AOH – Chapter 111

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CHAPTER 111: THE KING PEACE

EDWARD MEROVICH

They have begun to march at Mostone, after garrisoning the northern border as the south is trying to march to the north while Harald position his army near the King region.

At Dester city, Randolph, a vassal of Harald arrived with his levies to stiffen the king’s military arm, and some of the Arrandians, who is led by Leander, advised an immediate attack on the rebels.

Silas on the other hand had a different plan on his mind.

He could not let such hot headed commander, eager to fight, to dictate an important battle like this, to persuade the King to attack Harald forces which right now, is superior in force and experience.

To the King, he advises caution.

And Edward the ever-cautious monarch agreed with Silas assessment, after all, he is not totally convinced that the interests of the hardline war party were necessarily his.

The war party referring to Lord Leorid and his vassal of southern lords.

All the while Edward sent letters, urgently, to the other lords to bring their power, arms and men, to aid him in this battle.

Silas approve of such action.

After all he know that it is on the lords and nobles, their attitude that the outcome of the crisis would turn.

‘You approve of this Silas?’

‘I approve my lord’ he said in one of their private talks in the tents.

‘As long as the military power of the Orleans is formidable, and your own weak, please stall. There is no reason to strain yourself, Your Majesty. Fortify your positions. Concentrate your forces.’

Leander on the other hand always asks for an audience with the King, urging him every time to engage Harald in a pitched battle.

He is eager to prove that he is a talented leader. One day Edward had enough

‘Then call your lord and ask him to send reinforcement to his southern border!’

And at this Leander shut his mouth. He dare not tell the young lord of his failure. After all he has already told Silas to downplay his failure and of course the escalated conflict that is now embroiling in Vangua.

‘I’m sorry your majesty. Maybe it is better to wait’ Leander relented.

Edward continues to stall but his staling has a clear objective. He wanted to persuade the northern noble and to ask them to betray Harald.

But he knows the suspicion of the northern nobles to the companion he kept at court, the Arrandians, Silas, Leander and so many others.

But while Edward wanted to rid out of Harald and the Orleans he could not risk an open war.

After all he is the King of Vangua and he has a responsibility to his people.

Edward is sure, that an all-out military struggle with the Orleans would leave Vangua unacceptably weak, whatever the outcome, and an easy prey for an invader.

It is the reason he offer Arial the crown.

If he offer the crown, he might wait for him to die and surely before he die, he would leave an heir, one whose claim will be better and Arial will then have no justification in conquering Vangua.

Though he meant no personal harm to Arial, he could not let Vangua goes to a noble family of other nations.

He did it only to secure time for Vangua to strengthen itself.

He knows the military might of Arrandy, that powerful military machine. And with Arial marriage with Helia, inevitably one day, it will push Arrandy to a conflict with Vangua.

And hopefully if the amiable relationship between Arrandy and Vangua is preserved, at least Vangua will have time to be ready when that time comes.

The obvious middle way between battle or bowing to the Orleans which he used to do before now is to use legal machinery, especially as this was the course most favoured by the Noble Circle.

And now he waits for the nobles to reply to his call, as the forces of Harald and Edward is on a stalemate.

*************************************************************************

After great discussion, arguments, defending and attacking Orleans and Harald, countless letter traded between the great families and houses of Vangua, hundreds whispers in secluded courtyard, oath of honour and fealty raised, the Noble Circle has decided that the Orleans will be summoned to Caen to answer before a full council of the greatest in the realm, all the great noble families in accordance to the law of Vangua, a hearing that is to take place on 1019 Seedmonth 54.

*************************************************************************

WAR TENT

The letter arrived in the evening.

He is in his war tent, reading the letters and then he gave the letter to his wife. Quickly Emilia read it.

‘This is getting worse’ Harald say, pinching his forehead, his forehead creased, as he ponders this crisis that has befallen him and his family.

A crisis that could mark the end of his family.

