Summit a la Krakowiak
Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland-Lithuania
King Janusz returned from his hunting expedition in Belarus and Lithuania, and requested a meeting with the High President Poland-Lithuania's next door neighbor, Halsberg. He decided to have the meeting in Krakow, as this was the old capital of the Kingdom of Poland, and perhaps the intellectual and cultural capital of Poland, even if it was no longer the capital of the entire country.
The King prepared Wawel Castle for the arrival of the esteemed guest. Despite their shared religious experiences, and moderate trade up and down the Dnieper River in Kiev, and therefore through Krakow's markets, no official visit came between Thurston and Krakow, then Warsaw.
He also brought the rest of the Royal Family down to Wawel Castle, as it would be the Summer Ball soon and Wawel Castle would play host to it.
The King was informed that the Halsberg delegation would be arriving via PolRail from Kiev.
This was the High President's first official engagement since the infamous coronation in Icholasen. Somehow, the press had gotten wind of his little feud with the Duke of Roeburg. Obviously, they never took his side, when do they ever? The Duke was young and popular, and of course wasn't the High President. Solomon couldn't remember a modern High President that was more popular than most Commonwealth leaders. Something about "inter-commonwealth hostility", or so his advisors tell him. He was riding in the first class carriage of the train, speeding towards his meeting in Krakow. It was odd, he thought to himself, that a High President had never travelled to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, despite their close proximity and similarity. There's a first time for everything though, and the High President hoped this meeting would mark the beginning of a new chapter in relations with Halsberg's next door neighbour.
"Nice place, isn't it?", the High President remarked to his entourage. Not that he could see much from the window of the train. "They certainly have comfy trains. Remind me to get on to the train companies and tell them to make the seats better. In fact, I'll just tell them to make the trains better in general. Stepping over drunks and into god knows what does tend to lose its charm, you know."
"Yes, High President.", Billy made a note of it in a rather ornate notebook with what looked like a fancy fountain pen. His recent promotion to the High President's personal assistant certainly had its perks, chief among them the substantially larger salary. "Also...", Billy brought out a few sheets of paper, "...these are the current reports on the situations in Rimroth and Davishire. As you can see, the reports that the Rimrothians have found the Emperor have been confirmed as a false alarm, and the Inimicans are still in the country."
The High President fumbled in his coat for his reading glasses. He found them amongst the junk that littered his pockets. "Hmm...yes. I do hope they find Artabanos. He was a nice chap at the coronation. Bit quiet, but pleasant enough."
The blur of green and blue that was the view from the window turned into a more artificial, grey scene as the train entered Krakow. A few minutes later, it pulled into the city's main station, the pleasant view of the city being replaced by an oncoming horde of photographers and journalists.
"Oh god...", the High President sighed. He arose from his seat, grabbing all the paper that was covering the table. "Lets get this bit over with then."
The High President and his entourage stepped down from the train into an oasis of calm in a desert of journalists. The Polish police had erected barriers and as such had cleared a path for the Halsbergian delegation.
"You ought to answer at least one question, High President", Billy whispered in Solomon's ear. "We want to seem as accessible as possible".
"Oh alright, if we must", the High President whispered back. He scanned the crowd, and quickly found a paper he recognised. He moved over to the journalist from Rzcezpospolita, announcing he would answer one question.
The young journalist had shoulder-length blonde hair, and she spoke with a heavy polish accent, "Mr. High President, I understand that Halsbergian domestic news have suggested that there is a bit of animosity between you and the Duke of Roeburg, indeed I hear from sources that tensions boiled over recently. Can you tell us anything about that?"
Bloody hell, the High President thought to himself. Even here, they were still going on about that same, trivial issue. "Of course. The relationship between myself and Edmund, the Duke of Roeburg is one of mutual respect and professionalism. I wouldn't say we're best friends, but any reports of arguments or...or shouting at each other, or playing silly pranks on each other...they're all complete nonsense. It would be nice if we all started to focus on the real issues that we face, rather than trivial gossip that even The Matriarchy wouldn't print. Good day." The High President turned and walked off quickly.
"Insulting the local news media wasn't really what I meant by seeming accessible", Billy said quickly and quietly as the delegation entered the waiting car.
