The Winds of Change
Two months had passed since I had reported to Julio for the last time. In that time, the situation in the court changed drastically.
Firstly, Rosalind began to attend every court session. Previously, she had only sat in on the occasional session, perhaps once a week – any more, and the conservatives in the court would have spoken out against her. They were, after all, not used to having a woman in attendance at the council of advisors. Doubtless, if she had requested it of him, her husband the Emperor would have silenced any objections to her presence, but Rosalind was a patient woman. She willingly refrained from overstepping her bounds until she had garnered enough support from the other nobles in the court – something she had finally managed to achieve after numerous dinners and meetings over the last few months. Even if she was not always able to gain favour with the nobles themselves, she certainly managed to insert herself into the inner circles of their wives – which, all things considered, was effectively the same thing.
Due to these efforts, there was no longer an overwhelming majority of voices questioning the value of her attendance. The cries of indignation and ridicule still came, but they were matched equally by cries of support. Rosalind had managed to gain the favour and support of almost half of the court. There was no longer enough opposition to hold her down.
During this time, Julio firmly and directly set himself up as a potitical opponent of Rosalind. Whenever she made a comment, he would be the first and the loudest to challenge it – sometimes effectively, mostly ineffectually. He proposed bills that neutered or counteracted Rosalind’s proposed bills. He made sure to speak up every session about the impropriety of having a woman in court. Much of it was ineffectual bluster, but his main intention was not to have an effective debate. Rather, his objective was to portray himself as Rosalind’s opponent, and thereby gain the support of the portion of the court that disapproved of Rosalind. It didn’t take a genius to see what he was trying to do, and yet the nobles that opposed Rosalind still fell for it and began allying with him. Truly a testament to the ability of our Empire’s nobility.
As result of Julio’s and Rosalind’s efforts, the court was now split evenly between the two of them. The Emperor did nothing and said nothing about it, letting this scene unfold before him. The gossip chalked it down to his incompetence, ridiculing him for not even noticing the rift that was opening between his wife and his brother. I was unconvinced. The Emperor had the reputation of being a fool, but the expression I observed while stationed at Rosalind’s side was not that of a fool – he quietly watched the proceedings with intense focus. He knew far more about the situation than he let on.
The Emperor’s strange inactivity aside, the situation in the court grew more tense with each passing day. Conflict was in the air, and the people began to whisper about the possibility of civil war.
In addition to his actions in court, Julio also attempted numerous covert actions. He sent men to burn down the house where my family had previously stayed, and he arranged for agents to disrupt and harrass the branches of the Ezov around the country. Unfortunately for him, in the former case, he found to his dismay that my family had been taken under Rosalind’s patronage, and in the latter, his agents painfully discovered that all workers in the Ezov were extensively trained in close-quarters combat and self-defence. Unfortunately, he was not foolish enough to leave evidence of his connection to these events, so they were not victories we could use against him.
Perhaps out of fear or frustration that his attempts at revenge had been thwarted, he began to engage in an increasing number of secret dealings. Money and weapons changed hands, safehouses were bought and prepared, private armies were armed, poisons were stocked. A secret message was sent or received in some form almost every day. He seemed to be preparing for war. How unfortunate for him that he did not consider that his secret contacts had been compromised. Apparently, he thought he was the only one capable of espionage. He seemed to have forgotten who it was that he had entrusted all his espionage work to for seven years. Many of his supply lines and criminal contacts had been established by my hand. It was a simple matter to place Glint’s agents within the courier and supply lines. We knew the location of every safehouse and weapons cache. We knew the names and addresses of every corrupt noble or town leader receiving his money. We knew the exact size of the armies he was raising. We also knew that said size was not particularly impressive, especially when compared to the might of the Imperial Army.
We offered this information to Rosalind, but she chose not to act on it for now. Nothing he was doing was technically illegal, and while it would be possible to accuse him of treason by suggesting that he was amassing an army for that purpose, the degree of support he had from the nobles meant that it would be hard to make the accusation stick. Moreover, she did not wish to reveal her hand so early in the game. In her words, “it is far easier to slay a beast after it has fallen asleep among its treasure.”
Instead of acting on the information regarding Julio’s preparations, Rosalind used her connections with merchants and people of influence around the country to begin amassing her own weapons – not swords and spears, but money and information. She asked the people working for the Ezov to establish friendly relations with merchants, information brokers and mercenaries. She sent Glint away for increasingly long periods of time, on missions with details which were kept a secret even from myself. I did not blame Rosalind for leaving me in the dark. I knew all too well how perilous even the possibility of a leak could be. If Rosalind thought it was wise to keep me out of the know, she was probably correct. I trusted her judgment implicitly.
After all, her predictions to this point had been completely correct.
Julio’s actions, the nobles rallying towards him, the Emperor doing nothing – everything was well within her predictions. Julio thought he was in control, but really, he was dancing unwittingly in the palm of Rosalind’s hand. Her every action was carefully calculated to make him in a certain way, and he was obliging her without even knowing it. In fact, according to the latest secret missive we had intercepted, he even thought her a fool for taking actions that were so easily responded to. Glint and I had a good laugh over that one. We knew that he was underestimating Rosalind, but we never truly understood the extent of Julio’s foolishness until that moment. Rosalind was completely in control. As long as we did as she asked, we would emerge victorious. Besides, for me at least, even if Rosalind had not so clearly shown her competence at every turn, I would have trusted and followed her nonetheless – that is what it means to willingly swear a vow of loyalty.
In this manner, with Rosalind and Julio making various moves against each other, the situation in the court became ever more precarious – it was just a matter of waiting for something to destroy the delicate balance and tip the scales. Of course, Rosalind had a prediction of what this something was going to be – we were simply waiting to see if she was right.
That something came one day, without warning, when Rosalind and I were in her personal library. She was reading up on the strategies of battles fought throughout history – I was researching the possibility of Mana storage, as well as occasionally refilling Rosalind’s cup when it was empty. As we were absorbed in our respective books, there was a rap on the window. Glancing in its direction, we saw Glint crouching in the windowsill, a grave expression on his face. I moved to open the glass windowpane. He nodded in thanks, then wasted no time in addressing Rosalind, demonstrating his trademark professionalism.
“Rosalind. You were right. The Emperor has collapsed.”
Rosalind snapped her book shut and pushed herself out of her seat. I did the same and moved to drape her cloak over her. She took her crown from its cushion on the table and rested it carefully atop her head.
“Well then, let’s move into the next act of this performance, shall we?”