Going to Nivet: Episode 18

Tsibola is sitting in his comfortable armchair, the one Bernice keeps threatening to throw away, or at least have recovered with a less dingy fabric. He has nothing against new coverings, but he hasn't been able to bear to part with the chair long enough for that to be done.

Tsibola should be reading over a briefing, but he is ~~ sorely tempted ~~ to take a brief nap instead. He has plenty of assistants whose job it is to understand everything in the briefing and tell him which parts of it are important.

Bernice knocks on the door frame and comes into the study. Ruthven is slouched in his favorite old ratty chair which he insisted on hauling here all the way from New Washington.

Tsibola looks up and smiles ~~ ruefully ~~.

Tsibola: Ah, Bernice. You've caught me being unforgivably lazy.

Bernice: I forgive you.

Bernice would like to see her husband take it easy more often.

Tsibola: It was that bean and cheese dish that did me in. Although it would have been better with a bit of roasted chicken mixed in.

Bernice sighs.

Bernice: Apparently it's possible to get meat here, but it doesn't always arrive in good condition, and then there's the problem of disgusting all the household staff, even if the cook is willing to prepare it.

Bernice isn't concerned about the outrageous expense of getting the meat shipped from the other side of the border.

Tsibola: The embassy is supposed to be an outpost of New Washington Territory, right? Surely there must be some way to get authentic Gen food? My mother always insisted that I eat my vegetables, but even she didn't insist that I eat only vegetables.

Bernice: I suppose I can explain some of the things you like to the cook, and we can get things like canned sardines and salt pork, but fresh wholesome meat is almost impossible, now the weather has warmed up. Fresh fish is out of the question.

Tsibola sighs.

Tsibola: If I were younger, I'd find a river and catch my own.

Bernice: And make the front page as a piscicidal barbarian.

Tsibola: Do you think that might help me intimidate the Simes? Thinking that I was likely to start battering and frying their tentacles at any moment?

Tsibola tries to look ~~ innocent ~~.

Bernice: I think it might have the same effect as if you were found collecting horse apples for pie in New Washington. The staff is remarkably squeamish about meat.

Tsibola sighs.

Tsibola: Well, at least Dr. Young should be happy. He did say that I should avoid fat, and meat is full of fat.

Bernice: True.

Bernice has explained to the cook that fried foods are to be avoided.

Tsibola: Of course, now I'm hungry half an hour after each meal.

Bernice thinks about what snacks she can arrange to have readily available.

Bernice: Well, just ring for the staff and have them bring you a snack.

Tsibola: I did, yesterday. They brought me some carrot sticks.

Bernice: You'll have to ask for what you want more specifically until they get used to you.

Tsibola: I should have brought our butler.

Bernice pats his shoulder. The butler categorically refused to go.

Bernice: I must say that the cook does lovely salads. All those different kinds of greens and the solid vegetables cut into such pretty shapes. The dressings are unusual and very good, too.

Tsibola: It would taste better with some crisp bacon on top.

Bernice would like to get her husband out of this negative rut.

Bernice: The garden is looking very pretty. So many things in bloom.

Tsibola: Yes. They did a very nice job with the flower beds, and the roses are spectacular.

Bernice: I'm surprised they can grow such good roses in this climate.

Bernice accentuates the positive.

Tsibola: I expect they have a greenhouse somewhere. After all, a lot of them are in pots.

Bernice: So what are you playing hookey from right now?

Bernice gestures at the papers on her husband's lap.

Tsibola: A briefing on local objections to running cattle across the border.

Bernice: Oh?

Tsibola: Apparently, some of the locals weren't happy about the treaty last year. I don't know what they expect me to do about it from here, but I'm apparently obligated to hear out the complaints.

Bernice: Does this call for a polite by essentially vacuous response from the embassy? You can have Nixin write it for you.

Tsibola: Probably. But I should at least read through the packet before I hand it off.

Tsibola is a conscientious politician.

Tsibola: After all, it may come up in conversation at some point. Stranger things have happened.

Bernice: Indeed.

Tsibola sets the briefing on the cows aside, and picks up the next item on his desk. He starts skimming it, then focuses in ~~ interest ~~.

Tsibola: Now, this is an interesting one.

Bernice: Hm?

Tsibola: This young man -- Sazerac? -- was born and raised on our side of the border, until he turned out to be Sime. He's appealing to me in the capacity of a former citizen of New Washington to intervene on his behalf with the Tecton.

Bernice: What's his problem?

Tsibola: Apparently, he was pushed into employment against his will as a fire watchman -- very isolated. And instead of letting him seek other employment during the winter, they kept him in an isolated cabin on the mountain. He wants to know why.

Tsibola skims further.

Bernice: That's puzzling. What was their explanation?

Tsibola: I gather he wasn't able to get one.

Tsibola hold up a stack of letters.

