“Won’t you please speak for me, Ambris?” Mara asked her brother as they walked together from the Manor to Hartshall the next morning.
“Last night, you were eager to present your ideas about Terrojos to the Council yourself.”
“So I was, but I’ve thought the matter over since then.” Mara stopped at the entrance to the hall and caught Ambris by the sleeve of his robe. “I’ve decided that you are better suited to bring the matter to their attention. They call you a voice of reason. If you tell Father that we must claim Terrojos from the Spaniards, he’ll give it serious consideration, and the others will too.”
“I think you’d do better to speak for yourself, Mara,” Ambris answered. “You’ve had that right since you reached the age of one-and-twenty. You can take your seat in the Advisory Chamber whenever you like.”
“I do attend the Council whenever the matter at hand concerns me. I’ll certainly join you today. But you know that I’ve never cared for all the politics involved in running this dukedom. It bores me—all those long-winded debates! If only they would speak to the point. Everything would be resolved much more quickly.”
Ambris smiled. “You will speak to the point, and the arguments will carry more conviction if they come from you.”
Mara knew that he was right. She must participate in the Council today. But she remained reluctant at the prospect of facing her father with her opinions. How would he receive them?
Her brother seemed to understand her fear, for he said, “You are bold enough to lead troops into battle, Mara. I do not doubt that. Arguing with Father before the Council will only be a small test of your courage.”
“It seems a much greater one,” Mara admitted.
Ambris laughed. “Stand your ground as you would if you faced an opponent with sword and shield. The worst Father can do is say No.” Members of the Council were going into the hall, bowing their heads to the Prince and Chancellor and glancing at them with frank curiosity as they passed. “Come along now. The others are assembling and we don’t want to be late in our seats.”
The Advisory Chamber was a long, rectangular hall on the upper level of Hartshall. A double row of boxed benches like pews were set against the two longer walls. Above one were tall windows made up of many small panes, some faintly colored. Above the other hung painted wooden crests of the prominent noble houses of the Northlands, with the ducal hartshead on the largest crest in the center. A rectangular table spanned the length of the room; the Duke’s seat was at the head.
The Council were all in attendance that day: Othel, Lord Tuxsetau, Prime Minister of the Council; Phyllida, Lady Peaque, Layn Chief Justice; Englebard, Lord Roodebroke, the Duke’s Exchequer; Uismarde Striparroe, Layn Lieutenant; Geoffrey, the young Lord Rafenshighte, Chief of the Diplomatic Office; Kaeroth, Lord Chamberlain; Cherys, Layn Chief Constable; the Archbishop of Belminstre and the Bishop of Pendaunzel; Peter Scholar, Court Magician, and other persons of high office. All wore the distinctive gold-shot robes of state over their ordinary clothes. Elaborate devices upon their chains of office proclaimed the appointment of each minister.
Mara’s Council attire was a semi-formal tunic of noble blue hemmed just above the knee, a white kirtle with a broad, embroidered border of gold, the blue and white robes of a prince, her chain and seal as governor of Gossunge and, like Ambris, a purple sash bearing the imperial lions. Her most formal wear was reserved for court ceremonies; the skirts, robes, and fur-trimmed cape dragged the ground. Her hair was unbound in the traditional noble-fashion, though she preferred her braids.
The Council sat in silence as Dafythe’s secretary Martleanne read off her summary of the last Council meeting, concluding with the Duke’ remarks on the significance of the marriage treaty of Eduarde Redlyon. Dafythe announced that the treaty was now at hand and Ambris began his presentation of its pertinent points.
“The treaty makes no mention of the future disposition of Naufarre?” asked Lady Peaque once he had finished.
“The firstborn issue of the union shall receive the title Prince of Naufarre in place of Prince of Gallys, as is usual for the fourth child of the Norman Emperor. The Prince will assume the governing of Naufarre upon the death of Marianne,” said Ambris. “There is also a stipulation that the offspring of the Prince of Naufarre will continue the title.”
“Alamanzus’s advisors hoped that Naufarre would eventually be accorded the rights of a sovereign principality like Burgundy and the Northlands,” Dafythe explained.
“That should never have been allowed, My Gracious Lord,” said Lord Tuxsetau. “Naufarre would have been better kept directly under the Emperor’s hand.”
