SPEECHES IN THE GREAT ASSEMBLY

It was the old Hall of Presence. The throne stood as before, its dark
wood bright with jewels, and the jewelled star bright above it, so that
Rodvard felt at his back almost a palpable emanation of Dossola’s high
fame. Before him, chairs had been swung out from the walls into the
space where all had once stood to hear judgments pronounced from the
throne, as in the great days of King Crotinianus; and other chairs
brought in, not consonant with those already there. He himself occupied
the seat once reserved to the Announcer, two steps up; a board was
placed for him to write on, since this was to be the pretence for his
being there. To the right, another step up, was the place once occupied
by the Chamberlain, which Mathurin would presently take. It also had a
board.

Rodvard looked out across the hall, now filling with men, most of whom
bowed to the throne on entering, in the ancient form. Very few were
badged with coronets, and it seemed to Rodvard a cause of hope and
pleasure that this was so. There was a solid group of legists; some
merchants; and a few men from the lesser orders, though not as many as
he had expected. As he watched, the Episcopals came in, six of the seven
at once, not looking around at the fall and sudden rise of chatter that
attended their entrance. They moved to places in the premier row of
chairs; legist badges began drifting toward them as straws on a stream
will be drawn by a log.

Mathurin came in. He wore his servant’s black and badge of low condition
as though they were robes and a crown, strutting visibly. He did not bow
to the throne, but walked straight up to the Chamberlain’s place, sat
down, bounced up again immediately and slapped his palm on the board for
attention. As the buzz of talk died reluctantly and men took their
places, he watched with tight lips; when only two or three whisperers
remained, he struck the board again and said; “There is a new matter of
utmost importance before the assembly of the nation.”

A solid-looking man who bore the coronet badge stood up into the
dramatic pause and said; “I am the Marquis of Palm. There is an old
matter for which this assembly was called that I shall never cease to
urge. No regent-apparent has been—”

He was allowed to say no more. A chorus of angry babblings covered his
voice, and Mathurin slapped sharply. His voice rose; “I am only the
writer before this assembly, and will place before it whatever is
desired; but it does not seem to me that it wishes to hear your
proposal, Ser Marquis. The more since the matter of which I speak is so
great that it overrides every other. I have to say that the nation,
already threatened by exterior enemies, is now called upon to face a
worse danger, one that will call for all our exertions. It is this: the
leaders in whom we have most trusted have turned traitor, and are
conspiring with the enemies of the people.”

Now there were more babblings, and angry cries, such as “Cut their
throats!” with a couple of fists brandished aloft; but Rodvard noticed
that all the outcry came from one section of the hall, behind the
Episcopals. One of the latter began fanning himself rapidly. Instead of
quieting, the tumult augmented as Mathurin stood sweeping his eyes
across it with a half-triumphant air. At last he raised a hand.

“I will tell you the worst,” he said, “not in fine words but brutally,
for this is a brutal thing.” He shuffled a handfull of papers. “No,
wait, I will begin with the tale of how this knowledge reached us.

“At Drog, below the pass that leads through the Ragged Mountains to
Rushaca, there is an inn. Some eight days gone there came to it a
carriage, bearing one of the ladies of the court, oh, a beautiful lady,
all dressed as though for a ball. She came from the north, from Zenss,
where the court is, and as the road leads to Tritulacca ultimately, her
actions roused some suspicion in the mind of the innkeeper. He is a true
patriot, and thought she might be carrying wealth away out of the
country in violation of the decree against it; watched her, and noticed
that she was very careful of a certain casket. The innkeeper thereupon
summoned people’s guards, who seized the casket and broke it open. They
found no money, but they found—this.”

Mathurin drew from his papers one that seemed to be of parchment, and
waved it aloft, so that all could see that it bore at its foot a huge
blue seal, star-shaped, the sign-manual of the chancery of the realm.
There were sharp intakes of breath and stirring among the chairs; the
Episcopal who had been fanning himself stopped. The sturdy man who had
described himself as the Marquis of Palm stared aloft with his mouth
open and a frown on his face.

“Shall I read it to you? No, not word for word, for it is written in
Tritulaccan, and with the stupid, decorative court phrases that try to
hide real meaning.” (Rodvard thought: he has more orator’s tricks than I
ever would have imagined.)

