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Emergence (Concertverse) Chapter Cover

Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 41
[]

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The Unsheathed Sword[]


Coronation of a King[]

St. John Episcopal Church of Roslyn
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Royal Federation
8th February, 3143


After her morning meal, Trillian had her finest court gown brought out of the closet and fitted into it with the help of her domestic staff.  She and her Chief of Staff, Lord Marienburg, took a vehicle in the procession of Royal guests and dignitaries to their destination, in the heart of Roslyn itself.  The city was quieter than usual, even for the start of a week.  For the people of Roslyn it was a holiday, not a working day, and Trillian imagined soon enough the empty streets would be filling up with spectators for the parade and ceremonies to come.

Just east of the city center and the Financial District, settled close to where the Rha River briefly bent northward on its way to the sea two kilometers away, St. John Episcopal stood as the beating heart of the Anglican Communion of Arcadia, the traditional place of investiture for rulers of Arcadia stretching back to House Duncan's foundation on the planet in the twenty-fourth century.  It was a suitably grand church of white with brass furnished trim, including a towering cross-tipped steeple and belfry, stained glass windows, and large interior and attached park space, including a second floor balcony looking out over the church courtyard.

One by one the vehicles came to a stop and allowed their personages to disembark with the aid of church ushers in their plain church uniforms.  One such usher, a red-headed woman with freckles, helped Trillian out of her vehicle along with Marienburg.  She moved them along to the entrance, where they were guided through the main door and to their assigned seats among the Royal guests in the front pews.

Trillian took in the scenery of the church.  It'd been badly damaged in the Terran invasion of Arcadia in 3050 and rebuilt to exacting specifications.  The second floor had expanded seating on ascending rows back to the far end of the nave, at the vestibule.   The acoustics were improved for both services and ceremonies through alterations to the vaulted, chandelier-lit ceiling, while the interior expanded to increase the size of the transept and chancel to allow a superior layout for the ceremonial role of the church, and all sorts of minor improvements implemented.

To either side of the transept were long benches, spare pews possibly, that were vacant, while squads of Lifeguard infantry clad in Grenzer Battle Armor, their modular arm mounts fitted with lasers instead of the usual Gauss weaponry.  The altar, normally in the chancel but now moved to the north-middle part of the transept while allowing for sufficient space to walk about it, was covered in a fine velvet cloth, with a plain looking but solid table of wood surfacing and metal placed beside it.

The valuable ceremonial items were already resting upon it.  They were certainly made to leave an impression, she thought.  A hawk-shaped ampule sat in the middle, containing the consecrated oil for the ceremony.  The Scepter, the representation of temporal, secular power in the hands of the ruler, was made of alloyed gold, with a swept wing silver-plated hawk at the tip.  Beside it was the symbol of spiritual authority and responsibility, the Orb, a solid pearl from the oceans of Zwenkau. Two bands of gold crossed over it marked with iconography, a golden cross set into the "top" with a hawk perched upon it. The Crown itself was a band of gold topped with a royal purple cap, marked with cruciforms set over pairs of rubies and sapphires, with one large pearl set into the golden hawk crest at the brow.

Across the transept, right inside the chancel, was the ceremonial throne.  It was a frame of metal and gold filigree lined with cushioning of royal purple for the seat and sides, with the arms topped with golden-varnished hardwood.  A compartment below the seat bore a single slab of stone, of some weight and heft, purportedly the Stone of Scone itself, spirited off Terra during the Amaris Coup and winding up in the personal collection of the warlord Carl Tabot, "High Lord of Arcadia", until his death at the hands of Sara Proctor.  There were strong doubts about the authenticity, but as it was a trophy of the Liberator's victory and the purported Stone of Destiny for the crowning of the High Kings of Scotland and English and British rulers alike, it was implemented into the coronation ceremonies when Sara-Marie became the first High Queen a century later, and the claim to its authenticity formally made.

In the far corner of the chancel, a finely-built organ was being manned and tested by the organist, and a pianist likewise doing the same for their instrument on the opposite side of the dais.  The choir was still filling up with white-robed men and women, chatting amiably or testing their voices.

