III

Barnett Meets the Queen

STRIPPED OF ALL ROYAL peripherals—with neither a ponderous crown, nor a pompous robe, nor pounding scepter—the Queen of Molan still looked majestic on her tall burgundy throne. Her broad face and hooked nose, coupled with long black hair straightening down to her waistline, were far more intimidating than a crown and a robe; her bellowing voice far more commanding than the scepter’s pound. She shifted her massive weight about impatiently, eyes riveted at her prince consort, who checked his watch once more and shrugged helplessly. She shook her head and snarled, “This commoner, Barnett of Ahio.” The prince consort fidgeted, looked away. She continued, “He has no respect for anyone.” She cleared her clogged throat, clogged not so much from phlegm than it was nerves. “Unbecoming!” she ballooned, the third syllable pounding against the walls with a jolt across the hall.

“Unbecoming!” came the echo from the doorway, only it was unmistakably a male voice, lacking the queen’s masculinity and melodious like a song. Barnett’s silhouette stood motionless against the bright sunlight; he lifted a pocket watch to his face, and said, lyrically, “How unbecoming of your customs officers to make you wait for exactly two minutes, Your Majesty.” His silhouette gradually evolved into a handsome white suit as he strutted through the doorway. “Your men insists that I must be searched,” he continued. “To think that I was privileged with your private audience!” The visitor’s tailored frame and uplifted chin—sheer show of flamboyance—floated across the long, intimidating aisle of the queen’s court. He spoke as he walked, combining the two actions into a subtle showcase of superiority, so that one could not fault him for flaunting. “Your Majesty.” He intimated ten figures at the queen’s mustard robe. “Gorgeous yellow!” Arriving at the throne, he continued, “Silk from the far west, I presume?” He took the queen’s hand very close to his lips, and whispered, “Great taste!”

The queen thrust her grasped hand into his lips and swiftly pulled away, sweeping a huge arc across her face. “Let’s get on without the flatteries,” she said, in her natural booming voice, sniffing the back of her hand, and sprinkled off imaginary dirt from her fingernails. “Tell, sugar king, how is his highness—your king—coming along? Has he received my invitation to the princess’s wedding? Is the Ahio royal family coming to Molan?”

“I’m no official of the king, Your Majesty,” Barnett replied, maintaining the music in his words. “But as far as I know, my king has graciously accepted your esteemed invitation. He’s delivering his farewell speech to the people”—he pointed two forefingers to the ground—“as we speak.”

Farewell speech for a day trip?” the queen asked rhetorically. “What, is that old foolish boy thinking I’m going to drown him—and his dynasty—into the Pacific?” She answered her own question: “Hardly”—sighed condescendingly—“To raze Ahio to the ground is as easy as turning my palm; for starters, think of that blooming barrack of yours sticking out like a sore thumb brilliantly in the dark!” she said, as she admired the jeweled stones on her fingers. “O well—” she sighed once more. “All that I ever wanted is to offer my protective love over him and his people; all that I ever wanted is to raise my bulwark around the Pacific islands to fend off threats from damned Dartnorthers.”

I am doubtless the Pacific is a much safer place when it seeks refuge from the great Mother Hen.” Barnett reinforced her superiority.

“Sweet!” she chortled emotionlessly. “Sugar King, indeed!” She turned serious abruptly, gazing into the visitor’s eyes, hands on the very high chair arms, so that she looked like a lioness on the brink of predatory. She enunciated every syllable: “Barnett Ahio.”

“All ears, Your Majesty.” Barnett fidgeted.

“If your king accepts my offer of protection, will you continue to serve”—she cast a huge imaginary net with a broad sweep across the expanse of the hall—“the greater kingdom?”

“I would most surely turn your kingdom into a sweet global success!” Barnett replied instantly. “Only if—” he stared into the queen’s eyes perceptively, letting her continue his sentence in her own head.

“Only if the old fool suddenly got wise,” she spoke her thoughts aloud.

“And if he does not?” Barnett ventured.

Molan leaned back into her throne and muttered, “We shall see.” Her voice soft and overbearingly confident. Then raising back to her natural commanding disposition: “Tell your king this”—inspected her manicured nails, a deep red—“that I’ve deployed my elite navy to our shared passage to guard the waters from damned pirates, as a goodwill gesture. They would station in the open sea over the next two years. Tell him that in the next three years—if the old man lives long enough—my firepower will be doubled, as will my manpower. My consort had worked on recruitment for the last fifteen years from as far as Dartnorth. Everyone knows that I want only the best. Mediocrity in Molan is a punishable crime.” Checked her nails yet again. “And tell him that I am expecting his entire family at my little daughter’s wedding.” She flicked her wrist at Barnett. “That is all, Sugar King.”

Tell the king this? Tell the king that? You’re so right I’ll serve you, queen of all arrogance and pomp. Barnett felt his fuming nerves tingling at the gut. He held his stomach back with a hand as if to make a gentlemanly decorum, bowed, and said, “Gladly, Your Majesty” in a lyrical manner, still.

“Adjourned!” Molan said brusquely, the word ended with a pound that sounded like a grounded scepter. The prince consort squirreled next to the throne to discreetly intervene her dismissal. “Your Majesty,” he whispered, indicating to her the colt in the butler’s hands. The colt was a handgun, an elegant revolver that chambered a powder charge of sixty grains, more than twice a regular black powder revolver. It was a beauty, but it was in every sense a lethal weapon. It was the consort’s idea of a “meaningful gift”, when the queen asked for one. It was a pistol loaded, indeed, with meanings, which only its receiver could unravel.

“Sugar King!” the queen called after the receding visitor. “A gift!

“A little gift,” she snarled.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events,

or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Unpublished Manuscript (IV):

Nod

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