- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
Amanda opened the door, causing the two soldiers waiting just up the corridor to stand at attention. Exiting the room behind her, Link got a good look at them for the first time. Aside from being roughly the same height and dressed in the same uniform, the two men were markedly different in every other way.
One had the same skin tone as Amanda, though his skin was rough with age. He looked to be in his sixties but still in incredibly good shape; better, Link suspected, than himself. He had a broad, hooked nose and scraggly, gray hair on his face that still looked as if it had been carefully cultivated to make him more intimidating. He looked at Amanda with a grandfatherly affection, caring, yet stern.
The other was a square-shouldered black man with skin many shades darker than Link’s own. He was more muscular by far than the first man, to the point that he looked almost twice as wide, and his face was stone carved with an expression only professional soldiers could muster, a vague detachment mixed with perpetual disapproval of whatever he was looking at. Both his face and what Link could see of his head were clean shaven. There were three fresh scars down the right side of his face, between his eye and ear; parallel lines that looked like claw marked, only no animal’s claws could cut so cleanly.
Both briefly trained their eyes on Link and possibly his wardrobe change before looking to Amanda for orders.
Before Link’s eyes, his wife transformed. Her back straightened, her chin raised, and her eyes grew steely. Somehow, it seemed as if she’d become more real, or as if the rest of the world became less so. In awe, he realized that he was seeing the difference between his wife; a mere moral woman who was ticklish under her ribs and who often laughed until tears streamed down her face, and Queen Mageddo; the infallible, all-powerful ruler of all Megardia and scourge of anyone who opposed her.
They were the same woman, but in so many ways, they were as different as Link was to the President of the United States.
“Gentlemen.” She said, and even her voice was different. Without the garbling from her mask, it was recognizable as Amanda Moss, but only just and only for someone who knew her well. “As my most loyal members of the Royal Guard, you have the privilege of being the first introduced.”
She stepped aside and put her heavy, gauntleted hand on Link’s shoulder, drawing him up even with her. “Link, these are Ari and Dekembe; the Queen’s Guard, who are the co-captains of the Royal Guard. Ari in particular has been my personal bodyguard since I was a little girl.”
“Then I think I should thank you. Well, both of you.” Link held out his hand to shake, only to be met with careful, suspicious stares instead. Only when Amanda nodded to them did Ari and then Dekembe accept his offer to shake hands. Their other hands never strayed from their guns.
Amanda waited for them to be done before bowing her head to them. “Queen’s Guards, most honored servants of Megardia, allow me to present to you Thomas Lincoln Moss, my husband and therefore rightful King of Megardia.”
If the two Queen’s Guards were surprised or even taken aback by the news, they hid it well. Instead, they each slammed a fist over their heart, backs straight and said in stereo: “Your Excellence.”
“Well there you are.” Amanda smiled teasingly at Link, “You’re an Excellence. I’m a Majesty. Just like my mother and father were.” Link didn’t know what to do with that, but Amanda was already off on a new subject, looking askance of her guards, “And where is Mr. Cross?”
“I believe he is still seeing to the children, Majesty.” said Dekembe. “Would you like me to summon him?”
She shook her head. “No. Thank you. We are heading in that direction ourselves.” And with that, she started walking up the corridor, gently leading Link with her. The Queen’s Guard quickly took up positions ahead of her, stalking like tow big hunting cats up the hall.
Along the way, Link got a better look at the corridor. Someone, he decided, had taken a cue from prison break movies in the design of the palace’s dungeon. The suite doors were staggered, alternating from one side of the hall to the next and too far away from one another for communication. If there were cameras, and he was sure there were, they weren’t visible, and the hall itself was as straight as a razor blade with no little alcoves to exposed supports to hide in or behind. Anyone entering the hall would be easily visible from the single entrance at the end of it.
Said entrance was the first decoration in the featureless, white void of the corridor; and also the first evidence that the place was in fact designed to detain. It was an air lock composed of thick, metal doors set with wide portholes presumably made of bulletproof glass. One either side of the air lock, there was a guard station, manned by dour man and women in black segmented armor emblazoned with the orange and yellow ‘M; of Megardia across the chest with helmets closed off with clear, plexiglass visors. All were heavily armed and could easily shoot an escapee dead before they got halfway up the corridor.
All of them stood at attention and saluted as their Queen and her retinue passed by. Unlike the Queen’s Guard, the dungeon guards weren’t made aware of Link’s new station, and so many of them watched with clear confusion in their eyes as their queen passed by, walking so closely to a strange man.
They passed through the air lock and Link glanced back to count the doors in the prison corridor. Through the porthole “There’s ten rooms down there—do you usually have that many prisoners?”
Amanda looked back for a moment as well before directing him to the round, metal elevator doors at the other end of the guard station on the other side of the air lock. “During election season in a several European countries and the United States, we tend to catch a whole brace of new spies. There’s no one in there at the moment though besides an Extraordinary Response International Services agent we’re hoping to exchange for some of my expeditionary forces.”
They entered the elevator and the Queen’s Guards took up places at the doors as they started up.
