapped, leaping to my feet.
Brownnose, ever the diplomat, intervened, “I postulate that Gerald was simply trying to conjecture his -- ”
“Don’t try to explain to me, Brownnose,” I hissed. “I know perfectly well what Gerald was trying to do.”
“I agree with Keltill,” Morgatha said suddenly. “We need a unique approach to the situation. Maybe not dressing up like bears, but something unexpected along those lines.”
“Your idea?” Bryehn asked.
“We give them a hundred wagons of gold to convince them to leave.”

At this, everyone stood up and shouted, “NO!”, except for the Healer, who shouted in his ancient and bizarre tongue, “BLAHGAH!”
“Are you mad, woman?” Gerald muttered shakily. “Do you know how long it took us to gain such wealth?”
“I haven’t finished yet.” Morgatha said defiantly. “The carts of gold are filled with straw, and only the top of the wagons, the visible portion, have gold on them. That way, they leave with only a fraction of the gold they think they’re getting.”
There was a minute of silence as everyone digested this information.
I weighed the pros and cons of this idea. It would still mean giving away heaps of gold, but we would still have most of our stockpile. Then I realized that as soon as they got the gold, the first thing they would do was put their hands in all the way and feel for the bottom of the wagon to make sure it was really there and not full of straw.
“Bad idea,” I said after coming to this conclusion. “They’d check to make sure we hadn’t cheated them out of their gold.”
“What if we make the bottoms of the wagons several inches higher?” Bryehn suggested. “That way, when they check, they’ll feel a false bottom.”
“How soon can we do that?” I inquired. “We need it in four hours.”
“Then let’s get to work!” the Chief cried, obviously bored with the pace of the meeting.
“We might be able to replace one hundred cart bottoms within…” Bryehn worked the figures in his head. “A week. If we want them to be convincing.”
“Fie!” I cursed. “Fie, I say!”
“What if...” the Chief said, standing up, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “… we hop into some war chariots, charge at the Dacians, and kill them! That way, if most of them die, they won’t be in any fit state to attack us! ”
“I agree with the Chief.” Gerald stated. “I don’t know why we just can’t attack them like real men. We all get naked, paint ourselves with blue war-paint, and put lime powder in our hair! How is this a bad plan?”
“Shall I enumerate the ways?” Brownnose sneered, suddenly dropping his diplomatic tone. “If we don’t wear any body armor, what’s to stop their swords from slicing through us like butter?”
“You know what, Brownnose?” Gerald spat. “I don’t think you’re a real Celt.”
“Leave him alone, Gerald!” Morgatha interjected.
“That’s a filthy lie!” Brownnose squealed.
“Then start acting like one!” Gerald goaded him. “Show a little spine! Kill some things, for a start! Eat raw meat! Don’t bathe!”
“That’s barbaric!” Brownnose gasped, horrified.
“Call me a barbarian, will you?” Gerald roared.

Bryehn leaped to his feet and grabbed ahold of Gerald’s massive shoulders to stop him from charging at Brownnose.

“You’re out of line, man!” I cried, pointing at him. “How dare you threaten my advisor?”

“He’s a madman!” Brownnose shrieked.

At this point all hell broke loose with everyone tossing insults at each other, some trying to restrain Gerald, some trying to cover Brownnose’s mouth so he wouldn’t enrage his adversary any further. I was caught in the middle of it all, trying to maintain order. The Chief simply put his feet on the table, grinning from ear to ear, seeing the exciting turn the meeting had taken. In the midst of all the chaos, the Healer, who had gone unnoticed until now, shouted, “SKIBITY FRIGOL, CUZMANA!”

The room fell silent, as the old man stood up, looking fearsome in the flickering light. A wave of guilt washed over everyone in the room, except the Chief. Then, the druid’s expression softened, and he began to babble in his inscrutable language. Everyone in the room took their seats and calmed down as he spoke. By the end of his long sermon, his eyes were sparkling with tears and a small smile had appeared on his face. Finally, he resumed his seat and stared into the fire again.

Though no one had any idea what he said, I broke the silence by saying with certainty, “I am sure we all feel the same concern for Gravatix as our old friend does. However, I know we will come up with a solution to the Dacian problem. In order to do this, I will spend the entire night in this very room until the gods speak to me and tell me what to do. Until then, goodnight, everyone.”

“That’s a terrible idea!” the Chief blurted.

The room broke into chaos once again, for this time their anger was directed at me for ending the meeting prematurely without coming to a conclusion.

The author's comments:
The following is an excerpt from my novel, "Keltill". It is based in Ancient Gaul and is told from the perspective of the main character, for whom the book is entitled after. The excerpt I chose illustrates the humorous characters in my book as Keltill attempts to hold a meeting concerning a new enemy that the Celts are about to face.

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