Season 4, Episode 6
Written and Read by Neil MacDonald
Brondah proudly watched Garaile Martzel stumble forward. He was travelling faster than his little legs would carry him, trying to reach the bright yellow ball. Inevitably, he would fall, but the thick carpet would protect him. It was of Hyseth weave and patterned in the Simmister colours of green and gold. The toddler fell, looked surprised, gazed around to locate his mother, thought about crying, and then decided to giggle when she smiled.
“Fall,” he announced.
“Yes, you fell,” she replied.
Her heart swelled with love. Only in the last few months had they been able to begin to talk together like this. When he was older, she would teach him everything about who he was. Byrom had given him the name, Garaile, after the King’s own father. But she had insisted on Martzel, her father’s name.
Byrom had acquiesced easily, saying, “Yes, good. It brings together our two houses.”
The boy was her whole life. Lynnea had told her, and Byrom’s physicians agreed, that she would never be able to have another child. So, she gave everything, all her love, and all her hope, to Martzel. Her baby would one day sit the throne of Ceweth. And she would be Mother of the King.
A footman appeared, as if from nowhere. How did they do that? “The High Council is assembled,” he announced.
“Keep an eye on Martzel,” she told Lynnea. The old woman had stayed with her after the birth, and was now the boy’s nurse.
“As if I wouldnae,” huffed Lynnea. “Ye’ll be wantin’ yer crown then?”
“No, I think the cloth of gold is enough,” Brondah replied, wrapping the cloak around herself.
The royal palace was honeycombed with passages, allowing the family to move around the building without tripping over petitioners, flatterers, and other nuisances. They allowed Brondah to move unseen from her private chambers to the great hall, appearing from behind a tapestry onto the dais where the Council met. Just like a footman.
Lord Terpanijan was talking as she entered. “… every day tighter.” He broke off on seeing Brondah and bowed, “Your Grace.”
There was a rasp of chairs on the wood floor as they all rose from the oak table and chorused ‘your graces’. She took her place on the King’s seat, carved with griffin armrests. She looked around the room. The Council was small. Apart from Terpanijan, the Chancellor, only Prent Naijar, the spymaster, Lord Bisho, the Keeper of the Exchequer, and the High Priest Lord Candaele were present. Byrom, of course, was warring in Lorrador, and Sir Kellen Ciotti had fallen at Mewwald. She was not expected to say much, but custom decreed that, in the King’s absence, the Queen convened the High Council.
She inclined her head an inch at the greetings, and graciously opened the discussion. “Pray proceed, my Lords.”
“I was just talking of the war, your Grace,” Terpanijan informed her. “I am come fresh from Lorrador yester eve.”
“I hope the journey was not too trying, my Lord.”
“The Sundering Sea is never tranquil, and is especially unpredictable at this time of year, Your Grace. But the Gods granted me good passage.”
“And how goes my husband’s war?”
Looks were exchanged around the table. “Not well, to speak the Gods’ honest truth, Your Grace. The noose grows ever tighter around Esterholme. There is hand to hand fighting in the trenches on the hills above the city. If Lorrador gains the hills, Esterholme must fall.”
Terpanijan continued, “There is news of a,” he hesitated, “more personal nature from the war. The King, your Lord husband, was wounded in a charge to clear the Lorradian trenches.”
Byrom. Wounded. Brondah’s heart pounded. That he might die in battle, and never return. Then Martzel would be King. But the boy had only two years. That would put him in peril. The nobles would manoeuvre and scheme around him. He would become a puppet for some Lord Protector. Maybe a prisoner. Maybe killed. No, Byrom must not die. It was too soon.
Terpanijan was observing her closely. She made her face a mask. After a pause, the Chancellor continued. “But the wound is not serious. A sword cut to his arm.”
“However, Your Grace,” Candaele wrung his hands as if washing them, “there is some good news. The witch is dead, burnt at the stake.”
“That we already knew,” said Brondah tartly. “A messenger brought us that news this last week. And yet, it seems her loss has not diminished Lorrador’s ardour. Is that not so, Lord Terpanijan?”
