Chapter 349: A Malleable People
Argrave crossed his arms as he stared at Dras. “You’re poaching my talent? Really?”
Dras held his arms out as he sunk back into the purple couch. “I’m borrowing an old friend for a few months.”
“A few months.” Argrave nodded intently, then countered, “Just when I’m at the pivotal moment, you want to borrow Galamon for at least a month?” he pointed his hand at Galamon. “He’s my knight-commander! He’s pivotal for developing our standing army! As much as I want him to see his wife and kid…”
Dras pursed his lips for a moment as he looked for a response, but then Galamon contributed, “That’s not true. You know as well as I do that the first month, at least, will be dedicated to reorganization. It’ll be a long while before there’s mass training in Vasquer.” He looked to the patriarch. “And there are some things the patriarch offered to supply.”
The patriarch looked up to Galamon from his seat. “Are you keeping distance between us by calling me ‘patriarch,’ huh? How hurtful. Don’t intend to rejoin me in a more permanent fashion?” He waved his hand away. “Well… yeah. Galamon tells me this royal guard of yours is understaffed. I’m thinking… I can supply you with an honor guard of my finest men, loyal to you until their death. These would be veterans trained by Galamon personally and equipped with enough Ebonice to choke a dragon.”
“They’d be capable men,” Galamon added. “Capable of holding their own, or capable of training others. I can think of veterans that I know that I would trust to serve as officers beneath me,” he noted, tapping his chest. “These men have fought in wars for seventy years, some of them. And they’re still well in their prime.”
“It’s been more than a decade. That might not be true,” Rowe pointed out. When Dras glared at him, the old mage quickly added, “But yeah, Galamon’s right. They can train your troops, lead your armies, whatever you need. They’re perfect in every way. That enough of an endorsement?” he looked at Dras in irritation.
“While I’m away, there’s a more-than-fitting replacement for your personal guard: Orion.” Galamon gestured at Argrave and Anneliese both. “He would never harm his family. He visits his mother daily.”
Argrave’s face tightened for a moment as he thought of it. “How many men?”
“Three hundred.” Dras put his hands on his knees.
Argrave leaned back onto the couch. Three hundred Veidimen, each and all trained by Galamon, equipped with Ebonice… and in time, each and all outfitted just as the royal knights of Vasquer. He looked at Anneliese, the two of them sharing the same thought: that was truly a boon. Not to mention, Galamon personally endorsed them. Argrave’s thoughts clogged as he processed something.
Argrave looked at his knight-commander. “It sounds like you’re championing this.”
Galamon looked down at the floor. “He hasn’t said everything.”
Dras scratched his scarred head. “I would also adopt Anneliese as my daughter.”
Argrave leaned far back into the couch in surprise, then looked over at her. Her white brows were raised high and she sputtered as she asked, “W-what?”
“It’d be a big boon for the two of you, politically speaking. All those beneath you would feel confident in your alliance, and you’d likely face no political pressure.” Dras’ gaze jumped between the two of them. “For my part, it’s largely inconsequential. I suppose you get a solid stake in the Patriarchate when I pass, but historically chiefs are elected from all the family members, so it doesn’t matter. I’m planning on making my succession a grander electorate consisting of all Veidimen. That’s one virtue of conquest: you can make up new rules.”
“Well… I would…” Anneliese began. Even she struggled to find words in this situation.
“As my kin, you’d be second in the tribal hierarchy. The only person who could order you around is me. You could even order Rowe around,” Dras put his hand on the man’s shoulder, and the S-rank spellcaster frowned. “I think it matches well with this honor guard I’d be sending. It’s a good justification for welcoming them into your ranks.”
“You really value Galamon a lot, huh? You’d offer this much from the get-go.” Argrave leaned in closer.
“Well…” Dras scratched his cheek. “It’s one thing to have an emissary of the Hand Reaching from the Abyss come to Veiden. It is another entirely if that man is king of the nation, there. I do not care to make an enemy of you. There are other lands beside this continent of Berendar.”
Argrave was pleased, and about to comment on the idea of lasting peace. Before he did, someone else spoke.
“It was your idea, was it not? This adoption?” Anneliese looked at Galamon.
The big man closed his eyes and looked away, saying nothing. Argrave was shocked. He didn’t know the old man had it in him to be this conniving. Maybe Argrave was rubbing off on him, teaching him the virtues of extorting friends and relatives.
“So, what do you think?” Dras held his hands out. “Is this a good enough trade?”
Argrave looked to Anneliese. “I would never decide for her.”
Dras looked a little surprised, but then he looked to Anneliese for his answer.
“I need not think for more than a heartbeat,” Anneliese said. “Of course.”
The patriarch nodded as though it was expected. “Then, Argrave?”
“Well…” Argrave looked to Galamon. “Good lord. I guess I’m selling my friend for three hundred men and a father-in-law. Sounds like the start to a joke, but…” he held out his hand for a handshake. “Take good care of him. He’s high maintenance. Whines a lot.”
Dras chuckled and took Argrave’s hand. “Yeah. I remember it well. He yapped my ear off in the past.”
