Aphonion Tales (New posts 6/13, 6/15, 6/19)

Shortly after Dame Brionna’s discussion with the Sixth Daughter ended, the Council gathered. They began with Kit’s summary of the report she received.

Alistair tapped his fingers thoughtfully. “I’m worried with regard to the person who was torn apart. That seems dramatically different from the other deaths and might be unrelated. Do we know which City that was in?”

Kit looked over the report. “Southworth. Let me see if I have an agent there on the fan.” She drew out a scrap of parchment listing each of the contacts on the fan. “Nope. I’ll have to go through regular, slower channels.”

“You could also send for the official police reports,” added Dame Brionna. “Even though they don’t know who the Mouth is, they will know of the office. If you send a request under the Mouth’s seal, they will respond.”

“I’ll do that. Any thoughts on the Eastern Trade Federation’s spying?”

“I suppose we could feed them false information about salt, to prevent gouging if they learn about our shortages,” said Dame Brionna.

“I suppose so,” responded Alistair. “It looks like a list of many of their major consumable trade goods. No alcohol, and the Trade Federation does deal in fine wines, although not as fine as elven wines, but their prices are not terribly volatile. The interesting thing is the heavy emphasis on basic goods.”

“Maybe military provisions?” suggested Kit.

“A definite possibility,” said Alistair. “If that’s what it is, however, the absence of pork is surprising. My understanding is that a substantial portion of the army’s meat is salt-pork, bacon and ham. Farmers can usually produce more pork than any other meat with a given supply of land.”

“All true, Your Grace, but to the best of my knowledge the Eastern Trade Federation does not deal in either pork or poultry.”

“Huh,” said Kit. “Maybe there is not enough demand in a highly urbanized area? Or maybe there is not enough profit in shipping them beyond the local area.”

The Council discussed the Trade Federation’s spying a while longer but reached no definite conclusions. They then turned to their standard topic for discussion those days: the military situation facing the Archduchy.

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“Your Grace, we need to delay the Horde of Ripping Tusk so they cannot meet up with Brightspan’s army. That horde would dramatically alter the likelihood of holding Tulani. I recommend sending Stithis and some of his air elemental allies to disrupt their travel.”

“Without truly engaging, they won’t be able to slow the orcs by much, and it would be suicide for them to actually attack.”

“Even a small delay could be very valuable, Your Grace,” replied Dame Brionna. “If they can cause some weather effects, disrupt fords ahead of the horde, and so forth, it could make a difference of several days or more.”

“All right. I’m willing to ask Stithis to take on that mission.” Alistair paused. “We desperately need to get more troops to deal with the attacks within the Archduchy. How long will it take for Lord Davion to get the new field armies ready?”

“Regardless of the general’s skill, that takes time, Your Grace. The farmboys who make up most of the recruits will take six weeks to become green troops under Lord Davion. Anything less and they would be, at best, irregulars. It takes a certain amount of drilling to show them which is the sharp end of a spear.”

“But they have hoes!” said Kit, both as a joke and in frustration at that time table.

“Even if they have some basic understanding of combat, they need to learn to fight as a formation. Less than six weeks, and they are just a mob.”

Alistair nodded. “We understand. Can we think about other sources of troops?”

“What about seeking more church knights, Your Grace? The Church of Glor’diadel has historically been very cooperative with itself. Most of the church knights from this province have already been committed, but the Archbishop might talk to other Archbishops. We could also enlist organized orders of church knights.”

“How many orderly church knights are there in other kingdoms in the region?”

“There is an order of eight-hundred knights in Gates, east of us. There are also one or two orders in Debonai-- historically, the Debonai orders have been more likely to focus on internal struggles in their kingdom. There are some other orders, but I believe the rest have already deployed all or substantially all of their troops in the Southlands.”

“Certainly a worthy use of their capabilities. I would not want to pull them back from that. But we might reach out to Gates, and to the Debonai orders, if we can figure out how.”

“The leaders in Debonai might not be fully aware of the demonlord’s plans,” suggested Kit. “We might be able to recruit their support by explaining it.”

