Are you a RAPper or a RAPscallion?


The Prize is Not as Great as You Think: Chapter 1

1) An Audience with Father, the Prince

“We FitzRoy Perry’s have a responsibility to so many, and for which we get this as our reward." The man who spoke waved his right hand about to show he meant all the opulence that the castle that surrounded them provided.

He was a large man. Not in the sense of tall, though at one time, we're the paintings of his youth truthful, he had been taller than most.

No he was large in girth.

And he was aged. For he was no longer young, and years of extravagant living had shown its toll upon that frame.

Not many of his doctors would speak of such matters to him. For he was a prince more than he was a man.

He continued, "Do you boys not see how it all connects? We have certain duties and I know that neither of you like a good many of them very much, but they are our duties." Their father, for not only was he a prince, but he was their parent as well, cleared his throat. Often the last two or three years he seemed to have much stuck in his throat that needed such attention.

As a son of a prince, listening to his father speak at such times was part of his own duties, trials and tribulations.

"Now boys, you and a few others have to do these obligations for we have the original blood in our veins of the Conqueror. To think the same year that William the Bastard took over that little island to the west, we here in Almondy had our own conquest and so many do not give us our due. 836 years ago this next Saturday and the damn Archbishop is on me because you both said you've had enough and won’t appear in the procession.”

The three were in the very small throne room. The room that their father thought would intimidate them in a comfortable way. He sat in a gilt rimmed upholstered chair. Recently reupholstered for each year the Grand Prince decided he wished it done and the foam in the seat needed it as well. The Grand Prince’s weight forced that issue.

The room had three tall windows that looked over the inner courtyard of the Celebont Palace. The largest Palace in the capital of Almondy, and the home to the Perry family. Here, giant red draperies from the top of the windows, almost to the height of the twelve foot ceiling hung and framed them. Aside from their father’s throne the room was devoid of any other furniture, though there were still tall metal sconces for fat candles that could have given the room light. The sconces were unused now that gas lamps had been installed in all the rooms of the palace. The heavy gold plated floor sconces had yet to be removed since no one could decide whether to sell them, or melt them down.

The throne was atop three steps, and a little stool was placed in front of it should the Grand Prince choose to rest his feet upon it. Their father’s many illnesses caused him to use it more often than not. Across from the windows was a fireplace. There was nearly one in each room, though the palace also had radiators throughout now as well. Here, though, three large logs had been laid and were burning brightly.

Their father was not happy. The first FitzRoy Perry by name, Michael the Bloody Handed, had come to Almondy in the year 1066 with his vassals and retainers. A goodly number of men who thought that going west with William would surely lead to death.

No one could beat Harold, that was the wisdom of the day, and why would anyone want to? William had no claim. All fabrication and a toad’s turd if you asked Athelstan. He had but a short name, while his elder brother, heir to the throne and born of a noble lady, had a good long name. Reginald Baxter Simeon FitzRoy Perry. Athelstan Perry, had no extra cognomens since he was a bastard child. Though he reflected when the Grand Princess died, his father then had the courtesy to recognize him and declare his blood FitzRoy.

Athelstan was not a prince, though, and was only treated marginally respectfully by his brother Reggie. It had been Reggie’s idea to protest the yearly celebrations where the young men with FitzRoy blood and now he also lifted a ceremonial palanquin on their shoulders and carried it up the hill. The long hill. The steep long hill, from the Assembly Hall to the Celebont Palace.

Some said the road was steeper than the road in Scotland that led through the city of Edinburgh to the famed castle there. Reggie had gone in all ceremony to Scotland and seen for himself, then came back and assured all it was true. Almondy had a longer and steeper road. The Scots did not think anyone would threaten their castle any longer. Here, all Almondians could tell you how they were the only country in Europe that when Napoleon came knocking, almost a hundred years ago, he saw the Grand Prince and heard those famous words, “Piss off you little Runt!”

Seventeen days the foolish French did their best to assault the hill. Their cannon balls could not breach the walls that were fifty feet thick. The French soldiers became exhausted on the climb up to the Celebont Palace. It made it rather easy to pick them off.

Volleys of the Almondian’s own cannon and shots from their rifles destroyed thousands of the French. Napoleon sat down to sign a treaty ceding to the Principality what had been their rights since Michael the Bloody Handed had come and seized the throne and lands by treachery.

Athelstan knew he would tire as the French had, for this would be his seventh year in the ceremony if all were forced to take part again.

