WA Delegate (non-executive): The Reconstruction of Aelythium (elected )

Founder: The Grand Empire of Rolais

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The Administration Rolais Uyuti Szlachecka Aelythium Namalar

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Current Date: Vintigatius 344 ATF—Year of the Bear

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    Getting Started in Arkonos

    MetaReference by Chirenai . 996 reads.

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    Aelythium's Guide to Arkonos

    FactbookOverview by Aelythium . 1,836 reads.

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    Arkonos Rules

    FactbookMiscellaneous by Rolais . 1,672 reads.

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    How to Deal with your Kostuan Legacy

    FactbookTrivia by Kostua sol . 936 reads.

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Embassies: League of Sovereign Nations, Lerodas, and Thegye.

Tags: Enormous, Fantasy Tech, Featured, Magical, Map, Multi-Species, Offsite Chat, Past Tech, Role Player, and Social.

Regional Power: Moderate

Arkonos contains 186 nations, the 125th most in the world.

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The Highest Workforce Participation Rate in Arkonos

World Census experts studied the ratings of daytime television chat shows to estimate the percentage of citizens who are employed.

As a region, Arkonos is ranked 15,767th in the world for Highest Workforce Participation Rate.

NationWA CategoryMotto
1.The Federated Dominion of ChirenaiDemocratic Socialists“Always Rise Again”
2.The Protectorate of TsifyrettopLeft-wing Utopia“For the Greater Good”
3.The Sahraqanate of DhorvasFather Knows Best State“We are fallen, but we do not die.”
4.The Most Serene Republic of MaudenburgDemocratic Socialists“In peace, glory”
5.The Kingdom of Corcaigh MorDemocratic Socialists“Crom idir sinn agus an t-olc.”
6.The Queendom of Western Fres LeenPsychotic Dictatorship“By reason or by force”
7.The Empire of Estados Unidos do JorginhoPsychotic Dictatorship“Comemos Jorginho de manhã”
8.The Commonwealth of The Pink SeasTyranny by Majority“Reunite the isles”
9.The Republic of Kekeistan RepublicLeft-wing Utopia“Keke For The Keke God”
10.The Kingdom of EskelandDemocratic Socialists“Born From the Cold of the North”
1234. . .1819»

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The Republic of Tariglaive

Founding Post for Tariglaive

Looking out over the growing city of Tariglave, Archon Markos Barca sipped his wine. He was told it came from Elvhenam. Good vintage, if a bit bitter. The city had grown over his careful watch. And he was proud. Stacks of parchment cluttered his desk. Trade agreements, new tariff proposals, a request to hire mercenaries for better security of cargo. Everything was growing and now, nations were recognizing them as a power. They were small, only one city, but all nations started out small. Even if they won't admit it. His secretary knocked lightly on the door and let herself in. "The Assembly meeting is about to start," she said. Markos gathered his parchment and nodded to her.

The Assembly was the driving political force behind Tariglaive. It was a place of deliberation. A place where proposals were considered and decided. "Good afternoon everyone," Markos said as he entered, " I hope everyone is well after their travels?" A few nods and some grumbles, but the meeting carried on regardless. "I came to address the Assembly directly. Today we are marking the founding of our new nation. A city of progress and gold. A city that will stand tall in the face of opposition. A city that will lay its mark in the annuals of history as a city build on gold and one that will never tarnish. We have come a long way gentlemen. And as Archon, I am proud to lead this city to a better future."

A chuckle was heard from the Assembly. "Question, were you planning on ever giving that speech to the people of our city?" asked one of the Assembly men. Markos smiled, " I thought I would try it out on you and see what reaction I would get. Looks like I'll be needing to improve it."

That night, the Republic of Targlaive celebrated its founding. A city built on gold and will never tarnish. It was the dream. But a dream it was. For true gold is hard to come by, and tarnish has already set itself into the city itself.

Tariglaive Port

The Tariglaivean port was as busy as ever. Melita Hannimara rubbed at her temples. Life was difficult enough after herr father passed away. Now she was dealing with old and outdated traditions. Now she was dealing with merchants who were after her father's business.

The Hannimara family had built a fortune in the early years of Tariglaive, supplying warehouses and security for merchants who wanted to store their cargo. Over time they invested in Silk and Porcelain. Unfortunately, her family had hit hard times and she was the only one able to take over the business, a woman in Tariglaive. While there was mobility for her into business, it was still difficult. A knock came at her door. "Enter," she called.

A short man with a thick beard walked in. He wore fine clothing befitting a merchant. It looked more functional than fashionable. Whites paired with blues. His beard reached his collar and was braided. His head was shaved bare. "Good day Mistress Hannimara," he said. Melita stood, "Jebel, what brings you by?"

"I need to talk to you about your proposal," he explained. Melita straitened herself, "What about it?" Jebel took a seat with a heavy sigh, "The Astarte Trade Union has turned you down. I am sorry."

"Oh those old, sexist bastards!" was the beginning of a long winded rant that lasted for many hours. The bright sunny day at the port has turned into a clouded one filled with bad news.

Post by Janonak suppressed by Rolais.

The new law that the president of Janonak said “equal rights for all” which the wealthy did not agree on and said that ”This is going to kill economic trade with other countries” with king Janonak replying that “YOUR ECONOMIC TRADE BUT NOT THE COUNTRY!”. Although poor people accepted the law and then voting was held to make the saying the law. The wealthy immediately bought votes but then the national court of the brains or (NCB) found the buying and so immediately they were sentenced to 20 years of prison and so only 10% of Janonaks economy fell because according to the law “any wealthy who committed crimes will have their money taken and distributed to the country” And so the votes were continued with the final polls reaching 74.23% agreeing to the law and so it was implemented. With a bang of hammer saying the following words “By the power of justice I court Justice officially implement the law of equality as done!” and so with wealthy people shocked and the poor people joyful they partied men, women, elders, and children were now all equal and as they joyed criminal rates dropped as they were happy and equal. With equal pay, equal rights, and equal freedom. There was no real reason to do a crime. But it made more reserved and less active military personnel as they were low crime rates and so Janonak’s army decreased. And many people used the law as an excuse to blackmail people and so the Janonakian government had to make a choice either to keep the law or remove it. Of course, the law was still accepted as an actual law but was really deeply ratified or checked and finalized and so with the king’s speech “It is finished it is done the peace and equality is finally here”

Brothers and Sisters: Part I

Copost with Riddenheim

Seungjing, Provincial Palace, Main Lounge

Gyeji reclined on a lavish wooden seat, fumbling with soft, slender fingers a scroll detailing provincial affairs and news. She sighed impatiently, eyes darting at the slightest possible noise. Her deep blue hanbok contrasted magnificently with silver embroidered highlights running down the piece’s sleeves and length, culminating with the Seungjing Gi’s clan emblem on her front and back. The beams of the morning sunlight softly piercing the paper windows of the room bounced splendidly off of these highlights, scattering bits of light throughout the empty room. Her hair, braided and twisted in an astral spiral, resembled a small galaxy with jewels and pins as stars against her jet-black locks.

The door to the lounge slid open. Gyeji’s eyes darted immediately before her as she straightened her lax posture into something more befitting of the province’s governess. Inside the lounge came Yang Sohye, having traveled from Malpyeoro considerably north of Seungjing. Even across a few provinces, the variance in Ryeongsean fashion between the two was starkly apparent—at least, to Gyeji. Sohye was dressed in a more rugged yet still elegant hanbok, a simple duo of amber and deep maroon offset by her own highlights of silver. Malpyeoro Yang’s crest emblazoned Sohye’s front as well. What was more interesting was Sohye’s inner garb poking out from underneath her dainty silk dress, a cotton undershirt with hints of leather overwear, the most noticeable being Rolesian leather fingerless gloves poking through the ends of her draping sleeves.

Sohye dropped to the floor with mechanical respect, pressing her sleeved hands to the wooden floor and holding her head only a hairlength above them in a bow of respect. “I offer my greetings, Governess,” Sohye briefly introduced with full honorifics before Gyeji waved her hand of acknowledgement.

“I didn’t know you like to spar,” Gyeji mused as Sohye stood from her bow.

“Governess?” Sohye dumbly responded.

“Please, we’re going to be involved in the diplomatic degradation between two Bantry nations; call me Gyeji, Sohye,” Gyeji smiled. She stood from her seat and glided over to Sohye, taking Sohye’s wrist with a firm hand and wrapping back the sleeve to reveal the glove in its entirety.

Sohye blushed with quiet mortification. “I had little time to change before my arrival.”

Gyeji narrowed her eyes and nodded, continuing to grin. Sohye seemed to be more embarrassed of not changing out of her martial attire rather than wearing it at all. The girl took pride in fighting.

“Is your father here?” Gyeji asked, releasing Sohye’s arm as she circled back around to her seat, picking up her scroll.

“No, Governess Gyeji,” Sohye responded with quiet professionalism, still hanging onto her honorifics. Quite formal, but Gyeji supposed it was better for such a noblewoman to be so uptight. “He manages business in Malpyeoro while I speak for my own matters concerning Seungjing, Ryeongse, and Riddenheim.”

“I can see why.” Gyeji sat and read a bit from her scroll leaving Sohye to stand awkwardly for a while before continuing, “You seem to be a responsible girl. You know what you’re in for, unlike Ah Daeja from Woncheung.”

“You know Daeja?” Sohye probed with perplexity.

“I’d be a fool not to, given our ‘business’ in the north,” Gyeji sighed, putting down her scroll on a table beside her and standing again. She led Sohye to a low table with mats on either side, sitting both herself and her guest. “You prefer tea or coffee?”

“I’m okay, thank you,” Sohye quietly answered.

“Two coffees, please,” Gyeji called outside the lounge. “Anyway,” she resumed, pressing her hands together and leaning forward, studying Sohye’s face. Gyeji supposed she was coming off a bit strong; it was not the best idea to intimidate her partner in Bantry diplomacy. “You’re bright too, if you know Daeja as well.”

Sohye smiled. “We played together as girls.”

“Good to have that connection with her,” Gyeji acknowledged. “It would’ve been nice to play with other girls. I only had my idiot brother,” she chuckled.

Sohye smiled again, to Gyeji’s delight. Despite Gyeji’s attempts to appear professional before the coming task, such exchanged laughter was more calming than what any pipe could bring.

