Pendaunzel Palace was no single castle, but a cluster of fourteen major buildings and a number of smaller houses within the shelter of ancient ramparts on the hilly parkland at the northern end of the city. The towers and spires of the great halls rose above the trees: Hartshall, the Hall of Record, the old castle keep, the stadium, the chapel of St. Othelie, and the Manor. This last, the Duke’s residence, had been built from the stones of the original castle late in the last century and was commonly taken for all the palace by Pendaunzel visitors. The round keep on its mound remained intact behind the two wings of the modern building, though the moat had been filled in and a long, curved portico was set on the slope before it. Antiquated annexes and abutments joined the modern structure at odd angles and old towers rose at unexpected points, but trees grew close on all sides and an abundance of ivy concealed any awkward convergence of old and new.
The Duke’s private apartments were on the ground floor of the east wing; his physician kept rooms nearby, for Dafythe of the Northlands was very old. Mara went to see the physician first. Dr. Dimitrios felt the bones of her injured arm, then flexed each joint for signs of pain before he affirmed her diagnosis: no bones were broken, but he predicted bruises and stiffness in the days to follow. The wrist was bandaged and the arm restrained by a linen sling. The Princes then sent their nephew Arthur to the wardroom upstairs with their gear and went down the lower corridor toward the entrance hall.
The Duke’s Manor was built in the most modern style. Nothing was dim or dismal. No narrow, deep-set portals reminiscent of arrow slits here, but large multi-paned windows which let in light. Polished marble squares paved the floor at ground level; above, the floors were parquet. High arches along the length of the building supported the thin walls, and numerous sconces held candles for lighting the way at night. The intervening spaces were painted white and pale yellow and covered by decorative tapestries depicting great events in the Northlands’ history: the brave little ships of Robert Gilthair sailing across the ocean to establish a Norman colony before the Scandinavians could lay claim to all the newly discovered continent; St. Othelie preaching to the pagans in the wilderness; Duke Maud’s charging through the mountains in the battle of Bloodecrike; Prince Denys dying at Spanish hands.
As the Princes approached the entrance hall, they heard sounds of commotion ahead. Someone of importance had arrived. By the time Mara and Kat reached the open gallery above the hall, however, they found no more than the aftermath. The great door had shut. Grooms had taken the horses to the stables. Porters had carried away the visitors’ baggage to the west wing. All that remained were two youths left alone, forgotten in the confusion. The elder, perhaps twenty with silver-white hair falling nearly to his waist in a froth of curls, was defiant in his uncertainty. The angelic-looking younger boy stood close beside his brother—surely, in identical traveling clothes of sooty gray, they must be brothers—and looked up and around the hall with undisguised wonder and bewilderment.
“Orlan! Demy!” A voice cried out from the opposite end of the gallery and the Lady Laurel rushed down. She embraced and kissed both boys in turn, which clearly embarrassed them even though they were relieved to see her. “I saw the bags go by. Are you come to stay long? Where’s my uncle?”
The elder boy answered, “When he heard the Duke was at Council, he bid Andemyon and I find our rooms and he walked away.”
Laurel was Ambris’s wife. She was a young woman, twenty-six, and not gentle, soft, nor delicate enough to be considered a beauty by common standards, but her exotic appearance drew attention. Natives of the Northlands were usually more dark than their European cousins, but the Lady’s complexion was ivory, her hair ash-white with a silvery sheen, and her eyes the palest shade of gray. She was also more than six feet tall, a height which Mara envied.
There’d been a mild scandal when Mara’s brother had married this mysterious maid half his age. Niece to the wizard Lord Redmantyl, Laurel was the orphaned and illegitimate daughter of a garrisoned guardswoman and a magician herself though she had left her apprenticeship to marry. She had arrived at the Palace dressed like a traveling thespian in breeches and old-fashioned lace, and she handled a sword like a professional soldier—in fact, she had been briefly attached to the New York garrison where her mother once served. Mara had come to love her as a sister even before the wedding.
As the Princes stepped out along the gallery, Laurel looked up and said, “Why, Mara, what’s happened to your arm?”
“I had a bad bang this morning on the playing field and the old fusspot healer will have it bound up all this week,” Mara answered as she came down. “No riding, no fencing. You’ll have to spar with Kat and keep her on her best. You need the exercise yourself, I daresay, after the baby.”
Laurel laughed and turned to the boys. “You must come up and see your nephew. Oh, Mara, Kat, may I present my cousin, Orlan Lightesblood, and this is Andemyon.”
The boys were uncertain as to the correct behavior when meeting muddy and battle-geared royalty.
“What’s this about a Council-meeting?” asked Mara once the appropriate courtesies had been exchanged.
