Rien’s Rebellion 10 – 28 Festivis 1137 to 10 Alglidis 1138 Ragin

Ragin

28 Festivis, 1137 to 10 Alglidis, 1138

That morning began the longest fourteen I’d yet lived. Rien, Savrin and I took our places with the Prava and almost from the first, I knew it would go badly. The Prava was in complete shock — Teregenis I’d never expected to show the slightest emotion openly wept. They were bewildered, drunk on grief, and just wanted to know what happened. I didn’t know. Paval and my opposite number at Western Garrison Two were investigating, Metropolita investigators had already traveled west, but simple facts remained: Vohan was dead, he planned to elevate Rien to co-regnant Razia in the spring.

The prefix stalled the Prava. They’d agreed to Rien’s coronation while Vohan lived because whomever she married would not be Razin and they needn’t elevate her Consort. Now, most of the Prava seemed convinced the assassination was a Spagnian act of war and they faltered at the idea of a woman and her as yet undetermined husband ruling us. A woman with neither military experience nor official training. The Monarch holds two offices — the Raz Civitata, the civil Monarch, and the Dux Martiale, the War Duke — but in Galantier’s long history, no woman had ever held both seats in wartime. The last sole Razia of Galantier had died five centuries back, and though her reign was considered benevolent enough that Eliseth gained the epithet the Just, she never declared war.

The days blended together as they debated the possibilities — selecting Rien as co-regnant with me, or Savrin. Or me, alone. Then the Royalists woke from their daze and argued for her, as Uncle wished. That started the battle.

Always, my parent watched from the north gallery. At first, he rarely spoke. He kept his expressions neutral, but I knew better. He was as entirely satisfied as one of Rien’s cats at the fishpond. The Judicatura couldn’t link Mathes to Uncle’s death, but I was convinced. My parent set that trap.

When he did speak, I knew. We can’t afford a single woman, no warrior, on the throne now. What if she marries? What if she doesn’t? We’re not just discussing this year, but the next decade, perhaps half-century. The Prima Ascendara is very young, how can she lead Galantier alone? He sowed uncertainty about her, always in the guise of protecting his tender niece.

What he never mentioned was that Rien, at nearly twenty-five, was older than half of Galantier’s Monarchs at their Coronation, including Uncle, and far better educated. Further, no Monarch has been anywhere near battle since we’ve been fighting Spagna. In point of fact, no Monarch had led Galantier in war in three hundred years, and that was a civil war, to depose the mad Razin Gadrick. And in further point, that monarch was a woman, Renea, though assisted by her husband, Eduar, and Renea had certainly not been the decorative sort of Razia. She had truly ruled, and done so well.

Rien and the Royalists argued those points, but to me, it distinctly felt as if no one in the room heard. Odd undercurrents made the whole Prava seem off-balance, perhaps unbalanced, and every time I came close to understanding, some emotional tide seemed to shift. It was subtle to the point of insignificance and initially, I thought I was imaging it, or just misunderstanding. I have ducked this responsibility almost comprehensively — but when I mentioned it to Rien over a late supper on the second day, she concurred. Not happily, either.

Savrin was rarely mentioned. His celibacy virtually eliminated him. He wouldn’t be sole Razin because of it. He only spoke when questioned, and only briefly. He always seemed to support Rien.

By the third day, though, I listened to him carefully.

The current proposal was for Rien and I to be co-regnant, with me taking the Dux Martiale while she reigned as Razia Civitata. The question posed was about the form of that reign — as siblings or a married pair? The latter twisted my guts. I’d sooner bed my horse than my cousin. Perverse I may be, but incestuous? Never.

“Perhaps the Tret Ascendar wishes to marry Prazia Cazerien?” Teregenitor Ruteri said. No discussion of what Rien wants, I noted. Nor did he use her honorific. Not good.

“Does the Tret Ascendar wish to comment?” The Optimus asked.

Savrin stood. “My cousin believes marriage between herself and either myself or my honorable cousin to be irresponsible. Though a marriage might be legally and ethically sound, she disapproves of any match which the midwives consider ill-advised for her future children, as did my beloved late uncle. I doubt her hand will be forced as she seems quite dedicated to her single state. Further, while for the good of Galantier I would put aside my vows of celibacy for a time, I could not discard entirely my faith and my cousin’s… faith is incompatible with mine.”