Pause. “Here it is, then: a missive, signed with the name of Count
Cleudi, himself a Tritulaccan by birth, to Perisso, Lord Regent of
Tritulacca, but bearing as proof of genuineness, the seal of our
Gracious Majesty, the Queen. The substance of it is that while without
doubt the rebellion of her cousin Pavinius, aided though he is by the
Mayerns, will soon be put down, the war is likely to be long and
wasteful. Her gracious majesty therefore consents to the proposal of the
Lord Perisso, made in the name of true religion and the old friendship
between the two houses, that he shall join the army of Dossola with not
less than sixteen shars; and in return for this, it is graciously
conceded that Tritulacca has a just claim to the city and province of
Sedad Mir. And some of these Tritulaccan shars shall pass to the war by
way of Netznegon city, to suppress certain disorders there. The rats!
There is no dealing with such people!”

“Shame!” shouted someone almost before he had finished, and now all over
the hall men were on their feet and shouting, but among other cries
there was one of “Forgery!” Mathurin seemed to be waiting for that
moment. “Forgery!” he cried, his voice going up almost to the
cracking-point. “If you think it is forgery, look at it yourself,” and
threw the paper outward, as one might the caught hunted animal to the
dogs. “Will you call it forgery when I tell you also that the whole
Tritulaccan fleet has been placed on war standard? The nation is
betrayed!”

Now the tumult seemed completely out of hand, men moving from place to
place confusedly or trying to say something (and in every eye Rodvard
could catch there was nothing but mere fury, which expressed itself in a
color of maroon). Mathurin looked out on the scene, making no effort at
control; but from the first row there rose a tall old man with white
hair and a face set in a habitual expression of benevolence, who raised
high his white staff of office, by which Rodvard recognized him as the
Arch-Episcopal, Teurapis Groadon.

Eyes caught the staff; voice after voice was abstracted from the uproar
until only a few still tried to speak, then two, then none. The
Arch-Episcopal waited until there was a silence broken only by a cough;
Mathurin pressed Rodvard’s shoulder to read the eyes, but the old man
only cast one swift glance at the dais before turning to address the
assembly.

Norfloxacin supply

“Ser writer,” he said, “and you, lords and estates of the realm, this is
not a pleasant thing that we have heard. There may be some question of
the authenticity of this message, or it may have been written merely to
deceive; a document from the hand of the heretic Pavinius, who would
make himself the equal of God. Yet I will not deny that we must behave
as though it were true; for if we do nothing, and it proves to be so, it
will be too late. And for myself I fear it is true; for it is given to
the spiritual estate to discern the machinations of the powers of evil.
There is before us, then the question of how, joying in the protection
of God, we can circumvent the machinations of the Enemy, who has made
man and women naturally good, into instruments of evil.

“Let us therefore prayerfully address ourselves to the question of how
the realm may escape this trouble. In an emergency equal to this, in the
reign of King Cloar with Queen Berdette the First, the assembly of the
realm set aside their rule in favor of their daughter, with her husband,
the great King Crontinianus, of glorious memory. But now there are no
heirs female, and of heirs male, only Prince Pavinius. Thus we seem
faced with the hard choice of accepting him, and so selling the soul to
preserve the body, or of adhering to the Queen’s will and saving the
soul through bodily submission to Tritulacca. But I do not think God
demands of us such submission, for our God is a God of joy.

“We are here met in the high assembly of the realm, which I hold to
represent what of the power material has failed to protect its own; and
the power spiritual is fully represented. Therefore, though such a step
has no basis in law or custom, I say let us set up a regency in the time
of a living Queen. It should have members of lords and estates to show
forth the source of its authority; and since the true enemy is that
power of evil which has led our good Queen astray, I humbly offer to
preside.”

He sat. There was a rumor, almost of agreement, but with a little edge
in it that left Rodvard glad the Arch-Episcopal had ended so, for all
the rest of what he said might have led them to agree, and it seemed to
Rodvard that a regency with lords and Episcopals on it would be only the
old rule again. Mathurin jerked his finger toward one of the brown
legists, who had risen and was waiting for attention.

“I am the kronzlar Escholl,” said the man. “I will say that this
proposal of a regency in the time of a living ruler has good support in
law and custom, though it is not generally known. It is now over eight
quadrials of years since King Belodon the Second was killed at Bregatz
during the Zigraner wars, and few remember that only three weeks before
his death, it was determined that he had gone mad, and the barons set up
a council of regency. We may, I think, assume a like madness in the
Queen’s Majesty, since her offer to Perisso is clearly contrary both to
the law of the realm and true religion. His claim to Sedad Mir is based
on descent in the male line, since it is well known that the last Count
of that seignory wrongfully dispossessed his sister, who survived him to
pass on her rights to the crown of Dossola.”