Professional? Gyeji made this “task” seem more than it was: marriage. Getting children. News had recently reached Ryeongse that Daeja was with a child in Volgaro. Given how far the distant country was, Daeja could have already given birth by now. Even such a crude act as sleeping with a man brought weighty consequences for the stability of Volgaro, Riddenheim, and Ryeongse, especially in tandem with each other.

“Daeja went in over her head, if I have anything to say about the matter,” Gyeji clarified, pressing her lips together in distant disapproval. “What she considered her story of fairy-tale romance holds drastic consequences for the balance of power in the Bantry Bay. Even now I’m sure she faces some sort of prejudice. Even if our faces are human rather than dsen or monsu, we’re still a symbol of ‘Tong imperialism’ or ‘Tong puppetry.’ Such sentiments disgust me, but they’re a reality, something we’re going to have to face with what’s before us. Balancing the delicate relationship between Volgaro, Riddenheim, and the other players in the north is something that’s out of our hands directly, but we still can do something to affect it. That’s why we can’t mess this up. If Daeja really is with a child, she must know what consequences that brings. Anything we do yields consequences. You must know that.”

Sohye said nothing, taking it all in with apprehension, with fear. Gyeji sighed a bit. Perhaps she was coming off a bit strong and blunt.

“Are you scared at all?” Gyeji asked, more softly and dropping her earlier show of power.

“A bit,” Sohye blushed. “I wonder if my suitor finds me acceptable.”

“You mean the looks bit or the addiction to warfare bit?” Gyeji teased.

Sohye was silent, hints of tears beginning to well in her large, dark eyes.

Gyeji sighed, extending her hands for Sohye to take them, which she did. Gyeji rubbed the backs of Sohye’s hands with her thumbs in a sisterly way, taking Sohye’s eyes into her own as well. “For the first part, you’re a beautiful young woman, and any man who has a problem with how you look has no sense or justice. Secondly, from what I hear, Riddenheim’s a hellishly freezing land of brutish warriors. Surely you’ll have more luck with men accepting your expertise in warfare there.”

Sohye smiled back her tears and nodded in gratitude. “And you?” Sohye spoke up after swallowing her fears and insecurities down enough.

“Oh, I’m terrified,” Gyeji answered nonchalantly. “My suitor better have good fashion taste. I lie awake at nights dreading how those less fortunate than us in Ryeongse dress, what they consider acceptable to put on their miserable little bodies. He also better speak Gogwihan-eo, or be willing to. He’s marrying into my family, not the other way around. The only thing worse than a man with horrid fashion sense is one who’s also stupid.”

Sohye chuckled a bit, more at ease now thanks to Gyeji’s banter.

“What kind of languages can you speak, Sohye?” Gyeji questioned, while on the subject. “You’ll need to be a polyglot for marriage afar.”

“I can speak Uyut, Segh, and Kostuan fluently,” Sohye answered. “I studied for three years each in Uyuti and Rolais.”

“Is that so?” Gyeji mused, impressed. “I can only manage a handful of phrases in Kostuan; if the boy wants to have me so bad, he’s going to have to learn my tongue.” She sighed. “What I’m a little more frightened of is messing up. I’m sure you and Daeja have a much bigger task ahead than me, but despite how much war is in our blood as Ryeongseans, it’s not great.”

Sohye nodded in grim agreement. A servant slid open the door to the lounge, bowing slightly while placing the tray of coffee, in small jade cups, on the table and leaving. Gyeji picked up her cup and plate and sipped with calm apprehension. “Perhaps tea was the wiser move,” Gyeji licked her lips. “I don’t need more cause for jitteriness.”

Soyhe picked up the other cup and plate and sipped as well. The drink’s sharp bitterness caused Sohye’s lips to shrink in response. “Better than having too little nerves rattled,” Sohye supposed. Still, perhaps calm was the wiser attitude to embody. Good thing that dozens of sleepless nights in her studies abroad and training nullified the effects of the coffee even today. From how Gyeji’s makeup flawlessly masked bagged eyes still perceivable through her cosmetic skills, Gyeji had a similar familiarity with—and resistance to—coffee’s curse.

The door slid open once more. A palace attendant bowed at the two noblewoman before announcing, “The delegation from Riddenheim has arrived and is waiting in the provincial hall.”

{{==========}}

Along a sun blasted and dust covered path a column of eighteen riders passed steadily. At the rear of the column trundled along a heavy wooden carriage, its sides gilded with copious amounts of gold and silver. The riders kept a constant pace, curtly shouting to any peasants or travellers before them to make way in the language of these lands, their broken pronunciation and heavy accents limiting all interactions. Those who refused or shouted out their anger quickly grew silent when the men flashed their swords and gripped their hilts.

At the head of the column rode a giant of a man, his golden hair trimmed short to his scalp while his beard grew long and free. Over his body he wore a padded aketon, finely embroidered with gold and silver colored lengths of silk, the full majesty of their beauty was hidden by a layer of chainmail, itself covered by a well worn cuirass, its once elegant beauty hidden by layers of dents and cuts into the steel. His name was Erich Kassal, second son to the Grand Prince of Marchnau, Romarich Kassal.

The riders were his, and were under his command as a mercenary Captain. He had handpicked these men to serve as a sort of honor guard, in truth he chose these men because he had known each of them to be lighthearted and cheerful, and made long journeys easier to bear. Only two among this procession did not answer directly to Erich, the first being an elderly priest named Alexi Korozov the men brought along for spiritual advice and to pursue the vain hope of finally outdrinking him and his legendary liver, their hopes of southern drink finally beating him being dashed on the first night they had entered Ryeongse. The second man was the only one of their party who could even attempt to compete with the priest, Erich’s own brother Leo Kassal.

Leo was the youngest son of their father. As the third son he was not expected to ever inherit, and thus spent his days wandering between the many taverns and alehouses of Marchnau. He was dressed far more extravagantly than his brother, His silk kaftan was embroidered with real lengths of gold, the pattern they formed being extremely intricate and reminiscent of the patterns found on Iskrenite churches.

The party rode on steadily, keeping a quick and constant pace through the countryside, the men chatting between themselves about every topic their bored minds could conjure, from the weather being a curse laid upon them to the quality of the native wine, to the people themselves and their odd customs. Erich did not contribute or even listen to the small talk of his men, instead he had spent his day mumbling to himself in a tongue he could barely comprehend.

“It is an honor and a… a…” Erich spoke in broken Gogwihan-Eo, before angrily shouting in his native Masenov, “Greatest damn it all! I can’t understand a damned word in this infernal tongue!” A short laugh erupted from the mouth of his brother, who rode beside him. Leo called out in much more complete Gogwihan-Eo, and his voice carried a mocking tone,

“It is an honor and a delight to make your acquaintance, noble lady.” While his pronunciation was much more complete than his brothers, his thick accent still bled through in every word he spoke. He reverted back to their native language to insult Erich, “It’s been four months since father first proposed the offer of marriage, three since it was accepted, one since the final arrangements were made and we’ve spent two weeks traveling from Marchnau, yet you’ve only begun to practice your Gogwihan-Eo for these past four days.” Erich opened his mouth to speak but instead turned away from Leo, who smirked in victory. He quickly rallied his bruised ego and spoke again,

“I’m not so much a savant for these things as you are.” He smiled then, and rode close to his brother as he responded in a jovial tone, “You surprise me Leo. Here you mock me, yet after last night at that tavern, I expected you to be holed up in the carriage, groaning and puking out your guts!” He laughed and Leo recoiled, his hand darting to his temple as he rubbed it and spoke quickly,

“Not so loud, damn you. It’s bad enough the sun taunts me with no clouds in sight, but I don’t need you to shout and pretend you’re funny.” He massaged his forehead for several moments before speaking again, “I’d rather we finish the ride in silence. I’ve much to think about.” They rode for several more yards before Erirch shouted curtly, his joking tone faded from his voice,

“Enough with your bluster Leo, speak honest to me. Are you afraid?” Leo eyed his brother with a pained expression before turning to the road the precious few miles they still had to ride. He was silent for a moment, before he inhaled deeply and spoke,

“Yes damn it, of course I’m afraid. I’m leaving everything I’ve ever known in this life for a woman I’ve never met, whose culture and way of life is completely alien to me. Wouldn’t you be afraid if you were in my position?” Erich rode his horse parallel to his brother and placed his hand on his shoulder, speaking in a reassuring voice,

“Yes, I believe I would be. But look on the positive side. Your new bride is the governor of these lands, so you’ll never want for wealth or luxuries, and she’s a beauty, if the portraits they’ve sent are anything to go by.” He gave his brother a playful punch on his arm, but his strike was too powerful and left Leo rubbing his shoulder. Erich continued, his voice somber,

“And if that’s not good enough for you, you’ll finally be rid of Aimar and father.” Now it was Leo’s turn to laugh, and he turned to Erich and smiled genuinely as he spoke,

“Ah, now that I shall truly be glad for!” They laughed together as they crested a hill and saw the city of Seungjing sprawling beneath them. Leo sighed deeply before mumbling, “Let us proceed then.” Erich nodded solemnly before cocking his head back to their retinue and shouting,

“We’re almost there lads! Soon we’ll be sleeping in actual beds and drinking the finest wine this pitiful nation has to offer!” A cheer rose among the travel weary riders, and they rode the last leg of the journey eagerly and swiftly. Before formally entering the palace, both brothers took a moment to enter the carriage, where apart from the various valuable gifts that would be a part of a dowry were stored, was the brothers wardrobes. Leo merely changed into a near identical kaftan as the one he already wore, though this one was free of the dust of the trail. Erich abandoned his armor and put on his own kaftan, much less extravagant than his brothers, as it only depicted their house’s crest. He picked up his bearskin cloak and reminisced about the hunt he had organized with several minor nobles from Marchnau that had awarded him with such a fine prize and pondered about wearing it. Leo deduced what his brother was thinking and spoke as he opened the door to leave,

“No furs, I would think. They’re quite unfashionable around here.” Erich nodded before tossing down his cape and exiting after his brother. At the gate was a contingent of men and servants, who led the brothers into the palace, while others led their retinue towards stables for the horses and accommodations for themselves.

{{==========}}

Seungjing, Provincial Palace, Main Hall

If the growing glow of the sun piercing through the paper windows indicated anything, noon was approaching. Even with both the winter’s chill and the shade of the hall's roofs, Sohye felt on the edge of breaking out into a sweat. She noiselessly cleared her throat and began to slowly inhale through her nostrils and out through pressed lips, just as her father had taught her for years on end. Although she was mainly taught such breathing techniques to prepare for duels, a task like meeting her betrothed was close enough.

