“Good day, Mother Linton. How lovely that you could join me this afternoon.” Iolanthe wore, for her, an unusual day dress. It was light blue satin with a dark velvet mock-coat. The front left far more cleavage than she was used to wearing, but the bouquet of flowers gently tucked at the base and flaring outward covered some of that. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman seated in Bonne Nourriture. She stood up to shake hands with the priest.
Mother Linton accepted her hand. She wore her traditional robe, black with one white stripe running down from each shoulder. Her hair had grown quite long and straight since coming to Birmisia and it had gone completely grey. Sitting down, she added the white linen napkin to her lap.
“Don’t you prefer Café Etta?” asked the priest.
“I thought this was more appropriate.”
A lizzie, wearing a white apron, handed each of the women a paper menu. “Ssessial is glazed iguanodon.”
Mother Linton curled her lip. “I’ll have the chicken salad.”
“The same for me,” said Iolanthe, and smiling, handed back the menu. She watched the reptilian waiter depart. “You do know there are no chickens in Birmisia, don’t you? Our salad will most likely be velociraptor.”
“Hmph. I don’t get the opportunity to eat out very often.”
“That’s a shame. I find it advantageous. It gives me a chance to take the pulse of the community.”
“I don’t need to know the pulse of the community. I am not a politician.”
“At least not a very accomplished one,” said Iolanthe.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, Mother Linton, that this business with the Zaeri has grown tiresome. Despite the fact that I have no strong religious feelings, I understand that you do. That, and the fact that I respect strength in a woman, is why I’ve not interfered with you leading your flock. But now you are becoming a danger to this colony. If you drive wedges between the Kafirites, the Zaeri, and the lizzies now, we may not be able to unite against Freedonia.”
“The lizardmen are nothing more than animals, and the Zaeri are infidels. They killed Kafira.”
“Well yes. Some of the Zaeri did kill her. Some of the Zaeri were her followers. Some of them were her apostles. And as you priests so often seem to forget, Kafira herself was a Zaeri.”
“Don’t presume to teach doctrine to me.”
“Fine. Politics then. If I have to, I will have you removed from Birmisia and sent back to Brech.”
“There is a word for defying the authority of the Church,” hissed Mother Linton. “It’s heresy.”
“Yes. I could be burnt at the stake,” said Iolanthe, “if it were three hundred years ago. There’s a word for defying my authority too. It’s called treason, and they hang people for it. Still.”
“You care nothing for Kafira or the Church.”
“You are absolutely correct, Mother Linton. I care only for Birmisia Colony.”
“You care only for your family name.”
“One is the same as the other,” said Iolanthe, her voice cold steel.
“I’ll have you excommunicated. How will your family name look then?”
“I doubt the Church hierarchy will be so inclined when I show them the evidence that you had Yuan Weiss try to assassinate me.”
“I…” Mother Linton gulped for air. “I never did any such thing.”
“Oh, I admit that some of the evidence had to be manufactured, but it is very convincing. Here comes our ‘chicken salad’.”
The lizzie waiter returned and placed a large plate in front of each woman. Iolanthe picked up her fork and took a bite.
“No,” she said. “This is nowhere near as fine as Café Etta. Aalwijn Finkler knows how to run a top-notch establishment. You know, I believe he is a Zaeri. And if I’m not mistaken, he married a nice Kafirite girl. I wonder. Do they attend your church or do they go to shrine?”
Mother Linton glared back. She had not touched her food. Iolanthe took another bite.
“Do you know what they have done to the Zaeri in Freedonia?” she asked. “They chased most of them out. Those who couldn’t get out, they herded into work camps. They murdered tens of thousands of them.”
“That’s just propaganda.”
“No it isn’t. It’s the truth. And after the war is over and the extent of the Freedonian atrocities is revealed, good compassionate Kafirites everywhere are going to be shocked and angered at what was done in their name. Freedonia will become synonymous with prejudice, hatred, and evil. And the world will look at Birmisia, and what will they see?”
Mother Linton said nothing.
“They will see harmony. They will see Kafirites and Zaeri working together for the greater good of Brechalon. And they will see my family as the architects of this veritable utopia. But there will be plenty of rewards to go around. I offer you a part of this. You don’t have to let go of your prejudice and hatred. You just have to swallow it way down inside, and not let it back out.”
“For all your arrogance, you cannot see the future,” said Mother Linton. “The Freedonians may march right over this city tomorrow.”
“I do not think so.”
“Are you counting on your Zaeri witch to save you?”
“As a matter of fact, I am. What are you counting on?”