58. The Words of a King
The Words of a King
After the long night, nearly all in the palace at Plenmont slept past dawn, excluding the servants. It was the day upon which the king would summon his advisors to counsel him concerning the situation in Hæthiod, though it was clear from the king’s deep slumber that the council would not be held any time soon. In contrast to her son, Sigrid had woken not long after sunrise, forcing her handmaidens to do as well. Once she was suitably attired, she dismissed her attendants and waited in solitude in her room, drinking only a little wine and eating a few white cakes as her breakfast.
There was a knock on the door, and the actor Alain entered. He walked with his usual confidence, though his pace was slower than usual. Spotting Sigrid, he made a deep bow as refined as any courtier. “My lady,” he greeted her, to which she replied with a nod.
“You are no doubt wondering why I have summoned you,” Sigrid declared.
“I am happy to serve,” Alain simply told her with a charming smile.
Sigrid cast him a scrutinising look. “You hide the fact that you are nervous very well. Must be the actor in you.”
“My lady,” Alain replied, “what in my appearance would ever give you cause to believe I am nervous?”
“Nothing,” Sigrid admitted with a sardonic smile, “but all men are nervous when summoned by me. Even my son.” Alain’s lips parted, but no reply passed through them, and after a moment of silence, Sigrid continued. “You need not be worried on this morning, however. I require your assistance.”
Alain seemed to regain his footing, and he inclined his head with a slight flourish. “As said, happy to serve the queen mother.”
“I need your skills as an orator,” Sigrid elaborated. “I need a speech to convince a king.”
Around noon, the alderman of Plenmont was preparing to leave for the king’s council. He was dressed in his finest garbs, fur-lined and with the golden chain of his office around his waist. A servant entered just as another was putting the alderman’s cape on him. “There is a royal carriage from the palace for you, master,” the servant explained.
“Very well,” Fabian nodded. “Tell the driver I will be out in a moment.” While the servant left to do this, Fabian collected some papers from his desk, each filled with rows of numbers. Emptying a small cup of wine, the alderman glanced around and walked outside.
He gave a brief nod to the driver of the carriage, who opened the door for him. Stepping inside, Fabian saw that the interior was already occupied. A young woman, whose appearance signalled nobility of the highest rank, awaited him. This left him in an awkward position, stooping inside the carriage; he was unable to bow properly, yet courtesy also prevented him from sitting down.
“Please, alderman, be seated,” Theodora said graciously.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Fabian replied, inclining his head and taking position opposite her. Outside, the driver set the carriage into motion.
“You know who I am,” she remarked.
“Although the palace is not my usual haunt, Your Majesty would be recognisable to anybody who has seen you but once,” he told her, which made her smile.
“I see that words as well as numbers are your strength.”
“May I ask what has brought Your Majesty to grace me with her company?”
“I wished to speak with you in private before the king’s council was held. But you could no doubt guess as much,” Theodora declared.
“It was the most obvious answer,” Fabian admitted.
“You can also guess what my intentions with this meeting are, perhaps,” Theodora suggested.
“You wish for me to counsel the king in support of military intervention in Hæthiod,” the alderman lay out.
“The guilds are well served by you, alderman,” the queen flattered him.
He glanced out of the window at the streets of Plenmont quickly passing by; the royal insignia on the carriage meant that none dared to slow their progress or hinder it in any way. “I must advise the king to do what is best for Korndale. From the perspective of the guilds.”
“I understand,” Theodora nodded. “That is why I bring you an offer. To change the perspective of the guilds.”
“Once this war has ended, trade needs to resume, including new commissions on salt trade.”
“Sold primarily to Hæthian merchants,” Fabian retorted, “and only at a steep price to Dalemen.”
“Not if the Dalemen march to war in Hæthiod,” Theodora promised. “Half the commissions will be sold to Dalish traders, at the same price as what any Hæthian must pay.”
Fabian hesitated. “I have your word as queen?”
“In writing,” Theodora added, pulling out a small letter and unfolding it. It bore the seal of Hæthiod. She handed it to the alderman to read. “If Korndale comes to Hæthiod’s aid, my written promise to the guilds of Korndale takes effect.”