“That leads to another question I had about the rogue Debonai troops,” said Alistair. “We have been assuming that they plan on meeting up with the Brightspan army, but their current path makes that unlikely. They may just plan on conquering land, especially given the prevalence of landless younger sons of the nobility in that army. If they planned on attacking us, perhaps having been manipulated by the Abomination, they would totally sweep over the western duchy. In our current state, we would not be able to do anything substantial to stop them.”

Dame Brionna and Kit stared at the map in horror. After a moment, Dame Brionna said measuredly, “They could seize the entire duchy. It would take years to win it back. However, we have not seen any indication that they intend to attack us.”

“But if that army is a part of the attack on Tulani, then they’re out of position,” said Kit. “We need to find out their intentions. I know our best diviner is still unable to forecast the future, but could we do something else to check the future?”

“We could ask the Archbishop to do a Commune about this,” said Dame Brionna. “That is not to be done lightly, but this seems like a good time.”

“Agreed. Send a message asking if his eminence is willing to assist us.”

As the conversation was dying down, the page of the day entered and listed the people in a queue waiting for an audience. The Council quickly decided to begin with the Equitable Varance Tuttle, the Minister for Magic.

“Your Eminent Grace,” said the mage, bowing respectfully. “I saw a vision of the Archduke in the divinatory pool this morning. The late Archduchess had standing orders that I was to report any appearances of the royal family in the divinatory pool. While we have not discussed whether that policy is to remain in place, I thought it best to bring the vision to your attention. In the vision, I saw the Archduke with two children, a boy upon each hip. Perhaps a few years had passed but not more.”

Kit looked over at Alistair. “Apparently, you have twin sons. Congratulations in a couple of years.”

“Identical twins, to be specific.”

“Is that common in your family?” asked Kit.

“No,” responded Alistair. “Off-hand, I can’t think of any cases of twins in my family.”

“Gates,” said Dame Brionna. “It is common in the royal family of Gates. Think about those sisters.” Both Dame Brionna and Kit looked accusingly at Alistair.

“Yes,” said Alistair, “but the fertility block is still active. The vision cannot refer to Princess Mirabelle, unless it is suggesting that we will reverse our decision on whether to pursue a marriage with her.”

Varance Tuttle discreetly looked anywhere but at the three people in the room.

“What about the royal family of Stormwatch?” asked Alistair. “Does Princess Kaitlyn’s family have a history of twins?”

“Oh, yes,” answered Dame Brionna. “Twins, triplets. They are a very fertile family.”

Kit turned back to the Minister of Magic. “Did you see anything else in the vision?”

“You and Dame Brionna stood behind His Grace, looking down on the children benevolently. There were other figures-- perhaps including the mother of the children? But I could not focus on them. I have always found it difficult to force hazy portions of the visions into clarity. Only the members of this Council, and the children, were in focus. You have been in every vision I have had of His Grace in recent years.”

“What other visions have you had of me?” asked Alistair.

“Oh, there were many before the coronation--even before Your Grace’s return to Canberry. I didn’t wish to bother you with them. I saw Your Grace astride the mountains like a giant, looking down on a plain below-- you then shrank down to human size and strode along a path to a huge forest. In another, you were in a royal carriage, never seeming to reach your destination. I think that vision was perhaps a product of your own anxieties. In the last, Your Grace stood athwart the deck of an airship, pointing back at the sky behind you, and said, ‘The sky should be full of wood,’ and then the vision faded. I must admit that I have no idea what that vision meant.”

“‘The sky should be full of wood,’” repeated Alistair. “That sounds familiar, but I can’t quite figure out why.”

“The description of the mountain, plains, and forest sounds like a reference to our journey back to Canberry,” said Dame Brionna.

“A likely possibility,” commented the Minister. “That was my first vision of the Archduke as an adult. There had been earlier visions of him as a boy and many shenanigans.”

Brionna muttered quietly, “Attractively shaped shenanigans?” The others pretended not to have heard.

“What can you tell us of the scrying pool itself?” asked Kit. “Is it reliable?”

