Some toys were more dangerous than others, however, and before the great nobles had awakened to their danger, the king and his handful of trusted advisers had created a genuine royal army, one which was both rather larger than the nobility had anticipated and answerable directly and solely to the Crown. And one which was independent of the feudal levies upon which previous monarchs had been forced to rely.

They should call it the Parliament of Idiots, Cayleb thought bitingly. Not that I mind the fact that they were idiots, but how in God’s name could they have let him get away with it?
Actually, he had a pretty shrewd notion of exactly how it could happen. Chisholm’s military traditions had been so backward by the standards of the great kingdoms of the mainland that it had still relied on feudal levies on the rare occasions when an army was required. That was the way it had always been, and Sailys’ nobles had been so accustomed to thinking in terms of those same feudal levies — which they controlled, not the Crown — that it had never occurred to them that a professional standing army could actually pose a threat.
Unfortunately for them, they’d been wrong. The Royal Chisholmian Army might not have been particularly large by the standards of mainland realms, but it had been large enough. And its troops had all been volunteers, raised from the ranks of commoners. That had made them a dragon of a different color compared to the conscripted peasants who had filled out the ranks of the traditional levies. Among other things, they’d had a cohesiveness, an awareness of themselves as servants of the Crown and as voluntary members of something far greater than the usual noble’s drafted levies ever attained. More than that, they’d had a very good idea of who was most likely to get ground into dust in the course of any fighting between their betters’ competing factions, as well, which probably helped to explain why they’d been so impervious to aristocratic blandishments or threats once the nobility finally woke up to what was happening.
With Sailys shrewdly playing the nobility’s factions off against one another to prevent them from combining against him while Green Mountain adroitly managed the kingdom’s financial affairs and Halbrook Hollow commanded the army, the king had broken the three most powerful of those factions, one by one, within six years of taking the throne. The other factions, made wise by the misfortune of their fellows, had finally combined against him and attempted to cut off funding for the Army through their control of Parliament, rather than face it in battle. But, while they’d been looking at Halbrook Hollow’s campaigns in the field, they’d missed Green Mountain’s rather quieter yet ultimately more deadly efforts inside Parliament Hall. Until, that was, the traditionally browbeaten Chamber of Commons had suddenly defied its rightful lords and masters and ranged itself at the Crown’s side under Green Mountain’s leadership. Even worse, the alliance Sailys and Green Mountain had quietly concluded with a sizable chunk of the lesser nobility (who had resented the great nobles’ self-aggrandizing monopoly of power just as much as the Crown had) made common cause with the Chamber of Commons. Instead of depriving the Army of funding, Parliament had actually voted to increase its size!
Ten years after assuming the Crown, King Sailys had made himself the master of his own house. In the process, he’d established the precedent of the Crown’s alliance with the Commons which had been maintained during Sharleyan’s reign. The Chisholmian aristocracy was far from resigned to the permanent curtailment of its power, but it had at least learned the rudiments of discretion. The fact that Chisholm had become progressively more powerful and prosperous under Sailys had probably helped it swallow the painful medicine he, Green Mountain, and Halbrook Hollow had forced down its collective throat. Unfortunately, that power and prosperity had also posed a threat to Prince Hektor of Corisande’s plans, which explained Hektor’s subsidization of the “pirates” who had ultimately succeeded in killing Sailys.
The more disgruntled of Sailys’ nobles had publicly mourned their king’s death even while they laid quiet plans for dealing with their new child-queen as their own great-great-grandfathers had dealt with Queen Ysabel. But if Sailys had been killed, Green Mountain and Halbrook Hollow were still very much alive, and Sailys’ daughter proved even more capable — and, when necessary, ruthless — than he had been himself . . . as the Duke of Three Hills and his allies had soon discovered.
There was no doubt that the aristocracy retained a larger share of political authority in Chisholm than its Charisian counterparts did in Tellesberg, but that authority had been drastically reduced. And it was only a shadow of that which the nobility continued to enjoy in most other Safeholdian realms. Yet the trappings of its four-generations-ago dominance remained in Parliament Hall’s decoration and procedures, and Cayleb made it a point to keep reminding himself that the Chisholmian tradition of royal authority was younger — and probably weaker — than the Charisian tradition.
On the other hand, we’re establishing all sorts of new traditions, aren’t we? Cayleb thought. And — so far, at least — Alahnah and Green Mountain have the situation in hand. Probably — his lips twitched in an involuntary smile — at least partly because these people really don’t want to see Sharleyan coming home to deal with any . . . unruliness herself!
As always, the thought of his wife’s proven capabilities was deeply comforting . . . and sent a tremor of loneliness through him. It was still a marvel to him that someone should have become so deeply, almost painfully, vital to him in so short a time. And not just on a pragmatic level. In fact, if he was going to be honest with himself, not even mostly on a pragmatic level, any longer.
He glanced over his shoulder to where Merlin rode at his back in the uniform of the new Imperial Charisian Guard. The blackened armor remained, as did the black tunic, but the golden kraken on Merlin’s breastplate now swam across a kite-shaped shield in the blue-and-white of the House of Tayt. Sharleyan’s personal guard detachment wore the same uniform, except that hers bore Chisholm’s doomwhale in place of the kraken.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” the emperor said quietly, twitching his head at the building looming before them, and Merlin snorted.
“So is the Temple,” he pointed out, equally quietly. “The wrappings are less important than the contents.”
“Is that one of those wise seijin proverbs?” Cayleb asked with a grin.
“No, but it probably should be.” Merlin cocked his head, studying the Hall’s imposing façade. “I wish Her Majesty were here to play tour guide,” he added.
“So do I,” Cayleb admitted, then stopped speaking as they reached their destination and halted in the space a cordon of halberd-armed Royal Army infantrymen had kept clear before Parliament Hall.