Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

For disclaimers, see Chapter 1


"Before the Incas ruled or had even been heard of in these kingdoms these Indians relate a thing more noteworthy than anything else that they say. They assert that they were a long time without seeing the sun and suffering much hardship from this, they offered prayers and vows to those whom they held for gods, beseeching of them the light that they lacked. At this the sun very brilliant rose from the island of Titicaca in the great lake of the Collao, and all were rejoiced. After this had happened they say that there suddenly appeared, coming from the south, a white man of large stature and authoritative demeanour. This man had such great power that he changed the hills into valleys and from the valleys made great hills, causing streams to flow from the living stone…

"They say that travelled along the highland route to the north, working marvels as he went and that they never saw him again…"

Chapter 5

There were exactly seventeen screws along the join in the ceiling right above Ally's head. They were each approximately a centimetre in diameter, set about ten centimetres apart, and were painted the same off-white colour as the rest of the ceiling. They were, in fact, almost invisible, except for the tiny hexagonal holes in their tops and the fact that they were raised just slightly above the level of the surrounding roof, but once one knew they were there, they were quite easy to find.

Ally had found all the screws in the seam within five minutes. That had been fifteen minutes ago, and she was beginning to regret the impulse which had made her refuse the sedative the doctors had offered her.

She was once again flat on her back, but this time the young woman was further immobilised by a neck brace and the restraints holding her body tightly to the bed. It had been one of the requirements imposed by the doctors before they would let her board the plane. Though Ally had regained full movement in her limbs within two days of her emergence from the coma, the muscles and tendons along her spine were still healing, and nobody wanted to risk a sudden movement of the plane shifting the vertebrae and undoing all the progress she had made.

And, according to Dr Corbeil and Dr Calinot, Ally had made excellent progress over the last week. Her mobility had returned slowly by steadily over the course of the first two days, though it had been another two days before they would allow her to leave the bed or even sit upright. The last few days of physiotherapy, though painful, had let the doctors predict total recovery, though more therapy would be needed as her muscles and tendons healed themselves.

The pain of recovery had been more than worth it when Dr Corbeil had finally removed the catheter.

Through it all, Princess Evelynne had been nearby almost the whole time. Most of the times she wasn't occurred during Ally's first few physiotherapy sessions, which Ally had asked no one be present for. Ally had made the request of Dr Calinot to have as few people as possible present. When asked why, she had replied, "I don't like being the centre of attention." The doctor had agreed, though the knowing twinkle in her eyes had puzzled the young woman.

The other times that the princess wasn't present were when she was speaking to her father - and Ally was still bemused that Evelynne could speak of the ruler of an entire nation in such familiar terms - and a few private conversations with her bodyguard and lady-in-waiting. These conversations always took place outside the room Ally was in, although a few of them - especially in the last three days - had been voluble enough to spill over into the room through the closed door. Alleandre had been tempted several times to listen in, but had firmly quashed the impulse. Still, from the fragments Ally was able to pick up, Evelynne was supposed to have left two days ago, and Ally wasn't quite sure why she hadn't. The few times Ally had tentatively raised the subject, the princess had mumbled something about "obligations", and "trying to push me around", then changed the subject.

Finally, though, Dr Calinot had pronounced Alleandre fit to travel, and Ally had had to announce her decision.

They were alone for the night, and Evelynne had just finished their nightly ritual: reading a section of another book of Ally's. They had finished The Colour of Magic the day before. The princess had been practically rolling on the floor for the last part of it.

"So, the doctors say you can leave tomorrow… if you want to," Evelynne said quietly. "Do you know what you want to do?"

Ally swallowed. "Um… Does… um… Does that offer to go with you to Atlantis still stand?" she asked hesitantly.

In the dark, she couldn't see how Evelynne's eyes lit up. "Of course it does," the princess answered. "I'd almost insist on it." She added quickly, "I'm not, though. Insisting I mean. It's still your decision. Although I've talked enough about you to za that now he's dying to meet you." This time Evelynne was glad the darkness covered her blush.