“It was a gift from the Seelie. The visions are never false, per se, so every person in my position has a duty to gaze into it. Sometimes they are difficult to interpret, however. And of course the future is mutable-- one can never say that a vision of the future shows what will happen, just what is likely to or may happen.”

“Have you had any other interesting visions lately?”

“Only one, but it has been a repeated one. I have seen smoke, fire, and blood.”

“War is coming,” said Alistair grimly. “The meaning of that vision seems obvious enough."

"While you are here, we should discuss another matter. You are familiar with the Mages of Northern Aurelian?”

“Of course.”

“Now that my grandmother has passed, Lady Meredith has asked that we nominate a representative of sorts to the order. We are considering the possibility of nominating you as our representative.”

Tuttle stammered a response. “I am honored to even be considered. I never thought I would receive such an honor. I would accept if you put me forward, but you should understand that I would be at the very bottom level of power. I don’t know that they would accept me, even with your support.”

“We could perhaps nominate you as an associate, rather than as a full member. Lady Meredith raised that possibility in our discussions”

The Minister of Magic relaxed at that suggestion. “I would serve, and I would be satisfactory as an ambassador.”

“I realize this is a delicate question, but are there others we should consider? Lady Constance is the other archmage we know of, but she seemed an impolitic choice.”

“Two I know of. The Mages of Northern Aurelian would not accept Lady Constance, I think. There may also be hidden archmagi within Canberry, but I would not recommend nominating any who have hidden themselves through the Art. The other two you should consider are Sir Gimpytoes Fiddlesticks, a clockwork archmage, and Sir Darrin Gallingway.”

“What can you tell us of them?” asked Kit. “I assume Sir Gimpytoes is a gnome, but that’s all I know of either. Are they reliable?”

“Indeed, Dame Katherine. Both are loyal to the throne, though they serve vassals rather than the Archduke directly. Gallingway is an esquire in the Earldom of Broadfields and is rather old, although that means less for archmagi and he is not so old as to render him unable to serve. He has spent most of his time recently overseeing his fief. Sir Gimpytoes is an advisor to the Doge of Mountaintops and maintains the companies of clockwork automata. They would respect Sir Gimpytoes’s abilities, but Sir Darrin might have easier interactions with the other members-- he is more of the same style of archmage as the current members.”

“I’m disinclined to distract Sir Gimpytoes from his current duties,” commented Alistair. “I’m also more inclined to appoint a politician or diplomat than someone who is an archmage but lacks the other skills.”

“That sounds like Gallingway,” said Kit. “He’s been running a town-- he’ll have learned at least something about politics and diplomacy.”

“If Your Grace intends simply a liason, I would be happy to serve. But if it will involve more, I would be uncomfortable leaving the city for much time at this point.”

“I think it may involve more. At a minimum, it would include a responsibility to monitor situations throughout all of southern Drucien, and it would likely be necessary to participate in some of the efforts of the Mages. Do we know that Gallingway would be willing to serve?”

“I would suggest writing to the Earl of Broadfields, as a courtesy to Gallingway’s liege-lord; then, the Earl will prepare the way. He will know whether Gallingway is interested, or quietly find out. The Broadfields, and the nobles of Rolling Hills in general, feel that they have a duty to shield their people. So you will learn if he is unwilling to serve before you ask, at which point there would be no polite way for him to decline.”

Alistair nodded and asked his page to have the scribe prepare a draft letter.

“I have one more question for you as Minister of Magic. How strong are our magical capabilities in dealing with a war?”

The Minister paused thoughtfully. “Well… you have the royal circle, which is competent. I am actually good. And of course you have Lady Constance, who is powerful beyond most magi, but so specialized that it is difficult for her to do much blast magic. Getting maximum effect from her power during a war would require careful strategy and tactics. It is probable that the Mages of Northern Aurelian could add support if needed, and they have much punch. There are also scattered magi-- they are disorganized at present, but could add some meaningful power. Beyond our borders, there are some church magi in Gates as well who might respond to a request for aid.”

The Council thanked the Minister and then sent for the next in the queue after he departed.

