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A Royal Nudge

 
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Rolanda
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:50 am    Post subject: A Royal Nudge Reply with quote

Late May, 1617

My dear cousin, forgive my impertinence in writing to you with what seems to be only an agenda and not exclusively my delight at having you home in Carantania once again ...

With the court dismissed from the castle at Rift Fell, the royal family of Carantania were enjoying the quiet. Serafina was learning all the fascinating things she could look forward to in pregnancy from the Dowager Duchess Beatrice - not actually a duchess, but she had never let that stop her from using the title. The King was working, as ever, and his sister, the princess? Rolanda was catching up on the letters that had been arriving for her ever since she had returned to the country. Most were from distant acquaintances or nobles hoping to influence the king's decision when he issued invitations to court, but some were from old friends. Indeed, this one was from an old friend who also happened to be a cousin, and who was desperately in need of some advice. And Rolanda could already feel her mind working on some sort of solution to the problem at hand.

With the letter grasped in her fingers, she rose from her seat in the sunshine, abandoning her shoes where they lay, and hitched up her skirts, running into the castle and toward her brother's study, heedless of the indulgent smiles of the servants she passed. She burst through the outer office, ignoring Franz's strangled greeting, and into Frederick's study.

"Cousin Albert is going to try and kill you and your wife!"

Frederick and Franz had been busy all morning working on a list of names they might invite to court. It wasn't as easy as it seemed, as there were literally hundreds of names to sort through, not all of them born of noble blood. It was the narrowing down of the names that Rolanda interrupted when she burst into her brother's study, his head jerking upwards from the parchment beneath his hand where he'd been scratching out and adding names. "I beg your pardon?" he asked, blinking at Rolly's unexpected outburst, brows arching upwards in undisguised confusion.

"That got your attention, didn't it?" His younger sister flashed him a sweet smile, and carefully closed the door, flouncing over to the desk. "I have no proof of that, but it seems rather obvious when you realise that Cousin Ranulf seems to be being poisoned, and the next in line after him is his six year old grandson."

Freddie rubbed a finger against his temple. It had been a long morning spent cooped up in his study with only Franz for company and nothing to eat or drink since breakfast, and now Rolly was blabbering something about a plot against the Duke of Ansburg. "I'm sorry, Rolly. Can you slow down? You are not making any sense."

"I know I am not," she assured him. Rolanda was not unaware of how difficult she could be to follow at times. She waved the letter. "Esme has written to me - you remember, Ranulf's youngest daughter? She thinks he is being poisoned, and that her sister and brother-in-law were deliberately killed last year. She mentions an Earl Rivers, whom I cannot place, and suspects he is acting on orders from idiot cousin Albert."

She was still rambling, but making a little more sense. Freddie reached for the letter she was waving in her hand. "May I?" he asked, even as he snatched it from her hand, his gaze moving over the words written on the parchment.

"Of course!" She gave up the letter easily to her brother, hoping he would be able to see the obvious connections in Esme's concerns. Hoping he would see, too, that Esme clearly was not interested in overthrowing the king; only in protecting her small branch of their family.

It only took a few moments for the King of Carantania read what was written in the letter, his expression grim and serious. "Hmm," he murmured, before passing the letter on to Franz for his opinion on the matter. "Why would Albert want to get rid of Ranulf?" he asked, curiously. He'd read what Esme had written in her letter, but that did not fully explain the plot in detail.

Franz took the letter, scanning it thoughtfully. Rolanda didn't wait for him to finish, however.

"Until you announced the pregnancy, Albert was next in line for the throne," she pointed out. "He's an idiot, so obviously the people around him wouldn't actually want him wearing the crown. How much better would it be to have a six year old boy to control? Especially if you have convinced Idiot Albert to remove everyone around the child who might influence him, before removing Albert himself."

"But if what you say is true, then this plot goes much further than Albert's desire for the throne," Freddie remarked, stating the obvious. He didn't think Albert, on his own, was capable of plotting anything further than getting out of bed, unless there were people around him who did the plotting for him in hopes of putting an idiot on the throne, who they could then control.

Rolanda sighed, sitting down on the window-seat. "He's always been easily led," she said sadly. "He'll make a passable duke, long enough for his son to grow into the role, but as a king? It was never going to happen, except in his own head. But now it seems he's being used to attack our family directly, Freddie. We can't let it happen."