"I answered the question, what more do you want?, the High President snapped. "Maybe if everyone wasn't so focused on ridiculous tittle tattle and salacious gossip the region wouldn't be in the state it is now."
Several minutes passed, then several more. Eventually, the delegation arrived at Wawel Castle, where the summit was to take place. The High President and his entourage exited the car, and approached the main door. King Janusz was waiting inside.
King Janusz was not expecting the High President to appear so frazzled, and wondered if the notoriously nosy press happened to get to him before he could get here. After all, being only next door to Halsberg,he heard about the little scandal at the coronation. He decided that it would not be best to get into such petty affairs today and help him deal with that issue later down the road. King Janusz introduced himself in a much less formal manner than one would think of a king who ruled over 320 million people. Princess Karolina, Prince Fryderyk, the Queen Marlena, and the younger, Marta (13) and Felix (10).
The King had assembled a small band of traditional Polish musicians, and upon the High President entering the room, they began the traditional dance of Krakow, the krakowiak.
_'Welcome to Poland, Mr. High President. I do not believe we have ever had the pleasure of hosting a Halsberg High President, despite Thurston being a location of great economic cooperation with Kiev. Allow me to introduce my family.
'This is the Queen Marlena, my wife of 30 years.
'These are our two eldest children, Prince Fryderyk and Princess Karolina. The next two youngest are Princess Marta and Prince Felix. Karolina and Fryderyk both are professional classical musicians, trained in Warsaw and Aerodimus. They now perform, and both take official residence in Lazienki Palace in Warsaw.
'I hope you enjoy the castle. This is the oldest castle in Poland, and one of the oldest continual residences of a royal family in Europe, built in 1333 at the request of King Casimir III, one of the greatest Polish monarchs. It has since been in the royal family for years, and the Wawel Cathedral next to our castle is the First Cathedral of Poland, home to the Archbishop of Krakow, the most important Catholic leader in Poland.
'I'm glad you can be here for such an occasion. Before we get to the meeting, it would be my honor to invite you to dine with us in your honor, Mr. High President, with the entertainment of my two eldest children at your disposal.'_
The High President entered the entrance hall of the palace, and was immediately impressed by the sheer beauty of the interior. The palace's history as the centre of the Royal Family was evident. The traditional music was the perfect accompaniment to the introductions that were taking place. The High President was incredibly flattered that the royal family had gathered together to welcome him.
"Thank you, your majesty,", the High President said, bowing his head slightly. "This is a great honour, not just for myself, but for every citizen of the Twelve Commonwealths," The High President turned to Queen Marlena, again bowing slightly, "Ah, your majesty. It is a pleasure to meet you at last. I have heard so much about you. Your family is obviously extremely talented; I've heard great things about your children's music."
The High President bowed slightly again, this time to the King's children.
"I would be delighted to dine with your family. I would love to get to know you all better, before the work begins."
The King looked pleased, and the High President seemed to be at least outwardly earnest about the dining experience.
'Excellent, then we shall go right away.'
The King led the High President through more of Wawel Castle, and into the banquet hall.
'This banquet hall was renovated in the 19th Century, and I personally think it does not match the rest of this 14th Century castle, but you can be the judge. Here, even though there will be a select few of us dining at this state dinner, there will still be a large enough crowd. I have taken the courtesy of bringing in the landed elite of Polish society.'
The High President suddenly looked extremely overwhelmed, as he saw what looked to number at least fifty landed elites entered the room, in what looked to be 19th Century gowns and suits. It was as if the entire impression was meant to be grandiose in the most opulent of Eastern European style. At the other end of
_'Ladies and gentlemen, introducing our esteemed guest at this State Dinner, the Honourable High President of Halsberg, Mr. Michael Solomon.
'In honor of his visit, we will begin with the National Anthem of the Twelve Commonwealths of Halsberg, played by the Symphony Orchestra of the Karol Syzmanowski Philharmonic Society. Next, the National Anthem of our Imperial Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania'_
All of the Polish nobility were respectful and upstanding for the Halsberg national anthem and instantly switched to beaming pride at the sound of the Polish national anthem.
Princess Karolina looked at the High President, who still seemed shell-shocked.
