Darid 27, 1014
“Well, my lords, I may as well get to the point,” said Arthur as a way of opening up this Council meeting. “On the ninth day of this month, Port Graal fell to the royal Glasonlander army. Three days later, Francis of Lothario was executed as a traitor and a regicide. According to Lord Antonius, there are still some — forgive me, Milo — bastards leading armies, but they’re expected to quickly come to heel. For all intents and purposes, the civil war in Glasonland is over.”
Arthur did not wait for the buzz that would immediately begin after this new sunk in. True, there had been rumors, but official word was bound to be far more exciting than a mere rumor. “Which begs the question, my lords — what do we plan to do now?”
“Support the rightful King of Glasonland, of course!” answered Bors. Arthur did not look at Tom, not needing to see his son rolling his eyes. Yes, of course they would support whoever had the best claim to the throne — there was no point in doing otherwise, not for Albion. At least, not at this point, with the Tarquinii brothers neutralized and nobody else in the field who had any designs on Albion or Reme. But what Bors was not asking was —
“But which rightful king?” asked Lancelot.
Arthur grinned. You could always trust Lance to ask the obvious question. It was one of the things that made him such a good Councillor.
Lancelot went on, “It’s not like the — the Glasonlander royal family tree has been all that fruitful, with all due respect to your Majesty. There’s Princess Lucilla, of course–”
“Nonsense!” interrupted Bors. Arthur definitely did not look at Tom now. “A woman, on the throne of Glasonland? Impossible! It can’t be right — or legal!”
Automatically, as he had for twenty years and more, when the word “legal” was mentioned Arthur looked to his right–
He shouldn’t have. There was nobody to his right who could answer his question. There was only Lamorak, smiling sheepishly, and the Ferreira father and son. All of them had their talents, but elucidating complicated legal matters did not number among them.
Good Lord, Arthur missed Pellinore. Not just for the sake of the legal advice. For … everything. For always being a calm and capable voice of reason. For showing Arthur just how far his subjects’ loyalty could be tested. Pellinore, especially as he grew older, had always been resistant to change. But it was an intelligent resistance, and moreover, it had always been tempered with Pellinore’s knowledge of his duty and his love of justice. It was the love of justice that ensured that Pellinore would generally go along with whatever Arthur proposed, and some of the proudest moments of his kingship had come when Pellinore quietly, vaguely, admitted that Arthur had perhaps been right.
There would be no more of that now. Arthur thought Lot’s loss had been hard, Lot, his most reliable, most cold-blooded pragmatist. But Arthur had had some time to get used to the passing of Lot — there had been hope when he had first been stricken ill, and when the Lord had finally seen fit to end Lot’s suffering, he had been long gone from the Council table. Pellinore … not so. Not so at all.
But without Pellinore to answer the question, a new voice arose. Well, not new — just different. “Sir Bors, I doubt the legality of the situation enters into anyone’s consideration,” answered Mordred. “What matters is whether the army will back Princess Lucilla. As a military man, I’m sure you understand that better than anyone.”
While Bors’s mouth opened and shut and he tried to line up a response, Mordred turned to Arthur. “So — will the army support Princess Lucilla? Or is there another candidate?”
There was, but Arthur wasn’t willing to let that slip yet. Best to get the lay of the land first. “Milo? Would the people be willing to stand behind Princess Lucilla?”
Milo gulped, as he always did when asked to speak at one of these meetings. It didn’t help the poor lad that he was only invited when Arthur knew he would have questions for him. But he answered readily enough. “An infant girl? It would be years before she reached her majority, and then she’d probably be married off immediately — and to whom? … No, Majesty, I don’t think the people would support that. They — they only barely gave King Vortimer his rights, and they were always hoping he would have a son.”
That was precisely what Arthur had been afraid Milo would say.
“They’re calling King Vortimer a saint now,” noted Bors. “And you say they barely gave him his rights?”
“Sir Bors, please,” Tom interrupted. “Meaning no offense to anyone present …” He winked at Arthur. “It’s much easier to venerate and love one’s leaders once they’re dead.”
Everyone laughed. Everyone but Arthur. And it was not because he was offended by the truth in Tom’s jest. His people were tolerably fond of him now, Arthur thought, but they would probably be much more fond once he was dead.
