Vankara (Book 1), page 14
“What about the fae?” I asked to no one in particular since I wasn’t sure who would be in charge of such information.
“We really don’t know much about them,” Fallon answered. “We’ve tried to send spies into fae territory but they never make it back from their missions, for whatever reason.”
I sat in silence for a moment in order to gather my thoughts. I needed information. Most importantly, I needed to know the truth. It was obvious Isabelle wouldn’t freely tell me what she knew about the plagues unless I had some sort of leverage to use against her.
“Then I would like to arrange a meeting with the leader of the fae,” I announced.
From the audible gasps which came from those in front of me, you would have thought I said I wanted to run naked in the streets of Iron City singing an aria at the top of my lungs. Even Gabriel looked somewhat taken aback by my suggestion.
“I’m afraid we can’t allow that,” Thaddeus Irondale said with a finality which seemed above his station considering I was the Queen.
“Absolutely not,” Constance Wright chimed in stridently. Her face was contorted in a very unattractive fashion, like she’d just eaten a lemon without adding any sugar. “We haven’t formally spoken to those heathens since the wall was built. As leader of the black party, I can assure you we will never agree to such a meeting.”
“And as leader of the white party,” Samuel Able said somewhat irritated his counterpart seemed to be stepping into the limelight without him once again, “I can assure your majesty that neither sides of Parliament will allow for such a meeting to take place.”
I wasn’t sure I particularly needed their permission but they seemed completely confident I did.
“I see,” I said, not actually seeing why they were so adamant in my not conferring with the fae leaders and possibly discovering the true cause of the plagues once and for all. Had they all lost sight of the fact we were supposed to be serving the best interest of the Vankaran people? Perhaps working behind the gilded halls of parliament had blinded them to their real purpose.
“Personally,” Thaddeus said, “I don’t believe we can trust anything Bellas says. He hasn’t exactly proven himself to be the trustworthy sort.”
“Agreed,” Isabelle was quick to add. “Perhaps we should just feel blessed he returned your majesty and the princess to us unharmed and simply forget the whole matter entirely.”
There seemed to be a grumbling of agreement amongst the bureaucrats. I can’t say I was very surprised. They all seemed to have a common mindset: sweep things under the rug and forget they ever happened. Well, they could do what they needed to in order to sleep soundly at night, but I had other plans which would clearly need to be kept secret from them until the time was right.
A few minutes later the meeting was convened. Fallon and Gabriel stayed behind so we could have our own discussion.
“You seem convinced Bellas actually took you to a parallel world,” Gabriel said to me, watching me carefully. “What makes you such a believer?”
“I wasn’t at first,” I admitted. “Not until…not until I saw April Pew.”
Gabriel eyes opened wide and his lips parted slightly.
“Either of you want to fill me in on who April Pew is?” Fallon asked, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned against the side of my desk confused by the significance of my statement.
I looked up into Fallon’s dark blue eyes suddenly finding it hard to admit the truth.
“She’s me,” I finally blurted out. “She’s who I was before I became Sarah Harker.”
“Just how many people have you been?” He questionsed with a raised eyebrow and a hint of humor.
I couldn’t help but smile slightly. “Only three,” I answered.
“Only,” Fallon shook his head in disbelief.
“How old was the April Pew you saw?” Gabriel asked.
“The same age I am now. She was still living with the Pews,” I couldn’t help but shiver at the prospect. I didn’t want to imagine the horrors my alternate counterpart had suffered living in the Pew household for so many years. It was a wonder she was still alive and sane.
Gabriel simply sat in his chair with a troubled look on his face.
He and I both knew it was proof Bellas had indeed found a way to breech the veil between our reality and an alternate one. The consequences of such a thing boggled my mind with world ending possibilities.
“Well, there’s not much to be done about Bellas at the moment,” Fallon said to us, pulling Gabriel and I back to the problems we were facing in our own reality. “What do you want to do about visiting the fae?”
I looked from him to Gabriel.
“I still want to go and see the ruler of the fae,” I told them. “If there is the slimmest chance we can discover what is causing the plagues, we need to take it.”
“Agreed,” Gabriel said. “I know of a way to get you there and back within a day but you can’t leave until after the opening ceremony of Parliament this afternoon.”
“What do you know that I don’t?” Fallon asked, casually taking a half seat on the top of my desk angling his legs towards Gabriel. “As far as I know, we would have to travel back to the Outlands outpost first and then travel at least two days to reach the fae capital city from there.”
“When the wall was built,” Gabriel said in a conspiratorial whisper as if the study wall had ears, “the vanakaran king then made sure there was a way we could access fae land from right here in Iron City.”
“You mean there’s a hole in the wall somewhere?” Fallon asked.
“Yes, more or less,” Gabriel answered. “But only I know where it is. King Leopold asked Emma and me to keep it secret.”