Franz looked up from the letter, gently placing it down on the desk. "Earl Rivers," he said thoughtfully. "An old family, that one, but never with much influence on politics."

"It seems that has changed," Freddie remarked, tapping his fingers against his desk in thought. "But we cannot make an accusation without proof," he mused aloud, especially where another noble was concerned, or they might have a revolt, or worse yet, a coup on their hands. On the other hand, if the traitors were planning regicide, they couldn't just sit by and let it happen either.

"With respect, sire, you can move to make any attack on the Ansburg branch of the family rather more dire than it would currently seem," Franz suggested. "I assume Lady Von Ansburg is more concerned with the fate of her niece and nephew than with her father's, for obvious reasons, but she is in a weakened position - unmarried and without rank of her own."

"What are you suggesting, Franz? That we marry my cousin off to a loyal noble in order to give her rank and standing? There are not many nobles to choose from and that alone would not protect her against those who are not afraid to commit murder to fulfill their goals," Freddie remarked, though he agreed something needed to be done and quickly.

"I'm suggesting that you give her rank and title to hold for herself - Countess, for example - and marry her off to someone who is loyal to the children of the family, regardless of rank, since he will take on the rank of his new wife and become an Earl anyway," Franz said thoughtfully. "It is they who need the protection, and arranging such a match yourself reminds those who are behind this plot that you are the king, and you are watching."

"Esme's letter says the children are under the guardianship of their uncle ... a man of some means, but no title or rank. If I make her a Countess and she marries their uncle, they would all be under the protection of the crown. We could even invite them to court and make a show of our support," Freddie suggested further. "But I do believe we need to ferret out the traitor and make an example of him," he added.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Franz nodded in agreement. "Of course, this would all depend upon engaging the Duke's support for the arrangement," he commented, "but I believe your grinning sister over there may have some ideas on that mark. As for ferreting out the traitor, well ... I will have this Earl Rivers investigated, discreetly. If there are links to the Omberto branch of the royal family, perhaps the best thing to do would be to find proof of the desired end result and reveal it to your cousin Albert."

"We cannot engage the Duke's support if he is being slowly poisoned. Perhaps we should offer the assistance of our best physicians. If it is poison, it is likely his food or his medicine," Freddie pointed out, arching a brow at his sister. "And what, pray tell, are you grinning at?"

Clasping her hands in front of her grinning face, Rolanda was bursting with sudden excitement. "You have to let me pull the Proud Princess routine," she informed her brother with a squeak. "I could have him cured and them married in a week!"

Freddie rolled his eyes at his sister's enthusiasm. "Be careful, Rolly, or one might think you are actually enjoying this," he said, with a sly wink at Franz. He knew if anyone could pull it off, it was Rolanda, but if there was a plot against them, he was a little worried for her safety.

"Oh, of course I'm enjoying it!" At least she was honest about her reaction. "Reading between the lines, Esme actually likes the fellow you're proposing to marry her off to, so that won't be any trouble. And if you're worried about my safety, why don't you choose someone young, strapping, and horribly noble to escort me for my protection?"

"I should choose someone old, strapping, and horribly ugly," Freddie muttered to himself. His sister was just having a little too much fun with this. He just hoped she understood the gravity of it and the fact that lives were at stake.

"Or you could trust that I know what I'm doing?" she suggested teasingly. "I did survive the assassination attempts on the High King and his sons, you know."

Franz rolled his eyes. "I think the point, Rolly, is that we're not going to get to the point of a weapon being drawn in the presence of royalty in Carantania."

"Well, since it seems you've already decided, when would you like to leave?" Freddie asked his sister, knowing they couldn't delay too long, but some things needed to happen first.

"As soon as possible," Rolanda insisted. "Who knows when these traitors might strike again? As soon as I have an appropriate escort, I'll send a letter to Esme, telling her to present herself, the children, and the childrens' guardian at the ducal manor on the day I arrive there. Earl Rivers is not going to know what hit him."

"You seem to have this all sorted out," Freddie remarked, looking a little amused, if not very surprised. He had always known his sister was capable of plotting with the best of them, and he was glad she was on their side.