With little time to change before the guests’ arrival, signaled by faint chatter outside the palace doors growing louder and louder, Sohye had just barely managed to wear a delicately embroidered outer coat with the Malpyeoro Yang’s family crest emblazoned on the back. Its trailing sleeves hid the Rolesian fingerless combat gloves she still had on. Her hair was hastily pinned into place, hideous to a lady’s eyes but, thankfully, clandestine to a man’s.

Sohye stood next to Gyeji, who was sitting on her modest yet still lavishly carved and polished wooden throne. It was remarkable to Sohye how quickly Gyeji could put on different attitudes so quickly, almost as if they were more of a piece of clothing than the hanbok she had on. In addition to her dark blue hanbok, Gyeji also had an outer coat with sleeves trailing past her hands, which she tucked neatly into her gown’s many layers. Her hair was even more stellar than before, as if that spiraling galaxy managed to only grow in size. Through it all, however, what caught Sohye’s gaze the most was Gyeji’s own, a steely, deeply curious and slightly condescending peer ahead at the unmoving gates.

Unmoved until now.

The palace’s doors swung open with groaning speed, thudding gently in place as Sohye and Gyeji, at the end of the hall, and everything in between, was bathed in the wintry sunlight of Eastern Sokos. The sunlight draped across the long halls, past several black granite pillars, shadows belonging to the palace guards, a palace attendant, and the Riddenheimic party.

“Announcing for His Majesty’s Provincial Governess Gi Gyeji and Lady Yang Sohye, brothers Erich and Leo Kassal of Riddenheim!” the court attendant heralded, standing aside and bowing at the waist before turning and standing in waiting at the walls of the chamber. The thin column of palace guards lined the columns leading to the provincial throne, subtly gesturing for the Kassal brothers to, as hastily instructed before entering the hall, go, stop halfway to the throne, and bow as they wished.

Both brothers bowed in the traditional Riddenheimic way, they took their right fists and held them over their hearts before bowing deeply then rising. Erich made to speak but a quick jab to the chest from Leo silenced him, and the two waited for their host to speak.

As the two Riddenheimers approached and bowed, Sohye took in each carefully, studying her betrothed, Erich, under more scrutiny. The man, in stark contrast to his more formal kaftan, appeared gruff and stoic, like a bear, with a bearded mouth that looked like it housed mighty roars. His clean-shaven head, almost reflecting the winter’s sunlight just as the doors behind the brothers began to close, made him more intimidating. Years of warfare and experience lay active underneath his skin. Sohye’s fear only increased from before, seeing a big a man as Erich for the first time, not to mention him as her future husband, but she also felt at peace. War was a language understood by all, and Sohye could read the faces of those skilled in it without them saying a single word. She appreciated, even desired this within Erich; not only did he seem a good fighter, but he seemed to herald a greater future in store for Sohye in far-off Riddenheim.

Gyeji also studied the brothers carefully, glancing instantly between the older and younger. Both their kaftans were of high quality, relative to Riddenheim. As plain as they were, they were well-cared for. Caring for one’s clothes also signals caring for others, Gyeji seemed to notice after years of self-proclaimed fashion connoisseurship. Still, even with Leo’s relatively balder face, both seemed unkempt, even savage. Long voyages yielded little excuse for caring for one’s face. Perhaps Gyeji was jumping to conclusions, yet again.

“At ease,” Gyeji’s voice, still speaking in Gogwihan-eo, pierced softly yet powerfully throughout the chamber. “Welcome to Seungjing. I hope you have enjoyed your visit so far. I assume you already know who we ladies are, and we know all about you two. Your… friends to the back, I did not anticipate but appreciate nonetheless.” A palace attendant to Gyeji’s side, opposite to Sohye, repeated Gyeji’s words in adept Kostuan.

Sohye, meanwhile, kept quiet.

Erich eyed the two women closely. He held his gaze on his betrothed Sohye for a moment longer before nervously breaking the state and looking in between them, disguising his face in an expression of stoicism. Behind his mask he panicked as his worst fears were confirmed. She was beautiful. Erich had faced down hordes of barbarians and sorcerers, terrible berserkers who had screamed to their dread gods for his head, and he faced them down with nary a sweat broken in fear. But no amount of battles or slain foes could prepare him for this new battle, a battle for the affections of a woman.

Leo maintained a much more genuine smile as he made contact with Gyeji. He did not break his gaze as he raised his voice and spoke to the whole hall,

“It is an honor and a privilege to finally meet you in person, noble ladies. I believe I speak for both my brother and myself when I say the tales of your beauty could not hope to match with meeting you face to face.” Flattery was an art Leo was all too skilled in, and he smiled as he nudged Erich again, the elder brother turning to one of their retainers in the grand doorway, the retainer leading three men into the hall, each of them carrying large chests.

Erich turned back to Leo and nodded slightly to his brother, before facing straight again and stealing another glance at Sohye. Leo gestured and the three courtiers placed the chests on the floor and opened them, revealing their continents. Gold and jewels just Barry contained by the heavy wood of the chest spilled forth and fell heavily on the floor, loud thuds being proof of their authenticity. Leo again gestured and a courtier ran up with two identical bracelets, made of gold and engraved with dozens upon dozens of diamonds, the centerpiece of the pieces being a massive blue sapphire. Leo passed one bracelet off to Erich and spoke again to their betrothed,

“These treasures we give freely to you, though they pale in comparison to your own beauty.”

Sohye met Erich’s gaze, glancing towards the treasure, at the jewelry each brother held, and back to Erich.

Gyeji chuckled, “Quite the dowry you’ve brought us. It feels like some lost Tylosian treasure you have dug up and presented.” She eyed each bracelet, studying them with narrowed eyes. “Certainly managed to catch my attention. Plus, you seem to have a way with words. Useful.” She smiled. “I accept your dowry.”

Sohye bowed at her waist. “I accept your dowry as well,” she added softly, in frighteningly adept Rolesian Kostuan.

She stood from her throne, descending the platform on which it stood. She came eye to eye (or, eye to shoulder, at the Riddenheimers’ size) with Leo, beckoning Sohye to stand before Erich. Sohye did so, keeping her eyes modestly glued to the floor. “Sohye’s father had already given his blessing for her to be married, but he does wish to see you, the bigger one, with Sohye before you head off to Riddenheim. So, let’s do this: Sohye and Erich, you two set off to Malpyeoro by the end of the day. Get Yang Donman’s final blessing before you continue to Riddenheim through Tírelloch. As for me and Leo, the marriage will be arranged in Seungjing within the season.”

Before anyone could interject, and while the translator was still trailing her statement in Kostuan, Gyeji summoned a court attendant. “Arrange for these two a palanquin to Malpyeoro. Form an entourage with the Riddenheimers returning to their homeland,” she ordered with a hopeful smile, grabbing Sohye’s and Erich’s hands and putting them together. “Let’s not waste any time; the sooner both pairs are married,” Gyeji raised her eyebrows, “the better.”

========

Seungjing, City Limits

The sun reached the fringes of the mountains to the west, dipping the sky into a rich, gold shade. The wintry gales swept idly at the towering, crimson-red city gates of Seungjing, its pointed green shingles still wet with retreating snow.

Gyeji patted down Sohye’s unruly hair, taking a finger to her tongue to line some rebellious strands in place. Affixing some jewels (from her personal collection, at that) onto Sohye’s round head, Gyeji then propped up Sohye’s clothes, tightening her hanbok’s many ribbons and decorative sashes as well as straightening crumples on the hanbok’s outer coat. To Gyeji’s joy, Sohye had managed to find time to fully dress out of her combat clothing, purely in aristocratic garb now.

Sohye stood still, restraining her impatience as Gyeji’s micromanaging came to a close. She took a brief glance at the Kassal brothers, standing some horselengths away talking amongst themselves.

“You have to take more care of your clothes and your look, you know,” Gyeji fussed melodramatically. “These folk have weird fashion. Intriguing, but weird. You’re the sole representative of Ryeongse’s culture in Riddenheim, fashion and all.”

“I understand, Sister,” Sohye caught herself from nodding; Gyeji’s hands still danced about her hair.

Gyeji paused, retreating her hands.

Sohye’s eyes widened. “I-I deeply apologize if that was improper or offensive!” she stammered panickingly, breaking from her quiet professionalism. “Please forgive me!”

Gyeji chortled, loud enough to briefly interrupt and catch the gaze of both Kassal brothers. “You’re so funny, you know that?”

Sohye bit her lip shut, blushing horrendously. “I-it’s just that this… will be the last time I will be seeing you.” Resuming that quietness again, Sohye began to wring her hands together in apprehension. “Although we have not known each other for as long as I would have liked, it was nice nonetheless…”

“I agree, Sister,” Gyeji smiled. She reached over and gave Sohye a hug.

Sohye began to well up a bit. “I don’t have any siblings. Thank you for being mine.”

“I wish I didn’t have any siblings,” Gyeji mused. “Brothers can be something else. It’s nice to have a younger sister for a change, though.” Still in their embrace, Gyeji sighed. “Try not to kill your betrothed in a duel,” she began to list. “Don’t speak unless spoken to. Please don’t always keep on those hideous gloves; you’ll catch eyes. And—”

“I understand, Sister,” Sohye responded calmly, trying not to show signs of asphyxiation from Gyeji’s hold.

“Don’t interrupt me; this last one’s important,” Gyeji snapped. “And remember you represent Ryeongse in Riddenheim. Act as Ryeongse would act: polite, honorable, humble, yet fiercely determined, stubborn, and valiant. Try not to start a scandal.”

“I understand, Sister,” Sohye repeated. Gyeji let Sohye go and squeezed her cheeks, to Sohye’s mild chagrin.

The brothers spoke in their native Masenov as the retainers and guards around them made the final preparations for the journey to Malpyeoro, and then Riddenheim beyond.

“..And you’ll see to it that my personal belongings are brought safely over the Eternals?” Leo asked idly.

