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The Fifth Lectern

AndyC

I am not in your tribe
Moderator
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#1
There are some graphics for The Fourth Lectern and The Fifth Lectern already in the Graphics section here, but there's also a completely non-canonical additional "Alien Space Bats"-style ending as well.

This isn't how the story really ended.

Honest.

But if it had, it would have gone like this:

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ASB Ending: Out of a Grey Country

The waiting room in the Palace was considerably more up-to-date in technical terms than Mandelson would have imagined. There was even a flat-screen television in the corner, tuned to BBC News.

“And today, another opinion poll released in the Sun showed that public respect for our politicians – and even democracy itself – has reached an all-time low following the recent events in the House of Commons. The swift and unheralded change to the voting system is widely viewed as ‘a stitch-up’ and the inconclusive outcome itself is leading many to despair about democracy.

The poll showed that the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have broken records for net disapproval. The ‘preferred Government’ option, had results as shown, with changes from the poll from three days ago”

The screen flashed up with a graphic:

Conservative majority: 11% (-4)
Labour majority: 8% (-6)
Con/LD Coalition: 4% (-7)
Con/UKIP Coalition: 4% (-3)
Lab/LD Coalition: 4% (-4)
Lab/UKIP Coalition: 3% (-3)
Con/LD/Green: 1% (-3)
Con/LD/UKIP: 2% (-3)
Con/UKIP/Green: 1% (-2)
Lab/LD/Green: 3% (-4)
Lab/LD/UKIP: 3% (-2)
Con/Lab “Grand Coalition”: 3% (-2)
Abolish Parliament and return to monarchy:52% (+43)
Don’t Know: 2% (-)

“As can be seen, the spoof option, first added two polls ago, of sweeping away the politicians and giving power straight back to the monarchy, has caught the public’s eye. Of course, such an outcome would be …”

“Mr Mandelson. Her Majesty will receive you now”. The ornately uniformed functionary stood impassive by the door. Mandelson’s attention jerked away from the screen with a start.

“Oh. Of course. Thank you, Arnold”.

“Very good, sir. Would you come this way?”

The short walk down the hallway allowed Mandelson to marshal his thoughts. This time he’d keep his head completely and press for his reward. Hadn’t he done everything that he’d promised? More, even?

They reached a large set of double doors. The functionary opened them without making any signal. He stepped in and announced: “Mr Mandelson, your Majesty”.

The Queen’s distinctive voice said, “Thank you. Show him in, please”.

At a gesture from Arnold, Mandelson stepped into the room. It was a fairly large drawing room, with ornate sofas, comfortable chairs and a writing desk at which was sat the Queen. Mandelson noticed that Prince Phillip was also in attendance. Incongruously, his feet were propped on a coffee table, clad only in socks.

Arnold bowed and swept out. The Queen gave Mandelson what looked like a genuine smile. “Peter! Well done!”

He swallowed. “Your Majesty. You are, then, pleased with my work?”

Before the Queen could answer, Prince Phillip snorted. “Pleased? Christ, man! Fifty-two percent! If anything, we’re ahead of schedule”.

He broke off at a quelling glare from the Queen. Schedule?, thought Mandelson. What is the next step? They’ve never confided the full plan in me

“Indeed”, said the Queen in a slightly colder voice. “In fact, I was intending to bring you in to the next stage of the manoeuvre in any case. Fortunately”

Despite the warmth in the room, Mandelson felt an icy shiver running down his spine. He knew better than anyone else just how ruthless “The Firm” could be when the Queen decided it was necessary.

Prince Philip stood up and wandered over to stand behind his wife. Idly, he rubbed a plain ring on his finger. Mandelson couldn’t help but run his own thumb over his own bare finger. Although Philip had given no other reaction, Mandelson knew what must just have happened.

