Avenue Boar ran west from the Great Plaza of Magnus to St. Admeta Park, which was a lovely square expanse of fruit trees and green swards open to the public only on holidays or special occasions. To the north of St. Admeta park was Palace Eidenia, home of the Princess Royal, though since the death of Princess Aarya some ten years prior it had been unoccupied by any member of the royal family. To the west of the park was Avenue Royal which led to Sinceree Palace, where King Tybalt III spent his days while in the city, and to the south was Crown Street which led to the Palace of Ansegdniss where the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon met. Along either side of Crown Street were the official homes of the King’s ministers. Number 3 was the home of the First Lord of the Treasury while number 4 was the home of the Second Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Foreign Minister lived in number 7 and the Judge Advocate General lived in number 8, but the largest of the homes on Crown Street was number14: that of the Prime Minister.
Stepping out of her steam carriage, Iolanthe Dechantagne retrieved her parasol from behind the seat and opened it, even though it was a walk of only thirty feet to the door. She tucked a small envelope of papers under her arm. The parasol matched Iolanthe’s outfit, a grey pin-striped day dress framed with waves of antique lace. The single police constable stationed at the Prime Minister’s door nodded affably and made no mention of the fact that Iolanthe’s parking skills had resulted in both tires on the right side of her car being well up onto the sidewalk. He opened the door for her, and she stepped into the vast foyer of the official residence. A maid was waiting to take the parasol and lead her into the offices of the Prime Minister.
Iolanthe had not expected to be kept waiting and indeed she was not. The PM, The Right Honourable Ewart Primula stood up from behind a massive oak desk that had been fashioned from the timbers of the ancient battleship H.M.S.Wyvern. He was a tall, balding man with a thick middle and rather loose jowls that tightened up when he smiled.
“Lady Dechantagne,” he said, hurrying around, but waiting for her to shake his hand.
Iolanthe pursed her lips. “Prime Minister, you know that title is not appropriate.”
“Well, it should be,” the PM replied. “It is most unfair that you should suffer because of… well, because of your father. If it were up to me, your title would be restored and your brother would be viscount.”
“We both know it’s not up to you, and the one man that it is up to is not likely to share your inclination.”
“Let’s not speak of it then,” said Primula, gesturing toward a comfortable antique chair. As Iolanthe took it, he walked back around the desk and sat down. “What can I do for you today?”
“As you already alluded to, my once historic and distinguished family is not quite what it was.” Iolanthe licked her lips. “No viscounts in the house at present, I’m afraid. My two brothers and I could of course live comfortably for the rest of our lives on our household income, but we have bigger plans. We are going to bring the greatness back to our name.”
The Prime Minister nodded.
“Our plan is not just to help ourselves though,” she continued. “Freedonia and Mirsanna are building colonies in distant lands and are becoming wealthy as a result. Greater Brechalon must do the same thing. We propose to build a Brech colony, assuming a royal charter is available”
“In Birmisia,” the PM said, nodding.
“We have as yet not decided. Birmisia is one possibility. Cartonia is another.”
“I think you have settled on Birmisia. You went to a great deal of trouble to have your brother stationed there.”
“Why Prime Minister,” said Iolanthe, with a thin smile. “I didn’t know that we warranted such attention.”
“If anything, I believe I have not been paying enough attention. You are quite a remarkable person, particularly for a woman.”
“And you are quite a perceptive person, Prime Minister, for a man.”
Primula chuckled. “So what is it that I can do to facilitate this expansion of our empire?”
“First of all,” said Iolanthe. “There is the question of the aforementioned charter.”
“I see no undue complications there.”
“Then there is the question of transportation.”
The Prime Minister looked puzzled. “You will charter ships, yes?”
“I will arrange for a number of ships to deliver both settlers, and equipment and supplies. But in order to assure the safe transit of the first settlers and to guarantee the establishment of the colony, I would like the use of a Royal Navy ship, preferably a battleship, along with its crew, of course.”
“Of course,” Primula laughed. “You know you just can’t charter a battleship like it was a yacht for the Thiss Regatta.”
“Talking of which, congratulations on your victory yesterday.”
“Thank you. The regatta is one of the few pleasures I still allow myself.”
Iolanthe leaned forward, her hand reaching out with a heretofore unnoticed small envelope, which she gave to the Prime Minister. He accepted it, opened it, and unfolded the document inside.
“Sweet mother of Kafira,” he gasped, his face turning white. “Where did you get this? No. I don’t want to know. Does anyone else know about this?”
“But they will if I don’t accede to your demands?”
“Don’t be silly, Prime Minister.” Iolanthe leaned back, folding her hands in her lap and smiled. “This is the original. There are no facsimiles. This is a gift.”
Ewart Primula jumped up from his seat and pulled aside a large portrait of His Majesty on the wall behind him. He quickly turned the combination on the safe, which was revealed, and in a moment he had placed the paper and the envelope inside, closed and locked the safe, and replaced the stern portrait of the King. Turning around, his face took on a wary look, as if he only just realized that there was a tiger seated across the desk from him.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said slowly.
“Don’t mention it, Prime Minister,” Iolanthe smiled. This did nothing to drive the image of a tiger from his mind. Neither did her next words. “I consider it my duty, one I can perform again. There are a great many similar documents drifting about, you know.”
The PM dropped heavily into his chair.
“As I understand it,” he said with a sigh. “There are two battleships coming in for extensive refit in the next few months—the Minotaur and the Indefatigable, if I’m not mistaken. One of them could be held until you are ready. It is of course, in the best interest of the empire to establish this colony.”
“Oh, indeed it is,” replied Iolanthe.
“Is there anything else?”
“Oh, export papers and manifest waivers, and things of that sort; nothing we need to discuss face to face.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a government wizard?” More than a hint of sarcasm was present in these words, but Miss Dechantagne appeared not to notice.
“No. When the time comes, we will hire our own spellcasters—ones we can trust.”
She stood up and the Prime Minister walked around the desk to take her hand, though he seemed far less enthusiastic about it than he had on her arrival.
“You can’t trust any of them,” he said.
“It is not a question of whom one may trust, Prime Minister,” said Iolanthe. “It is a question of how far. I will trust them precisely as much as I trust anyone else.”