Their departure the next morning, unfortunately, was not as soon as they would have liked, due to the fog that hung over the Crescan Sound. As soon as that burned off they weighed anchor and proceeded across the sound to Alemara. As they went, they saw Driscoll Point with its light looming up on the starboard, and ahead the skyline—such as it was—of Alemara. It was certainly more substantial than the Serelians and Drahlans had in their own countries, so they were impressed. Also impressive were the aids to navigation that the Alemarans had set forth, so they set their course between the red ones on the starboard and the green ones on the port and headed into the harbour.
The Alemarans’ government dock was a T-shaped marginal wharf, and although the yacht could have docked on the back side of the “T”, they opted instead to berth at the marina just a little to the east of the wharf. When they came into the dock, the Alemaran foreign minister, his retinue and a fellow from the Serelian embassy whose job it was to guard the yacht while they stayed at the official guesthouse greeted them. The foreign minister started to escort George and Darlene to the waiting car, but turned to Terry and said, “Our meeting with you is in the morning—we will see you then.” They left the totally flummoxed Terry on the dock while the royals were ushered into the car and driven off.
Terry wandered in shock from the dock and onto the land. Why did they do this, after all they did for us in the war? Don’t they know that I’m still the king’s representative? She found a small park bench to sit down at, which had a splendid view out onto the sound and to weather that was becoming as threatening as her mood.
She was still sitting there when she heard a voice say, “You seem to be in a bad way today.” She turned around to see a short, portly man with a straw hat, glasses, and grey hair and moustache, standing while holding his cane as it touched the ground. Terry recognised the man but at first couldn’t put a name to a face. She wracked her brain trying to make a connection, finally the fog of the years started to clear.
“You are…” she said, trying to avoid a direct question.
“Pierre des Cieux. And you, I assume, are the Royal Counsellor, Terry Marlowe.”
She looked at the man quizzically, and then said, “Now I remember—I went to school with your daughter Madeleine, she was two years ahead of me. Raymond was in my class for a year.”
“To refresh your memory, I was the Island representative for an automotive parts company. My children did go to school with you; your brother was too young and immature to be of interest to them. I have even visited your present city a few times. But now I live here—the taxes are so high in Verecunda, you cannot even cheat and have anything left.” Terry giggled at that remark, and then stood up.
“I’m sorry I’m not the happiest of company today.”
“You’re the only company I have right at the moment,” Pierre responded. “Besides, right behind us is a fine restaurant, upstairs from the marina office and boat supply store—would you care to join me for lunch? It will rain soon—you wouldn’t want to get wet.”
“That’s sweet of you—yes, I would,” Terry answered, and together they made their way to the restaurant.
They walked upstairs and entered. They were greeted warmly by the maître d’hôtel, which turned out to be the owner as well. Pierre addressed him in French and they were seated. “You know him well?” asked Terry.
“Very,” Pierre replied. “He was supposed to be my successor as the director of sales and operations, but he decided that he had better things to do with his life. So he started this restaurant. Since his arrival Alemaran cuisine has been elevated to a new level—or at least acceptable, in my view. But his work is fine. He even has raised barracuda to a fine art—the Aloxan embassy closes once a week so their staff can come here and eat it.”
“Some of our people eat it as well,” Terry observed. “During the war, we did well to eat anything. But now, I will let you order for the both of us.”
“I don’t think you will be disappointed,” Pierre replied. The owner returned and took their order from Pierre. He added to the wine order “…et le vin sans alcool, pour la madame.” He turned to Terry and said, “Out of respect for the convictions of your church—although, to be able to be across the table from someone as lovely as you, one could dispense with wine altogether.”
“You’re too kind,” Terry said, blushing a bit. “Your wife, Yveline if I remember correctly, is she still living?”
“She passed away two years ago,” Pierre reported gravely. “But we must turn to happier topics. What brings you to Alemara? And with your old enemies, the Serelians, no less?”
“It is a trip of reconciliation, and the recognition of our mutual interests.”
“An entirely sensible agenda,” Pierre noted. “But Alemara isn’t the place to do that to your benefit. They already are your allies.”
“We have a broader view than Alemara, obviously,” Terry replied, vaguely. Their conversation was interrupted by the service from time to time.
“Have you been back to Verecunda lately?” Pierre asked.
“Not since I left twenty years ago.”
“Have you seen any of your family since then?”
“Only my brother, and that was last Friday evening. It wasn’t a pleasant encounter. He wants to bring me back to Verecunda as a criminal.”
“Your brother is both the most charming and most obnoxious person I have ever met,” Pierre observed. “Sometimes at the same time. But he is a busy man these days.”
“Well, I should back up and explain to you what is going on in Verecunda,” Pierre said. This got Terry’s attention, although she tried to hide it under her best “poker face.” Pierre detected this.
“You look like Shu-Yi’s granddaughter at times like this,” Pierre noted.
“I would love to see her again. Is she still living?”
“Almost ninety years old, but yes, doing well and living on the mainland. A lovely person. Long ago my father and your grandfather both lived and worked in Harbin—that’s where she is from, originally, and that’s where they met. I saw her about six months ago. She would love to see you again.”