Time passed to the beginning of the procession.  This was signaled by the activation of one of the church's modern features, a large holovid projector built into the classical-looking chandeliers hanging from the arching roof above.  It gave the attendees an idea of how long they had to prepare for the coming ceremony, whether it be quick calls of nature — as she noted several notables making discreetly — or checking their messages or finishing conversations.  The screen itself was a feed from the Federation Broadcasting Corporation, showing the beginning of the Royal Procession in a parade from the gates of Fort Defiance to the church.  It was an impressive display, certainly.  BattleMechs, vehicles, and armor-suited infantry of the Second Proctor Guards, the Arcadian Guards, the Arcadian Rangers, the Fourth Royal BattleMech Regiment and Brigade, and the First Arcadian Royal Federal Militia Brigade all marched along the reinforced surfaces of Roslyn's boulevards and avenues.  They must have been training for months for this, she thought at seeing how well they handled the maneuvers through the streets, the MechWarriors and tank drivers turning smartly in column where necessary.  The number of 'Mechs alone numbered over a hundred, the representatives of five regiments of 'Mechs and many more of armor and infantry, undoubtedly brought in from every garrison point on the planet for the ceremony.  How many of them will be coming with Nathaniel?  How many of these men and women are going to die because of the alliance I've just signed?

The lead formation was the important one.  The Lifeguards' 'Mech and armor formations — their infantry was undoubtedly already at the church and surrounding grounds, working with the Royal Security Service to safeguard the ceremony, and the Lifeguards' aviation forces were protecting the proceedings from above — were on all sides of a single BattleMech.  Growing up around MechWarriors Trillian knew just enough to see the design had some aesthetic similarities to Black Knight machines, but the telltale crown assembly on the head marked it a Paladin, specifically a PLD-3 OmniMech since it mounted missile launchers and carried a sword compartment built into the right arm.  Given the white and gold paint job, and the prominent crowned hawk on the chest, plus the focus being given to the machine, it had to be Liberator, Nathaniel's 'Mech.

By now the streets, lined with protective barricades, were filled with people.  Banners were held, as were flags, bearing patriotic slogans, supportive words, or statements for this or that cause.  She noted a number of Lyran flags were prominently displayed as well, usually twinned to Arcadian ones.  Are they Lyrantreu or supporting the new alliance?  Possibly both.  Given it had been over a quarter century since the last coronation, this was being treated as the event of a lifetime.  If Nathaniel lives a full life, it may very well be for many older than we are, Trillian thought. He could reign into the thirty-third century.  The treacherous addition of If he doesn't get killed saving the Commonwealth slipped in, an unwelcome thought.

The main parade flowed to the approach to St. Johns.  There they began to peel off.  The 'Mechs and vehicles of the Lifeguards took up protective positions around the church while the other units moved on, following the final leg of the parade procession back to their base by its northeastern entrance.  One lance from the Lifeguards continued on, arranged around Nathaniel's machine, until all five were in the courtyard before the church's main doors.  There they stopped.  She noted a couple more were similarly Paladins, though only one was in Lifeguard colors.  The two other BattleMechs, which she didn't immediately recognize, were marked as 'Mechs of the Bolan Heavy Guards. The regiment Nathaniel served in before his grandmother died and he inherited the throne.  The other Paladin bore the emblem of the Proctor Heavy Guards.  They must have come here for the ceremony, realized Trillian, since those units were stationed on Bolan and Stewart at the moment, though were slated to join Nathaniel's expedition to Tharkad and the battle with Clan Wolf.

Around her, people were getting back to their seats.  Noteputers started to get put away.  She heard one mumbled voice fuss and turned her head to a group a few spaces down, past Lord Marienburg and Prince Peter's husband Lord McGonagal, to where a more plainly clad middle-aged woman was shushing a child of about ten, quietly aided by an adolescent girl three years older despite her looking very bored as well.  They were not badly-dressed, but clearly not in court uniform or wear either.  Trillian leaned over and asked, "Hello, I am Lady Trillian Steiner, may I have the honor of your name?"

The woman smiled and nodded.  "Mrs. Prudence Corey, Ma'am."

Corey. I do recognize that name.  "As in, William Corey?"

"Yes, Ma'am." the woman replied.  Her accent was one Trillian hadn't heard nearly so much of, lacking even the soft burr of most Roslyn residents, nor the tones of old England.  It was one usually associated with the Plymouth Peninsula, and the Anglo-Americans there descended from New England settlers.  "My husband John was a Corey, as are his children.  This is my grandson, also named John, and granddaughter Sarah, they're here with me to represent the family.  Their parents are offworld and couldn't make it."

