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Chapter 10[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little
Book 3

Next Duke of Summer[]

Honor of Skye, Skye
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
June 10th, 3024

Max found it hard to argue with Katrina Steiner’s assessment. Revealing the imposter in front of hundreds of Skye’s nobility would have made it impossible to hide the situation even if another Successor Lord and his entourage hadn’t been in the room. But they’d had limited options for access, so the timing was forced upon them. It was fortunate Frederick had received his last message in time to rush back - otherwise Morgan Kell’s reputation alone would have had to suffice as testimony that the Archon had been replaced.

The Archon was still wearing the lower half of her Einherjar power armor, and she probably couldn’t stand up without either removing the rest or putting the rest on again so it would power up. Removing the chest plate effectively shut down the exoskeleton to make sure users didn’t tear themselves apart with the myomers of the limbs not properly supported.

Turning to Maximilian Liao, Katrina informed him: “My peace proposal was sincere, Chancellor and your willingness to meet with me is very welcome. I realize this probably isn’t how you expected negotiations to go.”
“It’s been a fascinating look at Lyran politics.” the Chancellor replied smoothly. “Since you haven’t actually been the one negotiating, I suppose we can hardly continue from my last meeting with your… I believe the German word would be doppelganger? On the other hand, our armed forces have just fought a successful campaign together so the alliance has clear merit.”

“Perhaps we could convene again in a day or two, when I have had a chance to review the negotiations so far?”, she asked

Liao stroked his mustache. “That would appear reasonable.” He gave Frederick and Nelitha a disdainful look. “I look forward to discussing our positions tomorrow. In the meantime, I will withdraw so you can ‘clean house’.”

Max watched the robed man leave, surrounded by his black-clad guards and wondered if anyone else thought that last remark was Liao being sexist. Or maybe that was just him? He looked down at Aldo Lestrade. “Now, what to do to you? With you, I mean.”

The duke, who had been losing blood slowly through his wounds - Max had only actually hit him three or four times with that burst of gunfire, and the rounds were fairly small caliber since Max didn’t want them to over-penetrate and kill someone important - gurgled something irate.

“I am deeply tempted to do to him as was done to Henry Gram, four hundred odd years ago.” Katrina declared. “It seems to me that some people have forgotten the price of trifling with House Steiner.”

The broken flagstones outside the Triad were still maintained as a visual record of how Viola Dinessen-Steiner had dealt with the then-Speaker of the Estates General when she found out he’d imprisoned her son, the Archon-Designate. The stones had been cleaned, but having a Warhammer stamp a human body into them had left a mark.

Katrina Steiner, like her ancestor, piloted a Warhammer.

“If any harm had come to my daughter,” she said after a moment’s thought, “I would do just that. For now, have him taken away and his wounded tended to. Aldo Lestrade IV stands attained - I wrote up a write to that effect as I traveled to Skye, stripping him of all ranks, offices and titles. I have little tolerance for patricide, rape or high treason and he has indulged in all three. He may have something left worth trading him his life for, but never his freedom.”

“He may also have had a hand in my parents’ deaths.” the now uncontested Duchess of Skye accused. “If so, I will need to learn how to pilot a Battlemech.” Her eyes were full of ire for the man.

“We haven’t finished going through everything we found in his private files.” Max told her as the two physicians present stepped in and oversaw Aldo’s transfer to a stretcher. “If he was behind that then he was more discreet about it than he was about his other crimes.”

Aten nodded. “Baron Mustermann… you’re from Summer, aren’t you?”

“It’s where I met Frederick, I’m not really sure before that.” he clarified, not sure why she was asking.

“Close enough. It appears that I have an opening for a Duke of Summer. I believe the Archon would approve my choice - and you appear to have played a key role in bringing Lestrade down.”

I’d rather run away to the Periphery than return to Summer, Max thought. Or become a duke for that matter. “I believe there is a more deserving candidate.” he offered hastily.


“Lestrade has a natural son.”, Max told the Duchess

Aten frowned. “And?”

“Clovis has never met his father, and without his help we might not have been able to access Lestrade’s files.” Max expanded quickly. “He volunteered his help, and he has never asked for any reward. He’d also probably be your parent’s next nearest living kin.”

