Once Duke, Mara would answer only to her liege lord Kharles and to God. Dafythe found no comfort here. Mara believed now that God meant her to kill Spaniards. She only awaited the call to perform that holy service. And Kharles? A better Emperor would encourage all that was noble and generous in Mara’s nature, but Dafythe had no illusions about his nephew. It was young Kharles who had inherited the Redlyon’s supreme selfishness. Kharles was the sensualist. He placed his own pleasures before his duty to his subjects—a dangerous thing for any governor, and how much more so for one who wielded imperial powers! Dafythe’s brother used to make excuses for the boy’s conduct—young Kharles was only a child; he would learn temperance—but gossip from the imperial court confirmed Dafythe’s suspicions that his nephew at five-and-thirty hadn’t changed from the spoiled princeling of seventeen who had insulted the German princess meant for his bride. If there had been any change, it was for the worse now that Kharles had no one to check his profligate nature.
Young Kharles, like his grandfather, relished conquest but, unlike Eduarde, he didn’t enjoy warfare. It was too risky; the young Emperor favored games he was certain to win. What if Kharles were to encourage the worst in Mara for his own ends?
If Kharles gave Mara commands that coincided with her own desires, she would obey him eagerly. She would lead campaigns in his name, take her victories for the glory of the Empire. With imperial sanction, proof against whatever counsel she received to the contrary, she would find no restraint. This, Dafythe feared above all. Kharles and Mara: one or the other was simply a self-indulgent ruler who needed firm counsel; together, they could restore the worst of the Redlyon’s reign.
Mara slipped into the Othelie chapel at dusk. The little church was dark; the chaplain had gone for the night. She lit a spill from the sanctuary lamp and lit the candles by the door, then the candles at the altar. She dipped her fingers at the font, made the sign of the cross, and knelt.
“Holy Father, I plead you aid me. I present myself a humble disciple, troubled and seeking guidance. Is my cause just? I know that I am given to my nature for some service in Your purpose, but I do not know if this is truly the time You have chosen to call upon me.”
Mara’s instincts urged her to act upon her first impulse: if she had her way, the Northlands’ troops would have been assembled and prepared to ride out when she’d first heard the news of Juan’s latest treachery. She felt it was right to respond to this threat with immediate retaliation, yet her father obviously believed a different response was appropriate. Dafythe was a wise man, she knew, well-respected throughout the world. He had kept the Northlands peaceable for more years than she had been alive. And, while Mara itched with impatience in this undisturbed land, she could see that her father’s pax normania hadn’t undermined the might of the Norman Empire. They remained the most powerful realm on Earth. None would dare to call Dafythe a coward—well, Mara was forced to confess, she had thought him so but her better reason made her feel ashamed of giving her father and liege lord this insult.
No, Dafythe was not weak. She’d seen the strength of him today. She had seen it before, though she hadn’t recognized the courage and determination implicit in her father’s actions. When the Council shouted their support of her, he had cut them short with a word. A vacillating Duke would have been overwhelmed by dissent in that uproarious moment. He would have conceded to their demands. Dafythe had commanded them; he heard their opinions, but he kept his own. He had always been able to win people to his will by the force of his convictions. Could a weak man have shaped the world to his vision and maintained it for so many years?
Mara wasn’t accustomed to feelings of doubt; if she wanted something, it must be the right thing to have. Now, she was uncertain. It disturbed her to think that all her dreams of glory might be nothing more than base bloodthirst.
“I know my father is a good and just ruler who has governed by Your Grace these many years. He wouldn’t act against his conscience. None may speak greater evil of him than unwarrior-like gentleness. Is he wrong in this? Or am I guilty of disobedience and disloyalty if I try to sway him? As a Prince of Norman blood, I hold my honor above all. I have sworn to act as best befits my people, in my liege lord’s interest, and as You will—not according to my own desires. I cannot be self-interested. Those I lead in battle may die in my name. Those I do battle against may die at my hand. Their blood is upon me if I act wrongly! Their souls will weigh upon mine. Heavenly Father, I do not know if this is what I am meant to do! I believe that I am given a divine destiny to fulfill in Your purpose. Is this it? I must know I am right! I pray You give me a sign.”
What she hoped for was her vision, the holy blessing which she’d been denied on the night of vigil before her knighting. Nothing less would sanctify her goal.
“Guide me, Lord, please, to Your will.”
She took up the rosary looped at her belt and kissed the cross. With her head bowed, she began to tell the beads, reciting formal prayers. The answer would come.