The cold light of the south pacific fall filtered in through the windows of Rashiv Strail’s bedroom windows. He stood quietly in these wee hours of the morning trying to mentally prepare himself for the ordeal that lay ahead. Yesterday they had celebrated one year of independence from the claws of O’Brien’s despotic rule. Yesterday had been the first anniversary of his coronation as supreme monarch of the island of Lorishan. It had been a hard year, he reflected, having to deal with the die-hard democrats and the ones who wanted to remain in power at all costs. The revolution had been relatively bloodless, but the way the international press had treated it, Rashiv might have led every single member of the House of Representatives and the Senate out into Republic Square and shot them personally. There had been twenty-six killed in the whole operation, all but two on the other side, all of whom were bodyguards of the hated president of the Republic. He was not going to apologize for that.

“It was war, dammit,” he muttered under his breath, and turned back to his dresser where he picked up the golden cuff-links engraved with the Strail crest — an inheritance from his father, dead now some fourteen years. He slipped them through the button-holes of his shirt cuffs, picked up his tie, in the white, violet, and gold of the Lorishi flag, and carefully knotted it around his neck with the precision of one who had done so for a very long time. As a matter of fact, as a soldier he’d done so every morning for as long as he could remember.

He looked at the face in the mirror, the clearly Loresh lines of it, but the dark hair, dark eyes, and slight swarthiness of his skin, hinting at his paternal grandmother and his maternal grandfather’s heritage as Ishi. He was truly the Halfling Prince by blood, from noble lineage on all sides of his family. His father’s father could trace his line all the way back to the ancient Dun-Bendel rulers, as could his mother’s mother. His father’s mother’s family was once one of the princely families of Hindanit province during the Three Kingdoms and his mother’s father could not only draw a direct line back to the kings of Praditha, but even was blood related to the ancient rulers of the Indian subcontinent. Yes, he was royalty by blood and he knew it, but this world did not seem to want to recognize it. His people did, but those ones, out there, could never understand.

“Good morning, darling.” Danya’s face appeared in the mirror beside him, rounded features radiant with the freshness of her shower. Her dark brown hair glowed in the light and her soft green eyes glimmered tenderly as she looked at her husband’s reflection with genuine affection. Rashiv turned and gave her a soft peck on the lips.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” he replied.

“You were worrying again, Rashiv,” she told him evenly. That was Danya, directly to the point. That was one of the things that endeared her to him, that and the fact that he knew she was strong enough to be the wife of a soldier — and now she was queen.

“Hm,” he grunted in reply, fiddling with his tie knot, then picking up the small gold tie-pin with the crest of Lorishan on it.

“It’s the interview, isn’t it?” She always knew what was bothering him, he reflected, putting the pin in place. Twelve years of marriage would do that to a person.

“Yes,” he admitted after a moment. “I am not looking forward to this Amanda Robinette.”

“She’s American,” Danya pointed out. “It’s a very important interview. Now the Americans can finally hear what you have to say.”

“That’s precisely the problem,” Rashiv sighed, reaching up to touch the hand she’d laid on his shoulder. “The Americans could never understand. They don’t know what we’ve gone through and I see the signs that it could happen to them, too. And they don’t have a Halfling Prince.”

“That is not your worry, Rashiv,” his wife told him evenly, stepping away just slightly to make her point. “Your task is to represent yourself and what you believe to that reporter. Let the Americans do what they want with it.”

“But I have always admired them, their country, their freedom,” the king said, lowering his voice, just a note of sadness creeping in. “We modeled ours on theirs and yet now we have had to turn to this again.” He paused for a long moment. “They have forgotten the truth about where the authority comes from.”

“As has western Europe,” Danya pointed out. “Don’t try to reform the world, Rashiv,” she said seriously then. “Just work on Lorishan. That is enough.”

“You’re right as always, dear,” he replied quietly, smiled, and straightened. “By the God, it’s good that I don’t have to deal with this until after the affairs of state this morning. For once I’m looking forward to my desk in the Ministry again.” And with that he kissed her, took his jacket and headed out of his apartment to go to work.