Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 42

“Yes,” Irys replied softly. But then she gave herself a mental shake and tilted her head, hazel eyes taking on an edge of challenge. “Yes,” she repeated, “and it doesn’t hurt Charis’ position with him one bit for him to play baseball and basketball with the boy who’s still second in line to the Charisian Crown, does it, Your Eminence?”

“Of course it doesn’t. And I won’t pretend that consideration isn’t a part of Their Majesties’ . . . calculations where you and your brother are concerned. But do you truly believe they wouldn’t have done the same thing anyway?”

Irys locked gazes with him for a moment. Then she shook her head.

“No,” she admitted. “I think they would’ve done exactly the same thing And” — she confessed — “they’ve given him a degree of freedom here in Tellesberg he never would’ve had in Manchyr.”

“But not without seeing to his security very carefully, Your Highness.”

“No, not without that,” she agreed, and her lips quirked almost against her will. “Seeing three boys, the oldest barely fourteen, playing baseball with two complete teams of Marines and Imperial Guardsmen in full uniform — including the Guardsmen’s armor — is . . . not something I would’ve seen back in Manchyr. And it’s amazing how good Colonel Falkhan is at losing after absolutely playing as hard as he possibly could.”

“Ah, well, Your Highness, he was Emperor Cayleb’s chief bodyguard when Cayleb was crown prince himself, you know. And the truth is that I suspect Zhan would be having rather a harder time of it if it weren’t for the younger boys. Colonel Falkhan had quite a lot of practice doing the same thing with Cayleb, but it began to change somehow when Cayleb turned fourteen or fifteen.” The archbishop smiled in memory. “At that point, Cayleb suddenly discovered it was far more difficult to beat his armsmen than it used to be. He’s one of the brighter fellows I know, and it didn’t take him long to realize they’d been — I believe the term is ‘throwing‘ — the games when he’d been younger. Which only made him even more determined to beat them fairly now that he was older. Not a bad lesson for a future monarch to learn early, I think.”

“Probably not,” Irys said thoughtfully. “Especially the bit about people letting him win because he was a prince. People get — or some of them get, at any rate — more subtle about it as they get older, but there are always plenty of flatterers and toadies around. Learning to watch for that sort of thing would be a useful lesson for any ruler.”

“Actually, Your Highness, you’re missing the point,” Staynair corrected gently. She looked a question at him, and the archbishop shrugged. “Every child is ‘allowed’ to win, at least sometimes, by adults who truly love him. It gives him the confidence to try again, to become steadily better, to master challenges. It’s important that he not realize the adults in his life are deliberately losing to him, because he needs that sense of accomplishment. And it’s important for them to challenge him even when they ‘let’ him win, so that he truly does gain in proficiency and capability. But for someone destined to wear a crown, it’s even more important for him to realize those who truly care for him are willing to beat him, to force him to stretch to the very limit of his capabilities, and to show him the difference between glib-tongued sycophants and those he can trust to be honest with him. That’s a valuable lesson for anyone, Your Highness, but especially for someone destined to rule. And one reason it’s especially valuable for a ruler is because it also teaches him to cherish those who are honest with him, to encourage them to tell him when they disagree with him, or when he’s making a mistake. And to listen to them when they tell him that.” He shook his head. “That’s the lesson young Crown Prince Cayleb learned from Lieutenant Falkhan all those years ago, and it’s stood him — and the Kingdom and Empire of Charis — in very good stead since King Haarahld’s death.”

Irys’ eyes had narrowed while the archbishop was speaking. When he finished, she stood for a moment, still gazing up at him, and then, slowly, she nodded.

“I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way, Your Eminence,” she confessed, and a shadow touched her expressive eyes. “And I wish my father had had the opportunity to have this conversation with you years ago,” she went on very softly. “I think . . . I think it might have served him in good stead where my brother Hektor was concerned.”


Staynair captured her right hand in his, tucking it into the bend of his left elbow as he stood beside her and they both turned to look out over the city once more.

“Perhaps,” he repeated. “But perhaps not, too.”

He turned his head, gazing at her profile as the breeze cracked the banners flying from the cathedral’s façade like whips.

“I can’t speak to your father’s relationship with your brother, of course,” he continued. “But I can say that looking at you and Daivyn, who you are and who you’ve become despite everything that’s happened, gives me a far better opinion of Prince Hektor than I ever had before.” She twitched in surprise at the admission, and he smiled. “I still have . . . significant reservations about him as a ruler, you understand, Your Highness. But he — or he and your mother, perhaps — obviously did something right as parents where you and your younger brother are concerned.”

“Flattery won’t win you anything with me, you know, Your Eminence,” she said lightly, trying to mask how deeply his last sentence had touched her. “Father may not’ve allowed my armsmen to beat me at baseball, but he did make sure I understood how dangerous honeyed words can be!”

“I’m sure he did, and if he hadn’t, Earl Coris would’ve repaired the deficiency long since,” the archbishop said so dryly she chuckled. Then he turned to face her more fully, and his expression turned more serious.

“I must confess, Your Highness, that I didn’t follow you out onto the balcony this morning simply to enjoy the sunlight and the breeze with you. I’ve just received word from the Palace, and it concerns you and Daivyn.”

“It does?” Irys felt a quick stab of anxiety, but it didn’t touch her tone, and her eyes were level as she gazed up at him.

“It does,” he replied. “I’m sure you’re aware that the marriage treaty between Cayleb and Sharleyan not only established a joint Imperial Parliament but requires that the government spend half of each year, minus travel time, in Tellesberg and the other half in Chisholm?”

He crooked an eyebrow, and she nodded.

“Well, I’m afraid they’re off schedule.” He grimaced. “What with that affair in the Gulf of Tarot, and the need to get you and Daivyn — and Earl Coris, of course — safely out of Delferahk, and now this business in Siddarmark, Cayleb’s been here in Tellesberg for almost an entire year, and Sharleyan’s been here for the better part of eight months. They should’ve departed for Chisholm four months ago, and even though everyone in Cherayth understands why they haven’t, they really can’t justify putting it off any longer. Or, rather, Sharleyan can’t. She’s going to be returning to Chisholm in the next few five-days, whereas Cayleb is going to be sailing for — Well, to coordinate with Duke Eastshare and, possibly, for a personal meeting with Lord Protector Greyghor. In any case, neither of them is going to be here in Tellesberg very much longer, and you and young Daivyn will be accompanying Empress Sharleyan when she leaves.”

Irys’ eyes widened.

“But — But, forgive me, Your Eminence, but I thought Daivyn and I had been placed in your custody.”

“As you have been.” He patted the hand tucked into his elbow. “I’ll also be accompanying the Empress. One of the ways in which the Church of Charis differs from the Group of Four’s Church is that the archbishop travels to the constituent states of the Empire rather than reigning imperially here in Tellesberg and requiring all those other prelates to come pay homage to him. We haven’t yet established a firm schedule for my pastoral visits, however, and I’m rather behind. So I’m taking this opportunity to sail with you and Daivyn at least as far as Cherayth. From there, I’ll continue to Zebediah and Corisande, before I return home, possibly by way of Tarot. I imagine I’ll be gone for the better part of a year myself, but you and your brother will still be under my protection.”