At precisely two pm, Loreshi time, the 60 Minutes crew was admitted into the Ministry of the King off of Strail Square in Unity, the capital city of Lorishan. The building was a mingling of the old and new, its foundations and outer walls dating back nearly five hundred years, once the winter seat of the Eskhvet family clan in the city, then later the winter palace of the Vahl dynasty, the last kings of Lorishan. Now the new regime had renovated this sprawling complex over the last year, modernizing the interior and putting in the most advanced technological accoutrements possible. The building had been finished just in time for the first anniversary of the rebirth of the Loreshi monarchy and had been opened to the public for the first time the day before. As the film crew walked in they could still smell the freshness of the paint mingling with the scent of aged stone.
Amanda looked up to the high stone vaulted ceiling of the entryway, magnificent in its old-world charm, ponderous, to her mind dangerous. The Loreshi flag, similar to the Union Jack, but in white, yellow, and violet and with a six-pointed star in the center, hung against the wall directly in front of them. The others were decorated with the flags of the six provinces. In the center was a large, semi-circular desk at which two women and a man sat, answering phones, peering at computer screens, trying to make themselves comfortable in their new working environment. Amanda could definitely get a sense of discomfort from these people. They were not yet used to this place, the whole government just having been moved to Unity from Yirbandi about a month ago.
“May I help you?” the man at the desk queried in flawless English, albeit tinged with the trademark Lorishi twang.
“I’m Amanda Robinette,” the reporter explained imperiously, “and this is the 60 Minutes crew. We have an appointment with the king.”
“Yes, we have been expecting you, Ms. Robinette,” the guard replied politely, surprising the American woman with the use of the title she preferred. “Colonel Punjab is alerted and will be here in a few minutes. If you would like to take a seat over there,” he pointed to a cluster of benches off to one side, away from the draft of the door, “he will meet you there.” Amanda simply nodded, jerked her pretty head towards the bench and walked off, her crew hurrying to catch up with her.
As she walked, Amanda couldn’t help but think of the puzzling time she’d had while visiting the king’s house. This was an unexpected treat, something that hadn’t been planned, but that she’d wanted to do. She’d been openly shocked, first by its relatively small size, then by the simplicity of the decorations and accommodations. True, everything was arranged tastefully and elegantly, but if she’d not been told that this was King Rashiv’s home, she would never have guessed it. There was little difference from the middle-class homes of the people she’d interviewed while trying to get to learn about the “real” Rashiv Strail.
The other puzzle was Queen Danya. She’d personally guided the tour, not hiding anything from Amanda Robinette’s prying eyes, and her grace and openness had stunned the cynical reporter. Here was a woman who believed what she said and did not hide behind masks. It very disconcertingly reminded Amanda of her mother.
Danya was quite a bit shorter than the 6-foot-tall American, with dark-brown hair cut in a distinctly feminine style, bright green eyes, strongly Ishi features, but fair skin. She held herself erect, confidently, and in such a way that she seemed to be taller than she really was. Her voice was bright, warm, cheerful, and friendly and the way she acted with a candor that seriously disconcerted Amanda. She was slated to interview the queen the next morning and now, having caught a glimpse of her, suddenly was not looking forward to that, because some sixth sense told her that this was the real Danya Strail she’d met. But maybe, just maybe, if she could provoke her....
By this time she and her crew had sat down on the padded benches — lovely wooden benches covered in leather, something that could definitely have been found at Buckingham Palace. The crew sat around, gawking, making remarks about the place and the camera man and sound girl resumed their interminable card game. Amanda glared at them, annoyed at the fact that they were having fun here. Didn’t they realize how serious this was?
“Ms. Robinette?” She turned to see a tall young man in a green uniform standing there. His hair was dark, cut short, carefully combed, his skin a rich coffee brown, his face strongly carrying the features of his East Indian descent. He stood there, relaxed, hands behind his back, at ease.
“I am Benedict Punjab,” he announced in a surprisingly American accent, “aide-de-camp to his highness, King Rashiv.”
“It’s nice to meet you, colonel,” Amanda replied formally, rising and offering her hand. Punjab hesitated for a moment, uncertain of what to do, but then smiled formally, took her fingers, bent, and lightly kissed her knuckles. She gaped at him, stunned, unaccustomed to such treatment. But then she got a hold of herself as he released her hand.
“If you will follow me, ladies and gentlemen,” Punjab exclaimed, turned on his heel and marched away towards the broad stairs at the back of the entrance hall. The crew scrambled to follow him. He turned left past the stairs and led them to a pair of silver doors — an elevator.
Once inside, Amanda turned to their guide.
“Are you American, colonel?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” he replied, back ram-rod straight, eyes watching his own reflection in the silver doors of the elevator. “I spent four years in college there, though, ma’am, courtesy of the government.”
“Where at?” she wanted to know.
“Not exactly a military school.”
“No, ma’am, but an excellent one, none-the-less, especially when studying politics and sociology.” She raised her eyebrows.
“And you go along with this king stuff even after being educated in the U.S.?” The question was definitely derisive and Punjab’s dark eyes flicked down to her, a mixture of anger and contempt mirrored there.
“Ms. Robinette, you only speak that way because you don’t understand the importance of the king. Begging your pardon, ma’am, you did not live under the last years of our republic. So please do not presume to call our monarchy evil, simply because it is different from the way things are run in the United States of America. Every country must be run in the way that suits it best, ma’am, and for Lorishan that is now a monarchy.” He then turned away from her and stared back at the door. Amanda was still looking for a good rejoinder when the bell above the door rang and it slid open to reveal the third floor of the building.
