Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 22

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

The heralds milled about the state hall, waiting for Dafythe to emerge. The eldest boys diced against the wall. Others were engaged in some childish boasting contest. A few conversed with the courtiers who had remained to accompany the Duke. At Dafythe’s entrance, they all drew to attention. Andemyon had been seated at the window with Lord Rafenshighte; when he rose to take his place, the Diplomatic Officer detained him and spoke urgent words too soft for anyone else to hear. Andemyon whispered a reply, and Rafenshighte released his arm.

As Dafythe ascended the curving stairway to the rostrum atop the palace gates, Ambris at one elbow and Martleanne at the other, he wondered why he’d ever thought it a good idea to address his subjects from a position so far above the ground. Each time he made this climb, the stairs grew steeper and there seemed to be more of them. Seventy years ago, when the platform had been newly built according to his own design, he’d leapt up these same steps two at a time without a thought. At least, he’d had the foresight to keep his new palace on the hill and set the gates at the foot of the slope; from the inner side, the climb was much shorter than it might have been if the stairs had begun on level ground. Once atop, he stood thirty feet above the crowd.

The streets of Pendaunzel thronged with people. Townsfolk hung dangerously out of upper-floor windows and leaned over the rails of the shop porches in hopes of seeing the young general lead her troops out. The Processional directly below had been cleared by those constables who remained in the city; the Prince could ride unhindered from the palace gates down the Avenue of Heroes, where her glorious ancestors were commemorated in marble, and pass under the stony gaze of the enormous monument to Eduarde Redlyon in the square.

At the appearance of the Duke in his blue robes, the uproar redoubled with cries of “Hail, Lord Dafythe!” and “Blessings on yer Grace!” The heralds blasted their trumpets to add to the din. The Lords and Layns of the Council gathered behind Dafythe, as if to present themselves as a solid phalanx in support of whatever decree their liege might pronounce. Martleanne offered him a cup of honeyed wine to ease his breathless thirst and clear his throat. One of the heralds, an older boy with a booming voice, shouted out, “Harken ye! Harken ye all, gentle-born and common citizens of the Northlands! Dafythe, our Gracious Lord Duke, addresses this assembly on a matter of great importance!” and the roar of the crowd fell to an expectant murmur.

With few preliminaries, Dafythe introduced the declaration of war. His audience hung upon his words, for the Duke’s eloquence was long famed. He spoke phrases to stir the Norman heart: “Our foes beset us”; “The peace and prosperity of our beloved nation is endangered”; “We are left with no honorable solution save to claim what is ours by right through conquest”; “As our ancestors emerged valiant, so shall we!” Though his speech followed a formula which had been employed for centuries, the crowd assumed the words were Dafythe’s own. They drank them up eagerly, heartened that their peaceable lord had at last come to his senses.

Yet Dafythe heard his own words with less jubilant emotions. The phrases he spoke were painfully familiar. How often had he heard his father employ these same words before adoring subjects?

When he was done, Dafythe made a small gesture to signal the waiting companies in the palace yard. The trumpets blared a second time and the great gates swung open beneath him. A deafening cry of delight rose from the crowd.

Mara rode out first in polished armor and mail under the white singlet of a Prince. A golden circlet encompassed her brow. Her plumed helm and shield were strapped to her saddle at the horse’s flank. Kat rode beside her in similar garb; her dangling shield announced her identity to those too far away to see her face. The Palace Shieldmaids followed, led by Bel, each in dress uniform. Behind them walked the standard bearers, the trumpeters and drummers, then the captains each leading a column of footsoldiers. The pikers were next, then the archers, longbows to the right and crossbows to the left. Then the knights rode by in formation, all in polished armor and bearing their shields before them. Most were of local noble families and many were known in the city. Fresh cheers and encouraging shouts rose at the familiar crests, and extra hails and blessings were given to one youth bearing the crest of Eadeshire, Ambris’s eldest son Eadrik. The squires and baggage passed last. It made a splendid parade.

More people had gathered outside the city, crowding the slopes on either side of the road. Flags and banners waved wildly. Farm folk stood in their carts and wagons. Three and four children sat on the backs of plough horses. Mothers and fathers lifted the smallest up onto their shoulders in hopes that the little ones might catch a glimpse of Prince Margueryt—a memory to last a lifetime.

They shouted and cheered and waved as Mara rode out of the city, and even after she had passed from their sight through the rolling hills. They were still cheering after the last baggage cart had gone by.

That night, Dafythe turned restlessly in a dream. Images jumbled and fused: Mara’s knights rode past the palace gates, then became his father’s troops. Nearly one hundred years ago, he’d been so small that he couldn’t see over the parapet of the nursery balcony. It was the first time he’d seen his father go to war. The Empire’s finest knights rode out in full battle dress, the crests of their demesnes painted in bright colors on their shields. Kharles had lifted him up to watch them ride by.