“I suppose I should at least meet this paragon of virtues.” the duchess conceded, after a quick look at Katrina - who nodded in approval. “Is he here now?”

“He’s a little short for the Einherjar armor,” he explained. “he’s with our transportation, I believe.”

“I’ll send for him.” Morgan told him. “If nothing else, the Academy will want their power armor back.”

“Yes,” Aten agreed. “I must say, the demonstration certainly impressed me. Perhaps I should invest in a squad to stand behind me on formal occasions. The ceiling here isn’t up to Battlemechs, but the intimidation factor could pay off.”

“Production is still starting up, and frontline commands will probably be the priority.” he told her.

The young duchess nodded. “Why don’t you want to be a duke?” she asked. “For most people it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. More than that, the sort of opportunity that most people never get. But you didn’t even consider it for an instant.”

“Being a baron is enough for me. More than enough really. I’ve no aspirations to rule anyone. Besides, I’m old enough to be your father, and I have no heirs.”

“Some would say that your lack of ambition makes you ideal for the role.” she told him. “You’re not that old - the perfect age to settle down, some might say.”

“That was the plan on Duran,” Max explained. “And then all of this happened.”

“You’re really not convincing me that you’d be a bad choice.” Aten looked around and saw Morgan return, still in his armor and thus visible even in the crowded throne room. “Did the young Lestrade refuse to come inside?”

“Wait for it…” Max murmured.

Morgan finally got through the crowd, revealing that Clovis was right next to him. The added height the armor gave to the mercenary only underlined how short the teenager was.

The duchess hid a giggle. “He looks nothing like Aldo!”

“For the best.” Clovis had inherited his mother’s coloring, but when he was fully engaged his expressions were closer to that of Aldo Lestrade, in Max’s opinion.

“Your grace, Clovis Holstein.”

Aten arched her eyebrows, looking at the young man - she was over a decade his elder, for all her relative youth. “Not Lestrade?”

“He may have been the sperm donor, but my mother was my only parent. Your grace.” Clovis added hastily.

The duchess nodded in understanding. “Thank you for helping to bring him to justice.”

The boy looked around. “He’s in a cell?”

“In surgery, I would think.” Aten’s smile was predatory. “He tried to flee and the good baron here didn’t let him.”

Clovis chewed on his lips. “He’s not getting away is he?”

“Definitely not,” Max assured him. “There are people lining up to deal with him.”

“It would have been nice if they’d done that sooner.”, Clovis commented

Aten threw her head back and laughed. “Yes, I like you.” she decided. “How would you like to help me repair some of the damage he’s done over the years? Max here speaks well of you.”

“I’m a technician,” Clovis told her bluntly. “I can fix machines, but that’s not the same. Don’t get me wrong: I’d like to help, but I’m probably not the sort of person you need.”

“What sort of person would you say I do need?” the Duchess asked slyly.

He shrugged. “Someone charming, someone who knows how to dig up his secrets and get people to agree to solutions. I can get into tight spaces and I’m good with my hands, but I’m not going to inspire people. Most people overlook me entirely.”

“That would be their mistake.” Aten sobered. “The first sort of person you describe is too like Aldo. What I need are people with principles - not afraid to speak their mind even to myself or Katrina. People who care about the damage he did, and are willing to work to make things right. Could I count on you for that?”

“Uh… I guess so.”, Clovis conceded

Max nodded. “See, I told you he’d be perfect.”

“What are you setting me up for?” Clovis demanded.

“Lestrade has been attained,” Aten told him. “That means I need to appoint a new duke to replace him. By appointing his son will appease some of the more conservative elements on Skye.”

“Wait, you want me to be Duke of Summer!” The boy’s eyes went wide. “I’d be a terrible choice! I don’t know how to rule a planet! I’d just make things worse for the people there.”

“I’m glad that your first thought was for the people you’ll be ruling.” the duchess told him. “No one person can rule a world, we all need advisors and officials we can delegate work to. The point is to provide a moral center - a guide for the principles that all of those people should be following and police that group to make sure that they are doing so.”


