Author’s Note: This post actually takes place before the one before, because my ability to plan is just that good. However, it has no effect on what went on in the post before — it just happened to occur before it.
“Ambrosius, my good … er, whatever you are exactly. How are you?”
“Very well, my prince,” replied the enchanted suit of armor. “And the wizard Merlin states that my kind are called ‘Servos.'”
“Ah, that’s why I can never remember that name. Too … servile.” Tom pulled away and patted Ambrosius on the back. The armor produced a hollow clang, but many years of hearing just that clang had immured Tom to the sound.
“And how are you, my prince?”
“In … a rather unique position, Ambrosius.” I have bad news for Dad, and for once he can’t possibly blame me for this! “I would say more, but until I talk to my father, well …”
“Is it Prince Kay, my prince?”
“What? Oh, no! Or at least — if he’s gotten into anything he shouldn’t have, he hasn’t informed me about it yet.” Tom did not elaborate on just what he thought “anything he shouldn’t have” should mean, since he knew from long experience that his definition of that particular term and his parents’ and Ambrosius’s definitions did not match. Still, as long as the worst Kay was getting into was drinking too much, skipping class (hung over) once or twice, flirting with inappropriate young ladies and a hit or two of the bubbles, Tom did not imagine that his parents needed to be informed.
“And of course,” Tom continued, “if Jess’s public behavior is anything less than immaculate, she’s too smart to let me know.”
“Immaculate, my prince?”
“You know Jess, she always puts on a good show for strangers. Never mind what her poor family has to put up with.” Tom managed a cheery smile, then the frown that Ambrosius’s greeting had chased away returned. “Ambrosius, I would love to chat more, but I do really need to speak to my father. He is in, isn’t he?”
“Aye, my lord. In the study.”
Tom turned down the familiar hallway, and as soon as the familiar clanking of Ambrosius’s footsteps echoed off into the distance, the concerned, manly frown morphed into an adolescent’s expression of nervousness.
Dad is not going to be happy once I tell him this …
But what else was Tom supposed to do, not tell him that Glasonland was boiling over like a pot left too long on the stove? Was he supposed to allow Arthur to be taken by surprise when a Glasonlander army marched through on its way to Reme? Even if he wasn’t the Crown Prince, it would be his duty, he thought, to let his king know the storm brewing over the eastern horizon.
But it doesn’t mean I have to like it!
The door to his father’s study was just ahead. Tom took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders and listened to the familiar, comforting sound of chain mail clinking into place. He might have reason to be thankful for that chain mail soon enough … he knocked.
Tom poked his head in the door. “Really, Dad? You just say ‘enter’? What if I was an assassin?”
Arthur jumped. “Tom!”
“Aye, last I checked.”
“What — what are you doing here?”
“Really? Your son and heir comes home unexpectedly and you can’t even say, ‘Good to see you, son, glad you’re home!’?”
“You greeted me by bringing up the possibility of assassination — it’s called tit for tat, son.” Arthur got up and held out his arms. “But give your old man a hug and we’ll let bygones be bygones.”
“Not a bad idea,” Tom said as he accepted the hug.
Arthur pulled away, smiled and kept his hand on his son’s shoulder. “So what does bring here?”
“Well …” He would ease into it by way of the immediate explanation. “Well, Garnet wanted to get home, because …”
“Aye, because of Lord Lot. And you offered to escort her?”
“Aye. And then, of course, I had to come home, say hello to the parents … you’d never let me forget it if I was in the kingdom and didn’t at least drop by to say hello.”
“And ask for a bed for the next couple nights, and a few good meals, and someone to wash your small-clothes properly as well, I take it?”
“There is no place like home,” Tom said with a weak chuckle.
Arthur’s eyes narrowed. “Something wrong?”
Tom bit his lip. “Aye. But for once, I didn’t do it.”
“Not her, either!” Tom almost laughed, but sobered before he could quite get the sound out. “It’s — well, it’s worse.”
“You might want to sit down.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes, surveyed Tom, and sat. Tom sat across from him — and as quickly and concisely as he could, relayed all the news Milo had told him.
