8 The Summit at Morn
Frederick looked out the window and across the town of Morn and saw Albert approach the manor with two others. He recognised Countess Sophia and Mayor David, it appeared she had decided to speak with him first as planned the night before. As for the presence of David, Frederick knew it was to calm the heart of Albert in case he suspected treachery by Frederick, as well as to deter Albert from doing anything rash.
Anyone who did not know of the current political crisis between Frederick and Albert would assume that the Countess and Count were merely on a stroll and were happily interacting with each other. Sophia was smiling and laughing every now and then and even Albert looked quite relaxed despite his environment. As for David, well he looked a little nervous, but it was understandable given the circumstances.
Amidst his musings he heard a couple of knocks on his door.
"Come in." Frederick answered. He turned around and saw Franz enter, they exchanged greetings before Franz spoke first.
"Your Highness, Albert is here. We should head down. From the looks and sounds of things Sophia and Albert are as close as ever. I hope your encounter with the Countess this morning was of no bother?"
"Hmm…. Sophia mentioned some things to look out for, namely the Styrians and of course enquired about my bride-to-be, the same old stuff." Frederick responded dryly.
"Hah, of course she would. You know she would not mention something if it was not important. So do try to remember her warning. For all her faults, there are some things she gets right on a consistent basis and her intuition is one of them."
"Right, right. Thanks Franz. We shouldn't keep them waiting. Let's go."
Frederick and Franz left the room, headed downstairs and made their way over to the dining room that had been setup rather luxuriously. He saw David, Sophia and Albert waiting by the door for his arrival. David approached him first.
"Your Highness, everything is ready. You can make your way inside now. I shall be on my way." David stated, before he bowed and walked off.
Frederick saw David flash him a subtle thumbs up before he rounded the corner. Frederick then came over to Albert and Sophia. Albert looked the same as ever. A little shorter than average but very stocky. He was well built and looked as healthy as a man half his age. Although his head was balding quite significantly, the man still held an aura of confidence and arrogance.
To be perfectly honest, Frederick had never really liked Albert, he always felt the man looked down upon him. There was just something in his eyes that constantly asked 'Who do you think you are to judge me?' For someone like Frederick to have his position questioned liked that and especially from a vassal, well his pride would not allow it. However, this was not the reason why he felt Albert needed to be removed. After all, he knew when to separate his private feelings and what he believed was for the good of the country.
Albert was a firm believer in feudalism. A form of feudalism that had not existed in this world for at least a couple hundred of years. Where nobles had unfettered powers and the Crown or their liege lord minded their own business. Of course, Frederick could not tolerate such a system not simply because it challenge his position but also because that system perpetuated a vicious cycle that would very quickly lead to the destruction of a nation. There was nothing that bound the people to the lord. There was nothing that improved the lives of the people and there was definitely nothing there to ensure the people were satisfied. Without any of this, the people would quickly become agitated and rebellions or revolutions would spread like wildfire.
In fact, the people of his country and many others across Agenor were already tired of the old system. The very reason he was able to act so quickly and move to abolish landed titles and the feudal system that it propped up was because of the dissent and unhappiness the people were already showing. If he continued to react rather than take proactive steps, then it would not be long before Erlitz would fracture like the Great Frankish Empire and descend into anarchy.
Frederick could not let the country fall under his watch. He could not allow it as a member of the von Erlitz family and he could not allow it as a citizen of Erlitz. He firmly believed he was here for a reason, that he was given another chance not by accident. Although sometimes he felt he was merely deluding himself. However, those thoughts left as quickly as they came.
Frederick saw Albert's glare and could feel his anger. However, he merely ignored it and greeted Sophia who returned it in kind. As for Albert, he merely nodded his head in acknowledgement.
"Count Albert, I am glad you could make it. Let us head inside before we say anymore."
"Your Highness, what a pleasure." Albert replied sarcastically before he followed Frederick inside.
Sophia and Franz exchanged a glance before they too hurried inside.
Since it was only the four of them, the seating arrangements were quite simple. Usually when organising feasts, summits or any event involving seats would require an expert planner to design the seating arrangements in such a way that, no one will be offended and that no one will stir up too much trouble.
Frederick had heard his mother's shouts of frustration every time he went to visit her as she would need to constantly revise the seating arrangements for the Great Ball as guests accepted and declined invitations. He was also glad he had a younger sister, that his mother could order around to help with the planning. Otherwise, he was sure he would have been the one to bear the brunt of his mother's venting.
