Mideer has set part of her plan: she’s to invite a band of Macarans to Madjaria so her people can see how ridiculous their prejudices. Her people might even want to experience their Holy Land—as now she’s discovered their ancestors did. So now, next on the agenda, the technologically advanced Glyntlanders . . . Read on
Glyntland. Though I wasn’t so long in their land as I’d been in Macara, I was away from Madjaria for an equal time for their land was more distant. But once I’d convinced them that despite I’d a womb I’d also a brain, and that though I was a child in their eyes yet I was soon to be queen of my land, my interests there rolled along. My main problem with the Glyntlanders—the ministers, those few I was allowed to speak with—was their insistence on addressing themselves to Hean as if I’d none of their language. That, and that they preferred for me to see such of their inventions that could never be useful to us—but that had been our prime complaint of them.
In the time of my grandmother they come bamboozling both king and the Landed with tales of how rich we Madja would grow merely by the installation of a railed-road. They would install. They would provide the required expertise and materials. (Our Landed-lords would provide labour from off their lands.) But all of this, my priests, you must know. They had said nothing—or if they’d said then they’d whispered it—of the fuel needed to power the wretched contraptions. And as to their payment: that has been our worst burden and the main cause of anger against them. My prime objective, in visiting their land, was to amend this situation.
I had been in Glyntland seven full days, shown around this and that installation, swamped—ney, drowned—in given statistics, before they granted me a meeting with their First Minister. I was told I was honoured indeed; that such impromptu meetings with visiting . . . (and here the spokesman had paused) . . . dignitaries without prior arrangements (by which he meant where the dignitary had not been invited) were rare. I swallowed a sharp retort and endowed upon him my most engaging smile. (I had rapidly learned how to deal with these people: that appearance meant everything, even if empty of meaning.)
First Minister Yournin—whose name I made a point of using, particularly since he seemed unable to remember mine—smiled and nodded at me. Then, like the other Glyntlanders we’d encountered (including the women), he addressed himself to Hean only.
“I understand you are here to invest in more of our Glyntland technology. While we welcome such foreign interest, there is a matter of outstanding payments. In addition—embarrassing to say—there are outstanding clauses to the original contract yet to address. A matter of—if I remember the figures—263 freighter-deliveries of fuel.”
“Coal,” I said, drawing his attention back to me.
“Coke,” Minister Yournin amended. “Smokeless. We care for the environment here.”
I bit back my retort, that though they might care for the Glyntland environment they had shown a disregard for that of Macara and my own Madjaria.
“First Minister Yournin, there are as yet 263 freighters-full of coke to deliver because my Madja have no use of it, and because we no longer have space to store it. And we, too, care for the environment. And we are aware that the cost of that coke and the freighter-delivery has been added to Madjaria’s indebtedness to Glyntland—Hean has the figures (in Glyntland coinage, though you must be aware, to we Madja that means nothing—”
“Do you deny that you owe—”
“First Minister Yournin, if you’ll allow me to finish. I do not deny what we owe, in Glyntlander terms. Hean has also calculated the debt in terms of fruit had in trade—which to my Madja has more relevance. Now, I have a proposition to make.”
Despite Minister Yournin seemed taken aback by that, yet he now sat back and allowed me to speak—though I thought, at first, he was paying no mind: he would allow me to speak, then drive along as if I’d said nothing. Yet at some point I noticed a look in his eye. Of interest.
“In fact,” I said, “I have three propositions. The first concerns our payments to Glyntland in the form of our fruit.” And I outlined to him the suggestion that Madjaria and Glyntland should form a trading alliance. A partnership.
We then would ship to Glyntland—under the eyes of a Madja agent—an agreed volume of fruit (by season). That same agent would then—in partnership with the Glyntland agent—oversee its sale here in Glyntland. The profits (after cost of shipping and storage) would then be divided equally between both parties. (I will not deny that Hean had much to do with the wording of this.)
“By selling on the open market, I anticipate our half share of the profits will be considerably higher than that which you currently allow us against for fruit-quotas. Half of our profit can then be offset against our debt. If you care to have your numerators check Hean’s figures I’m sure you will find that this trading alliance will fetch for Glyntland a much higher yield of coins. As for my Madja, to see some return on their sweat might incline them to think more favourably of you. You may not answer me yet on this. Yet I shall have an answer before I leave for Madja.” I glanced at Hean.
He told Minister Yournin—with a smile not returned, “You have eleven days to discuss in council Lady Mideer’s proposition.”
“This sounds like a threat,” the First Minister said. “And if we don’t agree it?”
“First Minister Yournin, do you want this debt of ours paid off or not? By my proposition you stand some chance of it. Now, my second proposition. These 263 freighters-full of coke for which we’re indebted, plus that already delivered . . . at the present time we have no use of it.”
“You want us to take it back? Perhaps exchange it for something . . . other?” Minister Yournin asked with a barely-hid sneer. “But the freightage alone would incur more costs.”
But, no, that wasn’t my intention. “I believe we may have some other use of it. Could it, perhaps, be used as fuel to heat water?”
“But of course, that is the simplest use of it. Have you not been using it thus, all these years in storage?” And now he was talking as if I barely was walking.