The little bastard, I thought. He insinuated that Rien didn’t intend to marry, that she’s disastrously stubborn, that if forced to wed, her children wouldn’t be those of her lawful husband, and that she’s heretical. I’ll kill you when I get you alone.

Rien tensed beside me, but she held her impassivity, just like always in Prava chambers. She’d heard it.

The days wore on. We came to votes at least once a day, but never assembled the three-quarters plus one agreement the succession requires. We came close, on the tenth day, when Rien and I were to be elevated as sibling Razin and Razia and both marry others. We had seventy-seven of the necessary eighty votes. Only the Reformists opposed us, but they opposed us entirely. We couldn’t win without three Reformist votes, and they vote as a block.

I know I dressed, ate and slept during that long debate, but I don’t recall it. I know Ethene arrived and stayed near Rien and me, but I don’t remember what we said. I know she returned to her Cimenarum townhouse, but I couldn’t say when. I was entirely focused on the Prava and relearning everything I’d ever forgotten about it.

During a short recess on the twelfth day, the Optimus turned to Rien and me. Savrin had gone, probably to the bathry, and the rest of the Prava either milled about in the galleries or out in the hall, raiding the provision baskets. “I have a proposal,” he said, “but I want your agreement before I present it. This wrangling doesn’t investigate His Majesty’s death, nor secure the country.”

“I’ll hear it, but I promise nothing,” Rien said. “The study, please.”

Once enclosed in the study, the Optimus looked uncomfortable. “Please realize I want General Revinsel returned to the West. We need able officers there, not wasted here. Thus, I oppose measures that deprive us of his talents. Further, Ascendency, I respect your administrative and legal skill, but we’re going to war. You’ve never been west. I doubt you can effectively lead us in this trying time.”

“Go on,” she said. A few fine hairs stood on the nape of her neck. That told me she was furious, though her voice and posture didn’t show it.

“His Worship’s only detriment is his celibacy,” the Optimus said. “He’s young, but his military training and education are sound, and his celibacy may be beneficial. He won’t be torn between Galantier and his private life like His Majesty. I observed the partnership His Majesty shared with Her Splendor Bellacera. She was Razia of Galantier in all but name and I believe, far more effective because she lacked the title. I propose we follow that pattern, elevate Tret Ascendar Savrin to Razin, and leave you as his Prima Ascendara, with General Revinsel as Diat Ascendar. Your children will be his heirs, and because you shan’t be thrust immediately into the necessities of the Monarchy, you’ll both have leisure to both grieve and marry. I know you’re more attached to His Majesty than His Worship.”

“Optimus, with all due respect,” she said, “I cannot prevent you from proposing that, but it’s disastrous. Savrin’s not the Monarch we need. He’s entirely wrapped in his faith. He’s no strategist, won’t consider the long-cycle of the world like my father did. He’s… cold. He doesn’t well balance compassion and expedience. He’s no arbiter and doesn’t understand that great responsibility accompanies power.”

“Savrin attended the War College,” I said, “but his instructors weren’t impressed. Cazerien had the same instruction in military history, tactics, strategy and personal combat. She lacks unit experience, but the Monarch hardly needs it. Savrin spent the hours, but Cazerien got the education and skills.”

“You’re both missing the point,” the Optimus said. “Her Ascendency will rule. Through His Worship. We know Savrin sator Lethis is no Razin. However, neither are you, Ragin. The Reformists haven’t forgotten your shouting matches with Teregenitor Prenceps Mathes. They mistrust your temper, and without their support, we’ll be here until the moon falls into the sea. Frankly, Your Ascendency, you’re almost untried.”

“Save for reigning beside my father and in loco regentatis on his behalf for the last eight years, Optimus,” Rien said. “Did you call my father untried? My grandfather refused to allow my father or his siblings any authority, and the Prava of that day refused to grant a regency despite my grandfather’s years of ill health. And yet, my father was easily crowned.”

“I was not then a member of this body,” he said without inflection. “That precedent is immaterial to the matter at hand. Your father was then the sole elevated Ascendar, he was married and your mother anticipated your imminent arrival.”

