CruelSummerLord writes "“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just remember all the joy I experienced growing up in House Cranden, attending the balls, reading the histories, performing in the plays. I thought of what Aerdy was like before the rot that set in under House Rax, and how much Aerdy’s lost since the Turmoil Between Crowns. Those are the things I love…and the things I miss.”
Matter Of Perspective
The Company of the Silver Wolf sat in a corner of the
dining hall at House Cranden’s manor, eating lunch as Seline told them about
Xavener’s offer at the previous night’s ball. When Seline finished, silence
filled the air for several minutes as her companions mulled over what she’d
Finally, Weimar spoke up.
“You’re sure that this army officer you spoke to told you
that this knight Caradoc collects all this royal regalia?” he said to Amyalla.
“And the noblemen you talked to said that something like the Crown would be
held by House Naelax?” he asked Airk.
“That he did,” Airk said, as he and Amyalla nodded. “In all
likelihood, our goal is intertwined with Xavener’s. But is it just Caradoc and
that wizard friend of his organizing this plot? Or is it sponsored by the
“Xavener said the Herzog condoned it,” Seline said, her
shoulders slumped and an anxious look on her face. “He talked about how much
prestige the Herzog would gain with the Overking if the plan succeeded,
especially given the disgrace the Herzog currently faces.”
The companions knew that Xavener wasn’t lying about that,
as they’d all heard rumors at the ball. One of Ivid V’s first acts when he took
the Malachite Throne in 556 CY was to purge the then-ruling line of South
Province for their failures to regain the lands of the Iron League. Ivid
appointed Chelor’s father Loren as the new herzog and executed him sixteen
years later when Loren failed to conquer the Iron League. Chelor had only been
in power for four years, but Ivid’s patience was already said to be growing
“Our course seems
clear enough, then,” Luna said after she’d taken a long, hard drink of tea. “We
thwart Caradoc’s and Xeravho’s machinations, and Seline and I don’t have to
look after our shoulders for House Garasteth pursuing us anymore.”
“And how much does this Xavener boy benefit from all this?”
Airk asked. ”How on Oerth does he benefit from a strong Iron League?”
“He said that it wouldn’t be ‘advantageous’ to him,” Seline
said, shrugging. “Whatever that meant.”
““I can’t say I like the idea of him profiting from
anything we do. And who’s to say he won’t betray us?” Revafour said.
“What else can we do?” Luna pointed out. “We can’t just let
South Province invade!”
“I never said we should,” Revafour said, “but I won’t be
surprised if he betrays us. Do you have any idea what his agenda is?”
“I wish I knew,” Luna said, shaking her head sadly.
Amyalla scowled as she listened to her friends talk. It was
no wonder Ma’non’go, Luna and Seline had to leave the Great Kingdom in the
first place. Amyalla felt almost suffocated listening to her friends’
discussing the Aerdi nobles’ intrigues. Those intrigues were like a prison,
trapping anyone caught in them. Any possible exit only promised death.
It reminded her of life back in Leukish, and she clenched
her fists in rage as she recalled everything she endured there.
Her anger faded as she saw the melancholy on Airk’s face,
melancholy that didn’t vanish despite the long, hard drag he took on his mug of
He probably blames himself
for getting us caught up in this, she
thought. First his guilt over what
happened to Laessar, now this.
Glancing at her other companions, she saw that their moods
weren’t much better. Luna, Revafour and Ma’non’go were earnestly discussing
what the companions should do. Weimar also saw Airk’s distress and was trying
to cheer him up, although Amyalla doubted he’d succeed. Seline sat by herself,
her hands trembling as she wiped at her eyes. Her distress was as bad as
Airk’s, and Amyalla wondered what could have gotten into her.
Taking a deep breath, Seline stood up and walked into an adjacent
drawing-room, as Amyalla ran to follow her.
“Are you alright?” Amyalla asked,
grabbing Seline by the arm to get her attention when they’d stopped.
“I…I don’t know,” Seline said, her
“Why are you so upset?” Amyalla said,
pulling Seline to a sofa and sitting down with her. “You looked so happy at the
ball. Did Xavener do something-“
“No, no,” Seline said, shaking her head.
“It’s just that…”
“What is it?” Amyalla asked.
Seline was clearly reluctant to speak of
it, but Amyalla took Seline’s slightly larger hand in her own. Swallowing hard,
Seline finally began to speak.
“It’s because of the ball,” Seline said.
“I loved being able to take that stage again. I loved the glamour, the
conversations, the chance to dress up. I always knew I missed it when Luna,
Ma’non’go and I had to flee, but I didn’t realize just how much.”
“Would you stay if you could?” Amyalla
asked. “If we take Xavener’s offer, and he keeps the Garasteths from pursuing
To Amyalla’s surprise, Seline didn’t
react positively to that. Instead, it only made her seem more unsure, as she
shook her head and hugged herself.
“I…I don’t know if I can take Xavener’s
offer,” Seline said, as tears began to appear in her eyes.
