Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 18

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Andemyon’s remarkable beauty had already excited too much attention. Silent and solemn, blond and cherubic, he stood out among the other heralds—gangling, chubby, pre-adolescent lumps that boys of that age generally were. The heralds scorned him, the court ladies fussed over the pretty child and made a pet of him. People liked to see him at the forefront of processions, bearing Dafythe’s standard. The more avuncular and auntish members of the Council rumpled his curls and spoke to him when they met him on errands about the palace. Pleasant jests were made on how he would break maidens’ hearts in a few years. For a shy child, such attention was agonizing; Dafythe did not wonder why the boy hid away in the libraries and sought to go unnoticed whenever he could. And there were certain men…

Dafythe had seen the glances of some of his courtiers, ones he knew to be inclined toward Greekish tastes for youthful beauty. Most, he knew, were men of honor; they might gaze upon the lovely child, but they wouldn’t dream of declared admiration. Dafythe, known for his broadminded policies in many matters, could be quite severe when concerned with his courtiers’ personal conduct. The Duke was wont to overlook amorous intrigues among the nobility so long as they were seemly and discreet, but he would not allow open scandals. He was especially fierce in his protection of those in his service. No pages were buggered, no chambermaids accosted, no guards enticed into private chambers for noble sport. Dafythe meant his subjects to know that their sons and daughters could serve at the Palace without suffering corruption.

There were rumors of Rafenshighte’s behavior in town, though no specific charges had been laid against him. Dafythe doubted that even if the gossip were true, Rafenshighte was fool enough to attempt the seduction of a boy less than sixteen under the Duke’s eyes. Andemyon was, after all, Dafythe’s young kinsman, wearing his livery and under his personal protection.

Andemyon was also guarded by another power. A silver talisman a little larger than a shilling hung about his throat, resting against the back of the uppermost lion on his tabard. Lord Redmantyl’s mark was engraved upon it, declaring that this child was under the protection of a most powerful and vengeful wizard.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 17

Part 17

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The death of Penelope and the increasing infirmity of Marianne forced him to consider the end of his own existence. He might live a few years more, perhaps as many as ten, but he felt the impediments of a man at his century. He tired easily. He was long past the age when he could stay awake for days at a stretch. In his youth, an emergency such as the one he had faced this summer would have kept him at Council for twenty hours each day; now, he had to call for frequent recesses and he was often weary by midday. Though his physician promised that he was in excellent health, his joints ached, his sight deteriorated rapidly, his heart was not strong. Excellent health, perhaps, for a man of his age, but not the vigor he’d known all his life. He was not in his dotage, thank the Lord in Heaven, as his father had been in his last years. His mental faculties remained intact and his powers of concentration had not yet wavered, but Dafythe found himself thinking more and more of the past. Memories of his youth seemed more clear than recent events. The faces of people he hadn’t seen for decades—Rosa, Agnes, Gillefluere, his brother Kharles, his mother and the roaring Redlyon—were vivid before him.

He was losing control of his Council. This too was due to his age—not because he had grown infirm and lost the will necessary to command, but because all his court knew as well as he did that he was near the end of his reign and his heir would not continue his policies. Already, they sought her favor.

Young Lord Rafenshighte, who lounged near him now in the Manor garden, had been courting Mara. They made a strange couple, the foppish courtier and the rough-and-tumble, all too frank Shieldmaid, yet they were seen together so often that there was gossip about their pending betrothal. Though Mara preferred the company of her cousin Kat and that pretty little Shieldmaid captain to the young noblemen of Pendaunzel, she didn’t disdain them. She understood that marriage and the production of an heir were inevitable parts of her duty but, prior to this, no courtier had ever been so brave to dare make love to the stern Prince. Rafenshighte was more bold than most.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 16

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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.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 15

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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.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 14

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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.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 13

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Mara was like Eduarde Redlyon—that was the trouble. Dafythe had known it from his daughter’s squalling infancy. “How like her grandfather she is!” He’d heard the words too often. “His very image! See how she holds her tin sword! See how she sits her pony. She has his skill! His courage! Brave child, she does not cry out even when she falls and scrapes her knees! What a warrior she will be!” Eloquence was predicted in every childish lisp, bravery in each toddling step.

Like her grandfather, Mara was short-tempered. She could get angry so fast when she didn’t have her own way. Her voice rising—how like the Redlyon’s roars! Like the Redlyon, she was impulsive. She had his confidence that whatever she wished to do was right. Mara possessed the bravery of one who does not imagine death. Her ferocity when the spirit was upon her was frightening. Dafythe had heard from various sparring partners that his daughter was insensate to her own injuries. She fought on wounded until her opponent called a stop to the game. It was not remarkable to see her in bandages. Mara seemed unaware of the hard facts of reality, but she ploughed on all the same and never ran against the truth. His daughter, like his father, ignored the obstacles before them and shaped the world to suit their liking. These were the qualities the Redlyon’s subjects had most admired in their Emperor and sought among his descendants.

