Whispers, clanks, cloth rustles were echoing in the large hall. Hordes of lackeys were struggling like mad men to complete the installation of both belligerents flags and coats of arms. The two delegations, separated by the red carpet running from the wide main doors to the makeshift throne at the opposite side, were looking daggers at each other. Everyone was expecting a quick peace agreement but was trying to cultivate his animosity, just in case. The most powerful men of Europe were here, the noblest lineages represented.
Charles V was waiting, august, sitting straight in the throne, looking down upon the assembly, a little like a teacher looking after a mob of turbulent children. The etiquette master finally nodded at the monarch who stood up. He cut a fine figure with his black satin outfit and a silver hilted sword by his side. The hall went silent instantly. The Emperor came down a step and half raised a hand as in a greeting gesture. He kept looking right in front of him at man's height as he began with a powerful voice:
“I, Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Archduke of Austria, am very delighted that you have agreed to this meeting. This proves your wisdom and outstanding clear-sightedness. This gives our States reason to hope.”
Still gazing right in front of him, he pursued:
“This war dragging on for five years now has seen our armies fighting in Italy as well as in the Netherlands and throughout the seas bordering Europe. Thousands men died on both sides, our subjects as well as our finances are exhausted. And now, there is France growing as a serious menace. François the First even dared to contract an alliance with the heathens. We should not forget the heretic vermin either. It is growing like couch grass all across my German holdings, threatening our most holy catholic Church, which you are wedded to just as much as I am.”
Among the assembled men, everyone crossed himself and short prayers were muttered.
“Today, it is our responsibility to reach an agreement. I do have a generous offer which I think will be able to win your acceptance and bring peace.
Even though we have of course never met directly on the battlefield, we have both masterfully lead our valiant armies through many victories and defeats. And yet, the fate of the war is not sealed. Even though your fleet clearly managed to forbid mine any access to the seas, my forces currently occupy the totality of the Low-Countries. Chances are high that neither of us could possibly score any significant success in the other one's mainland, which places us in a disastrous deadlock.”
He had a short pause so that everyone could be impregnated with the dramatic touch of his words. He glanced through the crowd, checking that expressions were appropriately concerned. Satisfied, he brought his gaze straight in front of him.
Here is my proposition : in exchange of the province of Zeeland, I offer an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of my troops from the rest of the Low-Countries, which would continue to recognize you as their rightful sovereign.”
He lightly bent forward, hands spread in an invitation gesture.
“Are you willing to accept these terms ?”
Having said that, he stood and waited. Lackeys rushed in. The firsts, wearing the colors of the Holy Roman Empire took his coat and hat. The following ones, wearing Spain's coat of arms, dressed him in a sparkling black and gold plate mail. Their task accomplished, they all retired. In the following sepulchral silence, everyone held his breath while the monarch took four steps forward, half turned to face the empty throne and pursued with the same stentorian voice:
“I, Charles the First, King of Spain, do thank you for your commitment in this peace conference. I gladly acknowledge the shrewdness of your analysis. I do agree upon the cession of my province of Zeeland to your Empire. May this peace allow me to put an end to François the First's ambitions as well as to the Berber's piracy. And may this peace allow you to finally crush all heathens: both these so-called “reformed” and Soliman.
I do propose that we seal our treaty without further delay under the auspices of the wisest possible witness. I have chosen a sovereign of high lineage who we both respect...”
He turned in the direction of the entrance.
“... Charles IV, King of Sicily !”
Spanish lackeys immediately rushed it, quickly followed by others wearing the arms of Sicily...