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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 33

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Casting Dice[]

Arnold's Agenda[]

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Royal Arcadian March
Royal Federation
26th January, 3143

Below the main levels of the palace, Arnold Proctor-Steiner entered the officer wardroom quietly.  He was met by Grand Admiral Stewart and General Montague.  The sight of Military Intelligence's Chief of Staff spiked Arnold's interest in this quick meeting; Montague preferred to play it safe in being seen with them outside of regular scheduled meetings.  "Gentlemen.  I trust this has to do with Lady Trillian's latest push to pull us into her war?"

"Oh, more than that."  Montague grinned.  He held up a noteputer and handed it to Arnold.  "Can't copy the file, unfortunately.  Not until matters become official.  But as you can see, we received some interesting new information through the Glass from those merchant Foxes or whatever they call themselves."

Arnold nodded while bringing the noteputer up.  He pulled the stylus from its port along the side and used it to scroll over the report.  As he read the contents a smile grew on his face.  Yes.  Oh.  We can use this.  Lady Trillian has been keeping quite the secret, hasn't she?  The Privy Council will come over to our side easily now.  "Any chance this intelligence can be challenged?"

"I mean, it is guesswork, but it rings true quite well when you consider Trillian's own testimony," Montague said.  "And I doubt the Foxes would jeopardize our relations on something false."

"True.  Alright.  I think it is time we bring some cold hard reality to our young ruler."  Arnold handed the noteputer back.  "We may have need of that file."

"I will have it ready," Stewart promised.

"Then all is in place."  Arnold clapped his hands together.  And then all we need is to turn the screws in the Council and Parliament, and maybe, just maybe, we'll save the Federation from the Empire after all.

Trillian prepares[]

Thirty meters above their heads, the object of their ire was seated in the inner parlor of her guest suite.  With another meeting with the Privy Council just an hour or so away, Trillian was already in her formal gown and wear, a full suit of greens and blues with the bottom a dress piece flowing to her ankles.

Her counterpart, Lord Friedrich von Kassel of Inarcs, had his own court uniform on, including the orange barnous around the shoulders and the three-arrowed insignia of the Kingdom of Ghastillia.  Said nation's existence, including its peculiar name and makeup, was one of the more outlandish elements of this side of the Glass to Trillian.  She'd initially imagined they were some form of Rim Worlds Republic successor state, but found they were more of a melange of Lyran refugee and Rim Worlder communities that had developed in a way her side of the Glass would never imagine such a state could go, such as their particular affinity for German that went beyond even the most Teutonic Lyrans Trillian knew.

"I am aware of your concerns, Lady Trillian," von Kassel remarked in a conciliatory tone.  "Konigin Gerda is adamant that we will not allow a Falcon threat through the Glass.  Ships are en route."

"Ships that might come too late for Timkovichi, nor is it a guarantee you will go through the Glass."

"Such decisions will be left up to the commanders on the spot, and a final decision by Her Majesty."  Seeing her frown, he quickly added, "A counterattack is all but guaranteed, but it takes time.  For one matter, our naval forces must protect a large swath of worlds, and are scattered suppressing pirate threats on the rebuilding frontier.  Even then, we must also ensure that there are no diplomatic complications from a buildup on the frontline.  Atocongo is a jump away from the Communal League, as you are undoubtedly aware."

"Are you not at peace with them?"

"Can anyone be at peace with radical revolutionists?" he asked pointedly.  "For now, yes.  Thirty years of peace have held.  But that is never guaranteed, and their fleet often moves into position as well if we make such maneuvers.  We cannot risk that lingering animosities can spark more warfare, you understand."

I do.  I understand you have reason to fear some of your own people may wish to strike a foe you were compelled to accept peace with by the exigencies of war.  Trillian was too much a diplomat to say this aloud, of course.  "Still, surely they understand the situation?"

"Diplomatic communications are open, and so far no problems exist.  That is why the matter proceeds."  Von Kassel folded his hands on his lap.  "On other matters, the loan you contracted with the Rim Frontier Bank has been approved, and Konigin Gerda is personally guaranteeing your loan from the Royal Bank of Inarcs.  Coventry Metal Works and Blackstone are also authorized to sell you some of their output of our finest OmniMechs."