The Queen was looking far off. With a start, she focussed back to the here and now. “Yes. Well. The full plan. You are to be brought into Our confidence. The full target date is to be during the Olympics next year …”

Mandelson listened as his monarch laid out the timetable. The Government had to fall again in November and the BNP were to win a seat? That would take some work. Then the Government would need to nearly fall and rely on UKIP and even BNP support to survive, before collapsing ignominiously. He’d have to go through at least one more inconclusive Election Night, of course. It would be so draining, unless …

He screwed up his courage. “Your Majesty”, he began. Elizabeth looked at him levelly. He almost lost his nerve in front of that cool gaze.

He coughed and cleared his throat. “Your Majesty”, he said again. “Without intending any disrespect in any way, have you considered … about that Ring … your promise …”. He trailed off, unable to face that look.

At last she spoke again. “A touch insolent, wouldn’t you say, Phillip?”. Her husband, despite a fleeting sympathetic glance to Mandelson, nodded. “Yes, dear. Definitely rather presumptuous”

Mandelson closed his eyes briefly, his knees weak.

“However …”, continued the Queen. “Your drive and willpower have been so useful to Us that it is probably implausible to expect you to restrain yourself forever. You will get your Ring. At the successful conclusion of the November Election”.

Mandelson’s breath let out explosively. He hadn’t even realised that he’d been holding it. The Queen noticed his relief and smiled thinly. “Bear in mind, Peter – after you’ve received it, you will be even more tightly bound to Us. Only one person has ever gone against Us after holding one, and you know what happened to her”

He nodded, wordlessly. Her mind damaged, her actions become irrational – Diana had been a wreck even before the Firm had finished her off in that Paris underpass. He shied away from envisaging her fate, forcing himself to concentrate on the beneficial aspects of bearing a Lesser Ring. Philip, in his seventies at the time, nimble and stealthy enough to disguise himself and drive the essential Fiat Uno … and with the power to prevent witnesses from remembering enough to catch him. The late Queen Mother, in her nineties, abseiling from the roof of the underpass in order to distract the driver at the crucial moment, and then to drop down, retrieve the Ring from Diana and fade away into the shadows. He’d even seen the black uniform that the Queen Mother had worn. When he’d first been brought into the Inner Circle, she’d joked with him that if he ever crossed them, it would be the last thing he’d ever see.

The power to cloud mens’ minds. To fade into the shadows. To dominate their wills – to an extent. To extend life and health, although within limits. The Queen Mother had, at the last, wearied of the extended life and removed her Ring. A Lesser Ring could not long stave off the desire to leave the World, but a hundred years of health and vigour – maybe a hundred and ten or a hundred and twenty – would be ample for Mandelson.

Of course, the Queen would have more … direct … contact with him after that. His eyes were drawn to an innocuous ring on her left hand. Crowned with an amethyst, it looked out of place on a monarch’s finger, but he knew better. He’d never noticed it before; he knew that no-one did unless she willed it. The one thing he didn’t know was why, after all those decades of quiet service, she had suddenly decided to take control directly. He’d wondered whether the Ring had corrupted her at last, but … it was so uncharacteristic.

I know your thoughts.

He blinked. She was looking straight into his eyes. “I know your thoughts”, she repeated out loud. "This close, looking into your eyes – I can read more than you think. You want to know why I have to be in command now”

He was losing himself in those blue eyes. Phillip’s harsh voice brought him back to reality. “Then for Pity’s sake tell the man! If we’re going to trust him, then trust him”.

She released his gaze and leaned back. “I think … I think he needs to see some context. Phillip!”

It was unmistakeably an order. Phillip sighed. “Fine, fine. I’ll remember it again!”. He sat down onto a nearby chair and glared briefly at Mandelson before closing his eyes.

Relax

It was that voice again.

Open your mind and let the images in

Open his mind? How? There wasn’t a door in his brain! He couldn’t just … oh. He could.

