At the Inlet: June, Part 3 (A new job brings the end of dignity)

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Serelia’s palace compound was at the very northern tip of the peninsula on which Serelia town and Serelia Beach were situated; it took up about the same amount of space as a regular eighteen-hole golf course with club house and other amenities.  The living quarters for the royal family and the personal staff were situated at the northern corner of the compound, where the inlet (on the northwest side) and the palace beach (on the northeast side) met.  The Sea Garden, which faced the beach, essentially connected the living quarters to the palace proper with throne rooms, studies and reception and banqueting halls with a colonnade that ran behind the Garden.  Further down the beach were the living quarters for the Cathedral staff, an uninspiring three-storey concrete block building whose apartments facing the ocean gave a spectacular view.  Behind the apartments was the Cathedral itself.

On the lake side of the compound, the dock was just below the western corner of the compound.  At the south corner of the compound was the maintenance shed.  Between the two were some of the recreational facilities of the compound.  Between the maintenance shed and the main gate was the Bishop’s Palace, which meant that, when he was in the Cathedral, the bishop only needed to walk out of his front door, across the main road into the palace, and through another small gate to be at the Cathedral.  The entire palace compound was well kept and beautifully landscaped, a contrast with the slovenly look of the rest of the surrounding towns.  Just beyond the wall next to the Bishop’s Palace were the main ministries of state, such as the Chancellor’s office, the Foreign Ministry, the other ministries and of course Serelia’s intelligence and police services.

Terry’s quarters were actually in the royal living quarters, but on the inland side away from the apartments of the royal family.  She was to find out later that the apartment she lived in had actually been George’s before his brothers’ deaths made him Crown Prince; it was unoccupied until recently and the Queen supervised a hasty redecoration before Terry’s arrival.  It was almost as roomy as the house she had in Barlin, with a ceiling nearly 3m high, but the windows were somewhat small.

She didn’t have much time to settle in, though; the Serelians were more thorough planners than she expected.  After years in a laid back bureaucracy such as the Drahlans had, she was forced to hit the ground running the next day to meet with their requirements.

Her first stop was for a physical by the Royal Physician, who not only treated the royal family but had a patient list of all of the palace and cathedral staff and some people attached to some of the other ministries as well.  The office staff was overawed by her height of 182 centimetres, especially combined with her relatively diminutive weight.

“I am amazed that the King would retain a woman that the entire royal family is forced to look up to,” the doctor commented.

“That’s what the elevated throne is for,” Terry shot back.  The doctor also noted that the hunting knife she carried would not be permitted in the palace.

What she didn’t fully realise was that much of the basic information was being passed along to the Royal Serelian Constabulary, which was adding off of this information to her dossier.

When finished, Kyle escorted her to the building that housed both the Constabulary and the Royal Serelian Intelligence Service.  She was first fingerprinted and photographed; she mused to herself that this would have been her first act in Verecunda had her brother gotten his way.  She was then interviewed by Kyle’s superior, a portly man in his early 60’s named Norman Cameron, who turned out to be a Deputy Director and head of the Service.  Cameron’s modus operandi proved to be deceptively relaxed; all through their interview, people from both the Intelligence Service and Constabulary would drop by, be introduced to her, and in turn ask their own questions, especially if they were veterans of the recent war.  All the while Cameron went through every part of her life, from her birth and childhood in Verecunda through her years at the Avalon Retreat and then in Drahla.  He left no stone unturned; where she lived, her political and religious activities, her brief marriage and family, even her years into drugs and prostitution.  She struggled through much of it, almost tearfully from time to time; her mental state was not helped by the Serelians’ preference for very strong coffee.  The interview went on through lunch (which they brought in) and into a good part of the afternoon.  One point of the Serelians’ interest concerned her family history.

“Your grandmother was Chinese?” Cameron asked.

“She’s still living, the last I heard,” Terry said.  “Yes, she is.  My father’s father is from the mainland.  He brought her back from China, and my father was also born on the mainland.  When his father died, my grandmother moved to Verecunda to live near my father, who had moved there to start his business.  When he died she moved back to the mainland.”

“Do you speak Chinese?”

“A few phrases, perhaps…not really.”

“Have you ever been to China?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Have you ever worked for either the People’s Republic or the Republic of China on Taiwan?”

“No—why do you keep asking me about this?”

He paused for a second.  “Until around the time of the cease-fire, we would not permit anyone with any non-white background to settle here or become a subject without a Royal waiver.  It’s a holdover from the collapse of Beran.  The fact that you have this in your background is still something of a novelty to us.”

“I hope,” Terry stated, “that the recent experience of your Prince and Princess on the other end of the Island would enlighten you on this subject.”

