Rashiv sat back, calling up the calm that had so often availed him in years past in difficult situations. He looked at this woman, tall, blond, shapely, dressed in a no-nonsense red suit, her freckled neck visible above the sheer white shirt underneath the jacket. Her lipstick was bright red and her blue eyes sparkled with a mix of anger and challenge. What had he gotten himself into, he wondered? This was a she-devil, there was no question about it. She would pull no punches.
“Your highness,” she began, smiling sweetly, yet eyes glinting sardonically, “many in the world community were shocked by the fact that you performed a coup d’état in a democratic country, deposing a democratically elected president and congress and installing yourself in its place. How would you explain your actions to the listening world?” She’d come up swinging hard and Rashiv had to forcibly calm himself at the attack.
“You would have to understand the history of my nation, Ms. Robinette, to realize why things had to be done they way they were done.” He leaned back. “The injustices of the supposedly ‘democratic’ régime of Lorishan were undoubtedly not painted in their boldest colors in the world press. We may have outwardly been a peaceful country, but inwardly we were corrupt, ready to crumble at a moment’s notice — much like the corrupt businesses you so aptly described in your report.”
“So you felt it was your duty to remove the corruption?” She was still smiling, but he could tell she was warming to the fight.
“It was my duty, first as advisor to the president, and then later being forced to depose him in a most un-democratic manner,” he replied. “And believe me, Ms. Robinette, there was none more reluctant to that than I was.”
“And yet you did.” The statement implied a grievous sin.
“And yet I did, and today I understand that it was the only possible step.” He looked straight at her, willing her to ask the question he wanted next.
“Seizing power by force is never the only possible step,” she shot back.
“In a perfect world, perhaps, but not in this one,” he replied evenly. “Freedom is costly, Ms. Robinette, especially to the guardians of that freedom. The leaders of this country no longer guarded freedom, they exploited it, making their personal enrichment more important than the welfare of their constituents.”
“But they could have been voted out of office then!” Amanda exclaimed, her anger showing through just slightly now.
“Yes, they might have in a less corrupt society.” He looked her straight in the eye. “At that time there was no other choice. Almost everyone in Congress was actually an employee of O’Brien Industries and with 87 representatives and ten senators that meant that the government was effectively a dictatorship already. We simply changed dictators.”
“But there were elections!” the reporter pressed. “Surely they counted for something!”
“I voted for the other man,” Rashiv replied evenly, “as did those in the country who had the courage to, and yet O’Brien won with a landslide, breaking our constitution while he was at it. I don’t think that’s very democratic.”
“So you justify your extremely un-democratic decorum by blaming your opponents of the same thing?” she asked incredulously. “That’s pretty two-faced.”
“Not at all, Ms. Robinette.” The king smiled, knowing that the conversation was going exactly where he wanted it to. “I and my associates never made any bones about how we planned to rule the country. We don’t hide our autocratic rule behind the lies of a hollow democracy.”
“So you admit it is an autocratic rule,” Amanda said with some satisfaction, unable to keep the smirk off her face. “What makes you think that an educated, modern-day people needs an autocratic ruler with a few self-proclaimed leaders thinking for the masses? This is no longer the dark ages!” Again Rashiv smiled genially.
“That is precisely the point, Ms. Robinette, the Lorishi inhabitants have forgotten how to think for themselves. Television, entertainment, opinion polls, the press have all thought for the people, interpreted events for them, taught them what to think, what to say, how to vote. The people would look to their entertainment sets and their newspapers before uttering an opinion. The teachers in the schools preached ‘democracy’ and evicted spirituality, they said that the way they thought was the only way to think, the way they acted the only way to act. Is that a people that can think for themselves, Ms. Robinette?” He paused for a fraction of a moment before plunging on. “The people must learn to think for themselves again, to look at both sides of a question and make an intelligent decision. They are content to be spoon-fed. Well, let someone who cares about them spoon-feed them and train their children to think again.”
“Does that mean that you view your totalitarian dictatorship as temporary?” the woman asked, unbelieving. Rashiv just smiled.
“It is here now,” was all he replied secretively.
Amanda looked down at her notes, trying to think, to find her next attack. She’d never looked at it the way he had and she bristled at his remarks about the press. They were the guardians of the truth not a propaganda machine! And yet somewhere deep inside she sensed that what he’d said was right. She had to try a different tact.
“Be that as it may, your highness,” she began again, “we live in a day and age where people are ruled by their own will. How can you proclaim yourself king of a nation at such a time?”
“Let me ask you a question in return, Ms. Robinette,” he replied. “Where do you believe that sovereignty comes from?”