He saw a deep blue sky above him. An azure vault, blended with the hot shimmering Mediterranean midday sunlight. How did he know it was midday? For that matter, how did he know it was the Mediterranean?

It didn’t matter. The small boat was bobbing in the soft swell. He sat up and glanced around. The HMS Chequers was at least a mile off his port side; he really shouldn’t head much further away without good reason. Off to the other side, the rocky island – barely much larger than an oversized rock, really, was only a hundred yards or so away. He looked over the side and into the clear water.

Visibility through the water was superb today. Despite the ripples making the sight shift irregularly, he could see all the way down to the sea floor. Only a couple of fathoms here … and he could make out so much. There was what looked like the marks of a stream bed down there – obviously it had once been a much larger island. Maybe even part of the mainland. He wondered if it had once been inhabited and … hold on! That wasn’t a stream-bed. It was a path. Maybe even a small rough road. Running right to that tumbled-down – was it some sort of temple or palace once?

Was he letting his imagination run away with himself? It was just a jumble of rocks that looked slightly too regular – no. Those bits were square. You never got perfect right angles like that in Nature. It had once been a building, lost for more centuries than he’d like to imagine. Millennia, even.

He looked again at the HMS Chequers. He’d be leaving her soon, for his own command, but he’d got used to the destroyer. He had responsibilities. He couldn’t just … or could he? Drawn to that too-regular clump of rocks beneath him, he started breathing deeply. Maybe two fathoms – he could do that easily enough. He breathed in and out again, and impulsively dived over the side. Pulling himself down steadily with powerful, regular strokes, he forged to the sea bed. He had to find … what? What did he have to find?

He’d know it when he found it. Something needed to come out into the light again. Something needed to be found. He pawed along the underside of one of the regular blocks without avail. Moving on, he tried the next and then the next. He’d soon be running out of air but … there! It was there!

A pouch of something. Some metallic thread that had impossibly held together across Ages. He snatched it, his fingers curling through mud and leaving a swirling trail of floating grime. His prize secure, he drew his feet underneath him and kicked off of the sea floor. He’d left it longer than he’d intended and his vision was fogging. Clawing at the water, he forced himself to remain calm. A stroke, another stroke, another stroke. Fighting the urgent need to breathe in. Fighting the cold band of steel clamped around his chest. He refused to release the pouch and swam upwards. He broke the surface and gasped for that precious air.

It took him nearly two minutes to catch his breath and lever himself back over the side of the boat. He looked with curiosity at the shimmering silver pouch. He opened it. Five rings fell out. Four were plain, unadorned gold bands, while the fifth was adorned with a purplish stone. He recognised an amethyst …

And return

The irresistible order brought Mandelson blinking back to the present. Phillip gave him a wry smile. “And that was how I found them”, he said in a sing-song tone.

“Yes”, said the Queen. “That is how Phillip found them – four Lesser Rings and one Greater Ring. Ironically, it was at a very similar time that the professor in Oxford was writing his fable. He got some things right and others wrong, of course, but I have concluded that whatever it was that made this Ring decide to be found again at last … whatever that was … somehow manifested itself in the human collective soul”

She stood up and walked towards the window. “After all, who would have credited it that such a fairy tale – told in an archaic mode of English – could possibly catch on to that extent”. She stopped and looked over her shoulder. “Not the publisher, that’s well known. He thought he was going to lose thousands. Not the author – he thought he’d be lucky to sell a few copies to family and friends. No. Something reached around the world and made people ready for that … not story, that’s the wrong word”. She pondered briefly. “For that myth. Or legend. Or even history. Distorted, of course, but somehow, a Merton Professor of English language and Literature penned a tale in which there were Greater Rings, and briefly mentioned, Lesser Rings, and one Ruling Ring. And when the Ruling Ring was destroyed, these Greater Rings were lost”

“I don’t know exactly why the presence of these things forced its way back into the light of day, but I suspect. I suspect the organised mass killing of a generation first sparked it back into life. The first time that the grief and loss spanned a globe. That is, after all, when that said Professor first had the inklings of … well”. She smiled faintly. “Pun not intended, of course”.

