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Diplomacy

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Lilit growled as she continued to pace in the ornately decorated room that served to receive foreign ambassadors in Russia. One of their fabricated bears stood by the door, it’s keeper standing at a sharp attention.

She had been waiting for the better part of an hour, her frustration and growing annoyance with the Czar getting the best of her.

“If one requests assembly with an ambassador they are expected to be on time!”

Alek looked up from his perch in an overlarge armchair and grinned. “This is the first time you’ve been held up by royalty?”

Lilit grinned back, lips pulled back from her teeth making the motion savage. She swept her coat aside, revealing a heavily jeweled sheath, the curved dagger pulled from it glinting wickedly in the low light. With a shrug she swept her clothes back in place and began to pace again.

“The threat of violence usually gives better results than violence it--” She was cut off by the opening of formerly-hidden door which blended seamlessly with the decor around it.  There stood an attendant, scowl on his face for reasons Lilit could not fathom.

She had thought the Russian’s more modern, especially since they had finally grudgingly accepted Darwinism into their society. Neither clanker nor darwinist until 1905, a year which irrevocably changed Russian society forever with both political, industrial and technological bounds forward, the Russain’s had still been the biggest fighting force the Darwinist powers could command during the Great War. However, the attendant looked, well...quite silly.

His massive hat seemed ready to swallow up his head, whilst the heavy fabric of the robes, encrusted with beaded jewels and shine in the material spoke of a time long-gone.

Her eyes flicked to Alek, his barely contained laughter confirming that their thoughts were shared. The attendant, properly annoyed now, gestured for them to follow.

“The Czar prefers to take Court in full traditional dress. All attending must be adorned as such, including our foreign guests.”

That made Alek start, Lilit nearly colliding with the sudden mass of Prince rear directly in front of her.

“We have to wear those? Is the Czar barking…” He caught himself, the manners of royalty he’d been raised with gearing in just in time. “Would it not be more appropriate to remain in the dress of the state we represent? The Ottomans feel very strongly about their culture, and we feel it would not be right to present in front of the Czar without representing our heritage?”

The attendant sighed, and then spoke as if reciting from one of the moving-picture scripts Alek perpetually extolled about.

“The Czar understands each nations individual ties to culture and the ties henceforth to dress, however, he presides of this court and country by divine right and only the Duma may have the power to request change, of which they have not. It is as such, that I respectfully inform you that dressing rooms and servants are this way, and that if you continue to decline our offers then the Czar respectfully will decline audience with you.”

Lilit wasn’t sure whether she wanted to hit someone or laugh. Instead she only nodded, Alek following suit before taking off to where the attendant had motioned.

“There would never be this issue if we were permitted to use Walkers here.”

Alek chuckled nervously. “Indeed. In the similar thread, have you heard rumours of revolutionaries acquiring Walkers from the German’s, by way of avoiding the anti-clanker conditions in the armistice? They say a Lenin is building an army of them, outfitting them with technology even the best engineers and inventors can only dream of.”

“Pah. Revolution is in the air, yes. You noticed how many bears were stationed around the palace, indoors and out, as did I. The Czar is worried for his safety, and with good reason. The Walkers I can believe, but technology that advanced? This Lenin is the best liar of us all.”

“It’s only rumours I hear.”

 

After dressing, the pair were finally whisked to the throne room. Alek quietly slipped the wireless transmitter from his Turk clothes into a pocket sewn into his new robes.

He slipped in close alongside Lilit.

"I must contact Doctor Barlow before we go in, so she knows to activate the transmitter."

"Piç kurusu!The washroom, maybe?"

Alek looked at her skeptically. "In these?"

"We've arrived," the attendant announced.  

"Sir before we go in, my companion needs to use the facilities."

 

The attendant gave Alek a look of distaste, which Alek met with a scowl of his own.

"This way, then, sir. Madam, you may proceed."

 

Lilit swept forward, entering the royal court. It was a small room, by royal standards, but still much larger than anything she was accustomed to before the she was declared diplomatic and foisted on one unsuspecting country after the next. "Czar Nicholas, how kind of you to meet with me on such..." four and a half weeks, "limited notice."

The Czar smiled at her, Czarina by his hand. The apparent Mad Monk, Rasputin, was no where to be found.

The Czar responded, as if sensing her question. "One of my daughters has been taken ill, and Rasputin has proved himself in the art of healing. He will be attending shortly."

Lilit pursed her lips. "I was unaware he was an official adviser in matters pertaining to foreign relations."

A look of displeasure came across the Czar's features. "He isn't. Shall we begin? I hope we may negotiate something of an...alliance with the Ottomans, as the last great but neutral clanker power. Whilst we are darwinists, and I could scarcely see my people and the greater population of them learning to integrate such technology into their everyday lives, military armament is another matter entirely."

"I would prefer to wait a few more moments for my companion,  not to be a bother. He would be very flummoxed to miss such excitement."

