They shoved off about midnight. They first made sure the coast was clear on the beach, which it was; Andy’s predictions about the Verecundans’ patterns were correct. They hauled the boat over the rise and down the beach towards the water. It took about seven people to do this. Once at the water’s edge, they loaded the cargo on the boat, then the people. In addition to the trio, two others from the Collinan resistance went with them; both were going to see their families in Aloxa while they were there. The surf wasn’t too high, so loading wasn’t that difficult.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Andy said to Terry just before she boarded.”
“That’s the delight of necessity,” Terry replied. “You really have to do what you have to do whether you know what you’re doing or not.” With that she got into the boat. They used the gaff to push off from the beach enough to start the engine, and then went off from the shore and into the night.
The moon was just a barely waning gibbous, so there was plenty of light between blockages by the cirrus clouds. Once they got past the beach surf, it wasn’t too rough either. The pilot instructed the trio to stay down; he even covered them with a tarpaulin to conceal them, but they found it difficult to stay down all of the time. So they alternated between napping and peeking out over the gunwales like children to see the beach spread out on the starboard like a ribbon in the night, or a few fishing boats on the port. The fishermen were usually breaking one or more of the Verecunda’s environmental regulations by being out there; Andy was discreet enough, however, to “look the other way” on the water when he needed to do so.
They ran slow so as not to be conspicuous, and it seemed like an eternity going through the water at speeds far below what the boat was capable of and still not getting to some kind of landmark. It was not until 0400 when they reached their first challenge—getting through Spanner’s Cut, which divided Great Collina Cay from Spanner Point, on the far side of Collina Harbour. Had they cruised these waters in the day, they would have been able to see some of the most beautiful coral reefs on the Island parade below them, both entrancing and menacing, providing entertainment for the passengers and worry for the pilot who was trying to avoid hitting them. In this case they just had to worry about hitting things they could not see, especially at low tide. Years ago a channel had been dynamited through Spanner’s Cut, which made things simpler.
The Collinan pilot, however, was well versed in these waters. Up until then he had been following the coast, which ran in a northwest to north north-westerly direction. He now turned to the northeast and, with the help of the moonlit night, got the boat right through the channel. When they reached the other side, they turned a more northerly course; off of the starboard, however, they could see the lights of Collina town proper.
“Aren’t we awfully close to their headquarters?” Darlene asked.
“That’s the gamble,” the pilot said. “If we ran it outside, we would be in the water that much longer. Looks like the IP’s are having a good time somewhere.” They continued onward with little incident up the coast of Collina.
The pilot continued to try to keep the passengers down, telling them to take some rest; but they were too nervous about the whole adventure to even contemplate sleep. About 0500 the pilot announced, “We’re in Aloxan waters now,” and with that everyone got up, rolled the tarpaulin back, and picked up a little speed, but not too much so as to conserve fuel. About an hour later light began and they could see the Aloxan coast. The hills of Collina had given way in the night time to the flat terrain of western Aloxa. It didn’t always look so flat, though; the Australian pine trees along the coast were so tall, reaching up to 25 metres, now ten, now five, that it looked like there were actually hills on the shore. They could also see a few villages along the Aloxan coast as well.
“I’m surprised that these people don’t have more development along the coast,” George observed.
“The Aloxans have always focused inland,” Terry observed. “They have no towns of any size along the ocean front—Beran and Williamstown are on Beran Bay. Until we came along, they had the only inland capital on the Island.”
Strangely silent in this new world was Darlene; George’s attempts to start a conversation with her never got very far. She just leaned over the starboard gunwale and stared at the coastline. She wasn’t this uncommunicative even at the start of the trip, when she was holding back the truth about her brother. Neither the flying fish nor the dolphins that cruised along with the boat interested her in the least.
A little after 0800 the pilot announced, “Beran lighthouse is on the starboard bow—we’ll be entering Beran Bay in a little while. Not a moment too soon either—weather feels like it’s going to get rough again.”
The mention of Beran got everyone’s attention; they strained to see the lighthouse coming up. As they ploughed through the choppy waters, they could see Aloxan Navy vessels giving them a good inspection and then a happy wave; this craft was familiar to them. Other than the Navy, however, boats were few to be found in Aloxan waters, except the occasional freighter.