To say that it surprised Arthur would be quite the understatement.
When he was finally able to reattach his jaw, he muttered, “Son of a bitch.”
Well. Dad took that better than I did!
Arthur leaned his elbows on the table, rested his head in his hands, and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes.
“… Any bright ideas?”
Arthur snorted. “Not yet.” He took another deep breath and Tom let him think.
“Will you go to the door, call for a page, and ask him to send for your mother?” After a split-second’s hesitation, during which Tom had already stood up, “Tell the page to let her know you’re here too; there’s going to be enough to upset her without her getting the shock you gave me.”
Tom got the page, the message was sent, and he sat down with his father to wait.
Alison let herself in without knocking. “Tommy! How wonderful to see you home!”
“Hello, Mum.” He decided he would give her a proper greeting before spoiling her day … her week, probably.
When Alison had been ushered into the other seat, Arthur took a deep breath. “I called you hear because Tom came home with … bad news.”
“What kind of bad news?”
“The kind that isn’t my fault, or Jess’s fault, or Kay’s fault.”
“You’re all all right? All safe? Not sick?”
“They’re fine, Allie,” Arthur answered. “It’s Glasonland.” Without further ado, he repeated Tom’s story to Alison.
She sat back, her eyes very wide, making the sign of the plumbob. “Oh my Lord.”
“I know, Allie.”
“What … what can we do?”
“I don’t know yet. That’s why I asked you here.”
“Arthur, I know nothing about armies, you know that.”
“But you know people,” Arthur replied, “and, Wright Willing, if we manage the people, we shan’t have to manage the army.”
Alison swallowed before she nodded, but she did nod.
“So … what would we do? Fund one of the bastards?” Tom asked.
“At this juncture, too risky,” Arthur answered. “Lords Lucinius, Septimus and Antonius are too close to the throne. They probably already have a certain amount of access to the army, navy … and I doubt Vortigern would appreciate one of his bastards making a move for the throne while he was still on it. No, we don’t want to be giving them a reason to invade Albion.”
“But Dad, if the Reman uncles come to the throne — we’re toast.”
“Not necessarily. Those are merely rumors, Tommy,” replied Alison. “I don’t — I don’t want to insult your source, but rumors can be as much of a reflection of what the ones spreading them fear as what they know.”
“Fear? Why would the Glasonlanders fear war with Reme? We’d be the ones taking the brunt of the battles!”
“You’re too young to remember this, Tom, but — every Glasonlander, from the time they’re in their cradle, is given a fear of Reme.” Arthur sighed. “I remember the old men talking about the wars between Glasonland and Reme in their generation … they were … well, let me put it like this — the Remans never had any compunction about wiping out hold villages.”
“Women, children, the old men — everyone, Tommy,” Alison put in.
“If that was meant to be reassuring, Mum, it did not work out as intended.”
“It was meant to show that the main Glasonlander population would not be in favor of war, and that their fears are exaggerating their sense of what is possible and likely,” replied Arthur.
“All right. Well, what’s your sense of what’s possible and likely?”
Arthur bit his lip. “I haven’t seen these men in twenty years, Tom.”
“Arthur, you have spies. What do they say?”
Arthur shook his head. “I knew instability was bound to come — they know it, too, they’ve been writing of nothing else than the pressure poor Princess Viviette is to produce an heir …”
“They’re trying to get an heir out of …?”
“But I thought …” Tom said.
“If certain — er — parts are working, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with his head. Vortigern wants an heir out of him.”
“Your spies said that there was talk of passing over Prince Vortimer in favor of a young male heir — assuming they got one before King Vortigern died, isn’t that right?” asked Alison.
“Wright Almighty. They’d put an infant on the throne? That’s even worse!” Tom protested.
“An infant would have a limited time of minority, though,” Arthur mused. “Better than Prince Vortimer, who could easily live a long and healthy life, spewing instability in his wake.”
“Aye, but who’d be the regent? The Reman uncles? Then we’re in the same position we were in already,” Tom replied.
