Ianto was accustomed to landing on strange alien planets by now. He and Jack had been travelling around the universe for several years, and although there were new and fascinating things to see and experience everywhere they went, he’d come to the conclusion that no matter what they looked like or how they lived, people were still basically people.
They had homes, families, jobs, religions, customs, and traditions. They made friends and enemies, fell in and out of love, got an education, raised children, played games and music, took vacations, complained about their jobs, their colleagues, the government, the weather, and did all the other things the people he’d known back on earth did. They might do it all very differently from what he’d been accustomed to back home, but for the most part they didn’t seem all that alien once you got to know them. It was usually fairly easy to figure out why they behaved the way they did. This lot, however, were a different matter.
They were very friendly, that had been obvious from the moment Jack and Ianto had landed the Wanderer at a particular settlement to deliver a load of spices, and rolls of colourful fabrics. The locals certainly liked plenty of colour in their lives; they were all dressed so gaily that at first Ianto had assumed there was some kind of festival going on, but when he’d asked them about it, he’d been assured they always dressed this way. Apparently every day was a celebration for them.
Having unloaded the cargo, with the willing assistance of a dozen of the locals, who’d immediately started sharing out the goods, since everything a settlement owned was considered communal property, Jack and Ianto had accepted brightly coloured robes and allowed themselves to be drawn into the revelry. Ianto felt a bit like Joseph in his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but what the heck. When in Rome… Besides, they’d just spent eight weeks in space; they were due some downtime.
The planet was approximately a third the size of earth, and mostly ocean, the only land being scattered islands, few of which were big enough to safely land a spaceship the size of the Wanderer on. There were perhaps fifteen to twenty of the larger islands, each one being home to a large communal settlement, and two or three hundred smaller islands, which were mainly used to grow crops and raise livestock. Each of the larger islands owned and cultivated a percentage of the smaller ones, and goods were traded between settlements, depending on what each one happened to have a surplus of. As far as Ianto could work out, there was no money involved; they bartered what they had for what they needed.
Ianto was delighted to learn that one of the crops the natives grew was coffee, and from the smell of the beans, it was excellent quality. They harvested and dried the beans, but then, to Ianto’s consternation, ground them up, and mixed them with local nuts and other ingredients to make a paste that they ate spread thinly on small, sweet biscuits. It was an interesting idea, and tasted quite pleasant, but naturally Ianto queried whether or not they ever used the beans to make a hot drink.
His question puzzled the natives, so Ianto fetched some beans from his own store aboard the Wanderer and demonstrated, roughly grinding them, putting them in a filter, pouring hot water over them… Soon he was surrounded by half the settlement, all of them wanting to sample this new innovation, many of them using their own beans and copying what Ianto had demonstrated. The idea spread, and within a couple of hours most of the locals were sipping hot coffee, exclaiming in delight. Better still, they quickly realised that the leftover grounds could still be made into the paste they favoured, so nothing went to waste. They got twice as much use from their coffee beans as they had before.
By the following morning, everyone in the entire settlement was drinking coffee, and that was when the weirdness started.
The locals began by approaching Ianto, singly and in groups, and giving him gifts: brightly coloured scarves, bead bracelets and necklaces, garlands of flowers, fresh fruits, small cakes and candies, hand crafted pottery, and other decorative items. They were also suddenly treating him with a respect bordering on reverence.
Despite their lifestyle, the inhabitants of the planet were not a primitive people. They had technology, mostly for communication and transport between settlements, and for cultivating their land. They had schools and hospitals, even factories, although those were much cleaner than anything found on earth. They lived in harmony with their world, and all their power came from wind, water, and sun. They wasted as little of their resources as they could, recycling everything, and had patents on a number of their own inventions that were now in use on many other planets. The royalties from those were what enabled the people to buy goods from other worlds and pay for delivery.
They had their customs of course, but they weren’t a superstitious folk, they were far too practical and grounded in reality, so this abrupt change in the way they treated him puzzled Ianto. After being handed a truly gorgeous cobalt blue waistcoat that must have been made specifically for him, since the natives were shaped very differently to humans, having four arms among other things, he turned to Jack.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on? Because I don’t have a clue.”
