“That stuck-up beep has won,” said Bethany’s grandmother resignedly. “I can’t fight this and I don’t want to fight anymore. What’d be the point? Georgette’s dead; Theda left years ago; Katherine’s taking a job with the university and moving to Greenapple so she can be close to her grandchildren;” she moved from three of her four daughters to her granddaughters, “Delilah and Shapira went off with their father and took up archiving or librarianing or whatever it is that they do; Samantha, Ella and Daphne are all happily married in the Greenapple with nice little studs of their own;” her voice dripped sarcasm as she described her granddaughters’ dragon lizard breeding establishments, “Theodora’s far too busy gallivanting around as a vet to come home and help run this place; and Simone’s going off to marry Humphry Worthmare and live at their stud.”
Bethany’s Aunts Katherine and Terilba exchanged glances and Aunt Terilba said, “Bethany and I weren’t planning to leave, Mum. We want to keep the place going. We count for something, surely?”
“Neither of you have the gumption for this sort of fight,” her mother waved dismissively. “They’ve got a court order shutting us down – because we raise our own vermin to feed the lizards!” She threw her hands up in the air. “Do they expect us to truck them in? I’ll appeal of course, but it won’t get in front of a judge before this deadline runs out. I’ve made some phone calls, and the Worthmares and Tetherington can take the lizards and clutches for the military side of things. Simone’s personal bloodline are going to the Worthmares as well, just a little earlier than expected. Katherine, you’ve already made arrangements for your couple of dams, I understand. Terilba, Mason and Courbridge seem quite eager to have you take up residence over there with your breeding lines, I can’t think why.” Aunt Terilba blushed. “I’ve got myself and my private breeding line house room over at Colpatch with the Trevains. Bethany, no-one’s got roost room for that line of yours. Those you can’t sell or give away will have to be put down, and I’m afraid that for us to comply in time, those two clutches you’ve got incubating will have to be broken.”
Bethany was glad she was sitting down because she didn’t think she could have stood at that point. “But my dams, and all that work to get the mating with the Argukan stud….”
“It’s a pity,” said her grandmother briskly but carefully not looking directly at her, “but these things happen.”
“Accidents happen; illness happens; fire, storm, and earth quake happen,” Bethany’s voice didn’t rise above a normal speaking volume or change in pitch, “but this is deliberate extinction of a breeding line – one you know I’ve put everything into.”
“You’ve been trying to amplify a flaw,” her grandmother flashed at her, “and I think I’ve given you enough time on it. The whole sorry experiment ends now, and we can all move on from it.”
“Mum,” put in Aunt Katherine, “you made her work for every resource that went into her breeding project. Roost space, hatchery, feed, out-matings, everything. Stuff that you let the rest of us just have in the course of events.” Her mother went to speak and Katherine added, “Even before she drew up her project plan and conformation aims. If you do this to her, then you owe her actual monetary compensation.” Aunt Terilba nodded in agreement.
“Well,” Bethany’s grandmother fluffed like an indignant chicken hen, “when I sell the land, you’ll all get something.”
“Sell?” Aunts Katherine and Terilba looked at each other again.
“Yes,” sarcasm returned to their mother’s voice. “Coincidentally, on the day I received this court order, I also received an offer to buy our land from the local authority. It has,” she said as an aside, “that stuck up beep’s hand all over it because they say they want to use it for a recreation park. I have an appointment with the solicitors in Wetherbridge this afternoon to discuss everything – I’ll get ready and leave for Mr Rushmore’s office after lunch. While I’m in there, Bethany, I’ll arrange for one of Dr Curzon’s vets to come out and put down those two dams; the sooner you break those eggs, the easier it’ll be.” She stood. “Now, the three of you still have work to do, so you’d better get on with it. Terilba, you can make hard arrangements with Mason and Courbridge while I’m out this afternoon.” On that note, she left the room.
“Right, we’d better get on with it,” said Aunt Katherine as she stood.
At the same time, Aunt Terilba grabbed Bethany’s hand and mouthed, “This afternoon,” at her.
Then they all left the farm house to do their particular jobs and Bethany spent the morning in a miserable haze with an unhappy feeling in her stomach. When she got to the cleaning and feeding of her own dragon lizards, she couldn’t stop her eyes leaking and, in the end, she just sat down on a bale of hay and cried her eyes out.