"Hopefully we will soon put them to use," Trillian said, recognizing the subject was being changed.  She allowed that as she had nothing more to say on the prior matter.  "As for the military assistance?"

"That is still being debated, your alliance treaty with High King Nathaniel remains the key." he explained.

So it does. "Well, I hope to make progress on that today."  She checked her watch. "Indeed, I am due to see the Privy Council again on the matter.  I hope you have enjoyed the hospitality, Your Excellency."

"It has been most kind, Your Ladyship."  He stood and kissed her hand much like a Lyran nobleman from her side of the Glass would.  "I look forward to your success."

"Danke schon."

He nodded at that and departed.  Trillian watched him go before drawing in a sigh. Progress continues, but not nearly fast enough for my liking.  I wonder what new detour I'll see today in the Privy Council… no.  I will not think like that.  I can do this.  I can convince them.  Nathaniel is on my side, and I have won support elsewhere.  Eventually that must win out, they must recognize the truth of my arguments.

It was a silly idea.  They needn't recognize anything they didn't want to.  But it gave her some hope as she freshened up for the meeting.

Truth is Revealed[]

Prince Peter's gavel brought the Privy Council meeting to order.  He nodded in Trillian's direction before saying, "I call this Privy Council meeting to order.  His Majesty wishes the Council's advice on the matter of the suggested alliance treaty with the Lyran Commonwealth beyond the Glass, particularly in light of the Clan forces even now engaging our troops on Timkovichi.  The proposed treaty terms, as they currently stand, have been laid out for your consideration.  Now, I believe Lady Trillian had some remarks prepared?"

"I do, Your Lordship."  Trillian glanced over her noteputer and stood.  "If the Council would consider, I have new proposals for the financial articles based on new data."

"I have new information to bring before the Privy Council."

The words came before Peter could react, before anyone could speak.  Grand Admiral Stewart stood, his countenance grim.  He looked straight to Peter.  "Your Highness, we recently received intelligence from trusted sources on the other side of the Glass pertaining to the political situation in our potential allies that are of great relevance to this matter."

Trillian's brow furrowed. What can he mean, what could… The realization dawned on her and it took every iota of control she had to stop the gasp that formed in her throat. No.  No no no no…

Peter nodded.  "Then by all means, let us deal with this first."

"Very well.  I shall be succinct.  We have learned that there has been a change in the Lyran Commonwealth, that the Archon Melissa Steiner that Lady Trillian represents is no longer in control of the Lyran government, and has been replaced by one Vedet Brewer."

Eyes, some incredulous, some suspicious, glanced around the room, to her, to Stewart, to all.  She felt the intake of breath from her own staff.  Control.  Keep control.  I can deal with this.

Nathaniel gave Stewart a surprised look before his eyes turned to Trillian, who met his with as much strength as she could.  Peter drew in a small sigh before saying, "Continue."

"Particulars are uncertain as the Lyran government has only stated Melissa is in recovery for exhaustion and Vedet is fulfilling her duties," said Stewart.  "But our sources confirm this is not so, that nearly two years ago, Melissa was forcefully removed as Archon by the LCAF High Command in favor of Vedet Brewer, possibly over her failure of policy regarding the Wolves. Moreso, Lady Trillian herself is known to have been back on Tharkad since the change, several months past.  One can only conclude she knows full well that Melissa was deposed and yet is here acting as if she has not been."

Trillian wanted to melt away.  How could… the Foxes.  The verdammt Foxes!  It has to be them.  Ingratiating themselves, perhaps, or sent by Vedet or Maurer.  She felt the blood rushing from her face while most of the room turned her way, in silent accusation or curiosity.

"So, the game is made clear."  Zento stood.  "All of this posturing, Lady Trillian, and what you really wanted was to use us as a political pawn. You don't want us to fight the Clans, you want us to fight Vedet Brewer.  To restore your Archon to the throne she couldn't hold herself!  Our soldiers sacrificed for your power politics and—"

"No!"  Trillian bit her lip, but it was too late to recall the angry shout she'd sent at Zento and Stewart.  "I came to save my Commonwealth.  That has always been my goal.  The Clans must be stopped."

"Then why do you negotiate in Melissa's name, not Vedet Brewer's?!" Zento challenged.

