Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha) (4 page)

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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“My dear Count, you are not as old as you pretend.”

“Perhaps not. And yet, I find I have no patience for this young Phoenix.”

“What has she done?”

“She has given away, to the House of the Hawk, certain counties
that were promised to the Lord Morrolan, whom I consider to be a gentleman of the first order; indeed, he made such a strong impression on me that, were it not for the differences in our age, I could think of him as a friend. He reminded me of—”

“Yes? Of—”

“Well, if truth be told, of Lord Adron.”

“Oh!”

Khaavren shrugged. “I know that to speak his name is to conjure an evil, both to the Empire and to myself, for he could, indeed, be called the author of all of my misfortune. And yet, I always liked him, and thought him an honorable gentleman, if headstrong and misguided. And Aerich feels the same way, which seems to me to prove the case.”

“Oh, my dear Count, I do not dispute with you on Adron’s character.”

“As I have said, Morrolan reminds me of him. And, even if he did not, it was wrong of her to take back what she had given him.”

“And so you have given her your resignation?”

“And she has accepted it, yes.”

“And did you tell her why?”

“I told her that I was old and tired.”

“And did she believe you?”

“No, but I wore her down with repetition. I did not presume to tell Her Majesty that I judged her actions.”

“And you were right not to, only—”

“Yes?”

“My lord husband, I do not think that is what is disturbing your peace of mind. Or, at least, that is not all of it.”

Khaavren started to speak, stopped, then shrugged. “Perhaps not all of it.”

“It has not been easy for you, since the Disaster, my lord.”

“Nor has it for you, madam wife.”

“Oh, as for me, you know I am always cheerful. But I worry about you. And now this latest blow—”

“With Her Majesty?”

“You know that is not the matter to which I refer.”

Khaavren lowered his eyes. “I know,” he said. “But let us not discuss it.”

“On the contrary, my lord. I think we should discuss nothing else.”

“Very well, let us discuss it. What else could I have done?”

“What if it had been you?”

“Me? How could it be me? Would I have wanted to marry outside of my House?”

“Nearly.”

“What do you tell me?”

“My lord husband, do you remember our first conversation?”

“The Gods! I think so! Your gown showed most of your back. It was red, with gold lace about the collar and the sleeves.”

Daro smiled. “Your memory is excellent. What else do you remember?”

“I remember that you thought I was arresting you.”

“Yes. And you thought I was a Lyorn.”

“That is true, I did.”

“And it seems to me that, even believing I was a Lyorn, you spoke with tolerable freedom.”

“Was it displeasing to you?”

“Oh, not in the least; and the proof is that I am here. But, nevertheless, if I
had
been a Lyorn—”

“Were you a Lyorn, you would hardly be who you are, and I should not have felt as I did, and as I do.”

“These ifs are useless.”

“With this I agree.”

“But you were too hard with our son, too inflexible. That is my belief.”

Khaavren bowed his head once more, at last saying, “I do not know.”

“Well, then?”

“Madam, what do you suggest I do?”

“What do you always do when you are troubled in your mind?”

“I do not know. It seems that I have been troubled in my mind for these last two and a half hundred years, and I do not know what I should have done were it not for you.”

“Well, in the old days, were you never disturbed in your mind?”

“Why, yes, I think I was, at times.”

“And what did you do on those occasions?”

“In the old days, I would speak with Aerich, who always seemed able to ease my heart.”

“And then?”

“You think I should visit Aerich?”

“Why not?”

“You ask a good question,” admitted Khaavren. “Perhaps I should indeed.”

The Countess smiled, and, after a moment, Khaavren was forced to smile back. “Well, madam? What is it you have not yet told me?”

“I have spoken with him.”

“You? You have spoken with Aerich?”

“I sent him a message by the post some days ago.”

“A message? What message did you send him?”

“I merely explained that—”

“Yes?”

“That you would very much wish to see him.”

“Astonishing,” murmured Khaavren. “Madam, you are adorable.”

Daro smiled and lowered her eyes.