“Why from the people!” she exclaimed.
“But where do the people get it from?” he asked in return.
“What do you mean?” she demanded.
“What is the source of the authority of the people to bestow sovereignty on their leaders?” He cocked his head to one side, a slight smile playing around his lips, dark eyes shining as he touched on his favorite subject. “How many people does it take for them to be able to give someone authority? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? A million? Perhaps even five billion?”
Amanda fidgeted uncomfortably under his gaze, unable at first to come up with an answer, then something from her childhood crept to the fore.
“You’re talking about God!” she gasped, unable to hide her horror at that thought.
“Yes, I am, Ms. Robinette,” he replied. He gestured towards the bookcase that was behind them. “I believe you took some time to look at my books while you were setting up, is that not correct?”
“Yes, your highness,” she returned, biting off each word.
“Did you notice anything about them that disturbed or intrigued you?”
“Well, there was a lot of philosophy and a lot of religious ones among them,” she said after a moment’s deliberation.
“What is it that all religions save modern humanism have in common?”
“Is this a lesson in religion or an interview?” she snapped back.
“Forgive me, Ms. Robinette,” Rashiv replied, leaning back into his chair again. “Let me make my view plain. Every religion besides modern humanism takes the idea that authority of men over men on earth is an extension of the authority of the god or gods over men themselves. It is granted to men not on their own merits, but because they are the creation of the true Authority. Am I making sense?” Amanda had to grudgingly nod. This was something that her father had often expounded on.
“Now, if we look at the supreme deity as being the one who gives authority of men over other men, then even your president is responsible not only to the people of your nation, but also to the God who created him. And believe me, that is a much higher authority to be responsible to than the will of the people.”
“You sound like you are a Christian,” Amanda shot back, trying to regain her footing, making the epithet sound like a curse.
“I am not,” the king replied in return. “I am a Nemkhigh, a follower of the ancient religion of Me-Nemkhet of my people. But we hold similar views to those that the Christians, the Jews, and the Muslims do. We believe in a personal God who is supremely over the affairs of men and that judgment before him is more important than the opinion of our human friends.”
“Many people have said that before,” the reporter said bitterly, openly glowering now, “and they’ve used this ‘divine right’ to do whatever they pleased. I bet you’ll tell me that they didn’t really understand that, though, right?”
“That is eminently correct, Ms. Robinette,” Rashiv replied, smiling warmly. “Your intelligence is most well-honed. If a person truly believes in their God and following his decrees, then he will live according to those prescriptions as much as he can, holding them higher and more important than his own life. Someone who uses his ‘divine right’ to do as he pleases does not really love his God or his people, but views himself as God and not as the subject of the true king.” Amanda fidgeted under his words.
“So you see yourself as responsible first and foremost to your God?” she asked cynically.
“That is correct.”
“And you think that your accountability to him is greater than that to your people?”
“But you’re only human! You can’t be that good as to always do what is best for your people!” She nearly leaped off her seat at that remark.
“Again you are very correct, Ms. Robinette,” King Rashiv laughed. “That is why I try to surround myself with clear-thinking men and women who know what my people need and what they want. Would it surprise you to find that some of my closest advisors are staunch democrats?” The look on her face answered the whole question. “I even have two people from my predecessor’s government helping me rule better.”
“And yet you make all the decisions,” she asked angrily.
“Yes, as does your president. I listen to the varying opinions and I carefully weigh the options and choose what seems to be best at that point. That is no different than what your president does.”
“But there are no checks and balances on your power!” she exclaimed.
“That is not entirely true,” he replied. “My aide-de-camp and advisors have the duty to oppose me if they feel that what I am doing is not in the best interests of my people. The prime minister can even recommend my deposition.” He leaned back and shook his head. “Ms. Robinette, I know better than anyone my weaknesses, the flaws of my humanity. I know that my decisions are not always the best and are more often insufficient. But I do my best. I am in this position as king of Lorishan and it is my responsibility to see that my people live safely and to keep justice in the land.”
“That is how you speak today,” Amanda snapped. “What will you say ten years from now?”
“Ms. Robinette, I believe that you had the honor of visiting my home today,” he replied evenly, the smile never leaving his squarish face. “What were your impressions?” The question caused them to rush over Amanda again unbidden — the simplicity, elegance, poverty in comparison to other royal houses.
“It wasn’t quite what I expected,” she admitted grudgingly.
“How so?” he prodded.
“You don’t live like a king,” she snapped. “Your house is a middle-class home.”