“Aye, I’ll see it done personally.” Erich responded. Leo nodded, then moved to break away from his brother before the elder grabbed him by the arm and spoke again, “Hold on now, I’ve something to say. I never got the chance to say this back home, but out of all three of us, you’re the only one with a scholar's mind and the ambition to make a difference in this world. Back home you were stifled by father, but here you have a chance. Don't waste it.” Leo chuckled before replying,

“I’ll keep that in mind, though I wonder how much, if any, influence I may hold. In any event, good luck, may your marriage prosper and try not to get your head caved in by a barbarians ax.” Erich laughed deeply as both brothers embraced for several moments, and parted with Leo beginning to recite an old Iskrenite departure saying,

“May Iskren guide you…” “And may The Greatest keep you.” Erich finished, and the brothers smiled at each other one last time before departing.

Sohye turned her head as the brothers said their goodbyes. She bowed to Gyeji at the waist. “Stay in peace, Sister,” she softly bade.

“Go in peace, Sister,” Gyeji responded with a solemn half-smile. Sohye nodded in acknowledgement and walked towards Erich, passing Leo as he approached Gyeji. Taking Erich’s outstretched hand, Sohye climbed into the spacious palanquin. The polished wooden doors closed with a click, signaling dsen bearers to gently hoist the vessel on their shoulders. The palanquin paced away, to the east, towards the setting sun, with its Riddenheimic party and mixed Ryeongsean cavalry escorts riding at its pace.

“And now everything really starts,” Gyeji whispered to herself, winking insinuatingly at a flustered Leo.

Bloodlines - Part 1
Copost with Volgaro

Gabriele von Waling held still, back resting on a small spruce. The forest was still - or so it would seem to someone not familiar with it. For Gabriele, though, it was alive with sound and movement. Gustav, Gabriele’s father, had insisted that she knew the land as well as her eventual subjects did, and so more days than not she’d followed his Huntsman out into the woods, learning everything she could about tracking game, how to handle a bow, and most importantly, patience. And it was patience that had become so important now, with her cousin sitting on the throne in the castle to the south. She’d have her day with Greta soon enough, but right now was not the time to strike. She needed allies.

There was a sudden flutter of movement to her right near the ground, just as soon hidden again. Gabriele scanned the brush, searching for the source of it. Woodland animals were hard to spot, for they knew how to blend in with their environment. For a good eye, though, it was possible to pick them out. And there it was. The pear shape of a pheasant, holding still. The color was invisible, but the shape was unmistakable. She raised her bow and released.

The flutter became a burst of movement as the bird struggled against its sudden assailant, but death was inevitable now. Gabriele walked six strides toward it and grabbed it by its neck. It struggled until she snapped its neck with a sudden jerk. She’d eat well tonight.

The quiet time out in the forest let her think. As she prepared the pheasant and ate it under the darkening sky, she made up her mind. To the north was a large kingdom. Volgaro. She knew they’d come this far south before. Rumor had it that they’d gone even further, so she should be able to seek ties with them.

She separated the blood into a small iron cup, and cut a line up the nearest tree. Shoving a knife up into the cut, she went back to her bird and finished the meal. As she ate, she drew the knife out from the tree. A thin sap covered the tip, and she wiped the knife off into the metal cup, then stirred.

She lay back against the tree again after she ate and pulled out her oilskin pouch. She produced a sheaf of papers, and cut a feather for a quill. By this time her earlier mixture had settled, and she dipped her quill to write. In orange ink that would be brown tomorrow, she wrote. It was a formal letter, if an unskilled one. She knew nothing of the courtly graces or etiquette that her family once would have had before their departure from Alvaringen.

To the Noble Houses of Volgar,

I am Gabriele, heir to the Duchy of Kohlenbirke, east of the Imperial Highway to your south. I and my people seek your aid. For years now, we have been ruled by a pretender. We have a strong army, but only of equal size to the pretender. My people are Sudenmen like many of yours, and we ask that our bond in blood be honored. However, as you can see, I am plain-spoken, and cannot assume to be of the same station as you. Kohlenbirke is rich in resources. We can pay for aid.

Blood prevails,
Gabriele Von Waling.

She tied the letter back up into her pouch, and laid back to sleep. In the morning she would return to Kohlenbirke and send a rider north with the message.

__________

Two Weeks Later

Myrali, Lord Marshal’s chamber.

Drovij’s sat in his chamber alone lost in thought. He looked at a large map of Sokos that lay across a table, the pieces from his chess board lay to the side of it. He grabbed two pieces, a knight and pawn moving it to the lands of Duke Vaclou within Dhorvas. He then placed three knights and three pawns on the border of Volgaro and Dhorvas. He continued placing pieces till he stood for a second looking over the map, visions of battle filled his head tactics against a foe he had never seen only heard about from hius scouts within the Lizard Lands. His tired eyes snapped open as a knock came from his chamber door.

The Lord Marshal opened the door to a servant holding the message from Kohlenbirke, he sighed, grabbing his pipe, filling and lighting it before reading the letter.

“My Lord..” the servant had begun to speak before Drovij held his hand up to silence him. “Summon the Volkiban from their chambers.” he said bluntly.

“But it’s late My Lord, should you not wait for the Mor—”

“Do as I say or I shall have you flogged!” Drovij barked, causing the servant to jump before running to do as he said.

Within the hour the Lords and Ladies of the Volkiban had gathered, some with scowls and others with confusion covering their visage. Rurik of House Drovic was the first to speak. “Why have you called us here at this hour Drovij?!”

Another from the opposite side of the chamber, Count Albin Brun spoke softly in stark contrast to the Volgar’s booming voice. “For once i must agree with the Chief Drovic, why have you called us here old friend?”

Drovij handed the letter to a servant commanding him to pass it around the room before he spoke. “Just like my original purpose for calling you all here we have been called upon to aid another, but this time one of our brethren!”

“One of your brethren!” Chief Marov yelled from the left causing the usual bickering within the chamber before Drovij slammed a book against the stone wall, startling the chamber into silence. “Now I am usually not the one handling the lot of you but the Reichsfrau put me in charge till she returns, with that being said the Reichsfrau is both Volgar and Sudenmen!’ he said looking to each side of the chamber as he spoke about their respective cultures. “But as sons and daughters of the saints we owe it to our ancestors to at least hear the girl out!”

A voice called out from behind Rurik. “I’ll go,” he said, stepping forward.

Rurik scoffed “Olaf you would tarnish our name in such a way,” he said, scowling at his son. Olaf looked back to his father “The only one shaming our house and the Volgar people is you. This Gabriele calls for our aid what does it hurt to at least go hear her plea, we are warriors and this is a war waiting to be fought, but you all would rather sit and collect the ghost of victory instead of the real thing.”

Gasps were heard throughout the hall before Chief Marov burst into laughter. “I like you, boy! I vote we send this one and a group down to meet the lass and see what she has to bring to the table fully.” he said with a chuckle.

Drovij sighed in relief. “All in favor?”

All of the Sudenmen raised their hands followed by Chief Marov,Chief Vlasti, and High Chief Vadik

“All opposed?”

Rurik, Chieftess Radislav, and Chief Fausti raised their hands.

“Well that decides that then. Olaf you will be able to gather a group of men yourself; I will also be sending a group of guards with you just in case.” Drovij said, lighting his pipe once more. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, Lord Marshal.” Olaf said walking past his father without a word.

In the following weeks Olaf would gather a group of twenty men - counting the guards Drovij had given him - and began traveling south towards Kohlenbirke.

__________

Five weeks since the letter…

The mud was almost thick enough to pull Gabriele’s boots right off her feet. It had been raining for three days now, and although she was wearing her least-soaked coat - mostly dried out by the fire in her room last night - there was still enough wet left in it that the coat failed to cut the edge of the chill that came with the weather. She squelched along in front of her men, talking to each in turn, giving a little encouragement as they sat huddled around the bonfire. The night before, they’d broken up an attempted raid on Lenefield. A few crops had been burnt, but they’d run the intruders off without much of a problem. Where one raid happened though, there would be others. She had to at least try to make sure her men were ready for another round.

Before she could get very far with her task though, a rider galloped in along the road back to Kohlenbirke. He pulled his horse up to a stop when he saw her, mud flecks spattering her boots. “My lady! There’s a group of maybe 20 men coming from the north!”

Was it a response to my letter? Or is this some new worry to contend with? Gabriele kept her thoughts to herself as she sent a man for her horse.

It was raining in Kohlenbirke too, when the riders from the north arrived. The last few miles had been across hillsides and trails that looked like they’d only been used once in a decade, if that. But just as Kohlenbirke came into sight over the river, they’d been able to rejoin a decent road, if a small one. Several fishing boats could be seen mid-river, ignoring the rain falling in pursuit of their livelihood. Beyond the river - over a low, sturdy, stone bridge - stood the town proper, brick buildings side-by-side all the way along the top of the rise from the river, and over the tops of them, a taller structure, clearly an old castle that had been built for practicality over style. The blue slate of the roof was cracked and missing in several places, but the line of the roof was still straight and solid.

The riders were met at the bridge by a small company of soldiers, two on horseback, one of those armored, and the rest common foot soldiers. One of the smaller soldiers - probably trained to do exactly what he did - took off at a run as soon as the riders approached. The rest held their positions as the armored horseman nudged his mount forward a few paces. “What brings you men here to Kohlenbirke?” His Kostuan was good, but with a heavy accent that marked his lack of direct tutelage in the language.

Olaf held his hand up to stop all of his riders. He looked the man on the horse up and down before speaking. “We have business with the ruler of these lands, if you would excuse us I would rather get out of the rain.”

As he said this the men around him seemed to ready themselves for battle staring at the horsemen on the bridge with grins on their faces.

The horseman isn’t quite ready to fight. Besides, if these men wanted to speak to Gabriele it was not his place to say no. Let her say it - surrounded by many more men than he had here. He wheeled his horse around, and gave a gesture to his men. “Come. We’ll escort you to the castle.”

Olaf nodded to his men who mounted their horses once more following the rider.

The city of Kohlenbirke was not as small as it had first appeared while crossing the bridge. Inside the city walls, houses were crushed together in a manner that was borne from years of uncertainty and mutual protection. It would have probably taken a full day to walk around the edge of the city, following its walls. The robber baron that had had power over the land prior to the Duke’s coming had run roughshod over the inhabitants of the land, until the vast majority had moved to the safety of Kohlenbirke’s walls. Throughout the succession war that followed, both capitals had come under seige more than once, and Kohlenbirke’s perimeter still bore the marks of that. While sections of the wall were undermined and leaning, while others that had been repaired had not met the original standard. This latter work seemed to be more in the vein of having it done, with plans to come back later to repair it properly.