Amyalla stared at her incredulously.
“You…you can’t be serious! You’d let
South Province conquer the Iron League? How can you say that?” she said, her
expression showing her amazement.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Seline
said, and now a tear flowed down each of her cheeks. “I just feel like I’d be
“A what?” Amyalla asked.
“A traitor,” Seline said, taking a deep
breath. “A traitor to my family, my heritage, my home, my being Aerdi. I know
it’s wrong, and I know we need to stop the Naelax plotters, it’s just…”
“…You just think of everything that once
was, don’t you?” Revafour said as he entered through the drawing room door.
“How long have you been listening?” Amyalla
“Long enough,” Revafour said to the
halfling, before he turned back to Seline. “You sound like you don’t want to
betray the Great Kingdom. Does that kingdom even deserve your loyalty,
considering what the original Aerdi did to the Flan of Ahlissa who originally
lived in these lands? Is all the treason and cruelty worth your loyalty?
Everything the Aerdi did from Blackmoor to Sunndi? The Aerdy that plans to make
the Iron League burn?”
Seline flinched at that, and Amyalla
glared at Revafour, who stared back at Seline impassively.
“No!” Seline said, standing up. She
locked stares with Revafour, her eyes blazing. “I’m loyal to the Aerdy that
helped the Flan of what became North Province free themselves from the dragons
that enslaved them. I’m proud of the Aerdy that defeated the Frost Barbarians
at Shamblefield. I believe in the Aerdy that protected the innocent from
hobgoblins and ogres across the Flanaess. I cherish the Aerdy that strove for
justice and peace under House Cranden. I love the Aerdy that created so much
art, music and beauty. That’s the Aerdy I care about, not the one with the fat,
stinking slug of a Herzog and the addle-brained piece of trash tainting the
Revafour raised his eyebrows at Seline’s
tirade, before he spoke again.
“And that makes up for the oppression
the Flan suffered, and everything else the Great Kingdom’s done? Does that make
up for their plot against the Iron League?”
Seline took a deep breath.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just
remember all the joy I experienced growing up in House Cranden, attending the
balls, reading the histories, performing in the plays. I thought of what Aerdy
was like before the rot that set in under House Rax, and how much Aerdy’s lost
since the Turmoil Between Crowns. Those are the things I love…and the things I
Revafour thought about what to say. He
wasn’t convinced that what Seline mentioned made up for the wrongs the Ahlissan
Flan had suffered. Even so, he’d heard stories in Tenh similar to Seline’s
about the good that came out of the alliances between the Aerdi and the Flan in
North Province. Those same stories also mentioned the many victories the Aerdi
helped the Tenha and other peoples across the Flanaess win against evil
monsters. The stories named Cranden as the Celestial House that, as much as it
could, always tried to do right by the Flan who remained in the Great Kingdom.
He had to admit, he was also amused by
Seline’s outburst against the Herzog and the Overking. Her rant would have
brought her to the guillotine if she’d said it in public.
“I can respect that-I even appreciate
it,” he said. “But it won’t help things if the Herzog’s plot succeeds.”
Seline took another deep breath. She
closed her eyes and nodded, as if drawing up her resolve.
“I take it our friends agree with taking
Xavener’s offer?” she said.
“It’s our best option,” Revafour said
with a nod, “so long as we’re ready for any treachery from Xavener.”
“All right,” Seline said. “It’s likely
our best chance to find the Crown too. But you were right to wonder how Xavener
benefits from all this. House Darmen prizes profit above all else, and I don’t
understand what the profit is for him.”
“How do you like it?” Xavener asked
Norreck as they ate a private meal. “Exotic, isn’t it?”
“And sharp,” Norreck said after he’d
swallowed another mouthful of the stew and the glittering, colored spice that
Xavener added to it. House Darmen nobles and their sons frequently ate meals on
their own when they needed to discuss strategy, not wanting to risk giving even
their closest kin an unearned advantage.
“And you said you get it from the Hold
of the Sea Princes?” Norreck said, raising an eyebrow.
“Finely cut and worth every copper piece
paid for it,” Xavener said with a smile, before taking a large mouthful of the
Norreck narrowed his eyes before taking
another bit of stew. One of House Darmen’s customs was for fathers and sons to
meet strategically in private. The other was for both men to eat the same fowl,
or stew, or whatever meal was served. It was considered an effective deterrent
against one man trying to poison the other, since they would both have to eat
the toxic foods.
Norreck knew that didn’t prevent a third
party from trying to poison both him and Xavener. That was why he’d spent a
considerable fortune on the magical sunstone crystal he kept on him at all
times. The sunstone made him completely immune to poison, such that he could drink
a flagon of giant scorpion venom without harm. Norreck hired a diviner to
confirm that Xavener had no such protections against venom, and was not trying
to poison him with it.
If Norreck ever found proof that Xavener
was trying to murder him, the younger man’s life would be forfeit.
Norreck didn’t notice that Xavener was
wearing his ring of coral and hematite to the meal. "