‘What would you do, dear? Would you heed the summon? Or do we march on?’ Emilia said, her tone is noticeably full with alarm and nervousness.

Harald remains silent, thinking hard, while rubbing his chin, nervous.

Harald is in an unpalatable position.

Failure to heed the summons to Caen would mean that he placed himself unquestionably in the wrong at the bar of élite opinion and would therefore have to undergo the perils of being dubbed rebel and traitor; a title he do not want.

Edward might even use that as a way to confiscate all the lands and titles that Orleans and Harald have.

And with that the diminishing power that Harald will face.

Harald has been trying to calm himself, enduring this humiliation to his family, enduring to his utmost, denying himself of unreasonable and idiotic strategy, as been suggested by his ministers, which all point to openly rebel.

That would be the stupidest thing he would do and he is trying not to consider it.

But Edward while Harald is trying to save his face, Edward on the other hand, seemed more uncompromising than ever, insisting that he must give sureties to Edward, while Edward was not obliged to give anything to them.

‘What if we use hostages to change Edward mind?’ his minister suggested

‘Yes, you have caught some of Edward family, why not use it as leverage, dear?’

Harald seem to be thinking about it.

On the past few weeks, Harald have procure hostages of importance in the North, cousins and nephew of the King and he can use negotiation to get in the good graces of the King but then Harald shakes his head.

‘That won’t work’

Harald realized that, as the king is childless, the giving of hostages presented no such emotional wrench as it did to him or Emilia.

While it is true, Harald has taken a hostage, Edward also have that same advantage.

Orleans has nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts in the southern region and what charges would Harald and his wife face?

There is much loose talk about rebellion, but it is possible that the long-brooding Edward intended to raise the question of the Orleans complicity in his father death.

Harald this time rubbed his head and take a seat. Orleans has enemies that Harald had to fend off.

Jean Orleans has left him with a thousand enemies.

But at least Jean gives him Emilia. And no matter how manipulating Emilia is, Harald adore her.

But Harald know time is of the essence. Harald know Edward is planning to stall for time, as Leorid strengthen the King position.

Even when Harald and his army, and his noble lord commenced the weary trek of the north, a number of his troops deserted, at the very moment when the news from Caen suggested Edward forces is being daily augmented with troops sent by the southron lords.

Emilia said she suspect this is Silas doing, spreading rumours and misinformation.

Tomorrow he will reach Caen and he hope that he will have a chance to present his case now more important that the case of the Weover, a case that might exile him from this country.

*************************************************************************

By the time Harald sides reached Caen, the king on the north bank of the Vanguan Drops, a long river, Harald in on the south bank, Edward held a clear numerical superiority in military force.

*************************************************************************

EDWARD TENT

‘HAHAHA’ the King laughed.

The King seems to be in a vengeful and vindictive mood, having the upper hand so clearly.

He quickly order his men to summon Harald and more importantly his wife to attend the trial.

And they wait the reply from the South bank.

‘Your majesty, this is their replies.’

Edward quickly open and read Harald counter offer. The duke countered by asking for safe-conduct guaranteed by hostages.

Edward made no direct reply to this but added the further demand that Orleans surrender all his vassals.

And once again the messenger sent this.

Harald trying to appease the vindictive King, and worrying about the safety of his wife, Harald finally decided to comply with Edward demand.

By now, this is the battle of mind between Harald and Edward since Silas has return home and even Leander has return home, summoned by Lord Arial , promising Leander he will not be furious at the recent fiasco.

When the letter came bearing the news that Harald has complied with his demands, he brusquely informed Harald he should attend his trial with a retinue of no more than ten men.

And with that he smile and laugh again.

‘I got you now!’ He said in his war tent

*************************************************************************

HARALD TENT

‘TEN MEN! TRULY EDWARD HAS GONE MAD WITH POWER! HAH! EDWARD, YOU ARE FORCING MY HAND’ he screamed shocked with the King unreasonable demand.

Emilia is trembling. It seems that the King really is determine to exterminate the Orleans.