They rounded Beran Point, not giving it as wide of a berth as George expected. By then they could barely see the other side of the mouth of Beran Bay, and they proceeded westward to the town itself.
Beran was mostly built in the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth; some of its buildings, such as the royal palace, were destroyed in the slave revolt that made Aloxa a nation. George and Darlene, having heard from childhood stories and descriptions about the place, expected little to be left. But they were surprised when, as the boat approached the town, they could see buildings and structures that they had been told about. From the water, the most prominent structure was the Ashlar Pier, on top of which was the stone and concrete Customs House. Even the old Beran symbol of the square and compass with the eye in the centre was still emblazoned on the end. Surrounding all of this history were the tall trees and woods that were a common sight along the Aloxan coastline.
They came to dock at the Pier, which was low enough to the water in places to accommodate a small boat. A black man in a really sharp looking uniform came up to see what they were doing, but broke into a smile when he saw which boat it was and Terry.
“Back with us again, Sister Marlowe?” the man asked.
“Once again, Brother Monroe,” Terry replied. “I didn’t expect you to be here on Sunday.”
“What the king commands, we must do,” he answered. “And who have you brought with you this time?”
“Oh, sorry I didn’t introduce you—this is Prince George of Serelia, and this is Princess Darlene.”
“It’s an honour,” Monroe answered. “We have never had the privilege of a Serelian monarch here. He helped them all onto the dock, and the Collinans helped them with their things. They turned and said their thanks and goodbyes to the pilot and his mate who had gotten through the treacherous waters of the night.
“So are you here on ministry or affairs of state?” Monroe asked Terry.
“Affairs of state,” she answered, “and His Majesty is not expecting us either—this is something of an imposition on our part.”
“Oh?” Monroe asked. “So will you be desiring an audience with His Majesty?”
“We will,” Terry answered, “but first it is almost church time—is it possible for us to change our clothes and get ready for God’s house?”
“Just a minute, I’ll check and see,” he said, and went into the Customs House.
“Are you serious about church now? Don’t we need to see the king as soon as possible?” George asked Terry.
“We do,” Terry replied, “but we have another King we need to see first. Besides, the Intendant goes to church here—he’s the key to getting a timely audience with King Leslie.”
After a bit Monroe came out and said, “I called the parsonage. Pastor Vickers is at church, but Sister Vickers wants you to come to the parsonage. She also wants to know if you are ready to preach today.”
“If it is Pastor Vickers’ pleasure, I am ready in season and out,” Terry answered.
“I’ll have the car brought around,” he answered. As they waited, Darlene asked Terry, “Are they serious about you preaching? We just got here.”
“They’re very serious,” Terry said. “I’ve been anticipating this since we left Verecunda, so I’m not totally unprepared for it.”
“So what does your church and theirs have in common?”
About five minutes later, the car from Aloxan Customs came up and picked the three of them up. They travelled a short distance past a large church—which they found out was in fact the Beran Pentecostal Church—and to a house behind it. As they passed through the streets, they saw a town that, between all the remaining monuments to its glorious past, was in some ways on par with Alemara, but today with a Sunday quiet.
They pulled up to the parsonage, and were greeted by the pastor’s wife. She gave Terry a big hug, and warmly greeted George and Darlene. They came in and started getting ready for church, the royals first while Terry and Thelma Vickers caught up with the news.
The three of them hadn’t gotten much sleep, and since they had been in the wilderness the last two nights, they had a lot of sorting out to do. So their progress was slower. George and Darlene were torn between worrying about being late for church and worrying about what they were going to do in a church that was such an unknown quantity to them. Their worries about being late were unfounded, as they discovered that time took a new dimension in a church such as this.
