Journey to the North
#1
Written in collaboration with Meltor

Perisu

A few days have passed since the King of Candanadium had sent her a letter of invitation to his palace, perhaps there were people who truly wanted the best for Meltor and her people? But even then she thought, it would be reckless to jump straight into the laps of our supposed angelic saviours. 

“My Empress, the plane and your luggage are ready.” Swiftly opening the doors of the lounge the Royal Protector, Sieion von Actu arrives to attend to his waiting Empress.

“You seem nervous, surely you can open yourself up a little bit to the idea of going there.”

“Going into what is for all intents and purposes a nation that is against Meltor due to our… problems. Would spark some worry for any sane many wouldn’t you think?” The Royal Protector responds.

“Regardless of my sanity, you need to lighten up. It would be unwise for it to appear as if I’m protected by some nervous wreck of a man.” 

“This nervous wreck here has feelings, please care about them.” 

“I’ll think about it.”

---

El Majestu, The Majesty. A name that truly befits the plane of the Meltorian royalty. The thing was about twenty years old, and the scratches and thinning paint have been beginning to show for years, The words DEU UNIA MELOTEY were just about visible on the fuselage, and the decal on the tail fin was missing more than a few stars. This was the first time in over six years the Empress had actually used the thing instead of leaving it in storage. El Majestu was an Akarean make, bought secondhand from All Akarean Airways, and according to the technician they had flown in from Lao Shaodu it should be airworthy enough to make it to New Konigstadt, provided it had enough fuel. Whether it could come back, however, was a different story.

In front of the doors of the plane was a man the Empress did not want to see here, or really at any time, at any place, ever again. The man in question was the ever-detestable Chancellor Gacrein Von Garic, the man who was supposed to be incorruptible and fair, who would lend his ear to the Emperor or Empress should they ever seek advice. 

These words were entirely antithetical to this man.

Von Garic was corrupt, morally (but certainly not financially) bankrupt, and couldn’t give less of a damn about the Empress’s wellbeing unless he got the chance to gloat at her or to make sexual comments that would have gotten him beheaded in the Meltor of yore. It seemed to her that when a man sold his soul to the corporations, there was nothing that was beneath him. The Empress was sure that, at some point, a Candanadian or Kreyerian Chancellor (she couldn’t remember which) had said that the man was an eternal disgrace to the title of Chancellor everywhere. He was not at all like the elected man (or woman) of the highest civilian post in Candanadium or Kreyermark. He was an industrialist, a slaver, and cared not a Statglo for the welfare of Meltor nor its people, as long as slaves and cheques changed hands and the Kaltach and Terran world continued buying the cheap plastic knick-knacks his factories pumped out. All in all, Von Garic was the physical embodiment of the Meltorian corporate elite, and that made the Empress’s stomach churn every time she had to face the man.

She was trying to keep the inevitable conversation between them as short and diplomatic as possible, so that maybe she’d be able to leave the place in a semi-pleasant mood. The bulging man had a receding hairline that was almost past his puffy little ears, and the stench of cheap perfume clung to him perpetually. She could only feel sorry for his wife and children, constantly sidelined for his personal pleasure. She hoped that he at least treated them with more dignity than his slaves, but knowing Von Garic, that was unlikely.

“Ah, Your Majesty.” He said in a lazy voice, not even bothering to bow. He was decked out in a double-breasted naval jacket with a tall bicorn hat that was made even taller with the addition of a white feather plume, which only accentuated his short and stout stature. The rows upon rows of fake medals that weighed down the front of his jacket only added to the ridiculousness of the outfit. All of them were issued in her name, the Empress knew, but if it were up to her she’d strip him of all his meaningless awards in the blink of an eye. “I hope you enjoy your trip to the foreign lands. Perhaps you may even find a good nobleman to marry. Or, perhaps, you would prefer me?” 

The Empress could feel her ears turning red as her hands clenched into fists. She had to actively strain herself to not throw a punch at this man, right between his two beady little insect eyes. 

“Thank you for the offer, Chancellor,  but I’ll pass, you’re simply not my type.” She forced the corners of her mouth up into the most disingenuous smile while continuing to stare daggers at him.

“Your Majesty! Oh, how you wound me, I would treat you well and ensure the prosperity of Meltor. After all, I, as your Chancellor, am both your humble servant and advisor. Perhaps it is time for my vast ocean of expertise to be put to good use?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm and he tilted his fat head and blinked at her in an oh-so-innocent way. The Empress gnashed her teeth together.

The bastard isn’t even bothering to hide his power plays.