"Because he is an usurper!" she cried.  "Because our generals turned on Archon Melissa and put him in charge, then lied to the Lyran people because they knew that their usurpation wouldn't go unchallenged!  Then Vedet proved incapable of preventing the Falcon attack, so now they are trapped, while Vedet will never relinquish his stolen throne, even as he leads our people to defeat!  So yes, I came to you and wrote the treaty in Melissa's name, because she is the rightful Archon, and so the High Command would finally be free to restore her without conflict! Because I have no intention of seeing a single Arcadian soldier fight to restore the Archon; it will not be necessary, nor would it secure her anyway."

"This doesn't change that you hid this from us." Zento retorted.  "That you tried to manipulate us, hiding your political instability so we would think you a stronger ally."

"Oh, so I should have admitted my own realm is coming apart from the inside too?!"  Trillian laughed harshly.  "Tell me, Lord Senator, would you have done that?  Would you admit to your monarch's usurpation by a military clique if you were negotiating for your realm's very life?"  Her eyes swept the room.  "Would any of you?!  Step forward then, damn you!  Tell me, and everyone, that you would do what I did not, and admit such a shameful thing!"

The tears weren't supposed to be in her eyes, but they were there regardless.  The shame clawed at her, that her Commonwealth, her family's charge and trust, was reduced to this.  That they'd been degraded so badly.  She wanted nothing more but to incinerate Maurer and Vedet and Alaric Wolf and Seth Ward and Malvina Hazen and all of them for the pain they'd brought.  Even Melissa… even you would deserve to be scorched by that.  Your ambitions were too far, cousin.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence in the room, but none stepped forward.  Not even Zento, though he seemed ready to.  No, he held back as well.

Trillian grabbed the cup of water before her and swallowed it to wet her throat.  "This changes nothing of my argument either.  I never told you I needed your troops to secure my cousin.  I never claimed such a thing.  My argument is the same as before.  The Clans will not sit idle upon the Commonwealth's corpse.  It is not their way.  They will come through the Glass at some point, to raid, or to conquer, because war is their lifeblood, and glory in battle their one means of advancement.  The Falcon Mongols will be murderous if they are the ones, because they wish revenge on you for taking their leader.  Only the Commonwealth, saved and able to bind her wounds, can protect our side of the Glass and ensure peace for your side."  Trillian sat down.  "Yes.  I wish to restore my cousin to her rightful throne, and I would use your signature on the treaty to do it.  But I will not have you place her there by force any more than I would expect to be asked the same if the positions were reversed."

There was silence in the Council once more.  The men and women present were thoughtful in some cases, still angry in others, or simply uncertain.  She didn't know if she'd reached any of them.  She felt the deep fear, in the pit of her heart and soul, that she'd not reached enough, and figured that likely.  So my mission will end in failure.  But I gave it my all.  That… that will have to be enough, won't it?  That will have to be enough?  She knew it would not, but she feared breaking down if she didn't cling to the hope.

Zento finally stood.  "Your Highness."  He looked Peter's way.  "I move that we make a final resolution dismissing this treaty proposal, and provide a public statement as to why.  We have been misled, grossly, and it is time we focus on our interests and more important matters."


The answer did not come from Peter.  Trillian raised her eyes to see Nathaniel rising from his seat, his posture firm and his eyes intent on Zento.

"Majesty?"  Zento stared at him.  "This is most irregular."

"So is this entire arrangement.  Sudden new surprising intelligence brought here, fresh from the HPG?  Not provided in any reports from MI6 or other sources?  Oh, there is something quite irregular here indeed!"  Nathaniel's eyes turned to Trillian, who met them.  Something blazed there, icy and yet furious.  "Lady Trillian.  It is not easy to be in your position.  You have tried to be a loyal representative of your wronged Archon.  I believe you when you say you did not seek our military forces for her restoration, because we both know it would have been utterly foolish, and I assure you, I will only consider Archon Melissa my ally, never this usurper or the cabal that empowered him."

She nodded quietly.

"For weeks we have discussed this," Nathaniel said.  His eyes swept the room.  "The argument is made, yet none of you have raised an objection addressing it, nothing but quibbles and distractions.  Your reasons for not acting ring ever more hollow, especially now that our soldiers are fighting and dying to stop the murder of the people of Timkovichi."