“Skills can be learned,” she continued. “but I can’t make someone care. That was something my father told me when he decided I would be his heir, rather than allow your father to inherit Skye. Now we have the chance to take Summer back from Aldo’s abuses as well. Are you going to let that opportunity pass?”

“...I suppose not,” Clovis admitted. “I’m not sure how I’ll explain this to my mother.”

“That’s alright.” Morgan slapped him reassuringly on the shoulder. “Max has volunteered to do that.”

“When did I do that?”, asked a concerned Max

“Right around the time you put his name forward as the next Duke of Summer.” Morgan told him. The mercenary wasn’t smiling for a moment and Max realized that he was being punished for passing the responsibility off to the teenager.

“I suppose that that’s fair.” he admitted.

The Price of Failure[]

Silverdale, Alshain
Rasalhague Military District, Draconis Combine
June 11th, 3024

Warlord Grieg Samsonov seemed surprised to find Theodore waiting in his office, behind the Warlord’s own desk.

“I believed you had returned to Luthien - Tono.” There was just that little bit of a pause before the man remembered the honorific that the Coordinator should receive.

“I did.” Theodore hid a grimace. The only times worse than when Anastasi was being passive-aggressive towards Tomoe were the times when the two women found themselves in agreement. At least little Martin had been pleased to see him. “Have you returned here to report the successful subjugation of Tamar?”

Samsonov swallowed. “The course of the fighting on Tamar is not proceeding entirely in the favor of the Dragon,” he confessed. “I am visiting the District headquarters to gather reinforcements in order to secure victory in your name.”

“Ah? I was, of course, very disappointed in General Yobetobo’s ineptitude. Losing half of the Teak Dragon would have earned him my displeasure, if he had not at least had the dignity of dying at the head of his forces.”

“Indeed. I regret that, with the Sword of Light setting so poor an example, certain other regiments have also underperformed.”

Theodore let the corner of his lips curl downwards as the warlord missed the hint about expiating one’s disgrace and instead tried to shovel blame away from himself. “Lyran reinforcements arriving at a pirate point and achieving re-entry cannot reasonably be blamed on the late general, however. The aerospace assets of our forces on Tamar are part of the Draconis Combine Admiralty and answer directly to the local commander, not to DMCS regimental officers. Without being made aware of that, I can grant there is some small excuse for Yobetobo’s failure… in the beginning, at least. Responding to such a change of circumstances was still his obligation.”

Learning that the Kell Hounds - an elite regiment, mercenaries or not! - was on Tamar should have been reported and taken into account. Charging headlong into them was only an acceptable choice when options were few and far between. Losing a single company would have been painful, but an acceptable price for learning of the reinforcements. Losing the bulk of two battalions before someone realized the Tenth Lyran Guards were closing in to attempt the annihilation of their second Sword of Light regiment in five years was not acceptable.

Theodore had approved the promotion of the battalion commander who had extracted the Seventh from that disaster to command of the regiment. At least that man had responded sagaciously.

“The addition of the Kell Hounds and one of the pestiferous Jaeger battalions has changed the balance of forces.” Samsonov continued. “To correct this, I’m going to draft replacement mechwarriors from the Sun Zhang cadre stationed here and send them to Tamar with the Third Drakons. With those reinforcements, Tamar is sure to fall.”

“An interesting plan,” Theodore admitted. “allow me to recap the situation as it has been reported to me.” It was not a request and Samsonov at least had the wit to come to attention and focus on Theodore’s face.

Theodore raised his finger. “In the aftermath of General Yobetobo’s defeat, you withdrew the remains of the Seventh entirely back from operations, allowing Nondi Steiner to tear half of the Second Drakons to shreds as well. Essentially, the control of an entire continent lost.”

A second finger. “The First Proserpina Hussars, who could have replaced the Sword of Light and contained that situation were instead chasing a battalion of the Commonwealth Jaegers around your rear area. Another unit that had arrived without anyone noticing. I suppose I should be grateful that the Jaegers were only tying down twice their number and not three or four times as many troops. Which would be in line with the performance of their brother units.”