"Za?" Ally asked, momentarily side-tracked.

"Za. My father. Za means -" She thought for a moment. "- sort of like 'Papa'. Or 'Dad'. Less formal than zazu."

"Oh." She calls the ruler of one of the wealthiest countries in the world "Dad", Ally thought, suddenly more intimidated. Most of the time I can forget, and she's just Evelynne, but then something comes up and I know that some day she'll be the ruler of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Do I really belong in that world?

"Okay, I'd like to go with you." The words slipped out before she could think any further.

Evelynne was sure that Ally could hear her grinning in the darkness. "Astani! Excellent!" she exclaimed. "I, er, had my people set everything up for you just in case. Heh." She was a little embarrassed now at her enthusiasm, but gamely decided to press on. "We'll be landing in Jamaz, and probably spend a day or two there to visit with za. Then we'll go up to Kilim on Avalon. That's where the Summer Palace is. I had been planning to stay there for a couple of weeks when I was done with this tour. Of course, that was before…" She trailed off, then picked up the thread of the conversation again. "Anyway, Maîda's arranged to have anything you need for physiotherapy set up there, and we can always bring in anything else you need or want. It's a beautiful place. I have my horses and sa-kima nearby. Do you ride? Then there are the beaches…"

Alleandre listened, unable to get a word in edgewise, as Evelynne continued to rattle on until they both fell asleep.

And so now Ally was strapped to a stretcher inside the Royal Atlantlan Aircraft Ptah-Ra, a medium-sized jet used by the Royal Family for trips. Though Ally was no expert on aircraft, she had flown enough - commercially and otherwise - to guess that it was about the size of a DC-10. From what little she had been able to see as she was carefully carried on board, the interior, however, was totally unlike any commercial airliner, being more along the lines of a Learjet, as befitted such a prestigious conveyance.

Right now, though, Ally's field of view was restricted to five feet of rather bland ceiling and, just at the corner of her right eye, the edge of a window. Outside that window, she knew, three KR-1 Dragon fighter planes of the Royal Atlantlan Air Force were flying escort as the Ptah-Ra completed its ascent after takeoff. Ally envied their freedom.

She also briefly envied Chorus, who was at that moment on solid ground. The young man had temporarily declined the princess' offer to accompany them, choosing instead to spend some more time touring France. He had promised to visit soon, though.

After an eternity, the plane's flight levelled off, and the pilot gave the passengers permission to move around the cabin once more. He hadn't even finished speaking by the time Evelynne had unbuckled her seat belt and hurried forward to where her new friend was lying. Though she had wanted to, she had not been able to sit beside Ally during takeoff. There were only two seats near the place where the stretcher was bolted to the floor, and both had been claimed by a doctor and nurse in order to keep an eye on their patient's condition.

As Evelynne moved closer, she could see the doctor bending down to speak to Ally while the nurse checked her vital signs. The princess could hear neither the question, nor Ally's response, but the doctor seemed satisfied. Looking up, the doctor saw Evelynne approaching and smiled.

"Alleandre's doing as well as can be expected, Your Highness," he said before Evelynne could ask. "She's obviously not as comfortable as she'd like to be, but she says she isn't in any serious pain." He smiled again at Evelynne's sigh of relief. "I'll leave you two alone for now. I'll be back a bit later to check up on you."

"Thanks, Dr Ryann," Evelynne said, then moved closer to look at her friend as the doctor collected his assistant and moved toward the back of the plane.

In Evelynne's opinion, Ally didn't look like she was doing as well as Dr Ryann believed. She was quite pale beneath her tan, and Evelynne could see a thin sheen of sweat across her brow. Her breathing seemed to be quick, and a glance at the monitor beside the bed told the princess that her pulse was slightly fast. Her eyes were closed behind the new pair of glasses resting on her face.

