Even with the cessation of hostilities, Zavie was soon pressed to return to the weighty matters requiring his attention back at home. After sending a formal letter thanking the Governor of Genoa for his assistance in the war, the Aquitanian army in Navarre marched itself once again down the mountains and back towards their homes. The other regiments had been dismissed as well and a great exodus of soldiers and the assorted clingers on of any army were soon on their way back to Aquitania. Most would even return in time to take part in the harvest.
The Genoans would pursue their campaign against Badajoz independently. Specifically, the island of Minorca in the Balearic Islands was a tempting target for their fleets. The leader of the Genoan troops thanked Zavie repeatedly for the help he had provided in securing Navarre. A siege was still in place for the main citadel, but it would be a matter of time only before the province was exclusively theirs. Zavie assured them of his continued hope for their success and promised their armies open access to his lands for their maneuvers against the Badajozians.
Toulouse, ancestral home of Zavie’s family and one of the great cities of the south had been used as a depot for supplies being sent to the campaigning forces in Spain. As a result, several merchant houses had moved in to take advantage of the trade and most had decided to stay after the war’s end. Towns and hamlets around the city were now reaping the benefits of the move, with employment returning to normal levels after the hardships of years past.
In Rioja, a group of Cistercian monks from the east of Aquitania established plans to create a great monastery to serve as a shining light of example to the Christians of that territory. Their arrival prompted the small monasteries already in the area to quickly take after the new order.
Arriving back at his capital of Bordeaux to reserved acclaim in the streets, Zavie made his way through several broad avenues towards his residence castle on the outskirts of the city. An encounter from the previous day still hung with him even as he approached the gates.
While passing through a market town on their way to an earl’s manor to sleep for the night, the King’s party of horsemen was accosted by a wretched looking woman who screamed curses at the King and even attempted to rush the men and their mounts. Two of his bodyguards had quickly dismounted and tackled the crazed woman while others in the group closed in around the King to prevent any further attack.
Calming down after a second, the woman started to wail hysterically while a group of villagers started towards her in trepidation. One of the men in the gathering crowd approached and tried to explain the situation. The woman had lost all three of her sons and her husband to the wars of previous years and had been living a beggarly existence for the past months.
It became apparent after the bodyguards lifted themselves that in her fall she had broken an arm. Saddened by the story and the circumstances that had seen her injured, Zavie offered the man who had spoken a small purse of coin to see her to a bonesetter and to look after her welfare during the next winter. The townsman took it from one of the aids in the King’s party and left with the woman after taking a bow towards his liege.
It was not often that Zavie was able to witness such scenes, and it struck a certain tone in his soul to know that his orders as King had destroyed the lives of some of his subjects hundreds of miles from the battlefields. The explanations that had seen him through similar questions of war’s morality in the past, that it was for the good of the kingdom, that he had tried diplomacy and failed, seemed to be empty and hollow when confronted with evidence like the pain he saw in the eyes of that woman.
Zavie’s reunion with both Rosa and Guitard was warm, helping to wash his mind of the troubling thoughts he had encountered recently. His son was now six and very precocious, asking a hundred questions about the war and going into great detail of his own adventures during Zavie’s absence. He and some of the other courtiers sons had trapped a bird in a cage they had asked one of the castle carpenters to build for them. He had kept it in his room, but one night the latch wasn’t secure and it had flown out a window. Rosa leaned over during one of the breaks in conversation to tell him that she had set the thing free, since its incessant calls had been very annoying to the house staff.
His daughter Azalais turned out to meet him as well, speaking of the happiness she felt knowing her father was returned safe from the war. Her enthusiasm seemed only a little too sincere, as the father and daughter had only been on plain speaking terms before. Her social behavior was impeccable but some of the members of the court suspected her of being very manipulative, easily bewildering more naïve types to play their parts in the petty schemes she weaved. She was nearly of age to marry and many joked of the pity they would have for her husband.
The period of rest and relaxation was fleeting for Zavie, as matters of state drew on most of his time. Frances Count of Poitiers arrived at court to seek audience with the King. There had been a standing unease between the two men growing from the refusal of Frances to pay a certain duty on the lumber sold in his Poitiers fief. The Count had challenged that the law was applicable only in sales directly to the crown, other vassals or their agents while Zavie insisted that the tax attached to every sale.
The Count had finally come around to Zavie’s way of thinking and had brought his back dues with him to the meeting. Zavie was only to happy to forgive the man over the trivial squabble and hosted a night of entertainment for the visiting Count.
The months passed quickly for Zavie, caught up in the process of ruling his domain. In many ways, it was more difficult than commanding in the field. Every day brought a new crisis, a new question that none of his advisors could answer. One of the most important topics of debate was his daughter’s upcoming sixteenth birthday, an age when she might be properly paired off with a suitor.
Several candidates emerged as potential partners for Azalais. Some in the council wished to improve relations with the Capets and brought several cousins to the current French King into the running. Others suggested someone within the realm, the Duke of Gascony’s heir had just come of age and was in the market for a wife. Perhaps the most prestigious possibility was the new King of Sweden, fresh from working through a regency council.
Zavie promised to give all of the offers good consideration while he settled other matters brought before him. He felt attachment to Azalais but she had been a difficult child and adolescent, prone to excess in many things. Aquitania’s monarch considered carefully how he would proceed with the arrangement of her wedding.
Among other problems brought before Zavie was his wife’s report on the Duke of Auvergne. She had been moved to replace his aging chancellor and had served ably for the past months as issues rose to her attention. Her agents, leftover from her years as spymistress, had reported the presence of French spies at the court of the Duke. With the Bourbon rebellion still fresh on his mind, Zavie called for decisive action immediately. Rosa was quick to oblige.
It was not long before a servant of the Duke’s household found papers implicating the French spy in a plot against the Duke haphazardly disposed of in a latrine ditch at the castle. Confronted with the evidence, the spy had been taken aback and professed his innocence in the matter through almost a week of torture. The Duke had sent word of his find directly to Bordeaux, with promises that he was and forever would be a loyal vassal to the Aquitanian crown. Zavie replied that he understood entirely.
It was at night a week later, one of the first days of the new year, that Zavie’s serving man rapped gently on the door to the King’s chamber. Rising to his feet and demanding an explanation, he was told that his daughter urgently wished to see him. Cursing beneath his breath at the hour and speculating as to the wild reason his daughter might have called him, Zavie made his way to a side chamber where she waited.
Azalais seemed on the edge of tears when he closed the door behind him. Perfect, he thought, it must be something completely foolish that she’s done. Perhaps she needed a large sum of money, perhaps one of her friends needed out of the local constable office. He moved towards her with what he imagined was a stern grimace. It was then that the crying began.