Edward needed an edge. Philip was too powerful, decrepit as he was, to be eliminated. He had vast support amongst the Boyar. However, this support was not universal. Edward needed to find that pole of discontent and exploit it. If he could fan that discontent into a fire, he could force the Boyar to censure Philip or possibly even depose him.
The Boyar had deposed only two rulers in the past. One was Ejan, a monarch of a previous Raslavon royal family. His nickname was “The Cruel” and his tenure on the throne was marked by much internecine violence amongst the noble classes. Family upon family, individual against individual, Ejan created much havoc trying to consolidate his control of the Raslavon empire and to diminish the power of the Boyar. This of course led to his undoing.
The other was within Philip’s own lineage several generations before. That tyrant, Christoph, known as “the heretic” attempted to convert the empire to non-religious secular rule and eliminate the Dol-ist faith and religion from the empire. Here again the Boyar banded together and deposed Christoph and placed his brother Joseph on the throne. Joseph was an intellectual and somewhat ineffectual as a leader, perfect for the Boyar at the time to control.
Edward had another problem, less direct, but closer. Veronica. Much as he loved her, he now felt her love and trust were compromised. He was never sure if she or Philip were the manipulative force in his life. Which of them was the instrument of the other?
In some sense it was immaterial. Whether she or Philip was the tool, the combination was stifling the mandate of heaven and his ascendancy as the Third of Three. Naerius was there, just out of reach, waiting to be wrested away from the heathen Darjiki grasp. Edward was completely befuddled by Philip’s slow plodding moves. Why fortify ourselves in the Palos? What possible gain would result? Philip would not answer these questions directly. He would only respond in a condescending way, with explanations of mysterious knowledge that he had and that Edward was not ready to understand. His manner completely infuriated Edward.
Veronica. Edward viewed with much regret how their relationship had degenerated. She was so beautiful. There was a time where he would have died to defend her. Now he only wished that he could be rid of her. On the other hand, she could prove useful, in the opposite direction from which she was being used.
* * *
Philip summoned his Cabinet including the Crown Prince for a special meeting in his official reception room. “Gentlemen, the Albion empire is sending a delegation to meet with us. They come to speak to us about strategic matters for which we are both interested. Most probably the Darjiki alliance with the Barsifi.”
Edward responded sternly, “Your Highness, I trust the Albion less than I trust our enemies. At least our enemies are somewhat predictable. Even in their heathen ways they are driven by a sense of honor. The Albion have no sense of honor. They do everything based on self-interest. They react to each situation as if “Oh Well, let’s see how we can take advantage of this.”
Philip looked up at Edward. “The Crown Prince is correct, the Albion do not conform to the sense of honor that we do, nor our bitter enemies for that matter. However, I would remind you that they are predictable in their behavior. You can discern, even from your explanation that there is a possibility of using their unique perspective to our advantage.”
“In what way?” asked Edward.
“Rather than answer that, lets first predict what advantage they would like in a particular situation. Then predict all the ways that they might get to that point given the current conditions. You might find that their ‘lack of honor’ as you point out might actually be quite predictable.”
Edward pondered this for a moment. “The only thing that I can discern is that if they can keep us at bay, they can exploit systems like Barabrum for what little value it has.”
“And slowly strangle the Darjiki while we expend ourselves fighting a frontal war with them every day. I would remind the Crown Prince, that the Albion meddle, but they have never confronted us directly. They view us in some twisted way as being of the same mind as them as followers of Dol, even though we consider their actions to be repudiated by everything Dol ever thought.”
“But once they strangle the Darjiki, they would turn on us!”
“Maybe, if there was any advantage to it. But we have little that they want.”
“Well, what about Naerius?”
“What about it?”
“We know for a fact that Albion historians and philosophers predict their part in the new age.”
“Yes Edward, they predict that they will be the vehicle for the return of the Third...possibly your return, hmmm?”
The advisors in the room were visibly unsettled by this comment.
“So what you predict, Uncle, is that the Albion think they have a part in the return of the Third to Naerius and that is why you are allowing this contact with them to occur?”
“Possibly, and we do have some issues in common that we should discuss, not the least of which is having them continue to pressure the Darjiki in their soft underbelly while we make our move on the Palos.”