Mandelson had no idea what she meant by that.

She continued. “And then, when the world erupted again, when hatred and darkness fought to dominate humanity, the presence of the Rings sputtered from that faint glimmer into life. The remaining Rings awoke from their long sleep”

Mandelson couldn’t bring himself to speak. She turned and strode back towards him. “For though he said that the Greater Rings lost their power – it was not forever. They merely slept, because they had life before the Ruling Ring and though they were yoked to it for millennia, they knew existence without it before. They could know such existence again. These Rings had been collected by their Lord, of course, and their Lord perished. If you look at the map drawn by the Professor and his son, you can locate the place where they were kept. And it isn’t very far from the Greek islands. I don’t know exactly how these Rings were carried from where they were left to the area that was later drowned to become the Mediterranean, but it isn’t very far at all. The world has changed since those lost days: mountains have risen and fallen, seas have drained and filled, so trying to equate positions with a map first scrawled from a blurred mind’s eye is futile in any case”

“So … so that’s where they came from”, said Mandelson. He knew that he was simply repeating the obvious, but for all his much-vaunted urbanity, he couldn’t think clearly.

“Indeed. Phillip gave me the precious ring with the jewel when we were engaged. And as soon as I put it on, I understood. The power does try to corrupt, but it isn’t irresistible. But it must be kept secret. That is why we did what we had to do, nearly twenty years ago”. She looked briefly regretful.

“That – that doesn’t explain why …”, began Mandelson, greatly daring.

The Queen reached into her writing desk and pulled out a piece of paper. Mandelson quickly scanned it and looked up, his eyes enquiring.

“This is Top Secret – it’s an MI6 report. Apparently Vladimir Putin is going to go diving in the Black Sea and discover some Greek amphoras. What of it?”

“It’s a stunt”, she said. “And one that makes something else make a lot of sense. Look at the date on it”

“It’s dated two months ago”

“Look at the references and the dates on them”, she said, impatiently.

“Oh. Well, the first one is from … April last year. Just before you first started this moving. He’s been setting it up that long?”

“Yes. So it’s not a knee-jerk thing for popularity. And it looks as though he suggested it. He referred to a dive he did himself ‘some time ago’. A dive in the Mediterranean”. She looked at Mandelson, pointedly.

“So? Wait – he never … did Putin ever go to the Med?”

She shook her head. “That’s not the point. Putin was KGB. He could have been anywhere during his career. Look at this photo”. She slid a photograph of Putin across the desk.

He looked at it carefully but couldn’t see anything that stood out to him.

“Look at his left hand”

Mandelson shook his head. “I see nothing”

“I do. You can’t. But I see a gold ring, adorned with an opal”

Mandelson looked up again in shock. “He has a Greater Ring!”

She nodded. “Like this one. One of the lost Nine, or of the remaining few of the Seven. It, too, came back into the World, and explains his rise to power. And, Peter ...”

She looked grave. “Vladimir Putin will not settle for holding the Ring out of the limelight. He has been using it and will continue to use it. He will rally the Forces of Darkness to himself. I hold the only other Greater Ring that we know about; I must take direct charge of the Forces of the West. Only I can resist him directly”

She sat back down, looking weary and old. “I had been trying to wear this burden as little as possible over the years. Although much of what the Professor wrote was inaccurate, he was right in so much as the Ring makes life a burden over time. I wanted to pass it on – but to whom? Charles has not the right mindset for it. William is too young, still. I must bear it still longer, but the time will come when I will face Putin directly”

“I will not see the World wracked in war again. Imagine what could have happened if Hitler had held one of these. Or Stalin. Or …”, she shook her head.