“Come, ma’am,” Sieion quickly realized that the conversation could only end with two black eyes. “We must make haste, lest we miss our chance to show the good side of Meltor to the world, I’m sure our Empress can talk politics when she returns.” He quickly gives her a quick jab as a sign to calm down.

“Yes, of course. Ensure that the World sees our good side and nothing else, Your Majesty.” Taking the cue from Sieion, he waddled to a nearby limousine. “On second thought, don’t be too good, little empress. I hear the King of Candanadium is the most powerful bachelor in the world, and I wouldn’t want him of all people to steal our fair Empress Melotey.” The door closed with a thud.

“You-” The Empress had to fight to restrain herself as the limo disappeared in a cloud of smoke. 

“Does he hear himself? ‘Little Empress’?” Sieion muttered once the limo was out of sight.

“The fat slob only wanted to annoy me.”

“What else were you expecting exactly?” Sieion shook his head. “At least you’ll be rid of him for a while.”

---
Mutterhafen

The official invitation from New Konigstadt had given the date of February 1st, but the ambassador had advised them to arrive the day before, as was customary when it came to these visits. In reality, they had to leave even earlier than that. The flight from Perisu to New Konigstadt would take at least 11 hours if they flew directly, but El Majestu was nothing like the modern long-haul jets used by Royal Candanadian Airlines. Instead, the diminutive plane would first make the three-hour hop to the Candanadian island of Hautsing, sandwiched between the Akarean Danpian and the insular part of Hykko. There, it would refuel and make the second leg of the journey to the southernmost city in mainland Candanadium, Freigrad, on the edge of the great Caskhomirian desert, which would take about eight hours. From there, it was another three-hour hop across western Caskhomir, Alpenraum, and Maple Bay to New Konigstadt City Airport, on an artificial island in the bay. All of this meant that the Empress was already standing on the tarmac of Perisu’s airport on January 30th, prepared for the journey ahead. 

They had informed the Candanadian ambassador of their flight plan, and he had assured them that arrangements to refuel and resupply the royal jet at Mutterhafen and Freigrad would be made in advance. As El Majestu taxied across Mutterhafen International Airport’s runways, it seemed that he had kept that end of the bargain as well. A fuel truck and catering truck were waiting near the main terminal, alongside a set of airstairs and a red carpet, with an impressive looking SUV parked next to it. 

“Why is this island in the middle of the Akarean sea part of Candanadium?” The Empress said, to nobody in particular. Sieion had appeared in the seat next to the Empress’s at some point, and the Empress’s remark made him turn around and peer outside the window.

“The Candanadians used this island as a base for trade with Akarea, when it was still profitable to sail all the way and do so, and when they created their federation they decided to keep the island.” The Empress mentally sighed at Sieion’s attempts to lecture her. Two men had stepped out of the SUV, one in military uniform, with a white pith helmet that made his tan skin look much darker than it actually was. 

“Yes, I know that. I was simply thinking to myself. If, today, the Candanadians can reach halfway across the world for some little island, then just think about what they can do to us if we cross them tomorrow.”

“They have a good reason for keeping Hautsing under their belt. Look in the distance.” Sieion gestured with his hand, and the Empress peered harder. “Those skyscrapers you see? Casinos, banks, and luxury resorts. The Akareans work hard and play hard, and this place caters to both. Hautsing charges no tax for corporations or casinos, only New Konigstadt, which is altogether much less than what Fujing charges.” Towering above the rows upon rows of palm trees in the distance were a line of skyscrapers, as far as the eye could see. Their sharp angles and glass exteriors reflected and manipulated the sun’s light to seem as if they were constantly flickering.

“If that’s so, then we can never be certain where Candanadium’s allegiances lie. Who’s to say they won’t be persuaded by a fat cheque from the corporations?”

“Think about the long run. They might turn a profit in the short run, working with the corporations, but it’s the least popular side to take. For the government, it means they’ll suffer in the next election once the media does its job. If they’re siding with us, it means they’re going to expect at least some kind of preferential treatment in trade after we win the war.”

“So what is your advice?” The Empress turned away from the window and looked Sieion in the face.

“Observe. Make no promises. There are going to be many opportunities for that, like now, for instance.” The exterior door of El Majestu opened with a hiss and a thunk. “You’re up.” Sieion gestured to the door.

--

“Your sublime majesty. It is an honour for Hautsing to receive its first-ever visit from a foreign monarch. Truly, we are blessed.” The small Akarean man in the suit greeted her with a bow and a firm handshake. He spoke in Kanadiaans as well, albeit flavoured with the sounds of the far east.