Almondy bordered the north of Switzerland. To the East was France and now Belgium. The Germanies were to the West, and finally the Netherlands to its North. Almondy was landlocked. Two great rivers flowed to the sea from the country and the French and Walloons, no one called them Flemings since all thought it much more hilarious to call them Walloons, would never try and stop their trade. An Almondian roused to anger, was not a pretty sight.

Such was the legend at least.

“Father, you have not marched in the Saint Michael’s Day parade for nearly forty years. It is a tradition that has long since fallen into disdain,” Reggie said.

Except that wasn’t true.

It was held in contempt in Reggie’s circle of nobles. The common people, Athelstan well knew, loved the festival. Especially the part where those of FitzRoy blood were pelted by almonds and tomatoes. Mostly, very overripe tomatoes.

Fortunately, only children under the age of fifteen were allowed to throw at the FitzRoy men. No one knew what had been thrown at the First Michael. (Some believed that it was balls of dung. Others that there had never been such a parade but it was a tale, made into legend, made into fact.)

The Almondian Conqueror had used subterfuge to come and kill his wife’s distant cousin who held the castle. It was much smaller than. No almonds in the eleventh century either. They had been brought in during the 1700s for a country called Almondy needed to have almonds the Grand Prince then, thought. Tomatoes had come to the Almondian farms at that time as well.

Prince Reginald continued, “We even wear clothes from the fifteen hundreds like the English. Not even our the clothes worn here at that time. Michael FitzRoy, who we know was not a bastard son of a king, just a bastard, though a knight, took the castle by subterfuge. When he left the castle after, as prince of these lands, he was pelted by the people, not when he was entering it.” (That was part of the legend, and not ever verified in fact. The first recording that there had been a parade came in the early thirteenth century, after Michael had been venerated as a great king. Athelstan was sure that when Michael lived, and if he had been pelted by dung whilst leaving the small keep here on top of the hill, no one then thought of him as saintly.

The Grand Prince responded to his eldest son, “True enough. But it is a tradition and the people need their traditions.”

“Father, this cannot be what was intended when the tradition started…” Reginald was a pill.

That his half-brother had not been killed by the radicals, despite three attempts, always left Athelstan perplexed. He had never discussed with the radical leadership how their failed attempts were so disappointing. They were a group that had started from three students he had met his first year at university. They griped at him as if he could change his father’s policies. Athelstan was not even in the succession because he was a bastard. A damn cousin was next in line, Gerry FitzRoy Perry who had moved to the country to become a farmer. A dairy farmer, up before dawn milking cows. The mere thought always bringing a smile to Athelstan’s face.

Athelstan had listened to everyone being mad about something for so long, back at university that he saw how it could be a thing of loyalty. He just took the money from his allowance, which he had found ways to augment, and gave those old friends some.

Well, a great deal actually. He wanted them to show with action what their words were. So many he knew spoke ill of the Crown and all that it did. He thought of his father’s reign and it had been marked by inaction, corruption and the exploration of personal pleasure. The Grand Prince of Almondy had lived the sybaritic life of Prince Edward of England, now King Edward, long before that monarch had thought to. Though as King, succeeding the eternally long lived Victoria last year, Edward was showing that he could put aside his princely ways and act like a ruler. The man wanted to be on the stage of the world as a great peacemaker.

Athelstan’s father never had wanted to be great at anything. Athelstan was of the opinion that Reginald would live as their father did, as a libertine. The Grand Prince, at nearly seventy, had three mistresses he took to his bed on different nights and fondled. Though from what the youngest of the three ladies said, that was all that he could do. She related the tales of her evenings otherwise for the press. The papers and reporters were quite titillated by thinking their old prince still virile. They also thought that Reggie was also just such a man.

Athelstan knew his brother was with little boys, well, the teenage boys that he favored. But Reggie knew some of what the people wanted and gave it to them as well. He courted three rich heiresses and paraded himself across the Courts of Europe. Reggie had bedded a handful or women to create his reputation though Athelstan knew his brother had little enjoyment of it. The next Grand Princess would be the mother of a land greater than Belgium or the Netherlands. The perfect buffer between France and Germany.

The choice of the next Grand Princess was something that royalty from all the lands of Europe wanted to influence. It was a shame that Napoleon did not survive, or his nephew, for a royal house in France would have been easier to negotiate a bride from than find a suitable daughter of some industrialist or politician.