“In translation, Optimus, what matters is my wedded state, and my experience or lack thereof is immaterial to the Reformists. As, too, it seems to me, the nation’s expected continuity of government, or the succession plans that my father filed and the Prava approved in 1129, 1131, 1132 and 1135.”

He seemed puzzled for the next long moment, as he watched her watch him. Then he turned to the sideboard and poured water into a trio of glasses. He raised the first to his lips and tasted it ceremonially before handing it to Rien, then repeated it with the second before handing that one to me. The ritual was an ancient courtesy, from the Porsirians who had long experience with poisonings. For us, it’s an obeisance — the giver symbolically volunteering to share in the recipient’s fate, no matter the consequences. It’s also deeply intimate, a gesture only between close friends, long allies or relatives. I didn’t know what to do with the glass. The gesture was not just unexpected, but out of place.

Rien studied the rim for a moment before raising it to her lips for the ceremonial response. I followed her lead, accepting the gesture of good faith. “Thank you, Reginal,” Rien said quietly, using the Optimus’ given name.

“And to you, Cazerien,” he said. “May I ask a question that will probably sound insulting?”

“I will attempt to remain unoffended,” she said, nodding.

“Have you examined the records on those four succession approvals closely?” he asked.

She nodded. “Both at the time and in recent review. I do recognize the alteration. A succession plan vote is a simple majority by the individual body. There is no Royal block vote, thus it only requires fifty-two votes for passage. All four were sealed anonymous votes, per the Prava’s rules for end of session votes when time is short and recess looms. The succession plans were all substantially the same. I was consistently named Prima, Ragin Diat, Savrin Tret. The only alterations have been to the subsequent succession, which, barring disaster, is unlikely. In 1129, the Prava had 101 members since neither Savrin nor I were yet seated. 1129 passed eighty-eight to thirteen, and that was the slimmest margin. There were twenty-nine Reformists in 1129, as today. Assuming strict block-line voting, at least sixteen Reformists approved each succession plan. That’s more than half of your numbers. That wasn’t substantially rude,” she added.

“No, but this is. I cannot decide if you are so naïve that you believe there is no alteration between a secret vote for a far-off potentiality and an immediate, public vote, or if you just have that much faith in the better natures of this body.”

She half-smiled, but it was pained. “I have always believed this body to be committed to the best interests of Galantier. Of course a secret ballot provides a shield from retribution. I am not so naïve. You and Mathes and Bastiari and Sulaven are holding the Upper Crook Canal over Delavi’s head. Should Rassath break ranks, his port won’t get supplementary funding for dredging. Should Silvalt go against type, he’ll lose a Naval contract. Need I go on? All of you Reformists have interests that only the kingdom coffers can provide, but your individual interests serve the national interests. Funding them serves us all; denying them damages us. It shouldn’t be political but we all use the levers we have. Perhaps I am naïve, but I truly do not understand why you Reformists continue your mutual extortion when it’s not what most of you want.” She looked away from him for a moment and her eyes flicked right and left as if she was skimming through her files of memory. “Just over a year ago, when the most recent succession plan passed, the vote was ninety-three to nine and one abstention. The Reformists have not altered their membership since ’33, when the current Bastiari succeeded. Twenty-nine of you. I don’t know who voted against the succession plan in ’35, but did I gamble, I would say Picarem, Ruteri, Sulaven, Silvalt, Rassath, Pinuvar, Razavelt, Revinsel and Galensel. The abstention was Savrin, since he has abstained on every vote since he took his vows.”

He had been quietly nodding until Rien came to her own voting name, mine and uncle’s. We’ve been voting against our own succession plans since 1131, when Aunt Bella died and Savrin began to leave his path. We’d never worried about the succession passing, because the margins had always been more than sufficient, but Rien, Uncle and I knew that Savrin was not fit to stay in the succession, even as third in line. He didn’t want it, and a reluctant monarch is probably worse than none at all. Of course, we also knew that a succession plan that didn’t include him couldn’t pass. The Prava didn’t want to consider the deep succession, and I couldn’t blame them. After Aunt Bella died and we had to determine who was fourth in line, there were eighteen names with equal, distant claims to the throne, from a second cousin three times removed to a fifth cousin once removed. All were from noble families, all with the means and influence to fight for the throne, none with enough of either to win over a block of the others. The succession plan requires only three names, which is why we had delayed figuring out who would replace Savrin for as long as possible. After all, there had been a chance that Uncle might remarry if Aunt Alnora died, and Rien and I were supposed to be working on marrying and producing subsequent heirs. We thought we had time.