They finally were ready about 1130, and Thelma took them next door to church. Service was looking to start shortly. For George and Darlene, their first flush of emotion was the frightening realisation (for them) that they were the only white people in the church. For Terry, the trip was a homecoming of sorts, and everyone wanted to greet her and to meet those who had come with her. As she entered the back of the sanctuary, the assistant pastor came up and greeted her, then said, “Brother Vickers would like for you to join him on the platform this morning.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Terry replied. She turned to the royals and said, “You may want to stay in the back.” They agreed wholeheartedly; Thelma agreed to stay with them there. It was getting hard to say or hear anything, though, as the choir was in the loft, the musicians were on both sides of the platform, and the music minister was starting the music, which was on the opposite end of the Island from Serelia in every sense of the word.
Bible in hand, Terry accompanied the assistant pastor to the platform, where Pastor Andrew Vickers greeted her. Once they all sat down there, with the call to worship in progress, he turned to her and said, “Are you ready to preach this morning?”
“Yes, I am,” Terry replied.
“You will receive a part of the offering then,” Pastor Vickers responded.
“I need something more important than an offering today.”
“I need an audience with His Majesty the King as soon as possible,” Terry said. “We had to escape from Verecunda to get here.”
The Pastor was surprised at her response; he thought for a second and then said, “Intendant Fitzwilliam will be here today. I will make sure you see him afterwards. By the way, who are your friends with you today?”
“Crown Prince George and Princess Darlene of Serelia.”
“Then you do need to see the King.”
About then the call to worship ended, and the Associate Pastor got up to greet the people, to read a Bible verse and opening devotional, and to pray the opening prayer. After that time they went into the congregational singing, which was a lively as the call to worship. The church at worship was larger and noisier than those in either Barlin or Alemara. Even though they were in the back and had a hard time seeing the platform, George and Darlene saw Terry clapping and raising her hands along with everyone else, something that put Drahla’s independence in a whole new light.
When he rose to take up the offering, Pastor Vickers went ahead and introduced Terry, who received a standing ovation from the congregation. He also recognised the Prince and Princess, who also received ovations as well. After the offering and the special music, Terry walked up to the platform, placed her Bible on it, took the microphone and faced the congregation.
“Words cannot express what is going through me this morning,” Terry began. “I am overwhelmed by your kindness of allowing me the opportunity to stand before you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to share his Word with you, and to be once again an unworthy vessel of his power and love.
“Those of you who remember my last visit here remember my personal testimony, and remember how God had brought me through many situations where there was no human possibility. I am here to tell you today that our God has not changed—once again He has brought myself and His and Her Highnesses through more storms and obstacles. Without Him, we wouldn’t be here, and if the only thing I accomplish on this trip is to have the opportunity to share the Gospel of reconciliation with you—for that one person here today who is walking in darkness, without the light of Jesus in their life—than all of what I have been through has been worth it.
“Let us stand for the reading of God’s Word,” she said, and all stood in silence. “My message today comes from Isaiah, chapter 43, verse 1:
But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.
“For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
“Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honoured and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
For the next forty-five minutes, she proceeded to preach on just that—God’s power to deliver and protect his people from all kinds of dangers. The musicians added punctuation to her message points, along with the shouting of the people all through the message. Terry’s pace quickened all through the sermon.
Finally she gave an altar call, and many came forward with all kinds of needs, all of which she took time to pray for as the musicians played on. Once she had done this, an exhausted Terry asked Andrew to close the service. At this point George and Darlene came up to rejoin Terry, along with Thelma. They looked at Terry, and they looked over at a crutch or two on the floor.
“Where did they come from?” Darlene asked, pointing.
“They were left during the altar service—the people who had them won’t be needing them any more after what happened here,” Andrew said. “Sister Marlowe is the only preacher I know who can spend as much time in the altar as she does in the pulpit. But now it is time for lunch—can you join us?”
“We still need to see the Intendant,” Terry answered.
“Oh, yes—just a minute, I think he’s back there—I had the deacons to detain him.” He signalled the deacons and they escorted the governor to the front of the church.
“Intendant Fitzwilliam, this is Crown Prince George and Crown Princess Darlene of Serelia, and of course Sister Marlowe from Drahla.”
“Your Highnesses,” replied the Intendant, bowing to the royals. “I am Hugh Fitzwilliam, Intendant of Beran Province. It is a real honour for you to visit our city, even under these rather odd circumstances.”
