Madame Lucia
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In her airy tower, sits Madame Lucia                                                                                                                            
There were rats in the soufflé again. Iago was at his wits' end. The little vermin found the cheese in the pantry and once they got a taste they wouldn't stop for death. He had tried everything to keep them down: Traps, catchers, jewelry…

He realized that he couldn't delay his next thought any longer. He would have to report this to Madame. He set down the enormous, rodent-laden ramekin, gulped the last of his cooking brandy, and began the long walk from the kitchens to the sitting room.

Rats! he mused as he tramped through gold and gem encrusted hallways. Castles always had rats! It didn't matter where it was. On an island, atop a mountain, halfway between dimensions, they always found their ways in. And a more modern house would not do at all for Madame. She was so old fashioned. The pearls that hung from the ceiling had hung there for centuries.

The soufflé was, of course, another problem. It was huge. Madame could only stomach the best of the best. Only one percent of anything was good enough and the rest was disposed of. Despite this, she required large portions. The only sensible thing to do was to enlarge the one percent until there was enough to satisfy her. A gigantic soufflé was the only obvious solution, far easier than one hundred smaller ones. Unfortunately, it was also much easier for the little pests to escape Iago's keen eye as he lowered the batter into the oven.

He could not escape forever. He found it harder and harder to concentrate on anything else but the door at the end of the corridor that he had entered. His thoughts were quite unconsciously brushed aside by the fear and shame ballooning up in his mind.

Mostly fear.

In her airy tower, high above the shifting plain between here and there, sits Madame Lucia. The room is lavishly decorated, as the rest of the castle is, but here there is true opulence. Here are the paintings where each stroke is worth a country. Here are the rugs of quagga fur and the diamond-paned windows and the fireplace of marble polished to shine like the moon. Yet it all appears shabby when one views the figure sitting in the high-backed chair facing away from the door. Madame's cascade of white hair falls over the chair back, each strand a thread of diamonds. She wears long, black silk gloves. One million silkworms were boiled alive to find the few threads that were flawless enough for her.

That is all one usually sees of Madame Lucia, and it is all that is needed. Just one percent.

Iago opened the door to the sitting room as decorously as he could manage. Madame sat in her usual spot, sipping tea. The cup she held in one hand was of a porcelain so finely wrought that, were it displayed in a museum, simply breathing in its general direction would result in a one hundred dollar fine.

After each sip, she emptied the cup into a crystal pail at her feet, and refilled it with fresh water from a golden tumbler. She then picked up a small silver spoon with a daisy pattern in the handle, hopelessly cheap-looking compared to everything else, and stirred the liquid just once.

"Iago," she said in a voice like the gentle tearing of a rose petal from its stalk. She would always speak first. To deprive her of this right was an affront to all that was good and pure. "Where is my soufflé?"

Iago was not required to bow. He could not have at this moment. He was too terrified. "Please, Madame, I am so terribly sorry, Madame, please. There are rats in the soufflé again."

The teacup hesitated for a moment before resuming its passage to Madame's lips. "They still trouble you? After all you have done? I cannot believe that you would be so incompetent." her voice took on a slightly petulant tone. "I suppose you ignored my suggestion? That you offer them last month's finest jewelry to stop."

"I did, Madame. They did not appear to want it."

"Hah. That is impossible. You probably chose the wrong jewelry. It was that hideous ring, I imagine."

"I offered each piece to every rat that I could find, Madame."

"Hmph. I doubt that."

Iago was relieved that Madame was in a good humor today. He decided that now would be the best time to propose his own plan. "Madame, please, if I may be so impertinent as to offer my own thoughts on the matter-"

"Yes… you are quite impertinent… Go on."

He plunged on, emboldened by the brandy. "Madame, perhaps if the cheese for the soufflé were stored in a less opulent cellar, it will take care of them itself. There is certainly enough wealth between the cellars and the towers that the effect would not extend-"

"But, what would the rats think!" Madame sounded absolutely horrified. The hand that held the spoon fanned her face for a moment.


"What you are suggesting, Iago, will be nothing short of ruinous. I-imagine for a moment that the rats enter the pantry to, to-to-to find garnets in the walls instead of rubies! I would be a laughingstock! They would never believe that this is a respectable house!"

"Madame, please, I am sorry, but I can think of no other way to prevent the rats from getting in your soufflé."

"Then you will make rat soufflé!"

Iago ducked as the teacup shattered on the wall next to his head, soaking him with jasmine drops. He was trembling all over, certain that his deserved punishment would come at last. Madame was sitting bolt upright, about to turn…

When she didn't. She spoke softly, "Yes… haha… rat soufflé, what a novel idea…" she laughed. "Rat soufflé, oh how do I amuse myself. Hahahaha…"

"Ha… haha…" Iago laughed breathlessly over the simple fact that he was still alive. Madame was not angry. And the rush of adrenaline to his brain had allowed him to come up with another idea.


Hm? Yes, Iago? Haha…"

"Please, Madame, what if I were to offer some of your cheese to the philistines?"

"Iago, you do go on."

"Ah, but, Madame," he said, warming to his idea. "The rats are obviously ashamed of what they do to you. That's why they kill themsleves."

"Oh? Yes, I never thought of it that way…"

"Suppose I were to send a bit of cheese to the philistines. A generous gift from Madame! They will be overjoyed, and the rats will surely follow. They will no longer feel guilty, and your soufflé will be safe."

Madame's hands clapped for a moment at the utter bullshit that Iago had spun. "Oh, yes, Iago! Such an idea! You may have my leftovers tonight."

"Madame, you are too gracious to me."

"But… what about my rat soufflé?"

Iago smiled. "I will save the choicest rats that I am able to find."

Madame Lucia's hair moved a bit as she nodded, catching the firelight and making it dance.

"Yes, Iago. Now, fetch me another cup of tea. Mine appears to have gone."

Iago nodded, and left to make the preparations to move the cheese to the plainest room in the castle. His.
Now the world was going to start affecting him, he thought as he averted his gaze from the lady in the chair.

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