“You didn’t even agree with the succession plan your father proposed?” the Optimus said.

“We agreed with two-thirds of it,” she said. “Reginal, we tried to resolve this when Savrin approached Da about leaving the succession in ’33. Check the Prava book for that year. Seventeen Solestis.” She reached behind her and found the Prava book from that year with barely a glance at the shelf. Rien knows this room like almost nobody else; she’s spent hours here since she was six. She handed him the book.

He still looked affronted and mystified that she was handing him previously unknown information, but he took the book and laid it open on the table. He thumbed to the back half, then leafed through the pages. “A resolution to form a committee for the determination of Galantier’s subsequent succession. Joint proposal, Razavelt, Galensel, Revinsel, Kurzon, Arisdal, Marinvelt. Suspended indefinitely per voice vote, affirmed Optimus,” he read.

“And 12 Glacilis, ’34,” Rien said and handed him the next book. “After that, 16 Solestis, ’34,  and mid-Glacilis ’35 and mid-Solestis ’35 and so on. I’ve tried to re-open discussion every half-year since we proposed it three years ago, and every time, the Optimus has left the matter tabled. Why is that, Reginal?”

He closed the books, then closed his eyes briefly. He drank deeply of the water before he sighed and looked back at her. “Because there are eighteen claimants for the quan Ascendar. Nine are in this body, nine are their wives who are also sisters of claimants. Five are Reformist, six are Royalist, seven are Progressive. The marriages cross factions in several cases. I doubt we can form the committee to discuss the matter without starting a brawl, Cazerien, much less come to agreement. We cannot open this bottle of fire oil. We have a war in the west, trade, water, diplomacy — ”

“I know, Reginal,” she said. “Look again at the dates when we proposed or brought up the committee. Look at what else was on the slate for those days.”

Now, he pulled all six books and opened them to the dates, then read carefully. “You always proposed these on busy days.”

She nodded. “And if I felt the committee a highest priority, do you not think I would have found more support? Do you think I would have kept silent except for twice annual peeps to remind everyone we had a pending problem? I am well aware, Reginal, that opening this debate would distract us for years. The succession arguments are why any paele older than five hundred years is a fortress, not a home. It’s why we build succession plans, and in the last five hundred years, have contested only two. This one, and Gadrick’s, because Gadrick was mad and he named his cat as his successor. I am not mad, my father was not mad, and I am not a cat, so Gadrick’s precedent cannot be held against me. Now look at the succession plan votes again, Reginal. We don’t have an argument. This body has overwhelmingly agreed to the succession four times in eight years. The plans have passed with well above the needed three-quarters. The body’s constitution has not substantially changed over those eight years. The only difference is that this is a roll-call vote, depriving the Reformists of their veil of deniability. Now that you know that only six Reformists oppose the planned succession, why are you allowing those six to deny the will of the other twenty-three?” 

They stared at each other as long minutes ticked by. Something had to be at the heart of the internal Reformist politics. Somebody knew where the bodies were buried. I wondered how literal that might be.

Without breaking his gaze, Rien’s right hand turned several pages of the most recent Prava book, the one for the end of last year. She glanced down to ensure she’d found the right place, then laid a finger on a section and blocked the view of the page from me. She reached across the Optimus for the water decanter and refilled his glass. He looked down and read whatever she indicated, then sighed deeply. He sipped from his glass, then offered it to her and she took it to finish the ritual.

“I’m sorry, Majesteria,” he said heavily, “but I don’t think that will help.”

Now I wanted to know what Rien had indicated, but she closed the book before I could get a look. But the Optimus had called her by her bench title. He was acknowledging her legal authority as a member of Galantier’s High Judicatura.

“None are so lost,” she started, “Reginal — “

“I shall propose Savrin as sole Monarch,” he said, “with the expectation that you will maintain your place in the Judicatura and this body, and in doing so, exert your influence over his reign. I believe it is the only solution possible.”