‘Dear, please don’t tell me you will comply with this. Surely if you comply with this, we will all be kill by Edward.’

Harald nodded.

Only a fool would have walked into such an obvious trap.

‘Write the King another letter.’Harald order his messenger, while he calm himself down.

Harald again made the rational request for a safe-conduct and an exchange of hostages. And a few hours later, the reply came.

Edward refused bluntly: his position was that he neither would nor could give any assurances to men accused of heinous crimes.

Harald sighed, stumbling to his seat, rubbing his forehead. The result is a stand-off.

Harald is never going to cross the river, on the mere say-so of the king, to attend a trial where the counts in the indictment had not even been specified.

It was clear that his rebuttal of the charges by an unsupported oath is not going to be enough; perhaps Edward intended to assassinate him as soon as he appeared before the council, or perhaps he favoured judicial murder by forcing Harald, to submit to one of the notorious punishment ordeals.

At all events Harald absolutely refused to cross the river on the king’s terms. Only death will wait if he cross the river.

Death for him. Death for his wife. Death for his vassals and loyal men. He is thinking of how to resolve this.

Then suddenly a commotion in the outside tent.

‘What is the commotion outside?’ Harald said.

‘My lord, there is a man outside claiming he is from the Arrandy, here on order of Lord Arial Vermont.’

And this shakes Harald to the core. An Arrandian!

‘Bring him here’ his tone is fill with a hint of urgency and curiosity

And so the man is presented in front of him. He has a noble disposition, probably one that came from one of the great houses of Arrandy.

He has grace, a tall man with clear blue eyes that scanned his surrounding, his feet move with purpose but the way he smiles make someone believe he is hiding terrible secret.

‘Lady Emilia, Lord Harald, please let me introduce myself. My name is Silas of House Perigord’ he bowed slightly with a little grin in his mouth

‘The snake’ Emilia said.

‘Indeed, I am the snake.’ He said admitting gleefully

Harald on the other hand is baffled with Silas coming here.

‘Why are you here?’ Harald said.

Harald knows that the King always listen to the poisonous words of this Arrandians but coming here?

What could he possibly gain? He could order his men to kill this diplomat of Arrandy but then surely Arial will come bearing his might upon him.

And that is just an idiotic move.

‘The Prince sent me here to aid you, my lord’

‘Aid me? Arial did?’

‘Lord Arial. And yes, my lord. I am sent here to aid you in this terrible matter between you and the King’

‘For what reason would your lord help me?’

‘You are his vassal.’ He responds curtly

And suddenly Harald remembered the oath he makes during the coronation of Edward. What could Arial mean by extending his help to him when Edward is known as Arial great friend?

And finally Harald realize it.

Many of the lords of the continent believe the oath is void because of the drunken behavior of the King at the time, which render the fealty void.

But if he accepts this help then in a way, he acknowledges the fealty, receiving help from his higher lord.

This whole situation that is unfolding is eminently characteristic of Arial.

He would be honestly indignant at Edwards’s base treatment of Harald, and he would feel it his part as Harald overlord to redress the wrong.

But he would also be alive to the advantage of getting his rival into his power on so honourable a pretext.

Simply to establish a claim to gratitude on the part of Harald would be something. Of course Harald also understand this.

But did he have a choice? Should he accept?

‘My lord?’ Silas said

Should he reject? But to reject would be to harm his family because of his own stubbornness, and when Arial has sent one of the King trusted men, surely the King will reconsider his unreasonable demands.

Surely Silas can mediate the situation. But then he will owe Arial a debt of life. Is it worth it?

There is an impasse between him and the King and his family safety is at personal danger. He looked at the worried face of Emilia and he made his decision.

‘I accept’ Harald said and Silas smile.

‘Then wait for the happy news my lord as I cross the river and persuade the King to listen to you’

When he arrived on the north bank, accompanied with Harald men, the King seem happy, who is drinking with his minister all but convinced he has won.

