~~ 3 ~~
The King’s Council
“Your Grace, there have been rumors of Derkelyngs growing increasingly closer to our borders. Our people are frightened, and it is making all our men nervous,” Victor said as he sat around the advisers’ table. Alexander sat at the head of the table, surrounded by all the men he trusted with not only with matters of his kingdom, but with his very life.
Victor was not only the head of his arm, but he was the king’s right hand. Arthur, the elder adviser who had been his own father’s right hand, sat to his left. The older man had been Alexander’s teacher and guard growing up, and he held Arthur’s advice in high regard. Mandorth, an exiled donchen who had more than proven himself over the years sat at the other end of the table, the man’s silvery-blue eyes staring at all of them with the heaviness that only came from a creature who had known nothing but hardships most of his life. Beside him sat Isaac, a man who had once been Victor’s own right hand during battle. After a blade to the back had nearly killed him, the now nearly crippled man sat upon his advising council, keeping record of everything they had learned about their kingdom and its enemies.
Alexander sat quietly listening to the four men speaking amongst themselves, debating as to the kingdom’s next move. After hearing them go round and round about sending me to the outer boundaries of Aziza, Alexander had heard enough.
“Gentlemen,” he said as the four men quieted down and turned to him. “I will hear no more speak of sending troops we do not have to defend against something which could very well be nothing more than idle gossip by the shepherds and the farmers.” He picked up his glass of wine and took a long swallow, eyeing his advisers over the rim of his glass. “The Naferia will come looking for their jewel, of that we can be certain. They are desperate to see their kingdom and that of Shondross united under one coat of arms. If they discover her here then there will be war here. We cannot risk sending soldiers to chase after spirits and Jinn. They are needed here.”
His four advisers sat quietly, their eyes darting about as they glanced at each other uncomfortably. Several seconds passed before Victor cleared his throat. “Your Grace, our noblemen to the north swear the Derkelyngs have crossed into their lands. Just this past week Sir Gregory’s household lost every farm animal they owned. Slaughtered, huge chunks of meat taken from their bodies. His lands were practically awash in the blood of horses and sheep.”
Alexander held up his hand. “I will hear no more of this, understand?”
“Alexander,” Victor said as he rose from his seat, slamming his hands down upon the wooden table. “I understand what you are trying to accomplish, and I understand we need to be on the ready. But we cannot very well expect our men to fight if we cannot take all threats to their livelihood seriously. They are frightened. To ignore their concerns would be much more consequential than sending a few hundred men to the outer realm to ensure our borders are properly secure, I’m sure you would agree.”
The king sat staring hard at his right hand. As much as he hated sending more of his men out knowing a potential war loomed on the horizon, he couldn’t afford to have any of his people doubting his sanity or ability to rule the kingdoms. Finally he nodded. “You are right as always, Victor. I will leave the matter in your capable hands.”
Victor bowed his head. “Thank you, Your Grace. I will see to it immediately.”
The king’s eyes shifted to the rest of his council. “Now, can we get back to the matter at hand?” he asked as he leveled his gaze upon them all.
“Your Grace, exactly what are your intentions for the young jewel of Naferia?” Mandorth asked, his silvery-blue eyes moving back to his king.
“I’m afraid you are going to have to be more specific in your questions, Mandorth.”
The donchen straightened up in his chair, his fingers tinkering with the glass of wine to his left. “I am asking what you plan to do with the woman, Your Grace. Is she to be killed, ransomed, maybe use her as a bargaining chip? Are you to take her safely back to Naferia as a conquering hero, putting them forever in your debt for returning their missing jewel?”
The king eyed them all closely. “I honestly have not made a decision on what to do with her. I admit, I had thought of sending her head back to her father and fiancé in a wooden box, but I believe she is much more valuable alive than dead. I could return her, but once she is wed to Monduro, Naferia and Shondross will be united. No matter how grateful they are to me for returning their jewel, their combined armies could still very well destroy Aziza and all who lay within it. I cannot risk it.”
“You will kill her then?” a soft voice asked. Alexander turned to look at Arthur who had been sitting silent the whole time.
Alexander paused. “Nonsense,” he finally said after several moments.
“Then you shall send her back to her family? Demand a spot of land for your port as your reward?”
Alexander watched Arthur’s hands as he continued to fidget with his glass of wine. “No, I do not believe I will.”
“And why not?” Mandorth asked.
The king rubbed his hand against his chin. “Let’s say for a moment that I do give her back, and by some miracle she does not tell them it was I who had her stolen. Let’s say Antiguiss and his queen are so happy to have her back he agrees to reward me. And let’s further say, for the sake of argument, he agrees to my proposition to give me the piece of land I require to create a port. What is to stop him from forbidding me passage to the land? What is to stop him from attacking a year from now, five years from now?”
“So force him to sign a treaty,” Victor said as he helped himself to another glass of wine.