The Master of Pages, Sir Darrin Waters, OKV, entered immediately. Sir Darrin was old and gray, but upright and without any sag in his neck. He genuflected with great dignity. “Your Grace, honored councilors. I have received a fostering request that you should consider personally. The Empire of Tarsh requests that we take their heir-apparent for fostering.” Sir Darrin drew forth a gold-embossed piece of parchment, decorated with seals, ribbons, and tassles. “In light of the long alliance between our realms and mindful of the glory of the Court of Canberry, pre-eminent among the lands of southern Drucien…”

Alistair interrupted. “In other words, they want to have the prince grow up as a page in an actual imperial court, but as far from Tarsh assassins as possible.”

“Yes, Your Grace. The Tarsh Blood War is too recent for the imperial family to trust its own nobles. The message arrived this morning. The prince is seven; the normal age to begin as a page is eight. We could delay for that reason.”

“I would be inclined to send back a message in appropriately florid language that we would like him as a personal page to the archducal person, requiring extra training, and thus we would welcome him as soon as he is ready.”

The Master of Pages looked relieved. “I will draw up papers immediately.”

Alistair looked over at Kit. “How concerned with propriety is Tarsh?”

“Well, they do host the Blood Fete,” responded Sir Darrin.

“The Blood Fete? What’s that?” asked Kit.

“They take their condemned, primarily nobles who have committed capital offenses, and make a celebration of torturing them to death.”

“That wasn’t the sort of impropriety I was worrying about,” said Alistair.

“If we can get at least one child out of the country that does that…” added Kit.

Sir Darrin bowed slightly. “I believe there is a modicum of decency in the current king-emperor, and he may indeed wish his child to not have to participate in the torture.”

“Will they want to send a priest for him?” asked Alistair.

“He will be expected to attend regular services at the embassy, but they are sensitive to issues of religious difference.”

“We will need to be careful with young Lord Brightspan. We are attempting to ensure that he grows up an adherent to the proper Church, and we need to counter some familial influence there. We would not want the heir-apparent of Tarsh to interfere with that, or for their respective religious educations to raise any other complex issues.”

“I understand. The young lord, by the way, is exceptionally bright. I will undertake special care in the situation.”
Dame Brionna leaned in. “We will want to expand the number of pages substantially. What resources do you need?”

“At present, our resources are ample. We have room for seventy pages; we have twenty-five at the moment. You should know that I expect one more difficult request.”

“Who?” asked Kit.

“The Queen of the Haunted Mountain’s granddaughter. She is seven currently, and will not be sent until she is eight. The White Witch will be scrupulous about honoring the norms.”

“Why her?” asked Kit. “Why would the White Witch want to foster a member of her family with us? We don’t even have an ambassador to her court.”

“It is not because of Canberry. The heir-apparent to the Emperor of Tarsh will be here.”

Dame Brionna added, “Because we will be hosting the most eligible Paranswarmian seven-year-old boy on Aphonion. Every seven, eight, six, or nine-year-old Paranswarmian noble girl will be applying for a position here.”

“Marriage politics start young. At least we don’t need to deal with the White Witch’s granddaughter for another year, although we will surely accept her when she applies,” said Alistair.

“We should also discuss our policy in general," continued Alistair. "We want to raise as many of the ducal children and the more talented children of their vassals here at the court as possible.”

“I will bear that in mind and will copy you regularly on the offers I receive.”

“The pages also will need an unparalleled education,” commented Dame Brionna. “It will help ensure that the future leaders of Canberry are well prepared, and it will also make the positions more attractive to other nobles.”

Alistair nodded. “We should try to fill all seventy spots, as a general rule. On a related note, in the time frame of the next year or so, we will also need an appropriate number of ladies-of-waiting. I believe that my grandmother did not fill many of those positions towards the end of her reign, but we will need to when there is a new Archduchess.”

“Understood, Your Grace. That is more the responsibility of the Matron of the Household and the Mistress of Protocol than of my office, but I can pass along the requests.”

“Have we appointed a new Matron?” asked Kit. “I believe the prior one passed.”