“Which is precisely the way I intend to keep it.” He leaned back. “I have two palaces, did you know that, Ms. Robinette? I will have my people escort you to them in the next few days, if you wish. I never go there, because it disassociates me from my people, from the way they live. I tend to walk to work every morning, even though I might take a car or even a helicopter from my front door to the Ministry. I do my best to keep in touch with the people — as a king should. Even the president in your country is cut off from his people directly. I intend to never let that happen.”
“Even if it causes security risks?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“If I am near to my people, they will be the best guards I can have,” Rashiv replied with conviction. “A beloved king is safer alone among his subjects than a hated one in the midst of his bodyguard.” Amanda could find no answer to that and tried to find another question to ask. This man had so rattled her composure that she was unable to get herself back under enough control to launch an attack on him. This was utterly frustrating! And what was worse she was starting to like him, see things from his point of view. She flipped through the list of questions, looking for one that she could pitch at him, then glanced at the producer who was waving at her, signaling her that the interview was half-way through. She had to get through this.
“Your highness, how do you respond to the attacks launched upon your régime by the United Nations and your predecessor?” she queried after a few moments. “Surely you have heard of their attacks on your person and your integrity.” Rashiv frowned slightly. He’d hoped to avoid this.
“I wish I could respond in detail to everything said, Ms. Robinette, but then we’d be here for the next day or so.” He sighed. “Let me give you some basic ideas. First, the U.N. does not know what it is talking about in its condemnation of this régime. They have not taken the time to look at what it is like in this country and how the people live now. Besides, we have only been in power for a year. It is hardly fair to judge the merits of a ruler on such a short amount of time. I ask them to be patient and to watch and see if what they have claimed of me is true or not. I am fairly confident that an honest observer will understand that what I am doing to help my people is not bleeding them dry, but helping them to get back on their own feet. One day we may have a free economy again, but not until work ethic is reinstated and people can take pride in their own productivity. That is true of any nation.
“As to Kain O’Brien’s remarks about my rule, you must realize that I am now filling the position that he wanted and that I am not exploiting it as he has. He will pull whatever trick out of the bag that he can to discredit me, including inventing a court martial that never happened and moral deviations that are untrue. Ask my friends, look at the records in the archives. I can assure you that we have carried over all records from the past. I will not whitewash where I came from. I will not deny my heritage or what I have done in the past. I take responsibility for those and will stand up for them.”
“Then you take responsibility for the murder of Admiral Frank Jostens of the Lorishi Navy?” she asked.
“If you can call self-defense murder,” he replied with a shrug. “Besides, I did not pull the trigger and the one who did met his just desserts afterwards. General Byrd was dishonorably discharged and was taken to civilian court. I believe that he was found not guilty of murder, but was convicted on manslaughter.” He sighed sadly. “That was mercy. He should have been court-martialed and hanged for murder.” He fixed her with a piercing look.
“Ms. Robinette, I want you to understand that Chris Byrd was and still is a close friend of mine. I will not forsake him, but at the same time I will not keep justice from being done to him. He is serving his time. On the other hand, Kain O’Brien is my enemy, but that does not mean that I will not show him mercy if he will let me.”
“Some mercy, exile,” Amanda replied icily. Rashiv had to smile at that.
“It is a two-edged sword. He has escaped with his life, but he has lost what is important to him. If I had done as my fellow generals had wanted, O’Brien would have been hung.”
“That brings me to another point,” the reporter said, grabbing on that. “We have heard that you have reinstated capital punishment after years of a more enlightened form of punishment. How would you defend that?” She smiled at him, eyes glinting, inviting. He assumed that this was a pet topic of hers, one that she would exploit to the best of her abilities. How should he answer? He paused for a moment, smiling.
“I understand that the death penalty is a prickly topic in America,” he replied then. “It is not so here. Under O’Brien’s rule we had prisons that were overflowing with murderers and perverts, many of whom were waiting for the death penalty, but who would not receive it because O’Brien wanted to flatter his foreign allies.”
“Those terms are a little harsh, sir,” Amanda cautioned.
“They are accurate none-the-less, Ms. Robinette,” he replied benignly. “We have retried about half the cases and those who were found guilty a second time were executed. The rest were set free.” He shrugged. “It saved our people from having to pay the cost of keeping them alive and it has served as a deterrent to crime for a while now.”
“But for how long?” the reporter asked. “And besides, the death penalty is inhumane.”
“Inhumane to whom? To the accused?” He shook his head. “What about the people who have suffered from this person? What about the fact that justice must be served? These questions are not answered clearly. In my humble opinion it is more humane to execute a murderer than it is to feed and pamper them in a situation that is much better than many of the honest, law-abiding citizens of the country. That is what I call inhumane, Ms. Robinette.”