One more finger. “In addition, after you replaced several officers in the Rasalhague Regulars, the coordination of the two Regular regiments deteriorated to the point that the Twelfth Star Guards, previously very much on the back foot, were able to inflict stinging losses on the Twentieth Rasalhague Regulars, destroying all the progress made in building that regiment up. Do you understand why I am disappointed in someone other than Yobetobo, Grieg?”

“Tono, I acknowledge that as commander I am responsible for correcting the errors of my subordinates. The ISF were convinced that the Kell Hounds were still on Donegal, and continue to claim that Nondi Steiner is in charge on Tamar when it is clear she has been replaced by a much more able officer - perhaps Frederick Steiner or Hermann Steiner.

Theodore considered that reply and then sighed. “Hermann Steiner is on Tharkad and Frederick Steiner is on Skye. Director Indrahar has made his apologies for the failure to realize that the bulk of the Kell Hounds had been redeployed in secret, but if you are underestimating Nondi Steiner this much then I have questions about your own objectivity. She was pushed back previously because the balance of forces compelled her to stand on the defensive, but for her to take the initiative the instant that she saw an opening is entirely characteristic of her.”

“I cannot argue with you, Sir. However, the circumstances are as they are and victory on Tamar will now require that some of the regiments there be replaced with fresh soldiers. the Warlord insisted.

Well, he was technically correct, Theodore admitted to himself. Except his view had evidently narrowed only to Tamar. There was no consideration being given to the rest of Rasalhague Military District, or the Combine as a whole, nevermind the entire Inner Sphere.

Well, that last part was Theodore’s duty to consider.

“Victory upon Tamar is no longer a realistic goal,” he informed the warlord. “Despite our support of him, Janos Marik has failed to contain the Lyran-Capellan offensive. His soldiers have so little confidence in him that they have secured a private ceasefire with Frederick Steiner and the only fighting in the Free Worlds League right now is within their Parliament, as Marik struggles to condemn them as mutineers and retain his throne. Whatever the outcome, in the short term Steiner is now free to focus upon us.”

“Katrina Steiner is a fool who has abandoned Tamar!” Samsonov realized too late that he’d raised his voice. “My apologies, tono. I allowed my zeal to outweigh my courtesy.”

Theodore made a dismissive gesture and opened one of the drawers behind the desk. “Whether Katrina Steiner remains Archon or not is still in doubt. Having brought his campaign to a halt, Frederick Steiner is - as I said - on Skye. I expect a confrontation with his cousin. Perhaps he will force reason on her, or perhaps one of them will destroy the other. Two of those three outcomes would assuredly mean that the neglect of Tamar comes to an end. Perhaps the third as well - if she has to kill Frederick then Katrina may realize that supporting her sister is the only route to retain her leadership of House Steiner. Whatever the case, our window of opportunity is closing and all we can hope for now is to retain the parts of Tamar we currently control until another chance arises.”

Samsonov shook his head. “That will take time, Tono. With fresh troops from here, we can land directly on Tamar City. Whatever happens on Skye, we can crush resistance on Tamar before the sluggardly Lyrans can adjust to their new orders.”

“Sluggards?” The Coordinator laughed. “In the time it took for Frederick to bring the League to the negotiating table, he had already turned his troops around. Units that were fighting under his command are already hitting Vega. These are not the Lyrans that my ancestors pushed back for generation after generation. Just as the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns have reformed themselves from the paper tiger we crushed in the 2790s, the Lyrans have improved themselves. If the Dragon is to remain supreme, we must purge our own weakness. And arrogance like yours is one such weakness.”

Withdrawing his hand from the drawer, he aimed the heavy pistol at Samsonov, snapping the safety off.

“Tono!” Samsonov was not a coward, but he was now at least beginning to appreciate the situation he was in. He had his swords, but the desk would keep him from being able to use them before Theodore fired. “Consider that you need me as a balance against Yorioshi. You know he plots against you.”

“I have always been aware of that.” Then he pulled the trigger, the pistol recoiling violently in Theodore’s hand.

He’d fired accurately - the entry wound of the shot was just below Samsonov’s left eye. The exit spread much of the former-warlord’s brains across the ceiling behind him.

“But so were you.” Theodore looked at the door and from the lack of pounding feet and shouting, the sound-proofing of the office had been enough to keep anyone from hearing.

