After the coronation, Belgrave spent the next few weeks reviewing the old laws of Tanarad and learning the customs of politics. He had never before held a position of such importance and many of the political procedures were completely new to him. As he more confident in his decisions, he began to rely less on the recommendations of his council, although he still listened to their reasoning.
As a nation, Tanarad was rebuilding rapidly. Now that the Barbidons were no longer in charge, farmers ventured back into their fields and the late harvest provided enough food for the winter with enough surplus to use as seed the following year. Towns and villages also changed dramatically. They were no longer the drab downtrodden villages fearful of angering the Barbidons, but seemed more vibrant and alive now that people were free to conduct their own business.
The autumn flew by and soon the blue pollen stalks dropping from the male lendi trees signaled the start of the winter season. They were one of the few types of trees known to have two distinct sexes and Belgrave found them attractive because of their very noticeable differences.
The days grew shorter and colder, and by the end of the month of Hildes, the rain had turned to snow. Belgrave enjoyed the snow. It slowed the world around him since people stayed indoors and did not venture out as often.
Belgrave was not surprised by the lack of a Christmas holiday and did not try to explain it to them. They would not understand the religious holidays of his world. Other than their devotion to the fulfillment of prophecy, he could not tell if they had a religion or if their ‘Creator’ was their deity. However, being in a strange new world certainly complicated his personal religious beliefs. Despite their lack of Christmas, they did have a new year’s celebration.
A few months later, the days began to warm up and by now, Belgrave was quite used to his normal routine as King. He met weekly with his council to discuss various aspects of the kingdom.
On one such day, the fifth day of Pelthe, King Belgrave was lost to his own thoughts while the council discussed the unprecedented budget surplus. They were trying to decide whether to spend it on internal improvements such as defense and city maintenance or on another project. Eukil suggested creating an army to liberate lands beyond Tanarad from the Barbidons, but he had been derided by the rest of the council and remained silent the rest of the meeting. According to the others, defense spending would provide immediate results and domestic spending would create more long-term jobs for skilled laborers. Either way, they seemed to think that a budget surplus was a big problem and that spending it in some way was the only thing that would fix it.
Belgrave had not made up his own mind on the issue, but his final decision would rely on several factors. He still wondered what he needed to do to fulfill the next prophecy. Jun Joon had told him to do whatever comes his way, but had not yet needed to travel beyond Tanarad and rarely even left Amehtana. He realized the discussion in the council would probably continue for several days and soon lost interest in the matter.
While the others continued bickering among themselves, Belgrave tried to decide what new things he would describe to Naiya’Nal that night. She really liked to hear about things of his world since she had never seen them. He had narrowed down his options to penguins, pathogens, and maple syrup, when a messenger suddenly interrupted the meeting. “King Belgrave, a ship has been spotted entering the bay!”
The surprised council members questioned the messenger. “How can it be?” Rodroz asked. “Tanarad has no seaworthy vessels; not to mention, it’s the na’karden mating season. To sail far from land now would be suicide.”
King Belgrave stood and addressed the messenger. “What do you know about this ship?” he asked.
“It is a galley armed only for defense,” the messenger stated. “It flies the banner of Nerak and lists to one side as if damaged. It will reach the dock within an hour.”
King Belgrave thanked the messenger and sent him on his way. The council members were all silently contemplating what this ship could mean. Finally, Neaji stood up and addressed King Belgrave. “This can only be one of two things. Either this is a diversion of the Dark Wizard trying to lure us into his plan, or it really is from Panei.”
“Nevertheless, a ship has been spotted,” King Belgrave replied.
They left the throne room and walked to the dock to watch the ship dock. The flag was indeed the yellow of Panei with the orange chevron of Nerak. The ship was low and leaning to the side, the effect of a large crack. The ship should have sunk, but the reinforced timbers had not yet given way and still maintained their buoyancy. Commander Sidrahkir had soldiers board the ship as soon as it docked and they brought the sailors before King Belgrave.
One of them bowed and spoke. “I am Ikaro, and on behalf of Kings Anou of Nerak, Vircto of Vernon, Hevman of Taor, and Liomanel of Pia, I have braved many hazards to request the aid of Tanarad in Panei.” He handed King Belgrave a sealed parchment. “I bring terms of endearment, alliance, and restitution should you choose to assist our deliverance from the Barbidons.”
King Belgrave broke the four seals, opened the parchment, and began to read. They were offering gold, workers, and just about anything else he could want for his assistance. He smiled as he realized that a good response to this appeal could solve the council’s budget surplus problem. He decided to announce it later in front of everyone.
“Ikaro,” King Belgrave said, “I will contemplate this request and give an answer tonight. I extend my hospitality for the duration of your stay in Tanarad. Commander Sidrahkir will provide you and your men with lodging and any supplies and provisions you may need.”
Ikaro bowed and then he and the sailors were escorted away by Commander Sidrahkir.