“Hadn’t you heard?”
“We were out all morning,” said Kat. “What’s happened?”
“`Tis said the Prince Juan Maria has betrothed himself to a Spanish princess.”
“God’s Body!” Mara cried. “Marry a Spaniard! It can’t be! Kharles won’t allow it. Juan daren’t go against the Emperor.”
“What does my uncle plan to do about it?” Kat asked.
“I don’t know,” Laurel answered. “Ambris went over to Hartshall immediately after breakfast and the Council’s been talking it over since. I’ve heard nothing else.” She took Andemyon by the hand and led both boys up to the nursery. Kat went with them.
“Are you coming, Mara?” the Irish Prince asked, turning back at the top of the stairs.
“No, I have to go and find Father. If this tale of Juan’s treachery is true–”
Kat nodded. “There’ll be hell to pay for it.”
Mara left the Manor through the lowest level of the west wing and crossed to Hartshall, which was separated from the Manor by a statue-lined avenue. Hartshall was full of people; councilors, ministers, secretaries, clerks, pages, officers in the palace guard went up and down the corridors, all busy. All the branches of the government had their central offices here. Half a dozen courtiers stopped Mara in her search for her father to ask what she knew of the Naufarre situation, but the Prince could give no answer.
At last, she found her brother Ambris, Earl of Eadeshire and Lord High Chancellor, in the corridor outside the Advisory Chamber, where the Duke’s Council met. Broad-browed and square-chinned, his resemblance to his younger sister was conspicuous, but he was forty-nine years old and half a head taller—as tall as his wife—and the features of his face more sharply defined. His hair was black and curly with glints of red where it caught the light and his complexion was Mediterranean; his mother had been a Spaniard. The thin, dark lines of short-clipped beard and mustache framed his mouth. He wore the gold-shot green robes of the Chief of Council and a heavy chain of office hung about his neck. The sash across his chest bore three golden lions, a token that he was recognized as a son of the imperial family even if illegitimate.
His face was drawn into a frown of great intensity, as he wore in times of crisis. When he saw his sister, he smiled, but the tense line between his brows did not relax. “Lord Redmantyl’s come,” he told her.
“Yes, we just met his sons,” she answered.
“I wonder if they’ll be here long. It’s a most inconvenient time for guests.”
Ambris’s dismay wasn’t for the boys, but for their father. Lord Redmantyl didn’t approve of the marriage of his magical niece, even to the Duke’s own son. A powerful wizard like Redmantyl wouldn’t forgive the loss of so promising an apprentice easily; Ambris expected unpleasantness when courtesy obliged him to greet Redmantyl as a visitor to the Duke’s household.
“Where’s Father?” Mara asked.
“He left Council. At his age, he may take the privilege of calling for a recess whenever he chooses. We’ve been speaking together since, but can’t come to a decision without him. I don’t see a smooth way out of this difficulty if Juan can’t be made to retract his position.”
“We must stop him!”
“Yes,” Ambris agreed, “or bind Juan’s plans ineffective.”
“What do you mean?”
“If Juan’s betrothal to the Spanish Infanta indicates his intent to return Naufarre to Spanish hands,” he explained, “he acts expressly against the terms of Grandfather Redlyon’s marriage treaty.”
“You aren’t going to go on about treaties, are you?”
Ambris smiled. “Mara, the problem hangs upon that treaty.”
To Mara, it seemed a waste of time to talk to Ambris in his legal moods. At heart, her brother was always a lawyer: if allowed, he would baffle her for the rest of the day with Latin phrases and obscure precedents of international agreement going back to the first days of the Empire. “What will Father do?” she asked before he could begin.
“I don’t know. This situation may be too dangerous to be resolved peaceably.”
Mara leapt upon this. “You mean, we may have war?”
Ambris’s reply was cautious: “Feeling is high. Public sentiment against the Spanish hasn’t changed one grainsweight since the last of the Redlyon’s wars. Father can speak all he likes of sixty years of peace, but it doesn’t put an end to hostile feelings. We Normans only want the opportunity to pick up where we left off, and Juan may give it to us whether he means to or not.” His forefinger tapped her brow, a playful gesture. “Many are eager to see the old days come again, Sister.”
“And you?” she asked.
“I hope it doesn’t come to war, but it would be foolish not to foresee that probability.”
“What would you have us do?”
“It’s Father’s choice, and Kharles’s. We must follow the Emperor in this matter, if only we had a clear idea what he intends to do. We can’t send out troops when they haven’t been requested, nor send them to one location when they might be needed elsewhere.” He sighed. “The difficulty is that this news is weeks old. Juan may have already sealed his betrothal in defiance, or Kharles sent troops to Naufarre to put the rebellion down, or the entire problem solved peaceably as Father would wish.”
