"Sir, wake up please."
Sullivan groaned. He couldn't remember when he'd last gotten a decent nights sleep. He mumbled something to whoever was shaking him.
"Sir, are you awake?"
Sullivan opened his eyes. "Yes, dammit, I am now." He growled, his anger too diffused by the fog of sleep to actually inflict on the guard who had awakened him any of the violence that he would have liked at that moment. He sat up, rubbed his bleary eyes and examined the night sky through the window of his bedroom. While he could see from the positions of the stars that it was almost morning, he could not see any hint of light blue on the horizon that would have told him that the sun was about to rise. "What the hell is so important that you wake me up before dawn?" He demanded.
"His Majesty wishes to see you immediately, Sir." The guard replied. "He told me to bring you as you are."
Sullivan sighed, grabbed his robe from a bedknob of his headboard and followed the guard from the barracks.
As he walked across the Castle's courtyard he could hear shouting from the direction of the throneroom.
When he arrived he found Jenner pacing the floor, angrily dictating a letter to one of his scribes; an overweight hedgehog that everyone called Iggy.
"...such behavior will NOT be tolerated while I rule this Kingdom! And furthermore..." Jenner stopped when he saw the new arrival. "That will be all for now. We can resume this later." He told the scribe, his
icy tone sending a chill down Sullivan's back to the tip of his tail.
The scribe bowed as far as his belly would permit and waddled from the room. Sullivan could not help but notice the tears streaming from his eyes.
Jenner, meanwhile, had stalked to the throne and planted himself on it. From one of the armrests he took a scrolled document and tossed it at Sullivan. It landed short of its intended recipient and Sullivan was forced to bend down and pick it up. "Read!" Jenner commanded.
Sullivan unrolled the pages and read through it. That the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire could compose such a document came as no real surprise to him. Of all the Sheriffs of the various Shires of Britain, he had struck Sullivan as potentially the most reluctant to accept the price of Jenner's ascension to the Throne. That Jenner HAD actually exacted that price must have come as an immense shock to them. Jenner had not, after all, been terribly explicit about the method by which he would depose his adopted brother. Probably they, like himself; Sullivan imagined; were caught by surprise that he would actually be so brazen as to commit murder. It was an irony that even Sullivan could appreciate: The top law enforcement officers of the land abetting the murder of THEIR boss, even if it WAS a conspiracy of omission rather than commission.
"Well?" Jenner asked, drumming his fingers on the armrest.
Sullivan shrugged. "What can I say, Your Majesty? He wants out? I say 'Good riddance.'" He replied.
Jenner made a sour face. "Fine time for that ursine idiot to get ethical on me!" He spat. "I had plans for Nottinghamshire and needed someone of his reputation and organizational skills to help me carry them
"So? You're the King!" Sullivan said, "Your word is law! Just appoint a new Sheriff!"
"Exactly why you're here!" Jenner said, a smile slowly crossing his lips.
"Huh?" Sullivan grunted, suddenly confused.
Jenner alighted from his Throne and fairly skipped over to where Sullivan was standing and placed an arm firmly around his shoulder. "Why, who else would I appoint to be my new Sheriff of Nottingham? You've been my most faithful servant through these harsh past few months; and I've been so remiss in rewarding that loyalty and devotion!"
"If only you knew!" Sullivan thought to himself nervously. Over the Summer he'd maintained sporadic contact with the so-called "Society to Maintain the Rule of the King", often pronounced "smirk" by those few animals who knew of its existence. While he had not met with "The Voice" since the meeting at the inn several weeks ago, he was kept apprised of their status by notes slipped betweenhis pillow and pillowcase
every few weeks by, he assumed, themaid who had introduced him to them. But this development would, however unwittingly on Jenner's part, endanger that relationship. "Uh, gee, Your Majesty. I, uh, I must admit I'm flattered, but I'm sure that there're others FAR better qualified for that Office than I am. After all, I'm a soldier, not a lawman." He said, picking his words as carefully as possible.
"Nonsense!" Jenner said with a dismissive wave of his beringed paw. "The only qualifications for that post now are loyalty to me and the ruthlessness to carry out my plans for that particular Shire. Think of it, my
friend, you'll have power far beyond giving marching orders to a few Troop-Captains! You'll have a whole Shire at your command!" He exclaimed, his voice rising with excitement.
"I don' know," Sullivan said dubiously. "After that Repossession Decree, I'm not gonna be the most popular public figure..."
"Pfagh!" Jenner exclaimed derisively. "Popularity has nothing to do with law enforcement! Even some of my 'dear' brother's own laws were unpopular!" ("Sure!" Sullivan pointedly thought to himself. "They were unpopular with the TRUE criminal element; not ordinary subjects!") "The line between soldier and police official is much thinner than most of your future colleagues would have you believe." A half-sneer came to Jenner's lips and his voice became a cold whisper. "In fact, I've been considering 're-evaluating' the appointments of several of the other Sheriffs. I'm beginning to have my doubts as to where THEIR loyalties lie."
Inside, Sullivan resigned himself to the inevitable. To refuse Jenner's offer, while not necessarily a career-ender, would make the lion think twice about Sullivan's own loyalty to him; and Sullivan needed Jenner to see him as someone in whom he could have the highest degree of trust so that when the opportunity presented itself, Sullivan could take advantage of that trust and use that opportunity to eliminate Jenner. "Well," Sullivan said with the merest hint of reluctance, "I guess you're looking at the new Sheriff of Nottingham."
"Excellent!" Jenner exclaimed. "Make whatever arrangements are necessary to leave this morning. You'll also want to paw-pick a group of Deputies to take with you. I'll swear you all in just before you leave." He instructed.
"What about a new Captain-of-the-Guard?" Sullivan asked.
Jenner waved the question off. "Oh, I don't know." He said. "What about the Captain of Third Troop? Gil..."
"Gisbourne, Your Majesty?" Sullivan corrected, cleverly disguising it as a question.
"Yes. What about him?" Jenner asked.
"He's a bit young." Sullivan said, surprised by Jenner's choice. "Clemm and Sykes have more experience and they'd probably be more than a little ticked off that someone ten years their junior got fast-tracked on a whim."
Jenner's countenance darkened. It wasn't like Sullivan to show initiative. While he didn't exactly want unadulterated sycophancy (such behavior tended to quickly degenerate into insufferably irritable sniveling) he also didn't want a mind potentially capable of independent thought that might later "get ethical" and begin to question orders. But he also prided himself on being smart enough to recognize those boundaries that could be safely crossed, and those best left undisturbed. Sullivan no doubt knew his soldiers well enough that he was probably right about their reaction to the promotion that had just been proposed; and while "divide and conquer" was Jenner's usual, not to mention most effective,s trategy, "united we stand" also had its own advantages. As quickly as it had come, the beginnings of Jenner's frown was
gone. "Perhaps you're right, old friend." He said. He would interview all of the Troop-Captains anyway just to get an idea of what kind of loyalty he could expect from them. "I'll no doubt have made a decision by the end of the day." He said noncommittally.
The first rays of the dawn light were now beginning to creep through the window of the room. Jenner dismissed Sullivan and called for the scribe, who quickly appeared; looking more frazzled and exhausted than usual; and waddled back into the throne room. After the door had closed, Sullivan could hear Jenner resuming the tirade that he'd been dictating when Sullivan had been summoned. For only the second time in his life, Sullivan felt genuine sympathy for a fellow creature.