My Best Friend is a Prince from Another Worldby
Pt. I, Ch. 4B: “That’s about my mother’s family, right?”
Saturday, May 30th
City of Feldaren, Union of the Etciv
As we approached the city, Brother Oliver started pointing out the geography; we were approaching from the east, towards the Little Darien River — the old city was located where the Great and Little branches of the river met. Most of the city’s suburbs had grown up along the east bank of the Little Darien — Great Darien having been too wide to bridge until much more recently. We would backtrack to the Queen Sara Memorial Academy, our second stop, which was located along the East bank of the combined river, a bit south of the old city.
The city got much denser as we approached the river; houses gave way to low apartments, and then to taller buildings, most of them looked to be around 6-8 stories. Close to the river, the railroad line we followed disappeared into a large station building, and near it a cluster of taller still and surprisingly modern-looking buildings. A few hundred feet separated the station from the river, and across from it, a larger cluster of tall buildings, most built in an older style — reminiscent of the art deco of the Chrysler and Empire State but more ornate. Just south of them, at the far end of the old city, a massive stone fortress stood, with the top level covered in grass and looking like it had been converted to a park. Several bridges were visible, and from our height we could see the curve of the wider Great Darien on the other side of the old city, and a single very tall bridge crossing it. Suburbs appeared to spread out into the distance on that side.
We circled around the end of the island, and came in to land in a parking lot at a park just on the far side of the old fortress. A fenced area enclosed a few of these flying carriages; most were smaller, and some had other livery. A tour bus, familiar in all but the exact design, sat outside the fence. A pair of security guards let us out of the gate, and onto the bus we went.
It was Saturday there as well — calendar reforms in the generation of the event had led to synchronizing their week with the newcomers’, and when trade had started with ours it had been discovered that it was the same there as well. Shops were mostly open on Saturday, but the business district was quiet - most people with office jobs had the day off. The fortress we’d seen was apparently the old imperial garrison, and now as I’d thought, a park on top and a museum and art space below. Oliver told us that later in the day, it would be quite busy.
We spent our first hour or so on the ground viewing several civic buildings; the Legatus seemed particularly proud that they had both the Imperial and Union legislatures here. I found it very surprising when she implied the Union was the greater body, and I decided I’d ask Joel to loan me the history book when he was done with it.
The highlight of the morning was visiting the old train station. The Legatus told us that all the train lines into and through the old city were now underground, but the original central station had been preserved. The first two floors looked like solid, brick buildings and while the carvings on the outside were fanciful and ornate, with paired dragons around each entrance, the third floor and the roof were like nothing I’d ever seen. The third-floor walls and roof appeared to be almost entirely seamless glass, with walls coming up and curving into a series of larger domes toward the center, with only a tall stone clock tower piercing them. The color of the glass seemed to change depending on what direction we looked at it from.
Part of the first floor remained in use for people going to the underground lines, but the remainder of the building was now a shopping mall. Dormer told Joel and his parents, “If you see something you like, the Obdresti crown would be happy to pay for it.” He went on to say that if we thought of an Imperial as basically a hundred dollars, that would be close enough to give us a sense of the prices.
In the end, we spent over an hour shopping, much to Oliver’s amusement and Legatus Matsumoto’s annoyance. April found a toy shop and came away with a stuffed toy dragon and a model airplane. Joel’s mom and dad disappeared into a fancy cookware store for some time, while Joel and I managed to find a bookstore.
He discovered that they had quite a range of comics. I went first to the history section but groaned when I discovered the name of their first emperor from one of the books: The Life of Marcus the Conqueror — I’ve never been fond of the long form of my first name. It looked like most of the big paperback history books were marked 1/10th of an Imperial or “90 mil”, which by Dormer’s comparison would be $9-10, so not out of line with what they’d have been back home. I ended up with two books - the biography I’d picked up almost immediately, and a young adult story collection Thrilling Tales of Mages at War! - and Joel was happy to drop them into his basket with an impressively large pile of comics and paperback comic collections.
After shopping, Legatus Matsumoto brought us to a crepe shop for a snack. Brother Oliver didn’t eat, but most of the group got savory-filled crepes full of egg or minced meats. I got a sweet apple-filled crepe, and not to be outdone on dessert by a big kid, Joel’s sister got strawberry and whipped cream, with chocolate sauce. Interestingly, neither bananas nor peanut butter were on the menu.
Leaving the mall, we passed a newsstand. The headlines on the daily papers were all something forgettable about transit funding, but a magazine The World Weekly caught my attention: “Crisis in the Obdresti Succession.” When we returned to the bus, I mentioned it to Joel, and he asked Dormer about it. “That’s about my mother’s family, right?”
“Your family too, your Highness, although you didn’t grow up with them.”
“What is the crisis?”
“As I told you, there is no other heir to the throne, and that you exist is a secret. Your family has had a long sequence of tragedies, but most significantly about three and a half years ago, rebels bombed the marriage of your cousin Christina Brissena. She, your uncle King Alexander James, and both of his children died in the blast. Several others were crippled, including your uncle Carl. He died a little over a year later. Two cousins of yours, both young children, were next in line for the throne but neither lived to their majority to be crowned. Now your great-great-uncle Philip is our king. He is an old man and has been heartbroken since his only granddaughter died, and even more so for his two cousins dying so young.”