'It's okay; when I become Queen, there won't be so much of this display. You have to understand, Poles are proud of being Polish, and take every opportunity to display how Polish we are. I think you'll want to have a little of this.'
She handed him a bottle of Sobieski.
'It's a Polish specialty. I don't know if you knew, but we Slavs love our vodka and alcohol, especially my brother and I.'
The High President, along with the select few members of his entourage who had been invited to the dinner, were indeed a tad overwhelmed at the sight of the polish elite. Their elaborate clothes were certainly more traditional than Solomon was used to back home. However, the desire for grandeur was not something he was a stranger to. Halsberg certainly wasn't averse to its own displays of opulence from time to time. He remembered back to the Festival of Thanks on the Isles of the Divine: he had to dress in the most overly-elaborate suit he'd ever seen. And Marie...the dress was like a tent.
When the national anthem of the Twelve Commonwealths was played, Solomon and his companions were particularly proud. The respect the polish guests showed was admirable, and was of course worthy of reciprocation when the anthem of Poland-Lithuania was played. The orchestra played both pieces beautifully, the High President thought, and suited its regal surroundings perfectly.
The Princess Karolina had handed the High President a bottle of what the label identified as Sobieski.
"Thank you very much your highness. Yes...this will come in handy later!" the High President said with a mischievous smile. "Oh I completely understand. Nothing wrong with being a bit proud of your country. Although, why the 19th century costume? I suppose its traditional or something like that. Don't get me wrong, I think its great, just a little unexpected!"
Solomon was certainly enjoying himself. This was an extremely pleasant break from the constant machinations which dominated his career. It was rare events like these when he truly felt glad he had been chosen as the Twelve Commonwealths' leader. He hadn't expected to be treated to such an elaborate dinner, and was already liking where this summit was going. If his hosts' friendliness and kindness were anything to go by, the summit was going to go very well indeed.
_'Yes, Mr. High President, this is traditional wear for our nobility. Everyone still owns a dress or a suit made in the 19th Century style, as we always have our old traditions. We have a Summer Ball, which will be coming up soon, a Ball of the Harvest, and the Winter Ball. I also fear that my father will be wanting to retire soon, as he is not completely in good health, which would leave me as, well I guess empress (since this is technically an Imperial Commonwealth), but we use the simpler titles of King and Queen. This would result in a coronation and yet another ball. Fryderyk was written out of inheritance line, because of a situation he had at one of his concerts in Berlin. Something involving whores and lines of cocaine on their bodies.
'But, I tell you that in slight confidence. Everyone in the Commonwealth know, but I don't think anyone else in the European Union know. I personally don't care however. My brother is actually about to lead the orchestra in a performance of one of our greatest musical contributions: the polonaise, our national dance. Would you care to join me in the dance?'_
The Halsberg High President was much more willing to participate than Princess Karolina expected, and was actually versed in the ancient dance of the Polish nobility, the polonez (polonaise).
'You dance the polonaise well, where did you learn?' asked Princess Karolina.
"When you get to my age, you'll have picked so many things up it'll be impossible to remember where you learned them all! Although, I'm sure I must have learnt before a wedding I was going to. The bride was polish, and wanted to have a big fancy ball as the reception. I think it was the best man who taught me how to do it. Ah good times."
The High President and the Princess continued chatting as the dance progressed. It was the first time in quite a while Solomon had danced, at least in front of anybody. He wasn't doing too badly, he thought to himself. There's still some petrol in the tank yet!
"I'm sorry to hear about your father. He looks as strong as an ox though, and from what I can see he doesn't seem the type to abdicate," The High President looked over to the King, who was dancing with Queen Marlena. His eye moved over to the orchestra, where Prince Fryderyk was conducting. He certainly didn't seem the type for whores and cocaine!
The dance concluded, and the guests returned to their seats. "I'm rather spry for my age you know!", the High President announced to those around him, as he poured a glass of Sobieski.
Queen Marlena looked over at Princess Karolina, who resumed her seat to the right of her father with a graceful smile. The High President was sitting on her left, and she was delighted to have the High President in such good spirits.
'Mr. High President, it is indeed an honor to have you here,' said Queen Marlena, but she did not sound Polish at all. In fact, a strong English accent came from her mouth. She did turn to her husband and say something in fluent, non-accented Polish.
