• Published 19th Jul 2012
  • 26,811 Views, 1,799 Comments

The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

  • ...

Chapter 19

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 19

“Count Algarotti? If you could wake up please? Count...? Count...?”

Algarotti opened a pair of bleary eyes. He was lying in a wretched cot, and two figures were looking expectantly at him: that idiot Jordan and the talking donkey child that he had to pretend to be nice to. He noticed that the little artist had been drawing him in his sleep. The floor was covered with her drawings—he knew that for a fact because he knew her style now—and one that most-certainly was not hers. This extra drawing was of a girl, a human girl, at a party attended by the King, his court, and apparently even the girl’s dead mother. This artist knew nothing about the proper way to portray spirits in European portraiture.

“What time is it?” Algarotti asked with a froggy voice.

“A quarter after nine, My Lord,” Jordan replied, his head bowed. “The King is here.”

“The King!” Algarotti exclaimed, fully awake now. His immediate response was fear that King Friedrich had somehow learned of his plan. Or one of them, at least. Algarotti had an awful lot of plans.

Genevieve looked at him with a worried look on her face, and that made Algarotti even more nervous. She saw me when my guard was down, he realized. Is she already beginning to see through me? Curse children and their damned ability to see through lies!

After he had made himself presentable, Algarotti headed down to the kitchen, where the King of Prussia was sitting in a chair and listening attentively as the attendants took turns telling him the story of Ivan’s escape and recapture.

“Your Majesty,” Algarotti said as he entered the kitchen, accompanying this with a bow and a sweep of one arm.

“Algarotti,” King Friedrich noted, raising an eyebrow. “So you are here. Well, that saves me some trouble. Guards, arrest that man.”


A pair of guards sprang out to grab his arms, having been standing on either side of the doorway in wait. A third guard then found and removed his pistol. Walking out from their company to stand before the stunned count with a smug grin was President Maupertuis, the same man who had plotted to get Voltaire institutionalized two days ago.

“Pierre!” Algarotti exclaimed. “I thought we were friends!”

“Ah, but that was before you became an evil influence to the king,” Maupertuis explained in an oily voice.


“A dreadful mistake has been made,” said King Friedrich. “Some foul schemer has tricked me into throwing my dear mentor Voltaire into an insane asylum, can you imagine? Now, since I am the king, I never make a mistake, so therefore, I was misled into this disastrous course of action.”

“Of course,” Algarotti said, nodding vigorously. “You were misled by Maupertuis.”

“On the contrary,” Maupertuis said. “I, too, was misled, into thinking that a harmless work of fiction by the beloved Voltaire was actually treasonous in content. I was led into this delusion...by you.”

“By me? I merely observed that Micromegas was the kind of book that Voltaire would write to mock a king. You’re the one who decided to act on it!”

“No, no, no,” the King said calmly. “Maupertuis is the President of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences. Arresting him would reveal an error of judgment on my part in appointing him to such a prestigious position. My private art dealer, on the other hand, is completely expendable.”

Algarotti swallowed audibly.

“Your Majesty!” cried out a guard. He rushed into the kitchen from behind Algarotti. His two handlers moved him aside for a moment to let the guard through. The man then kneeled before his sovereign, and said, “We have searched all of the cells, and have found no trace of Monsieur Voltaire!”

“WHAT?!” the King bellowed. “Where is he?!”

The kneeling guard shrank. “There is something else...”

“Out with it, Soldier.”

“The madman named Oscar claimed that Algarotti here knew where Voltaire was hiding.”

Algarotti began to think of several unpleasant things to do with Oscar if they should ever meet again.

“I’m not sure we can trust the word of a madman,” King Friedrich said cautiously. “But I know what I can trust: the word of a man being tortured.”

What?!” exclaimed two voices at once.

Algarotti turned his head to see Genevieve a few feet away from him. “Genevieve,” he begged, “lend your pencil to somebody who can draw a portal. We have to get Voltaire back now!”

Genevieve stood there, her legs spread far apart like she was bracing herself for fight or flight, her whole body trembling. “Nn...nnno!” she answered after an internal struggle. “If I do that then I’ll have to go home. And I’m never going home, ever again!”

King Friedrich and his men looked on incredulously. “What madness is this?” the King asked, as he stepped forward to get a look at the donkey.

“You’re the King!” Genevieve exclaimed, looking up at him, seeing the utter and complete self-confidence that only kings (and madmen) in Europe possessed. “Please let my friend Francesco go.”

Friedrich wheeled about to confront Algarotti. “Your life is on the line, Swan *. Now is not the best time to demonstrate a stupid parlor game.”

Author’s Note: Voltaire called Algarotti “the Swan of Padua”. I’m not quite sure if that was a compliment or not—they tend to be beautiful creatures with a penchant for biting you when you’re not looking.

“I...I’m not...” Algarotti sputtered.