“Your words humble me, sir.” The Empress responded as Sieion traded salutes with the man in military uniform. 

“How do you mean? I thought the Akarean Emperor had visited Hautsing once before, after the formation of Candanadium.” Sieion had evidently overheard the man’s greeting.

“Yes, the Son of Heaven has indeed visited us here, so has His Majesty the King, but we can hardly consider either of their majesties to be foreign.” The man slapped his own forehead, almost theatrically. “Ach! Where are my manners? I have the honour of being Wilfred Gwo, Premier of Hautsing. This is His Majesty’s viceregal representative in Hautsing, His Excellency the Magistrate Julian Shan.” The Premier gestured to the man in the pith helmet beside him. That explained why the man didn’t bow to the Empress. “Hautsing is at your service. Would you like to perhaps rest at the terminal while the aircraft is refuelled?”

“That would be most welcome. The journey here has been turbulent, to say the least.” El Majestu had rattled and bounced all the way from Perisu to Mutterhafen like it was about to fall apart. Thankfully, it didn’t.

“Right this way, please, Hautsing Eastern Airlines has vacated its First Class lounge especially for this occasion.”

---

The regal wooden doors opened wide to reveal a luxurious lounge bathed in cyan and white. The walls a collage of cyan swirls interrupted only by paintings and majestic white pillars of marble. The floor and roof both made of pristine marble that reflected her face almost perfectly. 

“This is the lounge, your Sublime Majesty. Please make yourselves comfortable, we shall return soon.” The Magistrate and the Premier had bid them farewell at the terminal, and they had been escorted inside by an attendant in a vest and tie, who had now turned away and hastily made his way to his next destination, scurrying down the hall.

In the middle of the lounge were some sofas and chairs, coloured a deep blue, embellished with jewels and gold strapped on like a snake, twisting and curving around the edges of the furniture.

“It’s a bit… much, don’t you think?” Sieion moved his way through the furniture and leaned against a pillar, turning his neck to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows, past the tarmac and into the jungles of Hautsing, beyond which loomed lush green mountains, shrouded by a thin layer of fog.

“Unlike in Meltor, these people aren’t dirt poor and aren’t governed by complete buffoons. So I guess it would appear rather much.” Moving her way onto the sofas, the Empress picks one that appears the comfiest, a small dark blue couch, perfect for her rather diminutive stature. “Plus, they’ll need some way to spend all those casino Thalers.” The small coffee table in front of her had on it a selection of drinks, most unfamiliar to her. The wall above it boasted a grand painting of some Candanadian military official with a moustache almost as thick as his unibrow, standing triumphantly on the head of a dead tiger, his high riding boots gleaming and his hand on his sabre hilt. The Empress peered at the plaque.

“The Right Honourable Sir Jon Hochsteiger, first Lord Mayor and Founder of Mutterhafen”. She read. “Even from this portrait alone you can sense how self-absorbed he was.”

“Come now, you have similar portraits back in the palace.” Sieion called from the window, a grin beginning to spread from ear to ear “And what about your portrait that makes you about 2 metres tall? I know you are conscious about your height but that’s taking it too far. And shall I remind you of all your official titles?”

“I thought I told you never to talk about that blasted thing, It’s not my fault that delusional artist insisted he would paint me in my ‘size to come’, whatever that’s supposed to mean. As for the titles, you know as well as I do that it’s just tradition.” The Empress snapped back.

“You’re still embarrassed about that?” The Empress’s reply was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door, revealing Herish Klomon, a maid to the Empress and one of her most trusted confidants.

“Sieion, you’re a terrible influence on Herish.” Looking away from Sieion she directed her gaze at her maid. “Yes, Herish?”

“My Empress, I have come with the Himosta you requested before you departed the plane” The food in question laid atop a plate covered by a silver cloche.

“Very good.” She pointed to the table “Please, on the table.”

She pulled up the cloche and revealed the Himosta, which was a dish of steamed cod and Meltorian rice, fish being an important part of the Meltorian diet (and has been such for hundreds of years). This was also why Acolio was the most prosperous, debatably peaceful, and safest of all the kingdoms of Meltor, as they had the best fishing waters and had therefore bought out every other kingdom with their ample amounts of fish. If for some reason, another kingdom got on Acolio’s bad side, then they would expect to see all their fishing boats and stock in Acolian waters seized and their fisherman banned from further access, forcing them to settle for less fish of lower quality. The rice is a common sign of nobility in Meltor due to its rareness in the market. It is said that, many years ago, an Akarean trader took pity on some poor Meltorian peasants and gave them a sack of rice seeds. After many years of journeying and adventure, those peasants created the first of the Meltorian rice farms in Elisi. Meltorian rice was not easy to come by, as the country’s climate did not allow for the creation of layered rice paddies like in rainy, jungled Akarea. Thus, though Meltorian rice was arguably of poorer quality, its price was sometimes double that of Akarean rice.