‘Silas, you’re here’ Edward said.

‘I thought you return home.’

‘I did.’

‘So why did you come here? Did you want to join the festivities?’

‘No, I came here to speak on behalf of the Orleans and Harald.’

‘What!’ the King said putting down his glass and his minister also senses the anger that is coming from the King.

‘I passed from you what I heard from both Harald Alan and Emilia Orleans that her family had no part in the murder of your father. I implore you to grant their family the King’s peace’

Edward then replied that he is not interested in Orleans’s spurious attempts at purging; he would grant him the king’s peace only when Orleans restored his father to him, alive, together with all the men killed in that event, and also all the land and possessions the Orleans had acquired since that time.

With this Silas face contorted to rage.

‘HAHAHAHA’ he laughed and suddenly every minister in the court sense a shift of environment.

‘That is impossible. Your majesty. Are you so drunk with power and fervent with joy, that you have gone crazy and retarded?’

‘You dare-‘

‘OH! I DARE!’ he yelled back at the King.

‘You have become pure blind fanatic and I’m here to remind you of reason. Rescind your orders, let the Orleans return, accept your win and then rule wisely. There is no need to do such thing to the Orleans. There is no need to be this overbearing’

‘I thought you are on my side Silas.’ The King said, his voice is quivering with rage

‘That just shows how little you know about me. I am on nobody sides. Take back your order, pardon him, and let him return home.’

‘OR WHAT!’ The King yelled defiantly.

‘Or the dragon will come and he will burn you alive. Do not forget what I know about you Edward. Surely you would not want your strongest friend in the North leave you?’

And then Silas said

‘What are you waiting for? Write the pardon letter already.’

Edward gradually calmed the boiling tumult of his mind

And threatened by Silas, Edward who are sure of his win a moment ago, suddenly in a somber mood, write the letter and the crisis in Vangua for now is resolved with the King gaining Harald vassal and Harald is confined to the northern borders.

The vacant county of the south which used to belong to Orleans is distribute to some Arrandian born noble who stay in Vangua, relatives and those who have familial ties with Helia Vermont.

Edward really wanted the alliance with Aetherland and Arrandy and he knows the system of alliance in the continent, is remarkably fluid and mutable and it is never beyond the bounds of possibility to reverse the pattern of allies altogether.

But for now, he needs to secure his southern border so he needs the alliance of the northern lord which is Aetherland.

(Remember Aetherland and Arrandy is on the north side of Vangua while Vern is the northern side of Aetherland)

Harald and Emilia, those husband and wife are known never to have been happy with the main currents of Edward’s foreign policy: the couple wanted friendship with Freya with thousands of slave army and with Renasia, the two nations that he regarded as his most deadly foes.

But nonetheless, this time Edward has win but Silas threat is not to taken lightly.

If Arial knows what happen, surely the young prince would find other ways to disrupt him and with the prince abilities there is no doubt that he can show his will.

The civil war is averted in Vangua after long subterfuge and intrigues.

*************************************************************************THE VILLA

Silas is in Arrandy after his recent achievement in Vangua, sitting on the courtyard of his villa contemplating Edward fortune in the event of that night in Weover.

‘Tea, dear?’ his wife said

‘Yes, I would appreciate that Joanna. Is Svein asleep?’

‘He is. Do not worry too much about him. He is a boy.’

‘Yes, but still a babe.’

His wife kisses him on his cheek.

‘You always worry too much dear.’ And as she said that she is about to bring him a tea.

Under his breath he muttered ‘That is how I survived the court, Joanna.’

‘What?’ Joanna turns her head back

‘Nothing. Go, make the tea.’

Silas then looked back at the clouds, enjoying the Arrandy air. And then his mind is turn towards the event that occurred in Vangua.

Silas knows of course with apparent ease, after all it is not easy to trick someone as smart as him, that it is not the Orleans or Harald that is responsible but Edward who wanted to expel Harald from Vangua.

It is a childish trick.