The glasses had been arranged for by Dr Corbeil before leaving the hospital. Since Ally hadn't been able to see clearly enough to form an opinion, and Evelynne had not felt up to the challenge, the task of choosing the style of frames had fallen on the long-suffering Maîda. With the unerring sense of style which allowed her to make up and attire the Heir to the Kingdom, the lady had studied Ally's face critically for a full minute - much to the face's owner's discomfort - and had then left on her mission. The result, in Evelynne's opinion, was perfect. The glasses were small and rectangular, made of a silvery material, and fit Ally's facial features perfectly.

When Chorus had seen them, he had whistled and said, "Wow, Ally! You're not a geek anymore. You're going to have to give up your membership with Nerds Incorporated."

Now the eyes behind the glasses in question flashed open when Evelynne said quietly, "Hey, Ally, are you feeling okay?"

"No," Ally snapped. She immediately felt bad when she saw the hurt in the face beside her. "Sorry," she apologised, adjusting her tone. "It's just that I'm stiff, and sore, and I can't move, and I'm feeling a little sick."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Do you usually get sick in planes?"

Ally started to shake her head before the neck brace reminded her of its presence. "No, normally I love flying. Normally, though, I'm not lying down and strapped in. I also think the painkiller they gave me before takeoff is screwing up my sense of balance. I do know it's messing up my brain chemistry. I can't seem to concentrate very well."

She didn't add that just before Evelynne arrived, she had been trying to project her sight outside the aircraft, hoping the sense of total freedom would alleviate her growing claustrophobia. The attempt had failed when she couldn't focus her mind properly, her thoughts scattering whenever she got near it.

"I'm sorry," Evelynne said again. She gestured in the general direction of the departed doctor. "Do you want them to give you a sedative so you can sleep?"

"No, I've been doing enough sleeping lately." The fear that if she went to sleep she wouldn't wake up again was well hidden.

"Okay. Well, I came bearing gifts. Or a gift, actually." Smiling brightly, Evelynne produced a book from behind her back with a flourish. "Tada! The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett. Chorus managed to find a copy before we left. Would you like me to read to you?"

Ally returned the smile with a genuine one of her own. Oddly, her nausea and claustrophobia seemed to have vanished completely. "I'd love that."

Some time later, the plane landed after the three hour flight from Marseilles to Jamaz on the island of Hy Braseal. Ally had awoken just before landing, mortified to find that she had fallen asleep while Evelynne was reading to her. The embarrassment had only lasted long enough for her to crane her neck and catch sight of the princess, equally fast asleep with the book resting in her lap.

They had been separated briefly during the landing itself, but Evelynne had returned immediately to help the doctor move Ally out of her stretcher and into a waiting wheelchair.

"Pwaise Hestia!" Ally exclaimed as she was finally returned to an upright position.

"Pardon?" Evelynne asked.

Ally waved the question away. "It's from a television show. You have to have seen it to get it."

"Oh, okay."

Then Maîda took charge, helping the young woman into a soft, light green shirt and brushing her short brown hair into some semblance of order. Only Evelynne saw the amused expression on All's face while Maîda fussed with and clucked at the unruly mass of hair.

"What's so funny?" the princess asked.

Ally chuckled. "My Mom does the same thing whenever I'm at home. Especially when I go out. I keep expecting Maîda to stick a finger in my ear and say, 'Goodness, you could grow potatoes in here.'"

Evelynne's answering giggle turned into a full-fledged laugh when the older woman in question snorted, then stuck a finger in Ally's ear and exclaimed dramatically, "Goodness, you could grow potatoes in here." When Ally predictably blushed and shot her a reproachful glare, Maîda just raised both eyebrows. "I wouldn't want to disappoint you, dear."

Finally the lady-in-waiting pronounced Alleandre to be presentable. Moving on to Evelynne, it was Ally's turn to laugh as Maîda made a great show of looking in both the princess' ears. When she was done, she announced, "You'll do."

