She’d seen very little of her father since she’d returned from the Redlands. Though Dafythe appeared at public ceremonies, such as Wednesday’s Mass, and held audience in the small reception hall in his apartments, he had withdrawn from the court. When he wasn’t summoned by his duties, he shut himself in his private chambers.
When Mara ventured to the Duke’s apartments, she found Martleanne occupied with petitions Dafythe had received from various court factions while the little herald Andemyon played chess with his lord. The Prince sat down without speaking. She already felt herself to be an intruder upon Dafythe’s peace; it would be discourteous to interrupt and she was anxious to avoid displeasing her father before she made her request.
Mara watched the game, not understanding the elaborate maneuvers her father and the boy conducted with the decorative little warriors of ivory and ebony. She never saw the point of chess; it seemed a feeble imitation of warfare. She thought it odd that Dafythe enjoyed such a game.
Suddenly, the boy laughed out loud, seized a pointed-capped black token, and slid it across half the board to flank the cluster of white castle-keeps and horse-heads surrounding a larger, crowned piece on Dafythe’s side of the board.
“Check,” said Dafythe, smiling. “And if I move out of the bishop’s path, your queen’s knight awaits. Clever lad!”
“You let him win,” Martleanne said mildly.
“Indeed I have not. The boy learns even more quickly than you did.” He rumpled Andemyon’s curls. “Gramercies for a delightful game. You may go now. Martleanne, attend to those tomorrow. Go to your supper. I have one last petition to receive.”
The Duke gathered up the chess pieces. “You haven’t been to visit me here often lately, Daughter. What have you been up to?”
He knew. Ambris hadn’t told—she trusted her brother’s promise—but Dafythe knew her well enough to understand that she wouldn’t sit still at Pendaunzel for long. Surely he had observed her whispered conference with Bel at Mass and guessed what they spoke of.
She told the truth. “Father, I’m going to lead another campaign.”
Mara expected immediate disapproval, but Dafythe only said, “Kharles has called you to aid him in Naufarre, has he? I’m not surprised. I understand that our Emperor doesn’t share your battle-prowess, nor your good fortune.”
“No, Father, Kharles hasn’t called upon me.”
“You form your own plans, then. Where do you intend to go?” He sorted his pawns, black and white, and ranged them down opposite sides of the board.
“The westward march?” The Duke laughed. “Now what has Santiago done to warrant invasion?”
“The Spanish are still our enemies,” Mara answered. “Even now, they make war with our Emperor in Naufarre. The loss of the Redlands wasn’t enough to quiet them. Father, if I have to take every bit of Spanish land in Atlantea to extinguish the threat of them, I will do it. I can take all of Atlantea if I wish– ”
The Duke put the last chess-piece into its proper place. “Mara, no. I will not allow you to campaign for no better reason than to have a fight.”