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For All Nails #103: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

by Johnny Pez and David Mix Barrington

Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
8 July 1974

The most astonishing thing about being a king, Fernando Hohenzollern had found, was how easy most of it really was. True, he had been on the job less than a month, and the King of New Granada was constitutionally far from a hands-on manager like the Grand Duke of Minorca, but he had expected more administrative tedium than he'd seen. He attended Privy Council meetings, of course, which were basically run by Colonel-turned-Prime-Minister Elbittar. Fernando put his oar in there only occasionally, since only occasionally did he differ with the direction the Prime Minister had in mind. When he did have something to say, it was listened to and even acted upon.

Much more of his time, of course, was devoted to ceremonial and other public occasions. He'd worried about this, since he'd spent so much of his short life working to avoid publicity, but as it happened it was dead simple. You met with people, you smiled at them, you nodded when they spoke, you waved to crowds, and that was pretty much it. Fernando had expected the job to be much more demanding because so many other monarchs seemed to find their public duties so burdensome. His Imperial cousin William of Germany avoided public view as much as possible. Henry of Great Britain was kept out of public view as much as possible. Cousin Frederick was caught between his fractious subjects in Poland and his overbearing masters in Berlin. Christian Gustav of Scandinavia was consumed by his fear of the Germans and his desire for international prestige. Alexandra of the Cape had been ostracized by the main branch of the House of Orange and hagridden by her government. Edward of Australia was locked in a constant struggle with his government over foreign policy. Rama of Siam was frantically trying to keep his own government from falling apart. And Akahito of Japan was practically a prisoner in his imperial palace.

What Fernando had finally decided was that it was easy to be a king if your primary task was to be popular. William and Henry were not expected to be popular, so they felt free to be unpopular. Akahito was expected to be divine, which seemed to be incompatible with popularity. All the others were expected to actively rule their kingdoms to a greater or lesser extent, which inevitably meant political complications, and hence a certain degree of unpopularity with one group of subjects or another.

True, he did have his own ambitions to help shape policy and carry out a certain number of targeted philanthropic projects, but he was well aware that his chief purpose was to be the smiling face of the New Granadan state, while Elbittar and the rest of the government did most of the actual work of running the kingdom. It was a simple division of labor, and Fernando thought it an excellent way to run a country.

The annunciator on Fernando's desk chimed. "Yes, Enrique?"

"Your Majesty, the Prime Minister is here to see you."

Fernando smiled. One of the vices he had acquired in the CNA was punctuality, and it pleased him that ex-Colonel Elbittar shared it. Nine o'clock on the dot, every day. "Please show him in," he said.

The door to his office opened, and Enrique escorted Elbittar in. "Your Majesty" the Prime Minister said with a bow. One thing Fernando had quickly learned was that Elbittar took the ceremonial aspects of his newly-established monarchy very seriously indeed. He suspected that it was Elbittar's way of fighting back against what he saw as the chaotic nature of Mexican-style republicanism.

"Prime Minister," Fernando responded, "please have a seat." Now that Elbittar held a traditional political office, he felt that it was no longer appropriate to be referred to by his former military rank. "Colonel" might be all right for a Temporary Maximum Leader, but a Prime Minister had the dignity of his office to think about. Elbittar craved legitimacy (why else would he create a monarchy and place a member of the Spanish royal family at its head?), and he was just as fanatical about obtaining it as he was about strengthening New Granada. Fernando had come to believe that Elbittar genuinely regretted having to depose the Hermións in a coup, and had only resorted to it for lack of any viable alternatives.

Another thing Fernando liked about Elbittar was that he always dealt with the most important matters first. "Your Majesty, we have just received a most unusual proposal from London."

"Does it relate to our new treaty?" New Granada had just concluded a mutual defense treaty with Great Britain, an astute move on Sir Geoffrey Gold's part given how neatly Elbittar's near-term foreign policy goals dovetailed with those of the British. The signing ceremony for the new treaty was due to be held tomorrow.

"In a manner of speaking," said Elbittar with uncharacteristic delicacy. "Sir Geoffrey has suggested that we affirm our new alliance with a dynastic union. He wishes to arrange a marriage of state between yourself and Princess Sophia."

Fernando was stunned. "Marriage? Me? But I'm..." Too young to marry? Not really. 21 was young, but hardly too young. And though he hadn't given the matter any thought, Fernando knew in an abstract way that one of his duties as a king would be to marry and produce a legitimate (that word again!) heir.

He became aware that Elbittar was looking at him with a complete lack of expression. It was a lack of expression, Fernando knew, that he had honed during 15 years of serving in the FANG under the horrible Hermións. It meant that Fernando was on trial. Was he the sort of king Elbittar wanted, ready at a moment's notice to put his personal life at the service of the nation, or was he just a younger, slimmer version of Augusto Hermión?

"What are the plusses and minuses of the proposed match?" Fernando finally finished. He gave a small sigh of relief as Elbittar's face turned thoughtful. He had passed the trial.

"From a symbolic standpoint," said Elbittar, "the marriage would be an excellent one. The Windsors are one of the most prestigious royal houses in Europe. An offer of dynastic union from them reflects well on our nation. It would also add emphasis to the strength and firmness of our new alliance.

