For All Nails #81C: Ball and Chain
by Johnny Pez
The coronation ball was utterly splendid: the music was grand, the food was wonderful, and the company was glittering. If only everybody wasn't speaking Spanish, King Frederick of Poland would be having the time of his life.
One man at least who knew German was the guest of honor, King Ferdinand of New Granada. He had seemed rather distant in the receiving line, but since then had become much more effusive. Frederick ran into him at one of the buffet tables, where the newly crowned monarch was heaping cold cuts onto a plate.
"Ah, cousin FN1 Frederick," Ferdinand had greeted him in accented, bookish German. "What do you think of the appointments?"
"Splendid, cousin Ferdinand, quite splendid. Your new subjects have outdone themselves," Frederick answered as he selected two ham-and-Swiss-cheese montagus FN2 for himself. "Have you seen cousin William FN3 about anywhere?"
"When I last saw him," said Ferdinand, "he was trying to talk the Prime Minister of Victoria into organizing a royal safari. By any chance, have you seen the spacewoman Captain Gilmore? I can't seem to find her anywhere."
"I think I saw her out on the balcony speaking with Queen Alexandra," Frederick said, "though that was half an hour ago, so she could be anywhere at this point." Recognizing the younger man's expression, Frederick added, "A striking young woman, eh? Who was that man she was with?"
Ferdinand made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Roger Cochrane, the Duke of Annapolis. The family's an old one, title goes back nearly two hundred years. However, the Duke is just an old poofter. Did you see Captain Gilmore's flight on the vitavision?"
"Oh, yes, I was riveted," said Frederick. "And now of course the Empire's got to have its own corps of space flyers. Quite the tug-of-war going on in the cabinet between Voth FN4 and Kausler FN5 over who gets to run the thing, or so I hear."
His plate now overflowing, Ferdinand said, "Ah, there she is now! It's been a pleasure talking to you, cousin Frederick."
"And you, cousin Ferdinand. Good luck." Frederick smiled as he saw the younger man make his way through the crowd, leaving a trail of bowing and curtsying guests in his wake. Ah, to be young again.
Frederick's smile froze into a grimace as King Henry of Great Britain passed by. Dreadful man. The two monarchs exchanged formal bows before gladly moving away from each other. Frederick decided to return to the balcony. It was a lovely evening, and at Bogotá's altitude the stars were particularly breathtaking. Besides, Queen Alexandra might still be there, and her company was always enjoyable.
Out on the balcony Frederick noticed a beautiful woman speaking softly with an older man. He had to revise his initial assumption about the subject of their conversation, though, when he recognized them as Maria del Rey and Ezra Bakersfield. Frederick wasn't entirely sure he liked the idea of the Empire's erstwhile ally becoming so chummy with the Empire's erstwhile enemy. It was all that fellow Moctezuma's fault, he decided. Improving relations between neighboring states was all well and good, but there was no point in letting relations get too good. Why, if the Mexicans and North Americans ever stopped hating each other, the whole world would likely spin right off its axis.
"Your Majesty! How lovely to see you again!" More accented German, though this time the voice was feminine and the accent French. The smile returned to Frederick's face as he turned and saw Yvette Fanchon. She had given up her trademark skirt and jacket for a strapless black Milanese gown, and her short brunette hair was done up in fashionable spikes.
Greeting Fanchon, Frederick said, "Would you care for a montagu?"
The Premier's dark eyes sparkled as she smiled. "Thank you, Your Majesty, but I fear I must refuse. A woman my age must watch her figure like a hawk."
Frederick sighed. "The price that we public figures must pay, is it not? We must set an example for our people."
"Exactly," Fanchon said with a nod. " If you don't mind my saying so, Your Majesty, I have always regarded you as something of a role model. If ever I can become as well regarded by my people as you are by yours, then I will count myself a fortunate woman indeed."
Frederick was pleasantly taken aback. This was a side of Madamoiselle Fanchon that he had never seen before. "You are too kind, my dear. I only seek what is best for my subjects, and I think few people in the world would know as well as you what a difficult task it is, balancing as I must the needs of my subjects and the needs of the Empire."
Fanchon nodded again. "And a constantly shifting balance at that. The world is changing quickly, and the Empire must change with it." She turned her face to look out over the balcony, into the moonless summer sky with its fantastic array of stars. "And yet, such changes can be for the better. I believe that France is a better place now than it was when I first came to power. More peaceful, more stable, more self-assured. And Poland..."
"Yes?" Frederick found himself holding his breath in anticipation of her words.
"Poland has become ... a happier land. The last two centuries have been a melancholy time for the Poles. So much sadness, so much tragedy. But that sadness has begun to lift, for the Poles now have a ruler who cares for their welfare, who seeks their betterment. Who understands their need for dignity." Fanchon turned to look at him again. "And you do, Your Majesty, I can tell you do. That is why it has puzzled me that you have never taken the obvious next step."
It took a moment for Frederick to say, "What next step?"
"Why, free elections, Your Majesty. The Inner Empire has them. Hungary has them. Even France has them. What more logical next step could there be than to introduce them into Poland as well?"
"Have you been talking to Herr Zielinski?" FN6 asked Frederick with dawning suspicion.
"Not at all, Your Majesty," Fanchon protested. FN7 "Why do you ask?"
"He's been urging free elections on me lately," Frederick explained. "Calls it 'unlocking the chain'."
"A very striking phrase, Your Majesty. I am not surprised to learn that Herr Zielinski has broached the topic. As I have said, it is a logical request, and from all I have heard Herr Zielinski is quite a logical man. Appointing him to head your government was a wise choice on your part. If he feels that free elections are a worthwhile change, then at the very least the idea should be given serious consideration."
"Do you really think so, Fraulein Fanchon?"
She answered confidently. "I do."
Frederick was pensive. "You understand that prudence dictates that I consult with Chancellor Markstein before instituting such a significant reform."
"Herr Markstein is also a logical man," Fanchon assured Frederick. "I am certain that he will see the reason in it."
Forward to FAN #81D (15 June 1974): Conversation With a Servant.
Forward to Yvette Fanchon: Picking Up Slack.
Forward to Frederick of Poland: How Many Germans Does It Take . . ..
Return to For All Nails.