Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 10 - Part 1
"I have denied Albion
my presence at your behest, Lajos." Festil stretched his legs
toward the brazier and leaned back in the padded leather chair. "At
least for the evening. Now will you please give me something besides
vague warnings of disaster or let me go to bed?"
Lajos bowed stiffly. The cold was obviously making his old joints ache. "My King, I do not give vague warnings. What I have seen this night could throw all of your plans into disarray. The work you and your royal brother have done over the past several years will be thrown to the wolves should my fears come to pass."
"Then give me something to act upon. No more ghosts and shadows!"
"The danger should be readily apparent to you, Sire. So long as your plans are not fully accomplished, you remain vulnerable! First," Lajos lifted one index finger for emphasis as he had when Festil was a child and being slow at his lessons, "so long as you have an invasion force poised in Corwyn with little to do you hold a tiger on a leash that wears increasingly fragile. Duke Rhydon has experienced more troubles of late than he can control. His tenants are near revolt, the mercenaries have not been paid as was agreed, and he loses coin by the day to rebel thieves. Within a scant month, he will be unable to contain the situation."
Another finger rose beside the first. "Second, the royal houses you have not yet pacified grow more restive. They begin to suspect they will soon become targets for your ambition. You cannot allow them to formulate plans or prepare opposition before you move."
A third finger joined its brothers before the king could interrupt. "Third, the situation in Tolan can no longer be passed off as simple regency. Albion is long grown and soon will be married. Your brother's lieutenants hold the estates now, but they face increased resistance from the late duke's men. And many of them are not to be trifled with, Deryni or no."
"If you think I cannot manage a few minor details your opinion of me must be quite low." Festil set his cup on the floor and rose, letting his velvet robes shroud his legs. "And well you know my brother has no plans that Albion ever regain control of his duchy. The incomes from land and trade are too rich to allow them to pass from our coffers."
Lajos shook his head. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the floor. "Sire, you may underestimate Albion Cammeron. He is more and more his father's son. Realizing you must have an heir of his loins to secure Howicce and Tolan both under your control you dare not wait another year to remove him from the picture."
Festil waved away that worry. "Albion still fears the horrors of his father's death. He should not worry, for I have no plans to execute him. When the time comes he will die quickly. I have become as fond of him as I am of my own son."
"Speaking of your sons, Sire, brings me to my next point." Another long finger jabbed the air. "Young Festil is no longer a boy easy to control. He rapidly becomes a threat to both his own future and to yours."
At this the king laughed. "Why should you believe my own son would choose to work against me? Old man, you see shadows and jump at them."
Lajos's lips tightened over his worn teeth. "My king, I but tell you what I know. Your oldest son is little like either you or your royal father in ambition. Were he not the image of your youth I would accuse your queen of adultery. He takes notions of honor and personal virtue too seriously, and does not think of the practicalities of the world."
"He is young. He will learn."
Lajos shook his head. "Your second son has already learned the lessons of necessity. It is a pity Imre is not your heir."
Festil allowed his shields to flare brilliantly in the dimly lit room. "Do you threaten my heir, Lajos? I would not have thought you so fond of stake and blades."
Lajos did not flinch at the display of royal power. "Sire, my life is given to the service of my house. I point out danger where I see it. You may do with my warnings as you will, but if you do not consider them you will have naught to blame but yourself."
"And consider them I will. But you go too far with the last, old man. Now get you to Rhydon." Festil marshaled his anger and returned to his seat, the better to seem unconcerned. "Tell my old friend the plans move forward more quickly. He must be ready to send his army across the water by Christmas week, for by then we will be secured here.
"And send Lord Nicklos to me before you leave. I have a task for that young man also."
As soon as Lajos left the room, Festil went to the ornate chest where his secretary kept the writing supplies. He laid a smooth sheet of vellum on the table, carved a fresh tip on the quill and began to write with quick, sure strokes.
He finished the letter just as a knock at his door announced the arrival of Lord Nicklos.
"Good evening, my lord. I have a task for you." Festil dusted the letter with powdered talc. "Not a difficult one, and the reward may please you."
Nicklos bowed. "Command me, Sire."
"Take this to my brother in Beldour. It will explain everything. And you will escort my dear aunt back to us." Festil let himself smile. It felt good to have everything under his control. "She should, after all, be here for the wedding of her only child."
"Yes, my king." Lord Nicklos hesitated before he spoke again. "Sire, may I speak of the heiress of Derry?"
Festil nodded. He knew what was coming. Obviously this youngster put far more importance on the disposition of a woman than he should.
"It seems Sir Josce is having difficulty bringing the lady to the altar. Perhaps it is time for another to be given a chance to win her favor."
The king was not fooled by Nicklos' even tones. The arrogant young lord had no intention of wedding with a human heiress, no matter how wealthy she might be. Obviously his sole interest was in bedding the comely wench.
Not that it mattered. If such a concession would keep Nicklos and his powerful family firmly in line Festil thought the price small enough.
"Return speedily from Beldour with the dowager Duchess and you may do as you like with the woman you desire."
Nicklos took his leave faster than the king would have thought seemly. Clearly something in the young heiress had piqued the knight's interest.
Nicklos left the royal solar so quickly he nearly plowed into Prince Festil. After a stammered apology the prince let him rush away. There was much to consider in the past hour's events.
Young Festil stared at the wall while the conversations he had overheard played themselves again in his mind. Clearly more was happening here than he had reckoned.
And if he knew his uncle Lajos and his father well at all that did not bode well. Worse, all he had were suppositions and vague references to armies and lands to be conquered. He needed more solid information.
His friend, Albion, was in danger. That much was plain and clear. He owed Albion his life twice over due to youthful stupidity.
And from the sound of it, Albion had little time left. Young Festil knew enough of his elder's methods to have a healthy respect for a blade in the dark.
No, he had to find out more. And, from what he overheard the place to do that was Corwyn. Young Festil paused only to collect his cloak before he headed for the cathedral and the transfer portal.