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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 26

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Holiday Dreams[]

Royal Palace
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
Royal Federation
23rd December, 3142

With several days of clothes and sundries packed for the trip to New Salem, Nathaniel found himself with an unexpected, if delightful, duty to see through before his morning departure for the family's holiday estate.

The dinner was not a grand state affair, or even the usual affair between high ranking nobles.  In his suite's private dining room, the table yet seemed big for the use of his two dinner guests.  It brought warmth to him to see Sophia, his bride-to-be, basking in happiness beside her father.  They were seated across from him, putting Nathaniel along the side of the table instead of the usual appropriate place at the head.  It was, he felt, a fitting place to be; he was not dining as their High King and they as the representatives of a powerful vassal family, but as a son-in-law enjoying a holiday meal with his wife-to-be and her father.

Lord Paul Marik looked authoritative in his dinner jacket and suit, as if it were a uniform itself.  The jacket was white and the suit below blue and violet, with a Marik eagle stitched into the jacket's left breast.  A similar crest was on the white dinner gown Sophia was wearing, a modest sleeved garment and dress that went down to her calves, now hidden by the table.  Her hair was pulled into a pony-tail held in place by hairbands of violet color.

Nathaniel himself was, by regal standards, humbly dressed; a blue dinner jacket over a white and red vest and shirt, a white gold-winged hawk on the jacket's left breast.  Blue dress trousers and fine black shoes, the latter little different from those worn by his guests, rounded out his assemblage.

The dinner before them was a holiday spread befitting their personal dinner, not a rich luxury dish in sight.  A Christmas ham and a goose, cranberry jam, cheddar potato casserole, containers of tzatziki sauce, garlic sauce, and brown gravy for the meats, and an assortment of greens and other vegetables that his cooking staff put together before packing everything up for their holiday.  They would be off until New Year's Eve, enjoying time with their families, while he subsisted on premade foods and whatever fare the New Salem estate cooks were preparing for the Christmas meal to come.

"You were kind to fit this into your schedule, Nathaniel," Paul said.  At his request they were using first names and not honorifics.  "I'm aware of the family tradition and your need to depart in the morning."

"It will be fine," he assured Paul.  "I may put on a few extra kilos, but my cousins' children may help burn it off before I return to the capital.  If not them, the exercises I'm joining with the Arcadian Guards will certainly help."

"Ah.  Still training for the field?"

"I am."  Nathaniel glanced briefly at Sophia, who put on a brave face.  She had lingering discontent with his choice.  "I am the first ruling Proctor in a century who has never fought.  I would have been content with this if peace held, but these Clans have made that impossible.  I must stand with the men and women I'm sending to fight."

"So you assume you will win over Parliament and the Privy Council?  I've heard much of their resistance to the alliance you're promoting."

"I believe I can, yes.  This is what we should be doing."


There was something in his voice that made Sophia glance sharply toward him. Too busy chewing to speak, she set her fork down and reached a hand out to her father's forearm.  Nathaniel took a bite, enjoyed the taste of the tzatziki-coated goose meat, and enjoyed a quick drink from the glass of champagne before him.  He didn't turn away from Paul's eyes, but he kept his expression even.  This wasn't a challenge.

Paul finished his own drink and inclined his head.  "Sophia, you can remove your hand," he said.  "Whatever our disagreements, mine and your uncle's, on Nathaniel's plans, I am not going to mar the holiday by haranguing him over them.  Nor can I entirely reject the argument.  Not given what I saw that day.  Might I suggest we finish dinner, before it grows cold?  Then we might enjoy the excellent wine and talk more easily."

"A fine suggestion," Nathaniel replied.

The rest of the meal went well enough.  There were leftovers that would be kept for Sophia's enjoyment during the next week, as she remained behind to see to the reduced Palace staff while Nathaniel was away.  The three left the dining room and entered the royal parlor.  Holovid discs lined walls, as did other digital media and old-fashioned books.  Nathaniel produced another bottle, this one a sweet dessert port produced in the southwest of Arcadia's Munster continent, and poured fresh glasses for the three of them.  They took to the various plushed chairs about the center of the warmly-lit room.  The windows to the side looked out at the brilliant skyline of Roslyn.