"On the other hand, from a practical standpoint, there are certain risks involved. If the time should come when we found that our interests no longer coincided, or even conflicted, with those of the British, it would be awkward to have an Englishwoman as Queen, and as Queen Mother to your heir. As well, there is the unfortunate fact that the Windsors are not known for their even temperaments, a deficiency they apparently inherited from their Hanoverian ancestors."

"Sophia herself seems to be fairly levelheaded," Fernando remarked.

"Ah, yes, she was at your coronation, was she not?" said Elbittar. "Levelheaded, you say?"

"In an English sort of way," said Fernando, smiling at the memory. "I'm sure she has her quirks."

"They tell me that she has managed to avoid the sorts of scandals that have plagued the rest of her family," Elbittar remarked. "That speaks well of either her character or her discretion."

"Or both," said Fernando with a chuckle.

Elbittar raised an eyebrow. "You seem to think well of the girl, Your Majesty."

"I do, my friend. I've found her to be well spoken, poised, and as Señor MacAnuff likes to say, easy on the eyes. Our land could do far worse for a Queen. And so could I."

With a rare smile appearing on his face, Elbittar said, "Then shall I advise Sir Geoffrey that we will accept his proposal?"

"Please do, Prime Minister," Fernando said, matching his smile. The two men stood, and Elbittar offered his hand.

"Congratulations, Your Majesty." Fernando took his hand, and reflected once again on what a sensible thing their division of labor was.

London, England, UK
9 July 1974

Princess Sophia Charlotte Elizabeth of the House of Windsor was naturally suspicious when her secretary told her that she had been summoned to a meeting. "Who am I supposed to be meeting with?" she asked.

"I've not been informed, Your Highness," Evelyn said. Like the rest of Sophia's servants, Evelyn had been chosen for her by her parents, and Sophia was under no illusions as to where her loyalties lay.

"Very well, Evelyn, I shall attend this meeting. You may go." Evelyn went, and once again Sophia was alone. She had become accustomed to being surrounded by spies, but she had never become reconciled to it. Being alone was awful, but being spied upon was worse.

Dressed in her usual black skirt and jacket, Sophia left her suite of rooms and made her way down to the Chinese Room. Like its predecessor in the original Buckingham Palace, FN1 the Chinese Room was decorated (overdecorated, she thought) with priceless treasures looted from Peking during one of the Opium Wars. FN2 Seated at the exquisite lacquered table were her father and Prime Minister Gold. Sophia's wariness turned to puzzlement. Whatever could this odd pair of human beings (and she used the term loosely) want with her?

Sir Geoffrey, being a mere mortal, immediately rose to his feet and bowed when she entered. The thought of being bowed to by such a man was quite repellent, and made her thankful that her duties rarely brought her into contact with her father's government.

Her father, being her social superior, was under no obligation to stand (other than the obligation of common courtesy that led a gentleman to stand in the presence of a lady), so naturally he remained seated.

"Your Highness," said Sir Geoffrey smoothly, "I am pleased that you have chosen to grace us with your presence." It would have been both pointless and petty of her to remind Sir Geoffrey that she had been ordered to present herself. The pointlessness she was prepared to ignore, but Sophia had met far too many petty people in her life to wish to become one herself. She settled for nodding at the Prime Minister, and taking a place at the table.

"Your Highness," Sir Geoffrey continued, "we have invited you here today to bring you wonderful news." As soon as she heard the words "wonderful news" come from Sir Geoffrey Gold's lips, Sophia knew immediately that whatever he was about to tell her would prove to be horrid beyond imagining.

The Prime Minister seemed about to continue, but her father evidently couldn't bear to let anyone else break the news to her. "You're getting married," he interrupted, "to some Dago in America." His look was one of mean triumph.

Sir Geoffrey at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Erm, yes, that is, we have been undertaking negotiations with the Kingdom of New Granada. We've reached agreement on a wide-ranging set of treaties establishing a comprehensive military alliance. As a means of celebrating this monumental product of international cooperation, our two governments have agreed to pursue a dynastic union between yourself and King Ferdinand."

Sophia had always known that she would eventually be married off as a means of cementing some political alliance or other. She had half-expected her father to arrange for her to be sold to some decrepit nobleman or vile industrialist as a means of winning over one of the Parliamentary factions. The idea of an old-fashioned international dynastic marriage had never occurred to her. It was certainly more appealing than the thought of acting as nursemaid to the Earl of Doncaster.

And to Don Fernando of New Granada! Brief though it had been, the memory of her meeting with him before his coronation was one that she treasured. Afterwards, she had acquired one of the instant biographies of him that had appeared within days of his accession to the New Granadan throne. The story it told of his tragic life had touched her heart, and his selflessness and nobility (in the best non-aristocratic sense of the word) had struck a chord within her. She honestly couldn't think of any man in the world she would rather be married to.

"Sir Geoffrey," she finally said, "you were quite right."

"About what, Your Highness?" he said in a slightly puzzled tone.

"This is wonderful news! How can I ever thank you? You've just made me the happiest woman in England!" And she smiled her brightest smile.

The look of disappointment on her father's face was absolutely priceless.

Forward to FAN #104A (New Granada): Martha Stewart Living.

Forward to 12 July 1974: A Royal Audience.

Return to For All Nails.