Inside the walls, most streets remained dirt, with the few main ones having had cobblestone laid at some point in the past that was now slowly being covered by dirt and - in the less busy areas - moss. Kohlenbirke Castle itself stood at the highest point of the city, and it too showed signs of having been assaulted in the past. Here too, repairs were underway, but the damage was extensive. Indeed, an entire wing had been leveled nearly to the ground, and a large workforce was even now clearing the last of the old building away in preparation for new construction.

Gabriele von Waling, alerted by the runner, had just finished cleaning up from where she’d been working, assisting with the clearing of the rubble. Her father had always told her that it was important that she never expect others to do what she would not, so although her time could not be spent completely on mundane tasks, she made sure that the townspeople saw that she could - and would - work alongside them. Her hair was wet after having been rinsed of the dust that billowed around the clearing-out work, and her hands and lower arms were clean, but there was no way to completely remove the dust, save a bath and a change of clothes, and there’d be no time for that until this evening. Gabriele moved to the center of the courtyard and took up a neutral stance, waiting for the visitors to arrive.

When Olaf and his party approached the courtyard he waved the straki off to stand guard over the meeting, bidding only two of his men to enter with him. All three of them wore a mix of leathers and furs with emerald cloaks held on with a pin in the shape of a boar with an arrow through it.

Upon entry Olaf and his men bowed before her. Olaf removed his hood, revealing his long dirty blond hair slightly dampened due to the rain. “Are you the Lady of these lands?” He said.

Gabriele returned the bow with a polite nod. She wasn’t sure of the rank of any of the visitors, and her etiquette tutor had died last year, but she was almost certain she was not supposed to bow in her own lands in front of her own castle. Still, whoever these men were, they almost certainly held more power than she did. “I am. And of the lands south of here as well, although my cousin would not agree. Gabriele von Waling, of the Alvaringian Walings, though I am not sure if they’re still aware of our existence all the way out here. Are you simply passing through, or…” She let the end of the sentence hang there, hoping that it would invite a conclusion from the others.

Olaf chuckled. “If we were simply passing through, there are much grander places to travel through, but I am Olaf Drovic of Volgaro.”

“You’re probably right about that.” Gabriele held no illusions as to the state of her miniature domain. Her family’s estate was full of drawings and paintings of the castles and cities of their former home, and any single one of them outshone Kohlenbirke. Still, if they were from Volgaro, it meant that her letter had been read - and answered. She made up her mind to be a good host. There were the people, after all, that would hopefully help her against her cousin.

“It’s good that you’ve come, though. And I suspect you must be tired after the last part of your ride. The pathetic excuses for roads between here and the Imperial Highway are horrible. If you’d like, you can stable your horses just to the side,” she said, pointing to a tall, sharp-pointed roof just visible past the corner of the wing that was in-tact, “or I can have my people take your horses there and tend to them, if you’d rather. We’ll have to wait a bit for dinner, since we didn’t know when you’d be here, but we do have ale so you can wash the road out of your mouth.”

Olaf looked to the two hooded men behind him speaking in the Volgar tongue before they bowed and stepped away.

The Volgar then looked back to Gabriele “You said you had ale?”

Gabriele nearly laughed, and the amusement probably showed quite plainly on her face, but she managed to keep her composure. “We do indeed! One of our small villages has a good brewery and the owner supplies us with drink in lieu of taxes. He seems to like the arrangement, and I can’t say we’re complaining about it either!”

She turned to lead the way to the castle, and waved an arm. “Come with me and we’ll get you off your feet.”

Olaf followed, noting the hidden smile on her face with a smirk.

The castle was not a very ostentatious building, but it was solid. It imposed on the landscape in the way that relatives did when they found you had better lodgings than them. It controlled the view and its dark blue-grey stone walls, and high towers with small slit-like windows drew eyes toward it and away from the squalor that surrounded it. Inside, the grey was broken by slivers of silver as the sunlight that made its way through the clouds glimmered. More light than that was cast by the sconces along the walls.

Gabriele led the way in through the tall couple doors and through the large hall that stood directly behind them. The wall opposite the door, where the interior branched off in two directions - or went around it - was covered by the fading remnants of a fresco that had been commissioned years ago and burned in a fire that began when the southerners had broken through the front doors of the castle two years ago. It was not as impressive as it had once been, but the quality of work was still clear.

The great hall stood directly to the right, open through a doorless archway. There was seating for probably forty here, but it was empty at the moment. As they came through the archway, Gabriele pulled a servant aside and - with a whispered command - the girl ran off down the side corridor. “Take the weight of the road off and relax. We’ll have refreshment delivered shortly.” There was, notably, no chair or place grander than the rest, and Gabriele waited for her guests to have a seat before she made a move to sit.

Olaf noted the destruction around the castle before taking a seat. “I’ve been sent by the Lord Marshal to….” He paused for a moment. “Assess your readiness as an ally, and if I am being blunt your realm looks as if victory was a forgotten outcome all together, let alone the state in which your castle is in.”

A darkness flashes across Gabriele’s face for just a moment as she answers. “Not forgotten, just delayed. But war is in our blood, and it is in our foe’s as well. We have a peace… of sorts, out of necessity. It is a peace of three months now. The rebuilding has only just started.” The dark look is replaced by pride as she continues. “However, that does not mean that we are not ready to fight. Nearly twenty-thousand men proudly serve Kohlenbirke. When we recover, that number will be closer to thirty thousand. We may not be the grand armies of the east, but we know how to fight.”

“I would like to assess that as well.” Olaf said with a smirk. “We Volgars pride ourselves as warriors without equal, and I have brought some of our best. While I am here I will test you and your men….and your ale.” He said with a chuckle.

Gabriele raises an eyebrow. “I am not sure there is a better test than half a decade of war. You judge the castle, but look at the countryside. It’s nearly completely untouched. We protected our people at the expense of ourselves. But I welcome your tests all the same. We may not be the best, but we will stand up to anyone who presents themselves. As for the ale…”

She turned at the sound of footsteps, and a line of servants entered, carrying a keg of ale and trays stacked with mugs, wooden, but polished to a shine. “... it appears the first test is starting now,” she grinned.

Olaf filled his mug quickly, gulping it down. “I don’t doubt your men’s capability to fight a foe that thinks like them.” He said quickly refilling his mug again. “It is one’s that don’t, that tend to cause trouble,” he said before gulping down his second mug.

“As for your lands, I did notice they seem intact in comparison to the castle. Which is good in my opinion.”

“It’s never a bad idea to learn new things.” As the others have gotten their ale, she goes ahead and fills up a mug of her own, knocking it back as quickly as it was filled. “Anything that you see that you think we can do better at, I’m willing to listen. I won’t guarantee a change, of course, but it’s stupid to be close-minded.”

Olaf nodded. “What exactly are you promising for Volgar aid in this civil war.”

Of course, this was the one question that Gabriele had been thinking about ever since she’d sent the letter to Volgaro. Kohlenbirke was not a large nation. Not a nation at all, really. She didn’t want to end up eternally beholden to an outside power just to get rid of a local one. “We do have natural resources - gems and gold, but we also have soldiers. Soldiers that would feel honor-bound to repay your kindness in an hour of need.”

“So an alliance of sorts, yes?” Olaf said, looking at Gabriele with curiosity.

“Well. Truth be told, I am not sure how much the number of fighters we have at our disposal would tip the scales, but yes. If we receive help in defense of our homeland, we will repay the favor.” Truth be told, she was unsure how welcome the offer would even be. She had read stories of that sort of offer being seen as an insult, so she only hoped she was reading the situation correctly and that the offer would not discover even more enemies.

Olaf thought for a moment. “It is customary for things such as this to be sealed with more than a simple hand shake.”

Gabriele smiled. It wasn’t exactly friendly, but those present would have been hard-pressed to say exactly what it was. “If it is a document you wish me to sign, I would need to let my advisors read it, but I would not be averse to formalizing the arrangement. It wouldn’t mean much to the people here, but they will honor it just the same.”

“I was not talking about a document but if that is what you wish then I will report back that we need to bring a scholar on our next visit.” He said, nodding. “In Volgaro most treaties are sealed if possible by marriage, that way noble lines can continue and hold true to the terms of the treaties made by their forefathers, mostly a ceremonial thing but we Volgars tend to be a superstitious folk.”

A marriage. This hadn't really been at the forefront of Gabriele's mind, though now that it was mentioned, she realized she probably should have at least been aware of the possibility. It was how things were done after all, even if it hadn't been possible here for a couple generations. The slightest tinge of a blush crept up the back of her neck as she fully realized what was going to be asked of her. She had no relations that she could call on for this duty. If there was going to be a marriage, it was going to have to be hers. "I'm sorry. I meant no offense. I've simply been in one mindset for quite a long time — marriage never entered my mind. How exactly would that work?"

Olaf chuckled. “Well you could marry one of the Reichsfrau’s cousins, or one of the available nobles from the different houses which sit on the Volkiban.” He stroked his beard, thinking.

“It would have to be someone who could stand the plain living here. I wouldn’t want to drag someone all the way down here who was accustomed to a more sophisticated life. And someone who could stand the rain. It does that a lot here.” Practical things first. In truth what she meant - and what Olaf no doubt understood - was that she didn’t want someone who would complain all day every day about having to live in Kohlenbirke. If she was going to be wed out of necessity she was at least not going to be wed stupidly.

Olaf’s face turned stern for a moment before he responded. “Well that is an interesting request, can’t be the Reichsfrau’s cousin; he complains about everything” He stroked his beard once more in thought.

While he thought, Gabriele took the opportunity to refill her mug from the keg that her people had provided. She’d made a show of drinking quickly, but to a keen eye, her speed was rather slow — she appeared to drink significantly more than she did. “It’s not something that has to be decided here and now. You’re here as our guests; I don’t want to foist work on you right up front. Supper will be served soon, and tomorrow I can show you the land.

Olaf nodded “Well I will retire till then. Good day, Lady Gabriele.”

With his departure, Gabriele turned her attention to overseeing the upcoming dinner. Under normal times there would be three simple courses, but for the first time in over a decade, Kohlenbirke was to have guests. There was to be no corners cut, no spices pinched. An hour later, after spending the majority of the intervening time in discussion with the cook, Gabriele was satisfied, and retired to her room to change out of her day clothes.

