They were in no hurry to get up the next day, and the Aloxans seemed content to let them rest. They didn’t have much inclination to inspect their surroundings, but once awake they realised that these guest quarters were, indeed, very special. They overlooked the central courtyard of the palace, which was a beautiful garden full of trees, flowers and even included an orchid garden. When their hosts saw that they were awake, they were offered breakfast in their quarters, which they gladly accepted.
George wanted to spend some time alone with his bride, but Darlene insisted on having Terry join them. George relented; it took more convincing to get Terry to go along, but she eventually did. Even after having put together this gathering, Darlene was still not much of a conversationalist.
“What do you think they will do?” George asked.
“I’m not sure,” Terry answered. “I sense they’re concerned about this situation—I think we’ve convinced them of what’s on the line here.”
“What can they do?”
“They can go to war with the Claudians, or perhaps threaten them with war if they stick with the agreement. They can try to pressure the Verecundans, but you see how far that gets you, even when the Verecundans would be better off.”
“The ultimate would be if they went to war with Verecunda,” Darlene blurted out.
“Do you think they could win?” George asked.
“If Count Michael would billet the troops, and we had the element of surprise, we could do it ourselves, even in our present state. They certainly could,” Terry said. “By the way, why didn’t you suggest that you and they put the squeeze on the Claudians?”
“My father would never approve of it,” George observed. “I’m not sure he would approve of what we’re doing here. He’s afraid of the Aloxans. Everyone’s afraid of these people—except for you.”
At that, the door knocked and it was the chamberlain. He announced the order of the morning, and then added, “His Majesty would like for you to accompany him on an outing at noon today.”
“It would be our pleasure,” Terry responded, at which point the chamberlain left.
“Outing?” Darlene asked.
“That’s what the man said,” George answered. Their puzzled state quickly evaporated with the opportunity to shed their road dirt and stress with baths and then massages by the Aloxan royal family’s private masseurs and masseuses. When all of this was done, they were escorted back to the foyer, where King Leslie himself met them.
They had been isolated up until now, but as they went out of the foyer and into the waiting Land Rover, they saw that the palace, a leisurely place the previous afternoon, was suddenly a beehive of activity, some civilian and some military. But they were whisked away from this, as the Land Rover drove along the north side of the palace and towards the west.
They passed through the backside gate of the palace wall but were still in the royal preserve, which was a combination of gardens, forests and the occasional pond. They drove for what seemed to be a long time until they could see a large plantation house coming up ahead. They pulled up in front of it and stopped, far enough so they could still easily view the entire house. The king and the trio got out, then stopped and just looked at the house.
“This is our family retreat, if you please,” Leslie explained. “We were here yesterday when I received the call.”
“I’m getting a bad case of déjà vu about this place,” George said. “Wait a minute…this looks like your family mansion, Darlene, only larger” he said, turning to his wife, who was transfixed by the sight.
“It’s the other way around,” Leslie explained. “This is the original Amherst plantation home, rebuilt as best we could. From here to Lake Aloxa and then some was the Amherst plantation—the town was called Amherstown until the Revolt.”
“This is where my grandfather Elton was born,” Darlene said, barely getting the words out for her emotion.
“At that time, his father Theodore ruled the plantation, and lived here with his wife Ophelia, who was the daughter of King Hiram of Beran,” Leslie said.
“The last King of Beran,” Terry added.
George turned to his wife in disbelief. “That means that…you never told me you were the descendant of the last King of Beran. I’ve heard the rumours, but…”
“I didn’t know for sure until just before we married—my father told me, and swore me to secrecy about it. In our family, it’s very hush-hush. He was afraid that, if, say, Ronald knew it, he would start a revolt to take the Serelian crown and use that to try to put Beran’s empire back together.”
“That’s why Elton had Darlene’s grandfather, Cornelius van Bokhoven, murdered,” George added. “He threatened to present proof to King Albert.”
“But how did your grandfather get to Serelia, Darlene?” Terry asked.
