Word reached Dawkin later that afternoon. After a considerable delay by the Grand Duke, Warlord Konradt had slammed his fists against the cell bars, gurgling some incoherent curses and pointing to the weapons, then Xain, over and again. The Grand Duke balked at the Warlord’s gestures and - claiming the curses to be an indignant mark upon his pride – stormed from the dungeon. Once the Grand Duke disappeared from sight, the guards and dungeon master broke out into laughter. Even the Warlord was said to have smirked.
The thought of an embarrassed, red-faced Grand Duke was enough to satisfy Dawkin for the remainder of the day. It relieved him from the dry, drab rhetoric he came across in volume after volume on the subject of Ibian. While Dawkin had studied the language in earnest as a child, he had forgotten much, despite the occasional book he picked up every other month or so. Now, with the entire Court of the nation as his guest, he found himself scrambling to remember his lessons and reclaim some sense of how to speak the dialect.
His personal quest took him to the King’s Library, a center of learning that comprised the upper half of the domed tower opposite the keep. Three times taller than his own personal study, the Library housed over thirty-thousand manuscripts and texts in Marlish alone, and tens of thousands more in Ibian, Volkmar, Tosilian and other dialects that had yet to be translated. Each day, borrowed scholars and scribes from Har-Kins throughout the island labored to decipher and copy the texts.
Such bowed heads and bent backs met Dawkin, who took no offense to the academics as they continued to focus on their work. He strode past all of them on his way to the section he knew housed the books on Marlish-Ibian translations, along with those on the country’s history.
The first book he picked for study was Musings on the Ibian Peninsula by Baron Ferolt of Har-Kin Blesville, a family known to produce bishops and other men of faith. In their evangelization of the Voice of Mar, over the centuries the Har-Kin had acquired a vast knowledge of other nations and their peoples. Though more of a history text than a language instructional manual, Musings nonetheless included many explanations of common phrases and terms used in Ibia.
Next, Dawkin chose the uncomplicatedly titled How to Speak Ibian by Sir Curtyss of Har-Kin McFrei. As dry as any book of learning could be, Dawkin still found it useful with regards to translating some of the lesser-known phrases in the Ibian dialect, such as “Kae a pazs di Mar ste con-tigo” – May the peace of Mar be with you – or “Oray porr campicenos e rayys” – Pray for peasants and kings.
With both manuscripts in hand, Dawkin pivoted, intending to find a quiet corner in which to study. To his surprise, the last man he expected to see in a center of learning blocked his path, leaning against the bookshelf as if he had been waiting for eons.
“Aye, that is my title,” Audemar shifted his weight as he pushed from the shelf, which teetered under his pressure.
“Careful,” Dawkin urged. “These books are centuries old.”
“Bah. Ink and paper is all they are. If they fall, we pick them up. If they damage, we restore them. It might even do these men some good to hear some noise and then do some work afterwards.”
“Father, what are you doing here?”
“I need a word. About this morning.”
Dawkin raised his brow. Even some of the scholars he had passed, who had not even lifted an eye toward him earlier, perked and paused.
“Leave us!” Audemar commanded as he clapped, the sound of his voice and hands echoing through the domed structure.
At once, every soul rose and hurried out of the Library. The last to exit - a small, bald man that Dawkin knew to be the Library’s Guardian of Words – closed the doors behind him.
“A little dramatic, wouldn’t you say, Father?” Dawkin mused once they were alone.
“What? After all, this is called the King’s Library. If I need a word with my son, it should be everyone else who accommodates, not vice versa.”
“As you wish.”
“Or would you prefer ears and eyes to witness my reaction to the . . . events you had with the Grand Duke?”
“You’re right. Alone is better.”
“You embarrassed him quite well.”
“Does King Felix know?”
“Xain is too proud to admit when he has been bested. The King is none the wiser, for now. But Xain is also too much of a buffoon to keep such an offense to himself. He will stew, drink, converse with his Court, and in doing so, recount what happened in the dungeon.”
Dawkin sighed, his shoulders lowering a tad. “If I need to apologize . . .”
Audemar stepped up to his son to grab him by the shoulders. His gaze – stern as Dawkin had ever seen it – bore into him. And in that moment, the intensity Dawkin feared vanished, replaced by uproarious laughter.
