The next morning, George went early to the Serelian embassy to try to get some additional information. Although she had been out late the previous evening, Terry was up praying when she heard a knock on her door.
It was Darlene. “We need to talk,” she said, worriedly.
“Shh,” Terry replied. Leaning over, she whispered in Darlene’s ear, “Bugs.”
Darlene thought a second and whispered back, “Let’s go to the beach.” So they go their things and went down together to the beach. They spread their towels out, but weren’t really in full beach mode as the temperature was barely 20º C, which the locals considered cold. The tourists thought otherwise; many were sunbathing.
When they sat down, Darlene looked Terry over and said, “You’re disgusting.”
“Look at you—you’re ten years older than I am, and you’re still a stick. I look at food and get fat—and I’m ugly to boot.”
“No you’re not.”
“You know, in the fairy tales, the princess kisses the frog and becomes a prince. I think that George is the one who kisses the frog every morning.”
“He doesn’t think so—he waited a long time and endured a lot of opposition for you.”
“You’re right,” Darlene agreed reflectively. “I guess I just look at you with that pretty dark hair, and eyes, and tall, and get jealous…but I’ll bet you had to put up with the giraffe jokes too. I was good with those.”
“More than you’ll ever know,” Terry sighed. “Having Chinese ancestry wasn’t easy to live with either. Even this place wasn’t ready for that. The only time it worked in my favour when I lived here was when I was a prostitute—I was known as the ‘Pearl of the East.’ But God led me to a place where he showed me that I didn’t need to sell myself to be the ‘Pearl of the East.’”
“You just needed to move to the eastern end of the Island,” Darlene picked up. They both got a chuckle out of that. “I think I found another reason why you needed to move to the East Island.”
“I got an earful from Jaqueline Todd yesterday evening,” Darlene said. “She went on and on about how dreadful your religion was, and how it’s even worse now, and how we should abandon ours.”
“She the last of Kendall’s family in the government,” Terry observed.
“She reminded me of that, too.”
“She raised the biggest stink over the miracles Madeleine des Cieux performed. That’s when she first started to put the screws to Santini. He tried to placate her, but you see what happened to him in the end.”
“Don’t these people have any consideration for the feelings and customs of others?” Darlene asked.
“Not a bit,” Terry answered. “They think that, if they impose themselves hard enough, you’ll be ashamed of yourself and do it their way.”
They sat for a minute, and then Terry asked, “Do you ever wear shorts?”
“About as often as you, which, if this trip is any indication, isn’t very.”
Darlene thought a bit. “First, with my fair complexion, if I’m out in the sun for any time, I become the Royal Red Snapper. Second, I’ve spent a lot of my life working on the family estate. Much of what I’ve done—hunting, horseback riding, and just stuff relating to farming and livestock—meant that what was exposed was ripped to shreds. Third, when supervising the help—and this was especially important after Ronald’s death when I was their superior—my parents told me that it was important that I be the focus of their respect and not the object of their affection.”
“Remind me to get you to speak at our church’s next youth camp,” Terry said.
“There’s nothing complicated about this,” Darlene came back. “I was born to rule. So was George. So were you.” She turned around and pointed to the hotel. “Look at this—my ancestors never built anything like it. And I understand your grandfather built more.”
“Two more here in Verecunda, one in Point Collina, one in Collina, plus the resorts in Snapper Beach and Alemara, plus the condos, and more,” Terry said.
“That’s my point—it’s your heritage. Even though they’ve taken the property away, it still runs in your veins. That’s why you’re Royal Counsellor, even after all that.”
“His Highness says that you were quite capable in running the estate,” Terry related.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Darlene replied. “But it wasn’t easy. After Ronald and Edward were killed, I was made the overseer of the family estate. It was terrible. The war was still going on, things were still hard. I couldn’t see George for one reason after another. I was lonely—I knew I would die a spinster there. My parents expected perfection. I knew the estate well and how it worked, but I wasn’t Ronald or my father—I wasn’t a man, and the help didn’t really like that. I guess I took my misery out on them too. I had to stand over them to get everything done.
“That went on from the time my brothers were killed until June. My parents were away at Summer Court. One afternoon, while trying to get some work done up at our hunting lodge, I heard one of the women give a shriek that could be heard across the estate. I ran over and found that a rattlesnake had bitten her six-year old daughter. The girl was in agony, and there was no doctor in sight. We didn’t have time to bring her to town.