Mara found her father in the library. The Duke was in conversation with a lordling dressed in dusty, black riding clothes and the scarlet rune-woven mantle which gave him his title.
Pendaunzel had seen little of Lord Redmantyl’s magic, but his power was undoubted. He’d defeated all other wizards to achieve his status as premiere wizard in the western world and he was therefore looked on as a sort of hero. No other Norman citizen had engaged in battle this century. And, more than that, Redmantyl was still a young man, not far past fifty, handsome and powerfully built, as strangely fair as his niece and elder son, white hair long and tarnished-silver beard close-clipped in the modern fashion of noblemen. His physical presence was vibrant; the aged Duke seated before him seemed fragile and insignificant.
Dafythe of the Northlands was near his century, but his bearing remained upright and dark strands of hair were still visible in the long gray mane pulled back from his austere face. The lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth and upon his brow were cut deep, and a fine net of wrinkles covered his skin. Yet these aged features—mouth a thin-lipped dash, jaw heavy, chin squared and cleft, cheekbones prominent, brow high and broad, eyebrows a straight, thick line broken briefly above a patrician nose—were unmistakably like those of Mara, Kat, Ambris, like the features stamped onto coins and carved onto statues commemorating the long line of Norman Emperors.
The royal face. Centuries of intermarriage had reproduced these same features on many faces with little variation. Royal and noble cousins throughout Europe bore the same distinctive cast: the Tsar of Russe, the Scandinavian King and the Grand Doge of Venice each looked more like the Norman Emperor than any resembled their own subjects. In an earlier, barbaric era, prime warriors governed by right of conquest. Today, a prince who carried the physical traits of these celebrated conquerors might stand six inches above the average height, large-boned, heavily muscled, and in relentless health. Royalty wasn’t called to fight so often these days, but the physique remained and, with it, the implication that modern-day princes were able to hold the places their families had kept for so long.
Dafythe was the son of one Emperor, brother to another, uncle to a third, always a heartbeat from the throne. Duke of the Northlands for more than seventy years, for all the warrior-blood in his veins, he was a quiet man of education and civility. With his late brother, Kharles IV, he had shaped the pax normania of the twentieth century. The state of the modern world was in large part his own work, yet Dafythe wasn’t spoken of with the great reverence bestowed upon his more flamboyant ancestors.
At Mara’s entrance, Lord Redmantyl rose, and Dafythe brought the conversation to an end. “You haven’t seen the baby yet?” he said to his guest. “You ought to. He’s a fine little fellow. Nothing to shame any of his blood.”
Lord Redmantyl seemed to take this as a command. “If I may do so now, My Liege.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll receive this boy of yours this afternoon. Bring him to my chambers.”
“Yes, My Liege. Gramercies. My Layn Prince.” With a bow, the wizard went out.
The Duke took his daughter in at a glance—mud-spattered tunic, tall field boots, sling—but didn’t ask, as if her condition were not remarkable. Why should he not receive wizards in riding leathers and princes in battle-gear? It was no day for formalities. He gestured to the empty seat before him. At his age, Dafythe wasn’t willing to rise without good reason. “You have something to tell me, Mara?”
Her questions burst forth: “Father, what is this business? Juan’s to marry again? What are we to do? She’s a Spaniard!”
“Yes,” Dafythe answered. “Serafina of Andalusia. She is young, I believe. The Infant Raimond’s daughter and not long from the convent. We had the news this morning.”
“You aren’t distressed at it?”
“It seems extremely ill-advised for a Norman Prince to make such a choice. It is potentially treasonous. Kharles won’t give his consent.”
“Yes, but surely Juan will wed without it! It is in his blood, these sneaky Spanish ways.”
“He is your uncle, Mara.”
“I’ve never met him.”
“Nevertheless, you must show some respect for his royal blood.”
“Juan’s blood is Spanish royal blood as well as Norman. He never forgets it. You know he’s played this same sort of trick before.”
Prince Juan Maria was Dafythe’s half-brother, the child of Eduarde Redlyon’s third marriage to the Infanta Marianne. The alliance with Spain was meant to establish peace between the warring nations. The Redlyon had been ninety-eight, and his bride twenty-five. Naufarre was her dowry; it became part of the Norman crown lands at the time of the marriage, but Marianne had resumed the governing of it after her elderly husband’s death and it remained Spanish in all but taxation and garrisoned soldiery.