"High praise," murmured Evelynne to Ally as she began to push the wheelchair towards to exit to the plane and the ramp beyond.

A fairly minimal procession of Guardsmen formed up around the group as they reached the ramp, acting more in the role of honour guard than as bodyguards at the moment. Given the people who were present in the airport, the security was already incredibly tight.

As they started up the corridor leading to the Royal Terminal, Sir Arthur moved slightly closer to Evelynne and said in a low voice, "Your Highness, His Majesty is waiting for you in the terminal."

"I thought he was going to meet me at the Palace," Evelynne said, startled.

"As did I, Your Highness. Apparently the King had other ideas." There was a conspicuous lack of disapproval in his tone.

"What about Patrick and Aunt Cleo?"

Sir Arthur relayed the question through his mic, and listened to the response. "Brother Patrick is here, as well, but Her Majesty is not. I am told that there has been an emergency on Avalon. I'm afraid I don't know the details."

"Well," Evelynne breathed, earning a glance from the woman in the wheelchair she was pushing.

"What's wrong?" Ally asked.

The princess shook her head briefly. "Oh, nothing's wrong. It's just that instead of waiting at the Palace, my father has decided to meet us here."

Ally paled. "Here?" she asked, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat. "Now? Oh." A pause. "Do I have to curtsy or something when I meet him? I mean, I've never greeted royalty before."

Evelynne raised an eyebrow. "Hello? What am I? A peasant?"

"Uh, that is… You, um…" Predictably the blush appeared.

Evelynne chuckled. "You should really get that redness looked at. It seems to be spreading." The princess didn't know why she was the one blushing now.

Despite Ally's anxiety - or perhaps because of it - the journey up the ramp seemed to take no time at all. Suddenly a room opened up ahead, and standing within was another group of people. Several of them were obviously Guardsmen, and a couple were wearing attire that screamed "bureaucrat", but they were all dwarfed by the sheer presence of the large red-haired and -bearded man at their head.

"Za!" Evelynne took one look at the big man and took off, dodging around Ally's wheelchair and charging forward on a collision course which ended when his strong arms wrapped themselves around her tightly. For her part, Evelynne's good right arm held on just as tightly, and the King's blue and purple tabard was quickly damp with tears.

Around them, the onlookers studiously ignored the emotional reunion.

Finally after long moments, the protests of Evelynne's injured shoulder became too loud for her to ignore, and she pulled back from her father's embrace enough to look up into his face.

"Hello, Evy," he said, his voice suspiciously husky. "Good of you to make it back… eventually."

The princess ducked her head. "I'm sorry, za. I know I should have come back right away. It's just that -"

"No, that doesn't matter now," the King interrupted. "All that matters now is that you're home and safe, and that you're going to get better." A movement seen out of the corner of his eye made the pair turn to face the newcomer. "And here is your brother now to reassure you."

The young man in the monk's robes grinned up at his father and down at his sister. "Reassure you? Not likely. I'm here to tell you that if you ever try anything like this again, God Himself will track you down and spank the living daylights out of you." Patrick turned to his father and spoke in a stage whisper audible to everyone in the room. "Did I get that right, za? I think that's what you wanted me to say."

There was a sudden outbreak of coughing in the room as King Jad scowled fiercely at his son. Patrick grinned back unrepentantly, then held out his arms wide for his sister. "Evy, it's good to have you back."

Evelynne returned her brother's hug fiercely. "It's good to be back."

King Jad looked around the room. "Now, where is this young woman to whom we all owe so much? I've been looking forward to meeting her."

On cue, Sir Arthur pushed forward the wheelchair containing a nervous Alleandre. Ally craned her neck up at the red giant before her, and hesitantly touched the fingers of her left hand to her forehead, lips and chest in the way Evelynne had taught her. Unsure of what to do afterwards, she let her hand fall awkwardly into her lap. "Er… hello, Your Majesty," she stuttered.