Simone came home from organising wedding things with her fiancée to reveal that her future in-laws had passed on Grandma’s news. Her question was, “Why couldn’t she have told us while I was here?” uttered as their grandmother, in her business best, disappeared down the driveway in the going to town car.
“Probably didn’t want Bethany to have any more support than she did when she was told that her dams were going to have to be put down and their clutches broken,” said her mother, Bethany’s Aunt Terilba. “When Mum has to knife you in the back, she likes to do it quick, clean, and with as few witnesses possible.”
“One day,” said Aunt Katherine, “she might realise that we compare notes. Now, is anyone else having niggling doubts about something Mum said this morning? Aside from Bethany’s disaster?” She looked at the other three women in the room, and added, “Something about the land?”
“We hold it by Royal Charter, don’t we,” said Simone. “Doesn’t that change the title status somehow?”
“Grandad used to read the Charter to me as a bed time story,” said Bethany.
“Dad always did have weird taste in reading matter,” commented Aunt Katherine.
“I suppose he thought it would send me to sleep,” Bethany shrugged, “but when I was little, I thought it was the magic spell that had given us the farm. I loved listening to it.”
Aunt Katherine looked her up and down, and then shook her head, “You’re his granddaughter alright.”
“There’s something in the beginning,” Bethany went on slowly, “about how we hold the land as long as the terms of the Charter are obeyed and then, somewhere soon after number twenty, it says what happens if there stops being a dragon lizard stud here. Or at least, that’s what I remember.”
“Right,” said Katherine decisively, “you two girls put a clean cloth down on the table to protect the Charter. Terilba, you come and help me get it out of the safe.”
Ten minutes later the precious document was laid out on top of the family’s best festive table cloth and the four of them were poring over it, the older two women wearing cotton gloves. Aunt Katherine said, “You’re right about that initial piece, Bethany, but I think,” she scanned down the document, “that we are allowed to sell. Now, somewhere after paragraph twenty…. Oh, my.”
Simone, “Oh, my?”
Terilba was reading around the side of her sister’s arm, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Katherine read out, “Paragraph Twenty. If the subject property ceases to be used for the purpose of breeding dragon lizards, whether or no those in possession are obliged to supply dragon lizards of any nature or numbers for the use of the military forces of Our Kingdom, then the possession and ownership of the subject property will revert to the Crown in the person of the then Regnant Monarch of Our Kingdom and will be said Regnant Monarch’s personal property to be used, enjoyed or disposed of as he or she wills.”
Bethany said slowly, “So if Grandma closes down the stud, then she can’t sell the land because it won’t be hers anymore.”
“Katherine, I think you should ring Mr Rushmore’s office,” her sister told her. “Now.”
“Before Grandma tries to commit fraud,” said Simone.
“It could be worse,” pointed out Bethany. “It could be lese-majesty.”
“Is that even a crime?” Simone looked confused.
“Oh yes,” Bethany assured her. “They can still execute you for it. That and treason.”
“We really don’t want Grandma to try to do that then,” said Simone. “Ring them, Aunty Kate!”
Katherine made the call to Mr Rushmore’s office and was put through to that gentleman, her mother having just gone in to see him. The rest of them couldn’t hear both sides of the conversation, but they heard Katherine’s part.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr Rushmore, and I know that you can’t discuss my mother’s affairs with me, but we’ve just realised that the Charter has a very specific provision about what happens if there stops being a dragon lizard stud on this land. You’ve got a full copy of the Charter haven’t you?”
“Good, Paragraph Twenty.”
“Yes, it is tucked in with the oddments isn’t it? I mean, who would expect three Paragraphs on hauntings in a document like this?”
“Oh really? Fancy that.”
“Yes, of course. I’m sure you’ll give my mother the best possible advice under the circumstances.” Katherine put the phone’s handset down gently. “Well, we’ve done what we can there. No doubt we’ll hear what came of that when Mum gets home. We’ll not hear the end of it if your Aunt Terilba hasn’t organised her move by then, but I want to make a few phone calls to my contacts on your behalf, Bethany.” Her older Aunt smiled at her.
“As do I,” added Terilba briskly. “We all know that the first spiny breeding lines took ten years to get results and that the spines used to be considered a show fault, but now they have their own category. I think Mum’s trying to logic herself out of feeling like the villain, but that doesn’t help Bethany.”