“The founder of the present House, your great-great-grandfather Alexander Marius, and his son, Alexander VIII, ruled for nearly eighty years between them. There are claimants from a prior house, but they are separated from the monarchy by over 100 years, and distant relatives at that.”
“I don’t know if the king will live long enough to see you graduate high school.” Dormer shook his head. “I am sure that any council of regency would delay the coronation to let you graduate high school and reach your majority, but the situation is reaching a boiling point.”
“High school?” asked Joel’s dad. “Coronation? My son is going to attend college. They do have universities here, right?”
“Yes, of course,” said Legatus Matsumoto. “Some very good ones. I believe there are a few good ones in Obdrest as well.”
Dormer had started shaking his head but stopped at the mention of Obdrest. “Under the present circumstances, the sooner Joel could be present on his throne, the better. I’d sleep much easier if he took a degree there, after being crowned, rather than here. I think that would be true for almost any of his family’s loyal subjects.”
Joel’s dad looked at Matsumoto, and she replied. “That matches my understanding of the domestic situation there. If you’d like to know more, I can get one of our intelligence analysts to discuss it further.”
“Speaking of the domestic situation there,” Joel’s dad went on, “if there have been so many deaths over the past few years, how would my son possibly be safe there?”
Matsumoto looked at Dormer, and at the US Diplomatic Security agent, Morgan. Both nodded, and then Dormer half shrugged, before Matsumoto spoke. “First, Mr. Ross, let me be clear that I have great confidence in the ability of our country to keep your son safe while in high school, especially with the very able assistance of Count Dormer and Agent Morgan.
“It does make it easier that very few people know that a child of Princess Christina exists at all, and your son’s precise circumstances and identity are known only to the group of people present here.”
She paused and took a breath before continuing. “I also need to be clear that once your son takes the throne, or if he chooses to go to Obdrest in advance of that, we can’t offer anywhere near the same degree of confidence. Obdrest is a critical ally, and we have been giving every possible security assistance to the present King and will do so for Joel if he chooses to take the throne.
“Part of the problem is that both recent deaths only show evidence of being a matter of natural disease and an accident respectively but coming so closely on the heels of political violence, it is difficult not to suspect some unknown form of foul play.
“We’ve already provided intelligence files on this situation to your government. Mr. Hull, if you and Agent Delgado can provide the Ross family access to them, or if they’d prefer, give them your assessment...” — here Hull nodded — “...we would appreciate it given how short their time is on this side of the Gate today.”
She looked at Joel before going on, “I would also encourage you to at least look through the history textbook we provided last time, as I think it would make clear the importance of Obdrest as our ally, and the importance of your family in keeping the peace there.”
There was a brief silence, before Dormer spoke. “Obdrest is my country, and I have sworn myself to the service of the crown. While Joel is here, my obligation is to him, and I will protect him — with my life, if need be.”
Joel’s father looked glum. “We’re going to need to think about this. Just to be sure, if Joel attends school here but he does not choose to stay, he’ll be able to return?”
“Yes, of course,” said Matsumoto. “Nor can he stay or take the throne without your consent, at least until he reaches legal majority. In Feldaren, that’s 18, as I believe is the case in your country.”
Joel’s father nodded. “OK, like I said, we’ll think about it.”
“That’s all we can ask,” said Matsumoto, and while Dormer looked like he wanted to say something, he did not.
Our next stop, and the last before heading to the high school, was a brief pass through one wing of the Imperial Museum of Natural Science. Much to the delight of April, they had an exhibit of dragon skeletons, including one giant that dwarfed any dinosaur at the Natural History Museum back home. There was an important difference, however — these weren’t fossils.
When I asked about the conversion to our calendar, the date the monster was taken down — by the first emperor at that, the same Marcus the Conqueror I’d bought a book about — was less than 500 years ago. For all the surface similarity to our world, some things were not at all like home, and I decided to start leafing through the biography as we took the bus to see the school Joel might attend next year.
Queen Sara Memorial Academy, Lunch time
Elise Shevariet had hurried out of her biology lab to the student council room and hoped not to have to stay too long. Saturday trains were less predictable, and she did not have a lot of time to get to her job. Still, this was probably the last time this year’s and next year’s student councils would all be together in one place.
The council room was on the top floor of the Arts Center and had been there since the school first moved to this site; dark paneling lined the walls, and a large painting of Queen Sara of Penrose overlooked a large conference table. It showed her in middle age, shortly before she died, rather than the younger woman whose statue graced the campus green.
Several people were already there; the rest came in not long after her. After the elections, she knew them all at least a little although her loss for Vice President still hurt. From what she could see, the new VP, Neil Mayhan didn’t seem like a bad person, and he knew the new President, Anson Gramm, quite well. It just didn’t seem right to her - Neil hadn’t even been involved in the Student Council here at all in the past year, while Elise had been the first-year representative and had been on the lower school council for all three years before that.
Diane said a few words thanking her and the other class representatives, and Anson talked about his plans to ask the administration to soften the dress code. Elise understood the appeal but wasn’t sure what to think about it; her family was perpetually short on cash and rotating the same couple of uniforms, rather than casual clothes, made things much simpler.
There was a little business to discuss after, and then Diane formally passed the record books on to Anson. People were staying after, but Elise said her goodbyes and headed for the streetcar.
- California, USA
Bio: Amateur SF/fantasy writer. Professional computer geek. Something of a grouchy old man, but mostly harmless.