Lancelot, Arthur knew, hated the full, sunny windows in the Council Chambers. Hated them. To him they were frivolous and useless at best, and a security risk at worse. It was not a security risk in terms of espionage — Arthur had, in a fit of experimentation, reamed Tom and Kay out in this room a couple of times, stationing Ambrosius just outside, and the steward hadn’t heard a thing. But they were a security risk in terms of, well, security. “One arrow!” Lancelot had said on many an education. “That’s all it would take, Arthur! One arrow, through one pane of glass!”
Yet, all things considered, Arthur preferred to take the risk.
If he had still been in Glasonland, the risk would have been unconscionable. Had he still been in Glasonland, glass on a ground-floor window — at least in a room as potentially sensitive as the Council Chambers — would have been a walking invitation to assassination. Even his father could not have taken that risk. Yes, King Uther was beloved by the vast majority of his people, liked by many others, and tolerated by almost all the rest. But it only took one crazy man to stage an attack resulting in one dead king and one rather large succession crisis.
In Glasonland, there would have been no way to secure that glass — no legal way, that was. But in Albion, there was, for in Albion magic was legal. In Glasonland, though magic was known and for the most part winked at in the upper echelons of society, there were limits. The king could not be afford to be seen consulting magicians openly, though everyone knew he did so, even if the magician in question was his own daughter. In Albion … well, in Albion, there had been plenty of people who had been less than happy to see Arthur consulting a magician openly, even if the magician in question was his own sister. But Morgan had applied spells to the windows just the same, and she checked up on them from time to time, and they were still strong and holding fast.
In Glasonland, even under his father, governing was to be completed in shadow and secrecy whenever possible. The shadow and secrecy were necessary because of the fundamental fiction that lay at the heart of the Pendragon dynasty: the fiction that the king was the sole head of government, the sole power, the sole decision-maker. It was a fiction because it could not possibly true — no man could govern, or at any rate govern well, entirely by himself, with a Council that only existed to carry out his orders. But in order to maintain the order of society in Glasonland, it was necessary to maintain the illusion that the King was the absolute head of the country, the lords were the absolute heads of their lands, the knights were the absolute heads of their shires, the mayors were the absolute heads of the cities, and so on down to each man being the absolute head of his household.
Arthur did not want to embrace that vision for Albion. Yes, the King was in charge, but two heads were better than one, and wouldn’t eleven heads — the projected Council size — be that much better than one? Arthur wanted the option of his people being able to walk through the palace gardens, peek in and see the King arguing something with his Councilors. It would assure them that their King was taking his job of governing seriously, and asking for help and advice before making any decisions. And it would show them that a multiplicity of opinions was not necessarily a bad thing, and would give them the courage to ask their wives and elder children for advice and assistance in their own family lives.
But most of all, Arthur liked the big windows because he sat with his back to them, and thus he could read the expressions of Councillors — but, depending on the light, the could not necessarily read his.
Lancelot sat to Arthur’s left, with Bors to his left in turn. There was an empty seat between them, stationed there in preparation for William’s return from Camford. There were, in fact, four such empty chairs — one for William, one for Elyan, one for Lamorak, and one for Tom. Each would be filled when its owner returned from Camford, as early as next year for some of the seats.
Lancelot had that seat to Arthur’s left for two reasons. The first was the simplest: Lancelot was Arthur’s most trusted friend and Councillor, his right-hand man for all that he actually sat on the left. Secondly, Arthur did not need to read Lancelot’s expression in order to know what he was thinking. His other body language — posture, fidgets, turns of the head — gave it away, and one did not need to have the light just so in order to pick up on the rustle of cloth or the shift of a shoulder. Besides, on the off-chance that Lancelot’s posture didn’t give away his thoughts, he was likely to tell them all in order to Arthur, in private, as soon as the meeting was over. Lancelot never had anything to hide.
Bors sat to Lancelot’s left for three reasons. One of them was the close alliance between the de Ganises and the du Lacs. The second was that Arthur saw him as his least threatening Councillor, baring Lancelot. He did not need to watched. When he disagreed, he said so, loudly and openly. Why should Arthur watch Bors’s face for subtle flickers and shades of emotion and thought when the man had no subtlety?
However, in the seats directly across from Arthur, the story was different.
The sunlight hit the seats across from Arthur most directly; he had planned it that way. And it was there he had placed the Orkney family and the Church. The Orkney family … would any man wonder why Arthur wanted to keep an eye on the Orkney family? And the Church …
The Church was difficult, because its representative was apt to change more quickly than the head of a noble house. Father Hugh, for instance, was everything Arthur wanted in a representative of the Church. He was a wise man, full of good advice when asked — and a modest man, disinclined to give that information unless asked. Whereas Father Gregory before him, and Brother Tuck to come (Arthur assumed), were … not at all like that. Better safe than sorry.
