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After surviving a fiery assassination attempt, the League's honorable ruler tries to end a long war. Mara, now heading the League's spy services, warns he is walking into a trap. As her advice becomes increasingly ruthless, she asks herself whether she likes the person she has become.
This is a tale of war and espionage, which includes a campaign map so those with an interest in strategy can follow the action. It is also the story of a political marriage which could be more.
Chapter One: The Calculus of Infinitesimals (H.R.H. The Princess-Consort Cordelia Aurellius-Maxwell, Month of the Snow Moon, Year of our Liberation 152)
My righteous husband Orlando rose from the breakfast table while I was still eating. He gulped coffee. “Early start today, Cords. Big meeting, downtown at Bodmin Palace. My coach will be waiting.”
I replied with a smile. Smiles are a language all their own. Another day, I might have peeled back my upper lip, saying, to anyone who paid attention, that I was not really smiling at all. That smile would have meant, you can call it the war council, darling. I do know what it is.READ MORE
Such a smile might also have meant, in Aurellium, where I grew up, the king and queen govern as a couple. You and I would chair the war council together. That’s what my royal parents raised me for. Indeed, such a smile might have meant, the war’s going badly, if the broadsheets are to be believed. Words like “unwinnable” keep popping up. You and your generals might do well to listen to someone outside your klatch—perhaps even me.
This morning, I smiled with my eyes as well as my mouth. I rose to straighten the lace on my husband’s collar, and to wish him a good day. His answering smile suggested confidence and warmth. It was the smile of a man who has everything under control. I had seen it many thousand times, but I trusted it. My husband’s smile was a performance, I thought, but it was the kind of performance one gives when one is dedicated to one’s role.
Once my husband was gone, I finished my black morel omelet. The breakfast chamber was the smallest of the Grensham Palace dining rooms, but it felt cavernous when I was the only occupant. I was glad, that day, to live in a country where the ruler’s spouse did not attend council meetings. It was the second day in a row that I had found an opportunity to keep my morning free, and I felt I was catching my breath. I had all but decided what to do with the time.
My freedom, however, did not begin immediately. After I ate, I took a golden twist of pastry from a basket, wrapped it in a napkin, and climbed the mahogany stairs to my fourteen-year-old daughter Deborah’s bedroom. She answered my knock with a groan.
I entered, and found, to my relief, that Deborah had dressed. When I smiled at my daughter, I smiled a little too broadly. The smile I gave Deborah meant I understood she would have preferred to stay in bed, but that we both knew I could not let her. It meant that I, at least, was trying to put a cheerful face on things.
“Coming!” Deborah’s tone suggested exasperation. “Sweet Belthor.”
“I saved you breakfast.” I held out the pastry. “Move along, now, your tutors will be setting up for you. Yesterday you kept Master Harvey waiting.”
“He said it was no bother, Mom. He doesn’t care.”
“Master Harvey is easygoing, but he also has to choose his words carefully, because you’re a princess. Part of being a princess is knowing that people have to be extra-nice to you, and not taking advantage of that.” As I spoke, I remembered being Deborah’s age. It had been my governess who had given me such lectures. My skin crawled at the thought that I might be beginning to sound like her. What was worse, I reflected, was that I was starting to see some of my governess’ points.
Deborah devoured the pastry. “Can I have lunch with a friend?”
“Of course. Is it Alice?”
Deborah let her jaw fall. “I’m having lunch with Mirrie, Mom.”
“Mirrie’s fun, isn’t she? You’re seeing a lot of her lately.” I hesitated. “You haven’t fallen out with Alice, have you?”
I gave Deborah a moment in which to tell me more, if she wanted. She silently avoided my eyes. Then, since it actually was time for her lessons, I shepherded her to the palace schoolroom. Master Harvey appeared at the door. He was a white-haired historian with thick glasses and an overgrown mustache. He welcomed her in with a smile.
Afterward, I repaired to my study and got out the wax tablet on which I kept my schedule. I drew a line through the morning, telling myself I had officially claimed it. Yes, I thought. Today.
With that, I committed myself to return to an old project of mine. When I had been Deborah’s age, my favorite tutor had awakened me to the glory of numbers. I had studied mathematics intensively from then on. At the age of twenty-five, scarcely a month before I married Orlando of the line of Maxwell, I had experienced an epiphany concerning a previously unsolved problem.
The mathematicians of ancient Tenopolis had perfected what we regarded as basic geometry. For nigh on two thousand years, anyone with a reasonable education had been able to tell you anything you might ever want to know about a square or a triangle. Circles, too, could be accommodated. But the things of nature recognize no obligation to stick to these tidy shapes. They meander, they undulate, they grade imperceptibly from one state of being into another.
Those who feel mathematics should be useful have found ways to compensate for this discrepancy. The art of the surveyor consists largely of measuring out triangles upon landscapes where nothing naturally triangular would seem to appear. One may decree a loopy mess to consist of neat semi-circles and construct a model accordingly. If such a model can never be realistic, it can, at least, follow rules.
When I was twenty-five, I caught a clearer glimpse of reality. One could understand curves, I thought, if one recognized that they were made up of infinite numbers of individual units, like pictures painted with tiny dots. These units are, to be sure, infinitely small, but each has value. Such units come together to form the patterns which human logic finds so difficult to apprehend.
At twenty-five, I had felt intoxicated by this idea. I had set myself the task of working out a system for making calculations involving these units. With such a calculus of infinitesimals, I thought, one could go beyond modeling. One could understand things, not as disappointing approximations of what folk say they should be, but in the beauty of what they are.
Then Orlando had become pontifex of the League of Caerlande. To my delight, he had kept an old promise to send for my hand. There had been a state wedding to organize. Six weeks after the ceremony, I found myself with child. I resumed my work upon the calculus in the middling part of my pregnancy, but lost sight of it in the months after Peter, my eldest, was born.
There came a time when I could deposit Peter with a servant, but I discovered a dispiriting thing. It was not enough for me to demand an hour free, or even a day. To do the sort of work which I sought to do, I needed to recover the playfulness which had once been my normal condition. I needed to be free, not only from the immediate duties of caring for Peter, managing the pontifical household and maintaining relations between the ruling families of two realms, but from the persisting duty of thinking about such things.
And so, when I did schedule time to work on the calculus, I floundered. Then I berated myself for floundering. My governess had taught me that it was puerile to blame one’s failings upon one’s mood. Since I saw my moods getting the better of me, I judged myself a failure indeed. When I became pregnant with Charles-Richard, I accepted defeat and resigned myself to the notion that I would have to set mathematics aside for a while.
But with my sons away in the army and even Debbie doing more for herself, I found my world changing yet again. I was determined to seize the opportunity life was giving me. And so, I rang a silver bell to summon a servant. Hans was on duty that morning, and his ready smile cheered me. I had him build up the fire in my study, and then I sent him for a cup of hot cacao.
As I sipped the sweet drink, I found myself trembling. I questioned whether my idea about infinitesimals made as much sense as I had once imagined. Then I relived my false starts, wondering if I was the right person to bring such an idea to fruition. Nevertheless, I told myself, no one else was going to do it. I pulled a robe over my knees, gazed into the flames, and thought about how the calculus might work.
I was undoubtedly deep in such ponderings when the incident occurred.COLLAPSE