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The Long Discussion A prelude for Challenge II of Book III Word of High Queen Ylspeth's decree has spread far and wide across the four realms. A mixture of excitement, relief, and unease accompanies the decree, depending on the one hearing the message. In Avalonia, the Mistress of Dragons, Lady Galaria of Druidham, has brought together some of her fellow nobles to discuss the news and plan a way forward. Lady Gwenllian of Prenmôr and Lord Arthur are with her today, brought to Druidham by a short ride on dragonback, ready to be brought back home by another short ride with little interruption to daily life. They are walking in the loggia off of one of Druidham's many courtyards in the late morning, conversing. "I am not sure that we can do anything particularly extravagant in Prenmôr, of course," Lady Gwenllian was saying. "We are only just getting the settlement built up a bit more as it is, so coin is tight. And I'm afraid we are still some years away from being profitable with our farming, it being tedious labor just to break new fields, plant, and harvest, let alone shipping it across half of a continent!" "Of course, no one expects you to be selling your grain," Galaria assured her. "We here in Druidham will also not be selling any grain, since we have very little farmland working as of yet. Like Prenmôr, Druidham is a new settlement, too." Lady Gwenllian bit her lip in thought. "But we should still have a sort of mass entertainment, you think?" "Yes," Arthur and Galaria said at the same time. "It need not be extravagant," continued Galaria alone. "What is important is that you show the common people of your land that the High Queen is not so high above them that she does not care about them; that High Queen Ylspeth indeed wants them to be happy and fulfilled. Surely you have musicians and storytellers, yes?" Lord Arthur said, "Everywhere has musicians and storytellers, Lady Galaria, even Nocturnus. I'd reckon even the Drow have musicians and storytellers, though I've never been to one of their underground cities to find out." Lady Gwenllian smiled. "Nor I, Arthur, but yes, we have such professions, and we have cooks to throw a feast; would that be enough?" "Yes, as long as there are stories and songs that praise High Queen Ylspeth and the Unicorn of the royal house of Cedrica. Have your bards come up with something new, have your cooks try something exciting, and pull out all the stops that you can possibly afford to pull out. Here in Druidham, Henjin has already had our musicians begin composing a whole score for a new epic saga, which the poets have been tasked with composing. The events of Raavage's downfall have already been turned into countless ballads and tales, and those should be played and performed, too. Injini and the other gnomes will be putting on a light show with all sorts of explosive powders; the dragonriders will be doing aerial stunts, perhaps with some sort of skills competition; my husband's druids will be doing something with the deep magics to awe and delight; even the children are putting some plays together. This is not Kaliphlin, where we might watch some sort of gladiatorial combat or ostrich race; we have our own ways of having a festival, every city, town, and village of Avalonia knows how to celebrate in its own way. This is the time to do so!" * * * At the same time, the serving folk of Druidham were busying about as usual, doing their daily tasks around the island keep. "Have you heard?" asked Dervin, the steward of the household, as Hylena, the lady's attendant, approached carrying a tray of bowls from the brief luncheon the lady had had with her guests. "Heard what, Dervin?" asked Hylena. "You know I hear everything, same as you. To what are you referring?" "We're having a party, a big one, in the next month or so!" said Dervin triumphantly. "Old news, you know. Old news. Besides, who will be responsible for throwing the party except us, as usual? Nothing changes for a servant; parties are just another occasion for work, except on a bigger scale." "You're no fun," scowled the steward. "We get to have fun, even if there is work before and after the fun. I, for one, am excited. I hear that there will be dragon races around the island, and magic shows. All I have to do is make sure that everyone is fed and housed, and that there is money for it all, which I do all the time anyways, so this is a real treat for me. You should lighten up, Hylena. My son will be over the moon at the news." "I'm sure he will be," the lady's attendant said. "In the meanwhile, I need to bring these bowls to the kitchen to be washed. The party can wait for another day." __________________________________ .....................................................................