The King's eyebrows rose at the surprisingly small-looking woman. Unconsciously he had been expecting someone… larger, more… impressive. Instead there was this incredibly young girl sitting before him, looking up at him out of slate-grey eyes displaying a large dose of intimidation.

Realising that he was towering over her, King Jad surprised everyone by going down on one knee in front of Ally, moving gracefully for someone of his size. With his hands pressed together, the King returned the greeting, touching them to head, lips and breast. Then, ever the diplomat, he extended his left hand. The young woman hesitated a moment, then allowed her hand to be taken. "Hello, Ishta Tretiak. You have no idea how glad I am to finally meet you. Speaking as the King, We wish to thank you on behalf of our nation for laying your life on the line for the Heir to Our Throne." His voice took on a more formal cadence for the last sentence, but lightened once more as he continued, "Speaking as a father, I want you to know that there is nothing I'll ever be able to do to thank you enough for bringing my daughter back safe… if not quite totally sound. If there is ever anything that is in my power to provide, it is yours." Sensing the discomfort level rising in his solitary audience at his effusive speech, the King backed away slightly, though he remained crouched down.

Guessing that some response was required, Ally stammered, "Um, t-thank you, Sir." She immediately kicked herself mentally. He's the King; you don't call him "Sir"! You call him "Your Majesty", or… or…

The King didn't seem to notice her imagined breach of etiquette. Instead, he beckoned over his son, along with a rather round man in a business suit and a thin, severe-looking blonde woman wearing a simple uniform in the same colour as the King's. Reaching out to draw Patrick closer, King Jad introduced, "Ishta Tretiak, may I introduce Brother Patrick of the Order of Saint Robert, my son."

Patrick reached out to give Ally's hand a firm shake. "Hello, Ishta Tretiak." He grinned at her. "I must say it's always a little odd when za introduces me to anyone. 'This is my son, the Brother.'"

That startled a laugh out of Ally, and she relaxed minutely. "Please call me Ally," she said. "And if you think it's bad now, imagine if you become a priest. Then he'll have to say, 'Meet my son, the Father.'"

Everyone got a laugh out of that. "That's a good one," Patrick said, still chuckling. "I'll have to remember to tell it to Abbot Huro."

Evelynne was pleased. She should have known that Patrick would be able to get Ally to relax. She mouthed a "Thank you" when he turned slightly to smile at her.

Still kneeling, the King next introduced the overweight man, who looked to be in his sixties. "This is Omar ibn Larak, my Foreign Affairs Advisor. He's been helping to co-ordinate the search for your parents."

"Ishta Tretiak," the Advisor greeted as Ally found her hand clasped in a large, slightly sweaty palm. "I'm afraid we still haven't managed to track down your parents yet. The RCMP found a store where they had been to pick up supplies, but apparently missed them by less than a day. According to the owner they bought enough food to last several weeks, so it is unlikely that they will be back soon. The police, as well as some park officials are searching, but given the size of the area…" He trailed off, shrugging his wide shoulders.

Ally shook her head. "I have no idea exactly where they are. Before he became a teacher, Dad used to lead hiking adventure tours professionally. He's an expert at remaining unfound in the wilderness."

"Ah." ibn Larak looked almost comically crestfallen. "Well, needless to say, we will keep looking."

As the Advisor moved back, the severe unsmiling woman took his place. King Jad said, "And finally, this is Ellen Dray. She will be your personal assistant for the duration of your stay in the capital. If there is anything you need, she's the one to ask."

The woman nodded briefly, but did not offer her hand. "Ishta Tretiak," she said emotionlessly.

Ally nodded back.

"And now that we've all met," continued the King, rising to his feet, "we really must get going." He continued speaking in English as a courtesy to Ally. "There is a fairly major diplomatic disaster brewing as we speak." At Evelynne's questioning look, he waved a hand dismissively. "I'll let you in on the details once we get back to the palace."