Juan was sixty now, but in his youth he’d been involved in a series of treacherous activities. He had incited the people of his mother’s land to demand a release from Norman rule and, more provoking, had written letters to various rebel groups in the other Norman kingdoms encouraging them in their own subversive endeavors. This would have come to nothing, but Marianne seemed to give tacit approval to her son’s schemes. Ambris, then a young diplomat in the late Emperor Kharles’s service, traveled to Naufarre to conduct delicate negotiations with the Dowager Marianne and, in the end, Juan Maria was brought to Paris. The young man was kept under house arrest at the Louvre and met with his half-brother Kharles IV in private conferences. No one knew what was said between them, but after several months Juan returned to his homeland and married, at Kharles’s direction, a Portuguese princess of reputed education and piety, and known Norman sympathies.
After the lady’s death, fresh rumors of Juan’s treachery reached the throne. It was said that Spanish mercenaries were established in Pamplona and war seemed imminent. Yet the young Emperor Kharles only sent a small compliment of soldiers into Naufarre as an auxiliary to the garrisons, and the uprising was quashed with little bloodshed. A state of tension had settled over Naufarre since. Relations between the Normans and Spanish were never more than coolly formal even in the best times, but all pretense of cordiality had disappeared. No one expected Juan to be inactive for long. Marianne was now an aged woman of eighty-six and much of her responsibilities were delegated to the renegade Prince. Naufarre was in his hands.
Mara had long ago grown accustomed to her uncle’s sedition. Juan repeated his treason with such regularity that it was no surprise when the latest plot was revealed; like most Normans, she expected him to be put down quickly. Until today, she’d never imagined that actual war might be fought over Naufarre.
“Juan may marry without my nephew’s approval,” Dafythe agreed, “but I don’t imagine he’s foolish enough to take such an irretrievable step. It damages his own Spanish loyalties. Do you think he wishes to do that? If he weds this infanta, the alliance will be in direct contradiction with the accords of the Naufarre treaty.”
It was as if shuttered windows in Mara’s mind were suddenly flung open. Ambris had said this too, but Ambris was always on about one contract or another. “What are the terms of the treaty, Father, exactly?” She thought of all she had heard of it in her interminable lessons in legislative history. “Didn’t you and my uncle Kharles draw them up?”
“Ah, that is precisely what I sought here.” A loose scroll lay on the table at the Duke’s elbow; he spread it flat and Mara twisted in her seat so that she could read with him.
As a border territory between France and Spain, Naufarre had been a source of contention for hundreds of years. Claimed by both empires, it had been the object of war after war. In the nineteenth century, the young Princes Denys and Eduarde had tried to take the long-disputed territory or, when that failed, another piece of Spanish land of equal importance. They fought furious battles in Naufarre, in the Madehef March in North Africa and, more successfully, in the Northlands’ marches. Prince Denys had died young, but Eduarde fought on for over fifty years, his rage at his brother’s death and his desire for revenge upon Spain unquenchable. In time, the lands now called Princeland, Eduardesmarch, Uolder, and Jamesmarch were his. His campaigns came to an end in 1892, when the unbending warrior-king had simply grown too old to wage one more war and at last heard the advice of his moderate sons.
The terms of the Treaty of Naufarre, signed by Eduarde Redlyon and Alamanzus the Great, were stated so simply that even one with no education in the law might understand: upon his marriage to the Spaniard Marianne and receipt of her dowry, Eduarde would remove his troops and cease all claims to the land between the Eduardesmarch and Iardinez, an area named Terrojos by the Spanish. So long as Naufarre remained Norman, this march would not be touched. A narrow barrier of neutral territory was established; this strip of land was termed the Shieldwall. Fortresses might be built on either side, but the encroachment of either Norman or Spanish troops would be considered an act of war.
“We meant to safeguard Norman interests in Naufarre,” Dafythe explained. “You see, my father meant to have it at whatever cost. Kharles and I hoped to prevent the Spanish from reclaiming Naufarre as well as protect the Northlands’ southern border by relinquishing all claims to lands beyond the current marches. Neither empire can hold both territories at once. It is a balance of rights and powers.”
“But if Juan’s marriage to the Spaniard takes place, then the treaty becomes void?” Mara asked.
“I fear it may be so.”
Mara’s thoughts were already turning upon the possibilities. Grandfather Redlyon and the Spaniard Alamanzus were long dead, their reasons for agreeing to the conditions of this treaty forgotten by their successors. The careful balance her father had achieved was already tipping dangerously. If Naufarre returned to Spain, the balance would fall.
Here at last was her opportunity! All those stories of brave warriors. All those mock-battles when she’d raised her sword against comrades and cadets, dreaming of the day when she would fight in earnest. All those years of waiting, wondering when her purpose would be revealed. Now was the time.