Jack had been talking to some of the elders, and he shrugged. “Um, I’m not a hundred percent sure, I’m a bit rusty on the dialect they speak here…” They’d mostly been using Galactic standard since their arrival, although not everyone in the settlement spoke it. “As far as I can make out, they talked things over yesterday evening, after we returned to the ship, and… If I’m understanding them right, they unanimously decided to elect you as King.”
That floored Ianto. He stared at Jack, utterly confused.
“King? Of what?”
“The whole planet. They talked to all the other settlements via video link, and everyone was in agreement.” Seeing the expression on his lover’s face, Jack continued, “Hey, I’m just translating here, so don’t blame me. I had nothing to do with it.”
“But… But…” Ianto flailed his arms in agitation. “I can’t be their king! I’m Welsh!”
Now it was Jack’s turn to be confused. “What does being Welsh have to do with anything?”
“Well, shouldn’t their king be one of their own people? I mean royalty is generally hereditary…”
“Not necessarily. That may be the tradition on earth, and quite a few other worlds, but it’s by no means universal. The people around here are more practical; they pick the best person for the job. Under normal circumstances they’d choose a deserving member of their own race, but I gather there’s no hard and fast rule. They had a very democratic election, and it seems the decision was unanimous.”
“But I have my own life to live! I can’t just stay here for the rest of it, ruling people I’ve only just met!”
“You won’t have to; each king or queen only reigns for a year; just so happens that it’s this settlement’s turn to rule, and they picked you. They like you. There were no objections from the other settlements; they think you’re an excellent choice. I rather think they’re hoping you’ll come up with some more interesting innovations like the coffee one. In a way this is your own fault; you really got their attention with your little demonstration.”
“You’re saying I taught them how to make coffee so they made me their king?”
“Seems perfectly logical to me. You taught them how to get more out of one of their crops. They’ve been growing coffee probably for millennia, but no one ever thought of drinking it until you came along.”
“That’s all very well, and I’m glad I was able to teach them something new that will benefit them, but still, a year as their King…”
“Years here are shorter than on earth; you’re looking at a little under six months. Would that be so terrible? You’d live in the Royal Palace, settle the occasional dispute, officiate at a few civil ceremonies, that kind of thing. The rest of the time you’d chat with people, listen to proposals, maybe put forward a few more ideas of your own… If you ask me, it sounds like fun. Besides, just last week weren’t you the one saying that we should take a vacation after this run? I can think of worse places to spend a few months relaxing.”
“I’m not sure I’d consider ruling an entire planet especially relaxing,” Ianto said dryly.
“It’s probably unheard of, but I suppose you could always refuse the honour. I think all your fans might be disappointed though.” Jack gestured at the crowd of people gathering around them, patiently waiting to give Ianto their gifts.
“Well, I suppose I could give it a go, as long as I’m not expected to take a consort. I already have you.”
“That’s the spirit!” Jack beamed at him.
“I’ve never been any kind of royalty before. King Ianto…”
“Has quite a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
“Might take a bit of getting used to.”
“I’m sure you can handle it.”
Ianto sighed. At least Jack was confident of his abilities as planetary ruler.
The coronation was a simple affair. The whole settlement gathered on the beach at sunset and, as the ceremony was broadcast via vidscreens to the rest of the planet, Ianto knelt, head bowed, while the eldest person on the island placed a rainbow-coloured gemstone on a chain around his neck. That, apparently, was the badge of office worn by all the kings and queens of this settlement.
After that, there was a beach party with lots of delicious food, hot coffee, and the local alcohol, a very smooth brandy-like liquor that was probably close to a hundred proof. Ianto reminded himself to stay well clear of open flames while drinking it, just to be safe. Burning the settlement down wouldn’t be a promising start to his reign.
There was a great deal of dancing and singing, and just before dawn, Ianto and Jack were escorted to the Royal Palace, a large house at the end of the main street, set atop a small hill.
As he all but fell into the natives’ version of a bed beside Jack, Ianto decided that it was entirely possible he might quite enjoy being King. As long as it was just for a while.