Tsibola: I expect these are copies of the letters he's sent. I'll have to get them translated.

Bernice: I suppose he could be mentally unbalanced, or some kind of troublemaker.

Tsibola: He could. Although it's equally possible his letters just got misfiled.

Bernice nods and smiles.

Tsibola: I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look into the matter.

Tsibola is ~~ glad ~~ to find one issue in his stack that appears to be solvable.

Tsibola: Tell me, my dear. How are you finding your current situation? Is being the Ambassador's wife too much of a burden on you? Do you miss New Washington?

Bernice: I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying it. I no longer have that same old lot to placate, and I haven't accumulated a new lot of the same.

Bernice winks.

Tsibola chuckles.

Bernice: Some of the women your colleagues marry... so clearly not for their brains.

Tsibola: Well, but consider. How is a gentleman who lacks brains himself going to keep the interest of a woman like you?

Bernice: I hadn't thought of it that way. You're certainly right.

Bernice's smile comes as close to a grin as it ever gets.

Tsibola chuckles.

Tsibola: Have I ever told you how glad I am that you were impressed enough with me to accept my proposal, all those years ago?

Bernice: A few times. It did seem like a good idea at the time, and pretty much forever after.

Tsibola: Even when I drag you off to Simeland? Or collapse at charity balls?

Bernice: It's certainly never been boring!

Tsibola: Which, as I recall, was a very big concern of yours at the time -- something about that boy who wanted to spend his days on his country estate? The one whose interest in farming went considerably farther than drawing up a bill?

Bernice: He had such ambitious plans for swine breeding. And race horses.

Tsibola: Race horses I can almost understand, but swine?

Bernice tries quite hard, and not entirely successfully, to suppress a giggle.

Bernice: I think they reminded him of his mother.

Tsibola: Well, in that much I have to agree. Horrible woman, as I recall.

Bernice: Little piggy eyes.

Bernice bursts out laughing.

Tsibola laughs, too.

Tsibola: No, you would have driven each other mad inside a week.

Bernice: Indeed. We're well suited to each other, Ruthven. I've never regretted marrying you.

Tsibola: I'm very glad to hear that, because I'd be very lonely here without you.

Bernice: Speaking of which, what shall we do about Fridda?

Tsibola: Fridda. Yes, she is a problem, isn't she?

Bernice: Welcoming her openly could do a lot for your image on this side of the border.

Tsibola: Yes, it would certainly make them think better of me. On the other hand, it would be leverage for them, too.

Bernice: I think she'd understand if you preferred not to be associated with her, but Jon might not be happy about you avoiding her entirely.

Tsibola: He wouldn't be. And frankly, Bernice -- I'd like to see her again. Wouldn't you?

Bernice: Yes, I would. I imagine she's grown up a great deal in the last... heavens, it's almost a year now, isn't it.

Tsibola: Yes, it is.

Bernice: Perhaps she could come here for a meal, or perhaps tea, with just the two of us.

Tsibola: Yes. We ought to be discreet, to the extent we can without making an issue of it. In an ideal world, it would be no one's business but our own, but we don't live in an ideal world.

Bernice: Yes.

Bernice sighs.

Bernice: Some afternoon or evening next week, or perhaps the week after. Let me know when you can schedule some time for it, and I'll send her a note.

Tsibola: All right. My schedule is a little less busy than it was while I served in the Senate. Or have you given orders that I'm not to be scheduled for so many meetings?

Tsibola looks at Bernice with a bit of ~~ suspicion ~~.

Bernice smiles.

Bernice: An ambassador is a dignified fellow who doesn't have to rush around in a storm of activity to serve his constituents. He has fewer people tugging at his coat. He's more of a statesman than any senator can afford to be.

Tsibola: Yes. All in all, not a bad way to retire.

Bernice smiles and nods.

Tsibola: If only proper food was available, I'd be quite content.

Bernice: I'll see what I can do about that, but my hopes aren't terribly high.

Bernice wonders if she should import an out-T cook just for meat dishes.

Tsibola: I suppose Dr. Young would be forcing me to eat salads and such if we were home, anyway.

Tsibola is ~~ trying hard ~~ to be positive.

Bernice: Just as well to be away from temptation, then.

Bernice is glad that Ruthven is trying to be positive.

Tsibola: I suppose. And they are better at cooking vegetables out here. Out of self-defense, I suppose.

Bernice: I thought that wild rice dish the other evening was very tasty.

Tsibola: The seasoning was quite pleasant, even if it's not what we're accustomed to.

Bernice: I'll go talk to the cook about having some snacks you'll like on hand. I'll send someone up with coffee for you, too.

Tsibola: Thank you, my dear. I don't know how I'd manage without you.

Bernice: Neither do I!

Bernice smiles, winks and departs.

Tsibola gazes after his wife ~~ fondly ~~, then picks up the next folder and settles down to read.

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