“You may want to save some room.” Sieion pointed to the buffet and bar at the far end of the lounge, staffed by three waiters. “Maybe get used to Candanadian food.”

“Good idea.”

---

El Majestu took off from Mutterhafen fuelled and refreshed, much like her occupants, who found themselves curled up in corners and reclining in their chairs after having been hosted by the government of Hautsing.

As the mid-afternoon sun disappeared over the horizon, El Majestu crossed over the Tropic of Cancer into the airspace of Great Kaltachia. Nobody onboard, however, was awake when it happened, except, of course, for the two pilots in the cockpit.

Many hours later, the Empress found that she had woken with the sun. As she emerged from her private section of the plane, she saw Sieion peering out of the porthole-style windows. It was obvious he had just woken up as well - stubble covered the lower half of his face, and his thick brown hair, which was usually slicked back with a touch of hair wax, covered his forehead and stuck out in random places. He was not quite fully dressed, at least not by court standards. He had switched out his royal uniform for a Kaltach-style button-down shirt and slacks, which the Empress found strange, at least on him. She supposed that she should probably also dress in a more Kaltach manner and not in the traditional robes of Meltor, lest the Candanadians find her too plainly dressed for the palaces of New Konigstadt. Right now, however, there was no need yet, as the stop in Freigrad was supposed to be a short refuel only, taking less than an hour. They would not have to disembark, and no official reception awaited them.

“My Empress.” Sieion emerged from his seat. As derelict as El Majestu looked from the outside, no expense was spared for the internal furnishings. The chair Sieion had presumably spent the night in was a modern brown-leather recliner, with the imperial cypher of the Empress’s father burned into the armrests. The chairs could be folded out into cots for the night, which is why Sieion had no reason to leave his seat to rest. “Good morning.” Sieion bowed his head.

“Good morning, Sieion.” She motioned for him to raise his head. “What could possibly be outside that window that could be more interesting than preparing for our summit?” 

“My Empress, I know that you are anxious for our arrival, but you might wish to look outside.”

“Why would I-” She glanced out the window and stopped mid-sentence. El Majestu had just begun banking to the left, giving her an optimal view of the scenery below. 

The Alpenraumisch Alps, the mountains that gave that country its name, basked in the morning sun, their snowy peaks glittering in the golden rays. Or maybe it was the Southern Cask? The Empress wasn’t sure. She hadn’t touched geography or looked at a proper map of Kaltachia since her childhood, when, under her father’s watchful eye, she was lectured by a gaggle of tutor-slaves about the great mysteries of the world. Back then, though, places like Kaltachia and names like the Alps sounded foreign and exotic to her. Her only impression of the Alps was that they were represented by little raised ridges on the globe she had used as a child. Now that she had seen them with her own eyes, she felt as if she finally had some closure on that particular part of her childhood. She paused, and let her eyes embrace what she saw in front of her. 

“Is that snow?” She half-muttered. Having never left Meltor in her nineteen years, she had not stopped to consider how the terrain and environment of the outside world might differ from the palm trees, beaches, and deserts she was used to. Hautsing was close enough, as although Meltor didn’t have any jungles, it wasn’t anything she found too exotic. 

“They call it Kaltachia for a reason. You know the Kanadiaans word for-” Sieion tried to interject, but the Empress interrupted him with a thought of her own.

“Cold. Kalt. Yes. Trefjalli too.” She mused. “It will be cold. Sieion, instruct the servants to prepare the heaviest coats I have.”

---
New Konigstadt

As El Majestu’s door opened, the Empress knew that she had made a prudent decision in wrapping herself up in the heaviest wools and scarves her servants had packed for the trip. In Meltor, late January was the height of summer, but in New Konigstadt, it was the polar opposite, quite literally. The waters of Maple Bay around the artificial island built for New Konigstadt City Airport were frozen, and a thick layer of snow draped the city in white. The dark-grey tarmac, however, was cleared of all traces of snow, and a red carpet had been rolled out for her arrival, lined on one side by an honour guard, in dark-blue greatcoats and tall bearskin helmets.

