A cell phone buzzed in the Governor’s Mansion. With all the news happening in the Far East and absurd talk of a Third World War the First Lady was anxious for news of her sister. She fell asleep with it in hand. When it buzzed she rose quickly slipped from the master bedroom to a window at the end of the hall. Before her eyes a full moon lit the landscape. The silica in the arroyos sparkled like a chain of diamonds leading her eyes up the pinyon-pocked foothills into the valley of the Santa Fe Ski Basin in all its autumn glory. She could almost make out the evening breeze swaying the aspens. She regretted not bringing a shawl.
“Ola?” she whispered. Her sister Isabella, on the far side of the world sobbed joyously into the phone. Julietta got her beloved older sister calmed and with a patient smile said, “Start at the beginning.
With gushing words Isabella described to her sister the scene weeks before; the row after row of mottled marble Corinthian columns, gilded top and bottom and the white walls which upheld an arched white gold-garlanded ceiling rising to a sky of dark azure like the eastern sky at sunset. The carpeting, what little she could see of it was a field of red embossed with a subtle pattern of large hieroglyphs.
Upon it stood the Emperor and his officers dressed in dark blue double breasted tunics worn with low standing collars worn whit white trousers, snitched with a striped sash to hold a modest foil, but with elaborate gold braid on the cuffs. Among them, ancient and tottering, held in great esteem were the remaining “victorious” generals of the war. These beloved heroes eventually faded during the reception and took one of the short square chairs clothed in gold fabric scattered around the Great Hall of the Palace at Akasaka. The emperor sported a full head of salt’n’pepper hair upon his round head. As a child he’d suffered the privations brought on by the war and embargo which followed until New Windsor interceded. The suffering of his youth had actually made him stronger and more muscular. Remembrance of hunger now many him stouter. Isabella said there was a manliness about him absent in the fading generation before him and from the the representatives of affluent Nipponese generations how standing around him. The invited diplomats and dignitaries dressed appropriate to their stations. Her husband, of course, wore his USMC dress uniform.
The women of the imperial household and the wives of the generals wore pastel skirts with matching jackets and hats in more perfect imitation of the court costume of that other empire opposite on the globe. She finished her description of the Imperial party by adding, ‘We wives of the of the diplomatic core followed suit.”
“You in pastel?” her sister asked quietly.
Isabella laughed. “Well my mantilla was azure…” She replied in justification without admitting her gown matched her husbands, electric blue dress pants. She might have added how well the red stripe running the length of his long legs set off the scar on his cheek. What she jokingly referred to it as his dueling scar. In fact, the disfigurement on Ambassador Sanchez‘s feature came from a common car crash in his youth. A scar, which seem to repel every young woman the young officer met until he met the fascinating Isabella Romero. She’d consider his scar “muy macho”.
The sole exception to the “dark suit” dress code for men Isabella explained was an Eurasian in a scarlet jacket, a gold and crimson sash holding a gold sword sling and a forage cap; golden embroidered cuffs and appellate. He wore an azure sash across his tunic. It caught Isabelle’s eye particularly because it matcher her mantilla.
“The princess?” asked Isabella’s adoring little sister.
“She sat in on of those gold chairs on a high dais so she would see. So, frail and fair…” The description of Julietta as a child rolled habitually off of her lips. It was the lament heard so often about the house that it spread to the neighbors and eventually was used in mocking tones by Julietta’s school mates. Isabella the first born, not so frail or fair took care the situation on the playground with her fists. The exercise made her stronger and stouter than her sister. She shook her head in embarrassment at using the old phrase and continued. “She was somewhat forgotten, which is how the coyote; the Eurasian managed to approach and greet her. I saw it. I watched when the coyote bent and kissed her cherry-blossom white wrist. Her name sounds something like “Sophia”. I’m embarrassed to admit I never get it right. But, a coyote? My pure blood rose. The crowded room murmured. I saw a rare smile in a short life grace Sophia’s glacial face. Light came to her almond eyes. My heart broke. Her mother stilled the murmurs. Her father’s anger rose. A coyote! Rare pinkish delight, in a pain-filled life, spread dawn-like across his daughter’s features. In response her father, the Emperor, froze.