“Perhaps, but none of us expected a child to come of my father’s last marriage. If Juan hadn’t been born, Naufarre would’ve become Norman crown land.”
“No conditions restrict the prospects of marriage for a Prince of Naufarre,” Ambris added.
“So there is no express writ against Juan marrying a Spaniard?” asked Lady Peaque.
“No. Nor anyone he chooses.”
“Then is the betrothal itself treasonous?”
“Surely Juan’s betrothal to his Spaniard cousin declares his affiliation with Spain,” said Uismarde.
“He’s broken a solemn contract in order to favor a foreign and hostile nation,” added Mara. “He means them to have Naufarre. Is that not treason enough?”
“We have begun with that presumption,” answered Dafythe. “But can we be certain that my half-brother means to restore Naufarre to Spanish hands?”
“Juan’s banns contain no political statement,” Ambris said in agreement. “The published articles of handfast we received yesterday are blameless in themselves. No declaration of Spanish rights in Naufarre have yet been made by Juan.”
“Has Spain made any claim?” asked Lord Roodebroke.
“Geoffrey?” Dafythe addressed his Diplomatic Chief.
“Don Peidro received me at the Spanish Embassy this morning,” answered Lord Rafenshighte. “He expresses surprise at Prince Juan’s betrothal and avows that he heard nothing of it before yesterday. Indeed, he tells me that he hopes this marriage will not end the years of friendship between his homeland and this land he considers his second home.” Rafenshighte repeated the Spanish Ambassador’s assurances with a cynical note of his own; he didn’t believe one word and didn’t expect the rest of the Council to be deceived either. “I did ask, My Lord Duke, if his masters had designs upon Naufarre. He says not. Don Peidro also begs audience with you this afternoon.”
“So Prince Juan hasn’t declared his intentions,” said Lieutenant Uismarde. “Nevertheless, there is treachery in this. We know the Prince’s character too well. We are fools if we take his marriage to a Spanish Infanta as a love match and imagine it means nothing. Juan is a traitor. His previous actions have already declared him in this.”
“It is a possibility,” Dafythe replied. “We would be wise to prepare for the contingency if he makes such a claim, but it is folly to react impetuously.”
“Even if this is a veiled declaration, can he be arrested?” asked Ambris. “We may assume that Kharles’s councilors have also called this betrothal treasonous, yet Kharles has written no warrant—at least, no word of it has reached us. My imperial cousin would wish to make such a charge. If he hasn’t, surely it’s because he sees it is impossible to take Prince Juan into custody without sending an army to Naufarre to capture him. Juan wouldn’t surrender himself.”
“The Emperor will send troops to Naufarre if he must,” Uismarde answered.
“The arrest of Prince Juan is advisable only if we wish to enter a war,” Ambris replied. “He will take offense at a blatant accusation of treason, and he’ll be that much more difficult to deal with in subsequent negotiations.”
“Do we wish to prevent war, My Lord Duke?” one of the junior ministers asked, somewhat ingenuously.
“I do,” Dafythe answered in a tone that would bear no argument. “`Tis too easy to fight great battles over little matters. As I am Sovereign Lord and Grand Duke of the Northlands, it is in my rights to declare war without the consent of my liege Emperor, or to refuse to fight if that is my will. I cannot consider the possibility of war until I’ve examined all other honorable options. A declaration of war is to be my last resort, not my first act. The point of this discussion should not be what Kharles ought to do, but what we as Northlanders can do. The question for us is how may we serve to support him or offer advice particular to our position.”
“I repeat my advice of the last Council, Lord Duke,” said Tuxsetau. “Offer to send My Lord Ambris to speak on the part of the Normans. All have heard my reasons for this course of action. I say again—My Lord Ambris has made his reputation as a man of justice among the Naufarrans. He’s dealt with the Dowager Marianne and her son in previous difficulties. They like him. Prince Juan bears him special affection as the only other imperial son of both Spanish and Norman blood. They will hear his counsel as they would listen to no other emissary.”
“I’ve thought a great deal on this matter, Othel,” the Duke answered. “Though your advice is sound, my son is Chancellor now, no longer a young diplomat to be sent on distant errands. We have need of him here. He can’t be spared.”
“Then may I suggest Prince Kat as an alternative?” the Prime Minister continued.