“What sort of fool do you take me for? Donkeys do not talk!” Friedrich picked up the slight Algarotti by his lapels and shook him. “Quit throwing your voice and tell me what you know. If it turns out you knew something about Voltaire’s disappearance and refused to help me, I’ll throw you into a pit so deep, you’ll die of old age before you ever reach the bottom!”

“She really can talk,” Algarotti said meekly.

LIAR!!!” the King roared, throwing Algarotti to the ground. “You will not challenge my faith in a rational universe! God created Man as lord of this world! Do you know who believed in fairies and talking animals, Algarotti? My father.

The guards looked at each other glumly, then picked up their weapons. There was simply no way around it, now—nobody could remind King Friedrich of his hated father and be expected to live.

“You let him go!” Genevieve cried out, rushing through the guards and then sinking to her rear knees beside King Friedrich to grab at his coat with her forehooves. “I can get you anything you want...other than the missing man. Just let him go!”

King Friedrich pulled himself away in shock and pointed at Algarotti, his face turning beet red. “You’re madder than any inmate here, you know that? We will have to shock your sanity back into you before I can proceed to a fitting punishment for your betrayal of me.

“Guards, kill that donkey!

In the brief moment of confusion while they reacted to this unexpected command, Algarotti slipped free of the guards holding him and made a run for it, Genevieve only a few paces in front of him.

Genevieve was almost more shocked at her ability to run than the fact that the King of Prussia wanted her dead. For some reason, she was convinced that her reaction to the death warrant should have been more visceral.

~ ~ ~

Algarotti was absolutely worthless as a fighter. The only reason he was not immediately recaptured was because the guards were all focusing on catching Genevieve, and they didn’t really have their hearts set on capturing a cute baby donkey, especially considering what they were going to have to do to it when they did.

Genevieve practically burst through the door of Voltaire’s cell on the second floor, which Algarotti then locked with his keys. The donkey used her mouth to pick up one of the ubiquitous sheets of paper that Voltaire had once used to travel from Earth to Equestria. She looked around her, only to find that the portable table had been smashed into splinters by the guards during their search. She looked up at Algarotti, who was standing to the side of the door in hopes that the guards would not see him if they peeked inside. “Francesco!” she cried out after spitting out the paper, then racked her brain to remember his title, so she could show him the proper respect. “My Lord!”

Algarotti turned his head to look at her. “Yes?” he asked.

“Could...could you kneel down in front of me? I need something to write on, and everything here is padded.”

Algarotti looked at the room as if for the first time. “I...yes, alright.” He got down on his hands and knees, and sighed.

They’re in here!” shouted a voice. Instantly, a half-dozen guards began to throw themselves at the door.

Jordan!” cried out the voice of the King as he ran down the corridor. “Bring me your keys!

Genevieve fitted her pencil holder over one hoof and slid the magic pencil in place, then hesitated as she looked down at the piece of paper on Algarotti’s back.

“What are you going to draw?” he asked, trying in vain to crane his neck around so he could see her.

BAM! BAM! BAM! came the sound of the door as it was being battered by the guards.

Jordan! Where are you with those keys!!” shouted the King.

“Why are you doing this?” begged Genevieve, tears running down her cheeks.

Because our King orders it,” replied the sad voice of a guard who grew up on a farm with a jenny.

“Yes, of course!” Genevieve cried out. She roughly swiped the piece of paper off of Algarotti’s back and started digging desperately through her satchel. “Where is it? Where is it???” she said out loud.

With a click, the lock opened, followed a second later by the door. Two guards kneeled down and aimed their muskets, and two more guards aimed their guns while standing.

“Yes!” Genevieve cried out triumphantly, pulling out a folded piece of paper and quickly spreading it out on Algarotti’s back. It was the drawing of Jenny’s birthday party, the drawing that had granted Genevieve the ability to understand German.

The guards hesitated. This donkey was speaking with the voice of a little girl.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” demanded Friedrich. “Am I not...”

As he was saying this, Geneveive’s pencil sought out the figures of the crowned king and the donkey in the drawing. She scratched out the crown from atop the king’s head, and drew it on top of the donkey’s head.

“...your Prince?” Friedrich concluded. “Wait, is that right?” His voice sounded a lot less certain than it had been a few seconds earlier.

“Guards, I believe you should think very carefully at who you are pointing your weapons at.”

The guards looked at where the voice was coming from, and then instantly dropped their guns in terror. “Forgive us, Your Majesty!” they cried out in unison.

Genevieve, Queen of Prussia, raised her head imperiously and looked in disdain at her subjects. “That’s better.”

~ ~ ~

Algarotti fell over onto his rear in shock. “Your Majesty!” he cried out, in a mixture of incredulity and giddiness.

Genevieve is queen! he realized. And...I still remember that she wasn’t. As he got to his feet, he saw how everyone else was bowing to the donkey in fear, without exception. Do I still remember because I was in contact with the paper when it happened?