“I was—and still am—a pretty decent herbalist though, and otherwise had some of what you would call here paramedic training. I got the girl into her bed and went to work with a combination of herbs, medication and direct treatment of the wound. She was in absolute agony, and her mother was hysterical. I wasn’t sure where this would go. I stayed with her through the evening and night—I guess that’s a maternal instinct. I was so desperate I prayed to God that she would be healed.”
“That was a good idea,” Terry observed.
“I stayed with her all night long. She improved. When dawn came, I was exhausted and everyone else was asleep. I was so tired I didn’t even take my clothes off—I just went to my room and crashed in my bed. I slept until about 1500, woke up and realised a whole day had escaped me. My first thought was, ‘They haven’t done anything.’ I was wrong. I went outside, half awake until I could see that everything I ordered was done and we were just about ready to head back home. They even had the six-year old doing work—that was the only thing I was unhappy about.
“After that, my relations with the staff improved. My father even observed towards the end that they worked harder for me than for Ronald. Right before I came here to be married, they started some kind of commotion, so I ran out to the stables, only to find that it was a surprise going away party. I was wiped out. They gave me a scale model they had built of our home—it sits on our mantle at the palace—and that reminder only makes it harder on me. Every time I go home they tell me how much they miss me—it almost tears me up more to leave them than my own family.”
Terry wiped a tear from a corner of her almond shaped eyes. “That’s the mark of a servant leader.”
“A what? You mean like a democracy? Like here?”
“They don’t have democracy here any more,” Terry sighed. “Jesus told his followers that ‘whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ You showed that you cared for them. Our Lord gave it all to show He cared for us. That’s what servant leadership is all about. It has nothing to do with democracy.”
They sat some more and took in the day. Then Terry asked, “So what did you do last night?”
“Todd took us to some kind of cultural event—it was a ‘feminist’ play—they threw feces at each other at the end. It was really disgusting, Your Excellency.”
“This is Verecunda,” Terry said, “I’m Terry.”
“I’m Darlene,” she answered. “So what did you do?” Terry went over her evening with Cat, going into special detail on the political and economic information that she had gleaned. Darlene reacted in horror when she told about the whole idea of arresting the Serelian government over the sewage treatment system affair.
“Do you think she knows what she is talking about?” Darlene asked.
“She should—she’s right there with the Central Bank,” Terry answered. The two sat in silence for what seemed to be a very long time, the sea breeze blowing in their faces.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Darlene observed. “We need to get out of here. You need to put this in front of our court and any other that will hear you. As soon as George gets back from the embassy, we need to leave—I don’t care what he says.” With that, they got up and went back to their rooms to start packing.
Terry had just finished getting ready when she heard another knock on the door. It was George and Darlene, laden with their stuff. George whispered to Terry, “They’ve seized the boat—we’ve got to get out of here fast. Let’s go to the embassy and see what we can do.”
They took the elevator to the bottom. They were a strange sight, royalty trying to carry all of their things that they originally meant for the porter. They burst through the lobby and out the front door and started to hail a cab when a Yugo drove up and stopped right in front of them. A frumpy woman in an equally frumpy uniform emerged from the car; they could see the Ministry of the Environment logo on the car.
“Are you Prince George?” the woman asked the party.
“I am,” George replied.
“You’ll need to come with me—your boat is in violation of our environmental laws. Your engine is not in compliance with our emissions requirements, and your pollutant discharge system isn’t either. You’ll have to come with me.”
“No we’re not coming with you,” said Darlene, slowly walking up to the woman, anger blazing out of her eyes. She got her face in the woman’s like a drill sergeant would, and then started in. “This is royalty you’re dealing with—I’m not about to submit to some self-important bureaucrat like you, I don’t care who you work for or think you are.” As Darlene continued her tirade, the woman backed up and away from the car while Darlene continued to press her face into the woman’s. She was so ambushed by Darlene’s air of authority and cowed by her abuse—which got worse with every sentence—that she didn’t notice that George and Terry, seeing their chance, started throwing their stuff into the back seat. A crowd was gathering but did nothing; combined displays of authority and anger were rare in Verecunda, and everyone around was as taken by surprise as the woman was.
