Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 12

Front pages: maps, illustrations, family trees, etc.

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“Why not?” the Prince demanded the next morning.

Dafythe met his daughter’s indignant gaze with his own more mild but indomitable one. “The time isn’t right,” he answered. “Wait ’til Kat has gone to London and brought back Kharles’s response. If the Emperor calls to increase our troops at the border, I shall grant you command of the garrisons then. Not before. I won’t be the one to provoke this war.”

“Juan’s started it! He’s been straining toward this break for so long as I can recall. He invites war. He begs for it.”

The Duke sighed. “Yes. If only you and Kharles weren’t so eager for it yourselves.”

“You don’t understand. You have no warrior-heart. When you were knighted, Father, did you receive your vision?”

“No.”

“Have you sought a talisman since?”

“I’ve never taken a battle-name, nor personal arms.”

“You’ve never fought. Your heroes are scholars and Church Doctors.” She was aware that she sounded improperly contemptuous and quickly amended her statements. “I do not fault you for it. You simply don’t understand why such things are important to me. Kharles and I are not aggressive, though we ache to strike before we are first struck. It’s impossible to remain meek before such antagonism! And what is wrong with an aggressive campaign? The Empire is built upon them. Do you think we would stand so strong as we do today if not for our ancestors’ successful conquests?”

“This isn’t the time to speculate upon whether or not our ancestors had rightful claim to Angeland or France or to our own Northlands,” her father answered. “Those were barbaric days, when land was considered all. Many atrocities were committed in the name of God and Empire that I would not wish to see repeated. War unleashes a terrible cruelty in people. That darkness in the mortal soul compels us to such hatred and eagerness to see our foes suffer at our hands. Now I do not say this barbarian impulse is necessarily evil. The capacity for cruelty in conflict with our desire for civilization and peace is the root of our blessed free will. Without that struggle, we are not reasoning beings. However, since we are reasoning beings, we are responsible for our acts before the eyes of God. I wouldn’t see such power released wantonly. It is to be reserved for the greatest emergencies. When we are called to defend home and family, it gives us the courage to face the danger and drive it away.”

“But that is what we face now.”

Dafythe smiled. “If that were so, I would agree that it is time to make a show of force. Yet our home is safe. The Northlands haven’t been touched. No Norman soil has been invaded—not even Naufarre. Daughter, tell me: do you understand your own reasons for demanding aggressive action? Why is Naufarre important?”

“It is Norman crown land,” Mara answered.

“It has been so for some sixty years,” Dafythe agreed. “Before that, it was Spanish for more than two centuries, and before that Norman since we last captured it from Spain. Yet it holds nothing to make it so prized. `Tis not large enough to make a practical march, nor rich enough in its resources to increase the imperial income. In fact, it is expensive to maintain Norman garrisons to keep it ours against its Spanish traditions. We want it today because my father the Redlyon wanted it and he desired it only because his ancestors once lay claim to it. Kharles wants to keep it because he doesn’t wish Spain to recover it. The Spanish want it because we have it.”

This would have bordered on treason if any but Dafythe had said it. The belittling of the motives of at least two Emperors with one statement was suspect even so. Mara was shocked. “Do you suggest we surrender Naufarre without a fight?” she asked.

“I suggest we not be so eager to waste so much of the Empire’s time, money, and energy as well as the lives of our soldiery over a worthless little strip of land that we keep only for our pride.”

“Pride is not worthless,” Mara answered. “We can’t let this challenge pass unanswered even if we have no use for Naufarre. Do you think of what will happen, Father, if we let it go? We will be seen as cowards and weaklings before all the world! Spain will demand Languedok next, or the Eduardesmarch. Will you surrender them as well? Will you see the Empire torn apart?”

“Of course not. But Naufarre is not the Empire.”

“It is part of it. Spain wants it, and that’s enough reason to keep it from them.”

“I think it is not.”

“Kharles will fight for it, no matter what you advise.”

“I expect he will. With so many calling for it, I do not doubt we’ll have war, but I will not be among those to shout of honor and glory when I mean to shed the blood of my subjects.”

“But your subjects want war,” Mara protested. “They cheer me on even more than the courtiers.”

“They seek the memory of the Redlyon in you,” answered Dafythe. “They are Norman and proud to give themselves in the service of their liege.”

“If they are willing, then why should I not ask? You often say that you are guided by the will of your people, Father. They demand action against our enemy.” She repeated her question of the Council meeting: “If war is so brutal and horrible and pointless, why do they clamor for it?”

The answer wasn’t pleasant. Dafythe knew what Mara must also know, but wouldn’t acknowledge: barbarity and bloodthirst were more in the nature of humanity than the desire for peace. In the soul’s struggle between cruelty and civilization, cruelty usually won.

Dafythe placed one hand upon the table and rose stiffly. “You are no longer a willful girl, Mara. You will be Duke soon. It’s time that you think of the people you are given to govern before your own desires. We are bound in covenant with our subjects. We protect them in times of danger, provide for them in scarcity, make their laws, answer their needs. In turn, they give us their loyalty, pay their taxes, serve their nation in our names. These obligations are mutual. So long as one is upheld, so is the other. I serve my people by seeing to their best interests. I hear their pleas and do all that is in my power to aid them. But I will not be guided by their whims and base demands. At times, a number of Norman citizens have demanded the forced conversion of all Jews within our borders, the persecution of witches, pagans, and magicians, the expulsion of foreigners. Shall I give in to these mockeries of true Christian virtue? Would you? What sort of governor is led by the ignorant and superstitious on matters of state? Ridiculous! It is my business to guide my people. It will be yours as well.”

He spoke with an intensity unexpected in so gentle and aged a man; Mara was taken aback. She had imagined Dafythe, a famous pacifist, to be weak-willed and vacillating. Yet she had underestimated him. For the moment, she was startled into inarticulacy.

“Mara, when you hear the common folk cry for the restoration of the old days of the Redlyon, ask yourself: is this war best for them? At your word, they will give their lives. But are you ready to ask for those lives? Can you look upon a battlefield red with blood and see the wounded and dead who wouldn’t be there save that you sent them? Recall, you are sworn to protect them. Will you be the agency of their deaths?”

When Mara didn’t answer, he added, “I’ve never been able to bear that weight upon my conscience. I wouldn’t ask any subject to die in my name. I have always been able to find a peaceable and honorable alternative. It has served me well until now. I will not change.”

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