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An Interview with the Halfling Prince

Amanda Robinette was what one might call the quintessential reporter. She had been a favorite of her local TV station when it came to hard-hitting news. Nothing was too dangerous, too dirty, too dark to keep her away from it. She could not be turned away from a topic once she’d dug her claws into it and it was this that had brought her to the attention of the 60 Minutes producers.

Now she was here, in Lorishan, a forgotten island nation in the south Pacific, preparing to interview an absolute monarch, a self-proclaimed autocrat who styled himself king. Everything in her liberal American upbringing rebelled against that idea, and that was precisely what had made her want this story. She wanted to expose this man for what he really was: a threat to world democracy. He was an affront to all the ideals she’d been taught about the freedom of the human being to self-determination, to the freedom of speech, to freedom, period.

“No walls,” she liked to tell her friends, “no boundaries.”

Amanda was known to be a ruthless reporter, someone who thought very little about what she called “other people’s morals,” which was rather surprising to her friends, as she’d been brought up in a conservative Christian home, her father being a Baptist minister in Vermont. Over his protests she went to Harvard where she’d got her journalism degree and had launched herself on this very self-satisfying career. She loved the kick she got from exposing self-seeking little pricks like her father and showing them off to the world. And the best part about being in the press is that you could get away with it.

“And I’m going to do it again,” she told herself, grinning. But the smile faded as she looked over the folder of information she’d put together on Rashiv Demis Strail, Sovereign of Lorishan. There was a glossy black-and-white photo of a young officer in uniform without his hat, half-leaning towards the camera, his dark hair extremely short, his face severe, his eyes portraying a strange mingling of emotions which Amanda was unable to read. The caption made it clear that this had been taken on the day when he’d been promoted to general, at the tender age of 35. She pushed the picture aside to uncover a family candid shot of the Strail family at the beach perhaps ten years ago. A much younger Rashiv Strail smiled out, attired in a pair of loose swim-trunks, his upper body fully defined. Beside him was a striking woman in a one-piece bathing suit with a short-sleeved blouse over it, just about his size, smiling broadly into the camera, Danya Meertissi Strail, now queen of Lorishan. Two children, a girl of about six and a boy of four stood next to them, Shauna and Richard. They were a happy family it seemed, but Amanda still wondered what lurked beneath the façade. Maybe Strail beat his wife? Or had he abused his children? Maybe he’d simply neglected them and this was just a farce, kept up for the public eye?

But, no, this picture was from when he was still merely a captain in the army. Maybe things had changed. She moved that picture to the side to retrieve the newest one: a full-color glossy picture of the royal family. His highness, King Rashiv Strail, sat in a high-backed chair, face straight but eyes bright, his wife seated beside him, a glowing smile on her face. Their three children stood behind them: the lovely Shauna, now seventeen, shapely, golden-brown hair falling to her shoulders, her face and eyes open with delight and joy, her features a perfect mingling of her parents’; the serious young Prince Richard, fourteen, heir to the throne, attired in a blue suit identical to his father’s; and the youngest, Roland, a curly-haired boy of nine, smiling broadly, very much his mother’s son, one hand resting on her shoulder. The picture showed the image of a happy nuclear family, something that Amanda knew to be a lie. It was not possible for such powerful families to stay together in “normal” circumstances. The freedoms dictated by the American Constitution had to transcend the family, she believed, and the family was the last hindrance to total freedom.

She pushed the photo away with disgust and turned to the one she liked the best. It was an enlargement of Rashiv Demis Strail’s passport picture. It was by no means flattering, but he was smiling nicely, and she thought that here, in this one image, she could see what he was really like: a dark, self-centered despot who was just ready to come out and destroy the world with his self-glorifying autocracy. That’s what she read in his eyes, his face, and she would show everyone that this was true. But when she put the paper down and looked at her notes from interviews with friends and foes, she found almost nothing damning against Strail. From all accounts he was the perfect soldier, a good husband, though rather distant at times, a fair father, a competent commander, a devout follower of the Loreshi indigenous religion, and now—seemingly—a compassionate ruler.

There was no denying the reforms he’d made in Lorishan had been good. The inflation rate had bottomed out in this last year. Production had increased as the state-owned factories, most appropriated from the O’Brien Industries conglomerate, were now staffed by workers who were gladly trying to “build a better tomorrow.” Crime had virtually disappeared in that year, due to first the military then later the strict police force, and it seemed no one had anything bad to say about King Rashiv. As a matter of fact, she’d had a lot of trouble finding even die-hard democrats that didn’t admire the man. What one of them had said had stuck with her especially.

“King Rashiv himself said it’s just temporary, until the country gets back on its feet,” he’d explained. “Once we have our moral, economic, and social bases back in order Lorishan will become a democracy again.” That had shocked her. If this was true, then her image of Rashiv Demis was wrong.

But she wasn’t going to let any facts to the contrary influence her decisions until she met him in person. Today was that day, this very afternoon at three in the king’s personal study. And once there she would tear him limb from limb in her patented, aggressive interviewing style. She would expose him for what he really was.

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Copyright © 2004 J.M. Diener. All Rights Reserved.