Terry found the ignition still running, a sign of the now evaporated confidence of the bureaucrat combined with the fear that the Yugo wouldn’t start again. When everything was in, George had to throw his lifelong sweetheart—still screaming at the woman—into the little clear space in back seat and take off in the Yugo to a gathered crowd that was starting at this spectacle in total disbelief.
“Get us out of here!” George exclaimed to Terry. Terry hadn’t driven the streets of Verecunda in twenty years, but her memory of the layout of the place came back quickly. She went down Gerland Street and turned left onto Central Avenue, ignoring lights and dodging traffic. The Yugo wasn’t much of a performer, and at these speeds it left an environmentally unacceptable trail of smoke. Terry knew that it was only a matter of time before the authorities would gather their wits about them and give chase.
She went down Central Avenue almost to the port, then took a right on two wheels and jogged over to Fourth Avenue, where she could pick up the Dahlia Bridge which would take them to Point Collina.
Verecunda had acquired Point Collina just after the fall of Beran, but it was another thirty years before they actually built a bridge to the place. It was a typical bridge, concrete girders placed on pile bents with square concrete piles that directly supported the bridge to the soil. It was a bascule bridge; however, since the West Bay had become an environmental sanctuary, there wasn’t a bridge tender except for special occasions.
This wasn’t one of those; Terry’s fears that she would be caught between the rising bridge and the chasing police were groundless. There wasn’t much traffic either; however, even pushing the Yugo to its limit, it took her five minutes to cross the bridge and reach the shoreline of Point Collina.
Terry saw that the Point Collina police were attempting to set up a roadblock at the end of the bridge. At this point she took advantage of the fact that the police were packed with political appointees and that they were unarmed. When she reached the intersection with Bay Avenue, she made a hard right in front of the police car that had arrived, leaving them in shock, and sped off to the northwest.
When Terry grew up in Point Collina, it was a very exclusive place. Now many of the people who made it that way had left; mostly high government officials, who made the place exclusive in a different way, had moved in. Things were more overgrown and less painted than before but the changes were less than one would expect.
Terry and her companions, though, had no time for such musings. Going up Bay Avenue past where her father had his business, they made a hard left onto the next to the last street in Point Collina and headed down to Ocean Avenue. They made another one of those two-wheeled right turns, and took off for the border with Collina. In the rear view mirror they could see another Point Collina police car trying to catch up with them but not doing a very good job of it. The Yugo raced to the border, dodging mostly parked cars and the occasional rolling one, but the Point was quiet and uncongested except for their intrusion. They reached the border and the gatehouse, smashing through the gate and heading into the woods.
Ocean Avenue theoretically extended all the way to the town of Collina; Terry had taken the road many times, both on trips with her father to Collina and Aloxa and athletic ones too. Now, as they drove deeper and deeper into Collina the road became narrower and less paved. The area was deeply forested with a combination of scrub, pine trees and palms; sometimes it felt as if they were driving through a tunnel. Once here, though, they stopped seeing any kind of pursuit, which was good since their progress was progressively slowed by the deteriorating quality of the road. Just after it turned dirt for good, and they tried to labour through another pothole, they suddenly saw a group of armed men leap out of the forest from all sides and point their AK-47’s at them. The car gladly came to a stop; the men’s leader said, “Get out with your hands up!”
The air of authority that had gotten them past the Ministry of the Environment evaporated as all three of them did what they were told to. When their leader saw Terry, he grinned at them and said, “Back so soon? You should have given us some advance notice—we would have prepared a better reception.”
“Sorry, but this was a last minute enterprise,” Terry responded.
“You know these people?” George asked, almost rhetorically.
“Very well,” she answered, “but we need to skip the introductions now and keep moving.”
“With an MoE car, I would say so,” the leader agreed. He turned to his men and said, “Check the car and their things for bugs and homing devices—we need to get going.” One of the men started that process as the trio went over to the leader.
“This is Andy Dell, leader of the Collinan resistance,” Terry said to George and Darlene. Turning to Andy, she said, “These are Prince George and Princess Darlene of Serelia.”
“I’m impressed—for many reasons,” Andy replied. “We had heard you were in Verecunda. Why did you make the exit you did”?