She almost asked for the woman's title, to ensure she addressed her properly, but stopped.  She'd already identified herself merely as "Mrs. Corey", and even with how Arcadian court culture seemed a little more relaxed than Lyran, she couldn't imagine even a Freiherr not wearing proper court dress or displaying the family arms or insignia in some way.  No, this woman and her grandchild, they're commoners.  Commoners, in the front pew during a state ceremony!  I can't imagine any Archon having that at a coronation, if they were deserving they'd be ennobled immediately before.  It was a reminder that whatever the pomp and ceremony, the Arcadians did not have the same mentality of her Lyrans.

She almost asked the reason the Coreys were represented here, but stopped herself. William Corey was, by all accounts, the love of Sara Proctor's life.  Biographers believe she never got over his death.  Inviting his family to her coronations was the next best thing to having him there, I suppose, and her son carried the tradition on for whatever reason, despite his own difficult relationship with her.  Maybe because he was named for her dead lover?  So now, two centuries later, they get to sit among the great and mighty.  It was, in its own way, somewhat inspiring, as tragic as it was.

Her attention returned to the holovid display.  The cameras outside showed the 'Mechs were dismounted.  She couldn't immediately recognize two of the pilots following Nathaniel to the entrance, all still in their cooling suits, but realized the one walking from the 'Mech with the Proctor Heavy Guards insignia was Prince Peter.  Of course.  His old unit.  The other men must be Colonel Laughlin and officers Nathaniel served with, maybe his company and battalion commanders?  The four figures entered the church entrance together.  A moment later, the holovid display blipped away, leaving only empty air above the chancel. A dark-skinned man stood from where the choir was now seated, clad in pontifical vestments of white and gold, with a bishop's miter of the same colors on his head.  Every step was measured and deliberate as he walked around the throne and to the north side of the altar, where he stopped and stood quietly.  Bishop Stanford, I would assume.

By the time the bishop was in place, the church was silent.  All the noteputers had disappeared.  The ceremony was set to begin.  Trillian waited patiently for the start.

"Our ruler is ready." a voice proclaimed from behind her, his voice amplified by the acoustics of the church and the cleverly-installed speakers hidden above.  She recognized the speaker as Prince Roman Brewer-Steiner's.

Remain seated until the King is passing by. The instruction, provided by Lord Murray in his notes to her, stayed in Trillian's mind until she saw the figures of Prince Roman and Grand Princess Amita.  She rose in line with the others on the pew, just in time for Nathaniel to enter her vision.  He was in a white robe of shimmering, splendid material, with a red vest and stole fastened over the robe.  And the cooling suit is still underneath, I bet.  Behind Nathaniel came a procession of the remaining March-ruling Archdukes of the Federation, led by Amir Karim Abdullah Rayhan of Dar-es-Salaam and Archduke Kenneth Marik of Atreus, and due to the constitutionalism of the system, the Duchesses of Gienah and Hyde and the Duke of Launum, representing the original co-founding worlds of the Free March, and the planetary Archdukes of the old Kingdom of Donegal, who retained the title though they were only planetary rulers.

The procession moved partway into the transept and many of the lower ranking members moved away, to the empty pews set into the sides of the transept, leaving plenty of room for the ceremony.  Only Grand Princess Amita of Bolan, Prince Roman, Archduke Kenneth, and Archduke Birendra Shah of Tamarind remained beside Nathaniel.  The significance wasn't lost on Trillian.  They are all rulers of what were once independently-sovereign parts of the Federation.

Nathaniel stepped out from among them and towards the altar, where Bishop Stanford moved forward and held his handout, gesturing for Nathaniel to lower himself.  When Nathaniel did not obey, Prince Roman stepped forward and, in a tone more ceremonial than forceful, demanded, "Who are you to make the sovereign kneel?"

Stanford's reply filled the church.  "It is the place of all sovereigns to kneel before the Creator of the Universe."

Roman, ceremonially chastened — though I doubt not a whit in fact, Trillian thought with bemusement — stepped back to join his peers, leaving Nathaniel to obey and drop to one knee.  He bowed his head in supplication and, with quiet energy, announced, "I am humbled before the Lord my God, Creator of All, font of Justice and Mercy."

"Why have you come?"

Nathaniel lifted his eyes, though his knee remained on the floor of the church.  "To assume the throne of Arcadia," he replied, his tome firm but not in any way authoritative.   "I am Nathaniel Ethan Proctor.  The blood of the Liberator flows in my veins. It is my duty to take the burden of protecting the peoples and worlds of our realm, so help me God."

