The next day their transportation changed; they turned to a car and their pilot became their driver. They left Drago after breakfast and proceeded northward on the Old Beran Road.
About the time of the First World War, Beran had built the Island’s first—and last to date—paved road that actually stretched from its western coast to its eastern one, starting in Beran, arcing up through Claudia and Serelia, and coming down to end at Drago. The road was completed just in time for Beran to collapse with the Aloxan Revolt. The road was a conquina surfaced road, a good road but rather narrow, especially in the eastern stretches where Terry and William now moved up, where the road seldom widened to six metres. This made for rather slow going, slowed in spots by places damaged during the war, and now under repair by the new and struggling Drahlan Royal Pike Road Department.
As they left Drago, they passed a scene of tall pine trees interspersed with fields of various staple food crops and farmhouses. Soon, however, these gave way to a seemingly endless procession of citrus groves, which signalled entry into the Fort Albert district. Although the growing season for citrus crops was past, there was still a lot of farm related traffic on the road as they drove into town in the late morning.
Fort Albert was the commercial centre for the citrus growing region, Drahla’s largest single source of revenue. The growers had been a major reason for the war of independence, since they were resisting the attempt of the Serelian crown to nationalise their land. William and Terry proceeded to the old Citrus Building, both the town hall and the central office of the Eastern Citrus Growers Cooperative Association. Both the growers and the government officials, with the customary overlap, greeted the guests, and met with them together.
William gave a brief outline of their mission. The Fort Albert people were delighted that any mission to Serelia was being undertaken; the citrus growers were still dependent upon Serelia as a market for their crop, which the Serelians transformed into their famous liqueur. As the discussions rambled on through meetings and lunch, they heard the same refrain they had heard in Drago: the crown was taking too much and giving too little back. As she had done in Drago, Terry once again brought up the subject of a road from Fort Albert to Barlin, suggesting that, if the Pike Road Department could find the funding, they would pave the road on to Cresca and give the growers yet another port for their goods, one closer to Alemara and the west to boot. Some of the growers and officials found this interesting, but a couple of others complained about right of way issues and Terry sensed that the group not only lacked consensus on the issue; they were really uncomfortable even discussing the subject. So it was dropped and they dwelt on other matters until their departure.
They resumed their travels on the Old Beran Road, soon reaching the Serelian border, where they were anticipated and waved on through. The citrus groves had already ended, though, and they were back into wooded areas of mixed palm and pine trees. Soon, however, they reached the fork in the road at the Conch tavern. Forking right, they started to get into the town of Serelia itself.
William had been to Serelia growing up, but this was Terry’s first trip to this place. After the impoverished but neat look of Drahlan towns, as they passed first through Serelia Beach and then into the town of Serelia, they were presented with an untidy collection of houses, a distillery, and a few small businesses. Passing one trashy looking place after another, Terry leaned over to William and said, “This place is a dump.”
“Been this way ever since I can remember,” William replied. But the dump ended abruptly just before they would have reached the end of the peninsula and the inlet; they were greeted by a low stonewall with a high ficus hedge behind it and the main gate through the wall. The guards gave a good look over the vehicle, eyeing suspiciously the Drahlan flags streaming from the masts just above the headlights. Finally they let them through into the palace compound.
Beyond the wall the dump became a thing of the past; they were greeted by a well-manicured and landscaped subtropical estate, with weed free Bermuda lawns, palm trees and immaculate shrubbery and flowers. The tidy sight took Terry back to her childhood in Point Collina. They drove on up to the palace, where they were greeted by the main palace guard and the Chancellor, Devin Dillman.
“Welcome to Serelia, Your Highness,” he said, greeting Prince William. “And Your Excellency,” he said to Terry, helping her out of the car.
“May I ask, Your Excellency,” Terry said, “are you related to the Dillmans of Dillman-Arnold fame?”
“I am,” Devin replied. “My part of the family came up before things became really unpleasant in Verecunda. But it seems that Verecunda’s most prominent have been migrating here for a long time.”
“We certainly have,” Terry sighed.
“His Majesty wasn’t sure when you would be arriving, so it may be a little while before he grants you an audience,” Devin announced.
It was a few minutes, thirty to be exact, but it gave the Drahlans time to survey the very nice scene about them and enjoy the afternoon weather, which was very seasonable, maybe even a little warm. As Terry looked at the palace itself, she got a strange sense of déjà vu.
“Your eyes are not deceiving you,” William said, sensing her unease, “but we’re the ones with the scale model.”
Finally they were admitted to the palace and the throne room. They were led in by the Chancellor and as they came into the throne room the sense of déjà vu—albeit on an expanded basis—only got worse. As they came in, they saw the King and Queen on their thrones on the elevated platform, surrounded by a few people, one of whom was Prince George, at the right hand of his father. As Chancellor Dillman led them in, he broke from their ranks and went to stand next to Annette. William and Terry stopped at the appointed place, and bowed before King Adam. As they did, he pushed firmly on his cane and arose to greet them; the Queen rose with him.