“You very well know how the tradition started, and it is near as old as our family line, the oldest family in Europe. Only a male succeeds in the FitzRoy line and all our young men march in the procession to show they are willing to bear the insults of our people To show that they are honorable enough to lead them. Michael’s own hand wrote this tradition that started as he neared the tenth year of rule. (Athelstan knew that was a falsehood but it was now part of the ‘legend’) It allowed him to build an army from all the commons, else the peasants surely would have stood aside, even though they had ten good years under Michael. Without this humility they would have allowed the French to conquer us.

“And then the year after the French tried, some damn German pissant who thought he could be a king was at it. (It was true that when the First Michael ruled, in the 10th year of his reign a French Count attacked and in the 11th a German Freiherr.) We walk in the procession and carry the palanquin with the statue of Saint Michael, and it is not coincidence that it looks a lot like the First Grand Prince. You will be pelted by almonds and tomatoes. Or would you rather give the vote to all the men of the principality?”

They had kept that modern travesty away from the country. Which is why so much support had grown for Athelstan’s friends. Almondy was near the last country in all Europe to keep the vote in the hands of the powerful. Being born a noble, or elected to a high position in the church, and you could speak in the Assembly. And if you had the thousand crowns the Grand Prince required in rents from land, and only land, half of which money went to the Prince in taxes, could you take a seat in the Assembly. God forbid you were a merchant and did not have such land, for then the Grand Prince took seven of ten of every coin of profit. Having land rents of the thousand crowns or more and your taxes were reduced to the grand prince. It made a great difference. No one wanted to give up their lands.

The road to power was shifting, though. The new men in the Assembly had shown that. They were becoming scared at what the anarchists could do. Athelstan knew that he would have to make a correction there and take more leadership from them. Especially once they did succeed and kill Reginald.

Reggie wasn’t a bad brother. He never called Athelstan a bastard to his face though Athelstan, when spying on Reggie, had heard him remark so to his friends. Reggie made jokes at his expense. Athelstan had planned to eliminate Reginald long before that though. Athelstan had planned Reginald’s death for a very long time. Bastards had become Prince before in Almondy. It was the blood of FitzRoy that was important. Only a more recent Princesses had gotten a weak Grand Prince to deny the throne to those born bastard's.

The commoners even believed that Michael the Bloody Handed was a bastard, though there was no proof whether his parents were wed or not. Michael had added the FitzRoy surname when he had seen the castle on top of the mountain and thought how should he take it. Firstly, that famous prince came as a beggar to the gates and was given a meal and saw all inside the keep. Saw that the castle had few weaknesses, the only place really to take it was at its gate and then the best way was from inside. Michael, family legend said, had more men outside then they had inside.

How he took the castle next was treachery. The night before he came to take the castle he sent near three quarters of his men up the road to the castle and short of the wall, they slipped a few feet down the side of the mountain road and cowered, covered by leaves and branches waiting for the signal. Michael with his fellow knights, for he was a knight, the son of a knight, came with an icon of Saint Michael on their shoulders, just as Athelstan, Reginald and the other FitzRoys were to carry in the pageant.

Approaching the gates as penitents, and as it was the feast day of Saint Michael that Michael the Bloody Handed came, the gate was raised. Here the twenty knights held the gate open as the rest of their band came and seized the keep. Michael spared the women and children, the old and those who did not fight. The rest were put to the sword.

Soon enough, during the first ten years of his reign, Michael attracted other men to Almondy Those who were not rewarded by William but had helped him at Hastings, or those others who should have gone and had not, or those who saw no future after losing alongside Harold.

They came to these lands speaking Norman and Saxon, Frank and Jute, and from these Michael the Bloody Handed knew that one language must guide them, as well as one culture. His. Frankish speech and culture took over in an area that grew large, near 150 miles at its base and three hundred miles in length.

Athelstan said quietly to Reginald, “Brother, you know how you often say the Grand Prince calls the tune and we but dance the jig? Well this is one of those times. You and I can sit here another hour, or two, or three and argue with father. And I assure you, I can see his face, nothing will change his opinion, or his command. Our cousins already come from all over Almondy and ready themselves for the ceremony. One day you will no doubt have a similar conversation with your son.”

Athelstan then said louder, “But father, it is not the law, only tradition that the peasants place icons to represent their societies on the altar we carry. It is only tradition, not law, that hundreds of wreaths are made by the women of such societies and that they too are placed on the litter we must carry. That is what Reginald complains of. Eight FitzRoy men are hard pressed to carry such a weight.”