As the group took their places for the procession to the waiting motorcade, Evelynne found her place pushing Ally's wheelchair pre-empted by her brother. "You've had Ally all to yourself for the last week, Evy," Patrick responded to his sister's belligerent look. "It's my turn now. Besides, you're going to need both hands free to wave to your adoring fans."

Evelynne could only assume that Divine intervention was the reason her glare didn't strike him dead on the spot.

The group made its way at a fairly brisk pace down the hallways of the Royal Terminal towards the exit. Evelynne, resigned to losing Ally's attentions to her brother Patrick, walked at King Jad's left side, her right hand firmly held in his big hand. The disappointment showed on her face enough for her father to notice, until he had to ask, "Evy, what's wrong? Am I such a terrible second prize?"

He jerked his head behind them, to where Patrick and Ally were walking. Patrick seemed to be monopolising the conversation, though Ally's occasional interjections and their mutual laughter showed that they were definitely enjoying themselves.

Evelynne looked guiltily up at her father. "Sorry, za. She's just become a good friend over the last week, and this is pretty much the first time that someone else has taken her attention completely. Honestly, though, I'm really happy to be home."

"Oh, I don't think Ishta Tretiak is ignoring you. In fact…" He tilted his head and listened to part of the exchange behind him, then took a quick peek over his shoulder, catching Patrick with a mischievous grin and Ally with a blush. "In fact, I'd be willing to bet my Throne that you are the main topic of conversation."

Evelynne looked back with a glance of her own, just in time to see Patrick whispering something in Ally's ear. Her brother was grinning evilly as they both laughed, though Ally reddened further and shot an apologetic look to Evelynne when she saw the princess looking.

"Oh, Isis, this is bad," Evelynne said. "This is very bad. I just hope he doesn't really embarrass her. She's very shy."

"I noticed that," King Jad said. "I wouldn't worry, though. Patrick's always known just how far to go."

"Yes, unfortunately," Evelynne replied. Sighing, she decided to put the matter from her mind. "So what's the disaster that you were talking about?"

The King sighed, briefly showing the full weight of his responsibilities. "Last night the Third Escort Fleet escorting the trade convoy to Cuba ran into Hurricane Ida. One of our Hydra-class destroyers lost all of its navigational systems, was blown off course, and ran aground on the Florida coast just south of Miami. Nobody was seriously injured, but now the U.S. military is trying to get the crew off and their own people on board. We, of course, don't want them anywhere near it, and we're trying to get permission to send in some tugs to pull it out to sea. We don't want them on board because of the sensitive technology, and they want to get on board -"

"- because of the sensitive technology." Evelynne frowned. "Wasn't a U.S. spy plane forced down in China a few months ago? The Americans raised this huge stink about Chinese personnel going aboard, didn't they? So why do they think they can board our boat?"

The King shrugged. "They're claiming that since the boat was beached, it's technically a wreck, and is therefore the property of the first nation to claim it. We're saying that since the crew is still aboard, it is technically not a wreck, and is therefore still Atlantlan soil." He rubbed his eyes. "The diplomats are just getting warmed up. Your aunt is supervising the negotiations, otherwise she would have been here. She sends her love."

Evelynne nodded. She was used to political obligations interfering with her family's lives. She envied Patrick sometimes for escaping that world.

After several minutes of walking through nearly deserted hallways, the procession finally arrived at the doors to the Terminal. Before exiting, the party stopped, and the King turned like a general facing his troops. "Okay," he said, speaking English for Alleandre's benefit, "there is the usual crowd of press and well-wishers waiting outside. Evelynne and I will be doing a small photo-op." He moved to kneel once more in front of Ally wheelchair. "Ishta Tretiak, the press has, naturally, a burning desire to speak to you and take some pictures. Is that all right with you? If you wish, we can shield you from it."

