Brightvale History: The Two Kings - Part Two
She had missed the palace, Vienna admitted to herself as she walked through the tapestry lined hallway to the throne room. She entered the throne room unannounced, startling the herald.
“My Lady... Princess... Highness!”
“Hello, Kelme,” Vienna greeted. “Where are my brothers?”
She got the feeling that had the Lenny not already been green, his face would have taken a greenish hue. “I... I believe that King Lucca is in the library. King Milan has taken to spending his time in his study – he appropriated the one on the second floor overlooking the gardens.”
“You can do something, can't you?”
“I can do many things,” the Royal Acara replied. “As to if I can do anything about my brothers, that depends entirely on what the problem is.”
Vienna decided that she would visit Milan first, since his study was on the way to the library. Not bothering to knock, she swept into the room like she owned it.
The Royal Eyrie jumped. “Just what do you think you are doing, barging in here like... Vienna!” The Aisha found herself swept up into a great hug. “Why didn't you send word? I'd have met you at the gate!”
“My decision to visit was on short notice.” Vienna laughed. “I would have probably beaten the messenger. How are you?”
“I'm doing well enough.” Milan ushered her to a cushioned bench. Settling down next to her, he admitted, “I'm worried about Lucca. He's become... unreasonable.”
The Royal Acara arched an eyebrow. This could be what the Meridellian ambassador was talking about. “Unreasonable?” she prodded, trying to get Milan to go into greater detail.
“He's trying to change laws. Weird ones. He tried to give nobles the right to mint their own money for within their estates instead of having the same coin for the whole country!”
“You heard me right. He wants to let the nobles have free reign to print as much money as they want.”
“That's... that's...” Vienna sighed, placing a hand over her eyes. “Why would he do that?”
“Never mind that,” Milan urged with a wave of his hand, changing the subject. His face became almost boyish with his grin. “Tell me about Verdun.”
“It's pretty much the same as when we were growing up,” she admitted. “I've got a small project in the works to renovate the harbor. We'll be able to take in bigger ships, and more of them will be able to dock at a time. I've got hopes for making it a market city.”
Milan shook his head. “Look at you,” he said, sounding amused. “Lucca and I have barely managed to keep this kingdom together, in the same amount of time as it took you to create and start carrying out a grand plan for prosperity.”
“I'd hardly say that,” she protested, raising a soft purple hand. “It's completely unfair to compare a whole kingdom to a duchy.”
“But it's not unfair to compare doing something, as opposed to doing nothing,” Milan said, making a wry face.
After spending a bit more time chatting with her brother about nonsense topics, and deciding that he didn't seem like he was any more mentally unhinged than he'd been before she left, Vienna found a graceful way to excuse herself and traveled to the library.
She paused at the door, hearing raised voices on the other side.
“Thomas, you know my brother will never approve of that,” Lucca fumed. “We need baby-step goals here if we want this country to get its act together and compete with our neighbors.”
“But Your Majesty,” Thomas objected. “This is a little step. If we water this down any more, it'll be totally ineffective.”
“Totally ineffective is better than having the country fall apart,” Lucca countered. “Brightvale has managed to limp along for the last several years without this law, and can probably hold on for a couple more years.”
“True, but every year our neighboring countries slowly gain an advantage over us. Soon we might have to rely on importing from Meridell, and think what that would do to the treasury!”
“I'll work on it,” Lucca said. “We can't do anything if Milan doesn't sign too.”
Feeling somewhat guilty for eavesdropping, Vienna stepped back from the door. Using the excuse of smoothing her dress to compose herself, she waited until she could greet her brother without looking guilty. She then rapped on the door.
“Who is it?” Thomas snapped in an irritated tone.
“Someone who wants to see her brother,” Vienna called back.
The door flung open. “Vienna!” Lucca cried. The Eyrie swept her up into a hug. “Sweet sister, why didn't you send word?”
“I wanted to surprise you,” Vienna laughed. “Did it work?”
“I'm certainly surprised,” Lucca admitted. “Did Thomas know you were coming? Or did he call for you to cheer me up?”
“No one knew,” Vienna admitted with a smile. “I missed everyone, and my estates don't keep me so busy that I don't wonder about how everyone is doing.”
“We're doing... passable here,” Lucca said, his happy countenance draining away. “It wasn't until we actually had to run the kingdom until Milan and I realized that things aren't quite what they should be.”
Vienna settled herself onto a heavily embroidered cushion that someone had placed on the library windowsill. “Like what?”
“Like did you know that tax rates are based upon how well the economy is doing here in the capitol, rather than by the relative prosperity of the area? So if the north has a drought, but the south here where the capital is doesn't, there is no drought tax relief for the north?”
“I didn't,” Vienna admitted. “That hardly seems fair.”
“Thomas and I have tried to come up with a couple different solutions, but we've found nothing that Milan and I can agree on.” The Royal Eyrie sighed. “I would have never believed that ruling a country would be so difficult. But you must be exhausted from traveling all day,” he said, “and here I am talking your ear off about my problems!”
“I am a little tired,” Vienna admitted. “And a bath sounds absolutely lovely.”
“I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to see you,” Lucca said.
Vienna could recognize a polite dismissal when she heard one. “Then until I see you again, Brother,” she said, sweeping into a curtsy.
