HistoryEditMaria was born to minor Corhyrian noble family. Her marriage was arranged by her parents when she was little more than a girl, but despite this it seems to have been a relatively happy union. Her husband Giovanni was formerly the High Lord of Corhyr until Antos Corazon claimed the position. Citing "ill health" as an excuse, Giovanni now avoids attending council meetings and trusts Maria to represent his interests. Maria is on good terms with all the heads of the greater houses except perhaps Dario Mandriga, who she particularly dislikes.
Maria is statuesque, with long dark hair and pale skin. She is courteous and perceptive. She is aware that her political decisions affect the future of her children, and her strategies betray a mother's caution. She opposed Lord Corazon's decision to end the Trade Pacts (though she supported his bid for the position of High Lord), and believes that attempting to challenge or interfere with the Thranish succession would be risking war.
Maria Caradici at the Corhyrian Council Edit
It was late afternoon as Maria Caradici stepped from her carriage and ascended the sandy stone steps that led to the Daviara estate. A bored guardsman admitted her to the house and led her through two deserted passages to Vittorio's atrium, a large rectangular chamber lined with stone pillars. They were surrounded by flowers of red and orange, as well as the thorny vines that constricted the walls. The heat of the afternoon still clung to the seven finely carved wooden chairs that surrounded the marble table, Maria noted as she took a seat.
"It is good to see you well, my lady,"said Vittorio. The master of the house had a crown of handsome dark curls, but there were touches of silver too, and his face was lined with weariness. "It has been too long."
"I saw you the night before last,"she answered. "You were a fish then. Beautiful, I thought, all the more so for the lions and eagles all around."
"I did not see you,"he said with a hesitant smile.
"You saw Lorenzo with his lady, though,"she continued. "Have you ever seen a man and woman so happy and in love?"
"They seemed happy,"he allowed, but seemed reluctant to meet her eye. "Though she walked where he led, and in truth I thought she smiled more out of duty than desire."
Maria nodded, and the silence began to lengthen. She could hear crickets murmuring in the garden and taste the soft scents of wine and lavender in the air.
The sound of footsteps heralded the approach of the next guest. Leo Aldaya betrayed a slight limp as he made his way to his seat – he had taken a nasty fall from a horse as a younger man. His hair was iron grey, his skin browned from the sun and reddened from wine.
"I hear there's to be a show," he said lightly. "A new high lord, perhaps."
It felt that way to Maria too. Vittorio Daviara had been questioning Antos Corazon's support for the new Thranish emperor for months, and Dario Mandriga had been waiting for any chance to break his old rival's political dominance. It was Lorenzo Garazzi who had surprised Maria, though. He had been the most recent of the Corhyrian lords to defy Antos Corazon, and by betrothing himself to the exiled empress he had made a naked bid to become the emperor consort of Thrane.
"Three is not a majority, Leo,"said Maria reminded him.
"True, but would Lorenzo have moved openly if there was no fourth?"asked the old lord. eyeing her. "I heard you were at the celebration yourself."
Maria caught the implication. "Do you think I would be so careless with the future of my children? I heard what happened at Arkad."
"The empress has many loyal allies in Thrane,"said Vittorio. "The Maekars, the Zariks. Our cause is strong."
"You were not there, Vittorio, you did not see,"said Leo. "They forced the horde back with the animated corpses of both sides."
Silence fell again, and was broken as the High Lord entered. Antos Corazon had polished his breastplate and trimmed his black beard, but his clenched fists and set jaw betrayed his anger. He took his seat without a word, and Maria could not find even a courtesy to lighten the moment.
Lorenzo Garazzi was next to arrive, resplendent in a purple coat. He bowed deeply as he entered, took a seat between Maria and Vittorio, and poured himself a goblet of dark wine.
"Well, I am glad that I am not the last to arrive,"he said cheerfully, apparently unaware of the hostility in the room.
"In defying me, you may have started the war that will destroy us all, Garazzi,"said Antos.
"Only if we lose,"answered Lorenzo with a smile.
"There will be no war,"said Vittorio sharply. "Kaori is the rightful empress, Darcassen Voss will step down."
"You betrayed Corhyr out of selfish ambition,"continued the High Lord, ignoring Vittorio. "Hear and now, I will hear you admit it."
"You wrong me, Antos,"said Lorenzo. They were all watching him now, Maria realized. "It was truly my intention to let you cut her throat for Corhyr, but then I fell in love."
