George found it quite a challenge in getting Darlene up and going the next day, which in turn had the same problem with Terry. They barely made their appointment with the Vidameran embassy to try to finalise a visit with King Francis. Once they got there, though, they found their hurry unjustified, as the Vidameran ambassador was almost an hour late to the appointment and then had no definite answer from home. They stayed there long enough to be almost late for George’s appointment with the Verecundans for the same purpose. George went straight to their embassy while the girls went to eat and shop, as they were still afraid of any direct contact with Terry and the Verecundans.
Alemara had become the main entrepôt for the entire Island since Verecunda was now overtaxed and over regulated, and many once common items were either unavailable or dreadfully expensive there. It was now impossible to purchase such things as top loading washing machines, any items with animal pelts, or even many household cleaners thanks to their Byzantine regulatory structure. Alemara took up the slack, so a shopping trip there was a real treat.
Terry and Darlene started with lunch at a small café. They were able to get a seat in the open-air part. As they sat there, Darlene looked across the street and said, “Those two guys over there—are they following us?
“They are—they’re with Alemaran Military Intelligence. They’re taking no chances after what happened to me.”
“You know them?”
“One of them—met him during the war.”
“You still think the Verecundans would try anything?”
“If they can get away with it. That’s not easy since they abolished their intelligence service about twenty years ago. By the way, isn’t that young man you have guarding the boat with your foreign intelligence unit?”
“He is—how did you know?”
“Tried to nab him during the war—he was on the boat to Cresca that got lost. He made it back to Serelia, though. I hear he’s one of the best martial arts people on the Island.”
“He is—maybe we can organise a demonstration after we’re done with this mission.” They sat and enjoyed their meal for a while.
“It’s too bad we have to be so security conscious, even in a place like this,” Darlene observed. “Why is your brother so hostile to you? He surely can’t be jealous—I hate to say this, but Verecunda still is a wealthier and more influential place than Drahla or even Serelia for that matter.”
“As hard as they’ve tried to level the playing field, you’re right,” Terry agreed. “Richard, however, lives in a world where people who don’t think like he does aren’t supposed to amount to anything, so when they do—even if the comparison is unfair, as you imply—he has a hard time reconciling himself to that. This is especially true when it’s his older sister. But let’s look at this another way—what kind of retinue did Richard usually bring when he came to Serelia, say, during the war?”
“I wasn’t at court during most of that,” Darlene said, “but George talked about it a lot. Usually there was Richard, his administrative assistant, a minister or deputy minister from the ministry involved in the business at hand—Defence, Environment, Finance—any other functionaries, and two or three people that we’d call lackeys—but they didn’t look like lackeys to us, George said they looked too smart to be lackeys.”
“They’re probably spies, usually from either the office of the President, Congress, the CPF or maybe even the Inland Police. The Alemarans told me the same thing. When I say spies, I mean spies on each other, not necessarily you. That’s the kind of world that Richard and people like him have created for themselves and everyone else.
“As for myself, I am a Christian. I try to be loyal and trustworthy. Sometimes that loyalty has taken me places I didn’t really want to go. When Henry and Max and the others decided that it was time to go to war, they handed it to me as a fait accompli. The war was hard on me. But when I had a chance to make a difference, as was the case with Prince George, I did. Now he trusts me with the two of you to a serious mission because he knows I am loyal and will not cut a “back room deal” with either you or the Verecundans.”
“And that extends to overlooking what my brothers did,” Darlene observed. “But honestly, Terry, you overlook everyone.” That got a laugh out of Terry. “Seriously, where are your ancestors from? You don’t look like anyone else I have ever seen who was born and raised on the Island.”
“My mother is Italian, my father was mostly Chinese,” Terry replied. “Believe it or not, that’s where the height comes from. His family was from the north of China, where people tend to be taller. I look more like my father, Richard his mother. My father’s mother used to tell me that we had Mongols in our ancestry.”
Darlene’s eyes widened like saucers. “Mongols! You mean like…Genghis Khan?”
“They conquered the world on horseback. I love horses. Have you ever ridden a horse?”
“A few times, when I was growing up,” Terry responded.
“You must come to our estate and ride with me, “Darlene breathlessly promised. “Oh, there are too many bad memories there…we’ll figure something out. I’ve always wanted to say I rode with a Mongol, a relative of Genghis Khan.”
“I’m not very good; it won’t be a very fast ride.”
“The Mongols had the endless steppe,” Darlene replied. “All we have is a small island with lots of swamps. We can’t get too much speed up!”
They spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, but not buying much. Darlene soon learned a few things about Terry. As they entered yet another clothing store, Darlene saw Terry looking through a few things. Almost everything she draped in front of her was too short, something Darlene found both amusing and intimidating. Darlene finally got exasperated, however, with one of her consistent habits.
“Don’t you ever wear anything with short sleeves, Your Excellency?” Darlene asked as she watched Terry put back yet another short sleeved blouse. Terry stopped what she was doing, pulled the sleeve up on her left arm, and showed the inside of her arm to reveal a nasty series of scars between her elbow and wrist. Darlene’s exasperation turned to shock; she let out a gasp at the sight.
“I wasn’t the best drug shooter in my day,” Terry calmly noted.
“I’m sorry I said what I did,” Darlene replied.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” Terry replied, calmly. “As I said to the King and Queen, I have done a lot of things I’m not proud of. But,” she continued, “since we’re showing off scars”—and she then proceeded to pull her sleeve up further to reveal another, different kind of scar just below her shoulder. “I received that during the war, at the Battle of South Barlin. It was a nick—my forces worked very hard to keep me safe. So now you know two reasons why I like long sleeves.”
