While Jana, Tilly, and Drake make plans for the Star Stone, what is happening with Jeanine?
I looked out at the gathered nobles of my duchy. Well, of my spare duchy, as Drake has taken to calling Gaunner when we’re alone. Forty-six men and women with strained smiles and wary eyes returned my gaze. Many of those faces were haggard, the result of answering my summons on such short notice.
Once I was certain I had everyone’s attention, I asked, “Is there anyone who doesn’t understand why you’re here?”
Once again, my gaze swept over the nobles, this time looking for any hint of confusion over my question. I saw resignation reflected in every face before me, but not one hint of confusion.
I gave a single nod and gave my own weary smile. “Good. I’m glad Olivia didn’t leave any titled morons to vex me.”
A nervous laugh ran through the nobles, as if they felt obligated to laugh at their new ruler’s lame joke. Only, I wasn’t joking.
“She left no morons, but she left at least two dozen idiots who had to be stripped of their titles and, in two cases, executed.”
The weak laughter stopped as if I’d flipped a switch. I thought that would get their attention.
“Despite rumors to the contrary, I didn’t enjoy performing that execution. Nor did I force Olivia to kill her mentor, Colin. The man did that all by himself.”
The heads of a few of the more astute nobles bobbed up and down in unconscious agreement. I noted who they were and mentally moved them to the top of my list for one-on-one meetings. Running one duchy is hard enough—especially when you were raised as a commoner. I was going to need all the help I could get if I had any hope of running two duchies.
“I won’t claim my people have rounded up everyone involved in the failed revolt, but the ones captured at Baron Chilton’s hunting lodge have proven extremely cooperative. I’m certain watching me execute their leader had something to do with that, but my interrogators have also administered quite a cocktail of truth drugs. I am as confident as it’s possible to be that none of you had anything to do with the revolt.”
I heard the quiet releasing of unconsciously held breath, followed by the rustle of clothing as the nobles settled into more relaxed postures. The sword they’d felt dangling above them disappeared with my words.
“I summoned you to Gaunner so you could hear those words directly from me. And to tell you that I am not planning a purge of the Gaunner nobility. Perhaps Olivia would have done as much to the Neert nobles, had she ever gained power over them. Having finally spent some time with her, I believe she’s ruthless enough to do something like that, but only if it was absolutely necessary. Because wiping out a major part of a duchy’s government for petty personal reasons is just plain stupid. Whatever else you can say about Olivia, she’s not stupid.”
Now that everyone was relaxed, I noticed most of the heads nodding in agreement. Good.
“Am I correct in assuming I have been adequately ruthless in putting down this revolt? Note, I said ‘adequately’ rather than ‘needlessly’ ruthless.”
Every noble nodded, most of them emphatically.
“Furthermore, I think my actions ever since I found myself thrust into the galactic limelight have demonstrated that, like Olivia, I am not stupid.”
It was kind of comical watching the rapidly nodding heads make a sudden shift to decisive shaking. Some of the nobles moved so quickly I wondered if they’d given themselves whiplash.
“I’m glad we’re all in agreement on both points. Trust me when I say that I would rather not be forced into further displays of ruthlessness. I’d much rather rule this duchy with intelligence and compassion. And, I’d much rather rule it with your enthusiastic cooperation. As such, I’ll be scheduling meetings with each of you so we can discuss the needs of your people and of your holding.”
I looked down for a moment and replaced my solemn expression with a smile. I’d practiced this smile with Drake until he agreed the smile was welcoming. When I raised my head again, I watched the nobles for their reactions. To my relief, my smile sparked real smiles in return.
“My assistant will contact you soon with your appointment time. Thank you for coming to Gaunner on such short notice. The palace staff will see to your every need while you are here.”
With one last smile, I turned and left the room.
Jeanine continues dealing with the political fallout over the failed revolt in Chapter 6, coming Monday.