He saw Genevieve looking at him with uncertainty. “Who am I?” she asked him desperately. “I have two fathers, and one of them was really, really mean to me! Which one is real?”

While keeping a neutral expression on his face, Algarotti looked down in judgment at the animal at his feet. She was asking him which personality would live and which would die: the innocent child, or the hardened monarch. Well, Algarotti wasn’t sure for how much longer he could manipulate a child. On the other hand, with but one (recent) exception, Friedrich had always been like putty in his hands. The choice was obvious.

“Why, you are the Queen of Prussia, Your Majesty,” he said calmly. “And you always have been.”

“But I seem to remember...” Genevieve said faintly.

“You are the queen of the rising power of Prussia,” Algarotti continued relentlessly. “You command a mighty army. You have the respect of every power in Europe. Your wise policies have made you the darling of every intellectual. Nobody can hurt you. Nobody will ever tell you what to do, ever again. That other Genevieve you once told me about? The weak Genevieve, the victim Genevieve? She was but a troubled nightmare of what could have been. You are strong, Queen! Loved by the righteous, and feared by the wicked. Doesn’t it feel good? Doesn’t it feel right?

Genevieve blinked several times in quick succession. “Yes,” she said with growing certainly. “Yes, of course, Algarotti.” She used the King’s name for him, Algarotti, rather than the jenny’s, Francesco. “I am the Queen,” she proclaimed, “I am the Queen of Prussia!”

Algarotti beamed. Now was the perfect moment to save his own skin. “Your Majesty,” he said cautiously, “there is the small matter of my arrest. I do hope that...”

Queen Genevieve raised a hoof to silence him. “Please, Algarotti, say no more. You did your best to protect my royal person when my brother lost his wits and ordered my guards to kill me.”

Brother? Algarotti thought weakly to himself.

“Eep!” cried Crown Prince Friedrich. He dropped to his knees and desperately grasped Genevieve’s hooves. Only Algarotti recognized the reversal of roles. “I swear, dear sister, I do not know what came over me. It must have been the evil influence of...of...”

“...President Maupertuis,” Algarotti filled in with an evil grin.

“Yes, President Maupertuis!” cried Friedrich. “Oh, sister, we should catch him, and when we do we could...um, that is, you could...”

“...torture him,” Genevieve said darkly.

Algarotti looked back and forth between Friedrich and Genevieve in utter bewilderment. Friedrich in particular had a look to him that Algarotti had never seen in him before: the look of a man unused to command, the look of a man who in fact never expected his orders to be obeyed—the look of a dreamy-eyed intellectual.

“Freddy,” Genevieve said sadly, “let me handle this. Go back to Sanssouci. You handle the philosophy and flute compositions, and I’ll handle Prussia, alright?”

“Alright, Jenny,” said Friedrich, getting up. “But what about Voltaire?”

“I’ll do everything in my power to find him, this I swear,” Algarotti said, lying through his teeth. “No matter where on this world he may have run to, I will hunt him down.” He looked carefully at the donkey’s face as he said this. She showed no signs of thinking that anything was wrong with what Algarotti had just said. Emboldened by this, he reached forward and plucked the magic pencil from her satchel. “This belongs to one of the inmates, if you remember,” he told her, as if it were the least significant act in the world.

“Hmm, yes, yes,” she said, her attention on the Prince.

“Well just, just don’t hurt him, Francesco,” pleaded Prince Friedrich. “It was a bad joke to throw him in here in the first place, and I can understand how he could be upset. Just give me the chance to apologize to him, and then I’ll leave it up to him whether he wants to stay in my service or depart.”

Genevieve clucked her tongue at him. “Brother, you do not ask if a servant wishes to leave. Honestly, sometimes I think you really need to grow a backbone.”

Algarotti wandered out of the cell and made his way to Jordan. There was a question he just had to ask, but at the same time he dreaded getting the wrong answer. “So, Queen Geneveive and Prince Friedrich,” he said reluctantly. “One of them is adopted, yes?”

Jordan looked at him carefully, with what appeared to be carefully disguised surprise. “But of course, My Lord. It is simply considered bad form to remind Prince Friedrich of this fact.”

The royal siblings returned to Potsdam, along with the guards. Algarotti chose to stay behind at the asylum, to spend one more night in the attic.

But he didn’t sleep. Instead he got to work on a canvas. After brainstorming some ideas on scraps of paper and sketching out his design in (non-magical) pencil, he began painting, the magic pencil kept in a pocket right next to his reclaimed pistol, waiting for its supreme moment.

This painting, he told himself, will be my greatest masterpiece.

Author's Note:

There was another gap while I was writing this chapter, which was filled by the spell-binding conclusion of the riveting "Anonymous Author on Earth" saga. Chapter 19 itself was accompanied by a blog post with the cumbersome title of "Social Mobility/Letter #4 from the Author".