“I have no doubt that it will,” Cameron replied.  “We are finding that common values are more important than a common race.  But we are slow to change.  Perhaps you can help us with this.”  They went on with other topics; Cameron spent much of the last part of the session talking about her brother.  When he was done, he asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”

“Other than the basic facts,” Terry answered, “you haven’t really gotten into my religious beliefs.  Since you haven’t missed anything else, why not?”

“The ecclesiastical constable—there’s only one—is on holiday in Drago right at the moment,” Cameron explained.  “I’m sure he’ll want to spend time with you when he gets back.  I understand, though, that the King and Prince plan to take the matter up directly with the Bishop.”  With that the interview was mercifully complete; Cameron thanked her for her patience.  As she left his office, one of his secretaries presented her with a provisional drivers licence, photograph, data and all, for her signature.  “We have it on very good authority that you’re quite good at driving, Miss Marlowe,” Cameron observed, standing behind her.

“Very good authority, indeed,” Terry answered, cracking the first smile all day.

Her last appointment was another doctor’s visit, this time the gynaecologist.  She braced herself for yet another invasive procedure but she was in for a pleasant surprise: the doctor was also Darlene’s.  He was originally from Verecunda, and his father had been both her mother’s doctor and had actually delivered Terry when she was born.  Since it was the end of the day, he had some time after the examination to discuss other subjects.

“This has been a difficult day for me—I almost feel violated,” Terry sighed.

“You visited the Intelligence Service?” the doctor queried.

“Yes.”

“This is a strange country in many ways,” the doctor observed.  “In Verecunda, people wanted privacy, but they bared all any chance they got.  Here, everybody knows everything, but it’s a modest, conservative type of place.  What you went through with the police, though, is a product of the war.  The Crown was blindsided by King Henry’s declaration of independence.  They decided that wouldn’t happen again.  That’s especially true with you—everyone you talked with either fought in the war, had relatives who did, and everyone lost someone they knew or loved, like you.  When the palace announced you were coming, there was a lot of grumbling in the bureaucracy.  That’s probably why they allowed them to grill you the way they did.  But the worst is over—if they decide you’re okay, they’ll stick with you.  This is still very much a place of ‘the rule of men’ as opposed to ‘the rule of law,’ they just want to know who you are and whether they can trust you.”

“You left Verecunda, didn’t you?”

“Had too—my father wouldn’t submit to their nationalised health system, so they used the legal system to break him financially.  Broke me too—we were in practice together.  He tried moving to Collina but they caught up with him.  I went further.  It took a lot of getting used to, but we love it here. We’re the only ob-gyn practice this side of Alemara—we get a lot of patients from Drahla and Claudia, too.  My son came back here after medical school to go into practice with me.  Only hitch to that was that we had to get special permission from the King to bring his wife here.”

“Why?”

“She’s from India—they went into shock when they saw how dark she is.  When she first started teaching at the Cathedral School, some of her kids made fun of her colour—until the principal paddled the ringleaders.  After that they thought she was beautiful.  One thing about this place—if they invest someone with authority, they expect respect, no matter who they are.  Now she’s principal at St. Matthew’s School.  I’m not sure, but I think most of the grandchildren will come back here too.”

They talked for some time afterwards, but the workday was ending and it was time to go home.  Terry returned to the palace to dine with the staff; the Serelians weren’t much on salary, but their benefits were better.  After that she returned to her room and collapsed.

There was no rest for the weary; she was off again early the next morning, this time to the Chancellor’s office.  She was ushered in to Devin’s office, which was spacious and well appointed.  As she entered, she noted the requisite picture of the King behind his desk, but also one or two of the royal family; some in the photos were gone now.  But she was in for more than pictures; George was there along with Devin.

“We royals are supposed to be ‘out of the loop’ in this process until it’s done, but I wouldn’t miss this part for the world.”

Devin stood behind his desk, Terry in front and George to the side.  “It is normal,” Devin began, “for someone who is about to become a subject to take an oath of loyalty and fealty.  However, in your case, the transfer of fealty document that His Majesty executed is technically sufficient.  To be complete, though, we ask that you sign a declaration that you are in agreement with the terms and conditions of the transfer document.”  He handed her a sheet of paper, which she read for a minute.

“This is fine,” she said.  She laid it down on the desk and signed it.  Devin went ahead and witnessed the document, but to her surprise George witnessed it also.

Devin stood straight behind his desk, looked at Terry, and said, “You are now fully a subject of the King of Sererlia.  May God grant you long life and happiness in the realm of the King.”

“Welcome home, Terry,” George said, lightly hugging her.  She thought she caught sight of a tear in both Devin’s and George’s eyes.

“Is this process complete?” Terry asked.

“Well…not quite,” George said.  “There are some more people who want to spend some time with you.”

“Popularity is hard to handle around here,” Terry sighed.

The first person was Foreign Minister Paul Serlin, who was glad to see her again.  But he had a more specific purpose in mind.