Gabriel looked at me. “Right now you need to focus on the opening ceremony of parliament this afternoon and the formal dinner this evening with the members. Fallon and I will take care of the details of your trip into fae territory.”
Fallon stood from his temporary seat on my desk. “I should get a few things prepared myself.” He turned to me. “Try to wear something comfortable. We’ll be on horseback most of the night.”
After the men left, I walked into the Queen’s bedroom and rummaged around in her closet. I couldn’t find anything which looked casual and certainly found nothing which would be comfortable to ride on horseback for hours on end.
I finally sent a note via Emily to Inara and hoped the Queen’s best friend would just do as requested and not ask any questions.
The opening ceremony of parliament wasn’t as nerve wracking as I had initially feared. Basically, all I had to do was sit on a wooden throne at the north end of the main chambers and graciously greet the entering members two at a time before they took their seats.
Each province was required to elect two representatives, one for the white party and one for the black. After the proper introductions were made, the delegates split from one another as if divided by an invisible line: the one for the black party sat on the stadium style benches to the left of me and the one for the white party sat on the right. Since there were twenty provinces, that made for a total of forty introductions. Gabriel had the auspicious duty of introducing each member to me as they entered. I marveled at his ability to keep all the names straight without using any notes.
Most of the members were fairly ordinary in respect to their uniform black robes and appropriate colored wigs: black wigs for the black party and white wigs for the white party. But, when the men of the Turchek delegation came to pay their respects, I couldn’t repress my smile at their irreverence to the proceedings.
They were of course dressed in the customary black robes but theirs held the look of well worn use instead of the polish of the newly dyed robes the other members wore. The man from the white party wore a trailing string of black feathers in his wig and the member of the black party wore one of white feathers. Unlike many of the other members, I knew the men standing before me were united in their cause. I felt sure they were more i
“Your majesty, I would like to introduce Damon and Peter Albright from the Turchek province,” Gabriel said.
“Greetings, your majesty,” the two delegates said in unison, bowing before me.
Damon and Peter were quite similar physically and since they shared the same last name I could only assume they were related, perhaps even brothers. Each seemed to be in their fifties and heavy set. They both shared the same kind brown eyes and rosy hued cheeks. Damon wore a pair of wire rimmed glasses which was the only difference to help set him apart from his kin.
“Good afternoon, gentleman, I hope the people of Turchek are fairing well these days.”
“Oh yes, your majesty,” Damon said. “As you know we’re a nomadic people so we’re always on the move, except of course when our duty calls us back here.”
I could tell by the way Damon said these words he would much rather be with his people than standing within the halls of parliament. It only added to my good opinion of him.
The Turchek brothers bowed and split away from each other to their appointed seats on either side of the chamber.
After the time of formal introductions, Thaddeus Irondale took charge of the proceedings and Gabriel advised me to listen and try to absorb as much information on the policies to be voted on as I could.
Thaddeus spoke briefly about each item up for vote during this session of parliament. They all seemed reasonable enough. The way Thaddeus explained the bills I was able to understand what each one dealt with. It wasn’t until near the end of his speech that I became confused by one bill in particular.
The bill was titled the Population Reconstruction Act. From what I was hearing, the bill provided money to people for producing as many children as possible and had just passed through its one year trial period in Iron City. Apparently, the more children a couple produced, the more money they received. I was sure I must have misunderstood what was being said and asked Gabriel if I had indeed heard the points of the bill correctly.
“No, you haven’t misunderstood,” he sighed. “I didn’t think this bill would be up for vote this session. Thaddeus must think he has enough delegates to pass it or he wouldn’t be presenting it now.”
“So correct me if I’m wrong,” I whispered, not wanting to be overheard by the delegates, “but from what he just said the government is actually paying people to have babies?” I asked.
“That’s it precisely.”
“And do these families do anything else? Do the fathers work outside the home?”
“So we’re paying people to lay about their homes all day and make as many babies as possible?” The scheme seemed a bit insane to me.
“Yes. But Thaddeus has always made the argument that most of the families who sign up are unable to find work because of the automatons.”
“Then why don’t we shut some of the machines down so real people can get back to work and start to earn livings for their families instead of having tax payer dollars spent allowing them to stay at home all day and procreate.”
“The problem is that the people who have the automatons working for them don’t want to give them up. They say they would rather deal with the machines than real people because the machines don’t complain.”
“Plus they don’t have to pay them,” I added.
“Exactly. At the moment only Iron City has this program, but the bill Thaddeus is proposing would open up the opportunity to anyone in Vankara who wants to participate. It’s said that if we do this, we can rebuild our population within the proposed ten years.”
“But what sort of population are we going to have, one which expects the government to take care of them for the rest of their lives? How will this next generation know people need to work and earn their own way instead of relying on the government to provide everything for them?”
