I say, then, that hereditary states accustomed to the family of their ruler are more easily kept than new ones, because it is sufficient if the prince does not abandon the methods of his ancestors.
~Machiavelli, The Prince translated by Daniel Donno
Chapter One: How to Manage a Prince
Through a darkened window, the king observed the prince in the courtyard below. His intense brow and motionless body were mirrored in the features of his son.
He is so still, the king thought in bemusement. What is it that has so captured his attention? Ah, there...a lizard.
The king watched his son stalk the sunning lizard. With a patience measured in heartbeats, the young prince inched his hand ever closer to his prey. A final stillness, a flash of brown, and the lizard was held fast in a small, sweaty hand. Sensing his father’s presence, the boy searched the windows overlooking the courtyard. He lifted his prize overhead in triumph. Then he began a slow promenade around the courtyard, still holding the lizard aloft. When he completed his circuit, he knelt down, spoke a few soft words, and then snapped the lizard’s neck.
By this time, the king had passed through the window and stood on a balcony overlooking his son. In answer to the unspoken question, the boy called up to his father. “Because I am Rhino!”
King Rheynold made his way to the council chamber, wrapped in the memory of his then five-year-old son. Seven years had passed since that day in the courtyard, yet it still summoned the same feelings of pride, affection, and a vague apprehension. Something about Rhino had always unsettled him, yet Rheynold would be hard-pressed to say what it was. If he had spent any time reflecting on the matter, the king would have understood precisely what concerned him about his son. In addition to inheriting his father’s black hair, dark brown eyes, and physical strength, Rhino also possessed his father’s steely pragmatism. If Rheynold could have expressed it, he would have said that even as a toddler, Rhino had a purpose and a plan behind every thought and action. The act of snapping a lizard’s neck or pulling a tail feather from a chicken was not the random, senseless mischief of a spoiled boy. Rhino did what he did because it suited some practical purpose in Rhino’s view of the cosmos. Of course, the king would never know this because he had not taken the time to engage in such unproductive thought. His pragmatism demanded that every minute of every day be justified by useful activity. So Prince Rhino, though adequately loved by his father, continued to remain somewhat of a mystery. That his son consistently, and satisfactorily, attended to his studies and submitted to the disciplines necessary for the rule of Albion was enough for his father. Rhino knew he was born to rule and applied himself diligently to that end.
The king slowed his stride as he turned into the corridor leading to the chamber. He knew what awaited him beyond its doors – the bickering of men governed by petty fears. He would no doubt be pressured to interfere in the matter of Lord Lokinvar. That he would not do. If there was a time for that sort of intervention, it was eleven years ago when Lokinvar’s second son, Skandar, was born and the inheritance passed from Alanar to Skandar. Generations ago, when the Covenant was first instituted, that would have meant death to Alanar. However, that was no longer considered a civilized option and he, the king, would certainly not demand it now. Rheynold shook his head; he knew what option the council would propose and that also he would not do.
The council was meeting today primarily for the purpose of arranging the details of Prince Rhino’s twelfth-year ceremony, during which the prince’s new brothers would be invested. For the last year, messages had been sent back and forth between the lords of the four provinces and the king’s ministers preparing for the upcoming event. Today’s meeting would determine who would be escorting the young lords to the royal city. Protocol dictated that the boys would not travel with their fathers’ entourage. Instead, they would make the journey with one of the knights, who would also be in charge of their training. King Rheynold had given Lord Lokinvar’s situation particular thought and had settled on his choice for the party who would journey to Caerleon, the seat of the western province.
The council of the king sat in silence. By custom, the king opened all discussion. All rose as the king entered the room and waited until he was seated before resuming their seats. Rheynold scanned the faces about the table as he took the measure of each man in the room.
“My lords, our purpose here today is to determine the party of escorts for our guests. Lord Terlian, we will hear your recommendations.”
The first minister bowed his head. “Your grace, as you know it has been decided by the council that Sir Gerold, Sir Arlan, Sir Perrin and Sir Fenwill will supervise the training of the prince and his brothers over the coming years; by custom they will lead the party of escorts. Therefore, I propose that Sir Gerold escort Wilfred, son of Lord William of Northumbria; Sir Perrin escort Elbert, son of Lord Ethelred of Kent; Sir Arlan escort Trevor, son of Lord Vortimer of Essex; and Sir Fenwill escort Skandar, son of Lord Lokinvar of Wales. Their parties have been in readiness for the last week. They only await the decision of this council and the approval of your grace to begin their respective journeys. Baring any unusual circumstances, we anticipate that the young lords will be safely settled in the castle within a fortnight from their departure.”