“Ehrenbataillon! Augen, links!” Came the shrill cry from the commander, who saluted the Empress with his own sabre as well. The honour guard snapped their heads to the Empress in salute. A youngish man stood beside him in full morning dress, tailcoat and hat and all. He removed his hat and bowed before the Empress, a lock of his light brown hair tumbling before his eyes. The Empress descended the stairs, each individual step covered in red carpet as well. 

“Rise, good sir.” She said to the bowing man, stepping off the stairs. She nodded to the commander of the honour guard, who broke his sabre salute. She knew that it was royal protocol in Candanadium to not speak to a monarch unless spoken to, and although it wasn’t observed as diligently in Hautsing as it was here, that was only natural, given the fact that more preparation had obviously been made for her arrival here. 

“Your Sublime Majesty. Pieter von Juppertal, humbly at your service.” The Chancellor donned his hat once more. “This is Oberst Samuel Göß, of His Majesty’s Palace Guards.”

“Humbly at your service, your Sublime Majesty.” Colonel Göß echoed. He spun on his heels and brought his right foot down in a loud stamp, marching back to his troops. 

“Thank you, Herr von-” She suddenly realized who it was that had come to greet her. “Herr Reichskanzler. It is my honour to visit Candanadium at last.”

“The honour is all ours. I hope you found the arrangements in Mutterhafen and Freigrad to your liking?” 

Aber natürlich.” Sieion had descended the stairs as well, along with some of her ladies-in-waiting. “This is my loyal Royal Protector, Sieion von Actu, who is accompanying me on my northern journey on behalf of my elected government in Meltor.” Sieion stepped forward and saluted the Chancellor, who offered his hand.

“A pleasure. I suppose it is with him that I should liaise for the coming days then?”

“I would think so.” Sieion nodded as well. 

“Alas, the Prime Minister unfortunately could not join us on this expedition. I’m sure you will be able to empathize.” 

“I understand.” The Chancellor was undoubtedly briefed about this matter beforehand. “I hate to cut our conversation here short, ma’am, Herr von Actu-” he nodded to both of them in turn, “but I would like to invite you to inspect His Majesty’s honour guard before we proceed to Magnarplatz Palace.”

“It would be our pleasure.” The Empress responded. The Chancellor nodded to the Colonel.

Ehrenbataillon, Augen geradeaus!” The heads snapped back to looking to the front. “Ehrenbataillon, Präsentiert das, Gewehr!” About fifty boots came stamping down as the honour guard presented their arms in salute, their bayonets gleaming in the mid-afternoon sun. The military band arranged in a tight square behind the honour guards broke into the Kanadiaansischer Präsentiermarsch

The Empress walked down the red carpet.

To be continued

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#2
New Konigstadt

“Free the slaves! Free the slaves! Free the sl-” The Empress closed the car window almost as soon as she opened it. Though she had only opened it a crack to get a breath of fresh air, the streets of New Konigstadt were lined with thousands of people carrying signs and flags, protesting her presence in the city. 

No quarter for the slaver queen. 

All are equal. 

Some even carried signs written in Meltorian, and as her convoy turned a corner, she saw a bonfire being fed with the imperial standard and official portraits of herself. It seemed to the Empress that even after two days of being in Candanadium’s capital, the image of Meltor in the public eye had not improved in the slightest.

Sothisen Gracas tro Sudreton hotomul vare extindum - The mercy of Sothis extends not to the heretical oppressor. Ta Heritan vare gabima. Ta Dovstian vare gabima. Ta Dosinan vare gabima. Your honour does not exist, your truth does not exist, your justice does not exist. These words had been painted over the front gates of the Meltorian embassy in New Konigstadt in the night, and the Empress had seen it on the news in the morning. As her convoy slowly proceeded down the protestor-lined streets, with mounted constables riding ahead, clearing the way, these words entered the Empress’s mind once again.

Hotomul. Heretical. That was most certainly directed at her. In the tumultuous days following the assassination of Edelgard’s father, the late Emperor’s brother, Grand Marshal Vexi von Numenor succeeded in carrying out a coup of the civilian government in anticipation of a corporate counter-coup. While his fears did come true in the end, he played right into the trap set by the Meltorian corporations, as they were able to characterize the Grand Marshal as the enemy of the people and the faith by dishonouring the line of succession by not allowing the rightful heir, Edelgard, to come to the throne. They had claimed that it was an affront to Sothis and to the sacred order of succession. He was then promptly ousted in the counter-coup that he feared by disgruntled naval officers and corrupt bureaucrats on the payroll of the Meltorian corporations. Rightfully fearing for his life, he fled to Candanadium, where he was initially placed under arrest but later given political asylum. 