“Elton was the youngest of Theodore’s sons,” Leslie explained. “His father made it clear that the oldest would inherit the entire plantation, and that the others needed to find another way of life, in the army, in the Grand Lodge, wherever. This was unacceptable to Elton, so he conspired with some of the slaves—one of whom was my great-grandfather—to revolt and take not only the plantation but perhaps the kingdom as well.”
“When the plot was discovered,” Darlene continued, “he was given two choices—death, or perpetual exile from Beran proper and the loss of his privilege to own slaves, which were illegal outside of Beran proper anyway. The only reason why he did have the choice was because he was of blood royal. His father had acquired a piece of land northwest of the army post called Boreal, across the inlet from where the palace is now, so he was given that as his entire inheritance and sent there.”
“His idea of revolt gave us the idea that we could do it ourselves,” Leslie continued, “which we did two years later, killing both all of the Amhersts which lived here and the Beran royal family as well, along with many others. Our conditions were terrible.”
“When Beran collapsed,” Darlene resumed, “George’s grandfather Albert proclaimed himself King of Serelia, named after his family. At the time all he had was the military garrison, which he commanded. But the Claudians—whose royal house is related to the first Queen of Beran—were trying to put back together as much of old Beran as they could. So Albert made a compact with the five major land holding families”—
“—and that included the Serlins—” Terry added.
“—in what is now Serelia and made a nation. My grandfather went along with this because he was afraid that, if he tried to assert his royal heritage, everyone else would kill him. So it became a secret, and speaking of the matter became more restricted with every generation.”
There was a pause, and then George said, “Your Majesty, you are very knowledgeable about many things concerning the lore of Beran. I thought you would have had no interest, considering that they kept your ancestors in slavery.”
“My father was assassinated when I was young,” Leslie began. “You are correct—our people were very bitter about Beran, and wanted to just let the foliage take over the legacy. But as I began to rule, I was curious—who were these people? Why were they so successful in controlling so much of this Island? So I set myself to dig up and preserve as much of what they left behind as possible. Some things I could not bring back, but others—such as this house and some of the records—were preserved and rebuilt. I have never publicised my interest amongst my people, but I have learned much.
“This Island has three threads that have both been woven together and have pulled apart since the beginning. First, there is Beran, the kings and warriors. They are represented by the two of you, Your Highnesses, in ways that even you, Prince George, did not realise. Beran was a cruel nation, but even we must acknowledge that it was a great nation, and that all those which came out of it—and that includes yours, with all due respect—have not equalled it.
“The second thread is made up of the merchants—Verecunda, Collina, Alemara and parts of Drahla. Those are the people who built great towns and cities, and created wealth in commerce. They are represented by Her Excellency in two ways—first, as a Verecundan whose family was premier in commerce and affairs, and second as a Drahlan, whose nation was in part founded and fought for the principle of economic opportunity, whatever the risks that came with that.
“The last, of course, is ourselves, brought here a slaves and now with a nation of our own, prosperous but isolated.
“Our Island is about to close a century—a century of war, division, and, in the case of Verecunda, an almost suicidal tendency to want to put an aesthetic ahead of reality. In my researches, and in my years as ruler over Aloxa, I have come to the conclusion that this Island will never be the kind of place it should be until the three threads are bound together.
“But now we are here, at the moment of our destiny. I don’t know how long it will take to fulfil this crazy vision of mine—none of us may live long enough to see it—but I believe that fulfilment has begun here, now that we—the three threads—are together at this place.”
“’A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart,’” Terry observed.
Leslie turned to Terry in amazement. “Where did you get that from?”
“It’s in the Bible,” Terry replied.
“Thelma Vickers from Beran told me those words about six months ago.”
“Isn’t that the minister’s wife we had lunch with yesterday?” Darlene asked.
“It is,” Leslie said. “She told me it was a ‘word from the Lord.’ I had been thinking about this idea but hadn’t told anyone.”
“She was right—it was a word from the Lord in every sense,” Terry agreed.
“So, this is one reason why we are going to war,” Leslie announced. “This vision—and everything else—is not an accident.”
“Against whom?” George asked.
