Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Three
It was truly a beautiful morning. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the flower gardens were blooming; the sent of the Rose Trees perfumed the air all the way up into Vienna's apartments. Vienna sat on her window bench while Évora brushed and styled the Royal Acara's long hair. “Do you think my brothers will come to dinner tonight?”
“I'm not sure, My Lady,” the red Hissi admitted. “They seem quite set on being as obstinate as possible. Would you hand me a hairpin please?” When Vienna complied, the lady continued, “I think that they've been encouraged their whole lives to be independent from each other, from people who had expected your father to choose one of them. I'm afraid they don't have the slightest idea of how to work together.”
Vienna sighed. “You could be right. I...” She stopped as she heard shouting in the courtyard below the window. “Now what's that going on down there?” Seeing both Lucca and Milan in the courtyard, she felt her stomach sink. “This can't be good.”
“You'd better get down there and make sure they don't do anything they'll regret later,” Évora warned.
Nodding in agreement, Vienna hurried out of the door and to the courtyard.
“This is crazy, Lucca!” Milan shouted.
“You're right, Milan, it is,” Lucca agreed. “It's crazy that I've even been pushed to the point where this is the only option I have left.”
“It's not the only option,” Milan protested. “If you would just listen to reason.”
“Listen to your version of reason,” Lucca snapped. “Brother, I love you dearly, but you were clearly not meant for kingship. You'd do the whole country a favor if you'd step down.”
“And let you have the throne to yourself,” Milan snarled. “You'd bring Brightvale to ruin in under a month!”
Lucca noticed Vienna first. Turning to her, he apologized, “Sister dear, I'm afraid I have to leave it to you to make Milan see all the problems with Brightvale that must be fixed. We have to become a modern country, or else everyone else will eat us up. We're too stuck in the past.”
“Leave her out of this,” Milan seethed. “I won't let you poison her mind like you've done to Thomas.”
“Brothers,” Vienna said sharply. “I can think for myself, thank you very much.”
“Continue to do so, Vienna,” Lucca said. “I've done all I can here. I'm going to see if I can do real good anywhere else.”
“And taking most of the nobles with you,” Milan spat.
“They're coming with me because they want to,” Lucca countered. “It appears there can be no peace in Brightvale while there are two kings.”
“It's only that way because you made it so, Lucca!” Milan accused.
Lucca gave Vienna a look filled with regret. “Goodbye.” Without even glancing at Milan, Lucca and his supporters rode out of the castle gates.
Milan clenched his fists. “Nicolas! Meet me in my office. Vienna, you too.” Spinning on his heel, the Eyrie stalked back into the castle.
The Royal Acara could think of no excuse not to go to his office, so she quietly followed her brother and his adviser up the stairs and down the hallway. Reaching his office, Milan dropped into his chair and steepled his fingers. “Nicolas, what are our options?”
“Your Majesty has the support of the common people. Your brother has only the support of some of the landed nobility.”
“How much is 'some'?” Vienna asked.
The Skeith winced. “Three-quarters?”
Milan snorted in disgust. “The most powerful ones,with the largest estates and the most resources.”
“But Your Majesty has the popular support,” Nicolas soothed.
“This isn't a popularity contest,” the Eyrie growled. “What do you think Lucca's next move will be?”
“He'll have to move fast,” Nicolas mused. “His nobles are entirely dependent on the people who live on their land. If they rebel, his power base will be gone. He needs you removed, and quickly.”
“You think he will ask another country to intercede?” Vienna asked.
“Not Lucca.” Nicolas snorted. “I think he'll use an internal method. Like a quick knife strike, or a poisoned drink.”
“Assassination?” Vienna gasped. “Lucca would never...”
“Before today, would you have ever believed he would have ridden out of the Palace, taking most of the nobles with him in a crusade for civil war?” the green Skeith snapped.
“No,” the Royal Acara admitted. “But it's a big leap to jump from this morning to fratricide.”
“Lock down the capital,” Milan growled.
“Your Majesty?” Nicolas asked.
“I want the entire city locked down, no one goes out and no one comes in. We have too many people trying to get their fingers into this particular pie, and I want that to end now. No ambassadorial messages, no nothing.”
“Brother,” Vienna protested. “I hardly think...”
“If all you're going to do is disagree with me, Sister, then you can leave. I have enough problems right now.”
Vienna opened her mouth to argue, and then snapped it shut. “If that is what Your Majesty wishes,” she said in a cold voice. “Then his servant is ever willing to comply.”
