Jan Sleet put down her newspaper and drew deeply on her cigarette. "His Majesty is not doing well," she said slowly.
I knew who she meant. She was referring to King Fernando of Bellona, now deposed. She and I had been present in Bellona during the revolution which had overthrown his rule. My employer had ostensibly been there to cover the events as a journalist.
Since that time, the king, along with his two young children and a few trusted servants, had moved into quiet exile in Europe.
There had been only occasional news over the years, but my employer always noted each item, as if following the career of a vanquished adversary.
"It says here that his doctors are making him comfortable, expecting that he will die soon."
"Does it say what's wrong with him?" I asked. "He's not that old, is he?"
"Fifty-two," she said, "according to my calculations." She sipped her coffee. "There is no mention of his exact condition."
"Do crowns still get passed down even if there's no longer an actual throne involved?"
"Of course. Now..." She frowned. "That's an interesting question. His daughter, as I know you'll remember, is older than her brother, but I'm not certain about the rules of succession. Does the crown go to the oldest child, or to the first-born male?"
"Well," I said, savoring the rare moment when I knew something she didn't, "you'll be able to ask her royal highness yourself, in a week or two."