"Oh, I'll be making it up as I go along when I get there," his sister replied breezily. "I may have to invite them all to visit you and the queen. You know, to officially invest this Leopold fellow with his earldom and give your blessing to the marriage. Oh, and to meet our littlest cousins, of course."

"Of course," Freddie replied, a slight smirk on his face, though there was nothing amusing about treason and murder. "What do you think Esme will say when you suggest marriage?" he asked, curiously.

"I think she will argue with me vociferously, but I have no intention of giving her much choice in the matter," Rolanda said calmly. "It's for her own protection, as much as for the children's."

Beside the king, Franz put a hand over his eyes. He was glad he wasn't going to be there for that conversation.

"I suppose it's a good thing she's fond of the man, then," Freddie remarked, his smirk widening at Franz's reaction to his sister's plot. He had been fortunate enough to have married for love the second time around. He knew the same could not be said for most royals.

"Darling Freddie, however they feel about each other, this is all for the children," Rolanda insisted impishly.

Franz snorted with laughter. "And nothing at all to do with your incorrigible habit of matchmaking with disastrous results."

"Which disasters are you referring to?" Freddie asked, brows arching upwards, even more curious. He might be King of Carantania, but not every bit of court gossip reached his ears.

Rolanda looked indignant, but it fell to Franz to answer.

"Your delightful sister has been throwing elderly widows at me since she arrived," he informed his friend and king. "All of whom seem utterly certain that I need a good woman in my life."

"I can imagine what your mistresses might think of that," Freddie murmured, looking even more amused at his friend's annoyance with his sister, both of them too near to his heart to take sides. "Rolly, as your king and your brother, I hereby request that you resist making matches for those who did not wish it." Adding a belated, "Please."

"Just the one mistress, thank you," Franz murmured back to his friend, chuckling at the admonishment handed out to the princess.

Rolanda rolled her eyes, sighing. "Oh, very well," she conceded. "But only if you make him take a mistress of better social standing and then marry her." She flashed a sweet grin at Franz, who groaned.

"I will consider it," Freddie replied, though he had no intention of doing any such thing. He was not going to alienate his closest friend, just because Rolly was a hopeless romantic. "Perhaps Franz should court you, since you seem so concerned with his happiness," he teased, knowing both of them would be appalled at this suggestion.

The shared look of horror on their faces was the perfect response to his tease, though Franz wiped it away quickly enough from his own expression. "I, uh ... I am definitely not noble enough for a princess," he said diplomatically, narrowing his eyes at Freddie.

Rolanda, on the other hand, was glaring at her brother. "Oh, very funny," she told him sarcastically. "Just for that, see if I invite you to my wedding if it ever happens."

Freddie laughed at them both, showing he did have a sense of humor when the mood suited him. It was worth it just to see the look on Franz's face, no matter how quickly the man had tried to hide it. They both knew the king well enough to know he'd never try and force them into a marriage, especially with each other. "I am still your king, sister," he reminded her regarding her threat.

"And I am firm friends with your wife, brother," she countered impishly. Rolanda pushed at the edges of what she could get away with all the time, but that hadn't damaged their relationship so far.

"I think you will find the queen loyal to her husband," Freddie countered, though he did not want to challenge her. "Nonetheless, I believe we have the start of a plan. When do you wish to leave?" he asked once again, since as soon as possible was not really an answer.
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Rolanda
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"In two days?" Rolanda suggested. "I am not essential to the workings of the castle while there is no court in session, and my leaving will draw the nobles' attention away from you while you finalise your list."

"Very well. I reserve the right to choose your escort," he told her, alluding to the fact that he might already have someone in mind - someone he trusted implicitly with his sister's life and safety.

She eyed her brother a little suspiciously. "Will this be someone who will not allow me to step one foot out of his sight unless I am bathing or sleeping?"

"Possibly," Freddie replied, with a barely hidden smirk, amused once again at his sister's reaction to his statement. All things considered, she could hardly argue with him about the necessity of it.

Never let it be said that Rolanda could not twist a situation to her advantage, however. "Possibly, hmm?" she teased. "So he will watch me bathing? Are you hoping I'll secretly marry him so you don't have to convince me to marry someone else?"

"I am secretly hoping you arrive in Ansburg safely," the king replied, not so secretly. "Be happy I am not sending you with an entourage, rather than a single escort," he told her. It was against his better judgment, but he knew his sister well enough to know she'd balk against traveling with a group.

