Usually after a great and successful revolution the new dawn is heralded by sunny skies and singing birds and the populace dancing in the streets. This particular morning, however was foggy and cold with a light drizzle on the slippery cobblestones in front of the palace door. The severed heads of the late king and his Grand Chancellor still grinned from the balcony, the heads of the queen and countess and four of the children were in rictus over the tower,and the mutilated body of the Grand Duke, the king's brother, twisted in its chains over the Bailey Gate. Shortly before dawn the Merchant's gate and the Bailey gate opened and the castle staff began streaming into the palace square. The vast majority either entered into the palace either through the Mews entrance or one of the discrete side entrances where guards stood to inspect their pass tokens. A very small number went to the main doors under the balcony and were saluted by the guards as they entered. Part of this select few was the Lord Treasurer and a young man who looked very much like him, but younger. Compared to the Lord Treasure's grey hair, the young man's was jet black. As the Lord Treasurer walked carefully over the wet cobblestones his companion marched confidently, but kept pace with his elder companion. The young man's back was erect, his glance inquisitive and like his older companion his eyes glittered with humor and intelligence. The were checked briefly by the guard as they went in, then were directed to the Grand Chancellor's office.
When they arrived at the Grand Chancellor's office they found the king signing a stack of release warrants for the governor of the tower prison. The governor had more than 20 release warrants, plus some meal warrants. Standing on the other other side of the governor was a guard holding a taper and a wax supply who was putting wax on each warrant for the king before he impressed his signet ring. The governor maintained a running commentary on each discharge as the king reviewed them. Finally the governor brought out a final document. "You said you wanted the bishop to replace that one woman in the cells. The college of bishops will want to know the charge. They will be most upset."
The king gave a malicious grin. "We will start out with blasphemy, and we will include sedition and sexual deviance. I have had discussions with some of the city troops this morning. Putting him on trial for rape will play very well to the crowds. Oh, add embezzlement as well. There is a rumor that his new carriage was paid for by the poor boxes"
The lord treasurer's voice squeaked with dismay. "Locking up the bishop is dangerous. The college of bishops are very powerful"
The king turned to him with a warm smile of welcome. "I am glad you came so early. It shows we will work well together. As for the bishops, Their power rests on popular respect. Their authority depends on the respect the people have for them. This one here has no respect and instead makes a great target for popular wrath. " He turned around and sent the governor on his way. "At this point I can't make friends with the populace by bribing them. And trying for their love by acts of seeming compassion when I need to be ruthless to anyone who tries to thwart me is pointless. I've noticed that what makes for friendships is mutual enemies. Given the way this bishop behaves, I can use him to get on good terms with the populace by making him an entertainment, like bear baiting or chasing the annual scapegoat. "
The Lord Treasurer spread his hands in alarm "You realize how powerful the church is. They defend their own. Do you think you are strong enough to start a fight with them already?"
The king rummaged through his papers and collected a few samples while the Lord Treasurer spoke. "Very few people have much respect for the priesthood,. very fw have respct for the church at all to not puy to fine a point on it. How many people come to services not on feast days or weddings or funerals. I feel quite confident right now that the church is so badly stained with its support of the late king that we can use their association to make us stronger. I have been looking through the petition files. The late king seemed to use them as fire starters, but I have been reading through them this morning. They have proved to be enlightening. I feel the anger of the lower gentry and the towns toward the exactions of the bishops will be quite useful in getting our affairs in order." Looking over the top of his papers he gave notice to the young man standing next to Lord Treasurer. "I believe before we get down to business you have a relative in need of a job at the palace. "
The Lord treasurer made the introduction. "Your highness, this is my nephew Constantine. I believe he might make a good replacement for the Grand Chancellor, as he has worked in that office for many years and knows the duties. During the late unpleasantness he was unfortunately out of the city but he is skillful and intelligent and will give excellent service."
The king leaned back against the table with a slightly crooked smile. "Can you explain how a man with no sisters or brothers has a nephew? I checked." The lord treasurer put his hand on the chair and inhaled deeply. The king continued. "If we are going to work together, I expect absolute honesty with me. I am sure with your recommendation he will make an excellent interim chancellor but that will only be the case if I can trust what you say. By the way, you are going to marry the woman. You raise 5 children and live together twenty five years, it is a bit past time."
The Treasurer raised his hands in dismay. "Ministers may not marry sire"
The king laughed. "I will see that the bishop grants a dispensation. Which is more worthy of a church man than giving a blind eye for all those years"
The young Chancellor raised his hand a bit to get the kings attention. "I don't believe he will be in the mood for granting dispensations if he is in prison sire"
The king knocked on the table. "If the man wants to eat, he will sign all the dispensations I request."