Fabian’s eyes ran over the document before he folded it and put it with his other papers. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I will keep this in mind.”
Shortly after, the carriage reached the palace in Plenmont, issuing its passengers.
The alderman was the first of the advisors to arrive at the council; a servant for pouring wine and also the seneschal Aurelius were already present. He took a seat, placing his papers on the table and sorting through them while waiting. The marshal of the Order came as the second; he greeted Fabian with a gruff sound and sat as well. Flavius, the prince of Aquila came third, sitting down next to the marshal; they exchanged a few glances and hushed sentences. Sigrid was next to arrive, prompting all the others to rise as she entered. They had only just sat down when the king finally graced them with his presence, making all of them stand up yet again.
“Let us proceed,” Adelard declared impatiently, holding out his cup to have it filled. “What are we discussing today?”
“Whether to send our armies into Hæthiod in support of the Order, Your Majesty,” Aurelius helpfully explained to the king, who gave a slight groan and began to massage one of his temples.
“Your Majesty,” the prince of Aquila began. “In these uncertain times, we must look to our own defences first. The outlanders might march on Florentia next, Adalrik is engulfed in war and cannot be relied upon, and the rivermen are ever eyeing Tricaster with a lustful gaze.”
“Surely they would not dare,” Sigrid interjected. “There has been peace for centuries, and Korndale is strong. Those cowards only dare attack if they smell weakness.”
“Precisely why we must keep our troops at home,” Aquila retorted. “Sir Ferdinand agrees with me, I am sure.”
The marshal cleared his throat, looking slightly uncomfortable as all eyes fell on him. “Prince Flavius speaks the truth. The soldiers of Order are meant to keep the peace, and they can only do so while remaining in Tricaster – Korndale,” he finished haltingly.
“As marshal, as a knight, you feel no obligation to aid your brothers fighting in Hæthiod?” the king’s mother asked acerbically.
“I am certain they are up to the task,” Ferdinand answered, though his voice conveyed little certainty if any.
“Until commanded by a higher authority, the marshal is simply doing as he was charged,” Flavius spoke brusquely. “Protecting Korndale and its borders from being violated.”
“Neither of you were present at our feast last night,” Sigrid suddenly exclaimed, changing tune. “You did not hear the Song of Sigvard being sung. Yet you are familiar with my son’s illustrious ancestor, no doubt.” The last sentence was directed at no one in particular.
“What are you saying, Mother?” Adelard asked, though he did not sound particularly interested in the answer.
“Would they sing songs of Sigvard a thousand years later if he had stayed behind? If he had been deaf when the call to arms was sounded?” she asked sharply, rising to her feet. “One man, alone, he braved the enemy beyond our borders, defying death and danger! For his valour, the people bowed to him from every corner of the world, and still they bow to his descendants!”
“My lady, this is no song or a play in a stage house –” Flavius’ objection was not allowed to reach conclusion.
“Is there any king or man more worthy to be the saviour of the realms than you, my son? You, the dragonborn king, in whose veins the blessed blood of Sigvard flows!” Sigrid continued.
“Dragonborn king,” Adelard repeated, his voice acquiring a dreaming undertone.
“One day, the song at solstice will begin with the words such as these,” his mother carried on. “When all the lands beset by foes, when hope was lost and wept in night, when every realm in deadly throes, one king alone was shining light, burning bright in all his might.”
Silence followed Sigrid’s declaration, which was the only reason why Fabian’s quiet words could be heard by any. “My lady, I never knew you were a poet.”
“War requires more than willing hearts,” Flavius pointed out with a sour expression. “It requires men, weapons, and provisions. With all the disruptions in trade, we are sorely lacking, not to mention that the heavy expenses that our cities must bear for such a campaign might leave us in ruinous conditions. Is that not true, master alderman?”
Eyes turned towards Fabian. He spoke slowly, but with deliberate, careful words. “The guilds will do what the realm demands. The realms of Adalmearc depend on each other. As they have need of us in Hæthiod, so have we need of them in Korndale.”