"And you solemnly swear, before the Almighty Creator of the Universe, to uphold the work of the Liberator and protect the sacred dignities of all souls within your realm, owned by none by the Will of their Divine Creator?"

"Yes."

"To uphold the rights that Nature and Nature's God bestow upon all souls, with all your power?"

"I do."

"To rule with justice and mercy as the Lord rules over all?"

"I do."

Stanford nodded.  "Then, in the eyes of the Creator and your people, take up the sword of your foremother."

A young woman of tan skin approached from the chancel, wearing the uniform of a court page.  Something about the way she carried herself reminded Trillian of her cousin Melissa when she'd been a teenager, or myself if I am being honest.  A daughter of the nobility, I assume. In her hands she held a long object.  When she rounded the altar from the south, the opposite side from Stanford, Trillian noticed the handle and realized it was a sheathed sword, with a scabbard of fine leather but, notably, not one piece of jewelry or precious metal present on its surface.  Only a metal disc prominent on the visible surface provided ornamentation, bearing a gold and white hawk sigil.  Quietly the young noblewoman strapped the scabbard to the left of Nathaniel's waist.  When she was done, she retreated back to the side of the altar to retrieve the table.  It scraped audibly along the floor, filling the church with the noise, before coming to a rest between Nathaniel and the altar.  From the south arm of the transept, two more young people in page uniforms came, carrying between them a meter and a half of solid metal chains, each end terminating in a manacle.

A faint sound came from the transept, metal scraping against metal, and the glint of the church's light flashed upon the blade of solid steel.  I've heard swords unsheathed before, LCAF officers give scoldings if their subordinates make a noise.  It is deliberate, then. The sword was nothing special.  The hilt, crossguard, the pommel, it looked like a plain sword, the kind of European longsword you might find in collections or made as props for fantasy or historical holodramas, not quite a meter in length.  The only ornamentation was a silver-colored disc set into the crossguard depicting the Proctor family seal of a sword shattering a set of manacles.

It does not look at all like it belongs in the Regalia, not compared to the gold and jewels of the Crown, Scepter, and Orb.  But everything I've read says it's considered the most important piece, the heart of it all, argued as the ultimate expression of House Proctor's authority on Arcadia and across the realm.  Trillian focused her eyes on the blade as Nathaniel held it up, examining it for the moment.  The Sword of Liberation, they call it, a blade forged from the metal of shattered slave chains.  It was presented to Sara Proctor as a gift by a married couple, metalworkers freed from Carl Tabot's slave pens after his death at Parnon and the liberation of his estate in Sannazaro.  She worked the blade into the investiture ceremony when she was made Duchess of Arcadia, and later did the same at her coronation as the first March-Princess of the Free March.

Nathaniel's eyes moved from the blade to the chain on the table before him, where the two pages laid the chain down, the manacles placed along the opposite edges of the table.  They stepped away, one, two, three steps, and waited.

In a practiced movement, Nathaniel brought the blade down on the middle link.  The church rang with the sound of steel on steel.  Sparks briefly leapt from the impact point.  The pages stepped forward again and picked up the chain by the manacles, revealing to all that they had been split at the central link.  The symbolism is not subtle.  This is a pledge.

Nathaniel turned to Bishop Stanford.  "Let this be an example of my conviction."
"It is witnessed. Let all chains fall before your sword."

While the two younger pages returned to the chancel with the broken chains and the sword-bearing page brought the table back to its original position, Stanford went to the altar and took up the ampule.  Nathaniel knelt once more, lowering his head, and the four retainers brought forth a golden shroud — Where did it come from?  Was it handed to one of them by an usher while we were all watching Nathaniel take up the sword? — and held it over him.  Bishop Stanford stepped up to the kneeling ruler and with care tipped the ampule, just enough to allow a dabble of oil to land on Nathaniel's shrouded head.  Stanford spoke in a reverential, firm tone.  "By this holy anointing, in the name of the Father and Creator, of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, you assume dominion with His Grace."

Music sounded from the chancel.  By the time Stanford placed the ampule back on the altar, the choir's voice filled the church with a slow, joyous melody that she slowly recognized from old memories.  We have this.  It's from the… Age of War era?  Maybe earlier.  I can recall this from services when I was young.  "The Work of Samuel".  The call for a king to defend Israel, and the Hebrew prophet Samuel journeying to find a suitable candidate.