The king returned to his paperwork. "The next order of business is what to do with the women and children of the former king's special guard. We can't just throw them on the town"
The Chancellor stepped forward. "My father and I were discussing the problem on our way here. There is St Olga's of the Western Hills as a place they might be sent as lay sisters. There is only one nun in the convent, and she must be very old by now. They might also be given certain rights as dowry, like 20 year leases on tenancies at low rents."
The king sat in the nearest chair with a weary gesture. "Explain your idea in a bit more depth"
The chancellor looked at both men cautiously. "it is a story from a long time ago, but I was just reading about it recently when the late king was at his wit's end over the perpetual quarrels between the queen, countess Neftchika and countess Lyubovnochka. The late king was looking for a way to bring peace back to the household."
The Chancellor paused a moment. The king gave him a gesture to continue. "Back in the days of the late king's father there was a favorite called Countess Prekrasvinka. She was supposed to be very pretty, very intelligent, but she was also famous for her vicious sarcasm and bad temper. She liked to smash crockery when she didn't get her way, and no one could handle the ferocity of her tongue. The king grew tired of her temper and banished her to a convent he set up for her in the western hill country along with 40 ill favored nuns to keep her company and named it after her patron saint. It is twenty days march away. It is quite far enough that these women should be no trouble, and the countess can have some more sacrifices to her spleen."
The king laughed. "That will be an excellent solution for now. What is next?"
The Chancellor walked over to a cabinet and began taking down piles of paper. "These are all the appeals made to the king. Most of the time he just signed off on whatever the old chancellor decided, but sometimes he liked to review them. The more interesting and salacious cases he liked to have argued in person." The Chancellor organized the paperwork and started working his way through the appeals. "Usually the old chancellor would expect a bribe from the defendant and a bribe from the plaintiff, but we can just escheat all the old chancellor's properties and decide these cases strictly on their merit."
The king said "We can give a pension to his woman, dowries to his daughters and divide up most of the rest of the properties among his sons. That way we will not have them scheming against us. People can forgive the loss of a parent far easier than they can forgive the loss of an inheritance. Just make sure the properties are distant from each other and more distant yet from the capital."
The Chancellor, Treasurer and king worked their way through the paperwork through most of the morning. They decided almost half the cases, and the chancellor said he would do further research on the remainder. As he was leaving, the king stopped in the doorway and said "We will be deciding the cases on their merits from now on, you understand. I will be watching you, and if I catch you deciding cases on a cash basis rather than by law, I will divide you in half and replace both halves of you with someone who is less of a bastard." The treasurer, his son the chancellor and the rest of the staff gave a sigh of relief at the king's departure.
The king marched to the dining hall, where he found his officers waiting for him as he took his place at the head of the table. Servants began bringing platters of food to the table as he sat down. He held up a hand to stop them, and made a prayer of thanksgiving before he allowed the food to be served. As dinner progressed, each of his lieutenants made reports in turn. All the legates and nuncios from the neighboring kingdoms had fled to the Cathedral for sanctuary, as had several important foreign merchants. The ghetto had sealed its gates the week before, but had finally opened them this morning. A representative of the Ghetto's board of directors was here to meet the king. There was a huge stir over the arrest of the bishop, and there was a delegation from the cathedral that wished to meet with the king as soon as possible. Soldiers had found the corpses of four female infants in various places, as well as three very young male children. There were at least five new red heads in the city brothels. They couldn't say for certain these were the children of the old king or not. There was a great deal of argument over where to say they were. The city watch was demanding back pay and there was a bit of disaffection in the king's troops as they hadn't been allowed to sack the city, which had been looked upon and as a perquisite of conquest. There was also a bit of grumbling over eating the dinner on stoneware, as opposed to gold and silver plate.
The king dealt with issues in turn. He decided to leave the merchants and the legates and nuncios alone. Messages would be passed into the cathedral that the king would like to meet with the legates in the next few days and that they would continue to have safe conduct. As for the delegation from the cathedral, he would meet with them in the throne room with a large contingent of soldiers in attendance. Mostly guys with scars and really tall ones with battered partisans. The king would meet with the Director from the Ghetto when he finished with the folks from the cathedral. He should wait in the Chancellor's office. It was decided to put the bodies of one of the infants and one of the small children on the gibbet over the Bailey gate, as well as one of the new girls in the brothels. Since the gate was so tall, it would be hard to say either way if these kids were the real kids or not. And as no one in the town had ever seen the children, it could be assumed that they were the right ones. The king had the head of the city watch sent for. He would meet him in the treasurer's office in three hours. After desert the soldiers reminisced of battles of yore and the plunder and fruits of bloody victory.