The two laughed as both looked at Galamon. Then, in a rare show… the man smiled slightly. It was slight enough no one took notice.
The next day, Argrave appeared before the nobles of the south, the allied representatives of both the north and Veiden, and the Order of the Gray Owl. He came in on foot, this time. Vasquer was still in the room, but Patriarch Dras and Rowe walked as well. Rowe left his druidic bond to roost atop the Dragon Palace. It would be ridiculously uncomfortable to negotiate on the back of a snake’s head, and things promised to be long and meticulous today.
Argrave took his place on the throne. It was cushioned, warm… already a much better start than yesterday.
Reinhardt was the first to step forward. He kneeled. “We’ve read through the great majority of what was delivered to us,” the margrave began. “The decision of those beneath me is unanimous. With the conditions offered yesterday… we would all be glad to welcome you as king, Your Majesty.”
“Good. Good!” Argrave said, tapping the armrest of the throne. He felt that this result was the most assured, but he was still glad to hear it. “I am happy to have the whole of you as my vassals, too. Elenore can handle the details of the ceremony of fealty—you can speak to her after. And on the other note… Elias, Rose, that promise I made… she’ll send you to talk to me after this summit is done, today. We can talk about getting the both of them healed.”
Margrave Reinhardt lowered his head almost to the ground. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Argrave felt a bit strange seeing a man that had held him captive some months ago kneeling before him and calling him king, and he stared for a few moments. Anneliese tapped his shoulder, drawing him back to attention.
Argrave turned his gaze, drawn from his haze. “So, Castro. Have you and your people had time to think about things, come to a conclusion?”
The tower master stepped away from his crowd. “We submit to Your Majesty’s terms,” Castro lowered his head. “The Order will collaborate with the crown’s wishes. I cannot speak to what each individual will do in way of support, but if Your Majesty offers seats on the parliament, I am sure many will be glad to take them. We will grant access to our knowledge as needed. For my part, I will… greatly incentivize detailed cooperation with the crown, but each member of the Order is not bound to it.” The old man dipped his head. “I hope Your Majesty recognizes this.”
“Of course I do. I benefited from Order neutrality, and so I’d be a fool to infringe upon it.” Argrave nodded. “We’ll have to discuss how people might be rewarded for cooperating with the crown. I have my own set of incentives that might draw people to offer aid. But… I’m glad that your people came around. I can assure all that you will gain much if you offer faithful service.”
Argrave took a deep breath and sighed with a smile playing about his lips, pleased that things had gone so well. He spotted the Magister afflicted with dwarfism in their bunch, but he didn’t see resentment in his gaze. Deciding to shelve the matter, he looked to Anneliese and then Elenore, giving each a light nod in turn.
“Excellent. I’m glad to put that behind us. I do intend to get to the specifics of how the parliament will play out, but there’s another matter. Namely, our allies the Veidimen.” Argrave looked to Dras.
The patriarch held his hands behind his back and stood straight. “Argrave will marry my daughter in one month. An honor guard and dowry will be sent overseas to guard and protect her. This will signal the beginning of a long and fruitful alliance between our two peoples so that we might struggle against He Who Would Judge the Gods.”
The southern nobles stirred at this news, but the reaction could be said to be largely positive. After the arrival of a dragon, the display with Rowe’s magic, and the sheer physical size of the Veidimen, few wanted to make genuine enemies of the snow elves.
Argrave nodded. “I want no bad blood, no enmity. I saw lynchings of Veidimen at Mateth after the invasion. If anything that barbaric occurs again…” Argrave’s gaze went to the Shadowlander staked to the wall, crucified. He stared for a long while. When he finally looked away, people had gotten the message.
“Good!” Argrave said loudly, gently slamming the armrest. “Elenore, you take the floor. She’s to be named the first Head of Parliament. Thereafter, it’ll be an elected position, the time in office being eight years. Let’s discuss the finer details…”
Elenore wrote quickly on a piece of paper, working by the light of a magic lamp on her desk. This room had a balcony, and Vasquer had rested her head just behind Elenore. The snake’s golden eyes gleamed in the darkness.
Elenore’s desk shook lightly, and she looked up. She leaned back suddenly when the door burst open. Orion stepped inside, then shut the door and looked at her.
“What is it?” Elenore put her writing instrument down.
Orion stepped to her desk, saying nothing.
“I’m busy with Whitefields, and now this business with the parliament. Get to the point, Orion,” she waved her hand to hurry him along. “If you’re here to visit Vasquer, she’s right there. Just be quiet. I need to focus.”
“It was you,” Orion said quietly. “That rumor about Felipe. About him being that Shadowlander that devastated the city.”
Elenore tapped the desk a couple times, then said boldly, “So what?”
“So what?” Orion put his hands on the desk and leaned down. “My mother heard it. My mother,” he repeated. “She thinks her husband became a demon. She was mentally wounded enough before, but now?”
“I’m at a pivotal point in the situation with Whitefields. I don’t need this right now,” Elenore shook her head.
Orion stood there, unmoving. “We need to talk. Not you and me.” He looked up at Vasquer. “All of us, as a family. All of what remains of this bloodline.”