"Majesty, we are giving you reasonable advice," protested Zento.  "We are thinking of the interests of our people.  It is not to get stuck in foreign wars, not when the Empire will have sixteen capital warships in two years!"

"I am well aware of those estimates, Lord Senator," Nathaniel snapped.  "it reinforces the need for peace."

"You cannot trust the Empire!  We have to—" Zento explaimed

"—have to what, Lord Senator?!  Attack?  A pre-emptive strike, perhaps, as I have heard whispered since before I graduated Ayrshire?!"  Nathaniel shook his head.  "Did you not think I would hear of these things?  I know full well there are those here, in the AFRF, in the Government, who wish a new war with House Halas-Liao. I'm quite certain many work together to promote that end, even if it means undermining my policies." With that he shot a look towards Arnold.  The angle meant Trillian could not see Nathaniels' face, but the intent frown that formed on Arnold's told her enough.  "Well, let me be clear to you all here.  I shall not start a Fifth Succession War.  There will be no pre-emptive strikes on the Empire, no skirmishes, nothing, and if any one of you cannot accept this. I invite you to resign from your positions here and now!"

Trillian swallowed.  The intensity of Arnold's stare was no worse than her own recent sentiment.  He would have ignited Nathaniel with it, if he could.

"We will build to protect ourselves, yes," Nathaniel continued, "but we will also act to uphold our values and our true interests, which now means safeguarding the Glass that sits one jump from our frontier, in the territory of our closest ally.  Lady Trillian's arguments ring true.  We cannot leave the Commonwealth to wither and die under Clan assault, leaving them free to challenge us whenever they please.  This conflict is necessary for our security and is a moral one besides.  I am ready, here and now, to sign the alliance, and I hope you will agree and join me in recommending acceptance to Parliament.  But I will not accept further prevarication."

None spoke.  Trillian wondered if any would dare to.

When none did, not even Zento, Nathaniel turned to his grand-uncle.  "Prince Peter, I request a recess, to allow the Privy Council to consider the matter.  We will vote when they return."

Peter nodded and lightly rapped his gavel on the sound board of his desk.  "The Privy Council is in recess for one hour."

One by one various members stood and went for the door, some more quickly than others.  Some glared at the King, or at Zento, or at Arnold, or Trillian herself, and sometimes all of them, before departing.  Trillian exchanged frowns with Arnold and Zento before they left, and her staff were the last to go.

She noted that Peter nor Nathaniel moved.  They are not done, she imagined before departing the chambers.  We are so close to disaster.  Our fates are in Nathaniel's hands, but he is so young a ruler… and I fear he has just made enemies of his military, just as Melissa did of ours.

Nevertheless all she could do was walk and wait and hope.

Privy Council Feuds[]

The door to the Privy Council chamber closed resoundingly.  Peter glanced out at the empty chairs, some of which weren't even properly returned to their places, and let out a sigh.  "You are being impertinent," he said aloud.

"I am being impertinent?"  Nathaniel walked over to him, rolling a spare chair up and sitting in it.

"Honestly, this is why the Crown does not usually attend deliberative Privy Council sessions," Peter said.

"Grandmother never bothered trying to actually run the government, Uncle.  She was too busy running the 'Mech simulator or dueling or whatever else presented a challenge."

"My father didn't either," Peter snapped.  "He knew better.  The Privy Council deliberates and the Lord presents their results to the Crown, and the Crown decides what to do with them."

"He didn't have a cabal trying to undermine him," Nathaniel replied.

"Where are you getting this from?" asked Peter.  "This 'cabal' talk is dangerous."

"They've all but made it clear they're cooperating," Nathaniel pointed out.  "Today was the worst.  Fresh intelligence and it comes out in a Privy Council meeting, not even in the morning briefing?"

"An oversight, perhaps."  Peter sighed.  Damn you, Arnold.  This has your hand in it, whatever Stewart or Zento did. You thought you were being clever.  Too clever by half, cousin!  "Talk of cabals will destabilize everything, Nathaniel.  It invites a witch hunt atmosphere, and a blow to the integrity of your Government.  Do not do that again, I must insist!"