While one of the captains went off to prepare the reception for the priests from the Cathedral the king listened quietly as issues of moving men and equipment over distances and providing enough food for a long siege were discussed and analyzed and mistakes discussed with dark humor. Dinner over, he made final arraignments with his lieutenants and they marched in column to the throne room and took positions on either side of the throne as the king seated himself on it. The king then reached for the crown and wand of office that were resting on a pillow carried by a quiet servant who had appeared behind the chair. Everyone sat quietly as the king adjusted the crown on his head so it rested comfortably while the rod off office lay resting in his lap. The priests looked around the room as the soldiers held their partisans at parade rest, the sharp and shiny blades sparkling in the rays of the sun shining through the windows. Finally the king lay his broad sword across his knees, gripped the wand of office in his right hand and glared at the deputation of cathedral priests. Speaking quietly, yet forcefully like a mastiff growling at someone approaching his food bowl the king said "I believe you are here to question my authority to deal with blasphemy, embezzlement and sedition."
Most of the corpulent churchmen huddled together with their eyes looking around at the exits, now blocked by the interlocked partisans of the guards. One very tall, very thin churchman approached the king and looked him directly in the eye. The others, seeing his example, came up close behind him, but could neither copy his bravado, nor hide behind him effectively. "You gracious Highness, you may be unaware, but the church takes care of its own. If there is a churchman who needs chastisement, we will be the judge of his offenses and we will be the one responsible for his chastisement."
The king gave the thin churchman a careful look, much as a hunter would evaluate a lion. "And who might you be?"
He met the king's gaze with equal levels of calculations in his eyes. "I am Leonidas, Canon of the Cathedral responsible for administration. I am here to collect the bishop and bring him back to his necessary work. "
The king's face wrangled with a grimace as the king fought to suppress a grin. "It is my understanding that your priests are to be celibate, you are to assist the poor and live simply. Why is it that this man has twelve brats at state charge in the house of reform, that you travel about in gilded carriages, and when it comes to charity, your hands are only open when money comes in, but are fists when needy people address you? "
The canon glared at the king with disdain. "That is not your concern. The church lives transcendent of the civil power, and we are only subject to our own law. Our only responsibility is to God."
The king sat silently for a moment, then gave a signal to the soldiers who then banged their partisans on the ground and moved them to present arms. The king began to speak very quietly. "I too, am responsible to God for what I do." He stood up with his sword at his side. "But I am responsible to my kingdom as well. I make it my job that no criminal laughs at justice." He began to raise his voice. "We have here a hardened criminal who has mocked the laws of the city as he has mocked the laws of God." The king stood up and pointed his sword at the cannon, who stood his ground. "And you tell me that this man who has broken every law of religion is protected by the religion he profanes!"
The Cannon pushed the sword down with the annoyed expression he would give if one of the choirboys farted loudly during a service. "That really is none of your concern. We in the church have the benefit of clergy and to interfere with us is blasphemy. If there is a problem, we will take care of it. I am here to collect the bishop, not to listen to your tantrums."
The king pointed the sword to the door and spoke with the quiet hiss of the fuse on a piece of artillery "You shall not have him back. Count yourselves lucky that you retain your heads.. Now go, before I remedy that situation."
The cannon tried to stare the king down, but then thought the better of it and marched through the door with great dignity. The effect of which ruined by the other priests skittering along behind him. The king watched them go first with an angry expression, but when they were out the door his expression turned to one of satisfaction. Then he dismissed the guards. Meanwhile his lieutenants came from behind the throne and stood looking worried and awkward in front of him
The eldest of them stood in front and addressed the king "Antagonizing the church is dangerous, given our position here."
The king nodded in satisfaction. "Very true. It is a very dangerous game we play. We play for high stakes."
Another lieutenant said "You have put our heads on the table too."
The king gave a big smile. "True, we are playing a very dangerous game. But the cards are all marked, and I have the aces." Seeing their concern he continued. "In order to cement our position, we have to depend on the good will of the people in the town. What we have here is a glorious enemy. It is like a drama. People like to hiss at the villain, the monster who traduces maidens and steals from the poor. The poor cannon here makes a far better enemy for our purpose than that soft and mendacious bishop. He is pig headed, stiff necked, and wants only to defend the position of the church. The right or wrong of what the bishop has done is of no interest to him. And that is the story all those guards will carry to every tavern in the city. Their power lies in the goodwill of the people. And they have just cast that away like the contents of a chamberpot."
Another one said "The risks are so very high"
The king turned to him and said "You have been saying that since we started this adventure. It is true, the risks are high. The stakes are high, but gentlemen, so far as we have gone the rewards have been high as well. And when we finish this contest the rewards will be greater still. Now if you excuse me, I have some more meetings to attend to. I am going to grant some more rights to the residents of the ghetto, just to twist the cannon's tail a bit more. We will pay the arrears of the city watch. And I am going to spend the rest of the day going over the kingdom's books with the treasurer."
The youngest lieutenant asked "What do you know of finance sire?"
The king laughed. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. However, the treasurer likes to teach and I will play the role of attentive pupil I will listen closely to him like I listen closely to you, I will keep my eyes open and my mouth shut and I will drain information from that didactic old goose like a bunch of thirsty farmers going through a barrel of hard cider. Good day Gentlemen "