“Such formality!” he exclaimed. “Come and give me a hug before you go.” Lucca seemed just as sane as Milan was, as far as Vienna could tell. Perhaps the ambassador had exaggerated about how her brothers weren't getting along. So far it seemed like she could bring them together with some compromises.
Returning to her rooms, Vienna decided to hold off on the much desired bath. Instead she sent her lady in waiting, Évora, to find ambassador Warwick. The brown Blumaroo was quick to reply to her summons – Vienna had the sneaking suspicion that he'd been waiting to see her since she'd arrived.
“Ambassador,” she greeted. “Thank you for making time to see me so quickly.”
“My Lady,” he replied, “let's be honest. I can't do my job until your brothers are speaking to each other again, so there was nothing to pull me away from. And please, call me William. There's an ambassador for every country in the castle, and just calling me “ambassador” is bound to get confusing.”
“I'll do that then, William.” Vienna smiled. So far she liked this new Meridellian ambassador. Remmington had always struck her as a pompous bore, forever debating about import taxes and percentages, and arguing for new interpretations of treaties. William promised to at least have a sense of humor.
“William, what is your impartial opinion of my two brothers?”
The brown Blumaroo paused. “Would you like a diplomatic answer, or an off the record one?”
Vienna cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “Offering off the record already? I must have made a good impression. Off the record, then. Nothing will you say will be repeated.”
“I think that either one of them would make a very good king, but that they don't know how to work together to run a kingdom. I think their whole life they've been competing against each other and now that's working against them in the worst possible way. I'm worried that Brightvale is going to tear itself apart at the seams, and that we're going to be dealing with a civil war.”
“And just what do you think I can do?”
“They love you. They listen to you. You can make them see reason, and help them work together and fix this mess. Unlike everyone else they have to deal with, you don't have any ulterior motives. You're probably the only person in the entire castle who they both can trust.”
“Don't expect much, do you?” she asked in dry humor.
“My Lady,” Évora interrupted. “There are two messengers for you at the door.”
“What do that want?”
“They have invitations for dinner.”
“And that takes two messengers?”
“It does when it's one invitation from each brother,” William said with a wry look. “This could be more complicated than I thought. Accepting one and not the other would be a clear sign of favoritism.”
“What do I tell them?” Évora asked.
Vienna bit her lip, thinking quickly. “Tell them that I've already accepted an invitation to dinner from the Meridellian ambassador.” She turned to the Blumaroo. “You were going to invite me to dinner, weren't you?”
“Oh yes, Your Highness,” William said, grinning. “I do seem to recall intending to speak to you about that.” Turning to Évora, William continued, “In fact, let's throw out an offer to both of the kings. They're more than welcome to come to dinner if they feel so inclined – and make it quite clear to each of them that the invitation is also open to the other. If we're lucky, this could give us a nice dinner where they have to sit down and be civil to each other for the sake of appearances to me, and because of the princess.”
“You're much sneakier than you look,” Vienna accused the Blumaroo while Évora passed on the dinner invitations.
“It's my face, highness,” William said. “People take one look at my droopy Blumaroo nose and deduct five points from my IQ. Then they hear my Meridellian accent, and reduce it by another ten.” He switched to an outrageous sounding accent. “And doncha know, Lady-O, wee country folk ain't got no edumication.”
“William!” Vienna giggled. “That's completely unfair.” She paused. “But fairly true,” she was forced to admit.
“It's come in handy more than a couple times, Princess . It's always easier when people assume that you're stupider than you are, than having to try to be cleverer all the time.”
“Oh, drop that “Princess” business,” Vienna insisted. “I think you and I are going to be run ragged trying to get my brothers straightened out, and all the formality makes my head hurt. Unless it's a formal event where we have to pull out all the stops, just call me Vienna.”
“My Lady,” Évora said, “the messengers have returned.”
“And what do they say?”
“Both of your brothers send their regrets, but they already had dinner plans.”
Vienna sighed. “Of course, this can't be easy.”
“Miss Évora, would you please extend the invitation for tomorrow night as well?” William asked. “Maybe they both really did have plans, and I'd hate for such a good opportunity to pass us by.”
“I hope you're right, William,” Vienna said. “I'm starting to get the feeling that my brothers will be actively fighting any attempt by me to get them to compromise. Out of curiosity, what are you going to tell them is your reason for interfering? I understand Meridell's wish to have a secure border, but I doubt that will sway Milan and Lucca very much.”
“That's easy, Vienna. There are a couple trade agreements that are due to expire by the end of the year, and it will take both brothers to sign them. They're not very important, but it's excuse enough for me as an ambassador to kick and make a fuss.”
The Royal Acara blinked in surprise. Treaties hasn't even occurred to her. “Are the other ambassadors having similar problems?”
“Oh yes. Right now they're sticking to official channels in the bureaucracy, but if this drags on much longer, you can bet they're going to start looking for alternative methods.”
“Much like you're doing?” Vienna asked with an amused grin.
“I hope so,” William said, with a serious expression. “But more likely is for different countries to start throwing support behind either Lucca or Milan to dispose his brother and to take over. The last thing we need is for other countries to start ripping Brightvale apart for their own interests. That will lead to a war that could last for years, and take all of Brightvale out along with it.”
To be continued...