Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 13 - Part 1
"Pour us some wine,
son." King Festil tossed his crown onto the great bed in his privy
chamber. He felt like laughing at the sour look Lajos gave him.
"Let us celebrate this day's triumph."
"And what triumph is that, Sire?" Lajos shook his head as the prince filled three silver goblets with the dark, fruity wine. "Today has been an unqualified disaster for your plans, and for those of your royal brother. No doubt he will now want to postpone the rest, if not give up entirely on the dreams of your late father. May he rest in peace," he added as if it were an afterthought.
King Festil wondered briefly if the old man were losing his senses. Perhaps it was time to retire his old kinsman. "You put too much importance on Rhydon and those mercenaries," he said as he accepted a cup of wine from his son. "We may well be better off without him. In fact, I'm certain of it."
"And should we not dismiss His Grace if we are to discuss --"
King Festil cut Lajos' words short with a laugh. "Our son is not the threat to Our plans you seem to think him. Did he not just today bring us two fine tools to further Our accomplishments, not to mention discovering the way to bring Our nephew finally to his marriage bed? By all that's Holy, man! Look at what we have gained!"
Prince Festil took a long swallow of the wine. "I am glad you are pleased, Sire. But I fear I do not understand the cause as yet."
He seemed genuinely confused, yet Lajos had reported the boy spying on their plans when he was detained in Coroth. Apparently the prince knew well how to keep his own council.
King Festil reached out tentatively and brushed his son's shields. The prince did not raise further protection against his father, yet neither did he lower his guard enough for the king to send him any information. The boy had learned his lessons; trust none, not even your own kin. He would make a fine emperor for the lands Festil planned to conquer.
"Think of it, son." Festil clapped the prince on the shoulder in fatherly affection. "We now control more than a third of the eleven kingdoms either by direct conquest or through the intrigues of marriage. With little effort on Our part we can have the rest in the palm of Our hand.
"Rhydon in Corwyn was to take an army across the Southron Sea. He was to invade the Hort of Orsal, execute any who held power and take control of the land. Meanwhile your uncle would send his forces from Torenth and Tolan in to the R'Kassai. Between the two forces the R'Kassai would fall inside three months."
"But Rhydon and his mercenaries no longer exist." The prince frowned. "How do you mean to proceed from here?"
"With a little more patience." Festil frowned as Lajos opened his mouth to protest. "First, we must get young Albion into fatherhood. That shall be accomplished tonight with any luck. Then we make certain your new ally, McQuillion, is well settled into his estates in Derry. He will prove a strong sword arm for us, as well as a supply of excellent horseflesh when we need it."
The prince nodded slowly. "You have plans for everyone except Isolde."
His son's interest in the lady surprised Festil. "You are a wedded man," he hastened to remind the prince, "with a bevy of beautiful women to choose from for mistresses. Lady Isolde is for higher things, and you will not forget that."
Looking serious, Prince Festil nodded.
"Good. Actually, I had hoped to give her training to you over the winter. With the loss of the mercenaries in Corwyn We will not be abel to move until spring. The forces We have assembled will be inadequate for Our purposes. That gives Us several months to teach her to use the talents she has so neglected."
"And what then, Father?"
Festil smiled. This truly was the master stroke. "Lady Isolde will be valuable to Us in many ways. We have discovered the usefulness of women in other courts, both as sources of information and as the producers of young, controllable heirs. Lord Niklos has expressed an interest in the lady when he thought her a mere human. Now I think he should marry her."
"Marry . . .?" Both the prince and Lajos gaped at him. At last his son broke the silence. "Why would you choose Niklos to marry her? She is hardly his usual type."
"Oh, but she is now. She will be well dowered, and Niklos is a practical man. He will not object if she is Our agent in other courts, even if that necessitates, shall we say, less than common methods of obtaining information."
"In other words, you would have her discover state secrets in the bedchamber."
"Of course, son. How do you think it is best done?" Festil drained his wine cup and smiled as enlightenment spread over the prince's face. "Go and find the lady. Begin her training as soon as you may. There is probably time for a quick lesson before the wedding ceremony, if you are prompt."
Prince Festil nodded and left with a short bow for his father. The king dismissed Lajos immediately, before the old fool had time to ruin his good mood. He so enjoyed when events played into his hands.