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  1. Willem Guilder had been in King’s Harbour just two months ago at Corrington’s “Great Ball of Terra Nova.” Now he had returned to talk to his old friend and political colleague, Román Fontonajo. In Fontonajo’s retirement, he had built a lovely house on Cocovia and settled down to enjoy a quieter life, away from politics. Guilder hated that he must ask Román to disturb his peaceful life and return to the political arena, but hoped that Román would embrace the opportunity. Guilder was greeted at the door by Román’s wife, Clarissa, and she led him into the study of their house in King’s Harbour. “Román,” Clarissa Fontonajo shouted through the house. “It’s Admius Legistrad, Master Guilder.” Román went down the stairs. “You should feel free to call him Willem, my dear,” he said. Turning to Guilder, “Welcome, old friend. Come in. Mind if I prepare something to drink for us?” asked Román, and he started walking toward the kitchen. “Yes, please, call me Willem,” said Guilder to Clarissa. “No need for formalities. And thank you, Román; a drink sounds good about now.” Guilder followed Román into the kitchen. “Juice? Wine? A tea? Or just some water?” Román asked. “Tea would be wonderful.” Guilder rubbed his leg above his peg leg. “I’m getting more used to this, but it serves as a constant reminder of the war to me. Tea always reminds me of the rewards of exploration and trade.” “Tea ... Have you ever traded it at larger scale?” Román asked while he started boiling some water. “I haven’t,” Guilder said with a bit of a sigh. “Cotton and indigo, plenty. I must redouble my efforts regarding the indigo we found on Ferro Azure. But with so many varieties of plants on every island we go to, there must be some plant out there with leaves perfect for a new type of tea” he continued wistfully. “I guess we haven’t found it yet, either ... But you are quite right about the sheer quantity of newly discovered islands. When two years ago all we could think about is colonizing and claiming the next island, and then the next after that, today we struggle to properly colonize all those we already own. I feel our collaborative efforts have become rather lackluster. But who am I to blame? I guess that’s not much of my business, anymore. Today I hardly do more than brewing tea. And look, the water is boiling. Which one? I will take my favorite Nellisan Herb Mix -- always feels like home to me.” “I will take the same, thank you. Perhaps I can share your feeling of ‘home’.” Guilder paused briefly, then continued. “And even in your retirement, if that’s the proper thing to call it, our collective efforts will always be your business. You are one of the major architects of colonial Eslandola. You are dearly missed in the council, I assure you, but I think I understand why you stepped away. You and your lovely Clarissa are blessed with a large family and each other; I am a man married to my work by happenstance as much as choice.” “And the Sweet Bardo Peach for Clarissa. Now come, let’s head to my study and have a seat.” Román said, as they walked towards the next room where Clarissa was already sitting and waiting. “And you are right -- marriage is a blessing to me. Just last night we talked about the nothing I would be without Clarissa. And I’d even claim that our colonies would not be what they are, if it wasn’t for her. But I guess you are not here to talk about the love we have found in life, have you?” “No, I have not. You know me well.” Guilder settled into a chair and propped up his pegleg. “I have come to ask a favor -- a favor that will pull you back into political affairs for a bit, but not for too long.” “A bit and not too long ... it doesn’t really sound like you know what this favor will be exactly, do you?” Guilder laughed. “This is exactly why I am asking this favor of you. You are much better at the language of diplomacy than I am.” Román thought for a second before he replied: “I have always felt more like a selfish tactician, with my own hidden agenda ...” “But isn’t that exactly what Willem just said?” Clarissa interjected with a broad smile on her face. Guilder laughed again with a broad grin. “Clarissa, you understand the game well!” Guilder composed himself, then faced her husband again. “Román, I’ll get straight to the point. War is hard, and sometimes keeping the peace is just as hard or harder. We’ve allowed ourselves to relax too much in the aftermath of the war. Oleon is actively courting Mardier and has sent a delegation to Terraversa as well. There are military rumblings from Oleon, and though I discount them for the most part, they remind us that we have work to do. Terraversa, newly independent, is a young nation finding its way. We both fought against Mardier, and now we need to solidify our relationship going forward. We need to make a gesture to Terraversa, and to all the nations of the Brick Seas, to show our recognition ... and support ... of Terraversa’s independence. So, we need someone to go to Kings Port and carry that word to Archduke Oldis. That someone must show everyone how important this is to us. I could think of no one better than you.” “Terraversa ... I’ve always had mixed feelings about their location. The less attractive Terraversa becomes as a halt on a ship’s journey between the worlds, the more likely every single ship is to stop at our most beloved Eslandolan town on the eastern coast of Nellisa. Which is, of course, in my favor more than in anyone else’s. So I assume I wouldn’t benefit much from acknowledging Terraversan independence, would I?” After a quick pause Román continued. “But surely we are not here to discuss the impacts of