“Expeditionary forces?” Link asked.
“The media likes to call them ‘henchmen’.” Amanda replied, embarrassed. “But believe me, they’re far more skilled than mere grunts. I only take acquisitions and security circumvention specialists with me when I undertake missions.”
“You call your attacks ‘missions’?”
Amanda shrugged. “Everything looks different from the other side of the line, doesn’t it? Like I said before, Link: Megardia is constantly at war. We have been since the time of Alexander the Great was conquering the known world.” She looked him in the eye, silently asking him to understand.
“I don’t conduct mindless attacks or acts of terrorism. What I do conduct are military raids to sabotage enemy plots, acquire materials and intelligence, to free prisoners of war, and occasionally in retaliation for actions against Megardian citizens.”
Link looked her up and down, for the first time really seeing the armor she wore and remembering the things he’d seen Queen Mageddo do on news footage. She’d picked up and hurled tanks dozens of yards, taken hits from her enemies that threw her through entire buildings, and displayed enough fire power to take on all comers, earthly or cosmic.
“You’re a one woman army in that thing.”
Amanda nodded, pride evident in her eyes. “I have to be. Megardia’s entire population is military trained, but in reality, the sheer numbers game means that all this comes to is allowing them to force better surrender terms if it comes to it. The Philosopher Kings of Megardia long ago attained a single source of great power with which they defended their people—the same source that powers my suit, augmented by our technology. We only have the one, and the person who wields it must be one hundred percent loyal to the country and its people.”
The elevator fell silent as Link ruminated on what he’d just learned. His loving wife was carrying a burden the likes of which he could never even imagine. There wasn’t anything he could say to that; nothing he could do really to help shoulder it either. So he did what he did when she’d seemed stressed over things at home: be there for her.
He took a half step toward her and put his hand in hers. Even though the cold metal of her gauntlets, she felt him and closed her hand lightly over his. They looked at each other and some of the steel in Queen Mageddo’s eyes melted into the warmth of Amanda’s.
The elevator stopped and the doors slid ponderously open, the motors laboring against the heavy reinforcement even with electromagnetic bearings in place to reduce the friction. Two armed guards on either side of the doors snapped to as they walked out, but their presence melted away as Link caught sight of the floor to ceiling windows. His jaw dropped as he stared out through them and looked, for the first time, upon his wife’s kingdom.
The window was almost ninety stories above the ground, affording an unequaled view of the city, and Megardia’s capital in all her glory rose up before him. Contrary to the impression he had of the place through new reports, it was entirely bereft of exposed lava tubes spurting the molten blood of the earth into the sky, or grim-faced military parades, or giant men in leather jerkins whipping peasants.
Instead, there were modern towers; three-sided glass and metal monoliths with sloped roofs that soared sixty to eighty stories above the city. Other, lower buildings were topped with greenhouse domes that revealed lush gardens, or rooftop dining areas or sport fields. There were no bare, unused roofs in Megardia, with few exceptions.
And those exceptions were clear nods to the heritage of the island nation; a small coliseum off in the west, a stone temple, painted in garish red and blue and yellow was a stone’s throw from one of the modern towers. In the distance to the north, he saw the dark hulk of an ancient sea fort.
But what drew his eye most readily were the spires placed in equidistant ranks that fanned out around the palace. They weren’t towers and clearly weren’t designed for humans to live in. If he had to guess, his would say they were only twenty feet around despite rising higher than anything in the city including the palace from which he was viewing them. And they were made entirely of singular, flawless piece of crystal. With the pulse of a heartbeat, light flared dimly within the heart of each.
Amanda stood beside him and kissed his jaw gently. “I always wanted to show you this view at sunset. Though I never thought I’d get to.”
“It’s already pretty amazing.” said Link, awestruck.
“My kingdom.” she said. “Six million, two hundred thirty thousand souls residing on a little over forty-five thousand square miles of land. This is Megardia City, where the bulk of the populace live and work.” She caught up his hand again—he hadn’t remembered letting go—and gently pulled him away. “But we’ll get to see more later. First, the kids.”
“Yes the…” Link started absently, then the world snapped back into stark focus. “The kids! Yeah, let’s go. No offense, but I need to make sure they’re alright with my own eyes.”
“Understandable, but it is my duty to report that they were quite well.” Striding down the corridor they had started down was Mr. Cross. The thin man was in the middle of polishing his glasses with a crisp, white handkerchief. “The prince is enjoying his new gaming console. I believe the game is called Warfare Century: 1900; a focus I find highly appropriate for the heir to the throne. The princess is being doted over by the entire maid staff. Your Majesty may rest assured that I have manged to advise them of severe discipline should they not curb her intake of sweets before dinner.”
Amanda smiled in a broad, regal manner that Link could only remember from family photos. It didn’t go with her personality. “Very good, Mr. Cross. You are, as always, indefensible to the household. May I present to you my husband, King Thomas Lincoln Moss.”
“You can call me Link.” said Link, hoping his face wasn’t being darkened by a blush. “That goes for you guys too.” He said to Ari and Dekembe.
