Spines straightened throughout Parliament Hall, and Cayleb nodded to them slowly.

“That was the reason your Queen agreed to become my wife. The reason she agreed to merge our realms into a single greater whole. The reason she, too, has drawn the sword of resistance. This is not Charis’ war. It isn’t Chisholm’s war, or Cayleb’s war, or Sharleyan’s war. It is everyone’s war. It is the war of every child of God, of every man and woman who believes in justice. That is the war your Queen had the high courage to join when she might have tried to close her eyes to the truth and avoid that dreadful decision.”
Even some of the peers seemed to sit taller in their seats, eyes brighter, but it was in the eyes of the Commons that Cayleb saw the true fire.
“There is not a single soul in Tellesberg, or anywhere in the Kingdom of Charis, who does not recognize the decision Queen Sharleyan made,” he told those burning eyes quietly. “No one who fails to understand the danger she chose to face with her eyes wide and her head high. And that, My Lords and Ladies, is why the Kingdom of Charis has taken her to its heart. They, as you, have come to know her, and in knowing her, they have come to trust her. To love her. Perhaps the subjects of another realm might question whether or not they have. Might be unwilling — or unable — to believe anyone could win the heart of a strange and new kingdom so quickly. But you already know her, have watched the girl who was forced to take her father’s throne untimely grow under the challenges she has faced. Seen her grow from the sorrowing child into a queen who is Queen indeed, in the full power and majesty of her reign. You know what the people of Charis saw in her — what I see in her, every time I look at her — and because you know her, you know how she could have won her new subjects in Tellesberg so quickly.”
There was sober agreement and satisfaction in faces throughout Parliament Hall, and nods, and — here and there — smiles of memory and pride, as well. Cayleb saw them, and smiled back at them.
“We have not yet been granted the time to complete the arrangements, the reorganization, which was a part of the marriage agreement between Queen Sharleyan and myself — between Charis and Chisholm. The press of events, the threat of our enemies, has forced us to move more quickly even than we had expected. But those arrangements are too important, too fundamental, to be put aside, and so I charge you, My Lords and Ladies, to select from your number those who will represent you in our new, imperial parliament. You must choose them within the next month, and you must send them to Tellesberg, where they will sit with the men and women chosen by the Parliament of Charis, under Empress Sharleyan’s personal direction, and forge that new Imperial Parliament. I entrust this vital task to your hands, to the hands of Queen Mother Alahnah and Baron Green Mountain. I do not fear that you will fail me, or Her Majesty, in this essential duty.”
He saw astonishment in the faces of many members of his audience, and disbelief in not a few of them, as they realized what he was saying. When they grasped the fact that he would allow Sharleyan to create the new institutions of imperial government without even looking over her shoulder the entire time. That he truly trusted her that much.
“For at least the immediate future, My Lords and Ladies,” he told them with a crooked smile, “my own time bids fair to be more occupied with tasks of the sword than with tasks of the council chamber. I wish it were not so, but what I wish cannot change what is. Yet never doubt that whatever Empress Sharleyan does, whatever decision she makes, it will also be my decision, and if I cannot join her in the council chamber, I can — and will — support her outside it.”
His voice hardened, turned grim, almost harsh, with the final sentence, and his brown eyes were dark. He turned those eyes on the assembled peers of Chisholm, and no man or woman in Parliament Hall misunderstood his meaning . . . or his warning. Here and there one or two of Sharleyan’s nobles sought to meet his eye with defiance. They did not succeed.
“A mighty challenge and a daunting task lie before us, My Lords and Ladies,” he said quietly into the intense silence, “and I do not believe God sends great challenges to the unworthy, or that He chooses weaklings for the burdens He lays upon men and women. He expects us to meet those challenges, to straighten our backs under those burdens, and so we shall. We face the sternest test that any have ever faced since the days of the Archangels themselves, and we shall be worthy of the challenge He has sent us, of the trust He has shown in us. Here we stand. We can do no other, and we will not retreat or yield. We will prevail, however long the journey, however great the cost, so help us God.”