To his credit, Nathaniel did not try a retort.  He shrugged and nodded.  "Fine.  I shall keep my suspicions to myself."

"And I shall make discreet inquiries," Peter promised.  "But right now, this alliance business.  You cannot mean to press them."

"The Second Royal Cuirassiers fight for their lives as we speak, Uncle.  As soon as the Donegal arrives, more of our people will be in battle as well.  We owe it to them to commit to a course."

"And is the course we should be committing to?  Given the Empire's building plans?  Our own are not so well off."

"The Federated Suns and the Flavian Principate remain allies, as does Ghastillia."  Nathaniel's eyes briefly rose, as if counting in his head.  "Together, we will have more capitals than the Empire."

"Only barely, and spread out.  Nor is this the end of their program."

"Then we build what we must, for defensive purposes, and continue the work of solidifying the Peace of Dieron."

"And hope Emperor Robert does not make fools of us all."  Peter rubbed at his forehead.  "House Marik will not accept a further reduction of their current defenses, not after the troops you've already relocated before the Glass formed.  And you can't pull troops from Skye or Bolan either or you will face a parliamentary revolt at the very least.  By my count, you will only get twelve 'Mech regiments and supporting divisions at best without undermining our defenses.  That isn't enough to help the Lyrans, not by the information we have. We can't do this alone, Nathaniel, and I'm not sure Ghastillia can send enough forces to help either."

"I have ideas on that, but I can't follow them until the alliance is secure."

"Parliament will be resistant."

"The Senate will not if I can say the Lord of the Privy Council has agreed to the alliance, and swayed the Council and the Government Offices in support."  Nathaniel leaned toward him.  "This is in your hands, Uncle Peter.  Please, help me do this.  Add your voice to mine, let us end this Clan threat, secure the Commonwealth, and keep the peace in our Inner Sphere.  I can't do it without you, especially not when I lead our troops through the Glass.  I'll need you and Lady Sara-Marie to keep things running here."

And there it is.  Peter rubbed at the forehead this time, a headache coming on.  My husband is wasting away and now I have to be in this vise.  God can be unkind. "Nathaniel, have you considered if you are wrong?  If the Imperial buildup is not for defensive purposes but for launching one overwhelming strike, capable of bowling our defenses over and crushing our Navy?  The Empire's strategy has always been to concentrate naval force heavily on strategic offensives, and the fleet they're building, with interior lines, can allow them to beat us and our prospective allies in detail.  Nor can we ignore the threat that they will ally with the Combine."

"The Combine is unreliable, and that would merely ensure the Concord left the Federated Suns alone," Nathaniel said.  "The Empire is isolated.  It's been that way since they attacked the Federated Suns near the end of the war.  The fleet they're building is large, but not large enough to safely focus to the degree you're talking.  We need to look past what came before.  My father's dead, Uncle Peter.  He's not coming back.  And I know they killed him, but it doesn't do us, or his memory, any good to get trapped in that.  Not like Grandmother Jackie did.  I'm making progress with Robert, and even if I go, Lady Jessup and Sara-Marie can continue that work.  He's interested in peace.  And even if I'm wrong… how hard would it be to face the Empire if the Jade Falcons and Wolves are snapping at us through the Glass, forcing us to divert ships and troops to keep them out?  The Commonwealth can be our guards there, allowing us to focus our efforts on the Empire or the Combine or both."

Nathaniel stood.  "I will be back when the recess ends.  Please, Uncle.  I need you to support me here.  With you at my back, we can make this work, and the Federation will be secure."  His hand pressed down on Peter's shoulder supportively.  "You've always been there for me, after all.  I know I can count on you."

Oh my dear boy. Peter looked up at him, trying not to feel the hurt in him, the guilt, while Nathaniel gave him a final smile, one just like he'd had growing up, whenever they'd had a talk, whenever Peter gave him the ear he needed or the words necessary.  He watched Nathaniel go out the door and felt his hear ache. James.  Your boy would have made you proud, so proud.  But I may have to disappoint him anyway. Damn him, it is a good argument.  A very good argument, with sound political and military logic, but it may not be enough.  If I can't persuade the others, if it causes a breach, or a scandal…

The sound of the door opening prompted Peter to look up.  He sighed quietly at the arrival of not just Stewart, Zento, and Arnold but also Air Marshal-General Juliana Steiner, who was not a member of the Privy Council but like Arnold certainly one of the "cabal".  And we have become one, with Nathaniel on the throne.  During Jackie's reign we were just an informal cabinet of sorts, to determine advice, but now…  He swallowed.  If he ever finds out, poor Nathan will be devastated.  I may as well stab him in the back and through the heart.

