They presented me with the elaborately decorated proclamation – signed by all three of them – that declared my duchess-hood, and appended thereunto was a description of the boundaries of my realm in profoundly tedious detail.
I didn’t really have time to read it because of the party that broke out at that point, but as best as I could gather from one brief glance, my duchy lay somewhere in what is now Sendaria. I gave the documents to Killane for safekeeping and then I was caught up in the giddy whirl of celebration of the founding of the fourth Arendish duchy.
It was fairly late that evening when I returned to my own pavilion to find Killane sitting at a small table illuminated by a pair of candles. He had a map of Sendaria and the scroll defining my boundaries in front of him, and his eyes were a little wild. ‘Have y’ looked at this, yer Grace?’ he asked me.
They didn’t really give me much time, Killane,’ I replied.
‘I wouldn’t be after tryin’ t’ ride around yer entire duchy in a single day, if I was you,’ he said, ‘nor in a week, fer that matter. Y’ go on forever up there!’ He laid his hand on the map. ‘I bin tryin’ t’ mark yer boundaries out on this map, an’ as close as I kin tell, either th’ dukes took leave o’ their senses, or some drunken scribe garbled some descriptions on this scroll. Look fer yerself, me Lady. I’ve inked in yer borders in red.’ He handed me the map.
I stared at it. ‘This is ridiculous!’ I exclaimed. ‘Let’s go see Alleran. I want some clarification of this.’
Alleran was very calm about it. He looked at Killane’s map with no apparent surprise. ‘This looks about right to me, Aunt Pol,’ he said. ‘Is there some problem? You can have more land, if you’d like.’
‘Alleran,’ I said pointedly, trying to hold down my exasperation, ‘this is well over half of central Sendaria.’
‘What do you mean, “so?” You’ve got me stretched from Seline to Lake Camaar!’
‘Yes, I know. I notice that we didn’t give you an outlet to the sea, though. Would you like to have that coast between Sendar and Camaar? It’s awfully marshy there, but your serfs could probably drain those marshes for you. Did you want that island off the west coast?’
‘Serfs?’ I cut in.
‘Of course. They’re part of the land, Aunt Pol. When we get back to Wacune, I’ll send word to your vassals up there and have them all come on down and swear fealty to you.’
‘Naturally. You didn’t think we were saddling you with open wilderness, did you?’ He coughed a slightly embarrassed little cough. ‘Actually, Aunt Pol, I provided the land for your duchy. I’m not sure which of my ancestors annexed all that ground up there, but it’s more than I can handle, to be honest about it. It’s not much of a present, is it? I gave you something I wanted to get rid of anyway.’
‘That does take some of the shine off my new title,’ I agreed.
‘I know, and I’m sorry. The people up there are strange. Sendaria’s been sort of ill-defined for so long that all kinds of people have migrated there. The races are all mixed together, and the population’s definitely not pure Arendish. I don’t know how to deal with them, but you’re far wiser than I am, so I’m sure you’ll manage better than I have. Your vassals – who used to be mine – are all pure Wacite Arends, however, so they’re more or less manageable.’ His expression grew slightly guilty then. ‘You’ll notice that I kept Darine, Muros and Camaar. I hate to appear parsimonious, but I really need the revenues from those three towns. My budget’s been very tight lately.’ Then he smiled slyly. ‘I’ll bet you thought that we were just handing you an empty title, didn’t you, Aunt Pol? You’d probably better get rid of that notion right away. You’ve got a real duchy up north of the River Camaar, and you can do anything with it you wish.’ Then his smile became a smirk. ‘Now you’re going to find out what the rest of us have to go through every day, so I wouldn’t be too quick with any thanks, if I were you. Wait a little while first. Land and everything that goes with it is a responsibility, Aunt Pol, and sometimes it grows very heavy.’
I noticed that he glossed over the strategic location of the Duchy of Erat. Asturia had been the source of much of the trouble in Arendia for the past few centuries, and now Alleran, Corrolin, and I had that troublesome duchy hemmed in on the north, east, and south to pose a perpetual threat to Nerasin or anybody who might succeed him.
After we returned to Vo Wacune, Killane and I went on north to have a look at my new domain. I firmly declined Alleran’s offer of an armed escort. I wanted to see what was really going on up there, and I didn’t want knights, pikemen, and fanfares to announce my coming. We rode on up through Muros, took the road leading to Sulturn, and once we forded the north fork of the River Camaar, we were in ‘Erat’.
‘Tis fertile ground y’ve got here, me Lady,’ Killane observed on the second day after we’d crossed the river, ‘an’ ample water. With a bit o’ careful management, y’ could git ridiculously wealthy, don’t y’ know.’
I was looking at a shabby collection of mud and wattle huts huddled a couple of hundred paces back from the road, however, so I wasn’t really paying attention to my friend’s predictions. ‘Serfs?’ I asked, pointing at the miserable hovels.
‘It has th’ look of a serfs’ village,’ he agreed.
‘Let’s ride into that clump of trees just ahead,’ I said. ‘I want to go have a closer look.’
‘After y’ve seen one serfs’ village, y’ve seen ‘em all, me Lady,’ he said with a shrug.
‘That’s the whole point, Killane. I’ve never seen one up close.’
We rode back in among the trees, I dismounted, and then I ‘went sparrow’. I flew on back to the huts to look around. There was no furniture inside those hovels, nor anything even remotely resembling a fireplace. Each of them had a pit filled with ashes and charred sticks instead, and each also had a heap of rags in one corner that evidently served as a communal bed. There were a few scrawny dogs wandering about and some equally scrawny children. I flew on out to the nearby fields and saw wretched, dirty people hacking at the earth with the crudest possible tools under the watchful eye of a hard-faced man on horseback.