Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 16

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

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Pendaunzel anxiously awaited news from Europe. In May, the Emperor summoned Juan Maria to London, where the renegade swore his fealty. Before Kharles’s court, he declared himself a Norman Prince. Juan claimed that his betrothal to Serafina hadn’t yet been formalized, but he felt unable to refuse her. His kinship to the Spanish imperial family was as strong to the Norman house. He hated to disappoint them, but he would do his liege’s will. If Kharles insisted that the marriage-contract be dissolved…

Kharles insisted.

Juan returned to Naufarre still in possession of his lands and titles. Since he didn’t retract his promises immediately upon his return, the tension between the two empires relaxed a little, but the situation remained unresolved throughout the summer.

That summer, the Dowager Penelope died and Kharles married before his court left off its formal mourning. His bride had been one of Penelope’s ladies-in-waiting, a damosel of an obscure noble family. It was said that she had been Kharles’s lover for some months and that the late Dowager had tried to discourage her son’s attachment to this unimportant maid, as she’d discouraged all of the young Emperor’s previous, ill-advised dalliances. It was also rumored that the bride was already pregnant and that Kharles had wed so swiftly in order to secure his heir; he didn’t want the coming child to be removed from the line of succession as his children by the Lady Mellisaunte were.

Kat returned from London with a small delegation of the Emperor’s advisors and spent several days in private conferences with Dafythe. When Mara asked about her travels, her cousin described games of chess and tennis with the Emperor, the memorial ceremonies for Penelope, the role she’d played as Guenithyre’s kinswoman at the royal wedding, since Kharles’s timid bride had no relations to stand with her, but she remained taciturn on political matters.

With the Emperor newly married and the rebellious Prince of Naufarre acquiescent after his broken betrothal, the situation was calm. Difficulties might arise again—indeed, no one expected things to remain quiet—but the crisis had been averted for a time.

Mara was disappointed.

Dafythe was relieved, though he knew that this late-summer lull was no more than a brief respite before the inevitable disaster. War was coming; he couldn’t prevent it. It was only a matter of time before Juan and Kharles and Mara had their way, for time was the one thing he did not have.

Modern folk, he knew, lived longer and aged more slowly than those who had lived in the barbaric days of the early Empire. History revealed that girls of twelve and thirteen were considered marriageable—evidently, such young maids were ready for childbearing and boys of fifteen were capable of becoming fathers. Today, boys and girls of that age were undeveloped children and many youths were yet immature at eighteen and even twenty. In the barbaric days, a person in good health and good fortune might live to see fifty. Those who reached the age of sixty were wizened elders. Modern forty-year-olds were just past their youth. Sixty was the prime of middle-age. Many folk lived to see one hundred, and ancients of one hundred and twenty were not unknown.

Dafythe was ninety-eight. He had enjoyed a long life; nevertheless, he approached its end. A good Christian man, Dafythe knew he had sinned, but not so much that he feared the atonement which awaited him. He had few regrets.

True, he had made mistakes. It had been a mistake to honor Eduarde’s memory. He and Kharles hadn’t wished to denounce the Redlyon before his people. They had kept the legend alive when some part of the truth would have served them better. It had been a mistake to resolve Count Egan’s rebellion by bringing him into the legitimate government structure, to marry him to Agnes, to take Kat away from Eireland. It had been a mistake to allow Mara to follow her own inclinations so often, but what father could refuse his only daughter?

There’d been great errors in the construction of this pax normania. The Treaty of Naufarre, which had established this peaceable era, also engendered its downfall. Dafythe wondered now that it had survived so long. They had granted Juan Maria Naufarre before his birth. Kharles had named Marianne Regent during her son’s minority and left her largely unsupervised thereafter. Not perhaps the wisest decision, but Dafythe had never protested. He thought he understood his brother’s generosity.

Kharles, Dafythe knew, had not only made the first overtures of peace to Spain, but had traveled to Toledo to meet with the Emperor Alamanzus. He’d made Marianne’s acquaintance then. Had some feeling grown between them? Had he thought of what might have been? And what had Marianne felt, meeting the son but being given to the father?

It wasn’t inconceivable that the lonely young wife of an elderly man might seek the friendship of a younger man whom she might have called husband. If the younger man had been any other but his brother, Dafythe wouldn’t find the situation surprising. But it was Kharles; Dafythe’s brother had held personal honor above all else. The adultery Dafythe contemplated ought to be unthinkable. Yet that little demon of speculation continued to dance about his thoughts, especially since Kharles had been so generous to her after the Redlyon’s death.

Marianne and her small son had retreated to Naufarre. She was the most eligible young woman in Christendom at the time of her widowhood, but she had never chosen to remarry. For sixty years, she and Juan had governed their tiny kingdom almost as if it were an independent land, and the situation had been allowed to develop until it reached this present crisis. There had been problems before, but the elder Kharles had always been able to command Juan’s respect and keep him from outright treason; the young Emperor excited the rebel Prince’s open contempt. Marianne’s influence over her son was weakening. Dafythe could only delay the explosion a little while longer.