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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 habits he had acquired in the CNA was the vice
of 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 the United Kingdom, an astute move on Sir Geoffrey Gold's
part given how neatly Elbittar's near-term foreign policy goals dovetailed
with those of the UK.  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 was 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 his 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, [1] the Chinese Room was decorated
(overdecorated, she thought) with priceless treasures looted from Peking
during one of the Opium Wars. [2] 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.

Notes:

[1] The original Buckingham Palace was destroyed during the second German
invasion of Great Britain in 1942, when a damaged German bomber plowed into
it with a full bomb load and its fuel tanks half full.  Although most of the
Royal Family was elsewhere at the time, Henry's mother and his three youngest
siblings were killed in the explosion.  Needless to say, King Henry does not
like the Germans.

[2] As in OTL, Britain fought several wars in the 19th century to ensure that
the Chinese Empire did not raise any inconvenient trade barriers to imported
Indian opium.