Mr. Cross carefully placed his glasses back on his face and adjusted them. “Reginald Cross: the Queen’s personal secretary and head of the household staff, Your Excellence. And… actually no, I cannot call you ‘Link’. That would be highly untoward.”
Link’s eyes narrowed a bit, mostly because he’d seen too many movies where men just like Cross were the ‘real’ power behind the throne, and often the kind who eventually decided to do away with the ‘behind’ part. Politely correcting the person they worked for was the first tell of that kind of character. “Could I order you to call me Link?”
Without batting an eyelash, Mr. Cross nodded smartly. “Of course you can, Your Excellence, but might I venture that the entire staff would be more comfortable holding to the traditions their fathers and forefathers have been following since the inception of Megardia’s Philosopher King?”
A sidelong look at Amanda just turning up a shrug, Link sighed. “Okay then. I guess ‘Your Excellence’ it is.”
Mr. Cross nodded. “Thank you for understanding, Your Excellence.” He then seemed to lose all interest in Link, turning instead to Amanda. “Majesty, I assume you would like me to escort you back to the Royal suites?”
“As you will, Mr. Cross.” She had already started walking. “I know the way if you have other things to attend to.”
Without another word, Mr. Cross fell into place walking behind the small royal entourage. Ari and Dekembe preceded them down that corridor, into and across a large, glassed in ballroom. Then across a landing where two sets of sweeping staircases went down to a lavishly decorated hall with black and white marble floors, thick, orange velvet curtains, and ancient tapestries presumably depicting the foundation of Megardia.
Across from the stairs was a set of tall doors made of old, well maintained wood bound in polished, black iron. Despite a smaller servants’ door cut into the left-hand door, with the Queen’s Guard at the ready on either side of her, Amanda pushed the grand portals open with barely a grunt of effort.
The hallway beyond was carpeted with a thick, black carpet with orange and yellow sunbursts painted on the plaster walls. The arched ceiling, painted sky blue with gossamer clouds, was hung with lanterns that glowed with pure, white light; seemingly without a source of power. Mirrors set along the tops of the walls reflected the lights and made the hallway so bright that it felt like they were walking outside under the sun.
There were three doors on either side of the wide corridor, across from one another (not staggered like in the dungeon), and at the very end: three wide, shallow steps went up to a dais behind which a set of double doors stood between two eternally burning torched, each emblazoned with the Royal Megardia ‘M’ crest.
It wasn’t hard to tell which room Chloe was in; the last door on the right had the door open. Two female guards, dressed in the same military regalia as Ari and Dekembe, which marked them as members of the Royal Guard, were posted there. From inside came the sounds of women cooing and laughing and talking softly.
Whatever steel was left in Amanda’s eyes dissolved when she came within sight of her little girl’s room. Her pace quickened and she barely paused to return the salutes of the Royal Guard before pulling Link inside with her.
Chloe’s room had been made up in a hurry for a guest and didn’t look like a little girl’s room yet. The stone floor was layered with colorful carpets, and a heavy deep orange comforter bearing the Royal ‘M’ crest was thrown over the massive four poster bed. The furnishings were much like the other prison cells, but of higher quality overall.
A half dozen women in coal black dresses contrasted by cheerful, yellow aprons and neckerchiefs sat around a large oak table with scroll-worked legs in matching chairs. Chloe was seated at the head on a cushion that let her see over the table top. There was a genuine, silver tea service with china cups laid out with chocolate cookies and petit fours topped with what looked like strawberry jam served on china dishes. From the smell of it, they were having a tea party with a high quality English Breakfast tea.
Link smirked at the fact that he could tell this by scent: Amanda and the kids had given him a coffeemaker for Father’s day, plus a sampler pack of coffees and teas from around the world.
Chloe, with the nameless hippo sitting on the table, apparently guarding her little place of tea goodies, was the first to spot the royal couple’s entrance. Her eyes brimmed with the joy only a child could muster and a happy smile came to her face, “Mommy, Mommy! Did you come to have tea with us?”
The reaction from the maids was a show in and of itself. Every woman there tried to get to their feet so as to pay proper respect to their Queen, while simultaneously trying to appear as if they were actually working while those others were dilly-dallying. This was all accompanied with attempts to carefully set the expensive china down without scratching or chipping it. The end result was the most deliberate and polite chaos ever orchestrated.
Amanda raised her hands, which made them all freeze in place, sure they were going to be punished. Instead, she said, “Be at ease, ladies. I know my daughter and I appreciate what you’ve done for her.” That was all she had for them, as she rounded the table and knelt beside her daughter’s chair to give the little girl a hug.
“Hi, sweetie.” Her entire voice and demeanor changed and even as he made his way over to be with Chloe as well, Link could tell the maids had never seen this side of their Queen before. In fact, when he paused to carefully watch them, he could tell in their faces: before they honored Queen Mageddo because they were obligated to, because she protected them and they owed it to her.
But seeing her there, greeting her daughter and sipping tea to appease the girl; they, just like he, had never loved her more.
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