"So he's done it," Juliana said.  "Just… issued a demarche to the Privy Council?"

"He's called upon the Council to accept the treaty, yes.  He has not ordered anything.  Not to them, anyway."

"Ranting about a cabal against him, it made him look unhinged," Arnold protested.  "He has this… monomania of riding the triumphant hero to save the Lyrans.  Cousin, you must do something.  Stop him."

"He is the High King.  I have tried to persuade him, but he is insistent.  Nor does it help when you pull tricks like that!  Using fresh intelligence before it's even been put in proper reports?  The irregularity probably has half the Privy Council thinking the same thing!"

"It doesn't matter.  He may be the High King, but he is not the Coordinator of the Combine or the Emperor of the Capellans, it is time he met the limits of his power," urged Arnold.  "Encourage the Privy Council to resist him, to refuse him, and not allow Lady Trillian any more sessions.  Take her off the agenda completely and publicly decline the alliance!  It will leave her efforts in Parliament listless and pointless, and without Parliamentary support he cannot fund his war.  With the press we'll generate against him he'll have to back down.  If he doesn't, if he invokes Crown authority to rewrite the budget, it'll mean revolts."

"Revolts, Arnold?"  Peter looked up at him before standing.  "Are you seriously threatening that?  Revolts?"

"The people of the Federation have a right to resist being drawn into a war that doesn't interest them."

"Somehow I think you would be saying differently if it were the Empire he was targeting," Peter scoffed.

Arnold shut his mouth, but his frown said volumes.

"The information was damaging to Trillian, her defense aside," Stewart said.  "If you act against her, you would carry the Privy Council."

"If I act against her, I offend the King, and I lose my influence with him," Peter pointed out.  "Nor are they wrong.  As we speak, our soldiers die fighting the Clans."

"And that is on his head," Arnold growled.  "You let him send them!"

"He is the High King, I let nothing."  Peter stepped up to Arnold.  "Cousin, you have lost your objectivity."

"I am merely keeping my head.  This Glass affair is a sideshow.  Let the Ghasties and the Commies worry about the Clans.  Archduke Ethan's Kell Hounds can deal with any incursions into our territory."  Arnold folded his arms.  "You need to get him on board.  Our window is closing shut.  We must strike the Empire's yards in the next year."

"That is not happening, and you know it.  You heard him"

"True, but that doesn't mean we need commit to this alliance," Stewart said.  "Lady Trillian can be stopped, and the King's impulses curtailed.  We can go back to building up, and the threat of these Clans may even help with that."

"The people of the Isle of Skye expect the Federation to protect them from the Empire," Zento added.  "We are distressed by the King's distractions."

"The King refitted your militia and approved the reactivation of the 7th Skye Rangers."

"Are you defending him, Peter?" Juliana asked sharply.

"I am making the point that any would."  Peter took in a breath.  But I am defending him.

"You helped spoil that boy, and now we will all pay for it," she hissed.

"It's time to make your place clear, cousin," Arnold said.  "Put an end to Nathaniel's foolishness.  Stop this alliance nonsense in its tracks and end Lady Trillian's efforts to sway the Council.  Let her Lyrans deal with the problems they've made for themselves, it is not our place."

Peter narrowed his eyes and took in the expressions of the others.  Juliana's face was ice, but it was clear she agreed with Arnold.  Zento was grinning, which always came off as smug.  And Stewart was typically neutral, though undoubtedly in general agreement.