The robes seemed to be growing heavier on her shoulders by the minute. Perhaps she could sit down soon. If no one provided a chair then that could be their problem. The lush carpet was more than comfortable enough for a tough old bum like hers.

For the sake of diplomacy she would remain upright until Alek returned.

A tap on her shoulder indicated such.

Lilit's smile turned sickly sweet. The games were about to begin.

***

Deryn met them back on the Nephil. It was a big name for a ship to live up to, thought Deryn. Maybe even a little too big. The  Nephil was a small hydrogen breather, whose official purpose was research and carrying out missions of minor international importance.

Compared to the Leviathan it was more like a wee childs plaything,  but Doctor Barlow seemed to prefer it. After a brief, albeit not-entirely-official stopover in Istanbul, they gone on to Russia.

Deryn had been speaking with some of the Russian ground men. Their English was passable, a good thing considering Alek had yet to teach her any Russian.

"Why're there so many bears around? It all seems a bit superfluous," Bovril's 11th favourite word to say, it's little mouth working up and down. "Even for the Czar."

The groundman gave her an odd look. "The medved do not serve the Czar, Gospodin Aretimiavich, they adhere to the general will of the people. The royal family have been prisoners in their palace for over a month."

He seemed to all of a sudden realise he'd said too much, refusing to elaborate despite Deryn's attempts.

"I really mustn't. Ill will befalls those open their mouths too wide."

Frustrated by the dead end, she was pleased to notice Alek and Lilit returning, deep in what seemed to be grave discussion.

Lilit took her arm as they came past, leaning close so as not to be overheard. "The Czar is no longer in control of his people to any degree. Prepare to leave at once. Revolution is far closer than either I or Doctor Barlow could have predicted and we have no guarantee this Lenin will be as obliging a host.”

She left Alek and Deryn alone then, striding up the gangway and already yabbering away in Turkish at a message lizard on her shoulder.

"Barking spiders she's spooked.  What happened?"

Alek made a face. "Whoever convinced the Revolutionaries that it would be better for Lilit out of the country than in is a fool. But we did learn a lot more about the Lenin everyone seems so afraid of. Come, this will be better said once we are in the air."

***

“Diplomacy doesn’t suit you at all, Lilit. What daft person put you in charge of maintaining civil relationships with royalty, honestly,” said Alek. The trio were walking side by side toward the bridge where Doctor Barlow was waiting. Bovril hung off Deryn’s shoulder, vocally agreeing with Alek’s sentiment.

Lilit didn’t reply until they had arrived.

A frog, an archival and more powerful version of Eddie Malone’s, sat in the centre of the table. As well as storing all the minutes from past meetings aboard the Nephil, once a week Doctor Barlow would send it to where Count Volger was based in the slowly but surely rehabilitating country of Germany. Apparently throwing away important documents of proof off of airships didn’t prevent Count Volger from calling in old favours, something he could do now that the Great War was coming to a close. Doctor Barlow called him an "invaluable resource". Deryn thought half of that was more swooning than anything else, not that a Lady like Doctor Barlow would ever admit to it

Curtly, Lilit turned to Alek. “Royalty misleading their people and making an effort to breed ignorance whilst retaining knowledge as a privilege for themselves doesn’t suit me either. It’s as if they go hand in hand.”

Alek sputtered and shrunk back while Deryn didn’t laugh at all. (Bovril did). “Fair point, then.”

A look from Doctor Barlow was enough to make each of them quiet down quickly, taking a seat around the table made of fabricated wood. Lilit steeled herself, still struggling with how she felt in the presence of Doctor Barlow who reminded her so deeply of Nene, of the stories her father told of an absent mother and of herself.

She began to talk.

***

Alek was quiet after the debrief. The silence struck Deryn as similar to how he'd been when he first came aboard the Leviathan. A silence that was more introspective than actually quiet.

Except it was more mature. Older.

Like the stubble grazing Alek's cheeks and further deepening of his voice.

They'd both grown so much.

He began to speak without prompting, so Deryn listened.

"I haven't been in a royal court since my par... since the beginning of the war. I still had this completely barking idea that the first time I was permitted in any official capacity I would be the one setting the terms, leading the negotiations." He drew a deep breath. "I don't regret my decision to give up the throne. Not for a moment. But I still miss it, in some silly, dark corner of my head."

A beat of calm passed, nothing but the sounds of the airship around them.

"Aye," Deryn then said softly. "It ain't easy breaking away from what you were supposed to be. Just look at me. Give it time, Alek, my daft Prince.”

Alek's face was turned away. Deryn knew without looking that his cheeks would be shining with tears. She drew him close, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

“Did you know,” he said, voice only trembling a little. “That the reason we were forced to leave is that Lilit has quite a set of lungs on her. Granted, Lenin, but it was like listening to flock of flechette bats, right against your ear. Very shrill.”

“But effective.”

“That’s the spirit.”

And like that Deryn knew he’d be okay. That they would be okay.