The Republic Rises

AN 1220 (AZ 1457) - Late Spring
Castle Notos, Maximilion, Notos

After so many years of struggle, things were finally going well for Rowland. Zephyrian gold poured into the coffers like water and the Republic's enemies on all sides were either dead or lurking powerless in the shadows. The army had doubled in size since the Alliance was dissolved and could probably stand up to a Zephyrian legion, not that the Zephyrians had a full-strength legion left. They could not pose much threat for another generation at least and thanks to the work of Scipio, sealing the Darklands, the East would not pose a threat for even longer, a hundred years by the archmage's estimate. Things could not be going much better for him indeed.
Rowland continued to use the throne room as a feasting hall. Though the Senate wanted more formal trappings for the office of the Lord Protector, Rowland preferred to continue the traditions of the ancestors. Many of the faces at the table were different now. Some of his old lieutenants were not fit for places of honor in the Republic and the new bureaucracy gave rise to scores of ministers and other civil officers whose constant presence took the place of the men he had fought and bled alongside. Even for a man with as strong of a will as Rowland, he could not fully escape the chains of power.
He was disinterestedly stabbing at a roasted chicken on his plate with his knife when a servant approached him.
"A herald begs an audience, milord."
Rowland plunged his knife deep into the chicken's carcass and said, "Let him enter."
The servant waved to the guards at the door, who then opened the door to usher in the herald. Rowland discouraged bowing and so the herald delivered a salute of the Lord Protector's own design, with the right fist placed over the heart.
"Milord," the herald said, "news from the West."
"What is it?"
"The siege of Hesperia has been broken. Queen Daphne has abdicated the throne to prevent further bloodshed."
Rowland pulled his knife about halfway out of the chicken and the stabbed it back in.
"So that girl didn't have the stomach for a fight and the Church has won."
"Yes, milord," the herald said. "The Queen has gone into exile and the Archbishop has crowned Bishop Ebdiel of Kairos the new King."
"A convenient puppet," Rowland sniffed. "Now we'll see what they have intended for us."
Theuderic, the Lord Captain of the elite Paladins of the Republic, took a drink of wine and japed, "I imagine they would have us all bowing to their idols and swearing off women."
Rowland grinned and replied, "Can't have that, now can we?"
Theudas, however, was not one to jape and warned Rowland, "Do not underestimate them, my lord. The Archbishop would not have moved against the Queen if he lacked the power to fully control the kingdom. Though the military might of Zephyr has been greatly weakened by the Darklands campaign, they could still pose a threat to us."
Rowland was not particularly concerned, though.
"Unless their harvests improve, they'll need Notian grain... or perhaps they think they can fill their bellies with prayers."
"What do you suggest we do then?" Theudas asked.
"Do nothing for the nonce," Rowland said. He carved off hunk of chicken and put it in his mouth, still chewing it as he continued, "Let's see how the Church intends to treat with us. If they honor the agreements we made with the girl, then it's business as usual. If not, I suppose we'll have to negotiate a new agreement."
"What if Queen Daphne seeks refuge here?"
"We're not going to extend her an invitation, but we won't refuse her either."
The color seemed to drain from Theudas' cheeks when he heard this.
"My lord, you could provoke war with the Church."
"Everything is negotiable," Rowland said. "If she comes here and they want her, there's a price for everything."
Chilpericus, one of the newer additions to the Senate, leaned forward and said, "Milord, should the Queen come here, perhaps an alliance is in order. Zephyr will not last long under the rule of those mad fanatics. Imagine Notos and Zephyr united."
Like many of the newer senators, Chilpericus was certainly ambitious. The old class of senators had most focused on securing and retaining their privilege but now men sought a place in the Senate to get something more. Such ambition could be of service to growing young nation, but it could be dangerous as well.
"You're speaking of an empire," Rowland noted.
Rowland recalled that he himself had proposed an alliance by marriage to Daphne back when she came to him as a supplicant, willing to shower him with gold for the grain to feed her people. It was mostly meant as a jest, a stab at her pride, but she was fair enough to look on and he would need to take a wife eventually.
"You have said that Notos will become a strong nation above all others, milord," Chilpericus said, as if to tempt him further.
If Rowland was being tested, he could test in turn.
"I deny the crown of king, but you think I'll accept the crown of emperor?" he asked.
"If you truly dream of greatness, milord."
"Greatness for Notos," Rowland insisted, "not greatness for myself."
"Why not both?"
He was a clever one, this Chilpericus. Whether they gained an empire or Rowland's inconstancy turned the people against him, men like Chilpericus could profit from it. The Sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of rulers whether they wear a crown or not.
Deflecting the proposal, Rowland said, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, gentlemen. Look to the next payment for grain before you start dreaming of empires."
That would not be the end of it, but it would set the discussion aside for a time at least. Recklessness tempered with animal cunning served him well as the leader of the Promethean Alliance, but he was no longer a rebel and had to tread more carefully these days. Not all of his problems could be solved by simple tricks or a swing of Durandal. Now more than ever he danced on a razor's edge, but for Notos' sake, he would gladly let himself be cut to ribbons. Of course, there was not need for him to bleed when another could be made to fall on the blade. Perhaps he was learning what it took to be a statesman after all.