“Apologize! Ha ha! I’ll have no such thing! Come here.”
Audemar wrapped his arms around Dawkin, who embraced his father, albeit surprisingly.
“You’re glad?” Dawkin asked.
“Well, amused is more like it. Was your ruse in bad form? Yes. Untimely? Yes, again. But so would have any affront to that pompous royal who thinks he can come to our shores, drink our wine, woo our women and insult my son – my son – without recourse.”
“What if King Felix finds out? Not just the rumors. The whole truth.”
“Let him know. By Mar, I may even tell him, that he may hear it from me before others. If he should become flustered, I will merely explain it was a premature act. Boys being boys and all that rubbish.”
“So you don’t expect such an insult to his nephew to affect . . . future plans?”
At that, Audemar raised a brow. “The Princess Taresa?”
Dawkin, all of the sudden sheepish, looked away.
“Come,” Audemar said, extending his hand to the library doors.
The two left with little fanfare. Outside, scribes and attendants bowed, parting to let the royal pair pass. As they went on, a few servants approached to offer their services but withdrew as Audemar waved them back.
Their stroll was cloaked in casual silence until they approached the famed War Hall, the entrance to which was guarded by two sentinels.
“Open the doors and leave us,” commanded Audemar. “You may return upon the hour.”
The sentinels, tall, muscular men in full armor including helms, inclined their heads to their King. They threw open the doors and left together. Their heavy boots echoed through the War Hall until Audemar closed the doors behind Dawkin.
At once, Dawkin noticed golden circlet on the shelf. “Father! You left your crown.”
“What of it? That bloody thing is heavy upon my head.”
“But what if someone takes it?”
“They can have it. Along with all the duties and responsibilities it carries.”
Dawkin frowned. Though he knew his father could be candid on days when the monarchy weighed on him most, he still did not like to hear how he abhorred his role at times.
He scanned the rest of the Hall, finding it barren of any new scrolls or trinkets, save for the gift he spotted. “Is that the King’s present to Gerry?”
“Aye. A most appropriate gift, I say,” Audemar proclaimed as he sauntered to the corner table by the window where the replica of the Ibian ship rested. Although awkward due to its length and intricacy, he managed to pick it up with one hand. “One you should bear in mind whenever you and your brothers doubt the status of our Ibian union.”
Dawkin cocked his head. “Whatever do you mean?”
“You should not concern yourself with misspoken phrases and petty insults. The alliance we are forging with Ibia goes far beyond the actions of just you. Or me. The Conclave of Barons narrowly approved our upcoming treaty.”
“Stunned, really. How long did they deliberate?”
“Only for a few hours at Highmoorr Castle, I’m told. Yesterday evening, after the hunt. They didn’t even debate past the mid of night.”
“Rather quick, wouldn’t you say? Especially for the Conclave. They can take months arguing and voting, and re-voting, and arguing some more over the smallest of details, let alone a prospect of a treaty.”
“That why I said they narrowly approved our dealings with the Ibians. Many raised an uproar over the idea that Marland need an alliance with any foreign power, especially those who lived through and fought in the Century War. There were others still who hesitated at the thought, believing that any pact should be handled piecemeal, with our dealings being negotiated one treaty item at a time, over the course of several months – or years.”
Dawkin studied the creases and lines of his father’s face. Judging from the contortions and twists of every part from his mouth to his eyes to his brow, Dawkin could read which matters he disapproved of most, which ones exasperated him and those he considered downright ridiculous. He had seen such emotions in other men he had known since his youth, particularly the barons. One lord would have a reputation for irritability, and it showed, while another lacked the backbone to act, a demonstrative quality as well.
His father, on the other hand, never portrayed such singular inclinations. He expressed all such emotions and more, seemingly having no limit to how he could feel or think. His brothers had noticed it too, from the way he lowered his voice when conversing with Gerry to the tone he took with Ely when he committed a wrong to the brash style he took with Symon when they sparred in the yard. Even now, the effort his father put on to hold his own in intelligent conversation was not lost on Dawkin.