He sighed. Now he needed a new Warlord for Rasalhague. Perhaps it would be better to station them on Rasalhague - having the district headquarters on Alshain had underlined that Rasalhaguans were distrusted. He was tempted to assign the post to Yorinaga, but while his distant cousin was a fine commander and superb mechwarrior, the post would call for more in the way of political, and administrative skills. Moving Yorioshi wouldn’t work - the man had seen how quickly Galedon had been removed from the control of its previous warlord and was no doubt making sure his influence over Benjamin was not so vulnerable.

At any rate, Samsonov would still fill one useful purpose.

Theodore Kurita rose, straightened his uniform and rounded the desk to go on with his duties. “You wanted all the glory for yourself,” he told the corpse. “Now bear the blame for your defeat.”

Interstellar Negotiations Continue[]

Honor of Skye, Skye
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
June 11th, 3024

Ardan Sortek and Nelitha Green-Davion were invited to one of Honor of Skye’s towers the afternoon following Katrina’s sudden return to power. The elevator that carried them upwards provided a stunning view of New Glasgow in the sunlight, but there were dark storm clouds on the horizon. He hoped that they weren’t an omen. It might seem superstitious, but something told Ardan that not everything had been resolved yet.

A discreet servant guided them from the elevator to a comfortable meeting room, the decoration focused around several lush plant pots. It created the illusion that the triangular table was in the middle of a forest glade. Katrina Steiner was sitting alone on one side and she rose to greet them. As Nelitha accepted the Archon’s hand, Ardan saw that the table was carved from a single piece of wood, the grain matching the floor.

“This will probably need to be said again in a more public venue,” Katrina told them. “but I am deeply and sincerely sorry for how you have been treated over the last year. Not only you personally, Ardan, but your nation. Mutual respect has been the foundation of the ties that House Davion and House Steiner have built during my reign and that respect was cast aside without excuse, much less good reason. Even if every accusation made of you were true, my government behaved with less regard for diplomacy than even the Draconis Combine might… and the fact that you were being used as a counter in an attempt to dethrone me just makes it worse.”

“None of that was your doing, Your Highness.” Ardan told her.

“I think under the circumstances you can call me Katrina. It’s the least I owe you,” she told him. “And I’m the Archon - whether or not I did it personally, I am responsible. The doppelganger couldn’t have done so much without officials I appointed being willing to go along with it. It’s something I’m going to have to reconsider - how much latitude my own office has.”

“Very few people would think that they have too much power.” Nelitha murmured.

Katrina sighed and slumped back into her chair for a moment, before she straightened. “In some ways the Archon has the most power of any Successor Lords. On paper I’m an absolute monarch - even the Estates-General and the judiciary only have the power I choose to delegate to them. Naturally it doesn’t work that way in practice, or I couldn’t have removed my uncle without the use of force. But even so, that woman would have done more damage if there were more people who could act as a restraint on me.”

“And yet, without that power, could you have done so much?” Ardan asked.

“Probably not,” the Archon admitted. “The problem of power: any Successor Lord has the ability to do as much damage to their own state as they do to their neighbors. More, perhaps.” She shook her head. “Anyway, the last time I spoke to Ardan about my Peace Proposal, he thought that Hanse would be willing to at least meet me.”

He nodded. “I remember that. I…” The colonel paused. “I don’t like to think that I’m an obstacle to that.”

“You are entirely blameless - not only were you the victim but you put yourself at considerable risk to rescue me.” Katrina pointed out.

“I believe the First Prince would still be willing to meet you.” Nelitha said slowly. “I’m not saying it would be easy, he is extremely angry about Ardan’s treatment, but since you were also a victim of the same plot I think he’d be willing to at least try to make something worthwhile out of this. But are you willing to discard the alliance with the Capellans?”

The Archon looked tired. “Not lightly. Is it greedy of me to wish to have both the Chancellor and the First Prince as allies? It would require peace between them and I’m no longer well placed to be the broker of that.”

The two AFFS officers exchanged looks and Ardan made a face. “That’s certainly going to make it harder to reconcile.”

