Ethelflaeda III put down the blue folder, leaned back from the desk, interlaced her manicured fingers and stared at the man sitting apprehensively in front of her.
He in turn regarded the young queen, she was only just out of her mid-twenties with her long corn-blonde hair tied in an unpretentious ponytail and apart from the seal of office on a fine chain about her neck, she wore little jewellery other than simple earstuds and a betrothal ring. It was an open secret that she had been forced to pass over the Thegn of Scartho’s son in favour of a more advantageous, if older, suitor. Ethelflaeda’s youth and beauty had brought a host of sharp tongued rumours, from the true parentage of her twin children, to an alleged sapphic relationship with her old school friend, the sangestre, Sirkku, better known as Freya.
Finally, she broke her gaze to address the Commander of the Palace Guard standing to attention close by. “Campaeldor Bennetto, could you leave us alone, I wish to talk with Mister Herring in private?” she requested in cut-glass tones.
“Understood Ma’am!” the Campaeldor clicked his heels and marched smartly from the Morning Room.
“Now we are alone Mister Herring… Herring is that your real name?” asked the queen. “I have read many of your articles in the Reignweald Times and often wondered?”
“Yes Your Majesty it has been somewhat of a burden throughout my life but I’m not ashamed of it, please can we get back to the matter in question?”
“Sorry for digressing, Mister Herring, what you have given me is to say the least controversial. I feel I have to ask, is this really true?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“Every word of it Ma’am” his reply.
“And you can substantiate this?”
“The evidence is there, places, times and names!” he emphasised.
“What alerted you to it?” she asked curiously.
The reporter coughed nervously before answering. “There is a tall story often recounted in the family of one of the names and a member of this family asked me half-jokingly, to find out if it was true, that is all I can say.”
“These people were all well-known Witan and senior Here officers, some of them, if my history lessons serve me right, were very popular and even now are still thought of as heroes.”
“Nonetheless it is recorded on the Dema your majesty, very well hidden but I found it.”
“So if this information is, as you insist, correct, the Q-war, the war that killed millions and in places warped the fabric of reality, is down to… was brought about by… the Reignweald?”
“Indeed Ma’am, our saeteres spread sedition between the main belligerents and we even launched the first strike from satellites positioned to give false trajectories.”
“Why… what did we hope to gain from this?” the queen appeared incredulous.
“Precisely what has been gained Ma’am, they planned to hide from the war in conveniently invented stasis bubbles then emerge to reclaim the world with genetically engineered soldiers, it didn’t quit pan out that way but you cannot deny we are now the most powerful nation on what’s left of this planet?”
“It is truly disturbing Mister Herring, why did you request this meeting and what do you wish me to do?” she asked, half-guessing what was to come.
“Majesty, the records show the royal house had absolutely nothing to do with this and you are popular with the people and have a reputation of standing up for the truth…”
“And you want me to reveal this to the country?” her reputation as a Folcwen had its drawbacks.
“Absolutely Ma’am” he replied.
“Why not go to the Witangemot with this or get your esteemed publication to expose it?”
“The Witangemot may try to suppress the truth and we feel it would be more acceptable and cause less turmoil coming from someone in an authoritative position, especially someone so loved and trusted as Cwene Effie, Ma’am.”
“We?” asked the queen curiously.
“Several are party to this information. I believe the phrase “safety in numbers” applies here.”
“I am sorry Mister Herring, I cannot do this, can you not conceive of the trouble this would cause?”
“This awful truth has been kept secret for nearly a hundred years, the people must be told!” he insisted.
Effie fixed him with her pale blue gaze. “No Mister Herring they must not, I absolutely forbid it!” she stated in a voice as hard as steel.
“I sincerely wish you had not taken that stance Ma’am but the truth must not hide any longer.”
“But why Mister Herring, are you trying to hold the country to ransom?”
“Pure altruism Ma’am, such as your favourites, the Novae aspire to, just that, nothing more.”
“I could have you arrested right now but I suspect you to be a clever man and you will have taken precautions to ensure your safety, no doubt?”
“Quite correct Your Majesty, if I were to disappear others will act on my behalf, please will you at least consider what I have asked?” pleaded the journalist.
“Very well Herring you seem to leave me with little choice, how long do I have?”
“We will give you until noon tomorrow Ma’am, then it will find its way onto all media, the A-net…”
“This will do irreparable harm to the Reignweald to say nothing of relations with our re-emergent neighbours!” she interjected sharply.
“I am truly sorry Ma’am, I wish there was another way.” He said in all honesty.
When he had left the Morning Room, the Queen recalled the commander of the Palace Guard. “Bennetto, put every available Guard on alert and send the Cempa of the Covert Unit to see me immediately, you’re going to be bloody busy soon if this doesn’t go well and get the softies in, the Dema’s memory needs some serious editing.” When the commander had left her alone she contacted the Thegn’s of Scartho and Jorvik, it wouldn’t hurt to have the huscarls on standby would it? Ethelflaeda then sat back, removed her pale lenses and blinked heavily, gods I hate these things, she would have to cover her cornflower blue irises again soon enough but it was nice to have a moments relief, the queen had already telepathically contacted the Highest, it’s down to you now Mina!
Herring politely refused the offer of a royal scrid to drive him back to the capital lest he didn’t reach his destination alive, or at all, he walked briskly through the Gardens of the Gods in front of the palace, happily bustling with tourists. He went straight to the nearby Wodenshearg Station, boarded the first available direct vacuum-transporter to the Port of London and took a seat in the busiest carriage he could find. He felt safer in a crowd, there would be many witnesses if anyone attempted to apprehend him and upon reaching the capital, his allies would hide him and keep him safe. Herring had been convinced the Folcwen would take their side, how could I have been so foolish? Tomorrow she would doubtless refuse again, he had seen it in her attitude and then the full horror would have to be revealed in the most sensationalist of ways.
As the vessel set off down the tube-way Herring relaxed slightly.
A striking Asian woman wearing a beautiful sari was sitting opposite him in the busy carriage. “Aren’t you Jorgen Herring from the ‘Times?” she asked in a pleasant voice.
Herring looked at her face with its large hazel eyes, she was a norm. “Please ma’am not so loud, this carriage may be full of curious ears.”
“Oh, are you on a special assignment then?” she leaned forward and whispered. “Because I am!”
A tingling ran down his spine and he recalled with horror that the Highest of the Psionic Wing was of Bharatavarshi descent, a certain Mina Srivastava and that Novae frequently wore coloured lenses to hide their cornflower blue eyes. He tried vainly to resist as Mina climbed into his mind with ease to extract the identities of his compatriots, then she simply made Jorgen Herring forget the awful truth, as she would do to everyone else who knew.