"You are remaining on Arcadia for a time?" asked Nathaniel.

Paul nodded.  "Yes.  In light of what happened the ship is being assigned an early drive overhaul at the Artemis Yards.  As commander of 1st Battle Fleet my place is here for the time being."

"It will be nice to have you around, Father," Sophia said.  "It seems so very long since we last spent any time together.  We'll have to see if Mother will come."

That won her a paternal grin.  "Nicole has to see to holiday matters first, I'm told, but she'll be coming by before the overhaul completes."  His eyes turned towards Nathaniel.  "She does wish to meet her son-in-law before the wedding, as well."

"I look forward to it," Nathaniel answered.  "It will be nice to have all of you visit."

"We will accept your hospitality gladly."  Paul took a drink of the port.

Nathaniel took his own, savoring the sweetness of it.  The evening's wine left a gentle buzz in his head, calming but not enough to impair thoughts.

Sophia set her glass down, fortified by the wine.  "We may as well clear matters.  About the Lady Trillian and the Lyran alliance."

Nathaniel nodded to her.  Yes.  A chance to win your father over, and to console you, will be welcome. "I believe it is the right thing, but I would be a poor ruler to not listen to advice from my elders, especially one who has actually seen with his own eyes the matters on the other side."  He extended a hand to Paul.  "Paul, it is my intention to press the alliance, and to lead our forces over to save the Commonwealth and end the Clan threat.  Archduke Kenneth's support would be welcome, as would that of the entirety of House Marik.  I'd like to know your views on the matter."

"I do not dispute the need to help the Lyrans of the other side," Paul began. "Not after what I saw on Timkovichi."  His eyes closed and a hint of pain showed on his face.  "The Falcons were monstrous in their behavior, murdering civilians for no more reason than petulance at their impending defeat.  We cannot allow such a people to threaten our side of the Glass."

"Such is my thought as well."

Paul nodded and sipped at the wine, for the taste and, presumably, the moment to consider his words.  "But you must be careful.  For one thing, do not trust the Halas-Liaos," he insisted.  "They have never been above lying or diplomatic treachery to take what they wish.  The Dowager has spent decades trying to claim the Principality of Atreus for her realm, and given the opening, I daresay she would even defy Emperor Robert if provided the opening, whatever his true desires on your peace initiatives.  The Empire has ever been a practical state, but that includes pursuing their goals with a ruthless tenacity we've underestimated to our regret.  Any peace they accept will have all sorts of conditions meant to further their goals beyond the benefits of a mere peace.  It wouldn't do to give them our blessing, intentionally or otherwise, to pursue Andurien again, or the Liaoist claims on the Federated Suns."

Nathaniel took another sip as Paul spoke.  He set the glass down by the end and considered his reply.  "I understand, and I'd like to assure you that I'm not blind to the risks, Paul.  But I believe that there is a difference between being prepared for war and being prepared to start a war, and many of my own commanders prefer the latter.  The forces they had ready on the border were more than necessary for a defensive posture, I feel."

"Perhaps you do, but for the people of our Principality, those troops are our shields," Paul explained.  "In living memory Atreus has twice been invaded by the Dowager's Knights, and every continent, every city, suffered in the fighting.  To us, every AFRF soldier on a world of the Atreus Principality is a guarantee against another invasion."

"From my own journeys and experience, every world across the border feels the same," Sophia added.  "From New Earth to Stewart to Campbelton.  They find security in the strong forces we keep on their worlds.  To lose those troops makes them feel exposed and endangered."

"But the same forces might cause such an invasion, if the Empire fears us enough to launch a preemptive strike," Nathaniel replied.  "A mutual drawdown of forces, on both sides of the border, would accomplish security as well.  And it would give us greater flexibility in dealing with the other threats."

"House Kurita, you mean?"

"And the Clans, yes."  Nathaniel set his hands together.  "I know I am decried as naive for pursuing peace with the Empire.  They have been our enemies for a century.  Their forces killed my father on Sirius, and my great-grandfather met his end at their hands as well.  They have attacked us on any number of occasions.  But I believe that we have to look ahead, or we'll just keep getting caught up in the same wars, the same battles, over and over.  Until we live the same history as the Great Houses of the Star League, and collapse just as they did.  I promise, I'm not going to abandon the Principality, or any other border world.  We'll have enough troops to defend our worlds from incursion."