“I saw her burn myself,” said Terpanijan. “And yes, the enemy’s appetite for war seems undiminished.”
“And with war comes expense,” interjected Bisho. “The toll of blood and treasure mounts. Since the King lost Lorrador’s highlands, the wool no longer comes in, and since he lost the heartland, the grain no longer flows. But still we have to pay out. There are salaries to find for the army, weapons to forge. The war no longer pays for itself. The King’s treasury is draining fast. I say we must raise the taxes. I have been thinking about a new tax on markets.”
“New taxes would be unwise, my Lord Bisho,” Prent Naijar luxuriated over the word ‘unwise’, creating a sibilance that made him seem like a snake ready to strike.
“Why so?” asked Bisho.
“As you will know, I have eyes and ears in many places.” The Spymaster shrugged self-deprecatingly. “It is a small way to serve the realm, but I do it as best I can.”
“Get on with it, Naijar, for the Gods’ sake,” Bisho snapped.
“My ears hear whispers of discontent. Not yet of sedition, but definitely discontent. Some of our nobles, when they believe they are among friends, doubt the wisdom of this war. They talk. They speculate. New taxes would be unpopular. They would stir those speculations.”
“You speak in riddles, Spymaster,” snapped Bisho. “Which Houses? Who speaks against the King? Name them, and be done with it. You can arrest the traitors.”
“That would also be unwise, my Lord. They are only grumbles. Ceweth’s nobles enjoy their grumbles. There is no proof of any treason. We must give this pie time to cook. With my ears listening and my eyes watching, who knows what plots may surface? When we lift the lid of the pie, who knows who we may catch within?”
Plots. Bisho and Naijar continued to wrangle, but Brondah had stopped listening. Plots would threaten her son. Enemies!
Brondah opened her mouth to insist the plotters must be arrested now, but she caught Terpanijan’s eye. He imperceptibly shook his head, and half raised a hand. Then he jerked his head back and to the side. She understood him to be inviting her to private conversation after the Council. She did not wholly trust the man, but she knew him to be a deep and subtle thinker.
The quarrel between Bisho and Naijar petered out. The Council resolved to give Bisho’s eyes and ears more time, and for now to levy no new taxes. Instead, money was to be borrowed from the usurers. There were many more minutes of tiresome discussion about the spring tourney. And then, at last, the Council dispersed.
“Lord Terpanijan, please attend me in my chambers,” Brondah commanded.
When they were alone, with a cup of wine in hand, sitting either side of a fire, Brondah asked, “You stopped me. Why?”
“I could never do that, Your Grace. You are the Queen. But I tried to advise you to caution. Not everyone in the Council has your best interests at heart. I wanted you to hear me in private first, before you decide on any course of action, as I have often advised the King in private.”
“I will hear your advice gladly, but do not treat me like a fool. I may be little more than a girl, but I am not stupid. I was the King’s breeding mare, and the mother of the heir. That is all. All I care about is protecting my son from threat.”
“You may not believe me, Your Grace, but that is also what I desire. Or, at least I want the safety of the realm, which amounts to the same thing.”
“With all respect, my Lord, it is not the same thing at all. I am a mother. You are a statesman.”
“With equal respect, the mother of the future king cannot just be a mother. If she would protect her child, she must also learn some statecraft. If Your Grace would allow me to elucidate?”
“Speak on, Lord Terpanijan.”
“May I speak frankly?”
“The King is a great warrior. That is what he loves, first and foremost. But he is also reckless and cruel. While the war was going well, he was loved. But I fear the war will end badly. And when he is not so well loved, his instinct for cruelty will cause him to attack those who do not love him. Prent Naijar’s whispers and speculations will grow. The realm will descend into plots and strife. I see this. Your son is my hope to avoid this. His person unites the factions. But he needs safety and stability and guidance to grow into kingship. You must study on how you can provide that safety and stability.”
And you, no doubt, intend to provide the guidance. “And do you have a plan for how I might achieve this?”