That evening, King Belgrave held a feast to welcome the envoy from Panei. Shortly before the desert, Ikaro stood up and addressed King Belgrave. “Great King, this is, by far, a magnificent feast, better than many I have attended, but, pleasantries aside, I must know if you have any intention of leaving behind the grand magnificence of these pleasures and aiding Panei in our time of need.”
The room was quiet and watching intently as King Belgrave stood up and looked at Ikaro. “I am intrigued by the timing of your request for aid,” he said, “especially since a current subject of much debate among the highest circles of this kingdom has been whether to journey out and assist the rest of the world or remain in Tanarad and look only to our own defense. I understand that in light of previous events, such as my leading Tanarad to victory against the Dark Witch Narva and the Barbidons of her army, other lands are now seeking the same freedom we now enjoy. It is my belief that to deny freedom to them that want to be free is just as evil as enslaving them. As King of Tanarad and the expected fulfiller of the next two prophecies, my answer is yes, Ikaro, emissary of Panei, we will go to Panei, and as surely as the four kings of Panei request it, we will help rid their lands of the Barbidons.” Ikaro smiled and the crowd applauded as King Belgrave sat down.
“Nice speech,” Naiya’Nal whispered to Belgrave. “The people always love to see a king take action against evil. Look at your council though.” He turned his head. The council members were the only ones not celebrating his announcement. Several were talking quietly among themselves and others had become silent and preoccupied with their thoughts.
“I’ll find out why, tomorrow,” he whispered back to her.
The following day, they began preparations to sail to Panei. Since Tanarad had no naval vessels, they began building ten well-armored galleys that could each carry seventy-five soldiers. They would choose the soldiers from the thousands of volunteers already waiting outside the city that morning. King Belgrave ordered Commander Sidrahkir to start training them with instructions to pick out the best soldiers among them.
When King Belgrave finally sat down with the council in the afternoon, he was already tired. The council sat in silence for a few moments. King Belgrave finally broke the silence. “What happened last night?” Belgrave knew that Naiya’Nal was hiding somewhere where she could listen. She was an adept intelligence gatherer when it came to uncovering hidden motives and would later tell him if she discovered anything of importance.
Neaji stood up and looked around at the other council members before facing King Belgrave. “You made an important decision without consulting your council,” he accused. “None of us believe your plan is going to work. Our army does not have commanders capable of leading our men to other lands. This will be the death of our soldiers, a waste of resources, and Tanarad will be left with no defenses against the Dark Wizard.”
King Belgrave was ready with a reply. “I sat here yesterday while you discussed a budget surplus and I was disgusted that you were unable to agree on any course of action. I may not know much about your world, but a budget surplus where I come from is a sign of success, not the prelude to failure you make it out to be. You claim we need to spend more on defense, but we have already increased the budget for defense spending twice this year. You claim that we need to create more jobs with domestic projects, but a budget surplus even after decreasing the tax rate is a sure sign that there are plenty of jobs and that the economy of Tanarad is prospering. Your land is flourishing, and yet you look the other way and act as if it were a stagnant wasteland. All too often your opinions disagree and you cannot give solid advice. Even now, the only thing that you all agree on is that you all disagree with my making a decision without your input. You think that I am taking away your power and authority, but I have not taken away anything. I had this council elected to assist me when I became king only because I had never ruled a nation. The only power or authority you have is to provide me with advice when I wanted it. You have twisted this position and now think that you should be making the decisions for me. I tell you, you are wrong to think you have the same power as the king you serve. I will give you a choice. You can serve me for the purpose the council was created or you can leave.”
Neaji sat down in astonishment at King Belgrave’s outburst. Was it true that they had no power or authority? None of them could accept this, but they knew better than to argue with the king. Since King Belgrave had already given them the option to leave, there was nothing keeping him from having them forcibly removed, or worse, executed. They would have to discuss this amongst themselves later when he was not around. Perhaps they could think of a way to take away the king’s power.
After giving the council some time to absorb what he had just said, King Belgrave sat down and leaned back in his throne. “Anyway,” he argued, “my decision is actually a compromise of both arguments and most of the surplus will still be spent on defenses and other domestic projects.”
He suddenly remembered one of their arguments against his plan so he sat up and looked around at the council. “I don’t understand what you meant by saying our commanders are incapable of leading the army. I have fought beside Commander Sidrahkir and I know he is a capable commander regardless of the location of battle.” King Belgrave stood up. “However, if it will ease your fears, I will lead the army myself and leave the five brothers in my place. The five of you can remain in luxury here while the rest of us are out serving the world.” Before he offended the council members even more, King Belgrave excused himself and left the room.
Naiya’Nal met Belgrave outside. “I do not like the idea of leaving these men to rule in your place,” she said. “They are ambitious and will not act wisely.”
“That is why I have to leave you here,” Belgrave replied. “Besides, I do not know what awaits us in Panei and I won’t risk endangering my queen.”
Naiya’Nal scowled. “We can discuss this later.”