“It was agreed not to use it, for my Landed-lords hoped that we might yet be relieved of it. But since we are not . . . Could it also be used to fuel, say, a water-pump—to take water from a deep source and deliver it to—“
“Ah! I see where you’re going with this. You want hot and cold running water installed in Madjaria. Every home to be supplied. Simplicity itself!” he declared.
“No,” I said. “You would have us run when rather we’d crawl. No, my thought was rather to install bathhouses—if I lead the way, install a bathhouse on each of my estates, I am sure my Landed-lords soon would follow.” The idea had only recently come to me courtesy of the facilities at the Ambassador Hostelry where I’d been accommodated. Oh the joys of a warm shower or a bath. So I confess, my first thought was entirely selfish. I wanted to take this installation home with me!
“What you ask would be easy. But it would hardly eat into your stored resources.”
“It would be a beginning. But . . . After your mistake regarding the railed-road, I would insist that my Landed-lords are involved in the planning. Sourcing materials. The labour. Indeed, at every step of the way. And materials and labour will be locally got wherever possible. The idea is not to increase our debt to you. Also, I want your planners and managers to reside in Madjaria at least for the first stage of the project.”
“You want Glyntlanders to live amongst the Madja?”
“Excuse me, First Minister Yournin, but is there a reason why they should not?”
He shrugged. “I suppose we could set up an encampment . . . Install at least a basic level of technology . . . But—”
“First Minister Yournin, you said it right when you said ‘amongst’ my Madja. I want no encampment, no ‘segregation’. I want my Madja and your Glyntlanders to work together. To me, that has more importance than any building of bathhouses.”
“Discuss it with your councillors,” Hean inserted. “There are eleven days yet before we leave.”
“And if we . . . refuse?” he asked, his face now beginning to redden.
I smiled my most enchanting. “Perhaps a return of those freighters-full of coke already delivered to us? To be dumped in that pretty green park that fronts this building? Might that persuade you?” Though I have to admit I had not the people nor the vessels to do it.
“Now, as to my third proposition. Your ministers have very kindly shown me astounding examples of your technical abilities. Yet—apart from the baths—what interests me most is one of your most ancient constructions. The Western Canal. That system of locks is quite ingenious. Now –” I allowed him no time to cut in “– had your forefathers installed in Madjaria a similar transportation system (instead of that railed-road) I am sure every Landed-lord would not now be cursing your name—oh, not you personally, First Minister Yournin; we are not so ignorant as to believe yourself to be to blame. But let me explain.”
His face had now turned a very rich red.
“Much of our fruit is grown in the highlands. Yet apart from the farmers, most of our population—and thus the markets—reside in the lowlands. Not to mention, of course, that’s where the ports. Thus to transport the fruit—including the fruit-quotas—our Landed-lords must use asses. (For some odd reason, when installing that unwanted railed-road, such a consideration was not . . . considered. The railed-road connects only lowland estates to lowland ports.) But were we to have something resembling your Western Canal, that would facilitate the portage of fruit from the hills to the markets and ports. And I am sure that would go a long way in removing the tarnish upon your national name.”
And now, my priests, I expect you are wondering how I came to return from Glyntland when you knew—of course you knew—that an assassin had been sent to prevent it?
My Uncle Z’lon arrived on the eve of our departure, puffing and panting like he’d run all the way when in fact he’d sat on his arse for the full eight-days of the voyage. He told me at once that my mother had died. It was not unexpected. But when he said of my father too . . . but he didn’t immediately tell me that.
He said, “In your absence your cousin Maygan sits on the throne.”
“What! But . . . And what does my father say to that? No! No, he would not approve it.”
That’s when Landed-lord Z’lon told me the rest. And though Hean held my hand, willing his strength to me, I felt more sickened with every word.
“Your father is dead,” Z’lon said. “I am ashamed to say, killed by our brother, Gregon.”
“Gregon—my contracted father-in-law? But I don’t understand. Or does he intend that Maygan should marry baby Jon? Well, she is welcome to him. Oh, and now I see. Of course. Gregon then must sit as Regent. Him and Asperin both.”
I thought I’d been clever, despite the whirl-pit in my head, that I’d understood the machinations of my uncles. But no, I’d been wrong.
“Gregon wants the throne for his daughter Jaegar,” Z’lon told me.
“He’s against Maygan? But the Kings House doesn’t provide the queen. Besides, Jaegar’s only a child.”
“Yet your Uncle Gregon is not.”
So we were back to Gregon as Regent. And who would he find to marry Jaegar? Which infant barely toddling would he name as the king?
“There is talk it’ll be Lantri’s son Antroni,” said Z’lon.
“Oh, a reversal,” I said not hiding the sarcasm. “We take the king from the Queens House and the queen from the Kings. Huh! And this has the support of the Landed?”
Z’lon nodded mutely, then added, “Though oddly, not Lantri. I believe he wants the queen’s throne for his own daughter. So now he and his supporters have marched on the palace.”
“Armed rebellion,” I said and sighed. “It’s time I was home.”
“No!” Z’lon leapt to his feet in alarm. “No, you must not. I’ve been sent here to kill you. But . . . My Queen Mideer, I cannot do that. But please, please, do not return to Madjaria. You’ll be killed as soon as you set foot.”
Oops! So it’s not to be a happy return. What will Mideer do now? She has with her only the boat’s crew and her personal corps of ten. And Hean, though proving himself a useful adjutant, is not known as a warrior. Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next episode, To Help Jump The Coup