As Terlian spoke, some of the council members kept their eyes on the table.
So, thought Rheynold, they have already discussed this.
Aloud he said, “My lords, what is your response to Lord Terlian’s proposals? Have you any changes or further recommendations?”
A silence and then Lord Gorlas, minister of the archives, cleared his throat.
“Your grace and council members, for nearly five hundred years, the rulers of Albion have adhered to the precepts and laws laid down by the Covenant and such obedience has given its people centuries of peace and prosperity. However, we must consider the age of the Covenant and the desperate circumstances that necessitated its creation. Our ancestors lived in barbaric times and without such drastic measures as set forth in the Covenant, the Albion we know today would not exist. Yet are such precepts and laws relevant for enlightened times such as we live in today? Not only do we have established customs to be our future guide, we also have the guidance of the Church and its teachings. Surely our forefathers did not intend such scrupulous obedience to the Covenant, as was required by them for survival, to apply to us today.”
At his last words, Rheynold noticed a few of the council members nodding their agreement. When he made no response, Lord Ulfin, minister of the treasury, made a motion to speak.
“Sire,” he said, “Yokes of bondage are for the unruly and ungovernable; what was fitting for our past may not be the best for our future. It was a bold stroke of fortune that created our ruling Covenant; can we not say now that fortune has put before us the opportunity for another bold stroke, a change to secure our prosperity and peace for generations to come?”
Rheynold asked, “And what might that opportunity now be? Has something presented itself that demands some sort of change?”
Lord Gorlas glanced nervously about the table. “Your grace,” he said, “I believe that Lord Ulfin is referring to Lord Lokinvar’s son, the eldest son Alanar. Men say that young Alanar is the embodiment of perfection in comeliness, in prowess, in manner of address, in forthrightness of speech – in short, he is all that could be desired in a prince’s brother and the high lord of Wales. He…”
Bishop Pascent interrupted. “It is said that on the day of his birth a great star blazed in the heavens, such a star as was seen on the day of Jesu’s birth. Is this not a sign that it should be the older son and not the younger to rule the province? Granted, he is not as close in age to the Prince as his younger brother, but that is only by unhappy chance.”
A gasp around the table alerted the bishop to his error. He reddened and stammered. “Your majesty, my deepest apologies. I meant no disrespect. It is merely that…”
Rheynold held up his hand.
“Peace, Bishop,” he said. “I have never considered the death of my firstborn an ‘unhappy chance’. It was a grave blow to the kingdom, one whose effects are still being felt even this day. Consider what you are suggesting – that we disregard the law of the Covenant and install a son to the office of heir simply because he makes a better appearance. Such an action on our part would introduce an inconsistency into the governance of the realm. This must not be. We must allow no hint of this or any other instability to manifest itself, and that means we uphold the laws of the Covenant as they are written.”
The king raised his voice over the restless movement of the council members. “Even if such a wonder of nature is born as young Alanar, he is not the son appointed to be Lord Lokinvar’s heir and Prince Rhino’s brother; that, my lords, remains unchanged though Jesu himself came down from heaven!”
Rheynold stood and placed his hands on the table as he leaned forward. He was a strong ruler, one that was more feared than loved, which was how he would have it. He used his presence now to impose his will upon the men before him and overpower their objections.
“My lords,” he said, “I am not insensible to the difficulty of Lord Lokinvar’s situation with his sons. Here we have one son who seems to be the perfect choice as Lokinvar’s heir, but will instead go into the priesthood. The other son, not near his brother’s equal, will rule instead. Such is the decree of our Covenant and so it must stand. Adherence to the Covenant has secured many years of blessing for Albion. We must trust that if we continue to honor its laws, we will see many more of the same. Obedience to the law for the sake of the many sometimes results in unhappy consequences for a few. However, we cannot allow personal preferences to guide decisions in matters of state.
“And yet because of the nature of the situation, I am making an alteration in the arrangements proposed by Lord Terlian. I am sending Sir Arlan to Caerleon, instead of Sir Fenwill, who will escort young Trevor. I am also including Father Caril in Sir Arlan’s party. Caril is himself a well-favored young man who will serve as an excellent role model of the priesthood. No doubt, his presence will smooth the way for young Alanar to accept his fate.
“So,” the king said briskly, “You will see to these arrangements. Lord Terlian will give the word that all may proceed as planned. The escorting parties should leave within two days at the latest. The council is dismissed.”
