For King and Country – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Iolana woke with her head resting on Ascan’s bare chest.  She didn’t move, though she could tell by his breathing that he was awake.

“Pfennig for your thoughts,” he said.

“I was just thinking what a horrible hypocrite I am.”

He chuckled.

“No, really.”

“Oh, I’m not arguing,” he said.  “What brought on this amazing realization?”

“My mother became pregnant with me before she was married, and over the years, I’ve called her so many horrible names because of that fact.  Now here I am, like a pampered animal that rages in savage sensuality.  I am as intemperate in my blood as she was in hers.”

“Iolana, things look different when you have a different perspective.”

“Kafira,” she said.  “My father said almost those exact words to me.  Have I always been such a fool?”

“You’re not a fool,” he said.  “You were naïve.  There are worse things to be.”

“Like what?”

“Unforgiving.”

She lifted her head up and looked into his eyes.

“I should forgive my mother?”

“Yes,” he said, “right after you forgive yourself.”

“How did you become so wise?” she smiled.  “Perhaps you should become the professor and I’ll be the merchant.”

“I’m a banker, and a successful one at that.  Now get up and fix your fiancé something delicious to eat.”

Iolana’s large eyes grew even larger and her cheeks blushed.

“I can make eggs and toast, but… I’m… not a very accomplished cook.”

“The marriage is off then,” he said, grabbing her and pulling her up to him.

She struggled for just a minute before surrendering and letting him kiss her mouth.

 

* * * * *

 

Governor Iolanthe Dechantagne Staff carefully examined herself in the mirror.  She had long ago faced the fact that her days of great beauty were behind her, but she still looked strong.  She looked ready to face down any threat to her family or her colony, be it man, dragon, or act of God.  The day she looked in the mirror and saw a feeble old woman, she decided, she would eat the barrel of her revolver.

Leaving her rooms, she walked past the elevator and briskly navigated the stairs to the first floor.  It was still before seven and Maria scheduled breakfast for eight each morning, so Iolanthe marched to the kitchen for a crumpet and tea.  It was with some surprise that she saw Yuah and Gladys sitting in the south sunroom as she passed by.  She stopped and stepped through the doorway.

“You two are up unusually early,” she observed.

“We have a great deal to do today,” said Yuah.

“Well, you don’t have on your swimming costumes, so I take it you don’t intend to spend the entire day pearl diving.”

Yuah gasped.

“You’re disgusting,” growled Gladys.

“You shut up or I’ll slap you into next Festuary, you little deviant!”  Iolanthe turned to Yuah.  “Keep a muzzle on your pet.  You, I have to put up with.  Her, I don’t.”

“What’s going on here?” demanded Augustus, appearing in the hallway behind Iolanthe.  “Mother.  Gladys. Auntie.”

“Just Iolanthe being her usual cow of a self,” said Yuah.

“I built this house as large as it is primarily so that the two of you would not randomly run into one another.”

“You’re up early too,” Iolanthe observed.

“I wanted to catch a ride with you to the office,” he replied, still frowning.

“Then let us be on our way.”

 

* * * * *

 

“I really wish you and mother could get along,” said Augustus, as he steered his aunt’s car down First Avenue.

He was the only one she suffered to drive her.  He was the only one she had ever suffered to drive her—he or his father.

“I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle this morning,” she said.  “I said something that hurt her feelings.”

“What did you say?”

“I made a comment about what she was wearing.”

“Well, it seems innocuous enough,” he said, “but you know how sensitive Mother is.  You should know it if anyone does.  The two of you have been together longer than most married couples.”

“That is true,” she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a fingertip.

“We certainly don’t need any blowups at the wedding,” he said.

“Oh, there won’t be.  In any case, I’m glad you’ve come in early.  I want you to consult with Colonel Mortimer.  You will be commanding the Colonial Guard in the upcoming action against the dragons.”

“Auntie, I’ve never commanded men in battle.  I’ve never even been in a battle myself.”

“You’ve studied military science.”

“It’s not the same thing,” he said.  “I’ve read about military strategy and tactics, but you can’t learn everything you need to know from a book.”

“That’s not what my daughter says.”

“I’m surprised to be the one to tell you this, Auntie, but Iolana does not know everything.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that.”

He laughed.

“The two of you are exactly alike.”

“She’s nothing like me,” said Iolanthe, sticking her chin into the air.