Guitard de Toulouse, first of his name and King of all Aquitania, still saw his father dying each time he closed his eyes. It had been two weeks since the incident in the council room, his father collapsing into the arms of his retinue and Guitard too shocked and scared to move or even breathe. The shouts and screams had seemed to wash over him and even in the flurry of activity he was positive that his father had focused his eye on him, halfway across the room, in his final moments.
That terrifying image had not dissapated at all after his father's body was removed from the chamber. It had not disapeared after the immense funeral held at the de Toulouse manor in Toulouse, surrounded by relatives he had never met and taking the condolences of major courtiers he could not remember the names of. It came back every night and would not leave him along in the day, each unoccupied moment saw his mind drifting back to those seconds.
Guitard felt like he would have that image burned into his mind for the rest of his life, along with the feelings of helplessness and shame it stimulated. The entire council room had erupted into activity, minor nobles and even clerks calling for help or rushing to the side of the stricken monarch. It seemed that only he stood still, unable to move and take action to try and save his own father! The words of the physicians, that there had been nothing to save Zavie once his heart had given out, did nothing to assuaged the guilt held by his son. Indeed he…
“My lord, do you want me to repeat what I said?”
Guitard’s attention snapped back to reality, and it took a moment to identify Ramonda de Provence, his father’s and now his chief of spies, as the one that had spoken. He sat at the council chamber deep in the heart of Bordeaux castle, in the same seat his father had used for years. Faces from around the table looked at him in expectation, a bevy of emotions to be found among them. Some grinned and looked on the point o laughter while others were dour and disapproving in their gaze. Embarrassment welled within him and he felt a bright flush scatter across his face as he stumbled over his response.
“Well…er.. that is.. if it would not… trouble the court… as it stands now.”
Guitard heard a cough towards the end of the room that could easily be interpreted as a hasty attempt to cover a laugh and his face grew even more crimson. How could he be so thoughtless as to daydream in the middle of his first full council session? How would his father feel about such an inconsiderate and brainless maneuver? He was saved from deeper thoughts by his mother, Rosa of Bordeaux, speaking up.
“We will look over your report on the deteriorating German situation closer during the closed session later Ramonda. As of now, let us take a quick break and refresh ourselves, the day grows late. I will present my own statement and then we will be dismissed.”
Conversation on a thousand subjects overtook the table as each turned to his or her neighbor and discussed personal affairs or the matters discussed earlier in the assembly. Servants with baked goods from the kitchens and pitchers of wine were summoned to serve the councilors and magnates. Guitard himself let out a sigh of relief and waited as his mother stood to approach him. Likely he would get an earful for not keeping to his promise of undivided attention, they had rehearsed several times in the past weeks what to expect in the meeting. He had attended several sessions in the months leading to his fathers death, but observing was quite different from being the center of attention.
In a voice barely audible in the cacophony of sound produced by the enclosed chamber, Rosa spoke to her son,
“Lord, you know the importance of this meeting. Your first impressions on these men and women will likely set the course for the Kingdom in the coming months and any sign of weakness or fault will make them respect and honor you less. Once we are through with my report on the condition of your vassals, we will retire to the private chambers and there discuss a matter of the utmost importance. Merely hold your mind focused till then.”
“Of course, you will have my undivided attention” replied Guitard with a furious motion of agreement from his head.
“We will start soon then, lord, mind the advice I give here and later.”
Guitard had no intention of doing otherwise. His mother was perhaps the person he trusted most in this world with his father gone. His earliest memories were of her, seeing as his father had been on campaign more often than not. A close relationship bound the two and the young King could think of no other whose advice he would give more credence to.
A few minutes passed before the servants once again departed and the assembled host of councilors, clerks, minor stewards and nobility were prepared to listen once again. Rosa gathered herself and launched into her report.