"Very well," she allowed, her smile gentling in the face of the implicit warning not to push her luck. "It seems you have someone in mind to travel with me. I shall therefore write my letter and send it before the day is done. Esme should get a few days of warning."

"Agreed. Franz will help you make the arrangements," he said, volunteering his most trusted advisor. "Let's keep this quiet. We don't need our enemies getting wind of your trip or the reasons behind it."

Franz nodded. "Of course, sire," he agreed. "I will have the relevant gentleman summoned in the meantime."

Rolanda leaned over to hug her brother, kissing his hair. "Thank you, Freddie."

"Don't make me regret it, Rolly," he warned, softening as she kissed his hair. No matter how they might make light of all this, he worried for her safety. "Be careful, dear heart. This is not a game."

"It is a game, darling," she corrected him gently. "A deadly game, but a game, nonetheless. We are simply better players than others in your realm."

"If it is a game, then it is a game we must win, Rolly," Freddie told her. He did not like thinking of it as a game; it was far too serious and dangerous to be that, but he understood what she was saying.

"It's a game we are winning, Freddie," she told him, calm and assured. "We have the entire nobility of this country in a state of confusion, uncertain what they must do to be invited back to the corridors of power. We are about to put a serious cramp in the step of a suspected traitor, who likely does not even begin to realise we might be aware of him. So long as we stay one step ahead, we are winning."

"Let us hope we are following the right course of action, for everyone's sakes," Freddie said, with a serious expression on his face. This wasn't just about himself and the queen; there were other lives at stake here, two of them mere children - blood relatives he had never met but was looking forward to meeting.

"We will only know for certain once the die is fully cast, sire," Franz pointed out. "Though I know you have difficulty setting such thoughts aside, I would suggest you attempt not to worry about this too much. The queen will guess at your mood, and you will have to tell her everything."

"What makes you think I will keep this from her?" Freddie asked. He did not like to keep secrets from his wife, and yet, he did not like to make her worry either. Some things simply did not need to be shared, especially when she was with child.

Franz frowned faintly. "As I understand it, these early months are a precarious time for ladies who are expecting," he said carefully. "I do not suggest that you keep the detail from her, but I would suggest that you limit your worrying over it, at least in her presence. She worries both with and for you, sire."

"Yes, of course," Freddie replied, in complete agreement. The last thing he wanted to do was cause Serafina or their child any harm, mentally or physically, and yet, she deserved to know what was going on, especially where her own safety was concerned. "You need not worry, Franz. I will take special care where Sera is concerned," he assured his friend.

"Aww, aren't you both so sweet?" Rolanda teased, gently brushing her fingers through her brother's hair. "Very well then. I will write and send my letter, and have Ermengarde pack a trunk." She curtsied to her king, winked at her brother, collected the letter from the desk, and swept from the room, pulling the door closed behind her.

Franz smirked in her wake. "She may have that entire city pledging allegiance to you and your blood if she has her way, you know."

Freddie smirked as she both curtsied and winked his way, playfully batting her hand away from his hair. He swore she did it on purpose just to irritate him. He chuckled a little as she swept from the room. "My sister has always been a force to be reckoned with, all on her own," he agreed with his friend.

"With six years at the political heart of the continent under her belt, I do believe she is something of an avalanche these days," Franz agreed. He tilted a curious gaze toward his friend. "This escort you are considering ... is it who I think it is?"

"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, Franz," Freddie remarked. Something his mother had once told him a long time ago. He idly toyed with the signet ring on his finger - a nervous habit. "I think you know me well enough to know the answer to that," he replied, a bit of a smirk on his face. It would serve Rolly right, too, for trying to matchmake to get a little taste of her own medicine.

Franz chuckled, rolling his eyes. "He does owe you a favor or two," he conceded, knowing exactly who his king was talking about. "And it has been a very long time since he was at court. Perhaps he should be on your list."

"Perhaps he should," Freddie replied. He and Franz had spent most of the afternoon going over lists of names in order to decide who they wanted to invite to court, and the man in question had been on one of those lists. "I am not sure what Rolly would think of that. As I recall, he used to tug on her braids, when she was a child."