“It means more to us than you will ever know,” Darlene replied.
“So what brings you to Beran?”
“We need to have an audience with His Majesty as soon as possible,” Terry said. “We have come from Verecunda with some disturbing information that he must be made aware of as soon as possible.”
“And that’s about all we came from Verecunda with,” George noted sourly.
“Verecunda is always a place of disturbing news,” the Governor said. “Let me make contact with the Palace and see if he is available. It may take some time, though.”
“They will be with us at the parsonage,” Andrew said. Thelma had already slipped out and had made her way home to get dinner on the table. The rest of them made their way through the crowd, telling everyone hello, until they finally made their way to the house. Shortly after their arrival they were at the dinner table. After travelling on empty for several days, a good meal was more than welcome.
“Do you have any children?” Darlene asked the pastor.
“We have five,” the pastor replied. “And yourself?”
“None yet, but we’ve hardly been married a year.”
“You two look like you’ve married a long time,” Thelma said.
“They’re childhood sweethearts,” Terry injected.
“Such a long time to get married?” Thelma asked.
“It’s complicated,” George said. “Real complicated.” Terry started to giggle, but Darlene gave her the eye and put a stop to that.
“All of our children are all grown now,” Andrew continued. “The last one—our youngest daughter—just married last year.”
“So Elizabeth is married now?” Terry asked. “Whom did she marry?”
“She married a missionary, his name is Arthur Millington.”
“Where did they go?” Terry asked.
“They’re in Vidamera—we are trying again to start a mission there.”
“We were there just last week,” George observed.
“Oh?” Andrew asked. He turned to Terry. “So you didn’t get to see them?”
“I didn’t know they were there—I stopped by and saw Father Raymond des Cieux, I had met his father in Alemara.”
“He is a fine man,” the pastor observed. “Elizabeth teaches at his school—did you get a chance to visit it?”
“I was supposed to,” Terry said, “but we were waylaid by armed men and rescued by some of Raymond’s armed parishioners.”
Andrew shook his head. “It is a difficult mission field—very dangerous. We pray for God’s special protection for Elizabeth every day.”
“There’s something I don’t understand,” Darlene interrupted. “Father des Cieux is Catholic. You people are Pentecostal. How can you work together like this? I know Father Avalon still hasn’t gotten over Terry leaving.”
“Christianity isn’t being a part of an institution, it’s a personal relationship with a risen Saviour,” Terry said. “Those who have that relationship—and especially those who try to bring others to it—are our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s kind of what I was trying to explain to the Canon.”
“Canon? What are you talking about?” Thelma asked.
“The Canon at the Cathedral in Serelia.”
“That’s what we thought,” Andrew said. “You seem to get everywhere.” He turned to George and said, “You’d better watch this woman—next thing you know, she’ll have a church larger than this one right in your back yard.” At that everyone laughed.
They ate on for a bit. Darlene pointed to one of the many vegetables—to say nothing of the other dishes—and asked, “What’s this? It’s delicious.”
“They’re sweet potatoes,” Thelma replied.
“We don’t have those in Serelia,” Darlene observed.
“I’m discovering there are a lot of things we don’t have in Serelia,” George said.
Darlene turned to Terry and said, “You’re more disgusting than I thought.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” George came back.
“Well, she told me in Verecunda that the reason why she was still a stick was because we starved them during the war. But now I see all of this food, and I don’t think she’s telling all she knows.”
Thelma burst out laughing and said, “She gave us the same excuse when she was here the last time. We tried to do something about it, but you see it didn’t work.” Everyone had another good laugh at that.
Right after that the phone rang. Andrew answered it, mostly listened, and then hung up. “It was the Intendant,” he announced. “The King has agreed to an audience. The car will be here to pick you up at 1500.”
“That’s less than thirty minutes from now,” the pastor said. “We must hurry and get ready.” But he turned to George and Darlene and said, “You are the first royalty that has ever graced my house, and I must say that your visit has been a blessing to us.”
“You mean your own has never come here?” Darlene asked.
“Not here—to our church, every now and then, during official functions, but not here. But you must bring your parents to see us—and those children when they come, too.”