“I cannot say that I have looked forward to this meeting,” King Adam began slowly, but looking at Terry said, “but to one so valiant and who has lost as much as you have in this rebellion, I must give my respect.” Looking at them both, he said, “Welcome to my court.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty, it is our honour,” Terry replied.
“Allow me first to introduce those present,” Adam went on. “First, to my immediate left, my beloved Queen Annette. To my right, my son, whom you know; to Her Majesty’s left, Chancellor Dillman, and our new Foreign Minister, Paul Serlin.”
“What relation to Max?” asked Terry, a little importunely.
“Max and I had the same grandfather,” he replied. “It is sad to say that this conflict of ours split both our family and our patrimony.”
Terry’s view was drawn back to George, whose short stature, blue eyes and dirty blond hair gave him a boyish look, one accentuated by his suppressed grin in finally seeing Terry and William at the court. “And with him is the newest addition to our family”—it was the king’s turn to crack a small smile—“is the Princess Darlene.” As Terry made eye contact with Darlene for the first time, her sense of déjà vu only got worse. Although she had never met Darlene, with her blue eyes, pale freckles, slightly stocky build and ample mane of red hair tied back, her look had a familiarity to it, and not necessarily a nice one either. Darlene returned the gaze with a very reserved, nervous quality, which was in small measure due to her realisation that, once the advantage of the platform was taken away, she would have to look further up to Terry than her husband did.
“I trust your voyage went well,” the King resumed.
“Very well, Your Majesty,” William replied. “Thank you very much for receiving us.”
“This evening, we will have a reception for you here at the palace. Tomorrow we will discuss the matters before us—His Highness has already briefed me on his visit to your capital and his discussions with Her Excellency. We will see then what we must do.” He then turned to his Chancellor and said, “Please show them the guest quarters—they’re in the palace compound.” He turned to the Drahlans and said, “We will see you this evening.” And with that Chancellor Dillman came up to them and escorted them out of the throne room.
The evening’s reception took place in the palace state dining room, which was near the throne room. William and Terry arrived about 1830, only to discover that, upon their introduction, there were very few people to be introduced to. They were somewhat miffed at this, a miffing that was only softened a little when everyone else started coming in about 1845; the King and Queen were not heralded in until 1900. By that time Chancellor Dillman had already been busy introducing the Drahlans to a wide selection of people. They also got to finally meet with George and Darlene. George thanked them profusely for coming to Serelia, but Darlene was reserved, still looking nervous; it was impossible to start a conversation with her. Terry was worried that Ronald Amherst’s parents would show up, but they didn’t.
A little while after the King and Queen came, Terry was talking with some of the Serelian government officials when she heard a voice behind her say, “I trust you have been well since our last meeting.” She turned around to look straight into the eyes of what she momentarily thought were two black mirrors, only to suddenly realize that this gaunt, almost sickly figure with salt and pepper hair was her younger brother Richard.
“Very well, thank you,” she replied, trying to conceal the shock.
“I wasn’t expecting you here so soon after your little rebellion,” he said, a little sarcastically.
“I wasn’t expecting you either.”
“I travel extensively on the Island,” he replied. He had a haughty air about him, one only accentuated by his effeminate voice. “You people don’t even have a foreign ministry. But I do know that you do get out occasionally—you did visit Aloxa and those bandits in Collina a little while back.”
“Your intelligence services are better than I thought,” she relied.
“Oh, I know quite a lot about what you’ve been doing these last twenty years. But we can sort that out when you come back to Verecunda to face charges.”
“Charges? Of what?”
“We’ll, let’s start with being a co-conspirator of an individual who, in addition to being a security risk, attempted to abridge the rights of others.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.” His slight frame notwithstanding, his voice was loud enough to carry and the rest of the room was dropping their conversations to pick up on theirs.
“You mean Father Avalon?”
“Of course—it was and is illegal to interfere in any way with a woman obtaining an abortion.”
“He couldn’t make them do anything—he could only advise them.”
“And then there are all the war crimes you’ve racked up in this little adventure you’ve been in against the Serelians.”
“War crimes? It was my infant son—your nephew—who was shot a point blank range in the middle of a massacre.”
“All he would have had to look forward to was being raised in the swamp by you and that illiterate Rambo you married”—
“—he was already dead, and he wasn’t illiterate—”
“—in that stupid, bigoted religion of yours. And besides, you visiting those murderers in Collina is certainly a direct violation of law. You’re in a lot of trouble.”
“How is mother?” Terry asked.
“Mother is doing fine—no thanks to you, who walked out on her,” Richard replied. “She never got over you leaving without even saying goodbye. But I guess you left to cover up your ‘fear of flying.’”
“I was ‘flying’ all too much for a while there,” Terry observed.
“Were you? Oh, yes, you were supporting your drug habit, weren’t you?” Richard was turning his head in such a way as to make sure that the neighbours would hear what he was saying. Terry wasn’t sure whether to collapse in tears or explode with rage, but the same source of strength that got her through the war steered her clear from either. “Well, you never figured out real fulfilment. Look at you. First, you were such a dork in prep school that mother had to pay that Billy Andrews to ‘experience’ you the night of the prom.”