“Perhaps not impossible,” Nelitha decided. “But you did offer the peace proposal to all of the Successor Lords and I know Hanse’s initial reaction was positive, even if everyone had accepted. That would have potentially meant peace with the Draconis Combine - an even trickery proposition. Do you think the Chancellor would accept?”

“Well, his own initial response was conditional on at least one other House Lord being a participant,” Katrina told them. “My… the other woman had to be quite persuasive to get him to come here to meet her. If you believe Hanse would be willing to meet with him then I would be meeting one of his earlier conditions - it would be hard for him to back off from that.”

Nelitha looked at the table. “You picked this room intending to meet both us and the Chancellor, didn’t you?”

“If you’re willing, yes. I understand you can hardly commit to the alliance in Hanse’s name - even plenipotentiary authority only goes so far - but if we can establish at least a starting point then maybe something can come of this that’s worth all the suffering.”

Ardan took a deep breath and looked over at his superior. “I think Hanse would go for it, but you’re his emissary.”

“What the hell,” Nelitha told him. “If he fires me, I can live off my fiance’s largess for the rest of my life.”

“Congratulations, by the way.” Katrina’s face eased slightly. “I wish you and Frederick every happiness… whatever happens.”

“It’ll take work, but what doesn’t?”, Nelitha asked

The Archon nodded, looking wistful. “Nothing worthwhile. Excuse me for a moment.”

Nelitha picked a seat in the center of one side of the table and Ardan drew it back for her before taking the seat. Katrina stepped out of the room for a moment and returned looking resolute. “I’ve asked the Chancellor to meet me here. He hasn’t been told you’re here, but he may guess.”

“Or he may have sources of information within this palace. He’s been here a while and he’s surrounded by Death Commandos. They’re trained in many fields besides being his bodyguard.” Ardan warned.

“I’m glad this isn’t the Triad then.” she replied and went back to her own seat.

The Chancellor couldn’t have been far away because it was only a few moments later that the door opened to admit Maximilian Liao. The ruler of the Capellan Confederation was not alone - he was accompanied by a discreet man who wore three fingernails on his left hand long and lacquered. If he was a secretary, Ardan thought it must make it hard to type. In addition, Margaret Aten was accompanying the two Capellans and she moved to join Katrina.

“I had assumed our conversation today would be in confidence.” Liao said with a sour look at the two Suns officers. “Or are you merely going to tell me that my visit here is in vain?”

“Only if you wish it to be, Chancellor.” Katrina rose and gestured towards the seats. “Please hear me out. If you decide that you no longer wish to continue then I will not restrain you. Unlike the doppelganger who you’ve negotiated with previously, I will respect diplomatic privilege.”

The man directed his dark look at her and then moved to the table, his aide (or so Ardan concluded) pulling the chair back for him. “I did say that I’d be willing to meet with two Successor Lords, yourself included, if the opportunity arose.” he conceded. “Should I expect that Hanse Davion will be joining us?”

“Not on this short notice, but if he is willing then I would like to arrange that. The offer remains open for Janos Marik and for Theodore Kurita.” Katrina added, “Although I think it is unlikely that either will accept at this stage.”

“Perhaps not.” Maximilian folded his hands. “You’ve reviewed the previous discussions.”

“I did. Once your criticisms about various aspects of Lyran culture were set aside, I believe that it had been established that we had quite a bit to offer each other.”

“General Steiner’s recent offensive was impressive.”

Katrina nodded. “Senior Colonel Ridzik’s soldiers fought well, although there were also obvious problems.”

“Such as his decision to cut the campaign short on his own authority? In this case it worked well, but there is a reason we don’t maintain general officers in the Capellan Armed Forces.”

Ardan thought, rather uncharitably, the practice hadn’t averted coups within the Capellan Confederation. It just shifted who carried them out - Maximilian Liao had seized his throne from his father and he’d been considerably less gentle about it than Katrina had been about removing her uncle Alessandro from power.

“Speaking as someone who has faced the Capellans on the battlefield,” he said aloud. “I’d imagine that logistics was one of the problems?”

“That was one.” the Archon agreed. “The shipping was there, but the storehouses were empty rather faster than Colonel Ridzik expected. In this case the Lyran Commonwealth made good your soldier’s needs, but I can’t promise that we’ll always be able to do so.”