national politics on my very personal wellbeing. And I surely see some reason behind pursuing an alliance with Oldis. Which brings me to the core of my question: Who are we actually trying to become friends with?” “There is no doubt that Nova Terreli and Nellisa have surpassed Kings Port and Terraversa in importance on the trade routes. But Terraversa is still a strategic location. In the hands of an ally, it can assure that trade continues to flow freely to Nellisa. Furthermore, I can imagine that cooperation between Terraversa and Neliisa could increase trade revenues for both. But in the hands of a foe, it can restrict trade. If Oleon’s RNTC were to gain favor, they might implement taxes selectively to influence trade away from Nova Terreli. And if Mardier were to regain control, we might find ourselves in an undeclared war at sea again. Guilder shifted in his chair as he watched Román turn things over in his head, but continued before Román could speak. “And you have identified the key issue, easily the most delicate: who are we trying to become friends with. Terraversa is a two-sided coin. Oldis is Archduke, but L’Olius essentially controls the navy and is quite popular among the citizenry. We must find a way to be friends with both.” “And so the unborn may do his first grand favor to our nation ...,” Fontonajo mumbled after some seconds of thought. “What was that?” asked Guilder. “Or her,” Clarissa answered in Román's stead. “We are going to be grandparents soon, you know?” She had a dreamy smile on her face. “Oh! I had no idea. Congratulations! Which of your children is expecting?” “Joaquin,” said Román. “With his wonderful fiancee, Poca from Berreli. You get my point?” “I’m not sure,” replied Guilder, puzzling it over. “Other than that keeping the peace is bigger than one island or one nation, or one people, and there is more to it than personal considerations ...” “I guess L’Olius might be more open to the arguments of someone who has crossed the boundaries of races, just like his ancestors did, don’t you think?” “Ah! Of course! I forgot about L’Olius’s Atwi heritage. I can see you’re already developing a plan. Tell me more.” “We should definitely go together. That is: Joaquin, Poca, their baby, Clarissa, and myself. And split up in Terraversa, so that Joaquin can talk to L’Olius -- they are both brave men, seafarer and adventurers, after all -- while Clarissa and myself talk to Oldis. There is no way around winning both, and for now they surely do want the same thing: preserve Terraversan independence. We can aid them in this regard, we are the strong ally here -- and we can negotiate from our position of strength. So our goal is an official military alliance?” “An excellent approach to L’Olius! Your sense of family has always been a strength of yours. ... As for our goal -- goals, actually -- I wish a simple, straight-forward answer was possible. We want to limit any influence Oleon might gain in their talks, at a minimum maintaining the status quo militarily and in trade. We also want to do what we can to make sure Mardier doesn’t return. So how to achieve these goals? Personally, I favor a military defensive pact, and there are others who favor this as well. Of course, any treaty we negotiate will have to be ratified by the council, and there will be opposition -- some fear being drawn into another conflict. You know how the council can be. But I believe there is enough support to approve a defensive pact, and I think that is the surest way to prevent Mardier’s return. There is also support for a trade agreement of some sort, and while what form that would take is less clear, it would probably be easier to get approved. So you have great latitude on where to take things. While I obviously hope for more, even if we just come out of this with improved relations with Oldis and L’Olius, that will be something. Certainly see where they want to take the conversation and take our cues from that.” “And surely we will officially acknowledge them as an independent nation of their own?” “Yes, I have here a statement approved jointly by the Colonial Council and the Continental Council, signed by King Fernando! I was worried it might be difficult to get Fernando’s signature, but once it was explained to him that it would be like throwing night caps at Oleon’s King Philip, he was all for it.” “I hope it has your signature as well? And best those of all Council Members? Fernando’s name may not mean too much to successful revolutionaries, such as Oldis or L’Olius, who have triumphantly unbound from the chains of traditional Continental nations -- while I am rather sure your word or Román’s will,” Clarissa stated. “It does, indeed, Clarissa. I have signed, as have all the members of the council. But the king’s signature is significant. It shows no ambiguity in our stance on their independence. And a king recognizing the rights of such revolutionaries sends a powerful signal to the noble houses of Mardier and Oleon.” “Yet still we have a tough task ahead of ourselves,” Román said. “Oldis is said to be a relentless negotiation counterpart. Shouldn’t we be bringing some gift?” “Do you have something in mind?” “I have heard tigers make for wonderful pets.” “Seriously?” replied Guilder, a bit startled. “I must admit that hadn’t occurred to me.” “If it were you I’d make sure to get you one, because I know you could handle the beast. I guess it might work for L’Olius as well. But Oldis? Not so sure, the tiger might decide to just eat him, and that would be it for our negotiations. What about some fine clothes instead? And maybe Maestro will contribute some apple cider?” Guilder let out a hearty laugh. “I could handle