This is it then.  The rock and the hard place.  He pursed his lips.  They are not wrong about the threat of the Empire.  Robert Halas-Liao may want peace, but the Dowager hates us as much as Arnold hates them, the harpy may truly live longer for every Proctor she kills.  And their extended naval program can't be ignored or wished away by peace.  Peace only lasts if power is equal.  And this war… it is so dangerous.  It could set back our own rearmament by years.  Cost us our best troops, equipment, leave our reserves insufficient.  The risk we'd be taking…

He was already thinking of it.  The words he'd use.  "I cannot recommend His Majesty's desired policy to the Privy Council.  The threat of the Empire's naval armaments is too grave, the risks to our defenses too heavy.  While some aid might be furnished, troops and a formal alliance are too far, and I vote against—"

The words stopped there as the image came to his mind.  The shocked betrayal on his grand-nephew's face at seeing Peter turn on him openly.  The pain and humiliation.  The image blended with his memories of his oldest sister, of poor Jackie, alone on her throne or in her chair, holding holos of Prince James, of their parents, of her husband, the loss and heartbreak.  He thought of Nathaniel's face with that heartbreak.  What would it do to him, to James' little boy, to have Peter stab him in the back like that?  After all the trust put into him?

I can't do it.  I… I can't.

"Cousin, my lords and ladies."  Peter drew in a breath.  "I will say this once, for you, and to be brought to those whom you stand for here."

"Peter?"  Arnold's face darkened.

Peter met him in the eyes, though he spoke to all.  "As Lord of His Majesty's Privy Council, I only have this to say about the matter.  I expect you to put an end to this sniping and undercutting of the Crown's policies. I am going to endorse the alliance before the Privy Council as necessary for Federation security."  The color left their faces, but before verbal retribution could begin, he continued on.  "And furthermore, for the three of you in uniform, you will not do a damn thing to undermine the war effort.  From this point forward I expect you to follow your sacred oaths and to shut up, sit down, and obey the orders of your High King, and if you can't in good conscience do that, you will resign as the honor of your uniform demands.  Is that clear?"

With the exception of Stewart, all betrayed rage.  Arnold's was so pale his skin turned marble, Juliana's took on the look of snow, and Zento's face went from red to purple.  Stewart, meanwhile, only nodded.  "Of course, Your Highness.  We serve at the pleasure of House Proctor and the Crown."

"I am not a soldier to be ordered—!"

"No, you are not, Senator Zento," Peter replied.  "Feel free to do as your conscience demands.  On that matter, I know for a fact that you are privy to military intelligence that has not been widely disseminated to the Privy Council or the Senate or any Parliamentary Committee on which you are a member, so if I hear one iota of that information in a debate or on a news cast, I will personally see to a security investigation that will certainly reveal this breach.  Am I clear?"

Zento's face went fully purple.  "Clear." he hissed.

"You sentimental fool."  Arnold's voice was a low rumble.  "That boy will be the death of our realm."

"Your monomania about the Empire will kill us first, cousin.  Now, do I have your obedience, or your resignation, Field Marshal Proctor-Steiner?"  Peter met his cousin's hating eyes with a cold glare.

For a moment he wondered if Arnold might actually strike him, or spit upon him and declare resignation.  The veins on his temple stood out for a moment before he turned.  "I will obey my oath," he said, back now to Peter.  "And when this blows up in the face of that little brat, I'll see to it that you get yours for this betrayal of our House, cousin."  With those words, he stomped away, Juliana and Zento behind.  Stewart took the moment to nod before departing as well.

Stewart is not breaking from them, but as always, he is looking out for his position.  We will have to be careful with them all.  Peter sank back into his chair, head pounding.  And so I cross my Rubicon.  Iacta alea est.

Final judgement of the Privy Council[]

Trillian returned just before the recess ended.  Reading the room, she knew she'd lost supporters here, but hoped it wasn't too many.

But what truly interested her was the departure of Lord Arnold.  Stewart sat alone, quiet and having lost some color in his face, and Zento seemed to have just come down from an apoplectic fit.

Peter, who looked ten years older, called the meeting to order.  "His Majesty has placed before us a vote to consider, in principle and in fact, Lady Trillian's proposed alliance treaty.  Should the vote be in the affirmative, it shall be communicated to the Government Press Office for dissemination, and the announcement made to the Speaker of the Assembly and the President of the Senate."

Lady Howard stood.  "Your Highness, may I ask how the advice of the Lord of the Privy Council as to the wisdom of the Crown's request?"

