Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 14

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

Dafythe was often credited with shaping the pax normania of this century, but in truth most of it had been Kharles’s work. He had merely served as his brother’s assistant. At Kharles’s suggestion, he wrote their father letters that were a combination of flattery and his own long-concealed opinions. He urged Eduarde to heed Kharles’s advice. A peaceful accord with their old enemy had economic and political advantages over perpetual war. The Norman Empire was the mightiest nation on Earth and Eduarde the greatest earthly ruler; was it not seemly that he be magnanimous? Dafythe proposed an exchange of disputed territories. The Treaty of Naufarre was the result. In this manner, perhaps, he was architect of the pax normania, but he would never have dared to write one word if Kharles hadn’t asked him to.

He returned to his father’s court one last time to aid Kharles in composing the historic treaty and to greet Eduarde’s Spanish bride.

When Dafythe arrived in Paris, he was shocked at how his father had changed since his last visit five years before. The Redlyon who had left his wife’s funeral to oversee the prosecution of dissenting nobles had been the same fearsome figure Dafythe had known from his childhood. This older Redlyon still roared. He burst into terrible rages. He made vicious threats, as gory and elaborate in their detail as ever to show that he remained the same bloody-minded bully at heart. But he was no longer dangerous. His rages were impotent, the squalls of a spoiled child who can’t get his own way. When his commands were ignored, he fell into fits of weeping that were disturbing to see. He relied entirely on Kharles now, but his worst outbursts were directed at his son. From tractability, the Emperor leapt abruptly, unexpectedly to venom, cursing Kharles for a coward, a thief, a usurper. Kharles bore the old man’s abuse with calm temper.

The Emperor was in his dotage, the Paris courtiers whispered. Brave Eduarde, brought so low! But how well Kharles managed the Empire during this troublesome time! How fortunate that the Prince of France, so long in his father’s shadow, had emerged from obscurity and proved to be such a capable administrator. Many of them, like Dafythe, wondered how Kharles could hold so much influence over Eduarde, yet surrender on the important point of whether he or his father would marry the Spanish princess.

The first drafts of the Treaty of Naufarre had offered Kharles as bridegroom for Marianne but, as he had with Aline, Eduarde became enamored of the reputed beauty of the Infanta. The Redlyon saw his forty-two-year-old son as a mere boy. He, in his prime, would seal the alliance. This was the usual sort of outlandish declaration Eduarde made in his later days. The odd thing was that Kharles yielded to him.

Dafythe had his brother’s confidence in most matters, but Kharles never discussed the subject of Marianne. When Dafythe arrived at Paris, the court was wild with rumor and speculation. Some said that Marianne’s father, the Emperor Alamanzus, had insisted on the Redlyon making the match—though Dafythe found this implausible. Others said that Eduarde had retained some hold over Kharles. Kharles’s most loyal adherents insisted that the Prince was too honorable to put himself forward as emperor while his father still lived, and therefore had conceded his intended bride to Eduarde as a gracious gesture. Peace between the empires was most important to the Prince, this last party insisted. It wasn’t as if he loved the girl.

Marianne was now in her eighties, but Dafythe recalled her as the maid of five-and-twenty he’d met at Paris just before the wedding, rather pretty, tall, aloof, a princess bound by duties and, like himself, the child of an unbending ruler. She was furious that she was forced into so unequal a marriage. Dafythe had pitied her. He wasn’t alone in this sentiment. The Emperor met his bride courteously—with only one or two offensive remarks of bawdry—and conducted himself quietly at the wedding, but everyone in attendance agreed that it was a shame to see any young maid, even a Spaniard, given to an aged madman.

Had Eduarde been mad? In the last years of his reign, when his bloodthirst had extended to his own subjects as well as to the Spanish, yes. Certainly, yes. But before that? The Emperor’s closest advisors might have called him sane in his prime, but a strange darkness had lain over Eduarde’s mind for as long as Dafythe could remember. His unceasing hatred of Spain, which he had engendered in the Norman people even to this day, was not rational. Eduarde might call the Spanish enemies of God. He might speak of borders threatened by the insidious foe. He might call for the restoration of stolen lands. But these were mere excuses. There was truly only one reason why the Redlyon waged war after war.