“She did what?” Annette interjected, unable to hold herself back at the shock.
“I was the one who had to deliver the money to him—I know the truth. Then you went from one ridiculous extreme to another. Then you met up with that Avalon character—some people say that you seduced him, but you’re not up to that—who took you to that monastery”—
“—the Avalon Retreat isn’t a monastery—”
“Whatever. Then you get to Cresca, where you link up with this cult of yours that has such a grip on people that they revolt against their duly constituted government. We can be sure, though, that, the rumours notwithstanding, you didn’t find fulfilment until you showed evidence of it by having that baby of yours, whom the Serelians mercifully euthanized.”
Terry was silent for a moment, and then said, “Is that all you have to say?”
“Well, no, I think it’s a disgrace when someone like you, who was raised in the home and environment that we were, who received the superior education we had, who were being prepared for great things in an enlightened society, would walk out on all of that and live your life for something—and it’s hard to tell what—that really shows how far down you’ve come. Mother was right—you’re nothing but a clumsy giraffe who’s missed it all.” Before Terry could respond to that, Richard turned briskly and walked away.
By now a small crowd had gathered for the show. Once it was over, Queen Annette, Princess Darlene and some of the other women came up to Terry and whisked her away to another room to help her deal with what she had been through. Princes George and William were in the corner, aghast at what had taken place.
“That’s her brother, isn’t it?” William asked George.
“It certainly is,” George replied.
“Is that a problem?”
“It must be for him.”
As he left the hall before dinner, Richard stopped to buttonhole Canon Desmond Lewis, the Dean of the Cathedral.
“Why didn’t you tell me my sister was coming to this fête?” Richard asked Desmond angrily. “I was hoping to be able to spend time with Prince William, but she ruined that.”
“I didn’t know,” Desmond replied. “The whole thing came together without much notice of any kind…but I will say your performance was magnificent.”
“Drama class did pay off, didn’t it?” Richard said, lightening up a bit. “In truth, I’ve been practising for a long time. I just wish the circumstances had been more in my favour, if you catch my drift.” He paused and added, “You need to spend less time on your vacuous sermons and more keeping up with what’s going on around here. And obviously your hold on Prince George isn’t up to par, either.” With that parting shot he left the room.
Serelia town’s only guest lodging of any kind outside of the palace was the Prince Arthur Inn, a small establishment that had been recently remodelled. It was right on the beach about 100 metres down from the palace wall, and it was here where the small Verecundan embassy car deposited Richard and his aide from the reception.
Richard was fuming; he stormed into the lobby and up the staircase, aide following as closely as he could. Richard hesitated from time to time for lack of breath; it had been a long day with first the ambassador and then with the King. He entered the suite where they were staying. Richard threw down his coat and went out on the balcony.
By the time he got there, he was completely exhausted; he stood, leaning on the rail. He coughed and gasped a bit but eventually restored equilibrium. His aide waited until then to start a conversation.
“You were surprised to see your sister?” the aide asked.
“Quite,” Richard answered. “Our embassy here didn’t have a clue that she was coming. Our ambassador here can’t find his rear end with both hands. My other sources aren’t any better. I’ll have to take this up with the Foreign Minister upon my return.”
“Do you have any idea who brought her here?”
“I have my suspicions…there’s more monkey business going on around here than we thought.” He paused to take in the sea breeze for a moment. “The real surprise, I suppose, is that she’s gotten as far as she has. I really didn’t expect that.”
“What do you mean?”
“After the prom, she went off the deep end. Mother sent her to a psychiatrist, but that didn’t do any good. Then her father died and that only made matters worse. That’s when the drugs and the prostitution really went into high gear, but the law didn’t really care much. Mother got her into the university, hoping that would straighten her out. It didn’t; she got mixed up with that Avalon character her sophomore year. By the time we really knew what was going on she had left the country with him.”
“Why didn’t she have her brought back?”
Richard was silent for a moment. “I think that Mother was just glad that Terry wasn’t in town to be an embarrassment to her any more. Besides, everyone figured she’s marry one of those twits she fled with and they’d have eight or ten children—they don’t believe in birth control, you know—and that would be the end of it.
“Then we started hearing these strange stories about her going to Cresca and joining up with a bunch of holy rollers. After that things got quiet. Right after they started their rebellion, I was being briefed by the Serelian ambassador on the situation and he just mentioned in passing that she was their so-called Royal Counsellor. I was shocked; it certainly raised my interest in the conflict.”
“What do you think she’s trying to do?”
“I have my suspicions about that, too, but I can’t see what damage these morons on this end of the Island can do—just yet.” He turned and faced his aide. “The best thing we can do is to finish our business with the Claudians. We’ll wrap that up as soon as possible. Make sure everything is ready for our departure tomorrow.”
“Will do,” the aide said. “Oh, one more thing.”
“What is it?”
“Do you still love your sister?”
“I can’t afford to love my sister. If you love people like that, they’ll destroy you. And we can’t have that, can we?”