“They seized our boat,” George said.
“They love to take people’s stuff, don’t they?” Andy mused. “So how did you make your escape in this thing?” he asked, pointing to the car.
“Because,” Terry said with emphasis, “Her Highness is in fact Ronald Amherst’s kid sister.” George and Darlene started to laugh at this; it took a minute for Andy to sort it out but he did. By that time, the people searching the car came up and said “We found devices in both the car and one in their stuff. Verecundan junk. We killed them all.”
“We’ll need to inform the Ministry of the Environment we have their car,” Andy declared. “They’ve already asked about it.”
“You have relations with them?” George asked, shocked.
“It’s a strange country, this Verecunda,” Andy replied. “This area is an environmentally sensitive area, along with the upper part of Verecunda Bay. The Inland Police used to come in here and make a mess either looking for us or partying. We keep things neat, respect the wildlife and will turn in a poacher. So we have an unwritten agreement with them: they leave us alone and we don’t come out.”
“Surely they’ve asked about us,” Darlene said.
“They have,” Andy agreed. “I told them you’ve fled into the wilderness when the car quit. That should buy us some time; not much, but enough to figure out what to do next. We also promised them to fix their car, which should also buy some time. But we’ve got to get you to a place they don’t know about.”
Collina got its name from the fact that it had the highest elevation on the Island. Combined with the thick growth, the hilliness of the place made the going difficult. As they trudged through wilderness, they could feel a shower coming on, and sure enough a brief one did; Andy’s men tried to make their journey as easy as they could. It seemed like forever but finally they reached a spot where they stopped. Before them was an entrance to an underground shelter; this was one of the few places on the Island where the land was high enough to permit such a hideaway. From the entrance to the shelter they could faintly hear the waves crashing on the beach. Terry led the way in.
“This is a lot cosier than the last time I was here,” Terry complimented.
“And not a moment too soon, either,” said a tired and bedraggled Darlene.
“I apologise to Your Highnesses for the inconvenience,” Andy said. “However, since you are Ronald Amherst’s sister, let me take this opportunity to complement your brother’s ability to slog through the swamp—I don’t know if I could handle the terrain on your end of the Island.”
“Your kind words are appreciated,” Darlene replied, “but I seem to find myself on the opposite end of everything these days.”
The bunker was not that large, but had enough amenities to allow some coffee and tea service in short order. Everyone was soaked and appreciated this very much.
“Since when have you had time to dig this?” Terry asked Andy.
“This little war of ours has reached a stalemate,” Andy replied. “We don’t have the men and materials and they don’t have the will to win it, and of course the MoE is supervising the truce. We basically control all of Collina except for the road into Collina town proper and the town itself.”
“So their army couldn’t finish the job at the start?” George asked.
“Not the army—the Inland Police. They don’t trust the army enough to do the job. The army sticks to the barracks. The Inland Police patrol the highway. Sometimes we’ll blow up an ammo dump or communication facility but not that often—we find that it’s easier just to let them be complacent.”
“So where is your family?” Darlene asked.
“Mine? In Aloxa—that where most of these men’s families are, those that still have them. The Inland Police are not above summary executions outside of Verecunda or Uranus. Or torture either. The Aloxans also furnish us with most of our arms and supplies—enough to keep us going. They have the military to finish this job off, but they haven’t reached the point where they will use it.”
“Do you think that they’ll eventually try to come after us?” George asked.
“Only because the MoE is looking for you,” Andy replied. “The IP’s are lazy—they’ll just wait until you come out, and then try to nab you. Geography’s in their favour on that, though. To go anywhere else on the Island, you’ll have to get past them. Terry did it, but they didn’t know she was here.”
“Until later,” Terry threw in.
“It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either. The hardest part may be for you people to make up your minds on what you plan to do with all this information you’ve acquired the hard way. Like I said, we’re short of time. Let me make a suggestion—get yourself in some dry clothes, get some food and rest, and meet late at night and figure this out. We’ll do our best to help.”
“That’s agreeable to us,” George said. Darlene shook her head in the affirmative. “Terry?”
“That’s good.” Terry replied. With that they took his first three suggestions and waited until well after nightfall to get together.