“And you must come and see us also,” Darlene said. They finished eating and got their things together. Their goodbyes were heartfelt; they had a hard time tearing themselves away from the Vickers, but they eventually did, and getting in the car, they made their way through the streets of Beran to the main road, turned left, and made their way south to Aloxa.
The car wasn’t the largest, but it did the job. George sat in the front passenger’s seat, taking in the countryside. What unfolded before him was a mixture of hamlets, fields and orchards separated by wooded areas on the left side of the road and the Aloxa River on the right. Having spent his life in a country that was still dominated by a swamp, the prosperous terra firma around him was refreshing. As they came towards the capital, the river widened into the beautiful Lake Aloxa.
His original plan was to ride in the back with his wife, but Darlene wouldn’t hear of it; she insisted that Terry ride with her in the back. Terry soon found out why; after they got out of town, Darlene suddenly turned to her, grabbed both hands, looked at her intensely and said, “You’ve got to explain some things to me.”
“Like what?” Terry replied, ambushed. Darlene then proceeded to put to her a long string of rapid-fire questions. Terry felt like she was back with the Canon, only fast-forwarded with intensity. How did you learn to preach like that? Why did you look and act like another person up there? How did you get to know these people so well? Why did they just let you walk in and preach? What was the altar call all about? Why is their music different? What were those “foreign languages” she heard around her from time to time? Why did those people leave their crutches at the front of the church? Do you really believe in miracles? What was “getting saved” all about? Darlene was so keyed up that Terry could barely get part of an answer out for one question when she was hit with another. Terry would have gotten a lot further had the road not been so short; before she could really get to answer the last question, they were in Aloxa town, and Darlene’s attention was now more focused on the world that was passing them.
Aloxa was a larger town than Beran; it was also a busier one as well, on Sunday at least. Going down the main road in Aloxa was a slow business, with all of the vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Eventually they reached the palace, which was set off from the rest of town by a high wall that seemed to stretch along the road and back from it for a long way.
They reached the gate and turned left into it. The palace guards searched them very carefully; once the security was satisfied, they went into the palace ground.
George and Darlene realised at once that they were outclassed for palaces; it was a good deal larger than theirs. The grounds were larger too, although the landscaping was more natural than Serelia’s. After driving through this for about 150 metres, they pulled up in front of the palace’s main entrance, and were ushered from the car and into the palace.
“Now you know how Prince William and I felt when we visited you,” Terry whispered to George as they all stared at the structure before them. It was larger than any palace they had seen anywhere else on the Island. They slowly walked up the stairs and entered the foyer, where the chamberlain greeted them unctuously. But the chamberlain’s greeting made little impact, as they stared beyond the foyer and into the throne room before them.
Both foyer and throne room had ceilings at least ten metres high. The entire interior was decorated in African style, with monuments to the Kings of Aloxa, their victories in war, and various commemoratives of the economic base and prosperity of the Kingdom. The foyer was about 20 metres square; the throne room was fifteen metres wide and they could see about thirty metres to the curtain at the end, which was decorated with a huge representation of the Aloxan coat of arms.
The chamberlain urged them to go on down the throne room and towards the curtain. This they did in slow procession. George and Darlene held each other’s hands so tightly that the blood nearly ran out of them both. When they reached about three metres in front of the curtain, it rose up and revealed King Leslie, his queen and two or three of his ministers. The King and Queen were on a dais about a metre off of the floor, it required its own set of steps to mount. They arose off their thrones when the three had crossed the curtain line.
George, Darlene and Terry stopped and bowed lower than usual. Terry had been here once before; she was a little amused at the sense of awe that exuded from her royal companions.
“Your Excellency, you are very importune to ask for an audience on such a short notice,” the King said. “And who might these lovebirds travelling with you be?”
“These are Their Highnesses, Crown Prince George and Princess Darlene of Serelia.”
“They are newlyweds,” Leslie observed. “They have a right to act this way. Welcome to Aloxa.”
“On behalf of my father, King Adam, and myself, we are grateful for your audience. It is an honour for us to be here.”
“I understand you preached well in Beran today,” Leslie said to Terry.