The bright morning light struck through the window, fairly on the
speaker’s face (and as he took his place, Rodvard caught from his eye a
quick gleam of greed and lust for power, altogether surprising in one
who had spoken so dry and calmly). He touched Mathurin’s arm to mention
this, but now half a dozen more were on their feet to speak, and the
writer before the assembly shot his finger at a man with a merchant’s
badge, in the group that had made the tumult when the Marquis of Palm
was shouted down.

“I protest!” this one bawled. “I am called Brosen Zelitza. We are the
assembly of the nation, and therefore already regents in our own right.
Why vest the regency in a council? Why should Episcopals have the
temporal power as well as the spiritual? If no one else dares to speak,
I will tell you why; it is because they are sold—sold to Tritulacca.
They wish to have the power to complete Cleudi’s contract, and their
objection to it is only a sham.” (The voice had a curious dynamic
quality that seemed to stir the very bones, but in Rodvard’s mind,
watching the face, there grew only a picture of something with teeth, he
could not make out any mind or thought.) “—by the rule of these
Episcopals and their mercenaries of the priesthood the old customs of
Dossola were set aside, and it is forbidden that women shall use the
Art. So Dossola is being made a half-nation like the savage Kjermanash,
with women in bondage, unable to defend—” (The voice was stirring them,
excitement in the hall, with movements and the scratch of a pushed-back
chair.) “—corrupt priesthood, refuge of scoundrels and bastards,”
(Rodvard swept the line of the Episcopals, and though they were turned
so he could catch no eyes, every pose told of rising indignation.) “—who
cannot define the God they profess to serve—”

“Stop!” The Arch-Episcopal was on his feet again, staff upraised.

“Ah, the sword bites, does it? Conspirator! Plot—”

“Stop!” The voice that was accustomed to dominating the vast recesses of
the cathedral was thunderous.

Up leaped Mathurin. “My lord Episcopal,” he said, “this is the great
assembly of the people, where each may speak in turn. When you have
heard him, we will hear you.”

The Arch-Episcopal swung round (and from his eyes Rodvard could catch
the flash of anger clearly enough, but that was not the sole emotion,
and the rest was veiled). “I will never hear blasphemy,” he said. “As
the highest officer of government remaining loyal to the realm, I
declare this assembly dissolved. All who love God and Dossola, follow
me.”

Amid a renewed outburst, catcalls and shouts of approval mingled, he
lifted his staff high and strode toward the door, followed by the others
of his class. A good half the legists came behind. The nobles stood, but
hung hesitant, looking toward the strong Marquis of Palm; and then,
seeing him sit, some returned to their seats. Of the merchants some
followed, but the little knot where the shouting started remained in
their seats.

When the procession had passed, Mathurin said; “The session for this day
is closed.” He turned toward Rodvard (and the latter saw in the smiling
eyes that everything had gone exactly according to plan, and Zelitza was
a good man).

II

Rodvard left the Hall of Presence alone, more than a little prideful at
being a partaker in great deeds at last, and wondering what the old
companions at the Office of Pedigree would say, who had so looked down
on and baited him, when they knew he was one of the writers before the
great assembly of the nation. Silver spadas were in his pouch; the new
clothes were neat; it was the finest day of winter.

He felt he must tell someone of his delight in all; lifted his head as
he strode, and so striding, inadvertently trod on the heel of one
before. The man turned to show a face as young as his own and a clerical
badge. His hands were hunched beneath the edge of his jacket.

“I beg your grace,” said Rodvard.

“No matter,” said the other.

“I was thinking. Did you know that the great assembly is going to make
itself a regency in the place of Queen Berdette?”

“No.” A pause. “Well, now the Tritulaccan Count will find him a better
bedfellow. Perhaps we’ll have this Prince Pavinius.”

“The Episcopals left the assembly.”

“Oh.” Another stop to the conversation, step, step to the corner, side
by side. The encounter glanced around (with discomfort in his eyes at
having nothing to say). “Have you seen the new representation at
Leverdaos? It is called ‘The Maid’s Problem’ and Minora is playing.”