The Queen's Council A prelude to Challenge II High Queen Ylspeth sits on the throne of her father in Cedrica, the unlikely victor in the war against the forces of Lord Raavage. The combined might of the battered guilds was enough to secure her rule, but now the young and inexperienced monarch must find a way to keep the guilds united in relative peace. She has assembled a council to help her in her duties, to advise in difficult matters, and to guide her through the complexities of politics. Each of the four guilds has two representatives on the council; they are second sons, old uncles, pensioned war heroes, and strong-willed daughters passed over in the inheritance in favor of younger sons, chosen by guild leadership to represent their interests and secure the future prosperity of each realm. Also on the council are a few ministers, of war, of finance, and of state, drawn from ancient political houses of Cedrica itself or else having arrived with Ylspeth when she came to seek the throne. Today, HIgh Queen Ylspeth and her council have convened to discuss the rumors of discontent that are circling throughout the lands... Ylspeth surveyed the room, meeting the eyes of the members of her council cordially. Some of them she enjoyed tremendously, and some, well, not so tremendously. They all meant well and were devoted to serving the realm. She took a deep breath, uneasy with the topic she knew they must discuss, ever since the reports began coming back that her people were not completely happy with their new ruler. Where to begin? "My lords and ladies," she began, "I called today's council session to discuss the negative reports that we have been hearing. Why are the people upset with the crown?" Amar was the first to speak up; she was a decorated soldier from Kaliphlin, the veteran of many battles in the civil wars despite her relative youth, and the third daughter of one of the more powerful lords from the High Council in the south; rather than marry her off to some man against her will, her father had petitioned to have her sent as a representative to Cedrica. Her advice was always action-based and typically fiery. "Your Majesty, if I may be so bold, perhaps it is because they are feeling oppressed by the Desert King's tyranny, who is no subject of yours, I might add, and military action to relieve them of his cruel rod would bestir them to think kindly of you." Khufu of Sultan's Gate, beside her and the other representative of Kaliphlin, glared at Amar; he was the Desert King's personal appointment to the council, and thus he was always quick to contradict anything said by his guildmate. "His Divine Majesty is not a tyrant, and does not rule under a cruel rod. Perhaps the people of Kaliphlin need to be liberated from the lies of the High Council's treasonous supporters, and an army should be sent to crush their last remaining strongholds!" "No one is sending an army anywhere!" interrupted Faluiel, an elf princess from the Enchanted Forest of Avalonia. "After the civil wars, the last thing the people want is another army being raised from their menfolk and sent off to die on some foreign plain. What they long for is something to mend the wounds done already and build the land up again. The elves have been doing as much work as they can to renew the deep magics, but these things will take time to come back to a semblance of the balance they had before Revolword and Raavage upended them." "My people need food, not magic," growled Thurl, an old dwarf from Mitgardia, the uncle of one of the kings of one of the mountain clans in the north. "The tundra came down farther than ever when the Algus attacked, and our fields have not thawed properly yet for growing; the reserves of many Mitgardian keeps are dangerously low, and there is little hope of filling them from this season's harvest." Faluiel nodded. "But restoring the deep magics' balance would push the tundra back and restore your croplands, and thus give you more food next year." "But the North is hungry now!" yelled Thurl. "I hear every day about families leaving their farms, gaunt with hunger, desperate for a crust of bread from their local jarl or thain." Eckbert, a grey and balding old general from Avalonia, cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt, my good Dwarf," he said, his old voice still strong and always polite, "the eastern plains of Avalonia have reported a bumper crop of grain this year, more than they have room to store, even. I know many of the lords there, such as my old messmate de Gothia of Sionnach, have been selling it to Varlyrio at a hefty profit, but surely with they would be willing to sell to their northern neighbors, for slightly less, even, due to reduced shipping costs; though the extra coin from the Varlyrian market has been much needed to repair the ruined cities and pay the pensions of soldiers and their widows." Cortucius Amancio, one of the Varlyrian councilors, agreed. "That grain has been cutting into the profits of our own farmers on Varlyrio. I know much of the discontent on my island guild is about how Her Majesty has opened up trade, threatening many of the leading families' lucrative monopolies. They would certainly be amenable to those goods being diverted elsewhere. And anything else from the mainland, too." Ylspeth nodded to each of her councilors' thoughts, mulling a way to try to