“I’ve visited the Viscontessa Greco only once before,” Tiago told me. “Mai-am once described her as ‘unbearably ordinary’.”

I laughed. We were on horseback and had been for several hours already. The sun had finally risen enough to burn away the mist and allow a warm breeze to thaw me. Tiago assured me this land was plenty warm in the summers, but my island was warmer still and I missed the heat.

Principe, may I ask you a question?”

“Yes, Tiago, of course; you can ask me anything in private, and you may call me Pietro. Please only call me ‘Don’ unless my true title is known.”

Tiago made a bow in his saddle. “Do you believe the Viscontessa Greco will back your claim to the throne?”

“I certainly hope so. While I don’t need her support so much as I needed your great-grandmother’s, she is a powerful woman and her acknowledgement and pledge will help me.”

“I was proud to pledge fealty to you, Pietro,” the boy said. He was clearly wondering how to phrase his next question.

“Out with it.”

“Why did you not require the same of mai-am? She is a Contessa and could raise a banner to field thousands of soldiers for or against you. But you didn’t require her oath.”

I nodded. “I’m glad to have you with me, Tiago. We will learn from each other.” I scratched the back of my neck before answering, “While I hold title above your great-grandmother, I owe deference to her age and experience. I could request fealty from her, or require it once I was crowned, but I hope to have a relationship above duty. Her extraordinary kindness, though sworn to repay, shows regard that an oath would only sully.”

Tiago absorbed this new information while I took in the view. Three members of my guard rode ahead and another two were behind us. I had assigned two of them to Tiago before we’d left the estate and I noted that one of them was nearby. Captain Dumas was somewhere in the middle of our train managing her duties as she saw fit.

While the trees were still a rare beauty, I longed for the open view of the ocean. I felt like I couldn’t see anything, but I reasoned that nothing else could see us. And the more I looked the more shades and patterns of green I saw, which was lovely, if only the imagined faces and shadows would stop tricking my eyes.

Viscontessa Greco’s estate was only a few days from Contessa De Santis and it wasn’t a busy road. There were two small towns accessible to us (my cartographer had educated me last night) though only one was directly along our route. Still, I was warned, there wasn’t a larger road until well beyond the Viscontessa’s lands, so bandits were unlikely, but possible. With that in mind, I expected bandits. Servants didn’t appear from thin air; the majority were likely from those towns and the Contessa’s household was too vast for gossip not to travel. Banditry could be very lucrative if you knew who to rob.

Captain Dumas and her  guard were prepared and I’d told Tiago his role. We were as primed as we could be. Until the likely-but-not-guaranteed-attack came, I mused on what I knew about the Viscontessa and her small court, where I would travel from her lands, and especially what I needed to teach Tiago.

His writing and maths were proficient for his level and I could teach him until we reached the capital and found a tutor. He was more fluent in foreign language than I was, and horse riding. I could teach him some fighting of course, but I imagined the Contessa was more concerned with the education he would receive in judging my actions and he would educate me through my having to justify them. She was delightfully clever. The thought made me miss my- Tiziano.

“How many Houses will you visit before making the capital?” Tiago asked.

I returned to the world outside my mind, “With your great-grandmother’s backing, I need fealty from four more to secure my claim with little to no bloodshed. How many Houses are there?”

“Nine,” he answered easily. “De Santis, Greco, Barbieri, Mancini, Oscuro, Renaud, Mercier, Galli, and Au Petit. All led by the house of Ricci.”

“Good. Who holds the throne at present?”

Tiago’s eyes took on the distant look of one repeating by rote, “With the death of Re Lorenzo Fabrizio Alessio Edoardo Marco Ricci and no Regina or apparent Principe to succeed him, the House of Renaud has ascended.”

“Does that grant the title of Re?”

The boy shook his head. “Coronation of a new House cannot occur until the second generation or twenty years, whichever is longer.”

“Why is that?”

He frowned. Tiziano had asked me the same thing and I knew my face had mirrored the one beside me. To his credit, he really considered the question instead of admitting defeat right away. His expression jumped excitedly, “In case of you!”

I laughed. “Basically, yes. If a claimant arrives in that time and is proven to be the rightful heir, they are crowned and the Renaud House retains their lands and holdings as they did before their presumed ascension. Any property or income generated during their time of rule defaults to the coffers of the correct Re.”

Tiago pursed his lips and looked at me concernedly. “The Renaud House will be angry with you, won’t they?”

“Oh yes, very angry. I imagine it was by their order that the attempt on my life was made and my guardian was murdered. I doubt I’ll find proof of that, but I intend to look.”

“An attempt on the life of a noble, even unsuccessful, is treason,” Tiago stated. “Attempt on the life of a royal is treason and punishable by death and can only be pardoned by a royal.”

“What is the price of treason?”

Tiago winced. “For another noble: hanged by the neck and cut down alive, loss of title through twelve generations and forfeiture of all lands and holdings, children under age of twelve are adopted to the family of the Re’s choosing, and they are required to wear steel or lead chains of half their weight until they are one thousand miles from the capital. We’re taught that early,” he explained. “We’re also taught that if another coerces us into the commitment, they will be found guilty for the crime, but we aren’t spared the punishment.”

“It keeps people as calm as possible; logic and reason should always be the preferred tool, but some people only respond to fear.”

A scout came thundering up the road toward us, halted by my forward guard who received the report and came to my side. “A downed tree, Don. Signs of axes at the base.”

“Oh, bandits. Well. They came sooner than I thought they would. Ah, Captain Dumas. Your area of expertise – would you like to ride into the trap or did you have another course of action in mind?”

She brushed dirt from her leather breastplate. “Ride on. Follow my lead.”

“Ever been attacked by bandits, Tiago?” I asked. I kept my voice light and steady. He already looked nervous, though he covered it decently for one so young.

“No, Don, I have not.”

“It’s a day of discovery, then. Chin up!”

April 24, 2021

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