Terpanijan smiled. It was not an amused smile. It was a smile full of the self-congratulation of a clever man. “As it happens, I do Your Grace.”
Brondah nodded for him to continue.
“We must use the law.”
We? He prepares himself a great place for the future. But Brondah again said nothing, waiting for him to continue.
“I have a man, a lawyer, Jeno Norbert. He has spent many years working in the financial district with the moneylenders and the great merchants. Now he wishes to put his skills at the service of the crown. He knows the secrets of these men. He knows every deal, every loan, every tax avoided, every lie. And in turn, he knows the services these men have done the nobles, the loans extended to them, the goods supplied on credit, the inheritances stolen.
“Put Norbert in charge of enforcing the law, and we can control the great men of the realm through the threat of just retribution for their crimes. We can threaten fines that will cripple their ability to plot against the realm. We can hold their wealth to ransom for their good conduct. We must put many in danger at the state’s pleasure.”
“Is this not a matter better suited to the skills of Prent Naijar?”
“Prent Naijar, I am sorry to say, is not your friend. He already concentrates in his own hands too many secrets, and too much intelligence.”
You mean Prent Naijar is not your friend.
“You saw today, that he reveals only what suits his own purposes. He would as likely sell you to your rivals, as he would control them. This must be an instrument in your own hands, not in Naijar’s. I suggest we call it the Procurator Royal’s Court. Norbert must answer only to you, not to Naijar, or even to the Council. You must gather all the levers of this instrument in your own hands. Norbert will advise you who to act against, and with what means. There are old laws that none but he can remember.”
“Will this not inflame the nobles and the moneylenders against us?”
“Yes, it will. Though they will be powerless to act, which will buy your son the time to grow. Bisho’s taxes would unite the nobles and the commons against you. But a selective use of fines will divide them and cow them, as well as bringing in much needed treasure to the royal coffers. But you are right, frightened people are angry people, and they will chafe.” Terpanijan smiled again. “This is where the subtlety of it comes in.”
The Chancellor paused for effect and looked at her. He is very pleased with himself. Flatter his cleverness, and he can be controlled.
“Pray, speak to me of your plan.”
“History is a story written by the Gods. We act it out, not as we will it, but as we find it. But sometimes, if we grasp the story, we can write parts of it to our advantage. This is not a play in one act. It will be a three-act play. It will stretch over decades.
“In the first act comes the rule of the Procurator Royal’s Court. Peace and stability will be bought through fear and oppression. In the second act, comes the annunciation of the Promised One. And, as the Gods will it, we have just the bard to craft the annunciation; Guillem Moles. Your son will be groomed to be as facile with the pen as with the lance, he will be able to carouse with commoners, and to joust with knights. He will be a friend to all, going among the people, beloved by the people. And in the third act, he will ascend the throne, and fulfil his promise to rid the realm of oppression. He will champion justness, and equality before the law.”
Brondah was stunned by the sweep of the Chancellor’s vision. “You presume a lot about my son’s character.”
“Not so, Your Grace. I presume only good schooling. Give me a child until the age of seven and I care not who has him afterwards. He is mine for life.”
Mine for life? Martzel is not yet two, and already schemes swirl about him. Yet Terpanijan is cunning. And his plan has a logic to it. “Mayhaps, but there is much that cannot be known. Much that can go wrong. And I know nothing about controlling an instrument of the state. That is the King’s job.”
“The King is not here at present. When the King is warring, the Queen must take his place. And you and His Grace are not so different. I have watched you grow into a woman. You both have iron will. But the difference is that his will is to make the world as he wants it, while yours is entirely focused on the safety of your son. To put it another way, your will is entirely focused on the safety of the realm. I would be happy to advise you on the mechanics of power.”
Of course you would. And you would make me and my son your creatures. But you will not. I will make you mine. “There is much in what you say, Lord Terpanijan. I must think on it.”
“Naturally, Your Grace. Send for me when you have considered and wish to speak more of it. I am at your disposal.”
© 2016 Copyright Neil MacDonald
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