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The Crown Prince of Cardinia drew to a halt upon entering the anteroom outside the royal bedchamber. Maximilian Daneff awaited him there alone, a portentous reminder of the prince's youth and the punishments he'd received, deservedly and sometimes not. Whenever he had been called to account for his misdeeds, it had been in these chambers, with no attendants to bear witness other than Count Daneff, who had always served as a buffer between two hot tempers. Daneff was Prime Minister now, but even before he had risen to that exalted position, he had been a friend and advisor to the king.
He spoke now in the soothing accents bequeathed him by a Romanian mother. "Your expediency is appreciated, your Majesty. I feared we would have to scour the countryside in search of gypsy camps to find you. "
The censure was there, unrestrained as usual. Max disapproved, even more than the king did, of the way the prince sometimes took his leisure. But the words didn't affect him in the usual way, neither heightening his color nor producing anger. It was the address, Majesty rather than Highness, that arrested the prince's attention, draining color from his features.
"My God, he's dead?"
"No-no!" Maximilian shouted, horrified that he had given that impression. "But" He paused, aware that the Crown Prince had had no forewarning of what he was about to impart. "Sandor has abdicated, formally, with the Turkish Grand Vezir as witness. "
Color furiously returned to the prince's cheeks. "And why was I not invited to this momentous occasion?"
"It was thought that you might be moved toprotest"
"As well I would! Why, Max? His physicians claim he has improved. Were they lying for my benefit?"
"He has improved, but ... it will not last if he returns to his duties, and even so, you knew were told that the time he has left is limited. Your father has reached his sixty-fifth year. This condition that has affected his heart has taken his strength from him. A few more months is the most we can hope for. "
No expression crossed the prince's features to tell of the pain those words caused, other than the closing of his eyes. He had been told what Max had just reminded him of, but as any child might do when faced with losing his only remaining parent, he had ignored the warnings and clung to hope. And the physicians had given him that hope, a false hope, he now realized.
"Is this why I was summoned," he asked bitterly, "to be told I am to be crowned before the old king is even in his grave?"
"I know you feel it is wrong, but it cannot be helped. It is what your father wants."
"You could assume the reins, as you do whenever he leaves the country. He need not have relinquished the honor before death took it from him."
Maximilian smiled sadly. "Do you truly believe he would not involve himself in the rigors of office when he is here and kept well informed? The only way he will have the peace necessary to survive a while longer is to remove his right to rule. He knew this, and this is what he has done. And it is only one of the reasons you were summoned, not the most important.
"What can be more so?"
"Sandor will tell you. He awaits you now, so go in to him. But a word of caution, if you will. Do not remonstrate with him for what has already been done and cannot now be changed.. He abdicated willingly and even with happiness, because you are and have always been the pride of his life. As for the rest, restrain your temper and arguments, and bring them to me when you leave him. I am prepared to deal with both, your Majesty."
The address was said deliberately this time, and meant to tell him that even though he was now king, Max would treat him no differently than he ever had, with love and calm masoning in the face of his royal rage. Speculation over what was going to cause that rage tilled him with dread as he entered the royal bedchamber. Max knew that he rarely lost his temper anymore. Certainly he would argue with anyone regardless of rank, but since he had become a man, he prided himself on having developed more control of his temper.
The abdicated King of Cardima lay propped up in his bed, a huge monstrosity that required steps to reach the dais it sat upon, then more to reach the top mattress, which was draped in fine velvet and silks and was attached to a solid gold headboard displaying the royal crest at its head. The rest of the room was just as opulent. Marble floors reflected the candlelight; walls draped in the finest silk were adorned with artwork from the masters of Europe, some paintings spreading from floor to ceiling, all in solid gold frames. But the king's bedchamber was no different from the rest of the palace, where gold and silver abounded and assured any visitor that Cardinia, although relatively small in comparison to her neighbors, contained within her borders innumerable gold mines that made her one of the richest countries in Eastern Europe.
"Already he scowls," Sandor grumbled as his son drew near. "My last mistress confessed you frightened her to death when you looked just so. "
"With a countenance to send children screaming for their mothers, I am not surprised."
Sandor grew uncomfortable with a subject that, by unspoken agreement, was never to be broached. He quickly changed it with the promise, "If Max has overstepped his bounds, I will have his tongue cut out.
"He told me only that I am king."
"Ali. " Sandor ignored the sharp tone and relaxed back into his pillows, patting the mattress beside him. "Come, join me as you used to do."
The prince didn't hesitate, but bounded up the dais and stretched out his long frame on the foot of the mattress. He rested on one elbow, staring at his father with the patience he was becoming renowned for. Sandor knew in that moment that his abdication wouldn't be questioned, no matter how much his son might abhor his decision. He sighed in relief. That had been the only contention as, he saw it. The rest was a matter of record that merely needed to be recalled.