The retainers took the oil-stained shroud from Nathaniel's head.  Together they removed the red tunic and stole.  Grand Princess Amita and Archduke Kenneth replaced it with a vest of strong, bright blue, then a fine jacket of crimson.  Did Roman ask not to do this, or is this because he is not as close in terms of family?  Amita's grandson and Kenneth's betrothed grandnephew-in-law?  Archduke Birendra provided the final piece, a flowing cape of royal purple lined with ermine.  Even though Nathaniel was by no means short, the cape still flowed to the ground and then some, so Archduke Birendra and Prince Roman each took a corner and followed Nathaniel to the throne.  Amita helped him unstrap the Sword of Liberation and place it on his left beside the throne, after which he sat with the aid of the others in arranging the too-long cape.  No throne is a recliner, but he looks uncomfortable in it.  It forces his back to remain flat, I suppose?

The choir continued to sing, the organ alone playing to accompany them, while Stanford turned back to the altar.  First he brought the Scepter, which Nathaniel accepted with his right hand.  Second, in a separate trip, he handed the Orb, which settled into Nathaniel's left hand.  The final trip brought forth the Crown.  Nathaniel bowed his head as Stanford lifted the Crown high, in full view of the church and all present, before he settled it on Nathaniel's head, bearing it down to his brow.  Nathaniel's head rose until he was sitting upright, showing that the golden hawk with its luminous pearl was directly above the center of his forehead.  And through it all he holds still, unmoving, not relaxing.  This is a trial more than it is a celebration. Which is the point, as it would be for us.  As it should be.

Yet Trillian felt like there was something different than what she'd known in the coronations she'd witnessed on Tharkad.  Our Houses are different.  The Commonwealth and the Federation share many values, we are related peoples even with the change in history, but we are not the same.  This is how the people here view their ruler, or at least, how their ruler should be.  Humble, burdened, and carrying a sword to cleave chains of captivity.  Not a sign of wealth as a bringer of economic prosperity.

Stanford turned to the assembled and spoke, his voice thundering as the music and choir lowered in volume.  "In the name of the Lord, I present to you His Royal Majesty King Nathaniel, by God's Grace High King of the Federation! May he reign long and well!"
"Long life and health to His Majesty!" Archduke Birendra called out.  How deeply does he mean that, given Tamarind's festering dislike of Arcadia's refusal to press the return of the old Duchy from the Principate?  Trillian suspected this was not going to be the Archduke of Tamarind's favorite part of the ceremony, nor his next role.

The prior piece ended and the choir struck up Te Deum Laudum, along with the organist and pianist.  The ancient hymn, predating Human spaceflight and updated in the twentieth century, filled the room, a praise to the Divine in thanks for blessings.

The four retainers lined up, while the benches to either side of the transept emptied.  One by one, these personages lined up, joined by more from the pews behind Trillian.  Altogether, including those who were in the original procession, Trillian counted twelve March-governing archdukes, the Archduke of Tamarind as a former sovereign, the half dozen archdukes from the Donegal side of the Federation, the presidents of the two Free States, and almost ninety dukes, margraves, landgraves, presidents, secretary-generals, and committee chairmen and chairwomen who served as planetary rulers in the three Royal Marches that the Crown governed directly, as well as Nathaniel's Governor-Generals on Skye and Donegal, the Royal Governor of Tharkad, and the head of the planetary government of Arcadia itself.  Each and every one of them has to pay homage.  Then the foreign dignitaries will be recognized, including me.  He must be getting tired.

Even with each homage taking only about fifteen seconds, it took half an hour before Trillian herself was bowing in respect before him, Lord Marienburg beside her repeating her bow.  She could see the fatigue on his face at enduring the long, drawn out process.  "On behalf of Her Royal Highness Archon Melissa Steiner, the Lyran Commonwealth's deepest regards for your reign, Your Majesty." she said formally.

"My thanks to Her Royal Highness and the Lyran people." he replied.  Despite his tiredness, a flash of a grin formed on his face.  "Their plight is on my thoughts, and will be spoken of before the day is out."

Trillian nodded and stepped away. Just what does that mean? she thought.  What is he planning?