This was a new proposal. “Prince Kat?” Layn Ystelake wondered aloud. “My Lord Tuxsetau, I pray you explain. What special qualifications does the Irish Prince offer?”
Tuxsetau smiled around the table. “You speak my reasons yourself. Prince Kat bears more than the title Prince of Eireland. She is Irish. Her father, the Lord Regent Egan, is one of the Irish separatists Juan so admires. He is sympathetic to rebels in other Norman lands. In particular, he wrote letters to the scoundrel Count when he worked his old espionage.”
“`Tis fortunate that Count Egan’s marriage to Prince Agnes and his present position as Regent have cured him of higher ambitions,” said Lord Rafenshighte. “All rebels really want when they oppose their rightful ruler is to rule themselves.”
Tuxsetau looked with disapproval upon the young cynic, and answered, “Yes, but Egan’s reputation as an insurrectionist stands, and Prince Kat is his daughter. Mightn’t Juan welcome her for that? She may gain his confidence more readily than another emissary. Also, she is a maiden of pleasing aspect and personality and I believe she will serve well in a mission of diplomacy. If you cannot send Ambris, My Lord Duke, I pray you are willing to send Prince Kat in his stead.”
Dafythe looked to his son. “Do you think it will work?”
“I doubt Kharles will accept such an offer, but I believe it feasible,” Ambris answered. “Count Egan is a hero to Juan. He sees him as a man who has stood against the Empire and gained from his rebellion. His admiration for Egan may give my cousin the opportunity to gain Juan’s ear. Once there, much more may be gained. If it is required, I can instruct Kat myself in all that she needs to know of the Naufarrans and their ways.”
“Very well then. Gramercies, Othel, for your proposal.” Dafythe turned back to Ambris. “Whether or no we do this, Kat ought to be given proper warning. Will you speak with her this afternoon?”
“Father,” Mara spoke. “There’s another point in the Naufarre treaty which hasn’t been mentioned, yet it concerns us Northlanders more than all else.” She glanced at Ambris across the table; her brother nodded slightly. Mara went on: “If the treaty is broken, Terrojos becomes Norman land by default.”
The Council began to murmur. The voice of the Lieutenant rose above all others, “Lord Chancellor, is it so?”
“It is a licit claim,” Ambris answered. “Our Emperor and the Spaniard Alamanzus were in conflict over the region at the time of truce. Father, I understand that the terms of the treaty drawn by yourself and the late Emperor Kharles were meant to hold both nations from claiming certain disputed territories, namely Terrojos and Naufarre?”
Dafythe was looking at Mara as he answered, “Yes.”
“If those terms are made void by Juan’s marriage, we may claim Terrojos if we choose.”
“We must claim that march!” cried the Prince, encouraged by her brother’s endorsement. “Naufarre is Kharles’s concern, but what matter to us save as we are loyal subjects? It is thousands of miles away across the ocean. This land borders our own marches. With Juan working his treacheries for his Spaniard kin, we cannot hope Terrojos will remain quiet. I say we must assemble such troops as may be got together immediately and take action to secure our claims this summer. Kharles will agree that we are in the best position to take it! If I can have an army–”
“Don’t call your troops up yet, Daughter,” Dafythe interrupted. “The situation in Naufarre may come to nothing.”
“The idea is precipitous,” said Lady Peaque.
“Marching upon Spanish lands would distinctly be a hostile act,” Tuxsetau added.
“Juan’s betrothal is a hostile act,” Mara answered.
“But it doesn’t warrant the retaliation you propose, My Prince. Even so suspect an alliance may not be taken alone as a prelude to war.”
“We have a right to compensation for my uncle’s treachery. Juan begs for battle,” she replied. This wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped. One rousing speech ought to have brought half the Council to her side. Yet they sat still, complacently hearing her words. Didn’t they understand? “We cannot let this insult pass. It is a matter of honor. Kharles will want us to fight for what’s rightfully ours.”
“Well, I hope yet we may avoid fighting altogether,” said the Duke. “Rightful cause or no, war is nothing but misery.”
“For the losers.”
“No, for all concerned.”
Mara blinked at this unnorman heresy. “It is all our history, our art, our pride. If `tis so horrible, why does everyone want it?”
“That, I have never understood. No, Mara, not yet.”