She sighed. “And I will oppose your proposition. With my one vote.” 

“And me,” I said. “If you want that proposal, propose Rien as senior and Savrin as junior, co-regnant siblings.”

“That might not be sufficient,” Tiwendar said to me, “because she’s a woman. Your Ascendency,” he turned back to Rien. “Were we not facing war, you’d be a competent Monarch, alone or not. Had your father died like his father, had we time to prepare and grow to expect the succession, we would not be in this room discussing this. I admit that I, too, fear a return to the years when a quarter of the men we sent west didn’t return. I endured that, Ascendency. I lost friends and a brother. I did not count myself fortunate to be excused from border service when I attended fifteen funerals a year. And I saw what happened to those who survived the battle, but never left the war. Your father was a symbol as much as he was a man and a leader. I’ve disagreed with you, personally, Cazerien, on your methods, rarely on your positions. I find your policies too radical and you want change faster than reality allows,  but I don’t doubt your ability. I know you will rule through Savrin. He’s a symbol. You’re the mind and the leader.”

“No, Reginal,” she said, softening. “I won’t. You don’t know him. Perhaps, on good days, he will delegate to me what he doesn’t want or doesn’t understand. There are two Savrins. One is distractible, easily bored, mercurial, impetuous. The other is convinced that his god is the universal savior. He’s rigid, dedicated, single-minded. The latter seems to have dispelled the former in recent years, but neither is a Monarch in the making.” She pulled down another book, this time the Lex Galenteris, our comprehensive legal code, and Rien’s first holy text. She opened it to the section on the monarch’s rights and privileges. “My father granted me the governance of the Prima Ascendara’s holdings by Royal Writ, per his authority as Razin. Chapter two, section two, column seven. The Lex Galenteris grants the Ascendars no power beyond what accompanies their inherited langreves. Chapter two, section two, column twelve. My mother brought no Galantieran land. The Monarch need not consult any Ascendar and the Privy Council exists only at the Monarch’s discretion. Chapter two, section one, column six. Should you select Savrin, he will have the absolute right per the Lex to dismiss any and all writs of the previous monarchs. Chapter two, section one, column three. He will certainly dismiss the current Ministers. His faith exhorts him that men should bear responsibility for the women in their family, to protect them from the rigors of public life. New Order Lethians interpret this to mean that women should not own or administer property.

“The Judicatura has heard four cases on this matter during my tenure. Mistress Mer Garran versus her converted former husband Garran Eternal Comfort for her half of their marital house. Master sune Saddlar on behalf of his deceased daughter versus Samnel Infinite Mercy for the deeds to three fields granted to the couple for their use during her life. Teregenitor Dastorian on behalf of three children versus Ceran Pious Dust for return of property to provide for the support of Master Pious Dust’s three minor daughters. And Decca dat Anten versus her father, Anten sator Lethis, who was entrusted with a house and goods left to Mistress dat Anten by her late mother until Mistress dat Anten’s majority, and who instead transferred the property to the Chapterhouse. Every woman who has sued her father or brother or husband for her property has won in the courts, but the New Order Lethians have destroyed every structure, salted every field, and burned any portable property before returning the deeds and ashes. They comply with the law, but when it becomes clear they will lose, they ensure that no one shall benefit. The arson and destruction cases are underway, but workfarm sentences don’t seem to deter them. Savrin’s means of complying with his faith’s dictates are much simpler — merely not renew my father’s writ of my holdings.” She looked up from the book to ensure he had kept up with her legal reasoning. When he nodded, she went on.