“I think the former Sergeant of Arms, Dame Gretchen Overfifer, is now the new Matron,” Alistair answered. “You should bring the issue of ladies-in-waiting up with her. Obviously, when this becomes important, there will be a lady of the palace who will have ultimate responsibility for this, and she will have ladies of her own court as well. Nonetheless, we should think about our own plans.”

“Indeed, Your Grace. Sometimes, young women of quality who are fostered among us are subsequently placed in a position where they do not depart us. It can be a useful way to retain talent in the court. I will make a list of young ladies that I would recommend.”

“On a similar note, we also have some need for a few talented squires, at least for Dame Brionna and maybe for Dame Kit as well.”

“It would also be useful to have a page assigned to me,” added Dame Brionna.

“Your page is simple enough-- I would recommend Tad Sedge. He is the second son of the Earl of Sedge, who is a direct vassal to the Duke of Rolling Hills. Tad is a martially inclined boy, and especially devout-- I hope that he may some day join our order.”

“Oh, excellent,” replied Dame Brionna to the prospect of a page who might grow up to join the Knights of Valor. “That would be most satisfactory.”

“As for your squire, I would recommend Patrick Waygate, the son of the Baron of Waygate. Waygate is a vassal to the Earl of Northgard in the Duchy of Westmarch.”

“Do you want a squire?” Alistair asked Kit. “You really ought to have either a squire or a lady-in-waiting, or possibly both.”

Kit thought about it for a moment. “I think a lady-in-waiting would be most helpful for now. She would provide another way to get gossip among the women of rank.”

“I would suggest Lady Serena Claypit, a young lady of seventeen. Lady Serena is the twelfth child of the Baron of Claypit-- she is very able, but has few prospects beyond her role at court.”

The Council thanked the Master of Pages. Before he left, Dame Brionna asked whether he was a relation of Father Waters, and he confirmed that they were cousins. He then genuflected properly and departed.

The last major appointment for the day was with Sir Gary Southworth, Master of the Royal Arms. The Master of the Royal Arms ordinarily filled the role of Archduke’s Champion, although that role is limited more to ceremonial duties than the role of champion to most nobles, because the Archduke is not subject to challenges according to standard protocol in Canberry. With Lord Davion filling the formal position of Archduke’s Champion, the Master of Royal Arms had no particular duties-- indeed, the position would usually be allowed to fall into abeyance, although Sir Gary had not formally been relieved.

“Your Grace. In another week’s time or so, Sir Damian Tappenworth, the Minister of Defense, will follow Her Grace into the eternal light. We want to make sure that the throne has settled on an appropriate replacement by that time.”

“We had settled on a replacement, but we had to give him field duty,” replied Alistair. “Does Sir Damian have a recommendation?”

“The one he would recommend is unavailable and has undoubtably saved Your Grace’s life. This presents something of a problem. None of the Field Marshals will return in time, and there is the appearance issue. Elevating any one of them could be taken as a slight to the others.”

“Is there anyone with the appropriate experience but without the ability to go into the field?” asked Kit.

“There were at least two, but neither continues. Dame Vivian Durance would have made an excellent Minister, but she succumbed to her fast more quickly than I had supposed.”

“Did she have any students?”

“Yes… you could approach her students. Another unorthodox choice who is not following Her Grace would be Dame Viola, the Master of Squires. She is, however, OA—Order of the Arcane, an eldritch knight. It would not be problematic to appoint an eldritch knight, but it would be highly unusual. She is most puissant, however, and a competent field general.”

“It could be a good idea,” said Alistair. “We have largely untapped arcane resources that would be very useful in some of our military operations. Someone with the appropriate expertise to make the best strategic use of our magi would be a welcome aid.”

“That would of course create a vacancy in the position of Master of Squires. I would suggest then advancing the Master of Pages to Master of Squires-- Sir Darrin is getting older, but he remains fully proficient and would be an able instructor for the squires. As for the office of Master of Pages… while I would not wish to presume, I might be the most suitable appointment, particularly now that my present office has essentially no duties left.”

The Council agreed that that rotation of positions seemed sensible and gave orders to the Archduke’s scribe to prepare appropriate orders.

[End Session 27]

I may not be able to post an update tomorrow-- I've caught up to the furthest point I've written, so it depends on whether I can find some time to write between now and then.