Last year they barely made it up the road. One of Athelstan's pet attacks coordinated by his tame anarchists was to overload the palanquin. Not that he did not also mind his position as a carrier, but he did not think the weight was going to be so much. The damn fools were boasting in the taverns that the Crown Prince and other nobles would surely fall before reaching the gates of the palace this year.

Many thought it an ill omen if a prince fell and often the reigns of such princes had later been marked by troubles. Though historians would say the greatest of Grand Princes, Michael the Seventh, whose reign had last forty-eight years and who had fallen every year that he had carried the palanquin. Almost as if he had done so on purpose so that when he did reign he would break the myth. It had been the middle of the seventeenth century which saw his reign.

Michael the Seventh was the only man the principality ever thought could actually become a king. That would have been something.

And something that had been clamored at in the Assembly also since Belgium and the Netherlands both had kings, and were both smaller nations. Why did not Almondy have a king as well? Their father told them often not to wish for that headache. Being a Grand Prince was difficult enough he would say.

Athelstan had no idea what their father meant by it, for a King or Grand Prince of Almondy both had the same job function. Rule and discuss with the Assembly how best to rule. The Assembly though still did not have a strong hand. They had a great voice, but the tax collectors worked for the Grand Prince. Thus the money went into the Grand Prince’s vaults.

The army was paid for by the Grand Prince. As were any bright ideas that the Assembly came up with. When they either tried to raise money, or spend it, it had to be something that the Grand Prince agreed to. If money was involved, and money was involved in nearly everything, the Grand Prince decided to be involved in everything the Assemblymen talked about.

Athelstan knew that it would be a great problem if his Anarchists continued unabated. He was slightly concerned that when they did succeed in killing Reginald, they might think themselves so powerful that they would dictate terms. Athelstan was not going to allow any terms be dictated to him after he brought down cousin Gerald, Reginald’s successor. He would not allow any to think they owned him.

Athelstan did not want his subversives to realize he was using them as he took Almondy from a Grand Principality to a Kingdom proper. If they figured it out they would try and obstruct him as well and continue their plans to make the country a republic.

Athelstan knew he had to kill one of the three old friends whom he started in the professional Anarchy business. They needed to remember who was the leader, and pay heed to the future king.

The full plan was get rid of Reginald, bring cousin Gerry to power as the heir to the Grand Prince, but highlight how the Grand Principality was anachronistic. Then in time when his father died, and he, the valued counselor to the Prince and Grand Principality would be shunted aside after a coronation of cousin Gerald Henry William FitzRoy Perry. The Assembly, and his allies there, would propose a change in the laws of succession. It would allow Athelstan Perry to become Grand Prince. To be the heir of his cousin.

Having Gerald abdicate after that would pave the way for his reign. Then Athelstan would kill the second of his three insurrectionist friends and take complete control of the organizationIt was all so beautiful and would work, if only the fools could first kill Reginald.

Having Reginald and their father at odds until his brother was assassinated was just one thing he did to show all of Almondy how useful he was. Athelstan made peace between the Grand Prince and his heir each time they fought. And Athelstan's friends always leaked it to the press.

Athelstan of course had set up the issue about the pageant so their would be another fight. He had suggested to Reggie that they should not carry that damn statue of Saint Michael as they had done every year. That it had weighed so much that Reggie almost passed out last year. Though Athelstan had also ensured his brother was drugged and doped the night before the previous pageant. Reginald was not at his best when they marched in the procession. Athelstan had also paid a bounty to many of the teenagers who were tossing almonds and tomatoes to hit the Crown Prince, and not the others.

A good joke. Then today he had reminded his brother how people were making plans to load the palanquin to even worse then the previous year. Athelstan was nearly ready to place a bet that Reginald would disappear the day of the festivities. Other Crown Princes had done so in previous years. They had paid for cousins to stand in their place. Those Princes had bad reigns as well when it came their time. That was something that Michael the Seventh had not tempted fate to see if he could disprove. He even had made it law that should a Prince not attend and take one of the eight spots that were offered to all of the royal line to take, they should move down one notch in the succession. It made it an incentive that they take their place. In the last 200 years since, no Prince who was first or second in line to the crown ever missed the festival of carrying the statue of St. Michael on his litter.

