"You're not listening, Etienne."

Etienne struggled to keep up with King Reginald's long stride through the castle from the library to the council chamber. Intermittent torchlight flickered against the hewn stone of the corridors. Gauzy spiderwebs decorated corners.   Thread-worn, ancient tapestries hanging high on the walls stirred in the draft.

King Reginald's heavy fur cape swept the dirty floor as he walked. A tall man, with fat jowls and shrewd eyes, he wore his crown with pride.   Etienne was a member of the King's private council, short and effeminate, who preferred to dress in thick brocades.

"I do not need a perfect alliance with the Tapians," King Reginald continued.   "I only need to assure them that we hold the same anti-Naturan sentiments."

"The Tapians do not take kindly to lies and obfuscations," Etienne said.   "We can ill afford a war."

"I will not scrape and bow to their wishes. If they seek to ally with us, it shall be on our terms."

Etienne fretted.   "Our coffers are thin, Your Highness."

King Reginald stopped suddenly, nearly causing Etienne to run into his back. He turned his narrowed gaze on Etienne. "Is it the country you worry for, or your own fat purse, Etienne?"

Etienne paled and stammered. "The- the country, of course!"

"Hm." King Reginald stared at Etienne, until Etienne lowered his eyes. "My position stands."

"Yes, Your Highness."

"You shall convey this to the others and draw up an agreement for trade."

"Yes, Your Highness."

"Good."   With a sweep of his cloak, King Reginald continued down the corridor.

Cowed, Etienne hustled after him, once more.