Rheynold strolled to the window and stood there looking out over the garden while the men left the council chamber. When he was assured of their absence, he turned from the window to face Lord Varyk, minister of state, who had lingered behind for a private moment with the king. To say the two were friends would be overstating the nature of their relationship. The king’s heart had little room for affection beyond that of his family. Nevertheless, he recognized in Varyk a thoughtful and respectable character that his pragmatism valued, and so he called him “friend.”
“Your grace,” began Lord Varyk, “I will not hide from you my concern over the circumstances surrounding Lord Lokinvar’s sons. I have been told that the elder is remarkably well favored. Indeed, it is commonly reported that many envision Alanar sitting on his father’s throne in the course of time. Will such a one be content to live the obscure life of a priest, or even a minor official?” His eyes sought the king’s searchingly. “In Alanar lie the seeds of discontent that could shatter the peace of Albion. I fear that bundling him off to a monastery will only postpone a day of dreadful reckoning. If we cannot change the decrees of the Covenant (and I agree that we must leave it be), then we should consider other ways to ensure no jealous rival to the inheritance. Perhaps Lord Lokinvar could be persuaded…”
Rheynold’s eyes narrowed.
“Lord Lokinvar made his decision eleven years ago,” he said, “Do you question my judgment in allowing it? You seem to forget that Lokinvar is my royal brother and, as such, has been raised, just as I, to safeguard the peace of the realm with his very life. He knows full well his duties and responsibilities and has discharged them to this day with honor and integrity. Are you suggesting I now wrest from him the choice of whether or not his eldest son should live? Consider how much more destructive such a betrayal would be!”
The king stalked the length of the room in anger while Varyk watched in unhappy silence. He feared that the king might disregard present reality in favor of tradition. Men such as Rheynold had little imagination and were hard-pressed to envision alternate futures. A small sigh escaped Varyik; even in regards to his own son, Rheynold only saw practical realities. At the sound, King Rheynold turned and addressed Varyk in a softened tone.
“Lord Varyk,” he said, “You must not listen to the bleating of fearful or ambitious men. It is they who have put such doubts in your mind. We carefully cultivate in our sons the qualities of leadership and the duty and allegiance they owe to Albion. In this, Lord Lokinvar has been a model of honor and integrity. If any sons of the lords know their responsibilities, it is Alanar and Skandar. Lord Lokinvar and his wife have been most forthright in raising their sons. They honor the precepts of the law, as must we all. For nearly five hundred years, the Covenant has kept Albion safe and stable. It will continue to do so even in the face of a challenging situation, such as we discussed today. We must trust its laws to work for us; we must not work against it or against the laws of God.”
Varyk bowed his head in acquiescence.
“Your grace, your insight, as always, is accurate and thus reassuring. I should have known to trust you implicitly. However, I must be allowed some small sentimentality. To me, it was not that long ago when I was making preparations for your own twelfth-year ceremony. If I have your leave to go, I will attend to the preparations for that of your son.”
Rheynold nodded. He remained for several minutes in the empty room, alone with his own doubts. He had given assurance to Varyk; who was there to reassure him?
How simple, how straightforward it had all seemed fifteen years ago. Queen Ethelyn had just given birth to Rhandol, the newly crowned king’s first born. Seven months later, Lord Lokinvar’s heir Alanar was born. Rheynold and Lokinvar rejoiced in their sons’ future as brothers. A few years later, the birth of Princess Rhiannon strengthened the bond between the two families in anticipation of a betrothal between Lord Alanar and Princess Rhiannon. How short lived those happy plans!
When he was two years old, young Prince Rhandol perished in a boating accident along with the queen’s father and sister. The grief caused by Rhandol’s death was felt throughout the kingdom. Without an heir to the throne, King Rheynold’s position as king was threatened. According to the dictates of the Covenant, a ruler without a male heir could be removed and replaced. Rheynold was a practical man and knew what steps he would take if his queen remained without child. However, his plan of action was not implemented as seventeen months later the king had another heir, Rhino. With his birth, it seemed that events could move forward as planned. They would have if not for the unexpected pregnancy of Lord Lokinvar’s wife, Lady Rhowena.
If the child were a girl, then all would be well. However, if the child were a boy, he, and not Alanar, would be Lokinvar’s heir. The Covenant dictated that if a ruling lord had more than one son, the one closest in age to the prince would be invested as the prince’s brother and thus the ruler of the province. Lady Rhowena would not terminate the pregnancy in hopes of having a daughter. She and her husband chose to accept whatever outcome the fates determined. In this decision, they were supported by the teachings of the church and the brotherly bond between Lord Lokinvar and King Rheynold.