The younger Viscount Noble bowed himself out. The sole brown-haired person among us raven-haired folks. His positively oriental facial features are rugged and manly. His fair hair and the dimple in his grizzled chin speak to his mother’s side. His mixed ancestry aside, my daughter Julietta says, Nipponese-speaking girls on both sides of the East China Channel think he’s the cutest thing on two feet.
Silly sighs from sentimental women and swear words from foil wearing old soldiers arose. The Crown faced joy’s foes. And joy is what I saw on Sophia’s face. Even for an eastern race she is petite. They are so small, nothing like… the Rubens print of Hilara and Phoebe that hangs so publicly in my husband’s study.” Isabella stated precisely and waited for her sister’s response.
“Oh!” her sister squeaked excitedly. “You got the painting for him. Good.”
“I bought it for his last birthday. He constantly praises it and me for buying it. Anyway, Sophia is well developed for her age, with a tiny waist. She is slightly older than my own darling Julietta.” Again a pause from the older woman.
“How is my namesake?” Julietta asked, “She got into high school okay, verdad?”
“Si.” Isabella responded with a voice full of pride. Unseen by her sister was the big grin and eyes brimming again with tears. “Sophia is soft-spoken and heartbreakingly kind. Loved by her parents and substantially older brothers while adored by the teaming millions that inhabit the island nation of Nippon and their cousins in Briton’s colony at New Windsor across the channel.
I heard the empress impress individually and to the coveys of ladies in attendance the courtesy of the foreigner and bemoaned the lack of gentlemen in the Land of the Rising Sun. “He has been introduced to the princess on her two previous public outings.” There’d been only two since the final diagnosis. Still! A half-breed?
His majesty strolled among his men, nodding to several curtly. The only comment heard from him was that gossip was the prerogative of women, not appropriate to men. Sound familiar?”
Julietta chuckled at the comment, something their own father in New Mexico made on occasion to them as girls. “Explain this to me again. What’s the connection between New Windsor on in mainland China and Nippon on the island across the channel?
“My husband explained it like this when we accepted this assignment; In the late 1800’s missionaries met with great success among the Nipponese particularly in the rural Northern provinces. In 1912, adopting the isolationist policies Emperor Metti II expelled all the Christians, Viscount Noble’s ancestors among them. They fled across the narrow East China Channel to the mainland and “New Windsor”. The Britannic authorities welcomed them to the colony. The refugees flourished under the leadership of Uko Naito and his son Genzaemon Naito. During World War Two, their descendant Yukiyasu led the resistance to the Nipponese invasion until the intervention of the Royal Navy. A few years later Nippon bereft of fighting men and surrounded by their foe’s fleets signed the Treaty of San Francisco. In the treaty the Allies, letting the Nipponese save face, “begged” the besieged Empire for a cease-fire. As part of the treaty all parties recognized Naito as Viscount of New Windsor. In addition, establishing a “special relationship” promising the people of New Windsor access to their ancestral home. General Naito dropped his Nipponese name (but kept the language) and adopted the surname Noble. At which point he muddied his bloodline by marrying his children into Britannic aristocracy. His heir, the young viscount was the dreamboat leaving the room.
So now we move to a few days later; the Empress and Princess hosted a “festival” in the Akasaka Garden.” Isabella lowers her voice. “Sophia was too ill to attend the festival going on in town. The tents and tables were situated between the palace and lily-girth fountain. The lawn rolled out before us, studded by stunted pines in some way reminiscent of the sweet smelling pinyons backs home.” Isabella sighed.
Her sister gazing out the window at just such a pinyon and juniper studded mesa now lit by the rising sun, laughed when she heard her sister sniff as though trying to smell the aromas of home over the phone. Isabella caught herself and laughed too.