She returned to her pew with Lord Marienburg, but she barely had time to sit down before Lord Murray came up.  "Lady Trillian, His Majesty would be pleased if you and Lord Marienburg would join him on the balcony when he is presented to the people." Murray said.
A gesture, then, that is his plan. "I, we, would be honored." she replied, standing.  Murray led them towards the northern end of the transept.  She glanced towards Nathaniel and noted he was smiling again, this time addressing young John and Sarah Corey with their grandmother.  The children bowed to him again before their grandmother brought them away.


Call to Arms[]

Doors brought them into the north foyer of St. John's Church.  Murray guided them toward the east and a set of stairs to the second floor.  They were cleared through a door by a pair of dark-suited figures — Royal Security Service agents, most likely — and to the balcony foyer, built beyond the apse within the church's sanctuary given the curving of the walls.  More works of art were present, along with security, chairs for waiting, and facing the east, a set of heavy red curtains.  Prince Peter was waiting, as was Sophia Marik, her father, and her granduncle, while Bishop Stanford remained quiet near the curtain.  Trillian bowed respectfully to them, particularly to Kenneth.  "Your Grace, I have not had the honor." she said.

"Nor have I."  Kenneth's hoarse voice made her think he might have a throat ailment of sorts.  He was an octogenarian by her reckoning, not weakened by age, but showing it rather more than she'd imagined.  Sir. David MacKinnon is older and yet more spry than this man… ah.  He has had to endure how many invasions of his capital world in his life?  How much lost blood?  Dead family?  "I did not approve of your mission, but His Majesty's arguments were well-reasoned, my nephew Lord Paul has concurred, and his daughter remains an advocate as well."

"I understand, Your Grace, your concerns for the security of your people." Trillian said delicately.  "I can only hope that by our victory, the security of both realms is strengthened."

"Yes, that much we can agree upon.  Though I wonder how our cousins on your side of the Glass will respond to all this?"  There was an edge in that voice.  "I trust you will not expect our forces to replace these Wolves as your allies in conquest, hrm?"

"The treaty was written to prevent such a thought, I saw to that myself." Melissa may not be pleased either, but I could hardly expect even Nathaniel to have agreed to backstop the LCAF marching toward Atreus again.  No, she will have to settle for saving the Commonwealth.  I hope.  "Believe me when I say I understand we made a terrible decision, and we have paid for our hubris and greed."

Something about Kenneth's eyes told her that he wasn't believing her or at least, that she was speaking for her Archon.  Which was sadly true, all Trillian could hope was that her experiences would make Melissa willing to yield on her ambitions now.  But I must press on.

The south door of the foyer opened, admitting Nathaniel, his mother, and his grandmother.  Nathaniel was shed of his cumbersome coronation gear, the red jacket and purple cape replaced by a much lighter jacket of royal purple lined with ermine, and his head bearing the usual tiara of intertwined platinum bands with a hawk sigil on the brow.  The Regalia were no longer on his person, presumably returned to the altar to be taken back to secure storage.

No, he's still got one piece, Trillian realized, eyes lowering to his left hip, where the Sword of Liberation was once again strapped to his robe's belt.

Finally meeting Princess Sita Umayr, the widow of the late Prince James, made clear where Nathaniel's cheekbones came from, as well as his shapely chin.  They were in Bolanese court dress, with blue saris over colorful blouses and garments, each bearing a bindi mark on the forehead.  Nathaniel spoke first.  "Mother, Grandmother, Lady Trillian.  And I see Archduke Kenneth has had the pleasure?"

"He has." Sophia said, in the voice of someone hoping the prior conversation would not continue.

"Your Highnesses."  Trillian bowed once again.  Kenneth and his entourage did likewise, and the temperature of the foyer warmed.  "An honor."

"The honor is ours, Lady Trillian," said Grand Princess Amita.  "I have seen your interviews and arguments on the news holovids, you are a worthy representative of Archon Melissa."

"Thank you, Highness."

"Majesty."  Murray went towards the curtain and looked back.  "It is time."  Across from him, Bishop Stanford stepped up.

"Then let us proceed."

The curtain was opened fully by church ushers.  The light of Arcadia's sun flooded the foyer, as did the rustling noise of a great crowd outside.  Nathaniel took Sophia's arm, after which they went out onto the balcony and walked to its very end.  Trillian joined the others in walking up behind him, giving her a view of the cheering crowds waving flags in the wide spaces of the Church's steeple courtyard below.