They continued for a bit; Terry found something in her size and style but put it back. “Too expensive—can’t afford it,” Terry noted.
“You’re a minister of state,” Darlene observed. “You should be doing better than that.”
“Our state doesn’t pay much, in war or peace,” Terry confessed. “Things got so bad during the war, after Max was killed I was forced to sell my engagement ring and wedding band to help pay off the crown for my house so that they could continue the war effort. So I have very little to show for the years of service.”
“George said your house was small…you are dedicated,” Darlene said. “I’m not a very tactful shopping companion, am I?”
Things did lighten up as the afternoon progressed. One shoe store they visited had a style that caught Terry’s eye. So they asked the clerk to bring the style in her size to try on. The clerk looked down at Terry’s feet, then looked up at Terry and said, “What is your size?” Terry told her. Her reply was, “Let me just get all of what we have in your size and let you look at it.” The clerk returned in ten minutes with three pairs of shoes.
George, meanwhile, was entering into dialogue with the Verecundan ambassador. Even though he was running late, he still had to wait thirty minutes to see the ambassador and her aide. He was finally escorted into the ambassador’s office.
The ambassador was a medium, middle-aged blonde named Alicia Decker, or at least that’s what her desk said. She combined a teenage ponytail with the skin which evoked Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s expression of “an old peeled wall,” the product of spending too much time in the sun. Her assistant had a very short haircut, and she took rapid notes as they were in dialogue.
“So have you been in contact with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Verecunda since we last met?” George asked.
“We have,” Alicia replied.
“Well, are you going to issue all of us letters of immunity?”
“In the case of you and the Princess Darlene, certainly,” the ambassador replied. “But we cannot do this with Ms. Marlowe.”
“And why not?”
“We explained this all to you before.”
“Explain it to me again, just to make sure I get it.”
“In short, Ms. Marlowe is a wanted criminal who needs to return to Verecunda and face charges. I don’t think I need to reiterate what these charges are.”
“No, you don’t—your Special Envoy rubbed our court’s face in them just the other evening.”
“That remark was uncalled for,” Alicia snapped. “It will do nothing to improve relations between our two countries. You must seek more appropriate methods of conflict resolution.”
“I agree,” George noted. “That’s why we registered a formal protest through our embassy in Verecunda. That protest included the way in which your Cultural Attaché attempted to kidnap Her Excellency. The least you could have done is to seek extradition as you usually do in ‘criminal’ cases.’”
“The Cultural Attaché was acting on his own,” Alicia retorted. “We cannot take responsibility for such actions. He is already returning to Verecunda for reassignment.”
“God help the next country that gets him,” George sighed.
“There you go again with your frivolous remarks.”
“All right, I’ll put it another way—if you try to assign him to Serelia, we’ll put him on the next boat back to Verecunda. That’s a promise. And that won’t do anything for our relations either.”
Alicia fell silent. Then the aide asked, “Why is Ms. Marlowe’s status of any concern to you?”
“Esprit de corps, perhaps?” George queried. “You try to round her up, why not one of us next?”
“That’s a totally inappropriate statement that does not take into consideration the realities of the situation,” Alicia came back.
“You are a very tedious person. You know as well as anyone that we do not recognise the so-called Drahlan Kingdom, the actions of your government—which we consider both ill-advised and unlawful—notwithstanding.”
“When you’ve lost a war, you’ve lost it,” George noted. “If you people wanted for us to get the job done, you’d have given us the support we needed when we needed it.”
“There you go again with your inflammatory rhetoric!” Alicia snapped.
“The other problem,” the aide noted, “is that Ms. Marlowe is still a Verecundan citizen. We certainly consider it within our rights to deal with our citizens under our own laws, don’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” George asked, astonished.
“She never renounced her citizenship, and the country she claims now doesn’t exist,” the aide observed. “As far as the law is concerned, she is still our citizen.”
Everyone fell silent for a minute; George looked up at the ceiling in thought. Finally, he asked, “Don’t you people have some kind of law that states that, if a Verecundan citizen accepts a position with a foreign government without prior approval, he or she forfeits their Verecundan citizenship?”
Alicia and the aide gave each other a puzzled look. “This was done to prevent our people from becoming mercenaries. So why is this germane to the present discussion?” the ambassador asked, haughtily.
“Because Ms. Marlowe was, before the start of the war, the secretary to the then Duke of Barlin, at the time a vassal of my father the King. That would make her an official in the Serelian government, which you certainly recognise. I doubt seriously you gave her permission to do this.”
“Prove it!” the ambassador barked, frustrated.
“I think we know that,” the aide admitted. “It’s in her dossier. Her alleged complicity in the initial ‘declaration of independence’ is part of the basis for her war crime charges.”
“Therefore, that makes her a Serelian citizen from your standpoint, which means that it is well within my prerogative as Crown Prince to request diplomatic immunity for her, which I have done.”
“She’s not one of your citizens!” Alicia said.
“So since when did you recognise the Drahlan Kingdom?” George asked with a grin.
“We’ll have to consult with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs again, and perhaps other ministries as well, as to how we should respond to this request,” the ambassador said. She and her aide stood up. “I believe this meeting is at an end, Your Highness.”
“So do I.” With that, George got up and walked out, leaving Alicia and her aide in the room.
“Didn’t you go to Point Collina with Terry Marlowe?” the aide asked Alicia.
“Sure did, she was in my class,” Alicia recalled sourly. “Real cry baby in those days. Denise put her in her place. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what’s going to happen how that we don’t have Denise or her father any more.”