He was thinking of Pellinore. Was he finding that to be the case? His serfs and peasants had been tolerably fond of him, too. Were they missing him more now that he was gone than they had cared for him while he was alive? Or — given Lamorak’s new ideas for improving the estate — were they ... not happy, but not exactly sad that he had passed on to his reward?
Why couldn’t they learn to appreciate each other while everyone was still alive, rather than only bothering to praise one another after the recipient of the praise was molding in the ground?
Arthur came out of his reverie to see Tom looking at him in some alarm — and no wonder, Tom had probably thought Arthur would find that as funny as anyone. And he would have, if not for Pellinore. So Arthur nudged Tom’s ribs and said, loudly enough that the whole table could hear, “Scamp. We’ll see what they say about you once you’re dead.”
That made everyone laugh again. And then, once the laughter died down, Richard spoke. “Majesty, if it’s unlikely that the Glasonlanders will stand behind Princess Lucilla, who will be the next King, then?”
Maybe there was hope for a Council without Pellinore. It certainly hadn’t taken long for the Council to acquire another pragmatist in place of Lot. Richard was nowhere near as cold-blooded as Lot had been, but he did attack most problems with the aim of finding a solution — and as quickly as possible, please — and not wasting time about it, either.
Arthur made a show of looking through the communication, but there was no real need for it. “Lord Antonius writes that as Princess Lucilla’s guardian, he is prepared to renounce her claim in favor of Constantine, Baron of Caernavon.”
This time Arthur let the buzz pick up. He watched the faces carefully. Did any of them know Caernavon? Was anyone excited? Or dismayed? Or surprised, or carefully not surprised?
There was a great deal of nodding around the table. They’d heard of nothing but Caernavon since he took over the army after the deaths of Lord Lucinius and Sir Septimus. And, according to other reports Arthur had received over the past year, he actually had a viable, legitimate claim to the throne. It went back several generations, but it was better than anything anyone else had produced.
But other than the nodding, there were only one or two other interesting reactions. Bors looked extremely approving, but he would, seeing a competent general rise to become a King, and not through any kind of treachery, either. Will looked thoughtful; Arthur would have to coax what he was thinking out of him sooner or later. And Mordred looked perfectly inscrutable — but Mordred could turn that face on when discussing the weather, if he sensed that for some reason you were extremely curious about his reaction.
Then Lamorak spoke. “Wait …”
“Aye?” Tom asked, turning to Lamorak.
“What … what about Queen Viviette? The Princess’s mother? What’s she got to say in all this?”
“From what I can tell,” Arthur replied, looking again through the reports, “her wishes and opinion have not been consulted.”
“What?” gasped Lamorak. There were several winces around the table — mostly on the poor Queen’s behalf, Arthur judged. And there were perhaps more than a few men imagining what their wives would do to them if they found out that they had entrusted the care of their children to someone other than their mother. Being merely dead wouldn’t be enough protection, Arthur thought, from that kind of wifely wrath.
“Lamorak …” That was Milo. “She’s not popular. She was, sort of, when she first married Prince Vortimer. But then year after year passed, and there was no heir …” Milo shook his head. “Nobody had a reason to be fond of her. And she’s a foreigner, too. In fact, with two foreigners as her principle guardians …” Milo shook his head. “I think–I think most people will be glad to have Constantine of Caernavon ruling them.”
“And a strong military man, too!” Bors added. “It’s about time. He’ll set the Glasonlander ship to rights!”
“Oh, yes,” replied Richard, “because after a civil war, the first thing the Glasonlanders will want to do is go out and kill more people. Their economy is likely to be in shambles, Sir Bors, and if you don’t have money, you can’t make war. Would Caernavon be up to that task, do you think, your Majesty?”
Arthur had no idea. He’d managed to find out a good amount on Caernavon, but his thoughts on trade were not among those things. From what Arthur knew of him, though, he would not be surprised if he had a typical nobleman’s attitude to such things: they would all work themselves out, if you left the scurrying merchants and peasants to go about their duties. Arthur wished him joy when he found out just how wrong that little hypothesis was.
“We could offer him a great deal of help with that,” Mordred mused.