It was clear to the younger man that Paul was considering his words quietly.  Nearby Sophia looked from her husband-to-be to her father with quiet concern.  "For what it's worth, Father, I do believe in Nathaniel's goals," she said.  "The Peace of Dieron has let us rebuild so much, and if the peace is kept, there's so much that can be accomplished."

Paul nodded at her and returned his attention to Nathaniel.  "It won't be easy," Nathaniel said.  "Blood calls out for blood, and though I've not heard that call myself, I know how strong it is.  I saw it every time someone mentioned the Empire, or Sirius, in my grandmother's presence.  I saw that suffering and that anger, that need to pay it back, that I sometimes wondered about my reaction.  If somehow I loved my father less than my grandmother had."  At that confession he drew in a breath.  "I've come to realize we processed the loss differently.  I was just a small boy, after all, while for Grandmother, she lost her first child.  She had such hopes for him and she had to bury him before his time, when he was little older than I am today.  For me, I grew up with the stories of him, his kindness and gentleness spoken of by my mother, and his courage and skill on the battlefield by my Uncle Peter and others.  I always wondered what it would've been like to grow up with him alive, to know him as a person."  Nathaniel set his glass down and folded his hands together.  "War's taken so much from us.  I want to keep it from taking more.  If we fight, it must be because it is necessary, practically and morally.  That is why I am supporting Lady Trillian, and why I pursue peace with the Empire.  The battle against the Clans is an unavoidable fight we must face.  With the Empire, we already have peace, we need only keep it."

"And hope the price is not too heavy," Paul remarked.  He closed his eyes and sighed.

"Uncle Jason," Sophia said softly.  "I'm sorry if the reminder hurts, Father."

"That is a pain I've had twenty-three years to adjust to," he replied, after which he set the glass down and turned intently on Nathaniel.  "You speak with a conviction I've not heard since I was a boy listening to High King Ethan's speeches," he remarked, his voice warm with admiration.  "Conviction is one of the things we need on the throne these days.  It's been sorely missed.  But I caution you to not let it lead you astray, Nathaniel.  Conviction can be wrongfully applied.  It can make someone's vision narrow, prejudice them against even the best advice, if it does not fit what their conviction directs them towards."

Nathaniel nodded.  "I understand.  It is another reason I sought Sophia's hand.  She is but one advisor who tempers me, I feel."

Sophia blushed.  "I think you give me too much credit."

"If so, she is certainly taking from her mother," Paul chuckled, patting his daughter on the arm.  Afterward he returned his attention to Nathaniel and spoke with a formal bearing.  "Just tell me plainly.  Do you commit yourself to the protection of the Principality, regardless of whether it prejudices your plans?"

"I will not allow any of our worlds, including the Principality, to be stripped of defenses, only that said defenses will be proportionate to the threat.  If the Empire draws down, we will draw down.  But I can't imagine either side will demilitarize."

"I see.  Publicly, I am bound by my uncle," Paul said.  "Archduke Kenneth is the leader of House Marik, ruler of the Principality, and I cannot be seen as contradicting him.  Privately, I will tell him my own views on the need to intervene, and that you have promised our defense will be seen to.  But you must follow through on that, Nathaniel.  If you send forces to aid the Lyrans, you must keep a suitable number of troops on our border.  Otherwise Kenneth, and I, will fight you, and it may even prejudice the marriage agreement."

Nathaniel nodded his head.  "Thank you," he said, fervently.  "I give you my guarantee, now, that the Atrean Dragoons and Marik Regulars will be kept in the Principality, as will the three Royal BattleMech brigades that are stationed there.  Whatever else happens, that will not change."

"I do not feel that will be enough, in of itself, to dispel the worry of weakness," Paul admitted.  "But it is a start."

