Previous, Next, Numerical Index, Chronological Index.
For All Nails #81b: Ball and Chain

Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
15 June 1974

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 [1] 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 [2] for himself.  "Have you seen cousin William [3] 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," [4]
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 [5] and Kausler [6] 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 [7] and
Ezra Bakersfield. [8] 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. [9] 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 laughed.  "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?" [10] asked Frederick with dawning
suspicion.

"Not at all, Your Majesty," Fanchon protested. [11] "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."

Notes:

[1] Although the Spanish line of the Hohenzollern family was originally
founded in 1799 by Frederick the Great's youngest brother, Ferdinand VII
(1730-1811), Freddi and Ferdie are actually second cousins once removed,
since Ferdie's great-grandfather King Charles VIII married Freddi's
great-aunt Beatrice.

[2] Named for their inventor, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.  If I've
already recycled this gag before, I don't care.  It's irresistable.

[3] The Emperor William II of Germany.  Although he is the first German
Emperor named William, cousin Willi has followed in his father's footsteps by
continuing the numbering of his royal Prussian ancestors.

[4] Elective Queen of the Cape Kingdom, a smaller version of OTL's South
Africa.

[5] Horst Voth, German Defense Minister.

[6] Heinrich Kausler, German Science Minister.

[7] Secretary of State of the USM.

[8] Foreign Minister of the CNA.

[9] Premier of France, but you knew that.

[10] Henryk Zielinski, Chancellor of Poland.

[11] Not /directly,/ at any rate.