The laughter and good times drowned out the gentle ocean surf in the background at the Serelian royal palace, situated as it was on the seashore. Evening had come and so had the time to put aside affairs of state and enjoy good times with old friends.
Around the table at the end of dinner were the hosts, King George and Queen Darlene, moving from early to mid-thirties. Darlene was pregnant with their third child, their daughter Miriam having been born the previous spring. With medium blonde hair and matching complexion, George’s shrewd leadership skills were hidden under an affable and slightly cynical demeanour. Darlene’s long red hair and piercing blue eyes deflected attention from her stocky build and revealed a woman who loved and ruled with the same intensity, evidenced by her holding the hands of the two people on either side of them when not using them to talk. One of those people was her husband; the other was her favourite bishop, Terry Lewis, and next to Terry husband Julian. Both of them were resplendent in their Anglican ministerial garb, Terry’s purple and Julian’s black, and both were taller than their royal counterparts. The purple matched well with Terry’s dark features which reflected her Chinese heritage; although considerably taller than the King, Julian’s colouring was similar, possibly because they were second cousins.
Next to George was the youngest of the group, Caroline Luwayo, and her mother Madeleine. Madeleine’s shoulder-length dirty blond hair and clear blue eyes made her a near replica of her Norman mother. Caroline was almost her mother made over except that she was several shades darker in both hair and skin, the latter nearly the colour of the Serelian café au lait that the party sipped with dessert. Comparing the two showed how the years had fallen gracefully on Madeleine, as they had on Terry.
Next to Madeleine was her father, Pierre des Cieux. Definitely the senior of the group, his white hair and moustache were his remaining trademarks, having left his straw hat with the lackey out of respect for his hosts. With him was his wife Marguerite, Madeleine’s stepmother. Both of them showed the signs of too much good French cooking, which made them rival Darlene in girth, although the Queen had a better excuse.
At the opposite end of the table was the Queen’s sister Theresa and her husband Barton Caldwell. With relatively short hair nearly Madeleine’s colour, Theresa’s appearance and countenance revealed someone who had started out with great beauty but who allowed life to pry too much of it from her. Barton also reflected a hard life, one largely wrought by war injuries which deprived him of one leg. However, they both had a happy attitude about them which helped to compensate for the rough years, and neither betrayed the weight gain that the senior des Cieux did.
“I find it hard to believe that you home schooled her,” Darlene declared to Madeleine as the help began to take the used silver and china up. “I had no idea that Belgium permitted such. It’s not even easy in parts of the U.S..”
“She has known nothing else,” Madeleine replied with her soft French accent. “I started out sending my children to school, but, by the time she was ready to start, the others were already in home school, so she stayed with me.”
“With five children, I’m surprised they didn’t make you get the proper license to operate your ‘school’,” George quipped, to laughter.
“Do you have home schooling here in Serelia?” Madeleine asked.
“We do not,” Darlene flatly replied.
“And why is this?” Madeleine asked. “Is there a religious reason?”
“The Church operates all of the schools here,” Pierre answered. “Traditionally, the problem is truancy, if I may be so bold to say.”
“If we had home schooling,” Theresa chimed in, “they’d all be home schooled—learning fishing, farming and whatever else their parents could find to make money. I know we fought this when my first husband Anselm was a rector.”
“Since we are speaking of school,” Marguerite came in, “isn’t your son and his wife starting university just now?”
“They called me today,” Theresa said, her face glowing with the thought. “They’re doing great, getting settled in. Her parents are helping them to get the kids’ flat started, they grew up not so far from the university. Barton and I will go later in the fall, after we see how this hurricane season goes.”
“Don’t you have a daughter in the Sixth Form?” Caroline asked, finally getting a word in edgewise with her garrulous elders.
“Yes I do,” Theresa said, the glow continuing.
“She is presently dining with His Excellency,” Barton said in an pompous, mocking fashion. Caroline looked puzzled.
“What he means to say,” Theresa informed her, “is that she’s courting the new Minister of Defence’s son. They’re over at his father’s house.”
“I know it is your custom,” Madeleine declared, “but so soon to court and marry for both of your children?”
“You’d better be careful up here,” Terry said, looking directly at Caroline. “I came here at nearly forty. It only took me five months.” The room burst out laughing at that, to Julian’s embarrassment.
“So,” Darlene said to seize the conversation in the wake of this merriment, “Caroline, after being home schooled in Europe’s capital, what made you decide to come here to Serelia, so far away from home?”
“And everything else,” George added.
Caroline was speechless for a bit, collecting her thoughts. “It is not so far from my grandfather. He is only able to come to see us two or three times a year. Now I can go visit him at every break.”
“That’s sweet,” Theresa said.
“St. Anne’s has an excellent reputation for its academic programme,” Madeleine continued. “And it doesn’t hurt her to be in an Anglophone environment—as regrettable as it is to many, we live in such a world.”
“She can see the results of a St. Anne’s education for herself, with two alumnae sitting here,” Pierre noted.
“Now don’t discourage her!” Darlene declared.
“But. . .” Caroline came in hesitantly, “. . .there is one more reason.”
“And what’s that?” Darlene asked, sensing an adventure.
“Last year, we heard a guest preacher in my father’s church talk about one of your ministers praying for someone to come back to life.”
“That minister was Diana Morgan,” Terry noted. “A really sweet girl.”
“After that, the Lord showed me that this was the place of miracles. So I wanted to come.”
“Getting in on such short notice was one of them,” Theresa added.
“With des Cieux, anything can happen,” George quipped.
But Caroline was undeterred in her serious attitude. “In any case, this is where my mother performed her miracles, although she doesn’t like to talk about them. That has drawn me to this place.”
The room fell silent at this. Everyone was looking at everyone else to see who might want to pick up on this.
“Is she talking about the ‘Ten Weeks’?” Darlene finally asked.
“The ‘Ten Weeks’?” Madeleine queried.
“That’s what I have called that time when I was in Fourth Form and you in Sixth when all of those things happened. I think Pierre came up with the name first,” Terry informed her. “Come to think of it, I’ve never discussed it much myself.”
“Then you must tell us about the Ten Weeks!” Darlene declared, her intense blue eyes focused directly on Madeleine.
Madeleine returned her gaze with one of fright. “It was so long ago. . .” she attempted to excuse herself. Pierre uncharacteristically squirmed in his chair at the thought, as did his wife. Even Terry and Theresa looked nervous.
“You cannot refuse me!” Darlene persisted. “You must tell me. This is an absolute monarchy. I demand it.”
“I’m not Louis XIV,” George observed, “but I do have an excellent security service. They have their ways. . .”
Pierre’s sigh broke the silence. “Eh bien, I suppose we must tell them. In any case, since Caroline has made such an effort to come here, she deserves to know everything.”
“Very well,” Madeleine said with resignation.
“But, since we are in the presence of the children of Beran, we will begin this tale at their own estate,” Pierre added. “It was twenty-seven years ago, let me see, Her Majesty was living there and. . .five years old, I think.”
“What month?” Theresa asked.
“December,” Pierre said. “We will start just about in the middle of December, 1970.”
“Coming up on six, thank you,” Darlene said. “So what does that have to do with anything?”
“Because, at the start of this tale, you were a very important attraction there.”
Darlene thought for a second. “Oh. . .oh, dear, now I remember.”
“You may live to regret your impetuosity,” Theresa said, looking at her sister.
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” Terry confidently quoted.
“But it will humiliate you first,” Darlene sighed.