A man of many faces, Dawkin considered. One for each one of us. One for his father. Dozens for the barons. Many more for the common folk. All in order that he may serve. To fulfill his kinghood. To be the sovereign our country needs him to be.
Audemar searched the expanse of the room until his sights found a set of candles and lighting materials on one of the tables. He rummaged over the contents, pulling a flint lighter, some wood shavings and a vile of whale oil with his free hand. “Despite the objections of so many,” he went on as he approached a brazier, “enough of the barons recognized the potential behind our pending pact with the Ibians to vote in its favor. For they know our island nation has much to gain.”
He placed the wooden replica in the brazier along with the shavings and doused the lot of them with oil. Dawkin instinctively reached out his hand, about to caution his father, when he remembered Gerry’s recollection of the gift – and what it was made of – to stop himself.
“This is why the Conclave of Barons approved the treaty. Why we have invited the Ibian Court to our shores. Why you and your brothers will wed Princess Taresa.”
Audemar gripped the parallel arms of the flint lighter and squeezed several times. A spark flew and dropped into the brazier. Instantly, the oil within ignited, sending flames throughout. The wooden replica, of Ibian cedar, laid engulfed in fire. However, it did not burn.
“From their peaks to their lowlands, this cedar grows abundantly in Ibia,” Audemar went on to state. “The Century War, especially in the days of the peacefall, was spurred by the ambitions of the Afarian powers to wrestle this wood from Kin Garsea. During the most heated years of the never-ending conflict, monarchs across the continent conspired in all manners, lusting over the fabled tree that does not burn. At the directive of their kings and kin, many a knight and scout penetrated the Ibian lines to retrieve a sapling or cone, in hopes that a mature tree or even a grove would sprout from their captured treasure.
“Alas, such efforts proved to be in vain, for outside the earth of Ibia’s borders, no cedar from their land can take root. Some sovereigns continue to try their hand, employing mages from afar who promise that they can make an Ibian cedar grow. To this day, such pledges have proved fruitless.”
Audemar marched to the wash basin in the corner to fetch a water pitcher. He dumped it into the brazier, extinguishing the fire with a splash. Though blackened, the replica remained intact, its structure as it was. Audemar motioned to the tiny ship. Dawkin stepped up to the brazier, which still radiated heat. His hand floated over the black and brown replica, waves of warmth caressing his palm.
“You have no doubt heard this all before,” Audemar ventured.
“I have,” Dawkin admitted. “I suspected that trade motivated our entrance into this alliance, just as every other Marlish baron and lady assumed.” He pulled his hand away from the ship. “But why us?”
“King Felix must have sought counsel from the Church of Mar before dissolving the promise between his daughter and Prince Denisot. Even if a bishop hastily approved such a break, the time it would take—”
“You want to know why the rush. And you want to know why the Ibians would partner with Marland, amongst all the powers of Afari.”
“Tis a fair question.”
“The answer to that lies in history. You study enough. You tell me.”
Dawkin, taken aback by his father’s affront, stood aside. “I could ask the mage for a summation of Ibia’s recent edicts and orders.”
“You could. Such a move would be a delay, though. Think, son. Act not as a prince of Afari, who surrounds himself with advisors and counsellors to avoid any responsibility for direct action. Act like a king.”
Dawkin, glancing at his father, began to pace the War Hall. “You last spoke of Afari in reference to their cedar,” he recalled, giving voice to his thoughts.
“You said they coveted the Ibian cedar during the Century War.”
“Aye. Tis true. Then as it is now.”
“Many tried to grow the tree outside Ibia. All failed.”
“So what came next?” Audemar prodded.
“All of Afari knew that with wood that could not burn, Ibia could build a fleet to rival the whole of the continent’s naval powers combined.”
“No one, not even their allies, wanted to see that happen. So kin began to sabotage Ibian shipbuilding efforts during the war, starting with Kin Foleppi. Spies penetrated every port in Ibia, from north to south. They destroyed dry docks overnight, sank merchant ships carrying tools and supplies. They even . . .”
Dawkin raised his brow. “Our sailors. Our builders.”