“You put the matter into words with excellence,” Sigrid exclaimed satisfied.
“Or his tongue is simply moved by greed,” Flavius all but roared. “That is what matters to these coin counters, stacking every petty they can find! I do not know what wealth you think awaits –”
“Prince Flavius,” Adelard spoke with unusual determination; enough that king’s voice silenced his vassal. “Your opinion is known. Sir Ferdinand, if I commanded the armies of Korndale to march abroad, could I safely entrust the defence of the realm to you meanwhile?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” the marshal replied quickly before receiving a harsh glance from Flavius. “I mean, not that I advise you to. March your armies abroad, that is,” he stammered. “You can certainly rely on me,” he finally said, before any remaining words turned to mumble in his mouth.
“Prince Flavius,” Adelard said mildly, turning to look at the lord of Aquila. “I place military command in your experienced hands. We will gather the forces of the three principalities, and you shall lead them to Hæthiod to liberate the realm in my name.”
“As you command,” Aquila replied with bitterness inscribed on his features.
“Glad that is settled. I am hungry,” the king declared. “Aurelius, have something brought to me,” he ordered before he left the chamber. The other present hurried to rise as the king did and left after him, each wearing a different expression.
The news quickly spread through the palace, including to the Hæthian exiles.
“Finally,” Theodora sighed. “Maybe this nightmare will reach its end soon.”
“All our nightmares,” Leander muttered.
“I wonder what swayed the king,” Hubert contemplated. “It is hard to imagine what reasons would weigh so heavily to persuade him.”
“Hard for you to imagine,” Irene said with a slight sneer, but even her voice had little edge to it in this moment. “What matters is that he was swayed. Next solstice we may celebrate in our own home.”
“As long as we celebrate in different ends of the palace,” Leander added, though his scornful remark seemed made out of habit rather than genuine disdain.
“Poor Isabel,” Beatrice spoke. “All she had was revenge, and now it seems she has been robbed of that as well.”
“Her scheme was hare-brained,” Irene scoffed. “As if the king of Korndale would enter war with Adalrik, even under present circumstances. The jarls would tear him to pieces.”
“Poor Isabel,” Beatrice reiterated. She was alone in her sentiments, however; the remainder of the company were gripped by feelings of exuberance alone.
Later that day, after having procured a meal for the king and seen to his many other needs and wants, the seneschal met privately with the queen mother in her chambers.
“Have the king isolated from the lady Isabel,” Sigrid told Aurelius. “There is no need to let her gain any further influence over him.”
“As you say, my lady,” the seneschal bowed. He hesitated for a moment. “I was surprised by the council held today.”
“There was always great risk waiting for us in Adalrik,” the queen mother admitted. “How would the Order react, the southern jarls, the northern jarls? A better opportunity presented itself.”
“You would know best, my lady.”
“Another thing before you go,” Sigrid suddenly continued. “One of the travelling actors is a spy. Have them all thrown in the dungeons until we can sort out who it is.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Although the decision to mount a campaign into Hæthiod would carry many consequences, little activity ensued in the following days. The year was still deep in winter, and little would be done before spring approached other than couriers sent to the other major cities of Korndale, Tricaster and Florentia, instructing them to prepare for war. The Order had many posts along the roads of Adalmearc, allowing their missives to be swiftly carried to their destination, and at times personal letters from military camps also were also transported by their couriers.
It was due to this that a message from the Order encampment in Hæthiod, near the border to Ingmond, travelled to the keep in Plenmont. From here, it continued to the palace and found its way into Leander’s hands. The king opened the letter eagerly and read its contents; his eyes widened and he turned quickly towards his wife.
“Read this,” he urged her, shaking the paper at her.
“A letter from Troy?” she enquired with a frown, taking it from him.
“Read it,” he reiterated.
As her eyes skimmed down the page, she suddenly threw her head up to look at her husband. “Can this be true? What does this mean?”
“I am not sure,” Leander admitted, “but I cannot wait to hear Troy explain.” A grin began to spread across his face.