Here it was late September and the festival a week away. Then harvest would come. The plans to eliminate Reggie needed to come to fruition soon for then they could have an installation in the spring of Gerald as the new heir. That would also give Athelstan time to prepare his cousin to abdicate when necessary. Time before that abdication to get the Assembly, which retired from the beginning of the Festival till after the New Year festivities, a chance to draft the legislation for Athelstan to have a place in the succession.

He had to get rid of their father as well, of course. That would be easily done. The man had gout, he had diabetes, he had a poor heart, and twice had heart attacks already. He ate like a glutton, and drank like two fish. Athelstan knew he need do nothing but wait, and his father would implode.

It would be a good lesson for him, for Athelstan had to control his desires. Thus he never had more than two drinks in a day. He did not eat more than one plate of food at a sitting, and regularly exercised his body. He would strive to add patience to a list of virtues, but only after he had his half-brother dead, and the other particulars taken care of.

Crown Prince Reggie thought that sitting a horse,  a boy, or woman if he had to, was all the exercise he required. He already had put on those extra pounds that showed he would definitely take after their father. Reggie was a Prince whom the populace had been making many jokes of the last five years.

Another action that could trace its roots to Athelstan. Friends at the newspapers, or friends who had such friends, and told inappropriate jokes so that they would transform to the printed page.

Athelstan wanted to instigate regime change but he had to be careful about it. He had a copy of the Communist Manifesto and knew that there were dozens more copies of the book in Almondy. Karl Marx was a not hero of the peasants, but he could be. Easily.

And that would not do. There had to be a balance, as there was in England, between the power that was given the people, and the power that was retained by the crown. Which meant that Athelstan would take very seriously the people's grievances the minute that his brother was blown up.

Though the press had been eager to note after each of the three previous attempts to kill Prince Reginald, Athelstan had risen in the Assembly to speak to the other members about the grievances of the people. He said that something needed to be done for attacks on the Crown were highly irregular and needed to be stopped. He had even mentioned that the monies taxed on all who were not Assemblymen should be lowered to the same rate as those in the Assembly.

He had told them he had mentioned that to his father. That instead of seventeen palaces that the royal family maintained, forty two castles, four palaces and two hunting lodges, would allow them all to live at a lowered taxed rate.

Some of the palaces and castles were now quite obsolete.Artillery was now quite strong, not to mention how effective Machine Guns were. The army suggested  maintaining twelve castles and palaces for defense with such modern weaponry held by their neighbors.

The Grand Prince had been furious with that idea, which was more than reason to speak of it in the Assembly. Other cuts elsewhere could probably reduce the rate even further, but Athelstan was not going to cut his nose to spite his face as that saying went. He would do a great deal to become King of Almondy, but he would not relegate himself to anything other than the richest man in Almondy. Their father had wealth, hidden in banks in Almondy and in neighboring Switzerland, Germany and France that was accounted to be close to three hundred million crowns. That was not a small fortune at all. Athelstan was sure his older half brother also had access to extensive funds. At least five million.

Athelstan was given an apartment to live in. It was nice. Atop the Ritzlauer Hotel, the second nicest commercial lodging in Steilenberg, the capital of the country. If you did not have your own palace, the Ritzlauer Hotel was nice. Reginald had his own palace in the Capital, and two others stood vacant here  in Steilenberg. If Athelstan had been legitimate, then perhaps he would have had one also. Every other legitimate prince, son of the Grand Prince, had always had one. But Athelstan was made to know he was a bastard by such contempt.

Such slights he just allowed to accrue for it would not be long before his revenge would be conducted.

In the conversation about the festival the Grand Prince stared at his sons, and then nodded, “I shall make it a ruling that only five of the societies, and five of the ladies auxiliaries, may place items on the palanquin. How does that sound? Reginald, you will do this thing. You know full well that should you not, you will never be Grand Prince and that fool cousin, farmer Gerald shall follow me.”

“Yes father, I know. Of course I shall carry the statue of St. Michael for the festival. And I shall be the first in the field at harvest and all my other duties. It is just wearisome.”

“Remember the compensations,” the Grand Prince said. “This will all be yours one day. And soon I should think, as there are no cures for all the ailments I have. Least of which I have never heard of a man cheat death when that gentleman comes to call. Be he Prince or Commoner.”

His father fixed his gaze away from Reginald to himself, “Now Alan,” their father would not call him the name that his mother had bestowed on him, “The oldest son of Baron William is about to turn sixteen and should take a place holding the palanquin. He is a big lad.”

