Terry arrived at the dock early the next morning, meeting Prince William and the boat pilot. The boat dock was a small T-shaped dock just below the Serlin Bridge. They loaded their bags on the boat; William thought that Terry packed a little “heavy.”
“All of this for just a quick trip to Serelia?” he asked.
“I think Prince George means for us to make a journey to the west,” Terry replied. “The last time I did that, the week trip turned into more than a month. I wanted to be at least somewhat prepared.”
With no fanfare or send off, they shoved off of the dock and, using the boat’s auxiliary outboard motor, headed down the Barlin on the way to the Crescan Sound.
The motor was auxiliary because the “Royal Lighter” was a fishing smack, a small sailing craft popular around the Island. Many were leaky and slow, and this one was no exception, but with another good day of weather the journey promised to be fine.
As they went downstream, they looked at the all too familiar shoreline just south of the capital.
“This stretch of river brings back memories,” William said to Terry, pointing to the right bank.
“For both of us,” she replied. “This is where you wiped out Ronald and Edward Amherst and their forces.”
“I can’t take all the credit—they were caught between us, you on the left, Dennis on the right, and the Vidamerans and Alemarans behind. But it’s true, the Amherst boys made their final stand with my men. We avenged Max Serlin’s death but good.” He paused for a little bit. “So why are you so eager for this thing with the Serelians?”
“Eager isn’t exactly the word,” Terry replied. “It’s necessary.”
“You’re more single-minded about the Verecundans than I thought.”
“You’ve never been there—you wouldn’t understand. Besides, we were in fact fighting a proxy war. When the Serelians start having doubts about the Verecundans, it’s worth investigating.”
“Well, let me lay it out for you,” William stated. “George, he’s all right, I guess. He certainly wasn’t his father’s first choice for Crown Prince—and wouldn’t be mine if I were King of Serelia—but from our standpoint, he’s probably the best thing we’ve got going. He’s the one who finally got them to see daylight on this war. But his father—I don’t trust him. He still thinks he should have won. And he still thinks he owes the Verecundans big time since they helped his father set up Serelia in the first place. So you’ve got to watch it.”
“And that’s why you’ve come along,” Terry came back.
“That’s exactly why I’m here.”
Their progress down river was slow but steady. About 1100 they reached the mouth of the river, with its well-rooted mangroves; the high tide made it easier to navigate over the horseshoe sand bar and into the Crescan Gulf. Once out in the gulf they turned to the northeast and set sail for Drago.
Their entry into the gulf was met by a south-easterly wind. Steering to the port, the pilot took a north-easterly course with the wind on his starboard. Looking over the side, they had no trouble seeing the bottom of the gulf, frequently passing at close range large rocks that brought that bottom uncomfortably close to the surface. Terry, William and the pilot were all involved in sailing the craft, especially in keeping the sails properly trimmed.
Providence had ordained a good day for sailing. It was clear; the very brisk breeze carried along both the cumulus clouds above and the boats below. Many times they passed shrimpers and lobster boats seeking their catch. Drahla is a small country; both Terry and William know most of the crews and waved as they passed. Many of these people had fought for independence; some testified to this with missing arms, legs, eyes and the like.
In spite of the excellent weather, the fishing smack wasn’t the most wieldy craft. Terry’s attempts to upgrade the “Royal Yacht” (as the princes sarcastically called it) ran into the brick wall of budgetary limitations; the only recent improvement was the smoothing of the hull. It was a concerted struggle for the crew to keep the ship on course, avoid hitting the rocks, and make some progress. Things were complicated about 1300 when cloud build-ups started over land, and the wind reversed itself. They then realised that they might end up in a storm. William thought they might have to land before reaching Drago, but the wind rudely answered his question by starting to drive the smack out to sea. They were either faced with beaching on one of the barrier islands or being driven out to sea. The barrier islands were definitely more attractive, but the cloud build-up turned out to be a bluff, as no rain came and the wind subsided some. A very tired crew finally pulled into Drago harbour about 1600.
Drago always prided itself on being “the Island’s oldest town,” which in fact it was, having been first settled in the late 1700’s. The town was subsequently overshadowed, first by Verecunda, then Beran (which oversaw it until its own collapse,) and more recently Alemara. With the end of the war, Drago started to come back to life again, and was starting to become a favourite stop over of large yachts from the mainland looking for “new adventure.” Although there were a few boat docks along the gently curved shore, the relatively new government dock was a marina which extended from a marginal wharf that consisted of a Navy wall with rather spiffy looking aluminium sheet piling, and the wharf is where the smack finally came to port. As the town itself followed the shore, coming into port afforded a very picturesque view.
Shortly after arrival, they were met by its mayor, Karl Ballman, Andrea’s older brother. He saw the rather bedraggled state of the travellers and let them go the town’s guesthouse, rest a bit and clean up before the evening banquet at the Methodist church parish hall, the largest gathering place in town.
Even though Drago was not a nation, the banquet was quite an affair, with Ballman, the town council, other prominent business people in town, and even some of its clergy. Most of the guests took the opportunity to hobnob with royalty and an official from the capital. William gave an outline of their mission, but their presentation was lost in the refrain they received—they felt they were sending too much money to Barlin and getting too little back. A few even expressed the sentiment that some kind of representative government in Drahla was in order, a rather radical idea on the Island considering that only Alemara, little places like Drago, Ft. Albert and Cresca, and Verecunda had democratic institutions. The tone was upbeat in general, though, and both William and Terry took it all in stride and had a fine evening after all.
As the party wound down, Karl took William outside.
“I hope my councillors were not too opportune in expressing their feelings,” Karl said to William, almost apologetically.
“Not at all,” William replied. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to face these issues. We’ve been doing things ad hoc since we declared independence. We just have to insure that the interest of those most responsible for affairs in this country retain the authority to carry out their responsibilities, if you catch my drift.”
“Certainly,” Karl replied. “But what about this business of the Royal Counsellor going to Serelia? Do you think this is wise so soon?”
“My father thinks so,” William observed. “I’m not so sure. But in any case, given who the ‘up and coming’ people are in Serelia, I doubt it will get off the ground.”
“Does she know about that?”
“She hasn’t shown any sign that she’s connected the dots just yet,” William answered. “The war, the tragedies that have surrounded her, and the fact that she’s a West Islander, have disoriented her. But she will, rest assured.”
Karl and William returned to the party. Karl announced that he and others planned to come as a delegation to Barlin soon to discuss these and many other issues with the king. Terry, who had joined in the conversation, asked if Drago planned to drop their opposition to the road from Fort Albert to Barlin, which would make such a trip simpler. The mayor then wished them all a good night, and they all retired.