The dining hall was lit for the evening with candles adorning the upper walls and three large polycandela that hung from thick chains along the middle line of the room. The combined effect cast an amber glow over the room, with shadows licking the corners of the hall.

Gabriele let the hall fill before she made her appearance - not that she’d had much choice; it had taken her a good while to get clean after her work earlier in the day. The servants in charge of the dinner had made sure that Gabriele - along with her Steward and intelligencer - were seated at the long table at the head of the room. She strode into the room - that was the only word for it, really - not pausing at the door as some would have had they planned the same type of entrance. Her burgundy gown that trailed behind her was trimmed with black fur, around the deep cut collar and at the ends of the long, flared sleeves. Although it was of a style that was long out-of-date in the capitals of Sokos, she wore it well. A wide belt of golden thread tied in the back just above her waist, and her hair cascaded down her back freely. She sat down with just enough time to greet the others before the first course was served - a mistake on the servants’ part, but not an overly large one.

The food was simple, but well-presented. After the water and towels were passed around, the first course was served. This dish was a mix of vegetables, parsley roots, carrots, radishes, and turnips. All thinly sliced, then boiled until soft, and then soaked in honey, salt, and ginger, and then cooked with sugar, wine, and raisins until the sugar vanished, and finally sprinkled with ground anise and fennel. Arranged into small bite-sized balls, they were served in large, shallow bowls, allowing anyone who wished to take them with their fingers.

Olaf looked at the dish with a slight grin, before looking towards Gabriele. Olaf had thought she was attractive to begin with, but the dress stunned him for a moment before he spoke. “You continue to impress, Lady Gabriele.” He said, chuckling.

Gabriele was quite obviously taken aback at the form of address. She had never been one to stand on formality, even while her family was still alive to insist upon it. She required only deference from her small court, not honorifics, and so hearing it once more gave her a momentary pause. Her eyebrow raised — and then lowered again. She smiled, a small gesture, as she sat. “It is my only good dress, and I have so few opportunities to wear it. I thought it would be a shame if I missed it.”

“Well my lady, I will happily say it suits you.” He said eating the food. “I thank you and the Saints for this meal.”

Gabriele nodded her head in a tiny mirroring of a curtsy. “I appreciate the compliment. I do hope you enjoy the rest of the meal as well. Is it much different from what you’re accustomed to so far? I know it’s just been the one dish…”

“While I am a noble, I have become appreciative of any meal I'm given, for I spend most of my time in the wilderness with my men,” he said.

“Well, at any rate, I do hope it’s not too jarring to your palette. I know my father often spoke of how hard it was to get used to the food here. I’m used to it, having never known anything else.” She plucked a few of the pickled balls from the bowl and popped one into her mouth. “Perhaps cuisine could be part of the exchange.”

“Perhaps.” Olaf said thinking while he ate. “If I may ask, what exactly are you wanting my people to do?”

“My family spent considerable effort increasing the quality of these people’s lives - and yes, probably our own coffers too; I know little of that because by now the coffers all around are bare. War does that.” She’d interrupted her reply with that aside, but now gets back on track. “Then, because of a fluke of birth, someone else claimed the Grand Duke’s title. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman in her own right, but,” she punctuated each word now as a separate sentence in itself. “She is not the rightful heir…” and her brow furrowed. “... regardless of her order. She is not a von Waling, her family did none of the work, and I will have her gone if it is the last thing I do. Our forces are regretfully equal, however, and so we have been unable to make significant headway in our efforts—”

The next dish was served just then. This heavier one was spit-roasted steak, basted in wine and vinegar with black pepper and ginger. The meat would have been served no matter who ate at the castle tonight, as the preparation took over a day, but tonight’s was more special than normal. Over all else, the cook had added a sprinkling of cinnamon. It was the last of Kohlenbirke’s stores, and Gabriele would sorely miss it, but this was the occasion for it.

When the steak was finished being served, she likewise finished her thought. “I want the war decided and done. However it’s managed, we will obviously be in your debt and would likewise come to your aid when requested.”

“That being said I have made a decision on my recommendation to Lord Marshal Drovij.” He’s said, eating into his steak.

This surprised Gabriele, and it undoubtedly showed across her face despite her attempt to bury it. She paused just before her first bite of steak, fork hanging in the air to disguise the fact that her jaw was trying to do the same thing. "I didn't expect something so soon. I thought you'd at least want to see the land or the men first."

“I will see those things while I’m here but my decision was always going to be based on your hospitality, therefore I have made my decision.” Olaf said with a chuckle.

“I’m glad to hear it then! We do enjoy having guests, I just wish everything was in better shape. I’ve had to hold off on repairing the castle while we rebuild Kriev. It was caught in the middle of a major battle last month, and over half of it burnt down. We can’t very well prioritize an extra wing of a castle when I have a roof over my head and they don’t.” She caught up on eating her steak. Truth be told, her eating habits were a bit more mannish than could be expected. But growing up with four elder cousins, all male, had taught her the value of finishing your food and doing so quickly, lest it become someone else’s. At least she wasn’t eating with an arm around her bowl as she used to when she was a child.

Olaf chuckled at the sight, finishing his steak calmly before setting his cutlery down, looking Gabriele in the eyes. “So what are the numbers of your cousin's forces?”

“Almost identical to my own, by all accounts. We’ve been trading blow for blow pretty evenly. She has better defenses than we do - or at least than we did. We’re fairly confident in ourselves… now. The quality is probably where we differ. Her troops are trained by veterans, mine are not. But we know the land better.”

“So what you need is a well trained force to turn the tides, yes?”

“I believe so. I have faith in my men, and they have heart. We simply - and quite frankly - lack the tactical knowledge that my cousin’s armies have.” She sat back after saying this, leaving room for the servants to again swap out dishes. This one, a simple pasty, was designed to calm the stomach after the heavy meat, was filled with mushroom, and topped with cheese and fried egg. A simple preparation, it would tide the eaters over until the next course was here.

Olaf ate into the pasty making a face as he did so for a moment before continuing the conversation. “I would say calling our straki down would do the trick, each of them is a general in their own right and the order that will be sent will of course do their duty or die trying.”

He thought for a moment. “Saint Ulrich’s own might be willing to come here, Grandmaster Fredrich is only second to the Lord Marshal when it comes to his tactical mind.” He said putting his hand to his chin.

Gabriele did not have a lot of input on this matter; he certainly knew his own countrymen better than she did. And so — as was her unfortunate wont when she was at a loss for words — she spoke anyway. “I certainly hope I’m not going to be expected to marry them all. That could be tiring.”

Olaf stopped for a moment bursting into laughter. “Wouldn’t that be a sight!” He said before regaining his composure. “But no, they will most likely want to marry you with someone within the Volkiban so that Kohenbirke is kept close to Volgaro for years to come.”

Gabriele managed to keep herself from laughing at her own joke — and avoiding the embarrassment after she realized what the sight was that he was talking about — by eating a good half of her pasty. Then, she asked, “What is the Volkiban? I suppose I should know some about the workings of Volgaro if we’re to be tied to you.”

“Do you want my personal answer or the official nobility answer?” Olaf said, a smirk on his face.

Gabriele chuckled at that. “Something tells me your personal answer will be both less flattering and more informative than the official one. Let’s have that one.”

“It’s where most of the nobles parade around like peacocks while getting nothing done due to being at odds with one another, won’t even listen to the one man who is trying to help our people due to his ties with the Reichfrau or the fact he is a Sudenmen.” He took a sip from his drink. “In short it is a circus of fools and dried up old warriors longing for a bygone age of delusional and grandiose speckles of wasting their subjects' lives for some fools notion of pride.”

“I’m not sure I like the sound of marrying one of them. Is there another option?”

“Well it could be one of their children, which is the most likely option, that would include me and a few others.” Olafs said finishing his course.

“And then I’d have a few years before I’d have to fit you for your tailfeathers,” she smirked. She was saved from immediate retort by the next course. The servants brought in the second meat, a civet of trout, cut open, boned, and splayed, breaded with a paste of ale, then fried in butter along with onions.

“Oh, is that proposal my lady?” He said faking shyness, before chuckling and eating into the fish with a smile. “Now this reminds me of home.”

“I really shouldn’t yet, Gabriele replied. “I don’t know you at all, really. But I could see it. At least I know I wouldn’t be having to deal with unmitigated ego for ego’s sake. That gets rather boring after a while.”

“I suppose you are right, I only have great pride In very few things but the only thing I will not let be slandered is my fighting prowess and my love of this fish!” He said digging in.

“Two things that should never be taken for granted,” Gabriele replied dryly. The next few moments were empty of sound, save for the demolishment of the fish and the pouring of wine. Then, as she finished her fish, she added, “Tell me about Volgaro, then. What is it like there? What are your favorite things?”

“Well my people the Volgars made a warrior folk, raised up knowing the way of the blade and horse from a young age, it snows most of the time other than spring and early to mid summer. I particularly like what being a ranger allows me to see. The way nature bends and shapes with time I can almost hear the singing of the spirits during High spring and their howls during the Long winter, they are beautiful songs that I would never wish to miss.”

Gabriele’s eyes lit up as Olaf talked about the outdoors. It was an experience she too enjoyed. So enraptured was she that she nearly forgot to reply, until her Steward nudged her with his elbow as discreetly as possible. “I’m sorry, I was paying attention. Too much attention, perhaps. The woods and hills and streams of our lands are my favorite place to be as well. My father told me that a ruler could not hope to truly rule well unless they understood the heart of their people and the soul of their land. It is good to meet someone from outside who holds the land in such regard.”

“The ancient Volgar faith is based on the worship of spirits and the belief that they are in everyday even the tiniest grain of sand, that is what I believe in, I believe that you can hear these spirits singing a certain song as if it is the world’s orchestra.” Olaf stated, smiling softly.

“The people here believe something similar. My family, on the other hand, has always believed in the Greatest, but we have also never been in touch with the natural world. The more I am, the more I feel that they - and you - might be correct.”

Just then, the last course, the desert was set before them. So invested in the conversation they were that the servants had managed to do it almost unnoticed. It was in two parts. First, a cherry pottage, the fruit pureed with bread, wine, sugar, and salt. It was served in a bowl lined with rose petals, and once eaten through to the bottom, they would find a rose pudding made with cream and pine nuts.