Amanda bristled, trying to think of what else to say, somewhere else to attack this man who seemed to have his armor tightly in place. Perhaps the best place would be to attack his sense of royalty.
“According to people I have talked with, you seem to put a lot of stock in the pedigree of your blood, sir,” she said after a few minutes. “And through it you have exploited a supposed legend to solidify your claim to the throne. What makes you more qualified than anyone else to hold that position.” Rashiv smiled, skillfully hiding the annoyance that arose in him.
“I will try to answer this question to the best of my abilities, Ms. Robinette, even though I do not believe you will be content with what I have to say.”
“Try me,” she sneered, feeling his armor chip away.
“The issue of blood-right doesn’t exist in your country for the simple reason that you have never had any rulers by blood-right and because your leaders were afraid of that. And I believe there is something to that idea, when society is well-balanced and focused on their supreme Authority, as we discussed earlier.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “In our land,” he continued,” we’ve long had the legend of the Halfling Prince, one man who would arise and unify the nation after a time of terrible strife and oppression. He would take the ancient throne and bring the people back to prosperity.”
“And you believe you’re this Halfling Prince?” she demanded snidely.
“Yes, I believe I am,” he replied softly. “My blood-line has fulfilled all of the requirements. I’m born of two Halflings, my father being the son of a Loresh noble and an Ishi woman and my mother the daughter of an Ishi man and a Loresh woman. That was the primary requirement and I believe you have the information in your possession the proves that Quinn Strail and Raedin Rutledge were who they said they were. My mother is still alive and you can speak with her if you wish, she’s a much better source when it comes to the ancient legends.”
“I take it your people ate this up?” The reporter cocked one eyebrow, insinuating that all of this was quaint nonsense.
“Some did and some did not,” he said evenly. “I know my heritage and I know that I was born in this time and that where and when I was born has had a lot of effect on who I am now and why I am in charge of this country. Some day perhaps your people will be able to understand what it means to have been born into a royal position. My children will undoubtedly suffer in some ways from having royal parents, but I intend to not let my position do more to them than I can hinder.” He looked at her. “And you must understand that I will even now be looking for a successor who can and will carry on the work in a caring manner. I do not mean this to end with my death.”
“You mean like Franco passing on the rule of Spain to Juan Carlos? Aren’t you afraid that your successor will destroy this beautiful monarchy you’ve built for yourself?”
“I have not built the monarchy for myself, Ms. Robinette,” he sighed, just slightly exasperated at her one-track mind. “And, no, I am not afraid that this man will destroy the monarchy. For one thing, I have not found him yet. When his time comes, he will do what is best for the country — what he feels is best for the country, and then it will be his responsibility. Mine is now to rule to the best of my abilities with the best interests in my subjects in mind, and then, later, to train my successor to do the same.” He shrugged. “Things change. They always do and when the time comes for them to change, anyone who resists the change or tries to force the change for the worse needs to be dealt with.”
“Like President O’Brien.”
“Yes, like O’Brien,” Rashiv echoed wistfully, then smiled. Amanda looked over and saw her producer signaling her again. The two hours were already up and while she didn’t have enough material to really hang him, at least she could paint a portrait — of what? She still didn’t know, but shelved the thought and turned back to the man across from her.
“Thank you very much for the interview, your highness,” she said, not even trying to hide the cutting tone in her voice.
“It was my pleasure,” he replied genially.
And with that it was over. Rashiv stretched just a bit before rising and shaking Ms. Robinette’s hand. He knew he’d given them plenty of ammunition to twist as they chose. He would see later how that would be put together. The producer had promised him a tape before it aired, so that he could comment on it.
He turned to leave the office, his two body guards coming up behind him, and opened the door.
“Sir?” He turned back to see Punjab standing there.
“Yes, Benedict?” he said.
“I’m not comfortable with this,” the aide-de-camp began. “She’s going to butcher you.”
“I have said what I’ve said, my friend,” Rashiv replied evenly. “It is up to the rest of the world to decide what it means.” He paused. “Will you be coming to dinner tonight?”
“As usual,” the colonel answered with a half-smile, nodding. “I hope your daughter isn’t cooking tonight.” Rashiv smiled, remembering the disaster of the last time Shauna had tried her hand at making dinner.
“I think it will be a while before Danya lets her do something like that again,” he laughed. “I’ll see you this evening.” He turned away, then remembered something.
“Oh, and, Benedict, make an appointment for me to visit Chris before the weekend. I haven’t seen him in a while and we still have a game of chess to finish.”