“Huh what?” asked Tom — and Arthur felt his expression mirrored Tom’s to a frightening degree as he stared at his nephew.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, my lords,” Mordred rolled his eyes, for Tom and Arthur weren’t the only ones staring at him in surprise. “Unlike some noblemen — in other countries, mind — I know better than to think that peasants dig up gold from the ground in order to plant it again in our coffers. Majesty, we have trade contacts with the Sminese,” he nodded to Richard, “and we are setting up some with the Twikkiis, and even the Simberians,” he nodded to Lancelot, which was as close he could get in a gesture to acknowledging Leona. “Furthermore, our ports are not in shambles thanks to almost two years of civil war. We could offer them a great deal of assistance in matters of trade — relief moneys, trade via our treaties with various parties, etc.”
They could. But Arthur tried to imagine any scenario in which the Glasonlanders would take the idea of trade help from “poor relation” Albion well. Maybe it was a failure of imagination — or maybe he’d spent too much time negotiating with stubborn Vortigern — but Arthur couldn’t think of a single one that went well.
“They won’t like that,” said Richard, sparing Arthur the necessity. “Sir Mordred, most of the nobles of Glasonland are nobles that you describe — if anything, they would be insulted by the notion that there was something we could do better than they could. Especially considering who would be doing it.”
“Then wait until Caernavon is desperate and extend the offer to him then,” shrugged Mordred. “I am simply pointing out, Majesty, that we have an opportunity to gain the upper hand of Glasonland, for the first time … ever, I believe.”
“I do not think that now is perhaps the most fruitful time to be working out how to gain the upper hand, Sir Mordred,” was the only reply Arthur would give to that.
Tom wouldn’t like it — Tom would say that the best time to figure out how to gain the upper hand was when your untrustworthy erstwhile ally was weak. But for all that a King could act like that, he couldn’t go saying it in public.
But maybe Tom was learning, for he added, “But … there’s nothing to say that we can’t lend some unofficial assistance in the meantime. Port Graal is in shambles. And — Baron Ferreira, you have relatives there, haven’t you?”
Richard nodded warily, Freddy a bit more eagerly.
“Then it would be the most natural thing in the world for you to offer Port Graal aid and assistance in getting back on its feet — privately, of course. But conspicuously enough that the city rebounds much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and when Caernavon — or whoever ends up ruling Glasonland — is getting truly desperate, he will have already seen what we can do.”
“I can’t finance the rebuilding a whole city — especially not one that I’m not living in,” Richard demurred.
“But, Dad,” replied Freddy — Arthur’s ears perked up; this was probably the first time Freddy had spoken aloud in a Council meeting — “with Josh’s ba–”
He stopped, looking nervously around the group. Thankfully Tom stepped in and saved him. “Freddy, Joshua Wesleyan — who I presume is whom you’re discussing — built the bank right over there.” Tom pointed out the window. “You can see if from here if you crane your neck right. So we know he’s got one. Go on.”
Freddy took a deep breath and continued. “Between Josh’s bank and our–reserves, we could probably provide enough capital for loans and such that we’d be able to help Port Graal get back on its feet again — especially since I don’t think anyone in Glasonland will be lending. So–we really could help, and we might even recoup our investment and make more. And if the King and Prince think that would be good policy …”
“Well, we all know what the Prince thinks, what does the King say?” Tom asked Arthur.
“The King thinks it’s pretentious to talk about oneself in the third person,” Arthur couldn’t resist replying, “but in terms of the proposal …” Arthur drummed his fingers on the table. “Baron Ferreira, will a stronger Glasonland — economically speaking — be of benefit to us?”
“Good Lord, yes, sire!”
Arthur nodded. “Then do as you see fit in Port Graal, and try to do it as quietly as possible — but not so quietly that no one finds out about it. I want Caernavon, or whoever ends up King, to find out what’s behind Port Graal’s marvelous recovery as soon as he asks a few questions, but not before.”
“But, Majesty!” Bors protested. “Port Graal is a nest of traitors! Won’t King Constantine grow incensed once he realizes that we are assisting traitors?”