How could Silas not notice such obvious plot? Anyone who have a little of brain could see it. And finally Edward is released from being a puppet King of the Orleans.

But how had he achieved what a year before all observers would have said was impossible?

Did he set a trap for the Orleans or was the crisis of a happy accident? Is it essentially caused by Edward’s pro-Arrandian policy, his entanglement in the general Human Continent system of alliances?

Is it connected with his desire to solve the succession problem? Or is there some other factor at play?

Silas could discount the idea that the crisis was caused by Harald resentment at the increasing influence of the Arrandian faction in Vangua.

Harald had noticed their encroachment and is irritated by it, but this alone would not have precipitated a civil war.

Nor is it plausible that Edward would have precipitated a confrontation with the Orleans if he had merely wished to divorce Amelie, his queen.

Some might say that a childless Edward is becoming impatient with the lack of a clear successor, but this would imply that Edward is both sexually active and convinced he could sire children – which in the nature of things would mean he had fathered offspring by other women.

If this is the case, it is passing strange that he, who have ears and eyes everywhere hear or see nothing of such women either from Edward’s friends or his enemies.

In any case, if the problem is Amelie barrenness, Edward would not have needed to become embroiled with Orleans because of the ‘insult’ to the family’s honour connoted by a divorce petition; canon law allowed for Papnoticon dissolution of regal marriages in such cases.

In short, Edward could have sheltered behind the Grand Papnoticon, whose good opinion he is so anxious to foster.

The more one looks at the evidence, the more it seems as though the visit of Leander really is the trigger for the crisis and an opportunity used wisely by Edward.

Edward might also have been trying to detach Prince Arial from Zettel influence, after all the betrothal between the future King of Aetherland with the younger sister of Arial is already spreading around the continent and probably in light of that news, tried to entice Arial away from King Adrian web.

Edward might have opted for Arial for the nomination of the throne to detach him from King Adrian, to foster divisiveness between those two houses and bribe him into an alternative alliance, or because he felt isolated and vulnerable to the possible incursion of Freya; either way, he is actuated by simple pragmatism opportunism.

He might have made some informal, unbinding promise that Arial would be the ‘inside candidate’ for the throne if he died childless.

‘Hmm’ Silas sighed.

This is a long way short of a formal oath.

And to Edward, Silas suspected, such a promise would have meant nothing: he had already made a similar pledge to many lords in Vangua, which Silas already know from his network, and would do so again if he could further his power in Vangua.

In any case, Vangua kingship is no longer hereditary and Edward could not force the Noble Circle to do his will.

Last year, he reconstructed back the Noble Circle to gain the approval of the noble and he give power to the council the very same way Jean would give them power during his life.

‘I doubt whether anyone, at least on the Vanguan side, expected the promise to be honoured.’

After he is threatened by Silas and the risk he is taking in angering Arial, with great reluctance Edward accepted that the game was up and he would have to make peace; or suffer the dissolve of an alliance Silas know Edward sorely needed.

And it is also useful.

After all Arial already knows that Edward tries to employ means to make him and the House of Alan at odds so Arial did the same.

His aid to Harald is more to Arial benefit then to  Harald benefit. Now there is an enemy inside.

Arial of course knows under the pretext of Harald as his vassal, Harald would hardly comply with such order, but Arial objective is not the true fealty of Harald.

Arial of course, if he can, extract some promise from Harald in his aid but he did not, knowing, truly that Harald will never comply.

But by giving him aid, most noble would see that Arial is really is the overlord of the two.

It must have been simply in order to have an occasion against Harald, that Arial did this.

If Harald really swore to all of them, it must have been simply because he felt that he was practically in Arial power, without any serious intention of keeping the oath.

Arial of course knew this, a man as prideful as Harald would surely not bow his head to his rival but he might accept the aid under the guise of saving his family.

But Harald also knows that he could not openly support Arial.

After all his influence lay in him being the embodiment of the national feeling; for him to appear as the supporter of Arial, an Arrandian would have been to lose the crown for himself.