Ten frontline brigades is just a start.  Nathaniel could tell this meant he would likely have to leave more forces there to avoid Marik opposition to the alliance.  But with everything else to defend… will I have enough forces to be decisive?  We will need the troops to engage on both fronts.  The Ghastillians can provide some, but would it be enough?  "I don't wish to make people feel unsafe, Paul, only for people to seriously consider that peace is achievable."

"It will take time."

"So I've been told."  He smiled at Sophia, who nodded in reply.  "Thank you, again, for hearing me out.  So far I hear a lot about my plans being dangerous, or the entire idea as unrealistic or impossible..  As if God Himself were set on pitting us against the Empire in some form or fashion.  I can't believe people enjoy war so much that they want it, though, and you've reminded me that such is not true."

"War has long dogged the steps of Humanity.  Nothing will change that.  That's not to say we should throw away peace.  We just have to be realistic about it."  Paul sipped at the wine.  "I wouldn't like to dwell forever on such, though.  I'm satisfied you're going to try to meet our needs within your wider proposals, so why don't we discuss other matters?  If you're to be my son-in-law, I'd like to get to know more about what you have in mind, as a family man and not a ruler."

Sophia blushed at her father's remark.  Nathaniel grinned in reply and set the glass aside.  "Well, children are an obvious part of any of these arrangements given our rank," he began.  "I've had some thoughts on their education, though I'll want Sophie's approval…"

After some more discussion, Paul excused himself from the Royal Suites. For form's sake if anything he saw Sophia to her rooms before departing.  He'd gently declined the offer of a guest suite; Kenneth's suites in the Roslyn Astoria-Lux were awaiting him.

He stepped into the lift to lower him into the Palace's private garage.  It only moved one floor before stopping and admitting another figure.  "Your Highness," Paul said, nodding.  "Merry Christmas.  My best to Lord Kevin and his health."

Prince Peter nodded quietly.  The lift started moving.  "And mine to Nicole."  He stepped in and stood to Paul's side. "A good dinner?"

"Quite.  I am… pleased that my daughter will have such a considerate man as her husband," Paul replied.  "And we had a productive conversation on various matters."

"I'm pleased to hear it."

"He really is going to go through the Glass, isn't he?"

Peter sighed and nodded.  "He is.  His sense of responsibility to those who go to fight, and his belief on the need, is too great.  Perhaps it will be for the best, though.  The people would expect the sovereign to take to the field, if physically capable as he is."


The lift stopped and opened, admitting them into the private garage.  In the distance was Paul's waiting vehicle, signed out from Fort Defiance and with an AFRF motor pool driver undoubtedly reading something off a noteputer while waiting for him.  But he was far out of earshot, and the local recording devices would be visual only.  With this in mind, Paul turned back to Peter.  "I'm grateful we didn't launch EAGLE CRY."

An icy look crossed Peter's eyes.  "You should be careful where you speak of such sensitive matters."

"You and I both know this is as secure as an office." Paul answered.

"It is still not the right venue.  Nor a discussion I wish to have."

"I'm guessing Lord Arnold and the others have been putting the pressure on. They see the prospect slipping away with Nathaniel's intentions."  Paul chuckled.  "The Field Marshal especially has a monomania about the idea that worries me.  I can't imagine they've made your position any easier."

"EAGLE CRY was our one hope to prevent the Empire from gaining a naval edge," Peter replied.  "So I don't see how you can be grateful it's been delayed, if not rendered impossible."

"I know it would incense many others higher ranked than I to hear me say those words.  The strange thing is, while I could justify it due to the Glass, and the Clan threat, even without that I feel grateful.  Maybe peace is possible over the long run."  He swallowed at an old pain that came to his mind.  "Maybe my son won't suffer the same fate that his namesake uncle, and so many others, suffered in the war."

"Maybe," Peter sighed.  He looked wearier than his age, less than sixty, otherwise implied.  "But Nathaniel's dreams may only serve to wet the appetites of the Empire."

"Perhaps.  Just don't let the others bully you into destroying his dreams, Your Highness.  We've suffered long enough with a heartbroken figure on the throne.  Maybe what we need now is a little dreaming, and the conviction to back it."  Paul nodded to him.  "Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoy the family holiday."

"Merry Christmas to you as well."

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