Sorry about the delays. I'll try to stay on top of getting daily updates posted, but we'll have to see how it goes.

[Session 28]

Dame Brionna entered the council chamber the following morning with a crisp scroll. “Good news, m’lord.”

“That’s something we don’t hear very often,” replied Kit.

“Yes, some good news would be welcome. What is the report?”

“We have both solved the problem of the Earl of Caligshire and at least delayed the problems of the other orcish hordes.”

“That is good news indeed!”

“Two hordes were approaching the village of Bountiful in the Barony of Bountiful in Caligshire-- the larger was the horde of the Lidless Eye, the smaller was the Gut Rippers. The village seemed doomed. The hordes are not huge, but that was some 3000 orcs. However, a small group of adventurers saved the village. Devin Rollingheath, an acknowledged bastard of the late lord of Caligshire, had returned recently from Enclaves, where he was adventuring, along with a group of companions, including Bernardo Fitrecelli, the apprentice of a prominent mage from Glittertowers; 50 mercenary warriors; and a company of minotaurs of the Bright Hoof Clan.
He and his 90 troops, plus the 100 irregulars of the Baron, ambushed and routed the smaller horde, and then intimidated into retreat, harried, and drove the Lidless Eye off. We will need to follow up on the victory against the Lidless Eye-- our estimates suggest they are unlikely to retreat for more than a week or two, unless the defeat is repeated.”

Alistair and Kit both excitedly chattered about the victory. The orcish situation had been so troubling, and without any good options. The possibility that a free agent would deal with the situation for them was truly welcome.

“Bright Hoof Clan minotaurs, you said?” asked Alistair. “He must be an ally of Lady Meredith the Dazzling, then.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I thought that perhaps he could fill his father’s position.”

“A good possibility. Technically, of course, the Earldom escheated to the Duke of Furrows, and it is his title to confer, not ours, but I think the Duke would be amenable to a suggestion. We should contact Lady Meredith to get her opinion of him first. I suppose the chamberlain will have means of contacting her that are acceptably fast?”

“We could just have Father Waters use a sending, Your Grace.”

“I know that, but I would rather not interrupt an archmage for a conversation that is not urgent. I would much rather have one of our people contact one of her people so that we can arrange to talk at a time that is convenient to both.”

“Ah. I will speak with the chamberlain about the matter.”

“And if Lord Devin is suitable for the position of Earl, we will need to make it clear that it is a new creation, in recognition of his lineage but not simply an inheritance. We don’t want to be setting any precedents here.”

Dame Brionna looked at Alistair in surprise. “Really? I had thought that we could rely on Your Grace as the precedent. He is an acknowledged son, even though he is natural-born.”

“That’s precisely what I don’t want. We want stable inheritances. Anything else risks war. If you start telling every bastard that if they arrange for enough accidents among the legitimate children they can inherit, we create no end of trouble. Much better to confer the title based on his heroism and accomplishment, making it clear that there is no claim of right.”

My apologies about the delays. I've been busy with some other things recently and haven't gotten a new routine writing time going since I eliminated my commute. (I used to write on the train, which got me nearly an hour each day of writing. Now I walk to work, which is much nicer for me, but not so good for the storyhour.) I hope to get back on track soon, but we'll have to see how it goes.

A quick status update: I've been busy lately with work and with writing adventures for AnonyCon (if you're anywhere near CT on the weekend of Dec. 14-16, I encourage you to join us-- more details at www.anonycon.com). I'm unlikely to be able to do any storyhour writing until after AnonyCon (although I might on the plane flights to and fro.) Shortly after AnonyCon, I expect to be able to start getting meaningful writing again, at which point I will resume posting on a daily basis. Sorry about the delay, but I'll see you soon. (Journal of a Licensed Diabolist is still posting on a weekly basis if you want an Aphonion fix.)

Partly in response to Quartz's bumphammer, I return with <gasp> an actual storyhour post! Just when you thought it was safe to return to the Storyhour forum or something.

I can't promise daily updates, but there should be fairly frequent updates for the foreseeable future. I'll do my best to keep them daily, but life has an annoying habit of intervening. And now, less schedule discussion, more storyhour!