"You may."  Peter drew in a breath and before taking a drink of water.  It added to Trillian's torment as she waited to hear if he was going to see her to probably victory or drive the knife into her mission, and her own heart.  She kept her eyes on him, not daring to close them, hoping for a sign of his intentions.

"It is my advice that His Majesty's strategic and moral judgment is sound on the matter, not to mention our moral and ethical obligation to oppose the brutality of the Clan onslaught.  I am in favor of the alliance treaty and urge its passage."

Gott im Himmel, danke schön. Trillian let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, cursing her failed control in the process.

Zento lowered his head and scowled, and a few others in the room were plainly unhappy.  Many more were surprised.  Stewart's face remained unmoving.

Nathaniel was smiling.

"I call the Privy Council to a vote," Peter said.  "The clerk shall record the votes as they are registered.  My own vote is, as stated, in favor.  Lady Howard?"

"In favor."

"Lord Lee?"

"In favor."

"Lord Proctor-Grimke?"


"Lord Cassel?"

"In favor."

The vote continued on, moving on into the Cabinet, the former AFRF Chiefs of Staff, the judicial lords.  Every "Opposed" was a barb thrust into Trillian's spirit, every "In favor" pricked one out, and the count was tight by her reckoning, though she thought the early lead was holding steady.

"Twenty-nine votes for, twenty-five votes against," declared the clerk.  "The alliance treaty with the Lyran Commonwealth enjoys the endorsement of the Privy Council.  The results will be communicated forthwith."

"Congratulations, my Lady," Marienberg murmured to her, clasping her shoulder.  Trillian fought back the tears.  This wasn't quite over.  She still had to win in their Parliament, and that would be a fight too, especially given the way Zento glared at her.  But this was the first hurtle cleared.  She had Nathaniel's backing and now that of his government ministries and official advisors.  I might just do this, she thought.  I might save the Commonwealth, from the Clans and from Vedet.

With a hammer of his gavel Peter adjourned the session.  Again everyone filed out.  Trillian intercepted as many of her supporters as she could, thanking each, and finally met Nathaniel at the door.  "It sounds like it is time we finalize the treaty," he said cheerily.  "I have an open schedule today if you'd like to join me and Lady Jessup for a late lunch?"

This reminded her she'd skipped lunch on account of nervousness.  "I would be grateful, Your Majesty," she said.  "Let me go get the alliance treaty."

On the way back to their suites, she listened to her staff remind her of this point and that, and recorded them in her memory for later reference.  Her heart hadn't quite slowed down yet.  So close.  I didn't think I'd get this far, especially after they found out about Vedet.

The staff peeled off from her once they reached the hall for their rooms, leaving her alone when she arrived at her suite door.  She swiped the key to open it and entered.  To her surprise, a uniformed presence was waiting, in LCAF blue at that.  She checked the name habitually and recognized it.  "Leutnant McCarter, right?"

The young officer nodded.  "Yes, my Lady."  Her Donegal brogue struck another familiar chord.  "Kaptain Mullen sent me down with our monthly expense report for yer signature."

"Right.  I lost track of the time of month."  Trillian sighed and smiled.  "I didn't expect to see you so soon."

"It's quite fine, my Lady."  McCarter handed her the noteputer.

Trillian took it and set it down on the table beside the printing of the draft treaty, still marked down with her proofing work these past few days.  "Numbers seem about right.  I'm glad the crew has enjoyed leave."

"It's quite a world.  An' how's it going for you?"

"Busy busy busy…"

There was a rush of air.  Trillian's brain barely had time to register it before a band of thin, tight pressure pulled on her neck and throat, squeezing her windpipe nearly shut.  She gasped in surprise, or rather, would have gasped if she could breathe.

What self-defense training she'd had over her life kicked in, and Trillian tried to shift her body weight, to get some leverage, but she couldn't.  She was forced against the table by the weight of McCarter's body, her hips pinned down, hands desperately trying and failing to free her throat from the garotte.  She tried to utter a protest, but it was no more successful than the air filling her burning lungs in passing the wire.

A harsh German voice, no longer that friendly brogue, hissed into her ear.  "General Maurer and Archon Brewer send their regards, traitor."

Trillian struggled to move again, but there was no use, and the wire on her throat tightened so hard she thought it might slice through her neck.  Everything started to go dark.

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