Athelstan was ready for that, though Baron William’s son was big. “Yes, he turns sixteen in three weeks, long after the Festival and by tradition he cannot carry the litter until that age. Only has the tradition been bent for the direct sons of the Grand Prince, not his cousins. I may not be a legitimate son, father, but I am your son and tradition has long held that the bastards of the FitzRoys make up the additional carriers. Even the first fifty to sixty years of the parade more bastards of our forebears carried the statue then did the Prince’s true sons.”

“Ha, the first Michael was a great deal more generous with his seed then even I, ha!” The Grand Prince thought he was the first Michael on occasion. Athelstan thought that their father might also be a bit delusional and had asked the doctors to ensure that if there were signs of dementia, that they keep such quiet. That rumor then had begun to spread about the Palace and Steilenberg. Sometimes the game of overthrowing the legitimate side of his family did not require his hand and was very rewarding.

The Grand Prince continued, “Well I have already promised Baron William, for he has long been a favorite of the court and I desire to return a favor… Why do you look so cross? Are you not given everything that you need? Do I ask much of you? I could have left you in your mother’s care and you would never have the luxuries I provide you with.”

Athelstan said, “No sire, but I should remind you that I am your son as well as Reginald. I have rights defined in our laws and constitution as set down by all the Grand Princes before you. I have as much FitzRoy blood as does Reginald. You sir use me ill if you deny me a place in front of the peasants the few times a year I do appear. Baron William should not press you on this for my honor will be placed into question. I do not think he wants that for himself or his boy.”

Athelstan was considered a very good swordsman. The soldiers of the army and the guard challenged him often to see if they could learn from him, or fight as well as he did. Only a handful ever could. The Grand Prince sometimes had enemies that had grown to big for their homburgs. Three Athelstan had been ordered to kill by the Grand Prince, using a duel as the means. Something that only his father and he knew. Something that had first brought to mind that perhaps Athelstan could engineer a change of succession that would include him.

If one looked at the other governments of the world, bastards, women, the most tenuous link to a throne could cause a new dynasty. It was time for that, and Athelstan was hard at work bringing it about. “You will not challenge my cousin to any duel,” his father said.

“Sire, I did not say I would. Should he forget these foolish notions about jumping his son ahead of tradition. By extension do you think I did not know the age of the boy and that this would be my last year to carry the palanquin. Why did I devote my mind so hard to finding a solution that Reginald and you could agree upon?”

“Very well. I shall tell Baron William to wait. I do not think he will be friendly to you in the Assembly. He heads your party, does he not?” The Grand Prince asked.

“He heads the Conservatives, father. Something that almost every man who carries any Perry blood holds true to,” Athelstan always said such not agreeing that he was himself a Conservative. That party was not going to keep them on pace to advance with the rest of Europe. Already they had fallen behind, for they had no colonies in any other part of the world. Not having a port had hindered the race for raw materials.

Instead Almondians had gone to the many colonies of the other nations and carved out places for themselves that their allies and enemies had not thought about. Almondians were great craftsmen in wood, and in almost every colony that had something the Crown needed, there were carpenters from Almondy.

When other craftsmen who might be better arrived in such colonies that were not Almondian, then there always seemed to be some sort of scuffle and bones were broken. Nine times out of ten the Almondian craftsman seemed to be unscathed and the other hurt so terribly that they decided to leave. The times when the Almondians were hurt, that situation was reversed within six months when several more Almondian craftsmen would arrive to reaffirm their leadership as carpenters for the world’s colonies.

It was quite a position for if you need a house, or a building, you would hire an Almondian to build it. It gave the Almondian ex-patriots good footholds wherever they needed to be. A policy that the Grand Prince and his ministers carried out no matter who seemed to have the most seats in the Assembly. A policy that Athelstan was quite interested in. There too, he had the ministers in charge of it report to him. He kept his fingers in many pies.

The most important pie though was the army. Which his father nominally headed but asked Reginald to attend all the functions when his older brother had matured of age if not of ability. Athelstan had volunteered to represent the Crown at all the military parades, maneuvers, and camping activities. Leaving his brother to enjoy all the parties in Steilenberg, dressing in his fine uniforms.

“I do so love the Conservatives. You give them privileges, invite them here to the royal palace twice a year, or to a hunt, and then they are loyal for life. I tell you that you can make any Liberal one by giving them a title and telling them the land that they purchased already is their land grant. They just fold over. Any foolish ideas about giving the commoners a vote is gone. And what would they vote for? Those university friends of your's Alan know very well that once you are qualified to elect someone to the Assembly and you do so, nearly everything that they debate is worthless. Once they thought to limit my taxes, I crushed that right enough…” The Grand Prince was lost in his remembrances. This could go on for some time.