Once Dame Brionna finished up her report, the Council moved on to Kit’s briefing. Her people had continued watching Debonai, and their assessment is that its army was headed directly through the refugee lands. That path would not take it, as the Council had expected, to the Spice Lands, but rather to the region northeast of the Spice Lands.

Kit followed up on her reports with another mindlink to Lady Breena in Debonai itself to find out more details about the army.

<<Ah, yes. I have been able to determine a fair amount, your ladyship. Out of the 20,000 soldiers, especially among the chivalry and officers, there are very many younger siblings and, ahem, superfluous children. I should say that the women I spoke to were very reluctant to give up that information. The more I learn, the more it looks like a land grab. The Duke and other high-up nobles in the army have talked about having a destiny, being meant for something greater.>>

<<Being meant for something greater?>> asked Kit incredulously. <<Isn’t being a duke great enough?>>

<<He thinks he is meant to be a king, your ladyship.>>

<<How significant is the Duke? Does he have lands for his younger children? Our dukes are among the most powerful nobles on the continent, and frequently grant fiefs to at least the most promising of their younger children.>>

<<Yes, of course, but things are not quite the same here. All the ducal houses are landed in Debonai-- some of the lower nobility have titles but no land to go with it, but none of the dukes. Traditionally, younger siblings who are not put in the church or otherwise placed become retainers in their older siblings’ courts. Except for the royal house, there is rarely enough land for a house to divide its territory, even if the younger children were to remain vassals of the older. You should also remember that for its population, the land of Debonai is not as rich as in many other countries. So while a duke is a great lord, he is closer in power to the earls, counts, or other second-tier nobles in Canberry than to the lords of your duchies.>>

<<That would explain why he would view the difference between a king and a duke as huge.>>

<<Yes, your ladyship. The other big thing you should know about is the Bishop. Along with the giant army, there is a bishop without portfolio. He was sent directly from the Temple of Light on Khamista, and then left immediately with the army after arriving from the Patriarch.>>

<<Oh, really?>> thought Kit. <<That is very interesting. Do you have any information on why the Patriarch sent him?>>

<<I believe that he was requested to come by Bishop Cano Flavore, one of the diocesan bishops in Debonai. And the Holy Church is in transition here-- the Archbishop, Ulrich Garand, has only been here for a couple of months. He was reassigned when the prior archbishop was required to retire. None too soon, if you ask me-- the old Archbishop had been senile for years, but you know how the Church can be about such things.>>

<<Of course,>> replied Kit. Lady Breena did not need to know about her limited knowledge of high church politics. <<We’ll look into the church angle from our side. Any success on getting more information about the rioters?>>

<<Not yet.>> The frustration in Lady Breena’s mind buzzed against Kit’s. <<I am still trying to get a psionic friend in to see the rebels being questioned, your ladyship.>>

<<Keep working at it. One more question about the army. If this is meant as a land grab, would you anticipate them attacking an existing realm or simply carving out a new kingdom from the wilderness?>>

<<I do not assume that they seek a war of conquest, but it is likely that their arrival will cause a war. They have insufficient women with them, so they would need to take women from elsewhere.>>

<<Take? As in just carrying off?>>

<<Well, not necessarily by force, but… If they are seeking to establish a new kingdom with mostly an army of men, they will need to get women from their neighbors somehow. If that does not involve them attacking, it may well still provoke their neighbors into battle.>>

<<Right. Thanks for the report. We will continue monitoring the army. Keep me posted if you learn anything new.>> Kit broke the mindlink and reported the conversation to the Council.

With the Archbishop scheduled to come to the palace for a commune that afternoon, the Council spent some time developing a long list of questions, including some follow-up questions depending on the initial answers. Even with the large number of questions the Archbishop could ask of Glor’diadel, the Council had many more questions left to ask, especially with the new information about the Debonai army. In particular, Alistair focused on the risk that this might turn into yet another invading army to threaten Canberry. Still, developing the list of questions also led them to identify other lines of inquiry that were worth pursuing before the commune.

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