“With God’s help,” she replied.
“I also understand that you took something of an offering for yourself.”
“Only out of necessity,” Terry replied. “The Verecundans seized our boat, with most of our things on it. Our provision has not been clear since.”
“They did WHAT?” Leslie exclaimed.
“They seized the Royal Serelian Yacht, on some environmental pretext,” George said. “They would have seized us on another had it not been for Her Highness’s quick thinking.”
“You mean they were trying to arrest you?” Leslie asked.
“That’s exactly what we mean,” Darlene clarified.
Leslie fumed in silence for a second, then sand, “These swine are worthless. It’s bad enough they arrest a foreign minister, but to try to arrest those of the blood royal is an outrage. So you want me to help you get back your boat?”
“It gets worse, Your Majesty,” Terry said.
“My brother has just negotiated one of those ‘economic development packages’ of theirs with the Claudians.”
There was another royal moment of silence. “I think,” Leslie said, “that this Island is only the chessboard of you and your brother, and that we are all pawns on it. They have visited us about things like this, but I got the impression that there was more than met the eye.”
“Your majesty is correct about this—it would be our pleasure to explain this in detail,” Terry responded.
Leslie turned to his prime minister and said, “Call my Privy Council—all of them. I don’t care what they’re doing. I want them here within the hour.” He turned to the trio and said, “I will have you explain everything to all of us so we can take whatever decision we will.”
“At Your Majesty’s pleasure,” Terry replied. The chamberlain escorted them back to the foyer, but they went outside to take in what was now becoming the evening air. That didn’t last too long, as it started to rain. So they sat in the foyer and watched the downpour through the large plate glass windows that separated the foyer from the palace grounds.
“What kind of an impact have we had, do you think?” George asked Terry.
“Losing the yacht was an act of war for you,” Terry said. “Having an alliance with the Claudians is a serious problem for them. We will see.” Darlene, however, was not in on the conversation. She had walked over in front of the large entrance doors—gates, really—to the foyer, and was staring out at the rain in silence.
“What’s eating at her?” Terry asked George.
“I don’t know,” George answered. “She’s been like this most of the time we’ve been in Aloxan territory. I’ve never seen her quite like this before.”
“Two of your ancestors came from here when it was Beran, didn’t they?”
“So what part of the country were yours from?”
“The north—it was on the edge of the swamp, north of what they now call Williamstown. They were military people.”
George had to think a minute. “I’m not sure.” He stood up and called to his wife. “Honey…honey, where was your ancestral plantation?”
Darlene was slow to respond, but she eventually turned around and said, “I think it’s about where we’re standing.” Both George and Terry displayed one of those “the light just came on” expressions. But they had little time to pursue family history right then; Leslie’s best people started to stream in through the foyer and down towards the end of the throne room, so they sat together and watched the incoming dignitaries, both military and civilian.
While the three of them had been waiting in the foyer, Leslie’s servants had been setting up chairs around the throne for the meeting. When most of the invitees had arrived, the chamberlain told the three to come back to the throne room. Three chairs had been set up for them just to the left of the throne and facing the rest. The chamberlain then heralded the king’s arrival and all rose as he and some of his ministers came in. When he was seated on the throne, everyone else sat down and the meeting started.
After a brief introduction by the king, Terry was asked to make an opening speech and summary. She did this, with interjections from both George and Darlene. She summarised their trip all the way from the start and led them up to the present time. Then the king opened the floor for questions and discussions.
The Aloxans were both inquisitive questioners and lively debaters. They wanted a lot of detail from the three, with Leslie’s ministers filling in details based on their own intelligence. They went on for a long time in this way; when most of the questions seemed to have been answered, Leslie turned to the three and said, “It is time now for us to discuss some things and take some decisions. Your candour and openness with us—especially considering our long isolation from each other—has been refreshing. We trust that you will get a good night sleep and that tomorrow will be better for all of us.” With that, the chamberlain escorted them out of the room.
He offered them dinner, but they were so tired and had eaten so much at the parsonage, that they declined anything but a light snack. They were shown to the guests’ quarters and soon they were fast asleep.