“Where are they going?”

“To Naufarre,” Kharles answered. “Juan Maria’s playing his pranks again. Father’s determined to put him in his place for once and all.”

Eduarde was going to fight his upstart son. The war had been going on for one hundred years and there was no hope it would ever cease.

“Can’t we stop it?” he asked.

“Father never listens,” said Kharles. “When has he ever heard any opinion but his own? I envy the way you govern the Northlands, Davy. I’ve wished for years that I could do the same here, but Father always overrides my endeavors to make changes. He prefers to keep things just as they are.”

But of course Kharles had said that many years later when they were grown men. On the day of that long-ago parade—at Roquefort?—when the Redlyon had ridden for Naufarre, they couldn’t have been more than five and ten.

In the room behind them, young Kharles played chess with Ambris. Abruptly, the Prince leapt up and kicked over the chessboard. Ambris was winning, had just captured his queen.

“I never wanted it! I have other pieces!” cried Prince Kharles.

“You only want to play if you win,” Ambris replied calmly. “Better to have someone play for you and take the risks.”

Knights scattered on the floor, tiny warrior-maids with bronze-bound braids. There seemed to be dozens of them.

“Knights?” Dafythe wondered.

“Knights, queens, princes—we’re all pawns in this, Davy,” said his brother. “Except for Father and he’s quite mad. It’s never been our game.” Kharles smiled suddenly. “However, I think I have found a way to play.”

Dafythe tossed and turned in his bed. It was impossible find rest in this troubled sleep.

His bedchamber was dark; only a faint red glow came from the dying fire. He could hear the sounds of continued merry-making outside. His subjects were not yet abed. There were dances and bonfires in the city tonight and a banquet had been held at the Palace. Everyone at court knew that the Duke disapproved of this war but he wouldn’t spoil their pleasure by making a churlish display of his remarkable opinions. Dafythe had maintained his usual graciousness throughout the evening, but he excused himself soon after dinner, citing his age as the reason for foregoing the entertainments.

“Boy?” He peered down at the little lump on the cushioned bench at the foot of his bed, the herald in attendance. “Boy?”

The boy stirred. “M’Lord?”

“Which one are you?”

“Andemyon, if it please you.” The boy sat up, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “Are you ill, My Lord Duke? Shall I fetch the `pothecary?”

“No, I’m not ill. The room is chilly.”

Andemyon went to the hearth to toss a few sticks of kindling onto the glowing embers and poke the dying fire into renewed life. The firelight limned the boy’s delicate profile and shone red-gold through his rumpled hair. When he blinked, silvery glints flickered on his eyelashes.

“Will that be all, Your Grace?”

“Talk with me awhile, Lad. I cannot sleep.” The boy smoothed down his crushed tunic and sat at the foot of the bed with one foot tucked beneath him. “Tell me, do you wish you were going off to war with Prince Margueryt tonight?”

“No, My Lord. Father wouldn’t allow it.”

“You’ve no thought of being a squire or knight? Most boys your age dream of it, you know.”

“I know,” said Andemyon. “No.” He offered no further explanation.

How many little heralds had there been during his reign? Dafythe wondered. Hundreds. The first boys were now gray-bearded grandfathers. Some he recalled very well: Tuxsetau as an earnest, chubby child; Roodebroke’s youngest son, who was never where he ought to be; Rafenshighte, as sycophantic at fifteen as he was today. Others he couldn’t remember at all. For two years or three, they served him, then they passed on to other responsibilities. It was Dafythe’s duty to determine what position each was most suited for. He conversed with them whenever he found an opportunity, struggling through the mumbled Yes, M’Lord’s that came in response to his questions to learn what he could about each boy before starting them on their careers. The mind of the average young boy was by this time tediously familiar to Dafythe, and its potential easily divined.

Andemyon, however, remained a mystery. Dafythe suspected that a remarkable intelligence lay behind the child’s silence, but his efforts to draw the boy out brought few satisfying results. The little he did know intrigued him. This quiet boy who didn’t fit in with his fellows, the wizard’s ward, the astonishing soprano, the voracious reader—What could be made of him? Was there any place at court that could exercise his unusual talents?

“Andemyon, what am I do with you?”

“My Lord?”

“You know that you’ll be leaving me in another year or so, don’t you?” said Dafythe. “It is in my power to set you upon the path to your future. Have you given any thought to what you would like to be when you are grown?”

Andemyon blinked shyly, then leaned forward as if to impart a secret. “A wizard,” he confided. “But that’s impossible. I’m not magical.” Then he added helpfully: “You mustn’t worry for my future, My Lord Duke. My Lord Rafenshighte said that I might join the diplomatic office when I am no longer your herald.”