“No. The Rings give power in accordance with the bearer’s power, and the legitimacy of that power is important. That’s why Putin has had to work through the machinery of democracy, even if it’s been … a little slapdash. That’s why I have to be acclaimed ruler in fact as well as in name. When I am the direct ruler of the Commonwealth, I will be able to face Putin. He has the authority from being leader of a hundred and fifty million. After I take absolute power here, I will be leader of sixty-five million. I will be acclaimed ruler of the United Kingdom after the Olympics, and after the next Commonwealth Games … well. Power begets power, and I’ll explain the next step. But the Commonwealth has over two billion in it. I could be Queen of a third of the population of this World and unchallengeable by any being or force imaginable”. She leapt back to her feet.

“I will sweep this Russian upstart aside and herald an Age of Peace and Prosperity for all! If I must take this power – and I must – I will wield it with heart and mind. I will wield it for the betterment of all!”. Her eyes flashed.

They softened as she looked fondly at Mandelson. “But until then, Peter, we have work to do. Diana’s Ring has lain quiescent for nearly fifteen years; it will be yours before Christmas. Deliver me more chaos and more disquiet with the political classes and we will achieve Our aims”.

Mandelson nodded jerkily. “Yes, your Majesty”. Stunned, he let himself be shown out. It was only when he’d left the Palace grounds that the question occurred to him: what did she mean to do after Putin was defeated? Would she ever step down?

With a second Great Ring in her control after Putin fell – who would she give it to? Phillip, so he could live as long as her? Would she ever reach the point where she’d be willing to pass on her power and surrender her life? If anyone could, surely the woman who’d dedicated her life to the service of her country, who’d resisted the temptation to wield this thing for control for so many decades … surely she could do that?

Or would Britain, the Commonwealth, even the World, remain under the rule of a woman who would reign unchallenged and with absolute power for centuries? And even then, if the books were right … would she become a Wraith? The Witch-Queen of London?

As he walked slowly down the Mall towards Whitehall, his thoughts were troubled. Would everything that civilization had become be lost in a great leap into the Dark?
 

Thande

Ricky Carlson / David Alameel '20
Published by SLP
#7
I recall when they did a poll on whether people would support a military coup against Labour / The Tories and found a solid 20% who would support a military coup just whatever happens
You can find 20% of people in this country who will support anything. I suspect they are the same 20% of people who vote 'Don't Know' on Yougov when the question is "Would you like me to (a) give you £1 million or (b) shoot you in the leg?"

Anyway back on topic--having been prescient for a phase in OTL, the Fourth and Fifth Lecterns now feel emblematic of that same phase now it has passed, as I was reflecting when reviewing the 2014 London local elections with how divided everything was in terms of popular vote.
 

Lemon flavoured

Soft, squishy and mostly harmless
Location
Hucknall, Notts
#8
You can find 20% of people in this country who will support anything. I suspect they are the same 20% of people who vote 'Don't Know' on Yougov when the question is "Would you like me to (a) give you £1 million or (b) shoot you in the leg?"

Anyway back on topic--having been prescient for a phase in OTL, the Fourth and Fifth Lecterns now feel emblematic of that same phase now it has passed, as I was reflecting when reviewing the 2014 London local elections with how divided everything was in terms of popular vote.
Yeah, I think some of the people who answer polls say "Don't know" just for the lols.
 

Oppo

Nationalize Five Guys
#12
Honestly, I'd love to do a secret campaign where thousands of people around Britain say they're going to vote UKIP and then we get to raise Batten's hopes then emotionally destroy him in the course of a night.
Exit poll: "WEP Largest party?!!"
“The exit polls have come in, and it appears that something called ‘rudda’ is going to become the largest party in Parliament, with the SDP in a distant second.”
 

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
#14
This is possibly a question for @Meadow: I've begun reading Sealion Press via my Scribd account, and The Fourth (and Fifth) Lectern don't seem to be on there, unlike the rest of the published books. Is there a particular reason, or should I just wait patiently?