“Perhaps not the Reman uncles. Princess Viviette has some cousins who are Glasonlanders, does she not? They might be the best choice for a regent, in the event that she had a son and his father was passed over in his favor.”
“Or if the boy’s father was murdered rather than give the Lords Lucinius, Septimus and Antonius an excuse to mount a rebellion,” Arthur muttered.
Alison’s eyebrow lifted. “You think that likely?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past Vortigern.”
“Oh, bloody hell, it just keeps getting …” Tom hesitated. “Dad?”
“Tell me if I’m wrong, but … is it just me, or does it seem like the worse things look for Glasonland, the better they look for us?”
“The best thing that could possibly happen, for us and for Glasonland, is for Princess Viviette to give birth to a son, for King Vortigern to name that son his heir without opposition from Prince Vortimer’s partisans, and for a responsible regent to be appointed for the child’s minority.”
“Aye, but what are the odds of that happening?”
“Slim to none,” Arthur admitted.
“So then, the less stable Glasonland is — the better it is for us, really. If the Reman uncles are up to their bushy Reman eyebrows in plots, war and intrigue, they won’t have the time or the resources to be mounting an invasion of Reme through Albion.”
Arthur said nothing, but Tom could feel his mother turn a half-appraising, half-encouraging glance on him.
Tom took a deep breath. “Look, Dad, I understand that we can’t get involved right now. And we can’t get involved directly, unless we know we’re backing the winning side, because otherwise the side that wins will be going after us next. But there has to be something we can do in the meantime.”
Tom bit his lip. “I’ve been talking to Rob and Freddy — er, Robert Wesleyan and Frederick Ferreira. They said they’ve heard through the grapevine that life is getting harder on merchants in Glasonland.”
“Vortigern’s raised their taxes three times in the past five years, and he hasn’t asked for a farthing more from the nobles,” Alison agreed.
“But our merchants might pay import duties, but they won’t be paying those kinds of taxes — they might be able to undercut Glasonlander merchants on some things.”
“Namely?” Arthur asked.
“Tom, I assure you, Glasonland has an excellent homegrown supply of weapons.”
“But you can — at least, this is what Rob and Freddy told me — pick up used weapons cheap from the Remans. They’re not much good for a knight, but for your average foot-soldier, they’re perfectly serviceable. If different factions need to arm quickly, then they might turn to our merchants, instead of waiting for their own smiths to make new ones.”
“Indeed — but aside from making more money for our merchants, I fail to see what this would accomplish in the long run.”
“Well,” Tom said, swallowing, “if — our merchants were to flood the market with cheap Reman weapons, or just cheap weapons, before things start up … somebody might decide to take advantage of the low prices and arm up in advance.”
“Oh?” Arthur asked.
“And if somebody did … well, the Glasonlander authorities might not like that. It could be the spark that sets off the brush fire.”
“If someone bought the weapons. They might not. The Glasonlander crown might pick them all up to avoid that happening. And where, by the way, would our merchants get these cheap Reman weapons?”
Tom grinned. “The Remans just abandoned an old fort about ten miles from the border, didn’t they? Might they have left a storehouse of weapons behind?”
“They didn’t. We checked.”
“But there’s extra money sitting in the treasury for … emergencies such as this, isn’t there? The weapons don’t have to be cheap Reman ones … they just have to seem like they could be.”
“Perhaps,” Arthur murmured. He drummed his fingers on the table.
“Well, it’s a thought,” he said finally. “But I should send for the Council … figures my best general is down with a brainstorm right when we’re facing a military crisis …” Arthur sighed. “I’d best see to that … thank you, both of you, for your help.”
As soon as Arthur left the room, Tom’s shoulders slumped. But he got up, hoping against hope that his father would at least include him in the Council meeting, even if his ideas weren’t worth much …
He turned around to find his mother smiling at him, and before he knew it, her arms were around him.
“That was a wonderful idea,” she said. “And if I know your father … he’s off to get his Council to help him pick it apart, look at the undersides, and figure out the best way to work it before he acts.” She patted his back. “And tell him you want in to that meeting. I think you’ve earned it.”