Turbulence in the Water
Neal had used the words ‘turbulence’ in his letter, ‘havoc’ would have been a better description. The crown princess Maya wanted her mother to give up the throne. But she was not the power-hungry soul everybody deemed her to be. In truth, it was the love for her mother that made her do so.
Queen Crysta was sick and she had been successful at hiding it from all but one. The stress of the throne was causing even more damage to her already deteriorating health. Still, she was not ready to give up the throne. Maya urged her mother that she may not get a clear title to the throne in case of her sudden demise and a civil war may break out between the various claimants. The hierarchy to the throne was not as clearly defined for them as it was for the starlites and the humans.
Crysta called a tri-council meeting.
“Maya is right. It is time for me to step down. It was time a long time ago.”
“We all know why you didn’t,” Natalia said.
“It was a mistake. I think I’ll manage better if I am away from the public eye.”
“You should do whatever you think best,” Suffle said. “But remember that Maya has not taken the vow.”
“I do think it’ll be for the best. My health does not permit me to manage the affairs like I should. And I’ve talked to Maya. She’ll need me as a liaison to the grounds.”
“Make her the queen and you become the ambassador,” Natalia said.
“Yes.” Suffle smacked his palm on the table. “Give her the throne, but don’t give her the legacy. She is not ready for it yet.”
Crysta smiled. “And I’m not ready to leave the tri-council.”
“Why don’t you come and live in the castle with me?” Natalia offered.
“No,” Crysta said at once, “as much as I want to, I’m afraid that it will send the wrong message. It will look like I’ve abandoned my subjects or that Maya has banished me.” Crysta was not sure if living out of the water would be good for her health.
“Yes you are right,” Natalia said wistfully, “as always.”
“First Sia and now Maya,” Suffle said raising his glass, “our little princesses are becoming queens. I’ll drink to that.”
“I wish Neal would let me step down,” the empress sighed.
“And when will you retire?” Crysta asked.
“Never.” Suffle chuckled. “Charlie will have to remove my dead body from the throne.”
“I think he’ll just burn the body and order a new throne,” Natalia said.
The three monarchs drank in peace.
“I almost forgot to tell you,” Suffle said after a while. “You should start looking for a new colonel. I have heard rumours about Hossier.”
“Rumours?” Natalia tilted her head. “It’s more like he came over to you for permission. Don’t I know how things run?”
“Not permission dear, advice.” The king smiled. “Nevertheless, it’ll be weeks before the formal notice and months after it.”
“We have six candidates. Who do you like best?” Natalia asked Suffle. She knew his knowledge of the starlites to be superior to the humans.
“I don’t think his preference needs to be asked,” Crysta interjected, “it’s obviously his daughter.” On seeing his eyebrows rise, she corrected herself and said, “Pseudo daughter.”
“You are mistaken,” Suffle said to the empress, “there are twenty one candidates. All the commanders from the three teams are eligible for promotion.”
“It is Neal who looks after matters related to the guardians,” Natalia said, realising her mistake. “Let the burden of selection rest on him.”
“I suppose he will choose the best sword-fighter,” the king jested, “the winner of the championship.”
“Or he may look for other qualities such as good negotiation skills or vigilance,” Crysta said dryly.
“Young people tend to favour people their own age,” Natalia commented.
Suffle chimed in. “Plus she is a decorated veteran who saved his life.”
“Like he thinks it to be a favour,” Natalia mocked with a sad undertone.
Neal had already decided who was going to be the new colonel. In spite of that, he had taken a promise from Colonel Hossier to not hand over a formal notice till his successor was decided.
He had had a meeting with one of the commanders named Duke, who had declined the offer due to personal reasons. But Neal had anticipated it and was ready with a second name.
So when the empress asked him he answered, “Commander Qureshi has been with the guardians the longest. He has the most experience and he is the most deserving after Commander Duke, in my opinion.”
“Isn’t he too old for that?” She narrowed her eyes.
“Too old?” Neal said, “he himself told me once that he hopes to be here till he dies. But if he says no, I have another name.”
Natalia smiled. “I’m sure you have a list with twenty-one names on it.”
“Twenty now that Duke’s name has been cut off,” Neal corrected. “The next on the list is Commander Poles. He has not been that long with us, but he is an enthusiastic fellow,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody else loves this job more than him.” Neal added in a dramatic voice, “He is furious with his sword and has eyes of a cat.”
Natalia laughed. “You advertise them like you’ll get a commission. Just hand over the list to me.”
The order was followed in an instant. Neal moved to his desk and handed a paper to his mother.
The empress read the list. The prince sat down on his chair and gazed out of the window, thinking about his latest plan.
“I’m surprised to see Sophie on number seven.”
“She is in Colonel Hossier’s team. That gives her an added bonus,” he said without shifting his gaze from the window.
“I thought she would have been your top choice.”
“Why? Just because she is the King’s favourite?”
“I thought you were friends with her.”
“And since when do we practice nepotism?”
“She just won the championship.”
Neal turned back to look at his mother. “She is new to the job. She doesn’t have that much experience.”
“But she is a decorated war veteran,” Natalia argued. She knew he was lying. There was something else.
“She is good with swords but that’s not enough. Besides…” Neal turned his gaze back to the window.
“Besides what?” Natalia asked; her voice a little louder than usual.
Neal stood up. “See this list of twenty-one people.” He pointed at the paper in her hand. “How many females do you spot?”
“And there is only one female in Hossier’s team.”
“What has that to do with anything?”
“A bunch of men won’t be comfortable with a female as their boss.”
“That’s not her fault.”
“Many people get punished for things which are not their fault,” he said bitterly and then said, “You have to admit that there are a lot less females in the guardians. I think it is because the idea of dealing with the nymphs appeals more to the males. Or, maybe the females don’t like the grounds. I have been trying to get more females to join. One of the reasons I recruited Commander Antofurota,” Neal said with a smile, “is that she is a female.”
“You are right.” Natalia sighed. “It’s unjust but needful.”
“The male ego is a delicate thing. The commanders should be able to respect their colonel.”
“You,” Natalia said shaking her head, “and your behavioural science.”
“Since she is a favourite with the king, we have to be biased against her,” Neal said. “You yourself call her Sophie and invite her to our castle. People expect us to be biased towards her.”
“I don’t like your methods,” Natalia said. “They may be logical but they lack emotion.”
“Thank you.” He bowed mockingly. “Emotion has never been my forte. And my methods always turn out to get the best results.”
“Then why do I always worry about them?” she asked.
“How would I know that?” he said flatly.