Frederick naturally sat at the head of the table. On his left was Franz and on his right was Albert and Sophia. Sophia was there to act as an inhibitor for Albert's darker or more brash behaviours. It also made it seem less intimidating towards the old man.
"Hmm… before we speak of the more unsavoury things. How about we enjoy a meal together, it has been a long time since we have done so, right Count Albert?" Frederick warmly suggested.
"Indeed, it must have been your sixteenth birthday celebrations your Father held, those many years ago. Simpler times they were." Albert recalled with a smile.
"Simpler for us I suppose. But the world around us, it has never been simple, wouldn't you agree Count Albert?"
"Your Highness, perhaps we should speak our minds before we enjoy a meal together, no? It is rather tiresome to continue speaking in circles and acting so friendly. Don't you agree?" Albert countered.
"Right, Count Albert, I was merely afraid you might not have an appetite after we finish our discussion. It appears I worried for naught, then let me start. Count Albert, how do you feel about my decision to abolish landed titles?"
"I think it is preposterous. You cannot merely erase hundreds of years of tradition at the wave of your hand, Your Highness. My forefathers fought alongside yours to establish this great nation of ours. We were promised land and title to be passed onto our successors in perpetuity. Are you seriously going to break the promises of your forebears?" Albert looked into the eyes of Sophia and Franz before he stopped at Frederick and continued.
"Your Highness, this is merely foolishness, I can understand the rash decisions one can make on a spur of the moment, before they have realised the weight of their office. You are still new to your position and I can forgive you for a small error like this. Your Highness, you need not go so far. You can still reverse your position."
"Impossible! Count Albert, you know perfectly well I cannot merely take back my words. To do so would be to render my reputation and position meaningless, it would bring it into disrepute. I might as well give up the throne, while I'm at it." Frederick responded with a little anger.
"Your Highness, like I was saying, these are merely passions that come with your youth, no one will hold it against you for long. Well, no one that matters at least. The peasants are always full of gripes, they whine and whinge, nothing will change that. Today it is freedom, tomorrow it is security and the day after it is food. They cannot be placated, Your Highness, so why bother?" Albert replied with nonchalance.
"Uncle Bertie, I do believe that this is a rather good piece of reform. The times are changing and so are our neighbours, if we continue to squabble amongst ourselves every time a decision needs to be made then by the time a consensus is reached, the country would be no more." Sophia interjected with a patient tone.
"Sophia, although the times change, it does not mean we should tear down the old, what has been clearly working for the past few hundred years, surely there is a reason why it continues to exist. Why fix something that isn't broken?" Albert countered calmly.
"That is because it has only been working for us privileged few, Count Albert. Why else do you think the people are clamouring for greater freedoms? Why else would the Great Frankish Empire implode so spectacularly? Is this the future you wish for Erlitz?" Frederick tried to reason with Albert as he truly hoped that he could be convinced. Otherwise, the day would not end well for the Count.
"Privileged? Us? Of course we are privileged, but that is because of our blood. Our responsibilities to our families, to our nation and to you, our Prince. We deserve these privileges, because we earned it and we continue to earn it. We provide shelter, security and a reason to live. So of course, this is our right. Yet you seek to take this away from us. I cannot agree with it."
Throughout the exchanges, Frederick noticed Franz's deepening frown. Every time Albert spoke, the frown would become more pronounced. It was clear he disagreed with the sentiments Albert espoused. For that Frederick was glad he had been able to talk things out with Franz the other night.
Frederick decided it was time to issue his ultimatum. It would be do or die for the Count.
"Then Count Albert it appears we have nothing left to discuss. However, I will give you one last chance to accede to my orders. Hand over command of your men. Return with me to Erlangen and we can work out how we shall transition into an honorary titles system together. The world is complicated enough, we should not make it any more so, Count Albert."
Before Albert could respond, he heard a commotion outside the doors. They swung open and he saw the panicked expression of his son Bertrand as he attempted to rush inside. He stood up in anger but was stunned by what came out of his son's mouth.
"Father! Father! We have fallen for a trap. Stolitz has fallen!"
Frederick waved his hand at the guards and allowed Bertrand to enter. He immediately rushed over to Albert and the two began to converse fiercely. Frederick merely picked up his wine glass and savoured the taste as he waited for the old fox to surrender.