“It’s a good point and one the Queen has brought up numerous times. We need to figure out a way to stop this bill from being passed without making an enemy of Thaddeus. He’s an influential man and one we may need on our side from time to time. Quite honestly, it’s bad enough we have people here in the city involved. We definitely don’t want this program spread throughout the entire country.”
To say I was disappointed in Thaddeus Irondale was a great understatement. Inara’s father seemed like a reasonable man, one I would never have connected to a bill which fostered such ill advised dependency of the people on the government. I regretted having to go against him on this matter but I had to follow my conscience. As Queen, I had to vote against any bill I considered dangerous to the publics interest. Paying people to build up our population seemed fundamentally wrong. I could well imagine that most of the people who signed up for the Iron City program were from the slums. Having spent a few years living among them, I knew most were too poor to be educated. So not only would we have a larger population of poor but most would be uneducated and lacking in the basic knowledge you had to work for a living. It was a completely unacceptable prospect.
Luckily, no voting was to take place until the official start of parliamentary procedures which wouldn’t begin until the end of the week. Gabriel had explained to me before the opening ceremonies that each session of parliament, for which there were three during the year, lasted approximately one month each.
Unfortunately, my Queenly duties did not end when I left the halls of parliament that afternoon. There was still the hosting of the formal dinner for all the delegates and their wives or husbands. I thought back to when I was a child and used to pretend I was a princess. In those childish games of fancy, I never imagined real royalty actually having to work so hard.
When I walked into my chambers, Emily and Dena were lounged on the sofa in front of the fireplace reading a book. MJ29 was standing by my bedroom door watching them with undisguised interest.
“Good evening, your majesty,” MJ29 said with a bow when she saw me enter. “I’m here to help prepare you for the dinner.”
With the book quickly forgotten, Dena scrambled off the couch and ran towards me. I knelt down to pick her up as she flung herself into my arms, never doubting I would catch her. I looked at my daughter and without asking for one she bestowed a slobbery kiss on my lips then hugged me tightly around the neck while letting out a quiet sigh of contentment. I closed my eyes for just a few seconds to enjoy the unconditional love of someone filled with such innocence.
I told Emily she could take a break while MJ29 helped me prepare for my night of playing hostess.
As MJ29 began to work her mechanical magic on my hair, Dena cuddled up on my bed surrounding herself with pillows and barricading her tiny form with her favorite blonde haired porcelain doll. She watched as the automaton coifed my hair into a cascade of curled ringlets.
Just like the night before, Inara, dressed in her usual brown leather captain’s outfit, entered my room while MJ29 was setting the last of a series of ringlets across my shoulder to trail down over my bosom. The same male automaton from the previous night came in ahead of Inara, this time carrying an elegant red silk gown with a black swirl pattern and crystal beaded bodice. He laid it on the bed and left without uttering a word.
“How did the opening ceremony go today?” Inara asked as she laid the black velvet box in her hands down on the bed. Dena sat up on her knees and watched with excited eyes as Inara opened the box. When Dena reached out of her pillow barricade to touch what was in the box, Inara lightly tapped her inquisitive hand away.
“As well as could be expected,” I said watching as Inara turned around to face me. In her hands was a necklace with a large teardrop yellow diamond, the size of a plum, hanging from a gold chain encrusted with clusters of white diamonds in the shape of five petal flowers. She walked up behind me and draped it around my neck. It felt cold and heavy against my skin. I had never seen a piece of jewelry to match its elegance or worth.
I could hear the skepticism in Inara’s voice and imagined her father had put it there in the retelling of my story from his point of view.
“Yes, I do,” I couldn’t prevent the defensiveness of my answer. I knew it wasn’t Inara’s fault her view of my story had been tainted by a non-believer.
I watched Inara’s reflection in the mirror as she fastened the latch of the necklace secure behind my neck. She looked confused.
“You’re sure?” She asked.
“Why would I lie about such a thing? It’s not even something I could have made up even if I wanted to!”
“Calm down Em, I was only asking,” Inara stepped back, looking at me in the mirror with a slight bit of irritation on her face. “You can’t blame people for questioning what you said happened. It’s not like anyone has ever heard of it happening before. Quit being so damn defensive, Emma. I’m your best friend. I’m on your side.”
I immediately felt contrite for my outburst. Why shouldn’t Inara question such a ludicrous story? If it hadn’t actually happened to me, I would be skeptical too. In fact I had been skeptical up until the moment I saw April Pew.
“I’m sorry,” I said with a tired shake of my head. “It’s been a long day and I have a long night ahead of me that I’m not looking forward to. I shouldn’t be taking my aggravation out on you.”
Inara shrugged. “It’s alright, Em. I’ll let it slide this one time.” She winked at me in the mirror and I knew all was forgiven.
As MJ29 and Inara were helping me into my dress, Emily came back to take care of Dena for the rest of the evening.
After Dena and Emily left to go to Dena’s room, Inara said, “I’ll have what you asked me for here in your room before you get back from dinner. Can you tell me why you need it?”
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