”So, they served all the traditional festival food over here. Her majesty carefully seated her sole daughter on the most sheltered side of the porch. They’d invited the wives of the foreign ambassadors. And amazingly the ladies of the press who quaintly wore traditional kimonos and sported colorful sunshades. On the grills simmered chicken, squid, potatoes, scallops and dumplings. The tea tables, which stood on the deep green grass, they served; fried buckwheat noodles, crepes sponge cake, filled pastries and candied apples. The Empress left her daughter’s side coming to meet, greet, and seat we ladies. The wife of Ambassador Baldwin, of the court
of St James appeared to abstain. We chatted. Cameras flashed. Every so often, the Empress dashed back to her darling’s side. But, a steady stream of guests visited Princess Sophia. They waited at the foot of the porch then quietly, cameras down, singly approached and said soft kind things.
Out on the lawn where Sophia could not overhear, some foolish Nip practiced her elementary level foreign language skills on me. She talked about Sophia never knowing love, never marrying, never bearing children. Other women joined the litany in their own language. The Empress’ dark slanted eyes stopped the rain of pity as quickly as she’d halted the murmurs of disapproval three days before.
“Lady Baldwin’s arrived.” Everyone heard. “Her husband wants to see our lord.”
Heads turned, Sophia followed our gazes to the high-topped wrought iron gate topped with twin lanterns and a gilded bouquet of iron lilies. She saw white plumes! And bright red coats. Heard horses neighing and saw, with a grin, (which delighted her care-worn mother) that the gentrified women on the green lawn could smell them too. And saw Lord Baldwin in uniform; ahorse. Surrounded by officers, of course. And foot soldiers in khaki pants with bayoneted m-sixteen’s. And flowers! I saw her squint at the last; a black enameled carriage overflowing with white chrysanthemums. The procession stopped before the porch. Lady Baldwin and her child held such grand boutiques, they could barely be seen beneath.
“Her favorites.” everyone muttered.
Baldwin helped down his women. The mothers exchanged presents and watched the little girl proudly struggle up the steps and give the flowers to Sophia’s bodyguard. And lovely words too they left before returning to the carriage.
“I would see your husband now.” Her majesty indicated someone to lead him within. “It’s best if I stay without.”
On cue, the Crown appeared. Such stiff and formal words they swapped. Still, something cheery beneath. Apparently, European aristocrats can be inscrutable too.
Finally, to the point, “In the name of Her Royal Majesty, Empress of Great Britain, Ireland and India, Princess of Hanover, Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duchess of Brunswick and Lunenburg and Duchess of Saxony I demand the hand of Princess Sophia.”
We ladies gasped. Teacups fell. Cameras stopped flashing. The emperor looked at Lady Baldwin and back to her balding, pasty-faced, howling husband.
“Oh no! Not for me!”
Everyone laughed. I could see Sophia breath again. A father’s nod got her wheeled from the scene. From my angle, I could see that her nurse’s love kept her just around the corner.
“For whom then?”
“The heir of General Naito, the Hero of New Windsor, his grandson Viscount Noble.”
A family of traitors to their race and a half-breed at that! Women around me screamed. The emperor swore. The empress seemed to swoon. The princess reportedly fainted. (But, I saw the big beaming smile upon her face, first.)
“Oh, that’s why…” Julietta gushed.
“Yes, “ Isabella continued conspiratorially, “State Department dispatches told my husband that three days after, the mounted guard at a certain royal palace in a major European city burst out the wrought iron front gates. With the Queen amidst, it galloped to parliament. Ahorse she enters the House of Commons. With the prime minister and leader of the opposition holding her reins, Her Britannic Majesty (on whose empire the sun never sets) declares a secret state of emergency.