George and Darlene arrived at the clearing Andy had suggested about 2200. The clearing was on the backside of the little ridge where the forest began behind the beach. Right along the coast, the Australian pines formed a thick rim to the forest; the clearing was amongst these, which made it very private. From where they were sitting they could more clearly hear the waves crash against the beach; the moon, which was just past full, softly lit the trees from the east. Through those trees they caught patches of the night sky that blanketed the ocean just over the rise. It was a perfect night to go out on the beach—except that they could not, for fear that the Verecundans might take advantage of the moonlit night to once again hunt their prey.
They snuggled close together in the nippy air. “I hate to admit it, but this place is the pearl of the island, as they say,” Darlene observed.
“It really is,” George replied. “Just don’t tell everyone.”
“I’m frightened, dear.”
“You didn’t act like it today—that saved us.”
“Well, I am an Amherst—we always speak first and think later, if ever. It’s our family tradition.”
“I suppose this is our moment—and I’m not even king yet. If this isn’t, I’d hate to see what it would be when I am. They say that everyone has their date with destiny—I guess this is ours.”
“We have to get out of here first.”
“They’ll get us out of here—it’s what we do next that’s important.” They embraced in silence as they heard and felt the sea from where they were sitting. It was a moment when their passion as lovers and their position as royalty came together far away from the palace and the support of a kingdom that was literally at their disposal.
“Where’s Terry?” George asked.
“She’s praying,” Darlene said.
“Good—we’re going to need it…how did you come to the conclusion that we needed to leave?”
Darlene sighed and said, “After our little time at the dock in Alemara, I guess we decided we needed to be friends. That proved to be easier than I thought—I found out that Terry was not what I expected. She’s a very warm and loving person—maybe too much for her duties—and even if she doesn’t tell everything she knows, what she does tell is the truth. After our night out with the feces, and everything that happened up to that, I felt I had to trust her with my suspicions, but before I could do that, she told me about her dinner with her friend.”
“And you believed it,” George said.
“I did,” Darlene admitted. “Then I knew we were in trouble. I know she doesn’t like these people—and they really don’t like her—but what she said just struck me as true.”
“You know, ever since she came to Serelia, I’ve always been torn about it. What if it’s just a spat between brother and sister? Or just a religious disagreement? But I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that Verecunda was up to no good, and I had already spent a lot of time putting this thing together. However, the longer we’ve been on this trip, the more my old suspicions about these Verecundans have started to come back. When they seized the boat, though, the light came on—her brother may have been after her, but the Ministry of the Environment was after us over that sewage treatment plant. It’s like the whole system is rigged to play “good cop, bad cop” with everybody, except that somebody couldn’t stand it any more and had to get what they thought was theirs. Now I know why Terry feels about her people the way she does.”
“Do you think your father knows about this?” Darlene asked.
“He has to—and if they raided the embassy on top of it, he’d want to raise your brother from the dead to go after them.”
At that point, Terry walked into the clearing. She looked at them, stopped suddenly and said, “I’m sorry my entrance is so abrupt—you needed the time together.”
“We have more urgent matters on the agenda,” George sighed wistfully. Terry sat down; they first spent some time going over the recent events. They suddenly came to a moment of silence, and looked at each other.
“What is His Highness’s pleasure in this matter?” Terry asked.
“We’ve been to Verecunda, so he’s George,” Darlene blurted out.
“Before we get to that,” George said, “I have a question for you, Terry. Did you know of Andy Dell’s screwy arrangement with the Ministry of the Environment from your last time down here?”
“Bits and pieces,” Terry answered. “One thing’s for sure now—he wants us out of here, we’ve forced just about everyone’s hand.”
“We have,” George agreed. “But they lit the fuse. Frankly, what they did to us today—to say nothing of what they really wanted to do—was an act of war.”
“Hear, hear,” Darlene chimed in.
“It’s a long way from thought to deed, especially in this case,” Terry observed. “We’ve lost too much fighting each other. I doubt anyone else would help us—the Claudians are on their side now, the Vidamerans can’t get it together, and the Alemarans don’t have the military. By the time we got back to our respective countries and mobilised, they’d be ready—to the extent they can be. They even might get help from the mainland. Then we’d have to find a place to land our forces and move inland—Ronald found out the hard way that’s not simple.”