Chapter the Seventieth

How the King of Elde
Met with Certain Ambassadors
And Practiced Diplomacy

C
orthina Fi Dalcalda had been born some thirteen hundred years before as the youngest son of the Dalcalda family, which was, without question, one of the wealthiest on Elde, and, by their own reckoning, the house with the greatest claim on the royal throne after its then occupants, the family of Fintarre. By the time three hundreds of years had passed since his birth he was, instead, the only eligible son of the Dalcalda family; and the Fintarre family, except for Her Majesty Queen Legranthë, were no more.

The rumors spreading from this sudden blossoming of position are boundless, as must inevitably happen when an obscure individual in a powerful family suddenly becomes more powerful—there are stories of rare poisons, curses, assassination, and slow, carefully contrived plots. The truth, in fact, is far more prosaic: Most of the Fintarre family were destroyed, as, indeed, were so many others of the court of Elde, by a most shockingly virulent strain of the Innuthra Plague that visited the royal city and took thousands of lives before an effective quarantine could be placed, and Her Majesty was saved only by great exertions, and the work of the Imperial Physicker, Rendra, sent by courtesy of His Imperial Majesty Tortaalik. As for the Dalcalda family, there is even less mystery: his sister, the eldest, was drowned when the
Heartshope
was lost at sea with all hands; another brother had said all of his life that he had no interest in government, or the exercise of power, but wished instead to follow his vocation as a natural philosopher, for which reason, as expected, he swore his Oath of Renunciation at the age of two hundred and took ship to Greenaere, where he and several companions embarked on a course of categorizing and comparing the indigenous plant life along the coast; the author has no doubt that it will not be long before an interesting monograph appears
in Elde’s library, and we can only hope a copy is sent to the Imperial library as well. This left only one brother, who was disqualified for the simple reason that he was younger then Corthina. For this reason, then, upon the eventual death of Queen Legranthë, Corthina became one of the three or four leading contenders for the throne in the most natural way; and he took the throne upon the disappearance of the other claimants during the two weeks that followed the Queen’s death. (The exact reason for the disappearance we cannot know for certain, as His Majesty Corthina decided that public funds ought not be squandered in an investigation into the causes.)

As a king, Corthina was far from the worst ruler one can imagine. He at once secured his relationship with the Empire through an exchange of gifts, including the famous Black Pearl of Diorath (which was, alas, like so many other treasures, lost in Adron’s Disaster), instituted certain measures of sanitation to reduce the plagues, and caused various roads to be improved, thus making trade within his kingdom easier and more productive. Once informed of the Disaster, he gave tacit permission to reavers to raid the Dragaeran shore, but made it clear that these reavers had no official sanction, which insured that, should the Empire unexpectedly emerge again, he could not be blamed; for this service he charged the reavers a tax that was little more than token. He also, with the threat of the Empire gone, reduced the size of Elde’s standing army for the first time in recorded history.

Physically, he was one of the more imposing of Elde’s rulers—an extraordinarily tall, broad-shouldered man, with masses of dark, curling hair on a great head, distinguished by flashing dark eyes and wide mouth; it has been suggested by many reputable authorities that his success—and no one questions his success—was caused as much by his physical appearance as by his undoubted skills as a ruler, administrator, and diplomatist.

It is in the last of these capacities that we may observe him now, seated at a table of the finest white marble veined with silver. Across from him is a certain Countess Gardimma—her face wrinkled, her grey eyes bright beneath eyebrows that trail off to her temples like the wings of a daythief—of the House of the Athyra.

“Your Majesty,” said Gardimma, “I cannot dispute you. Everything Your Majesty does me the honor to point out to me is true. That is to say, the Empress has only a skeletal army, and few of the Houses
have as yet given her their declarations of loyalty, and she has not even a completed palace in which to live. Nevertheless—”

“Well?” said the king. “Nevertheless?”

“She has the Orb.”

“Ah, yes. That is true. I do not question you on that.”

“And we contend that, with the Orb, everything else must inevitably fall into place.”

“Inevitably?”

“That is our contention, yes.”