Olaf ate his desert. “I am glad you feel the way you do about nature, most in Volgaro have forgotten that part of our ancestry and only focus on the warriors and raiders.” He said after he finished.

As Gabriele finished hers up as well, she replied, “There’s definitely something to be said about fighting prowess. But what are you fighting for? If it’s not the land that you love, a battle might as well be an immense gathering of town drunks, for all the good it will do. And if you destroy the very thing you’re fighting for, you might as well surrender and let your foe enjoy it.”

“Agreed, we may have more in common then I had first thought, I believe this visit shall prove enjoyable.” Olaf said, raising his mug to Gabriele with a smile.

Gabriele returned the smile with a grin of her own, knocking her mug against his. “I am sure it will be! And our common interests will hopefully lead to a long friendship.”

Post self-deleted by Volgaro.

A Challenge of the Heart
Copost with Eskeland

It was a day like any other, Karl was in his study writing a letter, it was directed to the ruler of Volgaro, Reichsfrau Isabella, after reading many books and listening to many stories about Volgaro and the supposed ancestral connection that his father used to talk so much about, Karl became infatuated with learning more about it and with it came he desire to invite her to Eskeland, he felt this was the time to reconnect again with his cultural cousins, to seek better relationships, maybe even learn something more about this common ancestry. He wrote a letter to Isabella and it said the following:

“To Reichsfrau Isabella, Ruler of Volgaro,

It is with much regard that I write to you, I have been pondering for many days now a meeting with you, I want to reconnect with my cultural cousins to the north, that is why I invite you to come and visit Eskeland where I shall receive you with open arms, there is much I wish to talk to you about regarding the future relationship of our countries.

Sincerely,

Karl Johann av Varberg
König of Eskeland “

It was a short letter, but it went straight to the point. It would take some time to arrive. Karl was excited, and he was hoping for a positive response, the last time a Volgaro ruler came to Eskeland was during the reign of King Alderik, and that was centuries ago.

This letter would reach Isabella shortly before she departed southward towards Serulea, within the months she had stayed within the embrace of her new husband she had kept it in the back of her mind and wrote a short response to the Southern King.

“Dear King Karl av Varberg

It is with great pleasure that I have received your letter, for I have been spending these past months in travels and foreign courts, what would one more be for our southern cousins.

A Torsenic reunion, let it be known I will be traveling towards your lands post haste after spending some time with my new husband and restocking my caravan for travel.

With the Warmest Regards

Isabella Von Reinhardt
Reichfrau of Volgaro”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Karl was in his throne room holding court, when he got handed a letter by one of his couriers, he told him it was from Isabella, Karl gave it a read and then finished holding court before moving on towards making the preparations for her arrival, he expected her to come accompanied, since he heard she was traveling with an entourage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Sokos, Isabella was bidding Sebastien farewell for the time being before departing. She would sail off around the southern coast of Sokos and towards the Eskelian port and capital of Tidahamn. They would stop in the elven port of Mithranus, the Aelythian port of Myranthos, and the Tong colony of Tsokhai to rest and restock along the way.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Finally after a long voyage the royal flagship would approach the port of Tidahamn. There, Karl, his wife and some of his most trusted nobles waited for her ship to dock in port. Once docked, down came Isabella, together with her cousins and the famous Straki Guards, renowned throughout all of Eskeland for being one of the fiercest warriors in all of Sokos. The Royal Guard lined up the way to the carriage that would transport them to the palace, Karl wasn’t about to let a foreign ruler travel on foot or on horse.

Karl greeted Isabella with a bow and a kiss to her hand, “I'm delighted to finally make your acquaintance my lady and it seems like the rumours about your beauty are true, your husband Sebastien is very lucky”

Isabella curtsied smiling “Thank you for inviting us King Karl, I am happy to see what our southern cousins have to offer.”

“I must certainly apologise for inviting you here, I know it’s a long voyage, so I hope there were no inconveniences along the way, but anyhow, I bid you welcome to my city and to my country”

Isabella and her party began to follow the king, Wilhelm muttering under his breath to a couple of the Straki guards.

“I want to present to you my wife, Raewyn, the love of my life and the brains of the family” Raewyn couldn’t stop herself from letting out a soft laugh at her husband’s remark, before bowing courteously towards Isabella and her family “A pleasure to meet you all”. Karl proceeded to introduce the rest, “And finally this is Frau Ellinor av Kovalev, daughter of the Duke of Apenstad, who unfortunately could not be present here today, he’s sick, but she was kind enough to be here today to represent him.

Alexsander looked at Elinor bowing. “My name is Aleksander Von Dreni Reinhardt, my lady, a pleasure to meet you.”

Ellinor responded kindly by also bowing “Ellinor Emilia av Kovalev, it’s a pleasure to meet you too”

Wilhelm also bowed to the King and Elinor “Thank you for inviting us all.”

Karl kindly introduced himself to the rest and motioned them to follow him to their respective carriages, Isabella, Karl and Raewyn would travel together in the first one, the rest would follow in the others. On their way to the palace, the three of them talked about many things about their respective homelands ,while Karl showed Isabella the many interesting places Paradis had to offer.

Their arrival at the palace was met by the servants, who helped carry their belongings to the guest rooms where they would stay during their visit. Isabella and her cousins marveled at the sights of the palace, beautifully decorated, it would make any king jealous or so the people said. Karl showed them the way to the dinning hall where a welcoming banquet awaited them, the best meats, the freshest fruits, and drinks, a meal fit for a king.

Isabella took her seat near the king and queen chatting to them as dinner was served and Wilhelm sitting on the far end with the guards. Aleksander himself chose a seat near the middle of the table drinking and chatting happily to those around him, glancing every now and again at the Lady Ellinor before returning to his conversation or meal.

Ellinor couldn’t stop herself from noticing, she wondered what could have caught his attention. After the banquet, Aleksander quickly left towards his room, Ellinor decided to follow him, catching him on his way to his room, she tapped him on his shoulder and asked him “What got you looking so much in my direction back at the table?”

Aleksander turned around a bit stunned at the lady's bluntness, causing him to chuckle nervously. “Well to be honest Lady Ellinor I can't help but be intrigued by your unknowing charm, I do apologize if I have offended you in any way.” He said, giving a small bow.

“Not at all, no man before has ever looked at me so much, so I imagined something caught your eye.” Said Ellinor, with a soft smile, “You look like an interesting person, I’d like to know a bit more about you and your home if you don’t mind.”

Aleksander chuckled. “It would be my pleasure to enlighten you about my people and home.” He held out a hand. “Perhaps over a walk my lady?”

“With pleasure” Said Ellinor grabbing Aleksander’s hand, they both left the palace for the back gardens where they conversed, after some time walking around they sat by the fountain, where they would spend the remainder of their time, unfortunately their afternoon was cut short, when an unwanted guest arrived, from the distance they kept shouting Ellinor’s name, walking fast towards her, Ellinor tried to cover her face, but it was of no use. “Ellinor! Ellinor! Here you are” said the guy.

“Oh, Halvar, how did you know I was here, I thought you had business to take care off back in Helsingstad?” Aleksander could notice the displeasure in Ellinor’s face when she spoke to him
“Business?” He laughed, “Don’t be ridiculous, you told me to meet back at the plaza, but then I heard you departed for Tidahamn with urgency, so I quickly packed my things and went after you, when I arrived, they told me you were receiving some foreigners, you had left the docks by the time I arrived, so my next thought was the palace, I came and the guards told me you were back here, come here give me a kiss I missed you so much my love.” Halvar went for a kiss.

Ellinor stopped him, “Halvar stop,not now and much less here in front of our guest.” Ellinor proceeded to introduce Halvar to Aleksander, “Halvar, I want to introduce you to Aleksander Von Dreni Reinhardt, Prince of Volgaro and cousin to the ruler of Volgaro, Isabella, he’s here accompanying her.

Halvar bowed “Sorry friend, I hadn't noticed your presence before, I’m Halvar av Gylle, Lord of Gylle Castle, a pleasure to meet someone of such stature around this parts”

Aleksander bowed in turn. “The pleasure is all mine Lord Halvar.”

“Anyways friend, I hope you don’t mind if I take her away, she and I sort of have something pending to take care of beforehand, I am sure she had a lot of fun spending time with you, as a matter of fact allow me to thank you for taking care of her for me, now let’s go Ellinor, we have a lot to talk about” Halvar went on to grab her hand.

She pulled it away.“No Halvar, I’m here entertaining our guest, I can’t leave and please treat him with the respect he deserves, can you please leave us alone for a moment, we can speak afterwards.”

Halvar felt offended by that and responded back “Ohh is that so? What are you two, lovers? I leave you alone for a day and you already flirt with the first foreigner you see, you harlot!” Halvar tried to slap her but Aleksander stopped him.

Aleksander scowled. “Take care you do not make a decision you will regret Lord Halvar.” He said, pushing the lord's hand aside.

Halvar regained his composure and just laughed, “It’s getting late anyways, I’ll allow you to spend some more time with him, Ellinor, but I hope to see you tomorrow in the main plaza, we are going back home, together” With that last remark Halvar left.

She looked at Aleksander in the eyes, “Thank you, it's not the first time he’s tried something like that, he’s been trying to court me for months now, but I don’t like him, he tends to be very jealous as you already saw”

Aleksander gave a bow. “It was nothing, Lady Ellinor, I would be abandoning my oath as a member of the Drunaran Guard if I had allowed such an act against an innocent woman.” Aleksander smiled for a second. “Perhaps you would be interested in a morning walk tomorrow? Since this one was interrupted so abruptly.”

Ellinor replied with a warm smile, “How nice of you, of course I would be, maybe it will help me get the memory of this displeasing encounter out of my head, but let’s go somewhere where he can’t find us, I would hate to see his face once more.”

Aleksander smiled. “Then it is settled, shal I walk you to your quarters in case Lord Halvar decides to try again?” He said bowing with his hand out towards Ellinor

“Please do.” Said Ellinor giving him her hand

The Prince happily took her hand, chatting with her as they walked. Inside the palace once he took her to her quarters, they parted ways, but not before Ellinor gave him a goodbye kiss on the cheek, Aleksander was left a bit startled by that, deciding to take a walk and explore the palace a bit more, remembering the kiss he felt some emotions he hadn’t before, “A most interesting woman indeed” he said with a hint of blush in his cheeks, he returned to his quarters visions of Ellinor clouding his head.