_'I do hope you are ready for delightful Polish dinner and talks in the morning, that is, after mass. Our Catholicism has kept our great nations together for so many years, so it would be amiss if we did not have a mass in the morning.
'However, please, feel free, drink and be merry. We have almost anything you could ask for here. Ah, here is the main course now. I thought we wouldn't stun with something too outrageously Polish, so we brought pierogis, kotlet schabowy, potatoes, and gulasz.
'As you can tell, I am English. My husband the King and I met in London, as I was a descendant of the twelfth Prince of Ruthenia, and he was on a state visit. He liked me enough to fly me to Poland and we spent time together, and then married. It's been thirty years of wonderful marriage since. But enough about me, I do want to get to know you. What events led you to become High President?'_
"Well, it was quite a shock to me really! I'd spent most of my life as a businessman but of course the time came to step down, and let the younger generation take over. But I was never happy with retirement. I spent my days sitting watching daytime TV and doing crosswords. So I thought to myself, what can I do to give back to the country that's been my home all these years. By the time the next elections for the Parliamentary Council came around, I was persuaded to stand, and again I was successful. I represented my constituency of Agruis Tir, in Haligovina a post I still hold today! I was lucky enough to work my way up through the ranks of the UCP, until I was elected as leader of the party in 2008. We went into the next elections, winning a resounding majority, leading to my becoming High President."
The High President paused, as though realising he had been speaking for quite some time. He took a sip of his drink, and, between mouthfuls of excellent food that had been served, continued chatting to the Queen.
"Of course, its a strenuous job! But I enjoy it. I'm able to actually do something to help my country...and of course I get to meet lovely people like yourself! Tell me, I'm not as well versed in the Polish side of our shared history as I would like. I mean, I know the basics of course! The wars against the Mormon Insurgents, the exploration of the Gabriel Wasteland and the expulsion of the warlord Tegana and his followers are events that no one in Halsberg, and I'm sure the same is true here, can ever forget. But perhaps you could fill me in with the finer details of our shared history...I don't trust anything my advisers say any more!"
Queen Marlena turned to the High President, due to his lack of intelligible speech on a few Halsbergian names and implied shared history and giggled to herself before answering his bizarre statements.
_'Well, Halsberg and at least Ruthenia had been in contact with each other through trade; the city of Kiev was a massive hub of trading, due to the river Dnieper running towards the Caspian Sea.
'The Kingdom of Poland came into contact with the Halsberg commonwealth nations, particularly the one with Thurston as capital, in the 18th Century, as we increased our trade over land and from Kiev to Thurston via the Dnieper River. Then, our Imperial Commonwealth became more connected with some flights, and I do believe commercial boating between those two cities. However, Krakow and Warsaw hadn't seen a High President or anyone really from Halsberg.
'Of course, WWII saw us ally for the safety of Europe, but that still was not, for some reason, a catalyst for greater relations until now.'_
Queen Marlena looked as Mr. Solomon had suddenly begun to feel the Sobieski go to his head, and realized he put quite a dent in the bottle without realizing it.
The High President noted that the Queen had had some difficulty understanding is perfectly expressed points of conversation. He glanced at the table in front of her, which was littered with an alarming amount of empty wine glasses. Best go easy with her, the High President thought to himself.
"Ah, yes of course your majesty. I am well aware of the vital importance of the Rissette River, or Dnieper as its known around here. Its often said by historians that the Rissette was one of the key reasons behind Thurston's initial prosperity as a city state. It linked us not only with the Polish people, but with a great many other peoples who lived by the river. Thurston was indeed home to many a polish merchant the centuries gone by, and hopefully with this meeting we can reach a level of trade and shared prosperity that our ancestors could only dream of."
'I do hope so as well, Mr. High President. Now, I will be taking my leave. I trust you and my husband will be doing a lot of discussion in the morning. I hope you have enjoyed this moment in time in Poland.'
Queen Marlena excused herself and curtsied at her guest, before leaving. She paused as she watched Karolina gracefully enter the dancing of the ballroom again, realizing that she would eventually be finding a suitor at the summer ball. There was a slight air of melancholy about her as she left.