“Another treaty?” Alexander asked as he shifted his weight in his chair to stare at his right hand. “He already refuses to sign the one I asked which would allow me to buy the land and give us safe passage through his kingdom. I hardly see how having his jewel back would stop him from attacking us the first chance he gets.” He paused again. “All of this would be for naught.”
“Then exactly would Your Grace suggest?” Isaac asked, feeling himself growing weary of the entire conversation. “Kill her or trade her. That seems to be the only two logical conclusions. Make a decision and let’s be done with it.”
Alexander was silent for several minutes as his council grew restless in their seats. “No. No, I do not believe those are the only choices.” He raised his head, his dark eyes looking to Victor.
“Then pray tell, Your Grace, what is it you are proposing?” Victor asked.
“Exactly,” Alexander said as he raised an eyebrow. “I will wed the jewel of Naferia.”
The council of advisers became still, the silence so heavy within the room it was nearly tangible. Suddenly the silent room erupted into chatter as everyone began speaking at once.
“Are you mad?” Victor asked, his jaw practically on the table beside his glass.
“Surely you are not saying what I feel you are implying, son. This is madness!” Isaac said, his face equally shocked and disgusted.
“It is unheard of in Aziza!” Mandorth bellowed above them all.
They continued on for a few seconds, each one’s voice growing louder as their discord intensified. Finally Alexander slammed his fist down onto the table. “Enough!” Everyone settled down, Victor taking his seat again as Alexander eyed them all. “I have few choices here, My Lords. I cannot kill her for that will surely evoke a war. As much as I love a good battle, I am not so eager to rip my kingdom apart unless I have absolutely no choice. Sending her back and claiming myself as the hero has no guarantees of a reward, a treaty, or the adherence to the old treaty or a new one. But marriage,” he said as he got up from his chair and began pacing the floor. “Now, marriage is an entirely different contract. Antiguiss would not dare raise an army against his daughter’s husband if she were the Queen.”
“How can you be so sure, Alex?” Victor asked as he watched his young sovereign moving around the room. “King Antiguiss betrothed his only daughter to a goblin just to unite their kingdoms in the event he needs an ally against you. I hardly think he would rush to congratulate you. I’d rather think both he and the kingdom of Shondross would be so outraged they would fall upon us like the Hounds of Hell.”
Alexander halted in his spin around the room, staring unseeing at a painting across from the table. He appeared to inspect the work of art with great interest, but in reality his mind was a churning whirlwind, going down the various outcomes of each avenue should he pursue it. “No, I don’t think so. Killing her is certainly not on the table. That would definitely have both kingdoms atop us in a matter of weeks. I can’t risk sending her back and having her tell them it was actually I who kidnapped her in the first place. But if I were to make her my queen and offer her dowry to Shondross, have her claim to have fallen in love with me, then there is no way her father would raise an army against me. Goblins only care for wealth, expanding their empire and hoarding more gold. It was my understanding Calista’s dowry was worth over one hundred pounds of gold and silver.”
He turned suddenly, his dark eyes scanning the room. “The answer is quite simple, really. The goblins are loyal to whichever kingdom can give them the most wealth. While Naferia is most certainly wealthy, Antiguiss has slowly depleted his supplies over the years to Shondross, his whole reason behind bargaining his one and only daughter to the prince of that realm. Her betrothal guarantees Shondross will fight for them from now until the end of time, even if Naferia can no longer pay them to do so. Losing Calista means Shondross no longer owes any loyalty to them.”
“And you think giving them the jewel’s dowry will buy their loyalty?” Victor asked, feeling his own mind churning with all the implications his young king was bringing to light.
Alexander turned to him. “Yes, and why not? Her dowry is enough to buy this kingdom three times over. I shall give the goblin king a tenth of the dowry each year, for the next decade, and the same amount for an additional two years. I will also agree to a betrothal between our first born and whichever prince or princess of Shondross of the king’s choosing. This will bind our kingdoms together just as it would have Naferia and Shondross.”
“And what about Naferia?” Victor asked. “How do you intend to keep them from forming some sort of alliance with Shondross? They still Monduro’s little sister, and the queen is pregnant yet again.”
“I shall promise my first eligible daughter to Calliander, thus uniting all our kingdoms.”
“Your Grace, are you sure this is wise?” Isaac asked, his eyes troubled.
Alexander slowly nodded his head as he sat back at the head of the table. “Aye. It is the only choice the kingdom has right now. I cannot risk freeing Calista, and killing her would bring the wrath of both kingdoms upon our heads. There is no other choice but to unit our kingdoms, once and for all.”
Victor poured himself another glass of wine. “Well, then, it has been settled. It looks like we shall be having a royal wedding this fall.” He raised his glass. “To the King and his new bride. May you be fruitful and multiply.”
“Long live the King and Queen,” Isaac said as he raised his glass.
One by one, the rest of the King’s Council raised their glasses. “To the King and Queen!” they all shouted.
“To my bride-to-be,” Alexander said as he raised his own glass. “May this union be blessed by the Transcenders and all the gods they hold dear.”