Last of the Councilors was Pellinore, to Arthur’s right. The light hit him clearly, too. And he was close enough to consult easily. He had to be — he and Arthur together had drafted the code of laws for Albion, and Pellinore had the best grasp of the minutiae of it. If Arthur wanted to be as subject to the law as any of his subjects, he needed somebody close to hand who could tell him exactly what that law was.
Yet there was one more chair — one more chair left standing not in hope, but in mourning.
That chair would have to be filled, sooner or later. Mordred would have to step into his father’s place, in a greater or lesser degree. He had already become more vocal in the Council, particularly in matters that would directly impact the Orkney lands. He had been relatively quiet in regards to the growing problem with Glasonland, but Arthur would bet that was merely prudence — better to keep silent, and be thought wise and cunning, than to open one’s mouth and be known for just another young fool.
Yes, Arthur knew the day was coming when Mordred would slip into Lot’s chair. He would be forced into it sooner or later. Hopefully later — but probably sooner.
He would, though, at least pick the day and the time.
He cleared his throat. “Very well, gentlemen. Now that we have the grain situation sorted out, I think it is best that we move to our … diplomatic difficulties. Sir Bors, have we had any luck in tracking down Master Ferreira?”
“Not yet, my liege. I have sent messages to Takemizu by every merchant ship to leave Port Finessa, however …” He sighed. “Since you did not give orders that every ship was to find Master Ferreira, these foolish merchants refuse to sail directly to Takemizu, and prefer to complete their personal objectives before doing your will.” Bors shook his head. “My liege, with all due respect, you allow too much impudence from these men. They should be hoisting anchor for Takemizu the minute you express the slightest whim in that direction, not waiting around for orders.”
There were many things Arthur could have said to that, not least of all was the irony of Bors complaining of their “impudence” while he himself criticized Arthur’s style of ruling, but Arthur only replied with a slight smile that he trusted was only seen by Ambrosius, who sat in the corner behind Bors. “Sir Bors, thank you for your report. You gave the message to his wife as well, did you not?”
“That you would entrust such information to a woman –”
“Sir Bors, unless you grossly disobeyed my orders, I entrusted no compromising information to Mistress Ferreira. I merely informed her that I wished to speak to her husband as soon after his return from Takemizu as could be reasonably arranged — and, if it was at all possible, I would request that Master Ferreira cut his trip as short as possible in order to return him that much sooner. Tell me, is that the message she received?”
“She wanted to know more, my liege.” He didn’t say just like a woman, but Arthur knew he was thinking it.
“And did you tell her?”
“I simply told her that the matter was of great importance and that I was at liberty to say no more. She seemed to have accepted it, but my liege, I think even that was too much. Surely she has –”
“Sir Bors, she has displayed no more than normal curiosity, the sort that every Sim — man or woman — would experience upon being given that message. And even if she spreads the news to her friends and associates, it would not tell anyone anything. Though I doubt she has. From everything I have heard, Mistress Ferreira is as formidable a businesswoman as her husband is a businessman — if nothing else, she must have learned to keep her own counsel. So, the results of your report are inconclusive?”
“I fear so, my liege.”
“Very well, it is hardly your fault.”
“And it is not that big a deal, all things considered,” Lancelot added. “All reports from Glasonland indicate that King Vortigern’s health is … relatively robust, really.”
“Indeed,” Arthur agreed. “It would have been too soon to flood the market with weapons, anyway.”
“Pardon me for asking, my lords,” asked Pellinore, “but is there any news about the Princess Viviette and a potential heir?”
“Not as of yet,” Arthur replied. “But that means nothing. They might not say anything until the pregnancy got too big to hide, or until the child was born.”
“Poor woman,” Lancelot murmured. Bors snorted, but the table ignored him.
“The good news, however, is that Vortigern’s, er, continuing good health gives us time to …” Arthur hesitated, but took the bull by the horns anyway. He was giving Mordred an opening, but better to give an opening he was prepared for than one he was not. “Vortigern’s health gives us time to fill some rather glaring vacancies in our armed forces. Thus, I wish you all to know that I have consulted with my son, and he has agreed to fill the space in our army that Lord Lot’s tragic illness has left so unfortunately vacant. As soon as he returns from Camford, and from thence his wedding trip, he will be training under you, Sir Bors, in order to take over Lord Lot’s duties.”