Ally stared at the King with a suddenly pale face. Press? Photographers? Dozens of strangers staring at her? Still, Evelynne seemed comfortable with the concept, and the young woman had no desire to seem weak. "Um, that'll be okay, Sir," she said faintly.

An expert on reading the tone of a person's voice, the King looked at her closely for a moment, then nodded reassuringly and stood. With a single glance at his Master of Guards and a barely seen shake of his head, King Jad conveyed his orders. Taking hold of his daughter's hand once again, he ordered, "Very well, then. Whenever, you're ready, Sir Adun."

A Guardsman, whom Ally assumed was Sir Adun, listened intently to his earbud for a moment, then nodded at his liege. "We're ready now, Sire."

Of course. Sire. That's what I should have been calling him. I really hope I wasn't too stupid, Ally thought, desperately trying to avoid thinking of the crowds waiting outside. She felt that she might vomit. No, you will not throw up, she ordered herself firmly. That would be too much. She set about using all her abilities to suppress her nausea.

The doors opened suddenly, exposing the party to the noise, light and slightly overcast weather outside. I'm gonna hurl.

Before Ally could follow through on her internal statement, she was pushed outside, blinking rapidly at the sudden brightness. Mentally bracing herself, she was surprised when a group of six Guards formed up around herself and Patrick, effectively blocking them from the view of the people standing nearby. Evelynne and her father, accompanied by another small group of Guardsmen, broke off to the side, towards the waiting cameras. Before they moved out of sight, Evelynne shot a glance and smile back in Ally's direction.

All of a sudden, Ally found her wheelchair being lifted carefully into a stately van emblazoned with the Altantlan Royal crest. As the chair was fastened securely into place, Ally saw that the interior of the van was luxuriously appointed, reminding her of the one time she had even ridden in a limousine. The young woman started slightly as Patrick climbed into the seat across from her. "A bit of a rush, isn't it?" he asked.

Still slightly dazed, Ally replied, "I thought I was going to have to get my picture taken. I mean -"

The monk cut her off with a raised hand. "Please, Ally, everyone could see that was the very last thing you wanted," he reassured her. "You were turning a most unappealing shade of green. Za would never want you to feel uncomfortable, especially for something as minor as a few photographs. I manage to avoid the press because of my religious calling. In a few days once you've settled in a bit we'll bring in a single photographer to take a few pictures, and maybe have a short interview. It will be entirely under your control."

"Thank you," Ally said fervently. Looking around the vehicle once more, she remarked, "I never thought of royalty as driving around in a minivan before."

Patrick chuckled. "Now there's an image. 'Will Your Majesty be taking His Highness to football practice today?' 'No, We are just heading out to pick up some groceries.'" Patrick's imitation of Sir Adun and King Jad had Ally laughing heartily. "Seriously, though, my grandfather, King Jad the First lived to be ninety eight years old. He was in a wheelchair for the last twenty. So, za had them bring this old clunker out of storage. It's got all the bells and whistles. Would you like to have a vodka or call the Prime Minister of England?"

"No, that's okay. Maybe later. I haven't spoken to Mr Blair lately."

The door opened again, this time admitting King Jad and Princess Evelynne. They took a minute to get settled, the King next to Patrick and Evelynne next to Ally. Finally ready, King Jad knocked on the partition separating the back seats from the driver, and the sound of police sirens could be dimly heard as the motorcade got under way.

Once the van was moving, Evelynne sank back in her seat with a weary sigh. Despite the stress that was evident in her face, Ally though she still looked radiant.

"Oh, Isis, I'm glad that's over for the moment," the princess stated. "I admit that I normally love doing that, but I thought they were going to eat me out there."

I wouldn't mind eating - Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Ally thought.

"Are you all right, Ishta Tretiak?" the King asked. "You look a little red."

"She does that a lot," Patrick observed.

Continued in Chapter 6

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