The Tea Meets
Commander Qureshi entered the room through a window. Neal was sitting on a chair waiting for him. The commander had been to this room only once before. It was still as big and spacious as ever. Neal called it the Starlite Meeting Room.
The commander saluted him. “Your Majesty.”
He was a lanky man, measuring an inch above the prince. He knew why he had been called.
Neal requested him to sit on the chair opposite to himself. He signalled the servant to bring tea.
“Colonel Hossier wishes to leave the guardians in a few months,” Neal said without ceremony. “I think that you are the best candidate to be his successor.”
“I’m honoured but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline Your Majesty’s generous offer,” he said sipping the tea.
Neal looked at him in a thoughtful manner. “Are you also planning to leave? I know it’s very rare to be with the guardians for as long as you have.”
“I love this job,” the commander said. “I wouldn’t dream of retiring. I plan to die as a commander in the guardians.”
Neal smiled. “But not as a colonel?”
Qureshi crossed his fingers. “I’m content as a commander. I don’t want any increase in my responsibilities.”
“I can understand,” Neal said. “I’m sure we’ll find someone and I hope you’ll give him, or her, your full support.”
“Definitely, Your Majesty.”
Neal invited the next guy on the list, Commander Poles.
“Commander Qureshi felt that he was too old for the promotion,” Neal said to the person across the table. “I see where I was mistaken. A young person with his whole life ahead of him is obviously the best choice for the promotion. I suppose you have great plans for your future.”
Poles was one of those men who looked too young to be their age. He had been twenty five when he had joined the guardians, more than a year ago. Still, he looked younger than the prince. Colour rose to his white cheeks as he said, “Your Majesty is right. I do have plans for the future.”
Neal waited for his answer, tapping his fingers on the cup he was holding.
“I am about to get married,” Poles said with a smile. “And I’m also about to--”
“Leave the guardians because she won’t live on the grounds,” Neal completed his sentence for him feigning disappointment.
“She would’ve, but she has a job in the mountains.”
“Congratulations are in order, then,” Neal said. “Is she a warrior? We need more females in the guardians.”
“I’m grateful for Your Majesty’s kindness, but she is not at all suited for this job. She is a seamstress.”
“A new colonel and a new commander,” Neal said in a calculating voice, “no, two new commanders. You have anybody in mind?”
“In our team Qureshi has already said no, Jenson is not in it for long, Will’s no good,” Poles counted on his fingers. “Antofurota. From the seven of us, I think Commander Antofurota is the best suited for the job.”
Neal smiled kindly. “Someone for your post?”
“Oh,” Poles flushed again, “I know the perfect man for my job- Captain Carton.”
“Commander Roberts,” Neal welcomed the fourth person the list.
“Your Majesty.” He saluted.
“I suppose you know the reason behind our meeting.”
“Yes, sir,” the ex-soldier replied. He had a hard face with thick eyebrows and a moustache.
“And what’s your answer?”
“I don’t think that it’ll be wise for me to leave my current team and take charge of another team. If the post of the colonel was vacant in my team, I would have happily grabbed the offer.”
Neal pinched his nose. “Thank you for your time, commander. I’m sure we will find someone.”
The next person that the prince called for tea was Colonel Hossier himself. The colonel was a seasoned man, cheerful in his own way. He had green eyes that gave the impression that he could see your soul. He had developed a slight pouch at his stomach after his thirties.
“We have a total of twenty-one commanders in the three teams,” Neal said to him. “Any one of them can be your successor. After our talk about you leaving, I called in some of these men.”
“And has Your Majesty reached a decision?”
“Yes,” Neal said, “I’ve decided that you are the best person for the job.”
The colonel’s brow furrowed. “But I have to leave.”
“Not until you find me your replacement,” Neal said. “You are the best person to select your successor.”
“Who did you talk to? Who suggested this idea?”
“Nobody suggested it.” Neal rolled his eyes. “I offered the job to a bunch of people and they all rejected it. So I want you to give me a name and we’ll make him the next colonel.”
“I’ll need some time to think. It’s a big decision.”
“It’s not that big,” Neal said. “I’ve already eliminated Dukes, Qureshi, Poles and Richards. That takes the number to seventeen. You can take all the time you need. The day someone accepts the post, your six months’ notice period starts.”
“I’ll get to it.”
“One more thing,” Neal said. “Don’t make promises to anybody. The offer has to come directly from the castle.”
Colonel Hossier knew one thing when he left the castle- he will choose someone from his own team.
Everyone among the guardians had the unofficial knowledge of Hossier’s impending resignation and the hunt for a new colonel. Everyone was familiar with the rule that the posts of colonel and above had to be filled from among the guardians. Neal’s tea meetings had not gone unnoticed.
Every commander who wanted the post started taking the job more seriously. The losses of lives and hearts decreased dramatically. The troops found out how tough the captains could be and the captains found out how efficient the commanders could be.
The captains prayed for their commanders to get promotion as it left room for their own promotion. Although the commanders could be directly recruited, it was not uncommon for captains to get the empty position of their commanders.
Sophie was prepared if the opportunity knocked at her door, and she was prepared if it didn’t. With about six months of experience, Sophie had surpassed the average time of employment. The retention ratio of the job was quite low. The official reasons were that the starlites found it difficult to live among the humans, or missed their family. Sophie believed that the men who had resigned in the first few weeks had only joined the guardians to ogle at the nymphs. This fascination was short lived.
There were people who had told her that she was next in line for the promotion. She was sure that if the offer was made, she would accept it.
In order to avoid getting buttered up, Colonel Hossier had not revealed his role in the selection process. But he had talked to all of the twenty one commanders, even the ones that had declined the offer. He wanted to know the general inclination of the group. When he had asked Colonel Antofurota, she had told him that it was natural for her to be biased towards herself.
It was exactly one month after the end of the championship when Colonel Hossier met the prince to tell him the name of his successor.
The prince took his answer with a smile. “Commander Antofurota is a good choice. I shall arrange a meeting with her tomorrow.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. She is young, enthusiastic, smart, dedicated, hardworking and for some reason loves the grounds. Also I think that having a female colonel will boost up the morale of all women and we may get more females in the guardians.”
“All excellent points colonel,” Neal said. “All excellent points. But what about her skills? That is the most important part.”
“Forgive me sir,” Hossier smiled. “I didn’t think that her skills needed citation. She is the best sword-fighter we have. Everybody knows that.”
“Do you think her to be a good leader?” he countered.
“I would not say that it’s her strongest suit. She is too fearless and blunt for that.” The colonel agreed. “But perfection is rare and in my opinion, overrated.”
“If that’s your opinion, I shall offer her the post tomorrow. If she accepts, you can make the formal resignation. But not a word before that,” Neal warned.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Soon ,Sophie received a letter from the prince. She grinned as her fingers traced the prince’s royal seal. The letter was a formal tea invitation to the castle. Everybody knew what the tea meeting meant in the prevailing scenario.