Alan had told his father that he would let many in the Assembly know of his idea for lessening the tax all round, but that it would seem then to threaten the small power that the entitled had. That they would never do for Almondians seemed to be anything but altruistic. Perhaps the non-enfranchised were altruistic, but those who had everything did not want to give it up.

That was the angle that Athelstan worked, for there were easily nine who should have the vote and didn’t of every ten. And that was not including women. He was a martyr to all their needs, for ladies all could see how Reginald was treated so favored, and Athelstan was the hard worker. Once he was King that would change. He might even give all a few more powers, for in this day and age, who couldn’t. England, Germany, the others all had given some rights to the peasants. France the worst of the lot. If most of their western border had not been shared with France, then perhaps they might keep their crushing hold of power. But even those damn Americans clambered still about being free.

The damn American Ambassador knew not to spout his words about liberty except at the invitation of the Crown. Yet every so often those who worked in the American Embassy could not help themselves.

“Father, are we done? I have to prepare myself if I am going to haul that hunk of metal up the dame hill again this year,” Reginald said.

“Yes, we are. You will remember that Michael the Seventh’s son was still carrying the statue until he was past sixty. I think you won’t have to do it much longer, but best you choose one of these women to marry and ready a princess for the throne. You must produce a son as well, else that nincompoop Gerald will be your heir. Thirty and wants to be a farmer. Do you know he had the audacity to come and ask for a loan to improve his lands.”

Athelstan had urged the man to do so, “Father, he has forty acres and is the second in line for the throne. His house has all of two bedrooms and his barn, perhaps, can hold four cows for milking and two or three horses. I should think that a man so close to the throne would have an allowance, or larger inheritance.”

“My father cut his cousin off. Father was to marry Gerald’s great aunt. She was a looker I've been told, though there are now no pictures of her anywhere in the principality. This was after the war, you understand. Father was all set to rebuild our country and make it stronger since we had done so well against Napoleon. Every concession we had ever had to fight for was restored us. We are the biggest in every direction we have ever been because of what my father negotiated in Frankfurt. That though was where Gerald’s aunt met the American. Some part of their delegation to the peace treaty event. Instead of returning to Steilenberg with my father and his uncle, she ran off to America. No one knows what became of her then. The man who took her was dismissed from government service of course for it strained our relations with the United States all the years my father ruled as Grand Prince. He also did his best to beggar that side of the family. Not hard to do since Gerald’s father gambled, and he no longer had any claim on the tax monies. They are not poor, for I am sure that Gerald has some few thousand crowns a year to support him.”

That Athelstan was not sure of. If the man had two crowns a week after everything was paid for to buy a decent meal or a good Almondy Ale, he would be surprised. Almondy Ale was plentiful and actually tasted good. It was noted for the taste of almonds and its cheap price. What better way to keep the peasants happy then cheap ale?

Gerald was poor and would be offered ten thousand crowns to abdicate to Athelstan when the time came. That would make everything perfect. Why would Gerald wish to stay for Athelstan had taken him to the Assembly some few times and shown him how hard it was to listen to the debates. He had shown Gerald all the most difficult things that were discussed. Things Athelstan said had to be attended to else the whole of the country would fall apart.

Reginald said, “I shall marry father. Perhaps even your favorite, Margaritte. She is a looker and well educated. You have always wished that I marry her.”

Athelstan could not blame his brother. That was who he had chosen to be the Grand Princess. Athelstan had great plans for her, and she was beautiful as Reginald had said. She was also the sister of Baron William who led the Conservatives and would make any change necessary to the succession laws if his sister were to become Grand Princess.

“I think brother that you have no chance there. Your proclivities with the many ladies of Steilenberg has sure to have been brought to her notice.” And if not Athelstan could ensure she found out about the ladies and the boys Reginald liked.

“While there are other ladies, and a few of them Princesses, who would not mind presiding over the court here and have little discomfort should they encounter any of your former lovers. Princess Margaritte, I think, should not like the shame of such an encounter.”

The Grand Prince nodded, “He’s right you know. Margaritte is my favorite, but you won’t do for her, more’s the pity. Probably be the best women we would find for the role no matter how hard we look. She might even like someone like Gerald. He is even a couple removes further away then you are, I think, from her bloodline.”

