And just like a bad penny or a case of herpes, Sky is back again. Do I have to metaphorically spray Roundup on my story to get rid of her? At least she’s made her decision and is Roland’s problem, now.
The locals, not knowing what, or rather who is coming, Centurion Hill pressures Deke Webb into his decision, too.
Down a hall in the opposite direction, Jimmy and Robert paused in a corner to themselves. Rockford immediately took a flask from his jacket pocket, twisted the cap off, and took two big mouthfuls before handing it over.
“Guh… got it from the distillery just a half mile north of here,” he explained. “Good stuff!”
Robert took a single drink, not wanting to make any mistakes for the rest of their meeting, and passed it back.
“Thanks! You’re right, that’s as good as most anything we make,” he agreed. “What is it about this area and boubon?”
“Magic dirt may not help the races, Bobbie, but it does matter for good alcohol!” Jimmy laughed, putting the flask away. Over his shoulder, outside and down in one of the walking paths, it looked as if some couple was having an argument. Certainly the smaller of the two was pummeling the larger… that smaller got so mad they tore off their hat. Exposing their white hair.
“Back in a minute!” Robert ran for the stairs, trying to recall where the doors were on the ground floor.
A very careful observer of humanity, Rockford turned to look out the window and noted the squabble. Who were they and why was his fellow legionary so very interested? This, he knew, would be worth watching. Less than a minute later came Hardt, running up to the couple.
As he was facing the building, Roland saw him coming and waved with his right.
“Hello, cousin,” he called, deflecting Sky’s strikes with his left.
“You!” The girl spun about, hands up in claws like a cat. “This means you’re a goddam prince, too, right!”
Robert guessed that Roland decided to lay out more of his background to his girlfriend. And since she knew they are related…
“Yes.” He looked to Roland. “How much does she know?”
“Most but not all.”
“Did you propose to her?”
“Not yet. It wouldn’t be fair if she didn’t know what and who I am,” the slightly older man admitted.
Robert enjoyed seeing Sky’s face drop as she whirled back around.
“Y… you… you’re gonna propose to me!” she nearly shrieked. Robert hoped no one was listening too closely. “You can’t! You’re a prince!”
“I am a demi-human, capable of feats and wonders you cannot imagine, little one!” Authority seemed to gather about him, utterly ruined as he sank to one knee in the damp grass and took her hands. “But for now, I want you to be my wife. Here and now, on this earth and on worlds without end.”
“You’re a prince!” She couldn’t seem to get past that. “I can’t say yes!”
“Of course you can. It’s easy.”
Robert took a few quiet steps closer and saw her red eyes were swimming in tears, some just starting down her cheeks.
A cool wind rustled the trees about them.
“Sorry? What was that?” Roland asked.
“Good!” He stood and pulled her into him. “Very good! Robert? You and your friend up there on the third floor looking at us so intently are pro tempore witnesses. Barring some paperwork and ceremony, Skylar Hartmann is now my wife. Speaking of…”
He leaned her back away from him, his shirt damp with her tears.
“Wife?” She gave a jerky nod, tossing a few more tears. “Just so you know: you are pregnant with our son. Let’s take care of him.”
“How do you know that!” she screamed pushing away from him.
“Looks as if I’m done here, cousin,” Robert waved. “You set this up for me to see, didn’t you?”
“Of course. You are about to get an even bigger surprise,” he smiled with his eyes glittering silver, looking back at the Capital Building, “in about twenty minutes.”
A sibling coming to congratulate…? That made no sense; they could just as well meet in the Void or a Machine’s construct. Robert was returning to his meeting with Sky’s shouts still echoing about the Capital ground behind him. So if not this little drama scene…
Prince Robert finally remembered: at every creation of a viscount or marquis, there was always one specific person there.
He sprinted for the door. He had little time.
Centurion Hill was nearly to the door of their conference room when Robert intercepted him. A hand onto his shoulder and a curt “come with me,” led them back to where he and Rockford had been standing just some minutes ago. Out the window, Roland and his new wife seemed to have moved off.
“We need to wrap this up much faster than we thought,” Robert told his boss.
“I’d like to know why, Hardt,” Hill asked, quite reasonably.
We’re wasting time!
“If Webb is to be made marquis, what does that imply? Regarding imperial ceremony, that is?”
“It implies that the marquis-to-be takes a personal oath of loyalty to their sovereign,” the prince laid out, trying not to look at his watch. “Personal.”
Hill’s eyes widened slightly as that sunk in.
“The Empress will be here in less than twenty minutes, sir.”
“Follow me!” his centurion ordered, taking them back to sit at the table. Everyone else was already there. Hill scrawled a note and passed it to the tribune who verbally replied, “I know.”
“Mister Webb? The Change is nearly fifty years behind us and there has been much evolutions in local cultures in that time,” Hill began, looking forcefully across the table. “Texas on their own, Mexicans came north, and first the Russians and now the Canadians coming south.”
“And of course your own monarchy, right next door to us.” Webb’s depreciating smile came back. “A little surprising in what used to be the United States.”
“Looking to the next election is no different than looking to the next quarterly profits. I’m told you’re married but no kids yet, correct?” Hill asked out of the blue.
“Well, that’s…” Webb was suddenly at a loss.
“But you, Mayor, have two daughters,” the centurion shifted his gaze slightly. “That will appeal to the Empress. Have you set your sights higher?”
“I…” The mayor gave a significant glance to his right. “I have no further political goals than my current post.”
Panck Hill’s hands slapped the top of the table. The locals jumped.
“Does no one here wish to lead their people?” He asked with what Robert knew was fake exasperation. “Must we appoint one of ours? Or just call the mountains our new border and leave y’all to the Canadians?”
“I will lead,” Webb said, standing, just as the sky outside the window grew dark. A cloud? Robert suspected…
Hill, then Atkinson, then the two rankers stood.
“You swear before God?” Hill asked.
“Then let us exit to the front lawn of this building so that you may swear it to the Empress, who is His regent on this part of the Earth.”
Outside, there were voices of military men, yelling orders to each other.
“What is…?” Webb tried.
“That is not a cloud over us, Mister Webb,” Robert said clearly. “It is an imperial troop ship, capable of carrying three cohorts to anywhere on this continent in less than two hours. Fortunately that is not what it is carrying today!”
He smiled as only a Crown Prince could.
“Your Empress is here to see you, right now. Will you make her wait?” he asked.