"I am very pleased to be able to meet with you, señor," de Cerveza said to the official of the Monte-Cristan Academie des Sciences. "His Majesty the High King will be equally grateful, should your Academie be able to shed some light on the debasement of our coinage."
The scientist nodded graciously, if a little shyly. "Mmmm, that is -- kind of you, Don Rafael-Vidkun," he said. "Thus far, we have been able to confirm that the metal in the coinage was not in fact zinc, or tin, as, aahh, first thought, but was, in fact, a rather, ahh, unusual metal called aluminium.
"As to who was responsible, or why they might have taken the action he, she, it, or they took, we, ahh, are unable to ascertain. Those considerations are, ahh, quite outside our area of expertise, as I'm certain the Don will understand," the scientist said with a lopsided smile and apologetic shrug. "Human motivation and behavior is something we of the Academie prefer to leave to diplomats...and the clergy, of course.
"Of course, if the source ever is discovered, the Academie would be very interested in that information."
Don Rafael-Vidkun nodded and smiled. "I read the confidential summary memorandum the Academie so thoughtfully provided," he said. "It seems this...aluminium of yours offers a number of potential metallurgical advantages, although the difficulty of obtaining and working it makes large-scale commercial use uneconomical at this time."
de Cerveza gathered papers into a leather portfolio. "I thank you once more, for my own account as well as on behalf of His Majesty the High King," he said to the scientist. Bowing, both took their leave.
Returning to the well-appointed inn in which he had taken rooms, de Cerveza found Havelocke the Henrovian taking his ease in the sitting room of their suite. "Were you able to learn anything among your contacts here about who might have been responsible for the debasement of the currency, my Colonel?"
Havelocke smiled. "Alas, it is Major now, don Rafael," he said. "I found no new information, but it is widely suspected that some odd metal was used, rather than the usual zinc or tin."
de Cerveza nodded, pouring wine from a crystal carafe. "The Academie confirmed it," he said. "They gave me a memorandum to read about this...aluminium of theirs. Official ministries being what they are, and judging by the look in the eye of the man with whom I just spoke, I should say that this wonder-metal has even more remarkable properties than they are letting on."
Havelocke nodded assent. "Seems a safe assumption, right enough," he said. Then, as if remembering something he'd forgotten, he spoke again. "Oh, I spoke with a man today who is somewhat acquainted with your man Schwinglein, and seems to get news from him now and again. He could not -- or did not, at any rate -- offer a reason, but the word from Nuevo Narviki is that everything is at sixes and sevens for some reason."
3 days ago