“And yet, I will tell you in all honesty—for out of respect for the Orb, if for no other reason, I will be honest—it is better for us if there is no Empire. You perceive, you are large, and we are small, and the Empire has always been hungry for land. And so we are forced to maintain an army that numbers a terribly large proportion of our population, just to keep from being swallowed up. Without the Empire so hungrily looking at us from across the channel, why, I have been able to reduce the army, and we are able to go on with our peaceful lives. And by giving you recognition, it would seem to me that I am aiding in the restoration of the Empire. Do you understand my position, madam?”

“Another might observe, Your Majesty, that your peaceful lives include raids upon our shores, but I say nothing like this, because I understand this happens against Your Majesty’s strict decrees.”

The king bowed his head in acquiescence.

“I understand Your Majesty’s position,” continued Gardimma. “However, permit me to observe that everything will be much more agreeable, after the Empire is fully restored, if Her Majesty feels that you aided her now. And we, all of us, desire nothing more than that relations between the two nations be agreeable; is that not so?”

“Oh, of a certainty madam. You make a strong argument, and I promise you I will consider it carefully.”

“And then?”

“Very well. Give me thirty hours to consider all that you have said. Return to-morrow, and we will speak more.”

Gardimma bowed low, and said, “I thank Your Majesty for taking the time to listen to me. Until to-morrow.”

“Until to-morrow, Countess.”

His Majesty pulled upon a rope, whereupon a guard came in to escort the Countess out of the room. The King remained there for
some few minutes, then, pulling the bell again, addressed the guard who entered with the words “If the Countess is out of the palace, bring in the next visitor.”

The guard bowed and went off to do so, with the result that, a few minutes later, Lord Udaar was announced. This Dragonlord, whom we hope the reader remembers from his duty of escorting Illista to the mainland, bowed to the King and said, “I thank Your Majesty for being so good as to see me.”

“My friend,” said Corthina, “for so I hope I may call you—”

“Your Majesty does me too much honor.”

“Not at all, not at all. My friend, the ambassador from Her Imperial Majesty, Zerika the Fourth, has just left.” The reader may observe here the art of negotiation, as Corthina, by using this title for Zerika, at once put the ambassador on the defensive, as it were.

Udaar, for his part, ignored this thrust, recognizing it for the tool of negotiation that it was. He merely said, “Ah, has she?”

Corthina nodded. “She wishes me to recognize Zerika as the Empress of Dragaera.”

“Well, I am not startled by this.”

“But, you perceive, that is much the same as your own request.”

“Oh, Your Majesty. I wish a great deal more than that!”

“Well, what do you wish? Come, let us see.”

“I wish for troops to attack the mainland.”

“Well, but you are aware that the army has been much reduced, and I am only now rebuilding it?”

“There will be time.”

“Oh, as for time, yes. But consider the risk I run.”

“Your Majesty, consider what you have to gain.”

“Let us see, then. What have I to gain?”

“In the first place, there will be no danger of invasion.”

“How, will there not? But what is to prevent you from turning on us as soon as you have your Empire secure?”

“We are prepared to give you guarantees in the form of treaties.”

“Well, that is something, to be sure. What next?”

“Of course, this has no effect on the Crown, but it will please some of your subjects, no doubt, that, during the inevitable confusion, it will be possible for them to continue the coastal raids they have been enjoying for the last two hundreds of years—although we should ask
that Adrilankha be exempted from these raids, as that is where we should like to establish the new palace.”

“Very well, sir. Go on. What next?”

“Shipping, Your Majesty.”

“Shipping! Now there is a subject that touches me very closely.”

“Then let us speak of it, Your Majesty.”

“Yes, indeed, let us speak of it. What do you say of shipping?”

“That we will give up our monopoly on trade with Greenaere.”

“You will give up trade with Greenaere?”

“Oh, no, Your Majesty. Only the monopoly.”

“Ah, so then, we will compete?”

“Exactly. Ships from Elde to Greenaere will no longer be interfered with in any way.”

“I do not deny that what you offer is a powerful inducement.”

BOOK: Sethra Lavode (Viscount of Adrilankha)
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