Most nights, the hall was crowded with courtiers, ambassadors and hangers-on, but once a week Godfrey had a private dinner with only the family and certain privileged retainers. They all gathered in the hall while the servants set out the table, the men near the fireplace with their ale and the women in an arrangement of chairs in the anteroom.
When the linens and cutlery were laid out, Godfrey led the way out to the anteroom. "Maldwyn," he said over his shoulder, "show your mother to the table. Tancred, take your cousin, and Rainhart, Princess Idella." Then he offered his hand to Philomena. "You'll sit by me tonight, my dear. I've some things I wish to say to you."
"Of course, your majesty," said Philomena, watching as Holle tucked her hand into the crook of Tancred's arm.
When they were all seated, servants started to bring out the various courses. Sweets went in the centre of the table, on either side of the centrepiece. Then came the roast pig and ox, stuffed pigeons, sausage, blood pudding, bread, gravy, white sauce, and cheese. The Steward lifted the bowl from the centrepiece and, with a towel over his arm, offered it first to the King to clean his fingers, then to the Queen and then the rest, before returning it to its place amongst the flowers.
For some minutes, the room was dominated by the sound of metalware and crockery scraping, the King's approving noises as he sampled the blood pudding and the Queen's disapproving sighs at some perceived defect in the white sauce.
Once King Godfrey had polished off his first helping of meat, he pulled a heel from the nearest bread loaf, and, breaking it into pieces, began to mop up the gravy on his plate. "Have you found our hospitality to your liking for the past few years?" said Godfrey.
"I--yes, your majesty?"
"I am glad to hear it. I shouldn't like to think you have been unhappy under my roof. But something Tancred said made me think that perhaps you did not understand my reasons for doing as I have."
"T--the Crown Prince said something to you?"
Godfrey waved a chunk of bread. "Only that you had asked him a few questions that he had thought you knew the answer to." He paused. "Do you know why you need to marry Rainhart?"
Philomena laid down her spoon. "To seal the treaty between Jovan and Deusetats. I have been wishful of doing my duty these last three years, your majesty," she said.
Nodding, the king stuffed a piece of bread into his mouth. He beckoned to the steward to bring around the platter of sausages. "I suppose you wonder why I've waited so long."
"I trust your majesty's wisdom, and believe you were right to wait until I was older and ready to be a wife."
"That's true enough, of course, but you're a clever girl; don't tell me you think that's the whole story."
"No, your majesty," said Philomena. Your wife was whispering in you ear about how Deusetats should ally with the clan kingdoms, not with the heathen Jovanis who do what they wish and worship no gods at all, and sent a half-Alysine bastard of some minor royal to seal the treaty.
"No," echoed the king. "You know that you were given in trade for my, ah, support in her project to bring Gallica under Jovani rule. This arrangement angered my barons. They--especially those of the Cimbra--think that Deusetats should ally with Merot and Gallica and stand against Jovan's incursion into the continent."
He attacked a sausage with his knife. "All very well, I say, except that if I make an enemy of Jovan, then all the trade routes from Deusetats to the western sea are closed off, and Jovan looks to my land next. Gallica has fallen. It will not be long before Jovan takes Merot as well. We can be next, or we can be allies. That is the way I see it."
YOU ARE READING
Philomena is a child of the empire, traded to faraway Deusetats to seal an alliance and marry a prince: the handsome but arrogant Prince Rainhart. However, politics is never simple. On the eve of Philomena's wedding, the king is brutally assassinat...