Parliament Hall,
City of Cherayth,
Kingdom of Chisholm

It’s a good thing Sharleyan warned me, Cayleb thought wryly as he and his mounted bodyguard arrived outside Parliament Hall.

Chisholm’s Parliament had a much more magnificent home than its Charisian equivalent. Unfortunately, that owed rather more to the Chisholmian nobility’s delusions of grandeur (and appetite for power) than it did to any reverence for popular participation in the kingdom’s government.
The sprawling building’s windows flashed back the cold northern sunlight, and its white marble gleamed like chilled alabaster under a sky of palest blue, burnished with a few high puffs of cloud. The kingdom’s banner snapped and popped from two of the flagstaffs above it, flanking the tallest, central staff, which bore the banner of the new Charisian Empire: the traditional black field and golden kraken of Charis, quartered with the blue and white checkerboard of Chisholm. An icon of the Archangel Langhorne in his role as Lawgiver crowned the roof above the Hall’s portico, scepter raised in stern benediction and admonition; gold leaf glittered; and deep, detailed bas relief sculptures decorated the Hall’s enormous bronze doors. Doors whose sculptures, by the strangest turn of fate, seemed oddly dominated by heroically posed nobles on their prancing chargers, with precious few peasants, merchants, sailors, mechanics, or manufactory owners anywhere to be seen.
The more I see, the more impressed I am that she managed to survive, much less retain her throne, Cayleb thought much more soberly as he took in the monument to the aristocracy’s traditional domination of political power here in Chisholm.
He’d always known the political equation in Chisholm was fundamentally different from the one in Charis. He hadn’t realized before becoming privy to the Brethren of Saint Zherneau’s hidden influence just why Charis was so different from so many other kingdoms and principalities, but he’d always realized that commonly born Charisians had far more say than commoners in other lands when it came to the way in which they were ruled.
Chisholm had been one of those “other lands,” at least until Sharleyan’s father had taken the throne. The Chisholmian aristocracy had secured a firm grip on the levers of power when a not-quite-rebellious alliance of his most powerful nobles forced Sharleyan’s great-grandfather, Irwain II, to “graciously grant” the Charter of Terayth. According to Merlin, the terms imposed upon the Crown at Terayth had been similar to those of something called the “Magna Carta” back on Old Earth, except that they’d been substantially more restrictive of the Crown’s prerogatives.
The situation probably still wouldn’t have been irretrievable except for the unhappy (from the Crown’s perspective, at least) fact that her grandfather, Irwain III, had been a well-meaning but weak monarch. Sharleyan had once told Cayleb that her grandfather would have made a truly excellent minor baron back in the hills somewhere, but he’d been a disaster as a reigning king. Instead of regaining the ground his father had lost, Irwain III had sought compromise rather than conflict. He’d dreaded the thought of what open warfare would have cost his subjects and refused to inflict it upon them in defense of royal prerogtives . . . and so he’d seen the nobility make even more inroads into the king’s authority. By the time he died, the great nobles had reduced him to little more than a figurehead.
Unfortunately (from the great magnates’ point of view, at least), however, they hadn’t quite completed the process at the time of his death . . . and Sharleyan’s father, King Sailys, had been made of sterner stuff. The fact that he’d grown to young manhood watching his own father’s humiliation as he kept steadily losing ground had probably had something to do with it, but he’d also been aware that factionalism among “his” nobles threatened to split Chisholm into warring fragments. That civil war would soon inflict all the bloodshed and horrors his father had bartered away the Crown’s authority trying desperately to avoid . . . unless he made it his business to prevent it. He did, and he’d found the two men whose support he needed to accomplish his seemingly hopeless task. Mahrak Sahndyrs had been Sailys’ chief adviser and confidant, but the king had been ably assisted by his future brother-in-law, the Duke of Halbrook Hollow, as well.
Irwain III had been stripped of everything the nobility recognized as a source of power, but he’d retained his status as the head of state . . . and the Crown had retained the power to summon — and dissolve — Parliament. When the old king died, and Crown Prince Sailys assumed the throne, the law of the kingdom required that Parliament be summoned to confirm the new monarch and to swear fealty to him.
Everyone had known it was a mere formality, of course, but they’d been wrong. What none of Irwain III’s aristocratic masters realized was that Sailys and his friend Mahrak Sahndyrs had spent the last ten years of King Irwain’s life planning for the day that summons would be issued. Along with a few very carefully chosen and recruited members of the House of Lords, they had steered the new Parliament in directions no one else had anticipated, and they’d done it so quietly, so skillfully, that their intended victims had never even seen it coming.
That first Parliament of King Sailys was referred to now as the “Parliament of Love” in most of Chisholm’s histories. Ostensibly, that was because everyone had been so carried away with their enthusiasm for their charismatic new king that they’d gladly acquiesced in the “modest changes” he’d requested. Foremost among those “modest changes,” although Sailys and Green Mountain had been careful to bury it as deep in the underbrush as they could, had been the formation of the core of a small standing army. That particular proposal was justified on the basis of the growing threat from Corisande, and — according to those same official histories — Parliament had gladly supported such a farsighted request. In fact, the Lords had seen the miniscule authorized strength of the new “Royal Army” as little more than giving their youthful monarch a shiny new toy with which he could amuse himself rather than interfering in the serious business of running the kingdom.