The festivities wound down, and the guests vacated Wawel Castle.
'Your accommodations, dear Mr. High President, will be in this corridor. I hope you don't mind rustic opulence,' said Prince Fryderyk as he guided the High President to his room. It was rather large, yet had a small window which seemed to be positioned to shine a focused beam of light onto the slumbering person as the sun rose. 'The King will be ready to summit after mass in the morning.'
The High President, fresh from the morning's mass, was seated around the large meeting table. Now it was time for the real work to begin. Laid out in front of him were a large assortment of different papers and graphs and statistics, including the odd scribble reminding the High President to bring up a particular subject.
Seated opposite Solomon was his host, the Polish King. Even though the High President's beige suit was somewhat fetching, the King obviously had a much wider selection of fine clothes. The High President took a sip from the morning's third cup of tea, pushed his reading glasses up to the bridge of his nose, and began:
"I must say, your majesty, it is nice to get down to the business of things, eh? Of course, I'm only a guest here! What would you like to discuss first?"
_'First, I would like to discuss our mutual benefit in exporting of our natural resources. We are aware that Halsberg is a producer of oil, and Poland actually is a big producer of natural gas. Halsberg, although on the sea, is sort of in a landlocked position.
'We would, therefore, like to offer to the necessary Halsberg companies the ability to make a pipeline through Ruthenia and across to western Poland, outside of Krakow, where you can take it all the way to the rest of the continent.
'In exchange, we would like to be able to send our natural gas to Halsberg and destinations east as well.'_
_"This indeed would be very beneficial. You're right, although we do have a somewhat large coastline, there are few places where our ships can actually go. A pipeline would obviously be a great thing for Halsberg, and I'm sure consumers throughout the region. With your help, Halsberg could become a major player in the oil market. Indeed, just last week, the first offshore oil platforms in the Caspian Sea began drilling. It is an exciting time for everyone in the region.
We would be happy to see Polish natural gas coming our way. Its only fair that if you provide us with access to the west, we should provide you with easy access to the east. Of course, we would be a willing buyer of natural gas as well. Despite making progress, we haven't yet achieved energy independence, so having access to Polish natural gas would be of obvious benefit."_
_'I am glad that you are so ready to cooperate with us.
'Another big issue that I would like to cover is transportation. We would like to invite you to fly into Warsaw, Krakow, and Kiev, three big destinations for Halsbergian tourists and businessmen as we increase the availability of flights in and out of Poland. We also want to request that we connect Thurston and Kiev via PolRail's high speed service. Our last request is that we establish a treaty of free movement between our nations. This will help both of our economies grow without an impeding forces.
'We see Poland and Halsberg becoming major trading partners and customers for the services both nations provide.'_
_"We share this view, of course. A treaty of free movement would be acceptable to us. Perhaps in the near future, as our economies grow together, we could consider a free trade agreement to complement this.
Connecting Thurston and Kiev via rail is a good idea. Perhaps the line could go through the city of Haligovina, Halsberg's third largest city, before it reaches Thurston, in order to maximise the economic benefits that the line would provide. The growing air travel industry in your country is also very interesting. I'm sure our airlines would be delighted to know that the three main polish cities are now open for their planes. We in return would like to open the airports of four of our major cities to Polish carriers: Thurston, Veroni, Haligovina and St. Phillips. All are important, regional destinations for tourism and business alike."_
_'This is a development something a large, land-based nation like Poland-Lithuania would obviously prefer. The last proposal we have is for education and student visas. Poland prides itself on having a good education for its students, and we want our children, starting in secondary school, to be able to study abroad for a selected period. We would like a chance to develop student visas in both of our nations that will allow students to make long-term studies a viable option.
'We do understand, however, that people may try to use those and receive work. Therefore we propose that there is no other way to acquire these visas than transcripts and recommendations from their school or university of study.'_
"A programme such as this would a obviously be a good thing. Perhaps we can go a step further and introduce a full student exchange programme, where Halsberg's students can also study abroad in Poland. No doubt both parties' educations will be enriched by the experience. Unless I am mistaken, surely the need for visas is eliminated thanks to our proposed free movement agreement? Or would you prefer a more restricted agreement, where students must apply for visas, for example?"