“Vienna,” Milan said, looking startled. “I didn't mean...”
“With your leave, I go.” Lifting her chin, she rose and gave a deep curtsy, and left the room. A cold pit was forming in her stomach. She had a lot that needed to be done in a short amount of time if she was going to have any chance of keeping her brother from making a dreadful mistake, and she was almost positive that she wouldn't be able to finish it all in time.
Returning to her rooms, she ordered Évora to go find William. He came quickly, looking grim. “If half of what happened today is true, we are in deep trouble,” the Blumaroo said.
“We may be in more trouble than you know,” the Acara said. “I... I need a favor. But I need to warn you, it will be dangerous. It might even be treason.”
“Not treason for me,” William said with a crooked grin. “I've diplomatic immunity.”
“That's why I'm asking you,” Vienna confessed. “My brother is going to lock down the capital. He may have already done so. I need you to smuggle yourself out of the city and return to my Duchy and find the orange Draik I was dining with when you first came to me. His name is Darius, and you have to convince him to come here, and then find a way to get him to me.” She swallowed hard. “I know it's a lot to ask...”
“I'll do it.”
“Think carefully,” Vienna insisted. “Diplomatic immunity or not, you could still hang for this.”
“I'd rather I hang than you. Besides, I'm the one who got you into this mess. I'll do it, Vienna.”
“Take this,” the Acara insisted, pulling a ring off her finger. “Darius will recognize it. And please, be careful. I'll never forgive myself if you get killed for this.”
He gave her a wink as he slipped out though the door, “I'll see you soon.”
“I think he likes you, My Lady,” Évora observed with a knowing smile.
“He needs me,” Vienna said. “And right now, I need him too. But I think I do like him, or at the very least he's a lot more likeable than the old Meridellian ambassador.” She sighed, biting her lip in worry. “I just hope I haven't just sent him off to his death.”
The next day, Vienna felt very detached and alone. To be sure Évora was there, but Lucca's absence pricked like a thorn in her side. Milan wasn't much better. Her Eyrie brother was so busy plotting and planning that he almost never left his office. The Acara found herself wishing to talk with William, but the brown Blumaroo had already disappeared. She desperately hoped that the continued silence meant that he'd safely smuggled himself out of the locked down city and was on his way to Verdun.
“You want this time to be boring,” Évora told her as the Acara fretted. “Boring means nothing is happening. Boring means William is safe, and that neither Lucca or Milan have managed to kill each other. Lay low and wait until Darius gets here, and then we'll worry about what to do.”
“You're right, Évora,” Vienna admitted. “I just hate having nothing to do. I can't even visit or chat with anyone else in the palace right now; who knows how many of Lucca's supporters stayed behind just to cause trouble for Milan?”
“What are you going to do when Milan asks him if you support him or his brother?” Évora asked.
“I've not decided,” Vienna admitted. “I need to come up with something, because it's going to happen.” She slapped her hand against the top of a table. “They're just being so stupid!” she exclaimed, nearly crying. “They're brothers! They spent their entire lives together, they should be able to work together on this and not tear the country apart. If Father was alive, he'd be so disappointed in them, he'd disown them both!”
“If your father was alive, this situation couldn't happen,” Évora pointed out. “They'd still be the inseparable pair they always were.”
Vienna sighed, covering her face with her hands.
“Forget your brothers, My Lady,” Évora said, giving her a tight hug. “What do you want for yourself?”
“I want to go back to my Duchy by the sea,” the Royal Acara admitted. “I want to eat fresh fruit with Darius, and plan my new harbor in peace. I want to see fat merchant wagons roll into my town square and see my people prosper.”
“What about William?” Évora asked with a shrewd expression.
“I want to have met him under better circumstances,” Vienna admitted. “So I could be sure if he was just nice to me because he needs me, or if it's because he really is that nice of a man.” She sighed. “Oh Évora, I don't know who to trust anymore. I can't even trust my own brothers!”
A rap on the door interrupted their discussion. While Évora answered it, Vienna washed her face with cold water in a vain attempt to remove the redness from her eyes. Some women could look pretty while at the verge of tears – Vienna didn't consider herself to be one of them.
“Who was it?” she asked while drying her face.
“A messenger from your brother,” Évora said. “He wishes for you to join him at dinner. He expressly said to not bring William. Or as he put it, 'that Meridellian boy with whom you have spent so much time lately.' I think he might be a bit jealous, My Lady.”