“Now you see, my son. Every Kin and Har-Kin, from the fox to the serpent, killed Ibian seafarers without mercy during the Century War. An entire generation of men at sea nearly wiped out. Some survived, to be sure, but not nearly enough to command a fleet worthy of the Ibia’s stature and ambition. The Court has spent considerable expense to train the next generation of carpenters and sailors to construct and man their ships. They even employ a vast navy of mercenaries, much to Felix’s chagrin. Yet such efforts are not enough. The results are inconsistent, the foreign labor untrustworthy and disloyal to their cause. If, however, the Ibians were to marry into a kin with a seafaring past, one it colluded with in the past and one it could trust with a union of both ambition and blood . . .”
Audemar’s voice trailed off. Dawkin, picking up on his father’s hints, nodded.
“Cedar for sailors,” Dawkin affirmed.
“I could not have said it better myself.”
Dawkin, turning his sights back to the replica, raised it from the brazier. The small wooden ship had cooled, still bearing the scars of oil and spark. The tiny compass before the helm laid covered in soot, the black of ash covering the miniscule black dome.
“Son,” Audemar started, his voice turning gravely serious. “There is another reason for the haste behind this alliance.”
Dawkin lifted his head. “Yes?”
“I pushed for all the events of the past few days – the Ibians’ arrival, the gathering of the Conclave – to happen around the time when I knew you would ascend. Granted, Gerry’s withdrawal came a tad earlier than expected. Nonetheless, it gives me the opportunity I wanted, one I had planned for all along.” Audemar clasped Dawkin on the shoulders. “I want you by my side to help iron out the terms of the Ibian treaty.”
Dawkin nearly dropped the replica. “Father . . . I . . . thank you. You do me a great honor. I do not know what to say. If you feel I am ready . . .”
“Bah! Of course you are ready. You are a Saliswater. Decision and wisdom runs through your veins as salt in the ocean. You have as much learning as any mage or general, perhaps more. Certainly, you are more educated than the barons and dukes who will be attending.”
“I will do you proud. I promise.”
“The Garseas are as shrewd as they are ambitious. You know that from your encounter with the Grand Duke. They have much to gain from this alliance. If we are not careful, they will shift the tide in their direction. We need to make sure that does not happen. We need to secure the Ibian cedar, the princess and every treasure we can wrestle from their grasp while giving as little away in return. Do you understand?”
Dawkin nodded. “For every fish they pull from our waters, we will take ten from theirs.”
“Exactly. I knew you to be the heir for this task. I knew it.”
“Father, if I may, I would like to return to the Library to study. You have given me much to think about, and much more to consider.”
“Yes, yes. Of course, my boy. Go, read, learn. Just be back here in time for supper. Afterwards, we and a select few from the Court will talk terms in this very room with the King and a handful of his attendants. I will need you there. Your kingdom depends on it.”
Dawkin extended the replica to his father. Audemar held out the palm of his hand. “No,” he said. “Keep it. It’s yours.”
For the remainder of the day, Dawkin surrounded himself with stacks of manuscripts and books in an alcove within the King’s Library. The athenaeum remained largely empty, with few of the dismissed scribes having returned for the day. Such tranquility left Dawkin at peace, one that allowed him to read at an astonishing rate, even by his own standards. By the time the sun set and the Guardian of Words went about lighting candles, he had finished eight volumes, all on the histories of alliances or the art of strategy.
Dawkin rose and stretched just as the Guardian rounded the shelf to his section.
“Pardon, Your Highness,” said the Guardian. “Are you in need of light?”
“Far from it,” Dawkin replied. “I was just about to take my leave. Make certain no one disturbs my reading materials or my area. I intend to return in the morning.”
“I will look after it myself,” assured the Guardian.
Dawkin strode past shelf after shelf, his steps reverberating against parchment and stone, each one seeming to embolden him. This is it, he told himself. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for. The one I have been waiting for. The defining moment of my princehood. To stand before kings and dukes, barons and mages. To impart my opinions. Nay, to command. To rule. Following tonight will come the treaty. Then marriage. And the crown.
Dawkin, finding that he was moving ahead of himself, refined his thoughts.May Mar guide my hand and my tongue, may He bless my mind and my heart. For what happens tonight will be remembered by all. May Marland, above all else, prevail.