“I wonder if Uncle Vexi is in the crowd.” The Empress said to nobody in particular, still pondering over the words. 

“I doubt it. For all his faults, Vexi would never be angry at you. He knows that this anger is misplaced.” The Royal Protector seated next to her said. “You know, there are ways…”

“No.” The Empress knew what Sieion was suggesting. “Vexi has no part in my future government, which must remain a civilian one. Vexi is no politician, and we cannot appear as if we are resorting to nepotism. I am not Von Gacrein. Vexi may retain his original role as Grand Marshal of the Imperial Armed Forces, but he must remain out of politics.”

“A prudent move,” Sieion commented, “though I’m unsure if we’ll be able to rely on a strong civilian government once the war begins”.

“I suppose that remains to be seen. If our negotiations continue without any further hindrances, I don’t believe it would be a problem”. And there was no reason for the Empress to believe that they would not. The King had addressed her as his cousin, greeted her with an amicable hug, and had exchanged kisses on the cheek with her, affording her the same pleasantries as a fellow Kaltach monarch. The Chancellor and cabinet had been responsive to her requests and had evidently been well briefed by their ambassador. It had now come down mostly to a matter of semantics and particulars regarding a formal agreement between the two governments, with Sieion taking a proactive and even aggressive role in negotiations. 

“You know they’re still holding back, though”. Sieion countered. “This is our only chance to hammer out a deal. When this goes public, we’ll become prisoners in the Tower of Hegemony”. 

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew”. Sieion only nodded. The state car had pulled into Deepwood Hall and rolled to a halt, the door on Sieion’s side opening.

“Are you not joining us for the negotiations today, my lady?” Sieion asked, seeing that the Empress had no intention of getting up.

“I’m to have tea at the palace with the royal family. I’ll see you at Parliament.” The Empress had also been afforded the customary address to the legislature afforded on state visits to Kaltach monarchs, and Sieion and his staff had spent much of their time on the flight pouring over her speech. She had only glanced at it, but by now, she knew how to speak someone else’s words as if they were her own. There had been a lot of that back home.

“Yes, your majesty.” Sieion paused for a beat before rising out of his seat, looking almost as if he had wanted to turn back and add something else before leaving. 

“Best of luck with the negotiations.” The Empress said as he stepped off of the car. He gave her a weak smile, and the door slammed closed once more.

--

“Royal Protector, if I may, why exactly go through all the trouble of drawing up an agreement between our two states if you don’t plan on making it public?” The Minister of Foreign Affairs inquired, much to the Chancellor’s dismay. He was usually never one to ask questions that he already knew the answers to, and when he did, it was more often than not as a bargaining tool.

“Let me reiterate - we do plan on making it public, but not now. This document will give your government a mandate to intervene with imperial consent when the time comes, and will act as a deterrent against undesirable intervention from elsewhere, be it Terra or communist agitators in Meltor.” The Royal Protector responded without hesitation, his expressions still.

“And when will the time come?”

“Once all the necessary preparations have been made.”

“And how on earth would we know of that?” The Minister took on a tone that was equal parts offence and condescension, a tone that was pervasive throughout the Candanadian cabinet. It was the tone of the Junker, or in this case, of the private school old boy who was always one social rank below his noble peers. The Royal Protector, however, kept his upper lip stiff and displayed no visible emotional response.

“Sir, if I may-” Jonathan finally worked up the courage to address the Minister directly. He had returned to New Konigstadt a day before the Empress, as was custom, to liaise with the Meltorian ambassador in the city and work out protocol and paperwork. What he didn’t expect was for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to insist on his attendance during negotiations. This was his mess, and he had to deal with it as far as the Ministry was concerned. “We don’t necessarily need to keep this to ourselves. If we are able to secure support for a proper imperial restoration in Meltor at the upcoming KU Congress, then there would be no point in the document being kept secret. That would be deterrent enough in and of itself.”

“That line of questioning is based on a very large ‘if’, Ambassador. Sir, I think we’ve heard all there is to hear about this. What is our course of action?” The Minister now turned, again, to the Chancellor.

“There is, no doubt, much popular support for the Meltorian abolitionist cause in Candanadium.” He began slowly. “And as the Government we must, at the very least, be responsive to changes in general national trends of support for aspects of foreign policy. However, the nuance of the separation of crown and government in Meltor is lost to many a casual observer, both at home in Kaltachia and abroad. Although it is in our interest and that of the interest of the Meltorian crown to support abolition and emancipation through an imperial restoration, we must communicate this - the fact that the only way to Meltorian emancipation is through the dissolution of the current administration run by the oligarchic elite in favour of a democratic imperial government - in the clearest possible terms to the public and abroad. There can be no ambiguity on the part of His Majesty’s Government, and when the time comes, we must act swiftly and decisively.” The Chancellor drew a breath sharply. “Is there anyone in this chamber who objects to this?”