Franz laughed. "Everyone tugged on Rolly's braids when she was a child," he reminded his friend and king. "She did used to use them as weapons, as I recall."

Frederick chuckled. Even he used to tug on Rolly's braids at one time, but he was so much older than her, he tended to be a little over-protective whenever anyone else did the same. "She did," he confirmed, remembering a time or two when she'd done just that against him. "Do you think she'll be very angry if I ask him to be her escort?"

"Well, I believe the last time they actually spoke was around ten years ago," Franz said thoughtfully. "There is a rather large difference between a twelve-year-old princess and a twenty-two-year-old princess. She has been quite dogged in her insistence on reclaiming old friendships since she returned. So I would say that anger will not be on the list of her emotions. I have heard it said he has grown into quite a handsome man."

"He has proven his worth twice over. I can think of no one I would trust more with Rolly's safety, but I am not sure my sister will agree. She is quite headstrong, as you know. Still, even she must know she cannot travel without an escort," Freddie reasoned aloud. "She has to marry sometime, and she could do far worse than a knight of the realm."
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2018 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Now who is matchmaking?" Franz teased his friend, though he understood why Freddie's mind would move in that direction. Rolanda, while a fine woman in her own right, was currently a target for every social-climber or foreign court looking to raise themselves or their connections through marriage. At some point, an offer would be made that could not be refused without consequences.

The king understood this, but did the lady in question? "She speaks of Esme marrying in order to protect our young cousins and their father, but she does not think of those same protections for herself. I may be king but I cannot make excuses for her forever," he said, sounding somewhat frustrated. He knew she didn't want a political match, and yet, if she did not make a choice soon, his hand might be forced.

"She has been surprisingly sheltered from the realities of being a princess, even having witnessed the marriage of Prince Stephan to Princess Marianne closely," Franz agreed. "Perhaps seeing another marriage that is a little more immediate, and not so based on instant adoration, will remind her of her own somewhat precarious position."

"She and Hugo were friends once. Is it not better to wed a friend than a stranger?" the king asked, though he was not really expecting an answer. His first marriage had been a political one; his second for love, or at least, the possibility of love. He did not wish a loveless match for his sister, but perhaps if they were to meet again, something more than friendship would come of it.

"A friend is infinitely better than a stranger," Franz agreed with a nod. "And a great deal more than anyone of your rank can reasonably hope for. Rolly's a sensible woman, at heart. If she likes him well enough, even if there's no love there, she'll put him on the list I am certain she has of potential husbands."

"He is not a prince, but I would prefer my sister not be forced into a political match," Freddie reasoned further. "The sooner she weds, the better. I cannot protect her from that forever."

"Whatever happens will happen, Freddie," the chancellor said gently. "You cannot force the matter one way or the other. But this trip may accomplish far more than Rolanda thinks it will, if they are amenable to one another."

"We must send a message summoning him to court," Freddie said, reaching for a clean piece of parchment and a pen. Whatever was going on in Aranie, the knight in question would not be able to refuse a summons from his king.

"I can have it delivered to him before the end of the day," Franz nodded officiously. "A summons will bring him to Rift Fell by midday tomorrow, and Rolly believes she wants to leave two sunrises following that."

"We will know long before that whether she finds him a suitable escort," Freddie said. Though she hardly had much choice in the matter, he was hoping she would not be too upset with the escort he and Franz had chosen for her. And if there were sparks between them, all the better.

Sparks could mean one of two things, but if there was some passion there, it would bode well. Franz grinned to himself as he sat back at his desk. "Oh, I think you will likely be able to guess when they're introduced once again if she will find him suitable."

Freddie wasn't entirely aware of all the history between the pair, but he did know there had been a time when they'd at least been friends. "A suitable escort or a suitable husband?" he queried, his face a mix of amusement and worry.

Franz didn't bother swallowing his grin at all as he answered. "Yes," was his response, deliberately vague and teasing.

"Be careful, Franz. If this goes wrong, I will likely blame you," Freddie teased in return, though they both knew that if Rolly was displeased by their decision, they would both know about it soon enough and equally pay the price of her wrath.

Franz laughed. "I live but to serve, your majesty."

The king smiled, dipped his pen in ink, and started to pen the message summoning one of his bravest knights to court. In a few days, they would know whether their decision had been a wise or foolish one.
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