"Love,"repeated the High Lord. "All the women who sought you out, and you happen to fall in love with the one with an empire."
"Love is a mysterious thing,"said Lorenzo.
"Antos, listen,"began Vittorio.
"Spare me,"snapped the High Lord. "Garazzi has played you for the fool you are." Vittorio Daviara's face twisted for a moment, and then he sank back into his seat.
The doors opened yet again, and the final two guests entered the atrium. Dario Mandriga was tall and broad-chested, with a bushy black beard, a sword at his belt and a vivid red coat. Rodrigo Valantos walked with him, a handsome young man armed with a rapier who had recently inherited his father Alberto's position.
"Welcome to our council, Lord Rodrigo,"said Leo, as the two men took their seats opposite Antos, and Valantos smiled.
"Let us begin,"said Mandriga curtly. "I move that we raise Rodrigo Valantos to the position of high lord."
There was a brief silence, as those who had been unaware of the plan pieced it together. Maria had expected Mandriga to try and take that prize himself, but she supposed it must have been the only price that the young lord would accept. He had neither experience nor any particular virtue, but that did not matter. Leo Aldaya turned to stare at Valantos.
"Rodrigo?"repeated Antos, and a look of utter disgust crossed his face. It was gone a moment later, but Valantos had seen it.
"He is too young,"said Maria without thinking, and Valantos' eyes fell on her too, the eyes of an enemy.
"He is not a woman, though,"said Mandriga. "Raise your hands for Rodrigo Valantos." He raised his hand, as did Valantos and Vittorio. Leo Aldaya and Lorenzo Garazzi raised their hands together, but Maria knew that Leo would not have voted that way unless he was already certain of the outcome. After a moment, Antos removed the ring of the High Lord from his finger and placed it before Valantos.
"I think you might come to regret the lessons you taught me," Valantos said, smirking.
"Not as much as I regret the lessons I did not teach you,"said Antos quietly, and returned to his seat. He reached for an empty plate and moved his hand over it. Small folds of papery white substance began to ripple into existence – the bread of heaven.
"Eating like a peasant?"asked Mandriga.
"Treachery is everywhere,"answered Antos. "So I avoid consuming that which has been touched by the hands of others."
"So prudent, Antos,"said Lorenzo. "I think I would come miss the taste of wine though."
"We have a little more discuss,"said Vittorio. "We must decide how to approach Darcassen Voss Valarion about his niece. Antos, tell us what you know."
"The wizard Vedansh told me that if we stumbled on her and handed her over to him, we could depend on the continued support of Thrane,"said Antos. "That chance is lost, though."
"We need not fear the Thranish,"countered Lorenzo. "Their city of Daln is still held by rebels and fanatics. They seem to lack the strength to reclaim it, even with their necromancy."
"They may send assassins,"said Maria.
"I will make sure she is safe, believe me,"said Lorenzo. "I suggest we send a message to Darcassen Voss informing him that his niece is still alive and that the world rejoices. It will be interesting to see what he does."
"Yes, see to it,"said Valantos.
"I have also heard of a council to be held at Ramandu's Rock,"said Lorenzo. "The Stargazers are inviting ambassadors from Tashar and Thrane, and even the sand elves and the rebels who hold Daln. Not from Corhyr, though."
"Not from Corhyr?"said Valantos, confused. "What does this council concern?"
"I am unsure,"said Lorenzo. "The secrecy is worrying, though."
"What of our own land?"said Mandriga. "There are elves south of the Golden Mountains, and our armies are in a poor state. We should continue conscripting – the bread of heaven feeds many idle men."
"I give you command over the military,"said Valantos, and it sounded to Maria like he had learned the words. "Strengthen discipline, clear out the elves, hunt down any remaining Howlers."
"There are shadows even in this city,"said Leo. "What of the rakshasa Ahiravan, and his plans? There have been too many murders in Asora of late."
Maria thought of Daroth Ryzin, with his obsidian lips and lavender eyes. He had been missing for two days, and her household guard captain Daniel had not found any trace of him. He had tried to tell her that someone was stalking his footsteps, but she had not listened. Now she had to bear the guilt of her failure to protect him, as well as the guilt of all their stolen hours together.
"The rakshasa's horde is broken,"said Valantos. "He is surely hiding somewhere with his tail between his legs, no threat to us. Enough, let us continue this another day."
The High Lord Rodrigo Valantos stood, bowed to the council, and left.