“I would love to see her—perhaps when affairs of state settle down a bit, I can.”
“With the Verecundans involved, you will have to take the time anyway. They are busy too.”
“Well, let me go back. You well know of the regime change that we witnessed when we lived there. That was in reality complete when you left. The only thing left for the losers was to emigrate or rot in prison. The emigrant losers were in reality the winners when it came to productive work, and so Verecunda’s economy has been stagnant ever since. But people such as those that operate the country really don’t care so long as their agenda is fulfilled, and the country was strong enough going in to sustain this kind of dream making for a long time.
“Verecunda has traditionally taken an isolationist view relative to the rest of the Island, and this only became more pronounced under president Allan Kendall. About two years ago, however, he was assassinated—a result of a power struggle involving their, what do you call it…”
“…Committee for Personal Liberty…”
“…yes. So now their old vice president, a woman named Lillith Connolly, is now the president.”
“If Denise had lived, she would have taken her father’s place,” Terry observed. “She was as ‘dreadful’ as you put it as he was, maybe more so.” Terry’s countenance visibly soured at the memory.
“It’s unlikely that Denise would have had any more use for a strong personality like Richard than she had for you, or Madeleine for that matter,” Pierre observed.
“Not much consolation,” Terry replied.
“To return to the present: Connolly is originally from Uranus, so she is something of an outsider in their power structure. Ideologically correct, of course, but still an outsider. She realises the obvious, that the country is going nowhere, and her idea is to try to expand their influence by establishing closer economic relations with the other nations on the Island. How they can do this with such a weak economy of their own and their complicated regulations is hard to understand, but they are trying.”
“How far have they gotten?”
“Not very, yet. Your brother has been trying for years to get a policy like this implemented. So President Connolly has made him the ‘Special Envoy for Economic Development.’ He has been busy going from place to place trying to get some agreements.”
“How many of these ‘agreements’ has he succeeded in consummating?” Terry asked.
“Except for the settlement of minor issues, none. But I should explain one nation at a time.
“He started with the Serelians, their old friends. He had tried to help them during the war with you, but he ran into the usual problems with his own government. He made a very comprehensive proposal to King Adam. But Adam, who is still very loyal to these people, was surprised at how much of his own power he would have to compromise. So he put them off.”
“That squares with what George has told me.”
“Adam is a very stubborn man, and set in his ways, but he is no fool. With Alemara, things are more clear cut—the Verecundans are getting nowhere with them because they won’t pay their debts—some stupid excuse about ‘against public policy.’ The government might agree to a refinancing to conceal this fact but there are a few powerful businessmen here that won’t allow any compromise. In any case, Alemara is better off with a weak Verecunda because they have become the economic centre of the Island while the Verecundans are busy with social experimentation. When you were in school, that centre was in Verecunda, across the bay from your father’s business. My company’s main office on the Island, for example, was there, and is now here.
“With the Vidamerans, nothing is simple. King Francis is a weakling, dominated by the nobles on both sides of the river, which tend to go in opposite directions. The ones on the east—which helped you in the war—are, like the Alemarans, opposed to any agreement with the Verecundans. Those on the west, it is hard to say. So nothing gets done.
“As for the Aloxans—King Leslie is like King Adam, he is too worried about losing control. It is a special worry for them because they are so close, and in any case Kendall’s bargain with Verecundan racism guarantees bad relations. Besides, they have discovered that it’s easier to do business ‘under the table’ than to put up with all of the Verecundan regulations.
“In your case, you are the problem—for your brother, at least. They don’t really want to recognise your independence; it is too hard for them to bear after the war.”
“Well, that leaves the Claudians.”
“They don’t have much to offer,” Pierre observed. “That’s why they have been down your brother’s list. But now I think he’s in Claudia as we sit here.”
“What is he trying to do?”
“With them, I’m not exactly sure.” They continued to work their way through the multi-course event that was being set before them.
“This is the best yellowtail I’ve ever eaten,” Terry said, looking a little stuffed already.
“The food here is really wonderful,” Pierre responded. “So you came from the Avalon Retreat?”
“Avalon—such great promise, so little fulfilment.”
“That’s a hard judgment,” Terry said, surprised.
“Perhaps,” Pierre answered nonchalantly. “I suppose it’s true that, without him, our situation would be much worse, but from a Catholic point of view, with him our situation could be much better.”
“How is that?”
“The first thing he discovered is that it doesn’t pay to be ahead of your time. He was right in protesting the policies of the Verecundans regarding abortion and other matters, but his insistence on the Renewal as the solution lost him friends in the Church. When his position became untenable, he made arrangements to leave on his own. The bishop did not try to stop him because he was glad to see him go and was convinced he would fail.
“Then, this was only the beginning of his problems. As you remember, he had two groups coming to start the Retreat: the college students, such as yourself, and those from his Charismatic prayer group in town, who had helped him acquire the Retreat. Well, these didn’t like the authority he took over them, so eventually all of them left—some live here, some returned to Verecunda, some went to the mainland. He would have lost the Retreat in the process if the Alemaran government had not realised that these people were useful squatters on their only real connection to the ocean, so the government helped negotiate his way out of that.”
