Thieves of SovereigntyThe faces on those gathered around the king’s bed were grim. The ruler of the small nation was young and he should have shrugged off his illness. But he didn’t. He had grown more and more ill, until now there was nothing to be done but keep a death watch.
Among the grim faces in the death chamber were some whose grief was a false mask. These were the men and women who had managed to make themselves favorites of the prince, a boy of only ten years, and more spoiled than boded well for the nation. His pet courtiers made sure he remained that way, showering him with gifts and flattering him at every turn.
When the king died, the boy would be king, but utterly unfit to rule. He would have a council of regents, of course, but the hidden smiles told the tale of who would sit on the council, and who would rule.
In the small hours of the night, the inevitable happened. The king breathed his last, and a sob broke from more than one throat, either from grief at the personal loss of husband, father, and friend, or from fear of what would become of the kingdom in the hands of Prince—now King—Lewan.
The senior noble present, Duke Merrin, laid the king’s hand gently on his breast and closed the unseeing eyes. Turning, he laid a hand on the shoulder of the half-sleeping Lewan, and said, “The king is dead. Long live the king!”
The courtiers echoed the wish, and Lewan began to cry.
In the weeks that followed, the fears of Merrin and the others proved well-founded. Lewan showed little interest in learning the job he now faced, and he listened only to a few of his favorites, none of whom Merrin trusted. The Council was too heavily weighted toward those who preferred to keep the boy weak and ignorant.
A meeting took place in a very private room indeed, where Merrin and the few nobles he trusted could be confident they would not be overheard.
“Arlan and Roscina seem to be the only people to whom Lewan will listen now,” the queen whispered. “He openly defies me when I attempt to make him do what he must. He seldom sits through and entire Council meeting, and he neglects his studies. He says that as King he doesn’t have to do any of that himself.”
Merrin looked at Queen Kaia with pity. She was reaping a bitter harvest for the over-indulgence that had, after all, been not so very different from that shown to most wealthy children. Only Kaia, too often ill to oversee her son’s upbringing closely, had not known to just what extent his love and loyalty had been stolen by the courtiers who had provided him with the toys, ponies, and sweets he wanted in excess.
“Arlan and Roscina are but two members of the Regency Council,” Merrin pointed out. “They cannot rule.”
“Not now,” she whispered. “But what of the future? And what of the others who have come to their side, knowing who will be in favor in four years?”
Lewan would rule in his own right from the age of 14, a thought which made his tender years seem too close to adulthood for comfort, when Merrin thought about the manner in which the young king was being corrupted.
“There are but we five on the Council who hold true loyalty to the king and the nation.” Ewin, the younger brother of the dead king, and uncle to the current ruler, knew the danger to the kingdom better than any. “If we cannot do something, I have little faith in our surviving to see Lewan crowned in his own right.”
Ewin’s words proved prophetic. One of the loyal nobles was thrown from his horse and killed. An accident, of course, but no one was fooled. When rumors began to circulate that Ewin plotted to take the throne himself—a solution that in fact the secret group had considered, and he himself rejected—he was forced to flee the country, escaping from the castle minutes ahead of the King’s Guard. Another of the nobles vanished without a trace, possibly choosing exile over death.
Merrin hung on to his place on the Council, as did Kaia, but their voices were drowned in those of the many nobles who echoed whatever Arlan and Roscina proposed, including suggesting with increasing frequency that Lewan need not suffer through the long meetings.
Kaia fought to make him better than he was. “Lewan! You are king. Your duty is with your kingdom, and you cannot leave the rule of your people to others.”
“But I can’t really rule until I’m 14, Mama. I’d rather go riding now, and this meeting is boring.”
Merrin took a risk. “If you do not pay attention now, young man, and listen and learn and make what decisions you may, you will not be fit to rule in three more years.”
Lewan grew angry. Arlan and Roscina egged him on. In the end, to save his life, Merrin resigned from the Council.
In the second year of the Regency of King Lewan, the Duchy to the north took advantage of the weakened state of the kingdom. The last of Lewan’s loyal nobles were killed in the battle.
Some said that Arlan and Roscina had led the invading army. No one by then, however, dared to remember that they had come from the borderlands, and no one questioned why or how they continued to hold authority in the kingdom, let alone how it was that they alone of the Council survived the fighting.
They had had stolen their power inch by inch, and now it was all theirs, and the people would bow to their will.
Lewan and his mother fled in the night, though she had to drug him to make him come. The young king still believed that his favorite courtiers were his friends.
It might not matter, Kaia thought as she rode for the far border, her unconscious son draped over her saddle. But it might. It might be worth the effort to keep herself and her son alive. Maybe someday she would see her errors corrected, and the kingdom restored. But not until Lewan had learned what it was to work for his living. The thought gave her a certain pleasure.
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