The memory of Denys, long dead, haunted Eduarde throughout his reign. One might think a man so brutal and ambitious as Eduarde Redlyon would welcome the death of the elder brother who stood between him and the Norman throne, but Dafythe believed his father’s grief and desire for vengeance genuine. Denys had been the driving force in the late Emperor’s life. All wars were fought for Denys’s sake. Every campaign in the Northlands’ marches, each attempt to claim Naufarre, was retaliation for the murder of the Bright Prince. As he had slain the actual assassins, so he desired the death of all Spaniards. He sought to eradicate the race from the face of the earth. By the blood of Denys! had been Eduarde’s rallying cry. His prayers for victory invariably invoked his brother’s name.

The sanctification of Denys had been Eduarde’s doing. Dafythe and Kharles had been brought up to regard their uncle in the same light as the knights of legend, Launcelot and Parsyfal; lesser-born Norman children, raised on tales of Prince Denys’s adventures, dreamed of great battles and magnificent deeds of bravery. Generations revered him as the warrior-prince exemplar. Denys the Bright Prince. Denys the Fair. Denys Spaniardslayer. Would that cherished image exist if Eduarde hadn’t taken such pains to keep the memory of his brother alive for his subjects as it remained vivid in his own mind?

The Emperor’s unending grief had shaped his reign. Even when his actions seemed reasonable, his motives weren’t those of a sane man. And there could never be a reasonable motive for the blood-letting Eduarde had loosed on his own people.

Eduarde lived for four years after his marriage to Marianne. Millions of Normans mourned his death, but Dafythe thought that if the Almighty had been more merciful, He would have taken the fierce, proud Redlyon before he’d decayed into a mewling, toothless old beast.

Eduarde’s subjects didn’t see this final degeneration. They knew of his illness, but Kharles had carefully concealed his true condition. The Emperor was only exposed to public gaze during his most lucid periods. No sight of their beloved Redlyon in a dotard’s daze tarnished the common-folk’s memories. In spite of their personal feelings, Dafythe and Kharles had maintained their father’s exalted image. The old man was dead, they agreed, and his bloody reign ended. Why abuse his reputation? And so they’d raised statues in the city squares, commissioned historical plays, heard ballads praising the Redlyon’s victories sung in their own halls, even while they revised every policy their father had decreed.

They restored the Empire to the laws and manners of its golden age. The Norman Empire was far richer today than it had ever been. Its citizens enjoyed a standard of living unsurpassed. Norman merchants traveled safely to every port in the world. The sons of Eduarde were well-respected, but none would glorify their administration. The citizens of the Empire were comfortable, prosperous and safe, but they were bored. They saw the Redlyon’s violent but much more exciting reign as a glorious time, and they looked to Mara in hopes that she would bring those days back.

Mara didn’t intend to repeat the Redlyon’s brutal regime. Dafythe knew something of his daughter’s character. She wasn’t deliberately cruel. Her worst fault was that she was impetuous, preferring immediate action to solve any problem and giving no heed to the consequences. She thought only of the excitement of battle, not of the bloody deaths it would bring to her own soldiers as well as the Spanish troops. Mara wasn’t heartless nor vindictive. Eduarde’s colossal arrogance was not hers. While the Redlyon had approached God as a fellow king to be bargained with, cajoled, and cursed when He did not honor His pact, Mara’s prayers were humble entreaties to be fit for holy service. Dafythe admired her solemn adherence to the chivalric code. Her idealism gave him hope. But she was yet Prince of Gossunge. Who today knew what Eduarde’s intentions had been in his youth?

Given reliable advisors and a court atmosphere that did not feed her pride overmuch, Mara might become a capable governor. Dafythe hoped so. His own powers as Duke of the Northlands had always been limited by a higher authority: first his father, then his brother, and now his nephew. Each Emperor in his varied way had kept Dafythe from thinking too highly of himself. Despite his illustrious position, he’d never lost his sense of being a mere man with enormous responsibilities to those above and below him. It had kept him sane. But he couldn’t assure himself that Mara would receive these same proofs against the applause of her subjects—already, they cheered at the sight of her. Who would restrain her once she was Duke?

Tuxsetau, Peaque, Roodebroke, his own most trusted ministers, might guide her for awhile if she retained them on the Council, but there was a faction of young courtiers who flattered Mara to win her favor. In the end, their influence would be greater. Kat, even if she were to remain in the Northlands, would follow Mara in whatever course she chose. Ambris? Dafythe had given his son as much power as he dared, in hopes that Ambris would aid Mara with his superior experience and judgment, but it seemed that even now Ambris hesitated to oppose her. He had learned his lesson too well; he refused to take a position that might appear to usurp his sister’s authority. Instead, he aided her. Dafythe was well aware that Mara’s understanding of the Treaty of Naufarre had been gained through her brother.

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