“I do remember a lot of that conflict,” Terry interjected.
“It was during that time that he got the idea of the lay missionaries such as yourself. It was his idea that Roman Catholicism on the rest of the Island should be charismatic. His first missionary was you, and that ended in disaster from his perspective. His missionaries to here and Vidamera did some better, but only because Raymond came out of seminary in time to actually start the Catholic parish here.”
“Raymond didn’t go with us to start the Retreat.”
“By that time he was in university in France,” Pierre replied. “From there he went to seminary, and finally back here.”
“Where is he now?”
“He is in Vidamera—now we have to refer to him as Monseigneur, he is the Archbishop’s main representative on the Island. Avalon doesn’t like this either. You should stop by and see him if you go there.”
“Lord willing, I will.”
“As for your mission, it was a serious mistake to send you with no support, not even someone else from the Retreat.”
“There were also other factors at work,” Terry interjected.
“In spite of the rather compromised circumstances of your trip, you had almost become like his child. He was crushed when you left the Catholic Church, even though he only had himself to blame for your failure. Now we have only three Catholic churches operating on the Island: Avalon’s, the one here in Alemara, and the one in Vidamera. The ones in Verecunda, of course, are gone.”
They continued to enjoy their meal, although it was raining outside. After a bit, Pierre asked, “How are things going with your travelling companions?”
“Well enough—Prince George is nice, but Princess Darlene is distant. I don’t know why.”
“There is something that you don’t want to find out, and they don’t either, not yet at least, but you should know.”
“And what’s that?”
“The reality is that la lionne is in fact Ronald and Edward Amherst’s youngest sister.”
At this Terry could not conceal her shock. Then she regained some composure and said, “I thought that she looked awfully familiar, but I didn’t know why. Now I know.”
“Yes, the family resemblance between the two is quite strong, but personally I think that it looked better on him than it does on her.” At this Terry’s shock turned to a giggle. But Pierre continued, “Your Excellency, I must tell you in all seriousness that, as a Christian, you must overlook this.”
“You mean forgive,” Terry replied.
“It is your obligation to God. And you are obviously on a mission here, that too will fail if you fail to forgive. Although, to be frank, I’m not sure what you think this ‘mission’ needs to accomplish.”
“At least, I want Verecunda out of the East Island,” Terry said.
“Then you must do what you have to do with Her Highness. Many things in life are not easy, but they must be done.”
“I know,” Terry admitted. “What I don’t know is how far we will have to go to accomplish this.”
Terry and Pierre continued to talk and eat for a good long while; they had many mutual acquaintances. But even this gastronomic event had to come to an end. They said their goodbyes and Terry returned to the yacht to get her things and go to the guest house, which was only about a couple of blocks from the marina.
Terry knew many people in Alemara, but the news about Darlene made her not want to see anyone. There was plenty to pray about too, but her mind was too clouded with worry to do that. One thing she could afford to skip was dinner; she felt that she had eaten enough with Pierre for a week. So she stayed around the guesthouse.
About 2200, she decided that she needed both prayer and sleep, so she went up to her room and got ready for bed. She knelt beside the bed for her evening prayers, and had just started when she heard a noise coming from the window.
Sure enough, a silhouette appeared in the window. He came in, not the stealthiest entry but good enough to evade the house guards. He got into the room and started looking around, checking the bed, the furniture, and everywhere else he could. Finally, he decided to check the bathroom out. As he peered into the dark toilet, he felt a sharp blow on the nape of his neck, and collapsed to the floor.
The blow came from the butt end of Max’s hunting knife, which was Terry’s constant companion. She dove after him and grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head. She flipped the handle in her hand and held the blade close to his throat. “All right, you can tell me what this night visit is all about!” Terry screamed in his ear.
“I won’t tell anything,” he responded, a little dazed.
“Oh, you won’t? Maybe you need a little persuading. I know, your head needs baptising, and I’m just the preacher to do it.” She redoubled her grip on his hair and said, “You’ve got one last chance—now talk!”
“Well, then, let’s try this three times—time one”— she shoved his head into the commode, left it under for about five seconds, then raised it—“and time two—you’d better talk”—she paused a second or two then shoved it back in again—“and time three—“ his head went down again, this time making impact at the bottom of the bowl. With every emergence from the font came bellows that sounded like they came from a gored ox. “Now, do you want to tell me the nature of your visit?”
“No, I wouldn’t tell you if you threatened to kill me.”
She put the knife blade right at his throat. His head was still next to the commode.
“They still have the death penalty here, you know,” the man noted lamely.
“And I have diplomatic immunity here too.” Fortunately she didn’t need it, as by that time the noise brought up the guesthouse guard, along with George and Darlene, who had just returned to the next room. George went to call the police while Darlene, Terry and the guard tied the man up. Finally the police came and took him away. The detective took a statement from Terry, and then asked “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
“I wish I hadn’t flushed the commode before I went to pray.”