“This way, ladies and gentlemen,” Punjab said genially, gesturing towards the hall. He turned to the right and briskly led them down past several wooden doors, all rounded at the top. The floor of the hall was covered with a heavy red-and-gold carpet, the walls hung with tasteful paintings, light coming from brass electric candelabras set against the white stone walls. All in all it struck Amanda as a strange mingling of a medieval castle and modernity, which this kingdom surely was.
“The king’s study,” the colonel announced swinging wide the door. Again Amanda was disappointed by the austerity of the room. To be sure the blue rug on the floor was thick and warm and the walls were lined with book-cases, but at the same time there was a Spartan quality to it. There was a single large wooden desk, plain, square, stained a reddish-brown. A simple white lamp was bolted to the side of it and there was nothing to denote royalty about the room at all. Drapes framed the window behind the desk and the only other pieces of furniture in the room were the high-backed, aged captain’s chair behind the desk, and a matching love-seat and recliner chair next to a low coffee table on the other side of the room. Both of the chairs were clearly old and much-used, though they were leather, and clearly well-made. There were even a few stains on the arm of the recliner, presumably a spilled beverage of some sort.
“Is this it?” she asked, surprised, looking around at the myriad of books against the three walls. There were certainly older ones here and there, but most were more modern works. She walked over to one and noted a simple white label stuck to the shelf, clearly printed out by a dot-matrix printer. It simply said “Philosophy.” She looked there to see various books that she knew, such as Nietzsche and Descartes, some she did not, and was even surprised to find Augustine and Origen there. She walked on, looking at more of the selections. By far the largest amount of books were historical in nature from all around the world. She found some books on military tactics, and was even surprised to find a sizable selection of Christian commentaries and a New International Version Bible sitting next to a copy of the Yusuf Ali’s interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. There was also a Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, the teachings of Lao Tzu, and various other religious texts, including a heavy leather volume with the simple words Lore Me engraved in the back — the religious book of the native Loreshi religion.
“Is everything in order, Ms. Robinette?” Punjab’s voice cut into her reverie.
“Why, yes,” she replied, returning to herself and drawing away from the interesting taste in reading that Rashiv evidenced.
“Has he read all of these?” she asked the aide-de-camp.
“I believe so,” the soldier replied, but Amanda was drawn away from him by her camera crew and producer who were deciding how to set things up. The time swirled away and in no time at all she had applied her make-up, worked through her notes and looked at the corner where the interview was to take place. The producer had wanted to move the love seat and arm chair to a different position, but Punjab had said no, making sure that all stayed as it was.
“His highness is very particular about his surroundings,” he pointed out. “It would not do to move anything.” Amanda took this as a hint that Strail truly was the control-freak she felt he had to be.
Once all was in place, Punjab drew the crew around himself and instructed them in the proper decorum for being in the presence of the king.
“You are to address him as ‘your highness’, ‘sire’, or ‘my lord’, as you choose,” he explained. “His highness is quite tolerant of those who are visiting with him, but do not provoke his anger. We would request that you give a bow when he arrives and when he departs.” He turned to Amanda. “Ms. Robinette, we request that you be respectful and circumspect in your questions. I do not believe that there are any that he won’t answer, as long as they are posed in a respectful manner. I hope you understand.” The reporter glowered, said nothing. Punjab glanced at his watch.
“Very well, then,” he concluded. “His highness will be here any minute now.” No sooner had he said that than the door to the study opened and King Rashiv himself strode in. Every eye turned towards him and Amanda was surprised at how much shorter he was in real life than she’d imagined. She was definitely taller than he was, but at the same time he brought an atmosphere into the room that could only be called greatness. His aura was almost tangible and it caused the 60 Minutes team to almost automatically bow to this modern-day monarch. Amanda followed suit, noticing that Rashiv colored just a bit.
“Please,” he said, raising his hands. Once they had straightened he bowed to them slightly and then turned to Amanda.
“You must be Ms. Robinette,” he said, walking over to her and extending his hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, my lord,” she replied, the epithet coming to her tongue automatically, embarrassing her. King Rashiv smiled genially.
“Please, call me ‘sir’,” he said softly. “Only my loyal subjects call me ‘my lord.’ I find it is more fitting that way.” He gestured towards the chairs in the corner under the lights. “Shall we?”
She bristled slightly, noticing how he had instantly taken control of the situation, without any effort at all. She was the one who was supposed to be conducting this interview! She hid her feelings, nodded, gave a small smile and followed him into the lights. He sat down in the arm-chair and leaned back, fixing her with those bright, dark intelligent eyes.
“What do you think of my library, Ms. Robinette?” he asked, carefully gauging her response.
“It is fascinating,” she replied, trying to compose herself to return to control of the situation. “I’m surprised it’s so small, though.” He laughed at that.
“These are merely the books I use when at work. My wife has doubtless shown you our small collection at home.” That she had, a whole basement full of books, some ancient, some new, including copies of the ones she’d seen here. She bristled again.
“I have watched some of your reports on satellite television here,” King Rashiv told her. “I have often been impressed by the energy you put into putting together your stories. The expose on corruption in the American business place was particularly thought-provoking.” She nodded, unable to keep herself from smiling. That had been her latest triumph that had made it to the screen. This had been the next one she’d sunk her teeth into and suddenly she felt that she had bitten off more than she could chew.
“How is your make-up?” she asked the king.
“Quite well, thank you,” he replied. “My aide applied it according to your specifications.” He leaned back and smiled. “Ms. Robinette, I am yours for the next two hours.”