Tsibola makes it up the front steps of his home on his own, refusing to show either the servants or his wife how tired he really is. He spent all morning in the Senate, trying to see how much of his Senate career could be salvaged, and he didn't like all the answers.
Tsibola isn't a fool, however, and so he sends a servant to tell Bernice that he's back and ducks into his study to sit and rest, instead of seeking her out himself, as he would normally have done.
Bernice walks casually into the study, trying not to show how concerned she is that he may have overdone things. A quick look tells her that he didn't have a particularly encouraging or restful first morning back at the senate.
Bernice: Luncheon will be a little late.
Bernice didn't know when to expect him -- she hoped he wouldn't stay any later than he'd promised, but with things as they are...
Tsibola: Bernice, things are a bit more of a mess than I'd hoped.
Bernice sits and waits for more details.
Tsibola: Some of the caucus is very disappointed to have me in condition to continue. Not just the usual suspects, but I gather that even some of the more level-headed people were hoping that my absence would make room for their advancement.
Bernice's lips curl in disgust.
Bernice: After all you've done for the party over all these years.
Tsibola: It's odd: some of them stated it almost exactly in those words.
Tsibola: In any event, if I want to continue, I will have to accept some humiliation, of a more public nature than usual.
Bernice thinks this is outrageous, but doesn't express it, since she doesn't want her husband to get too excited.
Bernice: Do you think it might be time to step down, then?
Tsibola: No, I think on the balance, I can still do a great deal of good.
Bernice: Just what kind of humiliation do they have in mind?
Tsibola: I will be the conservative caucus's candidate for ambassador to Nivet.
Bernice: Surely they don't expect you to actually take the position!
Tsibola: I judge the chances of that are slim. The centrists are putting out Burgess's name. He's more likely to be acceptable to the liberals than I am.
Bernice: Well, if it's just for show, and you can put up with it. But I can't see letting them pressure you into taking the ambassadorship.
Tsibola: It's a small risk, and it will let me explain my priorities to the Senate. Maybe some of the ideas will fall on fertile soil. After all, they know I have extensive experience dealing with Simes.
Bernice: Will you be able to bow out gracefully if they do want to appoint you?
Tsibola: There's small chance of that -- Burgess actually wants the job. But I can always plead my health, I suppose. Although that would mean retiring, or at least taking an extended leave of absence. And while the process is going on, we'll have to take my candidacy seriously. Do you mind terribly?
Tsibola looks at Bernice, trying to read her willingness.
Bernice: If you're willing to let them do this, I am. I'm just concerned that you'll be backed into accepting the appointment. I can't see us being exiled to Nivet after all these years. Fragmer is really a figurehead -- it seems to me that you and Seruffin have been doing most of the important diplomacy with Nivet lately.
Bernice: I'd rather you continue to do it here.
Tsibola: I've sat through a lot of nominations for various offices, and I know how the game is played. There will be plenty of opportunities to make it clear that Burgess is the better candidate. But -- we'll have to go to some events that we would otherwise shun.
Bernice: Oh? Not another party like Pollovic's, I hope. Although he can hardly get engaged twice.
Tsibola: We will probably have to visit the Nivet Embassy here. Several times.
Bernice: I have no objections. It might even be interesting.
Tsibola: Pollovic was at least making a token attempt to follow the rules of polite society. The Embassy will use Simeland manners and customs.
Bernice: I would think they'd cater to our customs when dealing with us. What would we have to put up with, do you think?
Tsibola: No retainers, for sure. And they won't be nearly as hesitant about zlinning us -- and commenting on what they observe -- as they were at Pollovic's party. I can tell you from my sessions with Seruffin that it can be very... disconcerting.
Bernice: Well, if you can tolerate it, I should be able to as well.
Tsibola: I don't like subjecting you to such unpleasantness, just because some of my colleagues are disappointed that I survived. If you don't want to do it, I understand. I can find something else to do with my life. I've demanded a great deal from you over the years. You have a right to say you've had enough.
Bernice: Good heavens, Ruthven. I can put up with some nosy Simes zlinning me now and then if it matters to your work. It can't be worse than what we've seen and heard from some of your colleagues over the years, especially when they've had too much to drink.
Tsibola: Yes. there was that evening when... Well, not all gentlemen are gentlemen, even when they should be.
Bernice: Indeed. But Seruffin is a gentleman, or as much as a Sime can be one, and I can't imagine him saying anything rude to me whatever he zlins.
Tsibola: No, he won't be deliberately rude. It's just that by his culture's standards, it's not bad manners to remark on it if you are out of sorts, or need to retire for relief, or if you don't like the food.
Bernice leans forward and pats Ruthven's hand.
Bernice: I can put up with it. I'm sure he'll be more discreet if he zlins what I think about that sort of behavior! And the same for his colleagues. Many of them would be Gens, anyway, wouldn't they?
Tsibola: Yes. But they all grew up with Simes, and they're just as blunt.
Bernice: I'd think they'd all be trained in more acceptable behavior if they're going to be associating with people here, but I suspect that if I look down my nose at the ruder ones, they'll get the idea soon enough. Perhaps sooner than some of your more bibulous colleagues.
Tsibola: They also tend to be a little hostile to Gens who don't let themselves be tapped every time a Sime gets hungry.
Tsibola: In their culture, it's being selfish to hoard what a Sime can use.
Bernice: Well, that's their problem. In our culture, it's not something people of our class engage in.
Tsibola: Yes. But to be fair, at their Embassy their culture is supposed to set the rules. Within reason, of course: they can't make us abide by some of their customs.
Bernice: I should hope not.
Bernice thinks about it.
Bernice: Perhaps if I don't accompany you to all of these functions it will send the message that I'm not likely to be a very effective ambassadorial wife, hence you're not likely to be the most desirable candidate for ambassador, which is the message we want to get across, no?
Tsibola: I will take that under consideration, but we don't want you to gain a reputation as an incompetent. The whole purpose of undergoing this humiliation is to regain my effectiveness as a Senator.
Bernice: Incompetent, no, but perhaps fastidious.
Bernice smiles, with a bit of a twinkle in her eye.
Tsibola takes her hand and raises it to his lips.
Tsibola: Always, my dear. Fastidious -- and formidable.
Bernice: If I can put Rundle in his place, I should have no difficulty with mere Simes. Diplomats or no.
Tsibola: Together, we can rout them properly, and then return to serious work.
Bernice: Yes, we shall.
Tsibola looks at his wife ~~ fondly ~~.
Bernice: As always.