“Thus, maintaining my place in this body is tenuous at best and not to be relied upon. Now, Savrin himself has a deep and seemingly sincere faith. In five years, Ragin and I have not found a single crack, and we have tried. He is entirely convinced, and his faith is a mystical one of signs, prophecies, portents. While I can’t confirm it, I think the New Order Lethians believe that Savrin is somehow special. He doesn’t state he’s their prophet, but he prevaricates around that point. Think back to Hermache, Reginal. An orphan brought to the Sardanis, whom some eventually claimed to be the mortal child of Archilia and Sardan. Hundreds of years later, thousands of people believe in that incarnation and spend their lives waiting for the second incarnation, though Hermache said he would be reborn in the lifetimes of those living when he died. Mysticism is powerful, and I think Savrin will interpret his Elevation as a sign to bring the people to Lethis. Given the extent of his faith, his reign will exceed Baethan Pious’ … reforms.” She spat the word. “When Baethan ruled, we ten thousand Galantierans starved or thrived together. Now the Famine Coffer provides when private generosity fails, but New Order Lethians revere fasting and consider bodily deprivation sacred. For Lethians, charity subverts Lethis’ will since the material world is irrevocably tainted, thus to distribute its bounty is to spread impurity. Savrin has often mentioned to me how abhorrent he finds the Famine Coffer. Baethan Pious didn’t persecute those who didn’t worship the Pantheon, but if Savrin’s in power, the Lethians will.  Many of our customary liberties — the right of people to worship, marry, work and read as they please — are anathema to Lethians. Lethians arrange their marriages, insist upon marital continence lest trying to kindle a child, that no other god exists. Reginal, they even believe reading printed matter rather than manuscript corrupts the mind. Galantier won’t survive Savrin’s leadership.”

“We’ll codify those liberties and prevent such… behaviors,” Reginal said.

“Not fast enough,” she said. “Savrin will use the Monarch’s powers to veto those decisions. They contradict his faith. And even if he doesn’t, the Prava cannot legislate influence. I got ink in my hair and suddenly, three hundred young women discovered the wool dyer’s market to somewhat disastrous effect. My father admitted he preferred watching dance to watching tosca, and within a tenday, there wasn’t a dance ticket to be found and nobody was playing tosca. My father, who played tosca in the halls. He preferred to do rather than watch anything, and he liked dance because he preferred watching young women in little clothing to young men in heavy wool tunics. The Lethians need not force Savrin to issue writs or push laws through the Prava. What happens at the Karsai becomes fashionable, whether we intend it or not. Imagine this country taking on Lethian sensibilities. Think what it will do to our trade. Thirty million gallons of wine a year, not made. More than five thousand persons of fashion in this city alone who buy many garments each year from five hundred seamstresses and tailors. A thousand printers. Sixty theaters. Hundreds of taverns. And think a generation out. We require every soldier and sailor to be able to read and comprehend simple arithmetic. Right now, Old Order Lethians contribute fewer than one-hundredth of our forces. New Order are a fraction of that, and the New Order doesn’t send their children to school. Where does our army come from if we have a generation unschooled? How do we pay them if we have a generation who does not trade? Our war with Spagna is not voluntary.  He’s not what you want.”

“I fear he is the only expedient option remaining, Your Ascendency.”

“Damn expediency,” she said, her temper finally flaring. “The Prava’s duty is not to be expedient, but to choose the best possible monarch. Objectively, without personal or political prejudice. Mathes opposes due to private, familial hostility. Ruteri opposes me specifically because I have prosecuted three of his close relations and returned two judgements against him. Rassath because he’s near ninety, mostly deaf and blind, unwilling to admit that he cannot recall his breakfast by tenth hour, and relying on Ruteri’s nephew to prompt his votes. Sulaven votes as Ruteri demands because Sulaven owes Ruteri somewhere north of ten million teanders. Pinuvar because he feels bound to support Savrin’s father through him, though Wulvar has been dead longer than Sav’s been alive. And Silvalt because…” She took a deep breath and raised her chin before continuing. “Silvalt opposes me because despite his effort, he has never managed to corner the only woman seated on the Prava and compromise her. I hear no criticism of my character, my mind nor my ability in that opposition, Reginal. Have I been blind to a slight I’ve offered?”

I didn’t know Silvalt had harassed Rien, but it didn’t surprise me. He’d been under my command when he was fresh at the War College. Every master had failed him and I’d recommended a bad conduct dismissal because he bullied indiscriminately. He’d lasted a half-year and he’d only managed to circumvent the Prava requirement of two years’ service because his father died just after he reached majority. Hunting accident, if I recalled correctly. Mathes had agreed to mentor him in the Prava as substitute service. Silvalt paid no attention to the Prava, attended irregularly, proxied his vote to Mathes much of the time and voted as Mathes directed.