That same day, my son Alfonso Romero-Sanchez…Did I tell you his buddies call him “Romeo”? Isn’t that cute? He and the rest of the Nippon All-Stars won the regional East China High School soccer tournament in New Windsor. The returning champions, fans and families were met on the docks in Shimonoseki by jubilant chanting, singing crowds of common Nipponese and my husband and I. Police had cleared the raised walkway from the ferry terminal to the secured parking lot where the imperial family had arrived in their Super Puma helicopter. The police staffed the barricaded for an imperial procession to meet the victors. We’d charted every craft in Jetfoils’ red fleet; catamaran and double-hulled hydrofoils. They raced homeward from New Windsor over the waves, gunwales hung with streamers, balloons and kites flying aft. Bottle rockets and firecrackers shattered each boat’s wake as they entered port. As they docked, the commoners returned the joyous fire.
The imperial carriage decorated with golden solar imperial logo rolled into the secure area in the terminal. The common Nipponese on the docks above, boats and floats beyond cheered Sophia’s folks. I could see my tall, dark and handsome son high up towards the front of the second boat, which tied up in the next slip. He pointed out his sister and her girlfriends on a deck below.
Sonic booms shook the city . Two Royal Britannic jets screamed by in the distance. The car ramp dropped on the first ship. A samurai in ancient black armor rode out on a black horse. The crowd went wild. “Naito!” “Naito!” It was the historic armor of old General Naito when he saved the Christians of New Windsor!”
“What?” blurted Isabella’s sisters somewhat immodestly. “Why were they screaming for a traitor?”
“I almost asked my husband, and then thought better of the question.
“By the Treaty of San Francisco!” came the general’s amplified voice over the jetfoil’s public
address system. I thought nothing would silence that crowd, but the phrase did it. The Emperor in a richly embroidered black uniform rose in the family’s carriage. “By the Treaty of San Francisco,” the general continued, “ I demand the promised hostage. A member of the imperial household.”
I knew that voice; young Viscount Noble! The crowd went wild again Older men tried to rush the barricades, but were held back the police officers and to my surprise young girls in the crowd. A word from the Emperor, also amplified over the public address system stopped them in their tracks.
Alphonso had made it to his sister’s side and together they poured off the gangplanks like all the other children, to get closer to the scene.
Sophia’s bodyguard steps from his seat next to the driver. Viscount Noble dismounts. Her nurse and the imperial doctor help Sophia slip from the carriage. A black limousine awaits her just inside the car door of the jetfoil. For one moment I think of The Rape of Leucippus’ Daughters hanging in my husband’s study.”
At the last comment, hearing Isabella sniffling begins to sob herself.
Noble pulls his grandfather’s legendary sword from the scabbard. Rather than shiny steel, I see dull wood. The bodyguard pulls a similar weapon. They barely pretend to fight. Sophia slowly makes her way to the duel. The bodyguard kneels and yields. Sophia raises a hand to intercede. Noble kisses it. The police officers really had trouble keeping the joyous weeping crowds back now. The temple bells begin to ring throughout the city. The bodyguard rises and follows them aboard the boat. A massive show of fireworks resounds off the bow of the boat. Pandemonium on the docks. I cover my ears against percussion charges and lay my head against my husband’s shoulder. He’s frantically waving for children through the smoke, the noise and the rockets red glare Viscount Noble’s jet foil has departed by the time our children climb to the top of the bleachers where we stand. They are both out of breath and excited. But they are okay. My lovely daughter coos; “Wasn’t it wonderful, mother?”
“Oh.” Cries her aunt over the phone.
“Look! Look! her brother shouts, the imperial helicopter headed for the wedding in New Windsor. Again Julietta says, Isn’t it romantic, mother? I look in her tear-filled face
and see the many healthy happy years I still have with her and her brother. I see the grandchildren they will give me and know what a wonderful life I will have. Things Sophia’s mother will never know. For one brief moment, I recall Julietta’s bout with anorexia, which is why my husband hung Rubens in his office. And I cried and cried and told her how
wonderful it all was and hugged her to my breast and praised God a thousand times.”
When the governor awoke the found his wife still crumbled and sobbing in the sunlight of a new day.