On the afternoon of her twentieth birthday, the question of Lady Abigail’s nuptial plans arose during high tea with her aunt Beatrice, the Duchess of Java and Mauritius.
“Abby, dear, you simply must make a choice. You cannot continue to tie up half the Empire’s eligible bachelors with unanswered proposals.” The Duchess accepted a steaming teacup from the impeccably sharpened talons of her butler, Dismember. She directed a meaningful look across the grounds, which were laid out in a map of the Known World, with vast beds of violets and lavender depicting the dimensions of the Empire of Albion. “Her Imperial Majesty went so far as to raise the matter with me, you know.”
Abby sighed. “Auntie Trix, it’s not that simple, as you know perfectly well. It’s all very well for Grandmother to harp on about the good of the Empire, but I have other factors to consider.”
“Oh, not that wretched prophecy again,” sniffed Aunt Trix. “The Imperial Clairvoyant isn’t always right about these things, dear. You do recall he once predicted the Empire would fall to the Lizard Usurper?”
“What he actually said was the Lizard Usurper would ascend the throne of Albion,” Abby observed, chancing a nibble of a cinnamon cake. “Which he technically very nearly did in the Siege of Edinburgh. If his dinosaur hordes had not been forced to surrender when the Wyrm finally picked a side, Lord Growl would be sitting atop the Stone of Scone right now instead of rotting in Harrowgate.”
“Well, that just proves my point, dear. You needn’t give credence to nearly-accurate prophets.”
“Oh Aunt Trix, please be serious,” begged Abby. “This is very difficult.”
“Heavens, you are blinking quite ferociously. It must be the angle of the sun. Mister Dismember, kindly adjust the sunshade, if you please.”
Dismember gave a ship-engine growl of assent and stomped to the fringe of the marquee. The two ladies watched in silence for several minutes as the butler fumbled with the drawstring knots and lowered the draping lace curtains by a few centimetres. When at last the operation was complete, he nodded his scaly head and withdrew to a sunny patch a discrete distance away.
“You’ve never mentioned how you came to engage a deinonychus servant, Aunt Trix,” Abby observed. “I should like to hear that story.”
“No doubt you would, dear, but I will not be swayed by transparent digressions. We were discussing the topic of your suitors.”
“Oh very well.” Abby raised a finger. “First, though I am aware he is grandmother’s favourite, we must wholeheartedly discount James Killingsworth.”
“The Earl of Bromburton, Rheims and Aotearoa is a very worthy bachelor. A decorated officer, Chair-in-Perpetuity of the Royal Society of Supernaturalism, and, may I say, a charming dancer.”
“All true, but as he is also sixty-one and technically my cousin, it is a pairing I prefer not to contemplate.”
Aunt Trix smiled slyly in no particular direction. “In that case, I trust you have no objections to my engaging in his pursuit?”
“None whatsoever,” Abby affirmed. She held up a second finger. “Then we have General Charles Walmsley.”
“Much younger, arguably more handsome and the hero of the Battle of the Lake District. An excellent prospect, surely?”
Abby shook her head. “By no means. You are aware the Saurians refer to him as the Butcher of Scafell Pike? If the Imperial heir were seen to endorse a war criminal, we would have another lizard uprising on our hands before you could say archaeopteryx.”
Aunt Trix affected surprise. “How very astute dear. Have you made a particular study of Saurian political sensitivities?”
Abby scoffed, “It is scarcely credible for you to imply that you haven’t, Aunt Trix. I should think it falls well within the purview of the Imperial Spymaster’s duties.”
“I have no idea to what you could possibly be referring, niece,” replied Aunt Trix. The pride in her voice was unmistakable. “Perhaps then, you have looked to some farther shore?”
Abby flushed. Her eyes took on a faraway look as she sipped her tea for several moments longer than the satisfaction of thirst demanded. At last she murmured, “You speak, of course, of Esmeralda Concerta Valdez, Governor of the Greater Mexican Protectorate. I imagine you have been informed of the particulars of our liaison during my recent excursion to San Antonio?”
“Yes, dear. All the particulars.” Aunt Trix signalled to Dismember to refresh their cups. She pursed her lips and waited as he carried out his duty. “Your grandmother would not approve, I fear. She is somewhat set in her ways.”
“And what about you?”
“I was young once, you know. I had my share of scandalous adventures.”
By all accounts, her amorous escapades had not ended with her youth, but Abby decided not to pursue the point. Instead she sighed, “It’s impossible, of course. I can’t marry Esme.”
“Albion is borne atop a billion shoulders, dear. I suspect it may bear the weight of sapphic rulership.”
“I like to think so, but what it cannot bear is for its Empress-Consort to come from the common classes. Much less the colonial protectorates.”
A silence settled between them; Abby took it upon herself to break it. “You know as well as I that only one option will secure lasting peace. I fear Grandmother won’t like it though.”
“You leave that to me. She may be old-fashioned but never think her naive. It’s the Wyrm’s opinion which should concern us.”
“I’ve already prostrated myself before the Great Dragon of Albion and pleaded my cause,” said Abby. “She pretended it was her idea all along, and told me to call her Beryl.”
“I’ll note it for my files,” replied Aunt Trix. “It’s settled then. How can I help?”
Abigail’s tea cup gleamed in the setting sunlight. “Get me a translator, the Archbishop, and the key to the royal cells of Harrowgate. I’ve a proposal to make.”
“Dress in scaled armour, dear. You’ll want to make a good impression on Lord Growl.”
This is, I suppose, a sequel of sorts to Four Letters Undelivered Due to the Present Difficulties, though I’ll be honest, I didn’t go back and attempt to line up the continuity. A lot seems to have happened between that story and this one. Probably best to consider this a standalone.
In case you are late to the news, my new short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales is available now, either as an ebook at your favourite vendor of electronic literature, or as a freebie for signing up to my semi-regular newsletter.
What is it like? Why, it’s just like these Friday flash stories, except that some of them are longer. Some of them are much longer. (And I don’t *quite* have news on the print-on-demand version yet, but it’s coming very soon).