None of this made any sense to Edward. Fortifying the Palos while exposing the Raslavon rear to Albion while having them in court? It was all too much for him. He sat impatiently, while Dimitrius and Grigori gave their updates. He began to gaze at the Raslavon royal crest on the wall above the fireplace. His thoughts turned to his destiny. He thought about his father. Suddenly, he interrupted, “We should turn them away. In fact, we should chase them out of our space!”
Grigori, who was interrupted, looked at him sternly, “Attack the Albion mission? To what end?”
“Those conniving, meddling Albion are trying to insinuate themselves in our conflict with the heathen Darjiki. They do this for their own gain, and will turn on us at the first moment. They are not the vessel for the return of power to Naerius.”
“Your highness,” continued Grigori as Philip looked on, concerned, “If we chase the Albion mission and possibly cause damage, we will have war with them, and we cannot afford to have a two front war now, not with our common enemy and our ancient enemy now joining forces.”
“I think your intelligence is incorrect Grigori, General, and the thinking spawned from that is flawed. How do we know that the Albion have not already talked to the Darjiki and are working with them.”
“Edward, your suspicions are groundless, your reaction is not conducive toward the situation at hand, and Grigori is correct. The Albion have no interest in working with the Darjiki. In fact, I know that the Raja would never work with the Albion people, he despises them.”
Edward retorted quickly, “How do you know so much about the Raja’s thoughts, and if you did why have we not defeated them already?”
Some of the Boyar elders in the room began to whisper. Philip, gaining control of his temper said in a very quiet and determined manner, “Edward, you have overstepped your bounds now in front of my cabinet and my trusted Boyar advisers. I suggest that you recant now, or take some time to think it over, but you will not go down this path in my presence or theirs anymore.”
All eyes were fixed on Edward now who was standing near a fireplace with all the military bearing he could muster. This had the effect that he wanted. He had accused Philip in front of the Boyar. Rumors would now commence and he would be able to flush out those who were, like him, concerned about the current path.
* * *
Aboard the Leviathan, Pascal studied the dossiers of all the members of the royal family and of the major Boyar families. Pascal knew about Raslavon culture by his knowledge of the language and things he had read, but the list of important persons of Raslavon was new to him. He had heard of Philip, Emperor as well as Edward II, Crown Prince and his father Edward I. Their legends were the stuff of stories and gossip throughout known space.
He knew little about the Boyar families. Albion information on them was presented as very matter of fact. There weren’t, for example, competing families for the throne who might depose the Emperor at this time, although there have been in the past. Philip, a childless widower, placed all his attention on the development of an heir, first through his brother, Edward, and due to his untimely death, his son Edward II, and the Boyar seemed to accept this. They accepted this even though Edward I’s cruel reputation did cause some consternation before he died.
Pascal read with great interest about Edward II and his wife Veronica. Edward was portrayed as somewhat of a hair-trigger personality, a mercurial temperament if there ever was one. His wife Veronica was beautiful and intelligent. The dossier spoke of her influence on him early in their marriage and of her closeness of mind with Philip, Emperor, and of her losing her influence with Edward over time as no heir was produced. Pascal noted that the pictures of her did change over time, from what appeared to be great joy to more somber. Pictures don’t lie, as they say.
Pascal found some of this reading quite tedious, but it at least filled up part of each day for him. The journey from Barabrum to Raslavon included five synaptic crossings and the four open space intervals for a total of about eighteen days duration. There was onboard entertainment and of course a full load of diversions in-cabin. Pascal, being somewhat religious (more drawn to the ritual than the sermons), did go a few times to the daily morning and evening prayers and once, during that three and a half weeks, went to a full worship service.
This was always something he could fall back on and used the time to contemplate the hand dealt to him. During the daily rituals, prayers from the collected works of Dol and from other saintly followers were read. The priest would comment on these and dismiss the attendees.
During the weekly worship service there were more readings, some music and a re-enactment of a single scene where Dol turned himself over as a sacrifice for the ages. The actual fate of Dol was not re-enacted but it was mentioned in the context of the sacrifice for the greater good. The final portion of the service was a lament of the faithful waiting for the coming of the future peace in the presence of the maker with the expectation that Dol would be leading that event.
On the final evening his comm-pad lit up to inform him of the arrival of the ship near the Raslavon home world. His adventure was about to get more interesting.