“I cannot disagree, Cazerien. Your behavior and abilities are not in question, but each member may vote as his, or her, interests lead.” 

“Three votes, Reginal. Of the other twenty-five, are there not two more who would prefer relief?”

“No,” he said softly. “I’ve tried. Not in a public vote.”

“Can we make it a secret ballot?” I asked. “The roll-call seems to be the sticking point.”

They both seem to have forgotten me, because Rien jumped and Reginal startled. He pulled down the Prava procedure book, stuck a scrap of paper in one place, then opened it to a second and handed it over. “You tell me.”

I read the first passage. All matters which concern the whole of the kingdom and whose duration will exceed one year must be brought to a public accounting by the body of the Teregenis, either by voice or by written record. Then I read the other one. The Prava shall confirm the succession before the coronation of the subsequent monarch through any means established by precedent or agreement of the body. “These rules don’t say anything,” I said. “Public accounting means to be counted in public. By voice is by acclimation. Written record can mean a secret ballot as long as they’re opened and counted in full view. Through any established means is vague enough to mean if you all drink your fondal, you can consider that a vote. Agreement of the body makes it even more vague. Hold a majority vote for a secret ballot first, then hold a secret ballot.”

“That’s the problem,” Rien said. “Prava procedures are intentionally written to be as vague as possible, to give the body as much flexibility as possible. The precedent of the last two centuries has been to require a three-quarters majority by individual voice vote.”

“What happened two hundred years ago to make that the rule?” I asked. “What was it before?”

Reginal shook his head. “And this is why I want you in the west, doing what you’re best at. The ballots for Razin Faram’s confirmation were subverted between the Prava chambers and Welces’ Square. Three times. In two hundred yards, with three hundred people watching the entire time, the ballot box was tampered with. The key would work in Prava chambers, but not in Welces’ Square.”

“It sounds like the lock was the problem, not the ballots,” I said. “Cold, heat, damp. There’s a couple very old ones out at the War College that can only be opened if it’s raining.”

“Probably true,” Reginal said. “All three counts were identical and tallied with the roll-call, but ever after, the box was relegated to minor matters. In this instance, we have spent twelve days in debate assuming a voice vote. We have established this precedent for this selection. To change the rules in the midst of the game would inflame all three factions.”

“But what we’re doing clearly isn’t working,” I said. They both gave me a confounded look, as if I had just said that the sea is liquid cheese.

“He has a point,” Rien said eventually to Reginal. “Poorly articulated and with limited understanding of legislative procedure, but a point nonetheless. Would the Reformists even support a redefinition to a secret ballot?”

The Optimus wobbled his head left and right. “They’d split. It’s the Progressives who will oppose it. They think the voice vote keeps us all honest. I also think your Royalists will oppose it. Arisdal and Dastorian have been negotiating just as hard with the Progressives and our blockage gives them a united front to rally against. They’ve got as many millions in funds promised as we have. At best, it would be a narrow victory that would not necessarily carry.”

“May I have a day before you propose?”

“You may have two,” he said. “I’m no greater advocate of the expediency argument than you, ma’am.” 

“Reginal, what must I promise to get you to release three Reformists to vote their conscience?”

He was silent for too long and refused to look at her. “I don’t hold those cards, Ascendency.”

“While I query the Royalists and Progressives on the voting, will you consult for their requirements?”

He hesitated. “It may not be within the Monarch’s power.” Then he sighed. “Two days.”

“And if you break from the block entirely?” she asked. “I’ve seen all of you vote against your own best interests. What mutual aid… or is it the opposite?”

“When needed, others in the faction vote against their best interests for us.” He looked away uneasily. “The method works. I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Why? Because a woman can’t understand your political brotherhood?” she scoffed.

“No… because there’s always more at stake than personal power.” He glared at her, and the man who had been negotiating and sharing water just seconds before vanished. His fury was cold, but wrapped in contempt for the girl opposite him.  “You’ll drag this out for your own selfish ends.”

“The monarchy is based on responsibility and justice, not power, Optimus,” she breathed. “That’s the last thing I want.”

“Quite right, niece,” my parent said from the door. “May I quote you? Reginal, we’re ready.”

“They’ll wait. Get in here. Close the door.” Rien seemed to grow a few inches as her spine stiffened and her chin rose. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She turned slightly, a swordfighter’s defense to present a narrower target.