A heavy silence hung over the chamber. Jonathan could vaguely hear his own pulse in his ears, once, twice, thrice.

“Then I say it is done. Long Live the King.”

---

Ach, Hanschen, it’s been so long since the last time we got together.” The King bent down to exchange cheek kisses and a tentative hug with the diminutive grandmotherly woman with frizzy, greying hair. 

“That’s not true, Oma. What about that time in Küstenberg with uncle Fritz?” The King brushed a bit of lint off the elderly woman’s shoulder.

“That was work. And that wasn’t with the rest of the family. Frederik doesn’t count, but it is unfortuante he's gone. Come now, Hanschen, who is this?” The woman looked directly at the Empress, then around at the other royals milling about. “Alex, is this one of your friends again?”

Nee, Oma. Terribly sorry. May I present Her Sublime Majesty, the Empress Edelgard von Numenor, of Meltor. My lady, this is my grandmother, Queen Liselotte von Eisenstaat.” The King briefly introduced the two to each other.

Ach,” The King’s grandmother exclaimed again and did a delicate curtsy. “Your sublime majesty. I’d thought that you would be joining us later today. How has our King been treating you so far?”

“Your majesty is most gracious. The King has been the very model of chivalry, perhaps even to a fault.” She gave a look to the King.

“As he should be. You’ll join us for lunch after that speech, won’t you, ma’am?” Despite her advancing age, the King’s grandmother spoke quickly, in a lofty and flowing Kanadiaans reminiscent of the Empress’s own childhood tutor. She was suddenly very conscious of her subdued yet markedly present Meltorian tones.

“Yes, of course. I do appreciate the invitation.” The Empress was trying to determine if there was something more to her grandmotherly demeanour that concealed her true intentions and machinations, but found nothing.

“And I am looking forward to it. Your sublime majesty.” She curtsied again, bowing her head, and sauntered away to cajole and caress another one of her grandchildren or grand-nephews. 

“That’s the family for you.” The King exhaled through his nose and remarked, not loud enough that people around them could hear. “What d’you make of them?”

“I wouldn’t know what to make of them. We never had these gatherings growing up.” After the formal greeting ceremonies at the palace yesterday, the Empress and the King had agreed to do away with the titles and the formal second person pronoun, using the informal du in its stead. After all, the King was only three years her senior and were of the same rank as far as courtesy was concerned. In a way, it had made the visit more bearable. Sieion was the only person she could have a conversation with as something resembling equals, and even then, Sieion would insist upon calling her by her proper titles. With the King, though, there was no need. They could talk to each other like normal people when the cameras were off them, like one ought to, and it was something that she had lacked for too long.

“Did your father not have distant relations? I’ve got more than I know what to do with.” The King said with a sly smile.

“Oh, stop it. My uncles are all great pompous oafs, and my cousins are either dead or exiled. I never knew my mother either.” The Empress could tell that the King was about to offer his condolences, so she interrupted him. “Don’t give me that. You know I’ve heard it too many times.”

“Force of habit is all. While we’re at it, did you want an invitation for your uncle? They asked me about that but I didn’t have the slightest clue what they were talking about.”

“Which uncle?”

“The one that lives here, who else?”

“You mean Vexi?”

“From what I’ve been told there was some annoyance about him being a rival claimant to the throne, so I erred on the side of caution.”

“Oh, no, that’s not it. He tried to prevent this crisis from happening at the very start, and he got himself burned in the process. He’s a good man, mostly, but I cannot be seen with an exile.”

“Mostly?”

Ach,” it was now the Empress’s turn to use the Kanadiaans expression. “What would you know, Hanschen?”

---

THUMP THUMP THUMP. 
THUMP THUMP THUMP.

“Who goes there?”

“The King’s Ushers.”

“Open the doors!"

The twin dark oak doors to the Chamber of Parliament swung open with great force as the gathered MPs rose to their feet. A line of dignitaries, two abreast, began to pace slowly towards the Speaker’s chair, at the far end of the hall, splitting in two at the central clerk’s table holding the ceremonial mace, covered by a dark blue sheet, and the two despatch boxes. First came two ushers, one holding the royal crown, the other the King’s sword. Behind them was the King and the Empress, arm in arm, and behind them again was the Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition. The procession took their steps in near-perfect unison, as was the custom. Parliament had to grant the King entry, for he was not to interfere in the business of legislation. He did not lead the procession, rather the royal regalia, as they symbolized the concept of royal authority and not any one monarch in particular. The mace was covered as it was a symbol of parliamentary authority, which was now being deferred to royal authority. This was how things were carried out in Candanadium, and though they had explained it all to her, the Empress did not remember most of it and was just thankful she remembered to step in unison with the rest of the procession.