And homage itself is no degradation, even in the highest; a man often did homage to any one from whom he had received any great benefit, and Harald had received a very great benefit from Arial.

Harald family is now safe, their position restored even though weaker, at least they got to keep their heads.

Homage to a new lord does not imply treason to the old one.

Harald, delivered by Arial from Edward devious machination, would be eager to settle this debt and Silas know his lord always collect.

Men took the obligation of homage upon themselves very easily.  The homage would be little more than binding himself in the strongest form so to do.

The relation of homage could be made to mean anything or nothing, as might be convenient.

The man might often understand it in one sense and the lord in another.

If Harald really become the man of Arial, he would look on the act as little more than an expression of good will and gratitude towards his benefactor, a hint of gratitude to the measure Arial have went for him in securing the safety of his new family.

He of course, would not look on it as forbidding him to accept the Vanguan crown if it is offered to him.

Harald, the man of Prince Arial, might become a king, if he could, just as Arial, the man of King Adrian, might become a king, if he could.

As things went, both the homage and the promise of marriage is capable of being looked on very lightly.

But Arial is a talented politician adept in state matters that the mere obligation of homage would, in the skillful hands of Arial, be quite enough to work on men’s minds, as Arial wished to work on them.

After all, in his youth it is Arial that return back their family to power from the exile, and it was Arial that persuade the Church to make a Kingdom for the Dukedom, asking the permission of the Emperor in the North.

But Silas understand how vexing it would be for Harald. Silas sighed. He knows himself to be a shrewd politician but his lord is also shrewd at times.

Though Arial is not excessively cruel but in the matter of his enemy there is no doubt he would kill all of them rather than letting them go, unless there is a benefit for the region or for his family.

And his lord also has another plan, after all he might be leaving for a few months to go to Zettel. His intention is to foster suspicion.

Now that the King has shown Harald how powerful he could become and Harald has shown how formidable he can be, both of this people will enter in relationship of deceit and minimal trust.

Sooner or later, that will erupt.

This gesture of aid is nothing more than a ploy for Arial, if he ever seriously thinks to pursue the Vanguan throne.

Silas had heard what happens after he leaves.

Orleans is allowed to declare her and her family’s innocence of all charges brought against them.

The assembly voted for Harald and Emilia restitution by spontaneous acclamation.

Edward, doubtless fuming secretly, gave Orleans and Harald the king’s peace, condoned all alleged offences and restored them both to the royal favour and to their estates.

Harald himself show himself a great forbearance, remarkably free of vindictive spirit, once the King relented, which make him famous among the common people.

He contented himself with restoring his family fortunes. In a way, it seems Harald is playing for time.

The policy, an ill-starred policy he reminded himself, of exiling those who displeased him is not a viable and effective method, Silas thought.

An enemy in the making Arial once said.

The lord he know, once said, if there is such enemy in his land, he would kill them without hesitation.

Not killing them only put him and his family in danger.

‘Dear, tea’ the word startled Silas. He could see his wife approaching him to give him the tea.

‘Ah, yes.’ Silas said his hand took the cup and take a sip of the tea.

‘What are you thinking about, dear?’

Silas looked at the clouds.

‘The shifting of the clouds, my love’

‘Then why your eyebrow creased like you are solving a difficult problem, dear? Surely, that is not because of the clouds?’

‘Because the clouds is so mysterious that is why’ he chuckled

‘You tease me, my lord.’

‘Can’t I tease you?’

This time his wife chuckled.

‘Yes you can, my lord.’

Then she sits beside him, pouring him tea and joins him in his conversation.

‘I heard the news in Acro, dear’

‘What news?’

‘The news that our lord is travelling. I even heard he had a huge fight with the Duchess, leaving again after just a short time here in the region.’

‘Yes, he is’ Silas nodded, putting the teacup on the table.

‘Where? Is it the Dark Lands?’

‘No. To the Martial Art Meet.’

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