Kayla couldn’t decide whether she had enjoyed or hated the last few days. On one hand, she had been well fed and hosted, with the interesting company of Aleander and her brother, and had earned the respect of the guards thanks to her martial skills. On the other, she had endured Bertel’s presence, while trapped in a place without trees, and being delayed in her task.
The seneschal hadn’t learned all he could about them, but he was confident enough that they weren’t spies or assassins. They’d left Longval in the morning and were now riding towards the capitol, or so she thought.
“We’re not taking the highway?” she asked as Aleander departed from the broad paved route that extended all the way to the horizon. It was both the fastest and safest way to travel to the capitol, with guard posts built every three leagues. This proud achievement of the Empire was praised by merchants all over the world, or at least that’s what she’d heard.
“We aren’t going to Rochetour. The Court no longer resides in the old fortress.”
“I thought it had the best defenses in the Empire,” Kayla remarked.
“It is almost impregnable,” Aleander agreed. “Large stone walls and loopholes make little for comfort, however. The Emperor has more to fear from plotters and assassins than trebuchet, so he found himself a new palace. A hidden one.”
“How is diplomacy conducted?” Toikem asked, abandoning his usual lack of expression for a curious look.
“The Imperial family hasn’t attended a social event in decades. Most commoners and provincial lords still believe they live in the capitol and nothing is done to correct them. Mages have designed ceremonial rooms which give the illusion different people coexist in the same space even though they don’t. It costs a fortune, and not even a small one. Since then, most of the world’s rulers have one and keep away from foreigners.”
Kayla frowned at that thought. “They all sound paranoid to me.”
“It may seem that way, but I haven’t seen a taster convulse in years. That is more than most Imperial Guards could ever wish for.”
“Is this why the Solid Border Edict was revoked?” Toikem asked.
The narrow dirt road they took led them to a pond. Aleander looked back, to see if they had been followed. Apparently satisfied with the empty state of the plains, he let his mount step into the water until it reached its hocks and come round. Kayla wondered if he was trying to hide their trail.
“It surely played a role in it,” the seneschal finally answered.
“What was the edict?” Kayla asked her brother.
“It outlawed feudal conflicts,” Toikem told her “The lords were forbidden from waging war against one another.”
“Wasn’t that a good thing?”
“Yes, it was,” Aleander confirmed. “His Ducal Highness still imposes it to his vassals. However, the games of alliances, betrothals and pacts often produce ambiguous claims to land and titles. Such disputes are solved in war, under the eyes of the Gods. The Old Law sees it as a holy ordeal.” He sighed. “To enforce such an edict, the Emperor needs to be able to provide any wronged vassals with the military force needed to protect their lands.”
“Wouldn’t that still be the case even if he didn’t stay in his palace?” she pursued.
“I believe the liege lord decided he would have his direct vassals keep the peace in his stead,” Toikem replied. “It seems he decided to have them brought with him in his new palace, where he can issue his Command at any time.”
Kayla knew very little of politics and little she cared. She knew of the power the Emperor’s voice held. It wasn’t a figure of speech. Words spoken by rulers were different than those of common people. They were to be obeyed willingly or not. The more powerful the sovereign, the more compelling his orders were.
It was the Imperial Command that stitched the Empire together, regardless of nations. Northerners, Westerners, Islanders, Barbarians, Woodmen, Wildlanders and others were referenced as the Rean saw them, regardless of their own identification. The gluttonous country had extended its borders all over the continent until its Emperor loomed over it all.