“I’ve also looked to ladies other than those of the family, sire. I can journey again to the court of Wilhelm and see what creatures he has to offer.” Reginald said.

Their father cringed. “Not another German. Your mother was German. The French would think us firmly in their camp were we to increase that blood into the line. If you were to go yo Berlin best to take a French diplomat or two with you so that you can look and discard the Frauleins. If they think you want to marry a German Princess, and I know there are more Princesses in Germany  than  in France, we will be having the war of 1870 again. We sent sixty thousand men to that fiasco and the French have not forgiven us since. Marrying a French woman would do wonders for us. If not a Princess, they have Duchesses, Countesses, and they don’t behead them any longer.”

Reginald laughed at that old joke. He always did. His mother had been part of the reason that they had joined the Prussians in that last war and helped Germany become a nation. Bismarck had pimped Reginald’s mother to the Grand Prince and tied them up in an alliance. The French had not been any threat to anyone but the Prussians. It would have been smarter to have been neutral, but in Europe now, there was very little ability to remain neutral. Germany looked to Almondy now as something that should cleve to their motherland.

Except the true motherland for most of Almondy would have been France. The first FitzRoy Perry was French, and the lord who he took the keep from was also French. That more than half of the land that the country grew to become may have been German was not as important as Steilenberg having been French 800 years before. Even if they had given it a German name. They were an amalgamation and very proud of it.

That they were a buffer between so many countries, the crossroads of Europe, gave every Almondian pride. It also meant that some countries could march right through them to get at another enemy. Part of the job of being the Grand Prince was to ensure that the other nations stopped thinking that. Marrying one great lady from one power, or marrying another was not only good business to keep all nations at bay, but also now had the royal family tied to every other royal family that Europe boasted.

It meant that even as a legitimized bastard, Princesses were even interested in Athelstan. Princess Margaritte for instance had actually spoken to him nicely. Especially as he did not sleep with any woman across Almondy that had taken his fancy. He had his affairs, but no one seemed to care, or have reported on them in the papers.

“Father, if you please, we have discussed the parade and the festival. I do not think we shall get anywhere if we spend time talking to Reginald about his love life. Or the lack of a Crown Princess for our country. Perhaps if you did to him what you so often threaten me with. That he must marry by spring else you will cut him off.”

Reginald scowled, but the Grand Prince said. “You have suggested that before and the Assembly has even begun to advise it. Yes. I must consider such an action. Reginald, find a bride by Christmas else I shall listen more closely to your brother about this. Now go boys. You must each have something to do.” Athelstan nodded and then Reginald turned and they made their way out of the room. The Grand Prince calling for servants who would help him to his quarters.

“Well done. By Christmas he will forget once more. It is two years you have told him to cut me off and he never has, nor will he.”

Athelstan forced a laugh. “Yes, but if I did not say it, we would still be there. And he would surely talk to you of every woman in France for your bride. You must make inroads after the Festival and find a bride. The Principality requires it and father is right, you are not getting any younger.”

“But no German?” Reginald asked his advice.

“No. Bavarian perhaps, but no German. Though hurry if you desire that. I think Bavaria will be swallowed up by Wilhelm as well. They have a voracious appetite. Actually a Bavarian might be the only woman the French will allow you of Germanic stock. They may think that such an alliance with them, and pressure by us, could cause the Bavarians to withstand the Germans. They would be wrong I am sure, but the Bavarians have to know that once Germany wants them, they will disappear. Their own heritage and culture and traditions all gone to the religion that Wilhelm makes of this new Germanic power. That is the danger against us for more than a third of our people have Germanic blood. We have a great deal of Germanic blood Reggie. All those German Princesses so many times.”

“Yes, and we also have French blood you will recall too, as well as English, and Dutch and Danish, Flemish, I could go on.”

Athelstan laughed, “Yes you could. I take my leave of you and go to meet with the General in charge of the parade route. He wants to tell me the same as he did last year. How many men he will have. Where he will set up the stands for people to sit, all that he has made plans for. Tonight at the Rathskellar?”

“Yes, at Nine, right?” Athelstan nodded knowing his brother would say all he wanted was two drinks and then order a second dinner and drink ten or twelve giant mugs. It was an image that made Reginald beloved by the drunks of Steilenberg and scared all the rest of his future subjects. Just as Athelstan had planned.

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