meet each of their needs without upsetting the always precarious balance that was the Guilds of Historica. She could not seem to favor one over the others, lest the others be jealous and hurt. Surely there was a way to make everyone happy. While she was still pondering, N'ri, one of her closest advisors, second only to Kars, the commander of her bodyguard and Minister of Defense, stood up. N'ri was one of the warrior monks who had taken her in at their monastery on the far-western island, just a bit to the north of Mwamba, where she had taken refuge after the death of her father. He was wise in many ways, and his approach to matters was always fresh, not clouded with the self-seeking agendas that the rest of the councilors held. "My fellow councilors, this is a difficult moment, and perhaps it will be impossible to make everyone happy;" he paused and looked at the bickering Kaliphlinian representatives before going on, "but I think we can do something. Back in my home, long before I left for a new life at a monastery, the king used to throw public games, free to all comers, whenever discontent and unrest fell upon his people. He also made liberal use of handouts of food, particularly that lifeblood of civilization, bread. His philosophy, it seemed, was to fill the belly and soothe the soul with those two tools. My advice is that we use the funds of the crown to purchase the surplus grain from the Avalonians at a fair price -- perhaps not what they could get at open market, but we would not swindle them -- and then distribute that grain to the hungry in Mitgardia and Kaliphlin, especially our northern brethren. If we need more, perhaps the farmers of Varlyrio could supply a bit extra, too. At the same time, we should encourage, perhaps with a promise of lower taxes for those who agree, the wealthier nobles of the different realms to put on spectacles for the enjoyment of their peoples, in the name of our High Queen. Every lord knows what his people would enjoy most, and so he could provide that, encouraging the common citizens to be grateful for such beneficence from Cedrica." Ylspeth thought the advice sounded good, though she was concerned about the price and the state of the treasury. A murmur of displeasure swept the room, though, which surprised her. She walked around a bit trying to hear snippets of conversation as her councilors talked amongst themselves. Thurl was upset, grumbling about how the Mitgardians were being given charity, treated like the destitute, while the tights-wearers were only getting richer. Eckbert was certain that the Avalonian lords would in fact be swindled on the grain price, for bearded women, no less, in addition to balking at being expected to pay for lavish entertainments from their own pockets. Amar and Khufu were still arguing about the best way to fix Kaliphlin, though both were certain that their nobles would refuse any handouts from the tree-huggers at a minimum. Cortucius was silent, looking over the whole affair with smug superiority. Finally, Thurl pounded on the table and said, "This is a terrible plan!" N'ri held out a hand to pacify the old dwarf. "May your beard grow ever longer, my good Dwarf," he said in a conciliatory tone, "but I think it is important to think of matters beyond just the pride and pockets of the nobles. They are very few, but the common people are many; if there is no bread in the bellies of the peasants, how much longer with the lord sit on his throne? Will not the people revolt? Or whom will he rule if they all die of hunger, being good and obedient subjects? Yes, everyone will need to sacrifice a bit to make it work, but is it not worthwhile to secure the happiness and contentment of the people as a whole? This is about the poor child starving in the street, the veteran whose life is nothing but a hollow shell; what is a pile of gold in a locked room compared to those? Let's bring them bread and circuses, to improve their lives!" High Queen Ylspeth nodded in agreement with N'ri. She stood next to Thurl and said to the whole council, "This is what I decree: grain shall be purchased from the Avalonians to be distributed to the hungry in the north and south, as needed. My own treasury will handle that expense. Nobles of the different realms shall also, to the extent that they are able, contribute to the morale of the commoners by hosting some sort of grand entertainment. Those who do shall see a reduction of their tax burdens of ten per cent, and those who do not will see their tax burden rise by five per cent. Each guild shall provide a list of those lords and ladies who have put on a spectacle, enumerating the type and price, in order to qualify for the tax easement. Any further details will be worked out by the Treasury Minister and his aides. Am I understood?" "Yes, Your Majesty," came the words from each mouth, though not all of the faces showed agreement. Such is the life of a monarch, thought Ylspeth as she swept out of the room. _____________________________________ ...........................................................................