“Our ambassador in Verecunda has noted that your name is listed in the proceedings for land restoration in both Collina and Uranus, as an heiress of Lucian Gerland.  President Dell personally came to him about your case in Collina just yesterday, when he got wind you were coming here.  Since you will be very involved with your duties here, would you like for us to handle some of the paperwork and appearances for you?”

Terry was caught off guard by this request.  It had been a long time since she had thought of the matter.  She considered things a minute, then said, “That would be very kind, although I would like to make the final decisions and the really important appearances.”

“That will be fine,” Paul said.  “We’ll put together the necessary paperwork to facilitate this.”  He paused, and then said, “You may be interested to note that we had a cross-border family reunion in May—we’re trying to sort some of our family divisions out.  We even had a reconciliation service at our church in Fort Morris.”

“I heard about that,” Terry said.  “Max never intended to cause the split that took place.”

“Life has so many unintended consequences, doesn’t it?” Paul asked philosophically.  He then took her to the Central Bank to set up her bank account.  The Bank was in a little confusion as they were changing the official currency from Verecundan to Alemaran.  They also brought up the issue of the proceeds from her house sale; Terry was getting used to everyone knowing her business before she did.

The last stop was the Ministry of Defence.  They wanted to talk with her about the war.  Terry was a little nervous about this part, but she found out that there wasn’t much the Serelians didn’t know about the Drahlan’s war effort.  The questioning was neither as intense nor as personal as with the Intelligence Service, but everyone in the office wanted to speak with her, and their hospitality was excellent.

With her ordeal of process over with, she returned to the palace, where some of the staff went through some of the ‘ins and outs’ of the palace itself.  When the evening was done, she collapsed more swiftly from exhaustion than she had the night before.
The next day, after breakfast she was escorted to the Crown Prince’s study.  It was on the top floor of the living quarters; it overlooked the palace grounds and looked out towards the lake and West Serelia.  She entered the room and her eyes first fell on Darlene, who rose to embrace her.

“Sorry for the ordeal we’ve put you through,” Darlene said.  “It seems that your ideal of Christian trust in government has slipped out of our grasp.”

“Maybe we can do something about that,” Terry said.  “But this is a dangerous world we live in—I guess it’s necessary.”

“Why don’t we stop and pray before we start our work?” Darlene asked.  “You always seemed to like that.”  They sat down and prayed for a long time about each other, the royal family, Serelia, Drahla and the whole Island, and other things.  After they finished Terry took her anointing oil and anointed all of the doors and windows of the study, praying that God’s Spirit would fill the place and them too in all that they did there and anywhere else.

With that done, Terry nervously eyed the extensive stacks of paper that surrounded them, but Darlene had some serious Bible questions, so they went to these.  That took up most of the day, after which Darlene started with a brief overview of the chartering process.  When the day was done, Darlene invited Terry to dinner with the royal family for a more proper welcome.

Terry’s life fell into a predictable routine more rapidly than she realised.  After her early morning prayers and devotion, she dined with the palace staff, then headed over to the maintenance shed for a brief Bible study and prayer time with a mixture of household and maintenance staff.  Most of those who came were members of Tim Mallen’s church, but as the summer progressed and turned into fall others would join in as well.  Then she came back to the study for her day with Darlene, starting off with Darlene’s Bible questions, then ploughing through the long stacks of charter petitions, both initial and amendment ones, taking their dinner and breaks for exercise or whatever they had in mind.

Terry was amazed at how, with the Serelians’ efficiency in other areas, how they had no standard procedures at all for processing charters, not even a consistent fee schedule.  Darlene explained that the King had always kept the process in the palace; it was an important instrument in the control of his realm.  Nevertheless they worked towards normalising the process, if only for their own sanity.

Teaching Darlene about the Bible also proved a challenge.  Terry had been teaching and preaching from the Word since her days in the Avalon Retreat but Darlene broke the mould as a student.  To begin with, after her return she went into it totally unaided, but soon got some help from her time during the hunt with Princesses Andrea and Julia.  Coming back to court and going into her pregnancy, things got disorganised again, so Terry’s first task was to focus her back on some basics.

This yielded mixed results, because Darlene’s interests went to two parts of the Word: the Gospels and the historical books.  The Gospels allowed Terry to show Darlene basic Christian principles, some of which Darlene knew and some of which she didn’t. As for the historical books, Terry had always found it an uphill battle to teach about these to most people.  In Darlene’s case, they were of special interest because of Darlene’s ancestry and current position.  Darlene would regale Terry with stories of old Beran and her ancestors’ deeds along with more recent ones, which allowed Terry to relate those to the Bible.  In the process of this they found they shared one perspective in common: that good things don’t happen because one simply follows a moral or doctrinal method but because people who love God and are led by Him go out and make it happen for His glory.

Once the day was done, Terry’s normal procedure was to dine with the palace staff again.  Unless she had something pressing, it wasn’t long before she retired, as she found herself exhausted by that time.

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