Bors grinned and puffed out his chest — Arthur almost expected to see him grow a beak and begin to preen his feathers.
“My liege, if I may …” Pellinore coughed.
“Of course you may.”
“Er — very well, then, but I must ask — wedding trip? Would it not be best for Prince Thomas to take up his difficulties as soon as possible?”
“It would be, which is why the trip will be short. But in the meantime, we — and by ‘we’ I mean my son and I — have decided that it would be best if we give things an appearance of normalcy for the time being. For the time being,” he repeated, holding up his hand to forestall any protests. “Tom has another semester before he even graduates. If things change before then, the trip can be cancelled or postponed.”
“Any more questions, Lord Pellinore?”
“No, my liege.”
“But I have one,” came a voice from directly across the table. Mordred did not waste time, not at all.
“My liege and uncle,” Mordred asked as soon as Arthur’s gaze fell upon him, “you make plans to fill my father’s place in the army — what about his place in Council?”
“Sir Mordred, nobody could fill your father’s place in this Council.” Arthur was rather hoping that Mordred wouldn’t even try. He would rather have a man whom he knew to be loyal, than someone he could only half-trust, as he had only ever half-trusted Lot.
“My liege, you know very well what I mean, and that is not it.”
Arthur sighed. “Indeed, I do know what you mean — that is why, Sir Mordred, you get the same deference from me that you would get, had your father died and left you wholly in charge of the Orkney lands, without competition or reference to any other man.”
“I know that is true, and I thank you for it.” But that won’t stop you from making more demands, will it? “However, to have deference and acknowledgement of my new role from within the Council itself would be a great help for me during this difficult time.”
“And why would that be?” Bors asked. Arthur barely hid a smile. You prove your utility, my friend.
“Because, my lord, I know that when you all look at me, you see a young man not that much older than your sons — and as long as I sit in this chair, I will have little, or no, way to rectify that unfortunate impression,” Mordred answered. Arthur’s eyebrows went up. But that took guts, Arthur, that took guts.
“Furthermore,” Mordred continued, “you must remember, I do not deal with only the lords and clergy on the Council here, all of whom are appraised of the situation and are doing their best to help me an my family. I must, as all of you must, deal with many commoners in the running of the estate, the managing of day-to-day life. And we all know what commoners are like — you, especially, Sir Bors, know what I’m talking about.”
“Indeed!” Bors replied. “Using any excuse they can to shirk their proper work, aren’t they?”
“You could say that.”
Well played, young man. “I see,” Arthur said. “So you want your father’s place on the Council.”
“I pray it will only be temporary.”
Arthur turned to Father Hugh. “Will it?”
Father Hugh blinked. “I — I cannot say for certain, Majesty.”
“Is that your opinion as a Churchman, or your opinion as a doctor?”
“Both, Majesty — but …” Father Hugh sighed. “Unfortunately, it is only my training as a Churchman that encourages me to keep hope. My training as a doctor hopes that someday Lord Lot may be returned to comfortable family life — but it holds out no hope that Lord Lot can ever return to active public life.”
Arthur watched as Mordred’s lip twitched and his eyes blinked.
“I see. So, for all intents and purposes, while we continue to keep Lord Lot in our prayers, we must plan as though he will not be returning to the Council?”
Arthur turned to Pellinore. “What are the legal impediments to giving Sir Mordred his father’s seat?”
“None, my liege,” Pellinore admitted.
“My liege, every man here serves at your pleasure — so long as every family has a representative, the law does not require that that representative be a particular member of that family.”
“I see. I see.” Arthur leaned back and pursed his together. Yes, there was no denying Mordred’s request …
“And what impediments are there to Sir Mordred gaining complete civil control of his father’s lands and estates?”
“Power of attorney must be transferred into his hands.”
“And that would require?”
“A magistrate — in practice, I myself — judging Lord Lot as incompetent to continue the work of managing it himself, and arranging for power of attorney to be transferred to Sir Mordred.”
“Why has this not yet happened?” Arthur asked. He made his voice light, curious — not harsh or demanding.
Pellinore managed half a smile. “I still held out some hope of Lord Lot’s recover. However, after all these months …” He sighed. “Perhaps it is better to give up hope on this.”
Arthur nodded once and turned to Mordred. “Does that please you, nephew?”
“In a moment, my liege and uncle. Just …”
Slowly, Mordred rose and switched chairs.
” … a moment.”
He leaned back, both hands behind his head. He stretched, made himself comfortable, as if there was an appreciable difference between this chair and his old one. Maybe there was.
“Yes, my liege. This pleases me greatly.”
“Excellent,” Arthur forced himself to say. “Now. Next order of business?”