Bethany and Simone spent the afternoon doing the afternoon round of work and getting Simone’s dragon lizards ready to move. Nothing as advanced as putting them into carrying boxes, but there was a routine that the lizards, particularly the show animals, were used to before they went on a trip. While they worked Simone talked almost nonstop about her wedding plans. Under normal circumstances it would have been the subject uppermost on her mind and Bethany was happy to go with the thread of normality in an abnormally dreadful day. The intrusive thought that she tried to put aside and didn’t voice was that their grandmother might decide to cut Simone’s plans off at the roots and turn her planned large family celebration into a quick fifteen minutes at the Registry Office stolen out of a normal work day, amidst the upset of clearing out the farm.
The four of them reconvened before Bethany and Simone’s grandmother returned. “Well,” said Aunt Katherine, “the good news, Bethany, is that no-one actually refused to give you roost room, because your grandmother didn’t even ask about room for your lizards. The bad news is that she was so pushy that people feel that they said no to her in such terms that they can’t now turn around and take you in. She pulled in a couple of big favours to get roost space over at the Trevains, and I suspect that Evarina Trevain’s moving their lizards into that nice, new roosting shed they’ve just had built faster than they’d planned, because if it’s vacant when Mum arrives….”
“Disappointment and loss have always made Mum come over all bitter and twisted,” observed Terilba.
“Yes,” agreed Katharine. “To hear her this morning, you’d think that we never hear from or see the rest of the family, instead of just about everyone coming back here for the major holidays.”
“Except my Mum,” said Bethany wistfully.
Katharine put a consoling hand on her niece’s shoulder. “Not by choice, not really. She and your grandmother argued about her going off to study in foreign parts, and when Mum brought you home from the hospital Dad had a ‘what have you done’ conversation with her. Then he went off somewhere for a few hours, and when he came back, you being here was all right.” Katherine thought for a moment and said, “He never spoke about it afterwards, but the police never came, and your mother never came back to the farm – you saw what our Mum was like when she came to Dad’s funeral.”
“Nan didn’t want me talking to Mum,” said Bethany, remembering. “Not that we knew what to say to each other. I think we both just wanted to sit and look at each other for a while.”
“She didn’t like that one little bit either,” said Terilba. “Dad must have smoothed over something there when she first brought you home because you were reported as abducted on the radio news for the first little while.” The other three women looked at her, surprised, and she added, “I was cleaning out the south barn and I had the radio on while I worked – it seemed to help Simone go off to sleep while we were out there.”
“So, if I had the money. I could rent somewhere,” said Bethany slowly.
“If anyone’s got somewhere to rent,” agreed Katharine. “Mum tried that before she started calling in favours, although you’ve far fewer lizards than her.”
“We’re still going to the show in Huxtable this weekend aren’t we?” Bethany looked at her aunts for confirmation. “I have a couple of drakes I was going to sell anyway and I wanted to keep Jhorri, but I’ll get a lot more for him and if I have to downsize….”
“Jhorri?” Aunt Katharine looked at her quizzically.
“He’s a moonlight that doesn’t have underwing thing I’m trying to breed for,” Bethany sighed, “but a moonlight drake….”
“Oh yes, you’ll be able sell him,” agreed Aunt Terilba, “but I can quite understand why you’d hoped to keep him – so useful for a breeding program.”
When Bethany’s grandmother returned from town the other women gathered in the farmhouse kitchen to hear what had happened. She, on the other hand, insisted on changing her clothes and being assured that all the chores that should have been done had been before she would take a cup of tea and update them. “After Katharine’s timely phone call,” she began, “Mr Rushmore advised that we can’t accept the purchase offer without full disclosure. So that,” she smiled evilly, “is what we’re going to do – tell them all about the relevant clauses in the charter, and if they still want to go ahead, then it’s their problem. We make sure that we get the money long enough before vacant possession that we can move it out of the original bank account so that they can’t just claw it back, and we don’t move the last lizards out until after they take possession. Let them deal with His Majesty.”
Bethany asked, “Is it wrong of me to like that idea? To let them stick it to themselves?”
“Not at all,” said her Aunt Katharine. “If they’re foolish enough to continue with the purchase intending to take an action that ends the Charter, knowing that will happen, then they deserve everything they get.”
This is now followed by The End Of A Way Of Life, Part 2.