Bishop Stanford stepped out onto the balcony, came to Nathaniel's side, and lifted his arms as if to bless the crowd.  "Peoples of the Federation, I present to you our High King, Nathaniel Proctor!"

The cheering became a roar.

So it's done. By her search Trillian knew this was the end.  Nathaniel would remain for a few minutes, enjoying the adulation of his people, before returning to the church.  The ceremony would be over and he would be on his way back to the Palace to see to business and prepare for the night's coronation reception dinner with all the attendant elements of high society.

She noted Nathaniel tapping on his collar for a moment.  What's he doing? she wondered.

His hand went up, at first seeming to wave, but instead soon obvious as a call for attention, even quiet.  "Peoples of the Federation!" he called out.

Silence came to the crowd.  Stanford blinked at him, and Murray frowned.  Peter let out a sigh.  What is he doing? Trillian wondered, repeating herself.  His grandmother, her predecessors, they never spoke before.  This isn't supposed to be for speeches.  Not even during the Fourth Succession War!

"It is not usual for the Crown to make an address after this solemn occasion," he began, "but these are not usual times.  An event of extraordinary implications has changed our world, our times, in ways we have yet to understand."  His voice boomed over the crowd, courtesy of the same speakers Stanford had employed.  "I do not break with tradition easily, but given what I am asking of you, asking of the peoples of the Federation, I feel I must."

"In the Inner Sphere beyond the Glass, a dark age has descended.  The wonders of interstellar communication, of the hyperspace pulse generators that even now carry my words to every corner of the Inner Sphere, have fallen silent.  The pillars of peace have been shaken to rubble, and a new era of war is fueled by the fear and uncertainty wrought by this cataclysmic event.  This suffering alone would cause one to weep, but it is worsened by the brutality that we have come face to face with since our arrival through the Glass.  The reports come, each worse than the last.  Courageous soldiers tortured and murdered simply for fighting back!  Civilians slaughtered for the slightest resistance!  People led away in chains, compelled to serve as slaves to warlords determined to subjugate the entire Inner Sphere under their dark, twisted ideology of genetic superiority!  Whole worlds poisoned for refusing to yield!"

As he spoke the crowd's shouting grew, cries of horror and anger.

As if fed by their energy, Nathaniel continued, his hands gripping the balcony railing around the wrapped pieces holding the red and blue bunting in place.  "We saw those images from Morges, we all did, and it is only part of what has been inflicted on innocent worlds from Sudeten to Atreus by these Clans, these perverted scions of Aleksandr Kerensky's Star League Defense Force.  Indeed, we have learned that only a scant few of them have a sense of honor, of duty to righteousness, worthy of their forefathers.  We have already fought at the side of these noble Wolves.  They resist their cruel brethren to protect the innocents of the Inner Sphere, but they are small in number, and while they struggle valiantly, they cannot win alone."

"These Clans, these Jade Falcons and Hell's Horses, this so-called Wolf Empire, have fallen upon the Lyran people on the other side in order to devour them."  Another crescendo of angry cries answered him.  "The Commonwealth, weakened by all that has happened, betrayed from without and from within, cannot hold.  The reborn Free Worlds League is struggling to regain its life.  Across the Inner Sphere, the insidious and inhuman ideology of the old Capellan Confederation has found its ultimate degenerate end with the blasphemy of Daoshen Liao, who proclaims himself a living god and seeks to conquer and enslave the peoples of the Republic and the Federated Suns."  The crowd roared their disapproval yet again.  "The Draconis Combine, no better than the one we have seen reborn in brutality and treachery, is reported to even now be killing off one of the few Clans to show human values and decency.  The peoples of Rasalhague have spent a century under Clan domination and have yet to show whether they stand on the side of decency and humanity or have become just as vile as the others."

He has read the reports we brought, but clearly hasn't absorbed everything.  I can't say he'd approve of Caleb Davion any more than I do, if the worst of Caleb is true.  Trillian pushed the thoughts away.  Where is he leading with this?

"But the people of this Inner Sphere need no longer face these horrors alone," Nathaniel declared.  "By a miracle, one I cannot help but credit to the hand of God the Creator, the Glass was formed, linking our Inner Spheres together.  They no longer need struggle without succor, without hope, against the dark age that threatens to smother them.  We are here, and we can, we must, answer their pleas for help."  He drew in a breath while the crowd started to shout in support.  Cries of "Yes!" "Long live the Federation!" and "In God's name!" echoed from below.  "When I came to the throne, I pledged peace.  And I still wish for it, I wish to never have to order your loved ones into battle.  But there can be no peace with cruelty and barbarity at the scale we are witnessing.  Such peace only means sacrificing innocents, and for nothing, as these forces will inevitably come for us when they wish it.  So I, who wished for peace, must instead take up the sword."  Word after word came and the crowd's shouts and cheers grew in furor.  Trillian felt frozen in place.  She had the sense that, tradition-breaking as this was, it was also going to be a historical moment that none present would ever forget.