“Did he?” cried Dafythe. “Is that what he was speaking of so urgently to you this afternoon?”

“Just before the parade? Yes. He’s spoken of it before. I told him I would consider it.”

The Duke didn’t like this at all. “Do you wish to enter the diplomatic service?”

“I don’t know. What is it they do?”

“Rafenshighte and his staff are my liaison with the foreign ambassadors here in Pendaunzel and they represent the Dukedom in foreign courts. They work to establish harmony between nations and ensure that our interests are being served. They must make themselves pleasing to foreign dignitaries. It is a profession where personal charm and a gift for pretty speech are most useful.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” the boy answered. “But My Lord Rafenshighte promises–”

“Never mind Rafenshighte’s promises.”

“I am meant to get on at court, My Lord.”

“Is it what you wish, Andemyon, to be a successful courtier?”

“Father thinks it best. I’m not of an age to judge for myself and so I must trust the judgment of my elders, who are wise and know what is best for me.”

Dafythe nearly laughed aloud in surprise at this extremely proper sentiment. It was the sort of morally improving platitude young Normans were always taught, but he’d never before met any child who seemed to take it to heart.

“You do as you are instructed by your elders?” he asked. “My boy, at your age, that’s the majority of the population!”

“No, My Lord,” Andemyon replied in all seriousness. “Not all my elders are wise.”

“Then how do you choose?”

“I know.”

“You consult your own judgment?” Dafythe pursued, still amused.

“I obey those who act for my good. If someone means me harm, I won’t do as they ask.”

It was a simple, innocent view of life. The boy was as guileless as a kitten, trusting caresses and kind words as if they were true signs of an honest character. He could wander so easily into danger. “And what,” asked Dafythe, “do you imagine My Lord Rafenshighte means for you?”

“I don’t know,” the boy answered thoughtfully. “He is kind to me. His words are sweet. He says that he wishes to help me, and yet…” Andemyon sat upright. “My Lord, do you think Lord Rafenshighte isn’t honorable? You speak as if I ought not trust him.”

Dafythe was astonished by this sudden show of penetration so soon after he’d decided that the boy must be a complete naif. Innocent Andemyon was, but not a fool.

“I think Geoffrey means to serve himself,” the Duke replied with less condescension. “A youth might find Lord Rafenshighte’s patronage beneficial—a young man of his own sort, who is eloquent, ambitious, and self-interested. My lad, that is not you. I’m afraid you’re more likely to become a dupe in the plots of such a mercenary creature. You are not ambitious enough to promote yourself and I think you must be willing to sacrifice much to have another promote you. Even if you are prepared to do that, I cannot recommend you sacrifice anything to Rafenshighte.”

Andemyon nodded solemnly. “Then what shall I do, Your Grace?”

It was an honest appeal; Dafythe found himself on the side of Andemyon’s angels. He took up a weighty responsibility.

“I cannot see you as a court functionary,” he said after giving the matter some consideration. He could keep the boy under his personal protection for another year or so, but what then? “No, I think you would do best to seek a position of the court, yet not courtly. The Chancellor’s office. What do you think of that? Service as a clerk can be boring, I know, but Ambris will have your best interests at heart and he can put you in the way of many great opportunities. If you show an aptitude for legislative work, you might read law at a university. Maryesfont, perhaps?” This university, the only one in the Northlands, was run by the Sisters of the Holy Font of Wisdom.

“I’d like to go to Maryesfont,” Andemyon confessed. “My grandfather is Dean of St. Anne’s College and my great-aunt is prior at the Abbey.”

“Indeed!” said Dafythe. He hadn’t known that the boy’s family was so well-placed. The thesper’s family, he wondered, or Redmantyl’s?

Dafythe had initially proposed the university as a haven to keep the child safe until he outgrew his present unworldliness, but now he began to consider the idea more seriously. A university education would increase Andemyon’s capacities. He was intelligent—Dafythe was certain of that. The Sisters at Maryesfont would do more than guard his innocence; they would shape the unformed material of his mind, develop his critical judgment, sharpen his intellectual skills, and provide him with the knowledge he would need to make his way in the world. They would arm him for greater battles than any the boys who dreamed of knighthood would ever face.

This morning, Dafythe had questioned the definition of Man as a creature of reason. He’d spoken with bitterness then, with no hope that anything sane or rational in humanity would survive this absurd war, but now he began to hope for this young boy who sat watching him expectantly. Here was promise. Here were so many possibilities. He was sorry he wouldn’t live to see them fulfilled.

“Shall I write your father and see if this course is agreeable to him?” he asked. “Is it agreeable to you?”

“If it please Your Grace,” Andemyon answered properly. “I am meant to serve you.”

“And so you shall, Lad,” the Duke replied.

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