“We did send supply shipments to the Commonwealth at your cousin’s request.” pointed out Liao’s aide.

“You did. Better coordination on those would be needed if we are to work together again. Overall, there were enough benefits that I’m inclined to see the operation as a success. However, I’m aware that we’ve had similar successes working with the Federated Suns.”

“Do you want a tripartite alliance that will let you play us off against each other?” the Chancellor half-accused, with a twitch of his mustache that suggested that he wasn’t entirely serious.

“It’s not an argument against it,” Katrina told him in the same tone. “At least from my point of view. Is the idea of making peace with House Davion so unthinkable to you?”

“Even under the Star League, House Davion still invaded us.” Liao gave Ardan a challenging look.

He rose to the accusation. “I believe that may have had something to do with Capellan attempts to claim worlds that had been part of the Suns since well before the Confederation existed. We can exchange tales of wrongs done to each other for quite a long time if that’s what you want, but I don’t think it will advance your agenda.”

The Chancellor waved his hand dismissively. “I will agree that all Houses have their ups and downs. Prince Michael Davion did attempt peace, much as the Archon does now. It failed, but we were able to maintain a twenty-five year ceasefire. I will concede that peace is possible, for at least a while.”

“Can any of us really assure the next generation will maintain an alliance?” Katrina asked. “My own heir is in her teens, Hanse Davion’s daughter is a decade younger and I’m not clear which of your children you intend to inherit, Chancellor, but we can make decisions for our own generation.”

“Nothing lasts forever, but I admit that if you are willing to act as a guarantor for such a ceasefire then something might be possible.” Maximilian Liao leant forwards. “There is one absolute requirement, however.”

“I’m listening.” Katrina assured him.

“I will not, under any circumstances, recognize either you or Hanse Davion as First Lord of the Star League. Nor will I be bullied into giving up my own House’s claim.”

Ardan closed his eyes. There were times he wondered what it was about that title that had kept the Successor States at each other’s throats for longer now than the Star League had even existed.

“A reasonable request, and one I reciprocate.” the Archon declared.

“What of your prince, General Davion?” Liao didn’t bother with the other half of Nelitha’s name.

In response, the woman smiled. “I’m sure that all three Lords signing it will include First Lord of the Star League among their titles, but I see no reason that there needs to be any other mention of the Star League at all. Any treaty should focus on the concerns we face today, not the distant past or some nebulous future where the Star League is a concern.”

“It would seem we’re in agreement.” Katrina declared.

The Chancellor smiled, surprisingly. “So we are. How remarkable. Sharing data will favor your realm somewhat since both your hereditary foes are outside of this theoretical alliance, but I confess that I feel this is neatly off-set by the fact that you would be the only one of the three with two hostile borders so…” He reached up and twisted the end of one mustache, turning to gaze at Ardan. “Very well, you may tell your First Prince that House Liao is willing to meet him to discuss a ceasefire and a partnership with House Steiner.”

“I will be sure to tell him that.” Ardan answered.

“Do you have any other proposals to make?” Nelitha asked Katrina. “Since we’re doing so well.”

“I’ve yet to establish exactly how damaging the last year has been to trade between our nations,” she replied, “but I have seen that you were interested in beginning such trade, Chancellor.”

“Trade is after all a Lyran preoccupation,” he answered. “but the Capellans were also a wealthy trading nation at one time.”

“Quite.” Katrina’s eyes narrowed. “While the Succession Wars did nothing to help with that, your economy is arguably the weakest of of all five Successor States. Since you’ve not hesitated to give your frank appraisal of my own people, would you be interested in an extensive analysis my cousin Frederick gave me about how the servitor caste is crippling your economy?”

Maximilian Liao looked as if he was sucking a lemon. “Is this a requirement of our alliance?”

“Abolishing that custom? As much as I might wish it, no. But if you really want to get the most of this alliance then I really would suggest you consider it. I’d like to think my people are doing something right. Given we could afford to support not only our own offensive, but yours as well…”

Ardan took quite a bit of pleasure in the Chancellor’s look of discomfort.

  • Chapter Note from Author : In response to the question (from the forums), Hanse and Dana Davion have a daughter named Elizabeth.

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