“He sure did,” Darlene agreed.
“That leaves the Aloxans,” George said.
“They might help us,” Terry said.
“Why should they?” George asked. “Do you realise that only the Alemarans and Verecundans even maintain diplomatic relations with these people? There has never been a member of the Serelian royal family to have ever visited the place—I’m not sure if anyone from Claudia or Vidamera has ever been there. How can we just show up and say, ‘King Leslie, how about knocking off the Verecundans for us?’”
“I’ve been there—met His Majesty while there too,” Terry said.
Refresh my memory—how did you get there?” George queried.
“I was running a revival at the Beran Pentecostal Church—it was about two years ago,” Terry began. “I also conducted some training in their Bible school there. That lasted about three weeks—after I got back, they got me to stay another two weeks to do some more training and show me the country better. That’s when I met King Leslie—we spent a morning together with him, his advisors and members of the royal family. He’s a charming individual with a beautiful palace—there’s nothing else like it on the Island, with all respect to yours.”
“So it wasn’t even a visit of state,” Darlene observed.
“No, it wasn’t. I was gone so long that my lord in Barlin thought I had fallen off of the end of the earth—he actually had Prince Dennis to go to Alemara and talk with their embassy to make sure I was still well.”
“That’s wonderful,” George came back, “but why should they want to risk everything by invading Verecunda?”
“Think about it—what was the key for you that the Verecundans were a menace?” Terry challenged George.
“It started with their erratic performance during the war,” George replied, “but the clincher was their attempt to arrest us over that sewage treatment plant.”
“It’s what affected you directly,” Terry observed. “In the Aloxans case, the key is the Claudians. If Verecunda takes operational control of Claudia, they will have surrounded the Aloxans, a rich prize for a perennially bankrupt economy. The Aloxans can’t afford that to happen. They may be isolated, but this Island’s too small to be that isolated. And, if they then take control of Aloxa, we are all in serious trouble.”
“Do you think you can convince King Leslie of all this?” Darlene asked.
“It convinced you,” Terry answered. “It’s our only chance.”
Darlene then asked, “Let me get this straight—you want to ask the Aloxans to invade Verecunda, don’t you?”
“That’s pretty much it,” Terry answered.
“So what happens to the rest of us when the Aloxans have control over Verecunda? Won’t they be the most powerful people on the Island?”
“As I see it, we have two choices,” Terry answered. “We can either see this happen—with all of the risks that go with it, both for us and even greater ones for the Aloxans—or we can sit and watch Verecunda take over Claudia and then both we and the Aloxans will have a problem at our front door.”
They sat again in silence for a short time. Then George said, “Let’s do it. How do we get to Aloxa?”
“That’s a question we’ll have to pose to Andy,” Terry said. “He can get us there—don’t let his doubtful talk throw you off.” With that they got up and went back to the bunker. Andy was waiting for them when they returned.
“Your meeting done?” Andy asked.
“Done,” George answered.
“So what’s your decision?”
“We need to get to Aloxa as soon as possible,” Terry said. “How do we do it?”
Andy thought for a minute and said, “Not tonight—the patrols are too thick out there, and we need to do some repairs to the boat. The MoE takes the weekend off just like everybody else, so we have a little more breathing room. Saturday night is better—the IP’s like to go into town then. The radio chatter we can pick up tells us that they’re looking for you guys either to go over land through Uranus and onward into Vidamera or around the point and back to Alemara. I also get the impression that Richard Marlowe’s back in town, so we can’t wait too long.”
“He’d think of me going to Aloxa,” Terry said. “He knows about my last visit.”
“He tortured my adjutant to death to get that information,” Andy noted. “The good thing about Aloxa is that, once you’re in their territorial waters, they won’t come after you—the Aloxans have a ‘no prisoners’ policy and the Verecundans know it.”
“Where in Aloxa would we go?” George asked.
“Beran,” Andy replied. “Terry has the connections to get you from there.” At the mention of the name, George and Darlene looked at each other in wonder.
“Our ancestors came from there,” Darlene said. “I can’t believe we’ll actually go back.”
“Don’t make too big of a deal of that with the Aloxans—they’re still pretty strong about that slave revolt of theirs. But, hey, if you two girls can get along, there’s no telling what will happen with them.”