As the new day dawned, Aleksander was already preparing himself to go out with Ellinor, he had no idea where would be a good place to take her where no one would bother them, he wasn’t from there after all, he thought that asking some of the locals might be a good idea and that he did. He would put on his ceremonial straki armor, along with a half cape with the Coat of Arms of the Drunaran guard and House Dreni Reinhardt.

Aleksander would speak with one of the servants tending to his quarters. “Madam, would you happen to know where one could go to have some privacy?”

She looked at him, eyeing him from head to toe, “Privacy you say… a man of your looks draws much attention around this parts,and with the recent happenings the city has been more busy than ever, but I do know of a place, where one could get some privacy, outside of the city, to the left, there is a hill called Solitary Hill, no one will bother you there.”

“Thank you very much.” Aleksander said bowing and leaving to retrieve Elinor. She greeted him with a compliment and another kiss to the cheek and then they left. Ellinor looked excited to know where he was taking her, but Aleksander kept it a secret. Walking through the streets, many looked over, when they saw the gallant foreign prince, with his shining armour, walking hand in hand with the well known Ellinor, many of the girls of the nobility watched in jealousy, wishing they were her. It would be a bit of a walk, Aleksander decided to purchase a horse and ride with her to their destination.

Aleksander rode to Solitary Hill using the directions that the servant had stated. Once getting to him, he helped Ellinor off the horse and looked at her with a smile. “So where did we leave off last evening? You wanted to know about Volgaro, yes?”

Ellinor chuckled, “And maybe about us.” Aleksander carried her to the hill where they laid down.
Meanwhile, back in Tidahamn, Halvar furiously began looking for Ellinor all over town, but when one the palace servants told him she had gone out with Aleksander to Solitary Hill, he couldn’t take it anymore, in a fit of jealousy, he took his longsword, mounted his horse and rode all the way over there too meet them. When he arrived he saw them both too comfortable for his liking, then he interrupted them “I knew it! I can’t believe this betrayal” Said looking over at Ellinor, “And you!” As he pointed at Aleksandr, “You come to the country for a few days, then try to steal my woman, you… you lowlife!”

“And you sir are a marvel of the Greatest’s vast sense of mercy towards the dull and soft headed!” Aleksander said standing.

The situation started escalating as Halvar and Aleksander kept at it for a bit, Ellinor tried to stop them, but her words fell on deaf ears. Eventually Halvar had enough of it, drawing out his longsword he pointed it at Aleksander neck “Listen here, I’ve had enough of you, nobody steals my woman like that, I demand you to duel me to the death! Take out your sword and fight me! Show me what a son of the so-called Greatest is capable of!”

Ellinor protested Halvar’s challenge of a duel to the death; she called him deranged for the decision. She begged Aleksander to not accept the challenge but he just told her. “I apologize Lady Ellinor but as a Straki I cannot refuse this challenge.”

He looked to Halvar. “I accept you challenge you Whoreson, let it be known I did not start this but I will happily put a southern pup down.”

The men cleared the area around them and positioned themselves.

“So you say you’re a Straki? Pfft”, He laughed “I’m an ex-member of the Winter Guard, our skill with the longsword is unmatched, you better prepare to die!” Halvar charged with his longsword, ready to deal the first blow.

Aleksander merely stepped to the side, scratching the leg of Halvar with the tip of his Szabla before taking a defensive stance.

Halvar quickly regained his stance, this time he took his time to analyze his surroundings, refraining from doing any moves while keeping his longsword up in a defensive position. He slowly began approaching Aleksander, before swinging his longsword towards his head in hopes of making him tumble.

The Prince scoffed before stepping aside once more before catching Halvar’s leg once again. “Your Winter Guard trains in brute force I see, I would surrender before you meet your maker.”

This one made Halvar almost stumble, the remark made him angry, but for once he maintained his composure “You dare taint the name of the guard, but yours seems to train in cowardice, let’s see how you fare at the offensive, come at me if you have any bravery in you.” Halvar took the defensive stance with his longsword raised ready to deflect any attack.

Aleksander took a stance as if he was going to attack before reaching into his cloak and throwing a dagger quickly towards Halvar’s chest.

Unable to avoid it in time, the dagger went straight through his chest, he fell on his knees bleeding out and eventually falling face down, he laid there, defeated and dead. Ellinor was in shock at such an unexpected move, she had no idea what to think, she found it to be a dishonorable move, even if Halvar deserved it.

Aleksander walked to Halvar’s body, kneeling and praying for a moment. “I apologize Ser Halvar but while I am a Prince, I am also a Volgar, I could not allow myself to lose. I hope you find peace with the Greatest.”

He then looked to Ellinor. “I also apologize to you Lady Ellinor if I have caused you to hate me. I understand and shall return you to your quarters and shall give myself up to your judgement.” He said a tear falling from his eye as he picked up the body of Halvar and placed it on his horse. “He deserves a proper warrior’s burial, he died in a honorable duel that any Volgar would be proud of despite it being over a misunderstanding.”

Ellinor put her hand on his back “He’s in the hands of Menia now” She said referring to her own goddess, “But you’re a good man, don’t mistake my surprise for hate towards you, it was just unexpected, although not the most honourable thing, Halvar would have tried something similar sooner or later, except he wouldn’t have even cared to bury you. I should tell you something about him, he was in the Winter Guard, but he was fired for bad conduct, not deemed proper of a soldier, and not sticking to the proper training, he always acted before thinking.” She cleared the tears off of his eyes “Let’s go bury him, together.”

They went to bury him in the ancient Warrior’s Mound, no longer in use, but open to anyone to still bury people there, to give Halvar a proper burial as Aleksander wanted, afterwards they headed back to the palace. The couple next days they would spend them without talking much, both feeling a bit awkward after all that happened and when they day of the Volgars departure arrived everyone gathered up in the great hall for the departure ceremony, but Aleksander during those days came to terms with his feelings and no longer wanting to keep quiet decided to approach Ellinor.

Aleksander made sure the two of them were alone before speaking. “Lady Ellinor before we depart I wanted to tell you that you have made this visit an enlightening and enjoyable experience that I shall not forget, I only regret we do not have more time together.”

Ellinor looked at him, a tinge of sadness in her face, “I also regret it, despite being short,my time with you has been unforgettable, I wish we could spend more time together, but I guess…time has runned out”

Aleksander’s eyes brightened for a moment before he spoke. “But what if it did not have to?” He grabbed her hands. “What if by the Greatest’s will we were brought together?”

"What do you mean by that?" She asked.

“If you would have me, Lady Elinor I, Aleksander Von Dreni Reinhardt would gladly ask to take your hand in marriage.” He said, taking her hand.

Ellinor's face blushed, a tear could be seen going down her face, "I-I, yes I accept" She hugged him.

He held her for a moment before looking at her and smiling. “My cousin will be overjoyed to hear this news. We must tell her so the proper preparations can be made.” He said excitedly.

Aleksander and Ellinor returned back to the hall, where Karl and Isabella where, interrupting their conversation, he explained what had happened recently between him and her. Isabella seemed pleased, Karl gave them their blessing and assured that Ellinor's father would be pleased as well. The only thing remaining was the matter of the wedding. Aleksander suggested having it in Tidahamn, it would be easier since they were there already.

Karl had no problem with that, and Isabella agreed to extend their visit for a while longer, and so it was that the wedding would take place a week from then, to allow time for the preparations and to not take too much time away from them. The ceremony was celebrated in the Eskelian way, everyone had fun. At the end Karl gifted Aleksander a beautiful Eskelian longsword with engravings around the hilt with ancient Eskelian runes, translating to words of luck and a fruitful marriage, as per tradition.

After the ceremonies were finished Aleksander and Ellinor quickly packed what they could aboard the Volgar ship before bidding her father, Karl and his court farewell, before sailing back into the distant horizon bound for Serulea once more.

Trader's Union part 1
Tariglaive Port

Melita Hannimara sipped her wine a mulled over the letter she had received. Her application to the Astarte Trade Union had been denied. Her father's friend and her only ally, Jebel Baaliahon, sat across from her. The dwarf sipped his own wine and waited for her to finish. "This is bullshit," she said, "This is nothing more than a cop out. My books are clean, spotless even. Yes, we have had few bad years, so does everyone else."

Jebel sighed, "It not that. I was there for the deliberations. Your father was not a good business man. They are worried you picked up his bad habits." Melita set the letter down, "My father did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. He showed me the ledgers, the agreements. My family's troubles began long before my father took control. If you want to point the blame, blame my Grandfather. The man never hung onto his pennies long enough to rub them together."

"Your education does help, and if you read the letter further," Jebel explained and place his finger on the last couple of lines, "You'll see that the Union left room open for you to prove yourself. I disagreed." Melita reread the letter and stared the old dwarf down, "Why did you disagree?"

"Because the Astarte Trade Union is getting too big. Very soon, they'll have a monopoly on both Salt and Dyes. I know your family once dealt in Porcelain and Silk, still do if I recall correctly. But, there is still an open market for Salt and Dyes here in Tariglaive."

"So you want me to enter the Salt trade?"

"Everyone needs Salt. Hell, entire wars have been fought over Salt. But, that is not what I am talking about. There are other merchants going into Salt, enough to create competition, I was thinking Dyes."

"I don't have any facilities for Dyes," Melita said. Jebel held up a finger, "You have the money, yes? If not, find it. Then hire carpenters and the dye makers. Storage will not be a problem for you, just free up a few warehouses. You can even experiment with the Silk you have."

Melita sat back and thought about it, "Why are you helping me? This will hurt you and your business." Jebel smiled, "At first, yes. I will lose profits and may need to fire some staff, but in the long run it will benefit me and my family." Melita sighed and stood, "I'll have to think about it."

Hannimara Residence
Melita soaked herself in the porcelain basin that was her tub. It was something her family sold to wealth nobles and aristocrats in the Golden Bay. The soap was a local brand, recently made. A rune of heat was written inside the tub, paired with a rune of water. It was cheap, but expensive enchantments were out of her price range at the moment. She mulled over Jebel's words. Why would a merchant willing go out of his way to hurt his business now with the hope it would do better tomorrow? I bugged her, but he did have some wise words. The problem would be to build her business up without alerting the Astarte Trade Union. If they drop their prices lower than what she could do, she was done. Stepping out of her tub and toweling herself of, she walked over to her desk and wrote a letter to several foreign merchants who dealt in dyes. It was time to chart her own course.

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