“It's a blessing he just wants to talk to me,” Vienna said. “I have no idea how we'd explain William's absence if Milan did want him.” She paused, thinking. “Let's remind my brother that I am not only his sister, but the Duchess of Verdun as well. Did we bring my silver and green dress? I think it's time for my brother to remember that if he wishes to treat me as his vassal, then he has certain obligations to me as well.”
It was a wonder, Vienna reflected as she walked to the dining hall, how much a formal dress could steady one's nerves. She supposed it was a form of mental armor. Entering the hall, she saw her brother was playing the same political game. She wondered if he was going to try to eat with the crown of the state still on; the emerald crusted gold crown was extremely heavy.
“Your Majesty,” she greeted, sweeping into a curtsy.
“Sister,” he greeted, bowing in return. Vienna noticed his crown wobble a bit as he stood back up. She was seated on his right side, the place of honor. Nicolas sat on his left. This gave Vienna a flicker of hope that Milan might listen to her. With a sigh, he removed the crown as the first course was served. Flotsam Fin Soup, Lucca's favorite. Vienna wondered if Milan noticed.
“I've received some very bad news,” Milan said as they ate their soup.
“No offense, brother,” Vienna said in a dry tone, “but most of the news today has been bad.”
“I fear you're right,” the Eyrie agreed. “But this is a bit worse than the others.”
Vienna paused, her whole body feeling like it was slowly turning to ice. They found William, she thought, feeling faint. He was discovered and killed, and it was all my fault. I killed that good man. Fighting to keep her voice steady, she said, “I find it hard to believe that anything could be worse than this morning.”
“I thought so too,” Milan agreed. “But after riding out from the Palace, our brother traveled to the town of Seville, and asked the lord there to join him.”
Vienna almost collapsed with relief, and if she hadn't already been sitting, she would have needed to immediately. “What did the lord of Seville do?”
“He said no. Lucca then asked if he could buy supplies to feed his supporters, and the lord again said no.”
“Were did Lucca go from there?” Vienna asked. She had the sinking feeling that Milan was going to say that Lucca was heading towards Verdun.
“Lucca didn't go anywhere. He's set siege on the town.”
Vienna stared, her brain trying to process what her brother just said. “He what?”
“He's set his troops around the town and won't let anyone in or out until the lord of Seville gives him what he wants.”
“But the crops! Trade!”
“No one comes in or out. The peasants can't go to their own fields, nor go out to their flocks. It's a total lock-down.”
“But why?” Vienna asked. “He has supporters who have lands close by who would happily give him what he wants.”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Milan said, his voice still mild..
“Me?” Vienna's voice sounded shrill even to her own ears. “Why would I know?”
“You spoke to him for a long while yesterday,” Nicolas said in a suspicious tone, joining into the conversation for the first time.
“I spoke to both of my brothers for a long while yesterday,” Vienna countered.
“Yes,” Nicolas agreed. “And you didn't send any warning to either brother that you were coming?”
“No,” Vienna said. “It was a surprise visit for both of my brothers.”
“You don't think it suspicious that you arrive one afternoon, and the very next morning Lucca leaves, taking the majority of the nobles with him, and with the support of all of the Dukes and Duchesses except for you, his own sister? And you insist that you know nothing of Lucca's plans?” The Skeith scowled, giving Vienna a suspicious look.
“Milan, you aren't going to let him accuse me of... whatever he's accusing me of,” Vienna protested. “I swear, Lucca leaving this morning took me completely by surprise.”
“I need to know if this is a trap to lure me out of the capital,” Milan said. “I need to know if Lucca is trying to get me killed. Please, Vienna.”
“I tell you, I don't know! When I last spoke to him, he spoke only of taxes. If Lucca confides in someone still in the palace, it isn't me.”
“Then guess!” Milan growled, slapping his hand on the table.
Vienna forced herself to take a deep breath and look at the situation logically. “If Lucca is holding a siege at Seville, and he has access to the supplies that he wants close by, then I would guess that it would have to be a trap to lure you out.”
Milan sighed, dropping the subject as the main course was brought out from the kitchens. He doesn't even trust the kitchen staff, Vienna noticed. He can't trust anyone either. He doesn't even trust me. Is Lucca any better off in his camp? The Acara felt a wave of pity for her brothers.
The rest of the meal passed by quietly. Nicolas contented himself with glowering at the food, while Milan appeared to be deep in thought. Vienna fretted about William's safety. She was still fretting, hours later, as she fell asleep in her bed.
To be continued...