“Verecunda. It will take us a couple of days to mobilise. We have been practising this for a long time. I’ve been worried we’d have to do this, given the way they behave. The borders have been closed; we are labelling this to the outside world as a military drill, we’ve done that before. But we will do it…however, I have been a poor host. Won’t you come in and see the house.” They agreed, but it was difficult to carry on a conversation after what they had heard.
The king himself gave the tour of the house, and they dined there also; but the quickening of events made their visit shorter than any of them would have liked. They returned to the palace, where George and Terry were thrust into the world of war plans. Terry’s knowledge of Verecunda was particularly helpful, as was George’s knowledge of their military ways (or lack of them.) Darlene wanted to see some more of the land that was her family’s, so the Queen took her back in the Land Rover for a tour around the area.
After dinner George and Darlene returned to their quarters, but Terry was summoned to the King’s quarters. After the usual eye-opening vista of these, she was ushered to the balcony, which like the guests’ quarters overlooked the interior garden. King Leslie and Queen Arlene were already there, and greeted her.
“Your Majesties wished to see me?” Terry asked, bowing.
“We did,” Leslie replied. “Please sit down.” The moon had not yet risen, so the only lights they could see were those that illuminated the garden and the lights in the room.
“I want to thank you for coming here and bringing your companions with you,” Leslie said.
“I don’t think I’m the one you really need to thank,” Terry answered.
“We did not plan to come here, even though for me coming to Aloxa is a delight. Our arrival was a divine appointment, especially in view of what you shared with us today.”
“Divine appointment…” Leslie chuckled a bit. “You never change. It’s always about God with you.”
“That’s all it’s ever been about. That’s what separates me from those in Verecunda I left behind so long ago. That’s what made it possible for me to come to this country in the first place.”
“That’s not quite true,” Leslie interrupted. “Your father brought you here as a little girl. This was the place where your race was—and is—not a liability.”
“Well, some of us have not forgotten that you came up here and beat my sister at tennis,” Arlene added. They all got a chuckle out of that reminiscence.
“Now that was a miracle,” Terry declared. “But miracles are in the divine plan. Your Majesty, you should want to be a full part of that.”
“I find it difficult to take that step you’ve asked me to take. Sometimes at night, I wander through this palace, and look at the monuments to my forefathers and think, ‘What would they think if I became a Christian?’ They worshipped all kinds of things, like many of my people still do; I don’t know what I worship any more, I just go along because it is my duty to those who have gone before and to those who are here now. And, of course, I must think about joining them when my time here is over. How do I get there? You people say you know the way. How can I be sure?”
“I can assure you,” Terry answered seriously, “that no matter where they are, they are calling you to unite with the God who came Himself to redeem you.”
“My Christian people are good people,” Leslie said. “Beran wouldn’t let missionaries in, even though some of them tried to come to us while we were slaves. After our freedom, some of your missionaries came, but they were rebuffed because they were white, and we had our fill of white people. So they sent black ones, and my grandfather issued an edict of tolerance. Many people said that they would bring a curse on us. But they have not.”
“So why don’t you accept Jesus Christ as Lord?”
There was a silence. “Perhaps His Majesty is afraid that, if Jesus Christ were Lord, he would not,” wryly observed Arlene.
“Your Lord, King Henry, is not really a Christian, is he?” Leslie asked.
“We’re getting there,” Terry answered. “Prince Dennis is. But I will tell you that your vision for a new Island will never come to pass unless those who fulfil it all kneel at the Cross. You are about to go into battle for the life of your nation—it would be better if you knew where your eternity stood.”
Leslie thought for a minute. “You may well be right. I have to say that you are the most impertinent officer of state I have ever met—but you are the most charming one, too. When we are done, we must get together again.”
“Don’t forget to tell her about the request,” Arlene reminded her husband.
“Oh, yes,” he said, “the regiments from the north—Beran, Williamstown, and the rest—have asked you to join them in the march. It would put you behind the centre, where I will be, but they have asked for it.”
“Why is this?” Terry asked.
“They want you to pray for them before they go into battle,” Leslie said. “You can join us when we are further into Uranus.”
“It will be an honour.” They talked about many other things, but eventually they all retired for the night.