It had been years since any of the ruling lords had sired a second son. By tradition, the prince and his brothers knew no fraternal bond beyond their own. How would it be if one of the prince’s brothers by law had another brother by birth? Would loyalties be divided? If it were anyone other than Lokinvar’s sons, Rheynold were not have allowed it. He had to trust Lokinvar to raise his sons to be true to the Covenant, to Rhino, and to Albion.
With a shake of his head, King Rheynold disengaged his mind from past musings and left the room. A few minutes after his departure, one of the wall tapestries began to shiver at its base. The shiver turned into a pair of feet, next a head, followed by a body as Prince Rhino emerged from his hiding place. Three years earlier, Rhino had discovered a small recess hidden behind a tapestry; it was just large enough to comfortably accommodate his body. Rhino told no one, but kept his treasure to himself in anticipation of future use. And use it he did. Many hours he spent in secret, listening to the debates and decisions of the king’s council. What he heard gave him not only an intimate knowledge of the workings of the kingdom; he also learned about intrigues, alliances, and seductions. It only took a few clandestine meetings for Rhino to understand that power was what was desired above all else. Rhino counted himself fortunate to have found such a hiding place; he determined to make the best use of it until he outgrew its confines. Already he found it fit much tighter than when he first discovered it.
Unbeknownst to Rhino, his father was well aware of his secret attendance at the council meeting. When King Rheynold first perceived his son’s presence behind the tapestry, he very nearly called him out. But then he thought better of it; the prince was going to great lengths to attend the king’s council and the king was pleased at Rhino’s initiative. Once, to test the limits of Rhino’s endurance, the king remained in the council chamber for several hours after the council had been dismissed. While he sat there, writing notes to himself, sipping his wine and eating an assortment of small delicacies, he thought of his son cramped and hungry, waiting for him to leave. When Rheynold finally left the room without a backward glance, he did not witness Rhino emerge sweating and stiff, with an uncomfortably full bladder and a sly smile of triumph.
Today’s meeting was not lengthy and in a short time, Rhino was in the solitude of his own room to ponder what he had heard. He was glad that this Alanar was not going to be his brother. He sounded like someone who would get a great deal of attention and he, Rhino, intended to get all the attention. He did not think it entirely fair that he would have to share rule of the realm with four other lords (even though he would be the king among them.) To make up for the situation, Rhino decided that he must rule his brothers. They must all love him and obey him. He would not have another brother winning their affections and their loyalties. His years in the council chamber taught him that power came more easily to those who were powerful, love more easily to the beautiful, and admiration more easily to the strong. Why else had he devoted himself to his academics, to his athletics, and even to the arts with unswerving fervor, if not to be the best? Why else had he spent untold hours in the council chamber learning the art of politics, if not to rule the minds and hearts of men? So why, then, would he want this wonderful, exceptional Alanar to come into his house, his own house, and steal it all away? Rhino pounded his fist on his knee. It was unthinkable! He was deeply grateful to his father for holding firm in this matter. He knew his father was overbearing and stubborn, and had, on more than one occasion, resented his heavy hand. Today, however, he was thankful for it. Let the other brother, Skandar, come instead. This Skandar would probably be much more agreeable, since he would be used to being overshadowed. It might even be that Skandar would welcome the chance to be his brother.
Rhino considered what he knew about the Covenant and what it said about multiple sons. “There will be no rival heirs.” It had been decades since there was an openly acknowledged second son. Muttered whispers in the court, in the stables, and in the kitchens told of the various ways in which unwanted sons had been disposed. There were the usual tales of downright murder, as well as hints of secret adoptions and babies left on doorsteps. He felt fortunate that his birth came after the death of his older brother, Rhandol. He knew enough of his father to have no doubt he would not have survived had Rhandol lived. In thinking of his older brother, Rhino felt no grief; after all, he did not know him. If anything, he was glad at his brother’s demise, but he was careful never to show it around his mother. At times, Rhino suspected that his mother, the queen, still missed her eldest son and favored him for the throne. She certainly showed little enough affection for her remaining son. All of her love, it seemed, was devoted to her daughter, Rhino’s sister, Rhiannon. Rhino shrugged. It mattered little to him; let the queen fuss over her beloved princess. Rhiannon would be married to one of the brothers soon enough, safely tucked away in her own castle.
Next week: How to Negotiate with the Truth
Next week: How to Negotiate with the Truth