The Speaker rose from his chair, bowed, and stepped off the dais as the King approached, who stepped up onto the dais and stood before the Speaker’s chair as the ushers placed the crown and sword upon the clerk’s table.


“My lords, members of parliament, pray be seated.” The King announced, first in Oseanian, then in Kanadiaans. There was a great shuffling of papers and shifting of suit jackets as all six hundred-odd MPs took their seats again on the rows of upholstered green benches. “We command Our loyal and most honourable house to hear the address of Her Sublime Majesty, the Empress Edelgard von Numenor of Meltor.” The King recited the customary phrase, the royal we still sounding contrived and forced to him. He sat down in the Speaker’s chair as the Empress took up her position at the head of the clerk’s table, flipping open the first page of her neatly printed speech


“The key is to pause after every sentence.” The King had advised her in the car ride from the palace to the Parliament. “That’ll give the interpreters time to relay what you’ve just said”. Bearing this in mind, she softly cleared her throat, and began her address in Kanadiaans.


“Your Majesty, my lords, members of parliament, I thank you sincerely for according me the high honour and privilege of addressing this most noble and ancient House. I am deeply touched by His Majesty’s warm welcome, and I am equally touched by the warmth with which the Candanadian people have received me and my court.” She paused for the Oseanian interpreters, looking down at her from their interpreting box above the chamber. There was no audible or visible reaction yet from the gathered MPs and dignitaries, which she hoped to be a good sign.


“It is with great fondness that I regard the development of positive and cooperative relations between our two ancient kingdoms. Though Meltor has yet to find her definitive place among the ranks of the world’s nation-states, I have every confidence that the increased amity between our nations will lead to benefits that will be reaped by all.” Another pause to survey her audience. The tone-deaf pre-prepared purple prose had not gone down well with its audience, who were beginning to look restless, looking at each other or their wristwatches.


“The greatest challenge Meltor faces today is not a lack of diplomatic ties, however. Rather, she has gone down a stray path that has led to the development of most of the significant problems that plague her at present.” Even the Empress was beginning to get fed up with the indirect language of the speech. “At this very moment, there are some Meltorians who live in dire poverty while other Meltorians gain from their continued misery.” She looked up from her speech again, this time for good. 


“I speak, of course, of the inordinately cruel practice of indentured and involuntary servitude. It is a crime against every natural and holy order that this practice has been allowed to endure in my domain and in my name. There exists in the ancient imperial capital of Perisu a government which governs in my name, composed of the individuals who are responsible for this injustice and who own the corporations that continue to perpetuate this practice. My late father made it his life’s work to rid the imperial court of such a pestilence, but it was left incomplete as his life was cut tragically short at the hands of these slavers. Now, they have been permitted to run amok as they continue to enjoy the legitimacy that comes with ruling in the name of my dynasty.” The Empress saw that Sieion’s mouth was hanging open.


“However, I am able to take some small comfort in the fact that the rest of the world has not been blind to Meltor’s plight. Just this morning, I was greeted with a tremendous display of Candanadian sympathy for those less fortunate in other countries - a collective protest of the abuses perpetrated in my name. And I am also thankful for this House’s dedication to the issue of slavery in Meltor, specifically the passage of additional sanctions against those responsible and the work of individual members in seeking to bring about more official recognition and aid for those affected. I am truly touched by the fact that Candanadium has taken in so many of my loyal subjects who have fled the tyranny that currently reigns in Meltor, and it is something for which I shall be eternally grateful.”


“I therefore come before you today to ask for your continued support in the Meltorian struggle against the forces of tyranny and injustice. There is so much that your country has already done for mine, and we stand poised to end this injustice permanently, joined in partnership. On behalf of my loyal imperial court and my freedom-loving Meltorian subjects, thank you.”


As the MPs began removing their translation headsets, the front row of the chamber rose to their feet. The Empress turned to look behind her, and saw that the King had risen off from the Speaker’s chair, bringing his hands together in applause. Soon, he was joined by the entirety of the chamber, and he stepped off the dais to take his place by the side of the Empress. He took her hand and triumphantly raised it.


“That seems to have done the trick.” 

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