Matters of succession – you know, sire, these things all started with a sort of logic, a man becomes a king, takes a wife – a queen – and begets a son, and when the king dies, the son becomes king himself. And other sons and daughters, while complicating things, were sensible too, as after all, no king lives an… unaccompanied life, rather none should, and with the world as it is, other sons, other daughters, are, well, a necessary evil. Which, no, my lord, apologies, my lord, not that I’m suggesting you’re – not that I’d suggest anything of the kind, of course. Just illustrating, how something quite logical became not quite so, and thus, we can’t just think of it as such.
Though I suppose, if we could – if I could be very common for a moment, if you might humor that, and speak of these things logically, and we could consider them such again, as they were meant to be. You are, and again, sire, I mean nothing by this but what it is, but you are one in a line, and you were, let’s be generous – and truthful, my lord – set in that line as a contingency, a back-up, an “understudy” as I’ve heard the players it call it, if I may be so profane. And if allowed, while being profane, I might well point out the obvious, not to imply that you are not aware, but just for the sake of frankness that you are not the first, or second, or even third of said contingencies – you are, remarkable by the very nature of it, the thirty-second of the line.
Which is never to be taken lightly, as one thirty-seconds from the king is greater blessed than all but – yes, thirty-one others, well met, my lord. But despite that, your title will always come with its own privileges, its own rewards and responsibilities, the greatest of which, and perhaps, to some, not you sire, but perhaps to your brothers and sisters, the most burdensome, is that you, like them, have been tasked with the protection of your line, the kingdom – no, your kingdom, like your father, your king, and your country. And yes, all its citizens. Your citizens, sire. And so important it is to secure these things that even you, the thirty-second child of your father, our king, both as chosen by God, could be called, by great circumstance or terrible tragedy, to serve.
The weight of it! The consequence of king and country, that it needs not two, nor three, but thirty-two to safeguard itself. Thirty-two for the line to endure! Does anything better illustrate the importance of the throne? How you bear it, how you live with such a burden placed upon you, even with the illusion of being so many times removed – for I know you feel it as though you were first – I cannot fathom it, my lord. Yet I see you, and it, your onus, lying heavy about your brow every day.
And knowing how it weighs upon you, seeing you wear such worry on your brow – hidden so well, I might add, that only I, who humbly your lord must love so well as for you to drop your guard to – I must – no. No, I must not. To disparage your siblings – I couldn’t, though it’s just, no, sire I just wonder, for you have never said. And I, courteously, have never queried. So respectfully, I must ask, do you trust those who come before you, do you believe they grasp that? Do they know the responsibility that you so plainly see?
Apologetically, my lord – my prince, as you are the, and mine, of any of them, I must now speak honestly, tempered but honestly, and if that answer you would say is yes, that they know, that they appreciate it as much as you, why if any man but you would make such a claim I would think them a fool, if not call them such. And if sire, if you are of the mind that would say no, or even say yes with doubts, just doubts, then can you say truthfully that the order of succession should really, truly be managed just by order of conception? That men and women, even if of your own blood, who cannot, or will not – yes, who might outright refuse – understand their responsibilities do one day deserve to be placed on the throne? Superseding even someone who grasps the concept so fully, implicitly?
Which would be impudent of me to suggest, and I wouldn’t dare, of course, as it is not my place to speak of your family in such terms, and raising such questions, well that, that is the privilege of a king… and his children, I might think, but surely not one such as I. And you, you in your wisdom, so young yet, but already a man of intellect and breeding, I know what you would say of the manner, only because I know the measured, benevolent response – that when it comes to your siblings, your brothers and sisters, all of this which we speak is their right, and theirs alone. That they are your blood, and more importantly, the king’s blood, and they need to greater vindication than that.
And I know, my lord, that some, some of them you love. Others, I know of others among them that at least command your respect, your fealty. Their rank, more, their place as a part of the king’s line, of your line, rather, your family’s, demands loyalty. Protection. Submission. And the last, as thirty-two, you know much better than any of the others, and the rest, the privileges they have, which only you, if I may be so bold, have ever properly grasped as to why they are afforded to them, and to you at all.
But yet… their not grasping this, their… forgive me, shortcomings, they vex me, sire. As your servant, and as your friend, and as someone who sees you suffer stoically beneath them. And for you to see their abuses, which neither I nor anyone of my rank would – should indict them for, but rather in just recalling them, as instances – yes, that’s more proper, you’re right, these instances where they wield their power, their privilege, what you so aptly noted as their right, with no regard for the price that others must pay… do you never suppose such behavior, it threatens the line? Is not doing so, despite any other reckless disregard they commit, a danger to the line, nay the very crown and its dominion itself? For is not their very presence owed to it? And in not safe-guarding it is that not a debt that goes unpaid?
I hear the men in the square some days, criers for the church, talking about moral deaths. And how they befall families like waves upon the shore, engulfing many until the strongest among them, the rocks upon the coast, pushes back against the tide, and send the wanton roil back into the ocean. Moral deaths threaten them, your brothers and sisters, and I see from your face, you think perhaps they have befallen a few, maybe more. And you worry, my prince, I see it on your brow again, because you allow me to, I’m sure, wondering who the burden to be the strongest is upon now– who among them can hold the line, and push back to assure it perseveres, no matter the cost?
I am sorry for my forthrightness, but we both know you worry it is you. I tell you my lord, it is no cause for concern, for there are no worries in that which you already know. And you, I promise, even as the thirty-second child, indeed perhaps because of that, have always remembered what too many have forgotten – that the burden is yours, that is has always been yours, just as it has always been theirs. And no matter their actions, their dalliances, their character, you have never wavered. You are prepared if called upon to serve in succession, even when, if any, then you, could be lax.
No sire, again I say none of this lightly, though nor do I dare suggest treason. Some things are just not for me to say. You are my lord, more than even my friend, and though my love for you is great, I know my life rests totally in your hands, and I would take no such risk for a lesser a man. I only wonder – and worry, I worry too, sire, what the responsible, what the logical thing is to do? We seem to agree that the throne is in peril, and there’s no question it demands protecting, but who is its true protector? Even you, with your great knowledge of this burden, and your willingness to bear such responsibility, feel it is not a prince’s place. And I in my impudence, I can barely stifle myself to ask – should not these concerns fall to the King? Does not the shield beneath the swords we have both been raised under, does it not proclaim the King will guard his kingdom, the crown, his line? Is that not why the King keeps the line? And those swords, do they not mean that said protection must come from eliminating threats, be they man, or heretic, or even enemies that come from within?
Even if… they’re of the King’s own blood?
You know well, my lord, you know why no one speaks of you as thirty-three, that if one of those who precede you steps up to claim the throne before the King’s death – may he live long, of course – there would be no exile, no mercy on that day. They would be dealt with, and swiftly, as sure as the hangman would have a new set of boots on that day. For threats against the throne, the King must deal with summarily, be they from a single man, or ten thousand on the battlefield. And you sire, that is why you are here, and by your grace why I am blessed to speak with you, to safeguard something worthy of striking down ten thousand men, and if so called for, to strike down ten thousand more. And I know, you say, ten thousand, nay twenty, is but a small price to protect your line.
And you would be right to ask, if you dared to ask - just what is thirty-one more?