Seven weeks had passed since the death of the old King, and so the shrouds around the Hall of Affairs had been removed. The queen still wore her veil, in order to mourn for her mother seperately to her father, although their deaths had been at the same time. She saw the Asjade Saal for the first time now without the mourning shrouds, but failed to be impressed by the soaring ceiling, the magnificent tapestries or the intricate carving around the fireplace. The room was dominated by a long, rectangular table, and this is where she sat now, at the head, with seven small men along the sides, eating the last of the venison from the last season of hunting. They would have to eat bear soon, or lynx, or wolf or elk, but the small ball of worry that was the palace cook said nothing about this. He quite rightly predicted she wouldn't be able to tell between extremely high quality meat and just high quality meat, but still worried she would notice. So the last of the venison was a matter of great concern to him. But then, so were most things in life.
The queen frowned. A small man to her right scratched the bristles on his face. „Pass the salt, Brian," he said. Another tiny man, bent like a walking stick, with great folds of skin above his eyes which obscured them, knocked a pot down the table. „Ben would have reached that better than me, Bill," he muttered. „Don't drag us into this," protested two identical young small men. „I wasn't talking about you, Bert, just Ben," muttered Brian. The twins glared at him.
The queen frowned deeper, and adjusted her mourning veil slightly.
„Well, this venison is good with or without salt," said a fifth dwarf, nerv ously smiling widely and patting his rotund stomach. „Well of course, Bob, it always is," said Bill condescendingly. „Then I didn't need to pass the salt at all," muttered Brian frostily. Bill glared at him. A wizened man at the other end of the table snorted with mirth, but didn't say anything. „Don't you get into this too, Barry," muttered Brian. The seventh dwarf, who had been asleep on the table, half opened an eye. „I'd go back to sleep if I were you, Brandon," chuckled Bob. Bill and Brian glared at him.
The queen put down her knife and fork noisily. „You are not here to squabble," she said icily, „But to counsel. I agreed to let you stay on in your positions of counsellors after the death of my father. Remember your positions." The dwarves shuffled awkwardly. „Apologies, your majesty," muttered Brian. The young queen made no sign to acknowledge his apology. „Inform me as to how my father left his affairs," she said shortly.
„Well," began Bill. „His finances were secure, at least. He left them entirely down to Ben and Bert. He listened to their advice as if it were law."
„What about for private matters?" asked the queen.
„Everything went past them. The King trusted them entirely."
„I will have a private bank account for my own use. £200 pounds a month."
Ben and Bert looked at each other awkwardly. „That's an awful lot of money, your majesty," they chorused nervously. The queen fixed them in her icy stare, looking directly at them for the first time. They shivered. „As you wish it," they said.
Bill hurriedly cleared his throat and continued. „As you know, your majesty, there is a huge amount of civil unrest at the moment. The Captain of the Guard is currently using the army as a policing force to contain the violence and crime. Barry is in charge of public relations, and this is how he is dealing with the matter."
The Queen sighed. „Not a war in living memory, but more violence than ever," she said. „I leave it in your hands."
Bill looked disappointed. Everybody had been hoping she would introduce a new regime to keep the country in order. At the moment, murder, looting and alcohol reigned. Casinos, brothels and bars were more numerous than houses in many cities, and most people considered this normal; had even developed cultures around it. Maybe the queen would deal with it later.
„Right," Bill continued. „Brandon is your private secretary. All your places of residence, travel, arrangements, etc are organised by him. The last King did nothing in the way of foreign communications, but Bob is head of foreign relations, should you want to."
The queen had silently noted his disappointment. „Yes," she said. „I think it is very important that we improve trade with Russia, and we would benefit from a better relationship with the other Baltic states." Bill looked pleased.
„As you also know, the law in this country is in shambles. Brian is head of the ministry of justice, so you will need to confer with him." The queen nodded. Bill continued, „All matters of state pass through your hands. All decisions fall on you. I am your personal adviser, so I will help you with these matters."
The queen forced a smile onto her lips. „Then you have the hardest job, for we must try to clean up this nation of savages." Her smile dropped. She was overcompensating for her earlier mistake.
Two servants entered the room. One began to clear the food from the table, and the other went up to the queen and handed her a note. Her eyes glanced down to it, then she rose gracefully from the table. „I must take my leave," she said. The dwarves also rose. „Võib jumal olla kunagi sinuga, kuni me kohtume jälle ja alati," they said in unison. The Queen nodded to acknowledge them, then swept out the room.
She had no intention of doing what she knew the dwarves wanted her too, but she would find a way around that later. Now, she must attend to the very important package that had just arrived.
Asjade Saal – Hall of Affairs
Võib jumal olla kunagi sinuga, kuni me kohtume jälle ja alatiigavesti – May the Gods be ever with you, until we meet again and always.