But those who worshiped the memory of the Redlyon hadn’t truly known him. The common-folk, the soldiers, the rural nobility of Eduarde’s day had had little opportunity to view their Emperor’s private life: they saw him in public ceremonies and pageants, heard his commands on the battlefield, heard his proclamations read. They listened breathlessly to the news of his latest victory. They sang ballads to his memory even before his death. The Redlyon’s legend grew swiftly beyond the living man.

Eduarde’s closest friends and advisors were long dead now. Even so, none had known the late Emperor so well as his sons. From Ouestminstre to the Louvre to Holyrood to Fotheringhay, the court of the Redlyon traveled regularly from one royal residence to another, the Princes Kharles and Dafythe always in their imperious father’s wake. Eduarde kept his sons with him from the time they were old enough to travel because he didn’t trust nursery-maids and tutors to see them properly brought up. His sisters alone had his trust. Only Norman royal blood was fit to instruct and guide Norman princelings.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 12

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“Why not?” the Prince demanded the next morning.

Dafythe met his daughter’s indignant gaze with his own more mild but indomitable one. “The time isn’t right,” he answered. “Wait ’til Kat has gone to London and brought back Kharles’s response. If the Emperor calls to increase our troops at the border, I shall grant you command of the garrisons then. Not before. I won’t be the one to provoke this war.”

“Juan’s started it! He’s been straining toward this break for so long as I can recall. He invites war. He begs for it.”

The Duke sighed. “Yes. If only you and Kharles weren’t so eager for it yourselves.”

“You don’t understand. You have no warrior-heart. When you were knighted, Father, did you receive your vision?”

“No.”

“Have you sought a talisman since?”

“I’ve never taken a battle-name, nor personal arms.”

“You’ve never fought. Your heroes are scholars and Church Doctors.” She was aware that she sounded improperly contemptuous and quickly amended her statements. “I do not fault you for it. You simply don’t understand why such things are important to me. Kharles and I are not aggressive, though we ache to strike before we are first struck. It’s impossible to remain meek before such antagonism! And what is wrong with an aggressive campaign? The Empire is built upon them. Do you think we would stand so strong as we do today if not for our ancestors’ successful conquests?”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 11

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The Duke’s court customarily celebrated Holy Week with somber ceremonies. This year, however, the possibility of war occupied everyone’s thoughts and the nightly rituals recalling the sufferings of Christ were not the usual sorrowful enactments of ancient tradition. A restless energy, barely suppressed, enervated the court. The sobs, the torn shirts, the breast-beatings had a strange intensity. Prayers were especially passionate. Even on Holy Saturday, after the candles had been put out on Good Friday and the hours of silence began, urgent whispers could be heard in the dim corridors.

On Sunday, this hushed energy burst forth. The chapel bells pealed. Lights were lit again. The fast ended in feast and the court exploded in joyous laughter, not all for the sake of the Resurrection.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 10

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Part 9; 8; 7; 6; 5; 4; 3; 2; 1

At the beginning of the Council meeting the next morning, Dafythe announced: “It is time that we form an answer to my nephew the Emperor. I’ve decided to send Kat as our courier. She will act as our representative and determine what services Kharles requires. My nephew shall know that the Northlands is prepared to support the Empire fully in this matter.” Dafythe didn’t appear pleased with his own decision, but loyalty to the Emperor was part of his duty as an imperial governor. He could not balk.

“Father, may I ask if my recommendation is included in our message?” Mara inquired.

“You wish to remind Kharles of the portion of the treaty which allows the Empire to claim Terrojos in the face of Naufarre’s defection. Granted: it has been done.” He gestured to Martleanne; the secretary lifted her notebook to show that Mara’s suggestion was indeed included, although Mara sat across the table, too far away to read the minuscule writing. “I am aware that you wish to invade the Spanish territory to our south,” Dafythe continued. “That, Daughter, I cannot support. It is an aggressive act of warfare, and I retain some hope of resolving this crisis, maintaining Naufarre as a Norman land, and keeping my wayward brother at least nominally a Norman governor, all without bloodshed. The threat of invasion must be sufficient to thwart Spain’s allegiance with Juan at this time.”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 9

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Part 9; 8; 7; 6; 5; 4; 3; 2; 1

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“Magician, can you see for us?”

Mara had sought out her father’s court magician, Peter Scholar. Ambris went with her. They had both been invited to witness Andemyon’s adoption ceremony that evening in the Duke’s apartments, but Mara thought that this was more important.

Peter was startled when the Duke’s children entered the little library on the top floor of the Hall of Record, where generations of court magicians had formed their own collection. This was his favorite private place in all the palace, but he immediately set down his pipe and the book he’d chosen for his evening’s study, and made them welcome as if he received guests in his own chambers.

He was a young man, slight, with a sandy beard and wispy fair hair that he grew long but bound back in an attempt to keep it from his eyes. English by birth, educated at the College of Magic at Uittenberg, he wore the voluminous moss-green robes of a university master, which in fact he was.
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