He clicked his tongue as if Rien were a naughty child. “Niece, it’s impolite to keep such important men waiting.”

“They’ll live. If five minutes kills them, they’re too fragile anyway,” I said. I hated to touch him, but I pulled him into the study and shut the door.

Rien opened her documents case and removed a sheet in her own hand. “Will you still propose this?”

“How did you get this?” Tiwendar asked as he read.

“Ask my father,” she said. It had to be the draft Royal Powers proposal she’d written about. “He merely asked me to fix it. You realize that contradicts Galantier’s every founding principle?”

“Interpretation, niece. Galene wouldn’t have wanted — ” My parent started one of the set-piece lectures he delivered to guilds and temples for a fee.

“You don’t know what Galene wanted. Don’t presume to give her words,” she said. “This contradicts the Founder’s Codex and a thousand years of precedent. The entire point of the Monarchy is to plan for the future and to protect embattled minorities from popular majorities. To quote you, Mathes.”

“I believe the Judicatura and the Prava are effective defenses.”

“I agree,” she said. “Though it pains me to agree with you at all, I do. That draft isn’t yours. It’s what you should have written if you intend the Prava to check the Monarch.”

My parent didn’t quite roll his eyes at Rien, but even he can’t deny she’s one of Galantier’s best lawyers. He snatched it away from Tiwendar then skimmed her document. “Hm. The Prava checks the Monarch, the Judicatura checks the Prava and the Monarch checks the Judicatura.” He looked like he’d bitten a salted lemon. “Though it pains me to admit it, this is clever, niece.”

“I know,” she said. “Thus, I return it.” She took it from Mathes and handed it to Tiwendar. I don’t know if she intended it, but her left hand brushed Tiwendar’s right, and he startled as if awakened from a light sleep. The hostility in his face receded.

“Why correct it?” Mathes asked, looking at her suspiciously.

“The Royalists can and will veto yours as written,” she said, “but the ideas are infectious and necessary. The remaining Royal Prerogatives are apolitical. Our internal arguments must stop at the sea, thus the Monarch may still appoint diplomats, establish embassies, negotiate treaties and direct foreign relations.  Judicial mercy embodies our collective capacity to forgive, and the Monarch’s right to pardon or commute a sentence recognizes that justice can be blind to extenuating circumstances. The block vote remains since it represents the people on Royal lands, but it now must be split to represent those needs instead of being cast at the Monarch’s discretion. It reduces Royal writ to a half-year’s duration, usually sufficient time for an experiment, because government should support innovation. The Prava can then end, extend or make the writ law. When the time came, I would have proposed this, and this will pass.”

“Arrogance is unbecoming, girl,” Mathes said. “Why give it to us if you’re so confident? Don’t you want credit for reforming and improving the country?”

My fist clenched to batter him. Mathes sounded like he believed Rien to be entirely self-serving.

She stood her own ground and stared him down. “That’s you. It’s now a good law and good laws are the only collective wisdom we have. I return it because that’s what should be submitted. Ensure it’s submitted as a Royal Powers proposal and it’ll pass. I’ll ensure the Judicatura doesn’t overturn it. You’ll have the check on the Monarch’s power you want. Now, release the block and let them vote for me.”

I saw my brat’s plan. My parent has wanted the Monarch leashed and gagged since he realized he’d never be Razin. If he can’t have the power, he thinks nobody should have it. He’d have his check and Rien would be Razia. She’d give up some power for it, but Uncle proved a good Monarch doesn’t need most of its powers.

“I don’t make deals with girls,” Mathes said, taking the document from Reginal’s nerveless fingers and tucking it away. “Thank you, niece.”

“Prenceps, it’s a sound proposal,” Tiwendar said. He sounded vague, almost confused.

“Then make the deal with me,” I said. “Rien and me, together. That satisfies your Cleatarni and Teandrians. You only must say personal feelings shouldn’t be political.”

“But they are, my son,” Mathes spat. “Acknowledge me as your father on the Prava floor and I’ll consider it. Now, we have a vote that will fail. You know it, I know it, everyone out there knows it, but this is the process and it’s time to move on.”

NEXT

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