Nathaniel's hand went to his hip.  Metal shrieked briefly against metal until the light of the sun gleamed on the blade of the Sword of Liberation.  The shouting in the crowd died down, as if the people were breathless in wondering what the young man standing before them was going to do next.

Nathaniel held the sword at his side, pointing downward.  "A bleeding people call out to us.  A savage, unflinching foe stands poised to enslave them, another to torture and murder them.  I have signed an alliance against these brutes, and I will personally lead the Federation's armies through the Glass to meet them and drive them back.  And I will not be going alone.  Our oldest allies, the redoubtable peoples of the old Rim Worlds, will march under the Ghastillian banners.  The stalwart communes of Sudeten and the fierce warriors of Rasalhague, whose strength and courage have proven them as deadly enemies and steadfast allies in the past, rally their armies to join us in this cause.  Because we are not fighting to claim worlds, nor just for the honor of our noble houses and our given word.  This, my people…" — and as he let his words hang in the tense silence, his right arm shot up, lifting the Sword of Liberation high to shine in the Arcadian sun — "is a holy war for our most cherished principles!"

He barely had time to finish the line before the loudest roar yet came from the crowd.  Trillian, from her point on the balcony, saw fists rise everywhere.  Not just fists, as military officers who came for the occasion in ceremonial dress started reaching for their own officer swords and drawing them, sending their tips skyward as well.

"The Clans must be stopped!" Nathaniel shouted.  "We must drive them back, run them down, and end their reign of terror!  In the name of God and Liberty, we must free the worlds they have seized and the innocent peoples they have kidnapped!"

"Death to slavery!"  For Liberty!"  "For Freedom and Federation!"  "For God and Liberty!"  "In the name of God!"  "God wills it!" Voices cried those words over and over again, and for all this was for the benefit of the Commonwealth, Trillian felt the hairs on her neck stand up on their ends.

Whether he was caught up in the energy he'd provoked, or had more remarks to say, Nathaniel continued.  "This will be a long struggle, but we must see it through to its end!  So long as a single bondcord remains upon the wrist of a Clan slave, so long as a single world flies the Godforsaken banner of the Wolf Empire or the murderous standards of the Jade Falcons and their Horse allies, our work is not done, and our swords will not be sheathed!"

The crowd roared approval at that.  The air was rushing with energy, and Trillian's satisfaction, though not gone, was now tinged with fear.  What have I done?  What have I unleashed? she wondered.  They are truly different from us.  Religious fervor happens in our Inner Sphere too, but when is the last time… no.  No, that is unfair.

But the comparison couldn't slip free from her mind.  There were conflicts that saw the belligerents as energized as this.  The Capellan Crusades, and before them, the Blakist Jihad I can't compare what the Liaos and the Blakists did to this.  These people aren't out for domination, they don't want to murder, they want to stop it!

Lyran and Leaguer, Skye, and Tamarind, so many identities, but the Arcadians are the beating heart at the center.  They bind all of this together.  Their ideals provide the form.  And they were shaped by struggling against slavery, against oppression.  The Clans, their taking of bondsmen, and the way they acted on the conquered worlds from a hundred years ago… that is anathema to these people.  Trillian glanced towards the crowd and back to Nathaniel, plus his entourage, who seemed alternatively surprised, uncertain, or supportive while he continued on. And after twenty years of struggling to come to terms with the feeling of being cheated of worlds rightfully theirs, twenty years of bitterness about the war, fear about how far they can push, or whether to push at all… now they have a cause.  Something to unite behind.  An enemy beyond the pale, to fight without having to risk bringing a new Succession War down on everyone's heads.  A clean battle to uphold their idea of right in the world.  No wonder they seem ready to march to the DropShips now.

She breathed a gentle sigh, relief and uncertainty mixing in her heart, even as the cheering continued.  I came to win an ally.  I'm going home with a crusade gathering behind me, and who knows where this one will go…


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