“According to Lord Antonius’s reports,” Arthur replied, once again flipping through the documents, “the people of Port Graal greeted Caernavon and the royal army as liberators, not conquerors. Even taking that with a grain of salt –”
“Or the whole shaker,” muttered Tom.
“Or the whole shaker, there might still be a grain of truth in that description. And, Baron Ferreira, I do not think it is entirely coincidental that you yourself, who rose so far, so fast, came from Port Graal? That is–it is an important port in the larger scheme of things?”
“Oh, yes, Majesty! That’s where most of Glasonland’s salt and rye leaves the country!” Richard replied. “It’s the best and closest port in central Glasonland!”
Arthur nodded. “Then the new King, if he is sane, will have to tolerate Port Graal regaining prosperity. Tell me, Milo, is Caernavon sane enough for that?”
Milo looked surprised and dismayed to be asked. Perhaps it was an unfair question. Milo only knew the man by report.
But Arthur was as surprised as anyone when Will said, slowly, “Per … haps.”
Every eye turned to Will. Arthur noted anew that he looked drawn and careworn, as he had ever since Pellinore died and he had been made Chief Justiciar. But at least Will looked like he was getting some sleep now. Hopefully the worst of the transition was over. “I–I met him a few times in Ludenwic. He seemed …” Will vaguely waved his hands. “Practical. And open. And curious. He was one of the few Glasonlander lords to ask questions about Albion.”
Arthur could not help a sidelong glance at Tom, to see if he had gotten that. To all appearances, he had.
“But … if the word on the streets of Port Graal is to be believed, he was also behind the order to close all the ports.” Will pursed his lips. “At the very least, he must have approved it.”
“But, Sir William,” replied Mordred, “in your … expert opinion, is Caernavon the type of man to ignore reality? Is he likely to bear a grudge against a city vital to the health and wealth of his country?”
Maybe it was the “expert opinion” that did it; in any case, Will’s answer was firm. “No. Not once he understands how important it is.”
“And is he likely to understand that?” pressed Mordred.
“He is a very intelligent man,” replied Will.
Arthur didn’t like the sound of that.
But he had to say something to close out the meeting, so he could think for a bit, consult with a few more people — privately. “Well, my lords — it seems that we are agreed, that we will support whomever Glasonland chooses as its next rightful King? And we will do what we can to assist in the rebuilding of the country, in terms of economics?”
There were many nods from around the table, even if some where grudging and others hesitant. “Then, my lords, I see no reason for us to prolong this agony–I mean meeting. We’ve all got plenty of things to do today. So, with no further ado, I hereby call this meeting adjourned.”
The Councillors needed no encouragement to leave. Only Lancelot waited for more than a fraction of a minute, his face silently questioning — Do you want me to stay?
Arthur shook his head, and out Lancelot went with the rest of them.
Except for Tom. And as soon as the door was safely shut behind them, Tom spoke. “What’s this Caernavon fellow like, Dad?”
“Bloody perfect on paper,” Arthur replied. “A clever general, loyal, pious — Lord Antonius said he even tried to offer mercy to Lothario.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “And now Will is saying he’s intelligent. I do not like this, Tom.”
“We need to get Will and Jessie in here and pick their brains on this man.”
“Agreed,” Arthur replied. “But privately.”
“Oh, come on, Dad, Jess can handle–” Tom stopped. “Oh. You want it privately for your sake. Never mind.”
Arthur raised one eyebrow. “And what’s that supposed to mean, young man?”
“That I now realize that you want to play your cards close to your vest, and I have no argument against that.”
Arthur chuckled. “You’re getting better at this every day, Tom. You might even be better at this game than I am.”
“Care to abdicate and find out?” Tom asked, fluttering his eyelashes.
“Ha!” Arthur laughed. “Not on your life!”
“Damn,” Tom pretended to sigh. “But … well, maybe it’s not so bad. If there’s anything that would be worse than running this place after you’re gone, it’ll be running this place while you’re still here and able to criticize every move I make.”
Arthur surveyed his son, but Tom seemed as lighthearted and carefree as ever. Which meant there was probably a great deal more going on underneath. But … well, he said it as a joke, but like all jokes, it had a grain of truth to it. Best to reply to only to that.
“Truer words, son,” Arthur said. “Truer words.”