Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest Part Nine

Chapter 9: Five Years of Rule

 

“ . . . but I do not know how much to take seriously, my lady,” Lord Andre Boris Pushkin admitted.

Kiara, now called Empress Klara Alsice, fanned herself and considered the reports. “No less than a quarter, I would suspect. Your observers found no signs of actual Harrier or Turklavi warriors in the area?”

He wagged one hand, the emerald on his ring flashing in the bit of sun that penetrated the vines growing over the little pavilion in the garden. “General Pushkin says none, but General Maldovo’s scouts reported a few signs, all of them old. If the Harriers had been in the southern area near Sweet City, they seem to have left before the spring rains began.”

We’re probably hearing old stories. Yes, people saw someone, but a long while ago and kept quiet, or had no one to tell the news to. So there is no need for change in the military presence. However, that other bit of rumor . . .

“Go back. That bit about the service-slaves demanding release from their contracts. How serious is that? How many cases, and where?” Continue reading

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Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest Part Eight

Chapter 8: A Wifely Overthrow

 

By the time true spring returned and the court made the long trip north to New Rodi, Kiara grew worried. Pawl made no secret of preferring his mistress to his wife, to the point of having Antonia sit at his side at banquets while relegating Kiara to a lower-ranked table. He also talked openly about changing the army and had begun demanding that the supply masters plan of campaigns all year long, and make barracks to house the men in winter as well as spring and summer. The Frankonian ambassador spent hours with Pawl, discussing things neither would talk about later. Kiara did see the draft of a new trade treaty that left her wide eyed. She almost looked for a way to attend that council meeting, because when the lords saw how much Pawl wanted to give Frankonia and all the rights he was removing from the Sea Republics and others, well, the fur would fly.

“The Sea Republics produce nothing of quality or that NovRodi needs,” he announced when someone asked him at dinner about changes in trade. “Frankonia does, and it makes sense to encourage trade with them. There are other potential trade treaties, new ones, that a better agreement with Frankonia will make easier. And in addition to furs and tree gems, the king wants timber and tar, and grain, and fruit brandies, all things NovRodi has an excess of.”

“Imperial majesty, how will we meet the requests of the Sea Republics and the cities of the Thumb as well as of Frankonia? Logs for ship timbers are not easy to move.” Lord Korbin gestured with his empty glass.  “Especially this year, with the rivers so unpredictable and rough. My timber men have lost almost half of what they’d cut to a single ice-jam and surge flood.” Continue reading

Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest: Part Seven

Chapter 7: Storm Brewing

 

Perhaps, Kiara mused later, perhaps Godown’s displeasure with both her and Pawl contributed to the unhappiness of the next year and a half. Or perhaps not. She had felt little guilt about breaking her vows to Pawl, given that she’d seduced Gerald because the empire needed at least one more heir. Breaking her vows was wrong—she freely conceded that and she tried to minimize her other failings and errors, as well as being more serious about fasts and attending liturgy—but the greater need had forced her to do it. Pawl, well, he had no such justification for taking a mistress. And insulting the army and sending panic through court, even if he had been joking? And perhaps Godown simply let us suffer the results of our own behavior. Although I had nothing to do with the earthshake in the western mountains, that I know.

Empress Molly Olga tightened her control on court and policy, scolding Kiara several times for daring to push Pawl to venture an opinion on a government matter. That Kiara had stopped even trying to discuss “men’s matters” with her husband made no difference. Pawl smirked as Kiara groveled in front of the throne, then informed his court of exactly what he would do were he emperor. Kiara bit her tongue, hard, because some of his ideas sounded as if he had been eating black mushrooms, at least based on what Kiara heard and read. Continue reading

Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest Part Six

Chapter 6: Lover, Mistress, Folly

 

Kiara watched the cold autumn rain dripping down across NovRodi. She pulled her little coat closer around her. It seemed as if she felt a chill even through her layers of clothes and fur, and the heat from the stove in the corner of the room. The rain on the glass twisted the scene outside, making horses and people into strange, warped versions of themselves. Kiara wondered if the rain did the same to people’s insides. She felt strange and twisted, not the Kiara of four years before.

She returned to pacing the empty room, walking steadily back and forth up and down the length of the green and white reception chamber. She needed to move and to think, as often happened following one of her weekly visits to see her son. He’d begun walking, toddling from nurse to chair to other nurse and back. Pjtor always stared at her, preferring his nursemaid’s hand to his mother’s. He also preferred Empress Molly Olga, who insisted that she and not Kiara knew what was best for the boy and that she would see to his proper upbringing. She also hinted about needing a spare, tempting Kiara to remind her aunt-in-law that such an outcome required two parties, since the age of miracles had passed and Godown now expected His children to do their best before He intervened. Pawl had not lain with her as man and wife since her last mis-birth, over a year before. His military things took more and more time, to the point that at midsummer Empress Molly Olga had scolded him for not doing more in the government.

Indeed, but her majesty then snaps at him, and me, for daring to venture an idea or opinion about matters of government. Kiara turned at the end of the room and began going the other way. I think he is getting too interested in Frankonia, and in the Turklavi, for peace, but I am ignorant and too forward, so what do I know. That Kiara’s thoughts mirrored those of a number of the members of the imperial court meant nothing. Empress Molly Olga had made that exquisitely, painfully clear in front of everyone. Continue reading

Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest: Part Five

Chapter 5: The Second Betrayal

 

The journey took four weeks, which the courtiers said was a fast time for spring. Kiara shuddered to think what a slow journey demanded. They had to ride on horses or in sledges because the roads. Well, there were no roads, not of the kind Kiara knew from Hämäln and had read about elsewhere. No Lander pavements remained in this part of NovRodi, or so her books had said, and what the men around her called a road Kiara would have called a pseudo-deer track. Except pseudo-deer did not make so much mess, cutting deep ruts and tearing up the ground. Everywhere around them trees loomed, cutting off the sky and closing the world into a small strip of not-road. Dardogs haunted the woods, and great spotted hunting cats lurked in the maze of trees and marshes. “Truly, the Landers displeased Godown, that he forced them to leave the plains and settle here,” one of the men said as he made Godown’s sign. Continue reading

Delayed Saturday Story: Reaping the Harvest Part Four

Betrothal and Betrayal

 

The first snow had fallen before Kiara felt truly comfortable that she would not be sent home the next day. The crown prince spent time with her, having her come to his office and reception rooms, but while doing other things. So she listened to him, watched him, sometimes worked on her sewing, and tried to be a proper young lady. Her mother, well, she seemed occupied with other things, much to Kiara’s relief. And Kiara was permitted to ride.

She’d asked Pawl about it, hesitantly. “Imperial Highness, is it permitted for ladies to ride?”

“To ride what? Horses? Wagons? Boats?” He jumped up from the table where he was playing with toy soldiers made of wood and wax, paced the room, and returned to his soldiers.

“You pardon, imperial highness, a horse.”

“Yes, of course. Do you ride?”

Should I be honest? Not entirely. “Yes, imperial highness, I do.”

Three days later a riding dress and breeches appeared, and she discovered that the women of the court of NovRodi rode astride as well as riding the usual women’s way. A manservant and groom waited for her and led her to the courtyard, where three horses, all mares, stood. She looked at them considering until the crown prince rode up and ordered, “Ride the black one.” He was on a stallion, she noticed, not pleased. She didn’t like riding mares around stallions. The black mare had a wild look in her eye, and sidled and stamped as Kiara mounted. They rode out with eight of the younger nobles from Pawl’s small court. Continue reading