him only because he would take one taste of my pegleg and deem me inedible!” Guilder slapped his leg for emphasis, then worked to return himself to a serious manner. “I’m certain we can get some of Maestro’s fine cider, and I will trust your judgment on what gifts to take. If you need me to acquire anything, just say the word.” Guilder leaned forward a bit, in a slightly softer voice. “If you have a lead on a tiger, that may indeed be a fine gift for L’Olius. It is, however, quite important to make sure Oldis does not feel upstaged by anything we present to L’Olius.” “A good point. But it applies both ways. We will always have to give Oldis more than L’Olius to make sure we acknowledge his rule, but only so much more that L’Olius does not feel upstaged. What a nice word, Willem.” “Or we just bring entirely different and unique gifts to both of them ...,” Clarissa suggested. “I would not think we should give Oldis more, but rather the gifts to each must speak to what each values. Clarissa makes a good point that the gift or gifts to each of them should be unique. To that line of thinking, a tiger would speak to L’Olius’s military role, where fine clothes would speak to Oldis’s taste for the finer things. Or perhaps a fine Eslandian stallion for Oldis? An animal for each, but each representing different qualities and values.” “One of many hard things, certainly. But we will find a solution. Do you see any other obstacles in our way?” “Just communication at this point. We need to send word ahead to let them know you are coming. And simply assembling an appropriate squadron to carry you on your mission. Logistics ... and time. We mustn’t dally, but send you and your family on your way as soon as possible. Oleon has quite the head start on us.” Guilder gave him a sly grin, then said, “I take it this means you accept this mission?” “This seems like a very intense and difficult diplomatic mission...,” Román voiced his thoughts. “Willem,” Clarissa interupted, “even with all the admiration I have for my husband and his success in both trade and politics, isn’t what you are asking for more of a task for a Colonial Grand Ambassador of Eslandola? Who may appoint local ambassadors ...” “... like his son?” Román asked her, innocent as a lamb, to which Clarissa responded with a soft smile: “Yes, for example. Or just anyone else.” “Román, my apologies. I sometimes get so focused on an end result, I forget about some of the necessary tasks to get there.” Guilder reached into his coat pocket and produced a sealed letter. “As you know, that position has been vacant for some time, a casualty of the political upheaval. And the council believes it is high time that was addressed.” Guilder handed the letter to Román. “The Continental Council confers on you title of Grand Ambassador of Eslandola, with all its incumbent powers ... if you accept.” Román looked straight at Guilder: “Powers ... I consider an ambassador more a man of words than a man of power ... But that might be for philosophers to discuss. We are here in this world, where I gladly accept the trust the council has in me. I will make sure not to disappoint you.” Román took pause and circled the room several times, in deep thought, before he continued. “Now there is one more thing that lies heavy on my heart. As you know, I have effectively taken all responsibilities of governing Nellisa. And almost all inhabitants of our colonies know that I am de facto the Governor of Nellisa. But you and I know that there has never been an official acknowledgement from our council to clarify this uncertainty for good. I would be ... very pleased if you could look into this and bring distinctness, once and for all. It would surely make the lives of all Nellisans a bit less burdened.” “You’re right. I must admit, I had forgotten that it was never made official; such is the strength of your governorship that Fontonajo and Nellisa are thought of as one! Such appointments are simpler when the trade company controls the island. I will bring that up with the council and see that it is taken care of.” “That sounds good, Willem. The urgency for the mission must be even higher than I thought, given the little resistance you showed towards my proposals ... I guess I might ask for a palace in every Eslandolan town and you would consider actually making it possible! But both you and I are more than simple bargain-hunters on the fish market. So let’s call it an agreement, be satisfied with the result and keep all the rest in mind for our future meetings. You will stay for dinner?” “My dear Román, you did not ask for anything out of place ... although I must admit that I’m relieved we have reached the end of your list,” Guilder replied with a grin. “And you assess the situation correctly: we’ve been napping diplomatically and let Oleon take the lead, which we must now correct. But I feel better already knowing you are on board for this venture. … And I would love to stay for dinner.” * * * After dinner, Guilder made his way down to the docks, where Captain Ambrose MacMathain of the Eslandolan ship Valiant Phoenix was waiting. “Captain MacMathain, I hope I have not held up your departure.” “Not at all, sir,” said the captain. “My men are having quite the time offloading our cargo.” “Yes, I see that,” replied Guilder, eyeing the scene pensively. “But have no fear, sir, my crew and I are up to whatever task you have for us.” “I’m sure you are, captain.” Guilder then handed MacMathain a sealed diplomatic pouch. “Deliver this to Archduke Oldis’s court in Kings Port. We are notifying the Terraversans that we are sending an ambassador next month.” “I will watch over this letter personally, Admius Legistrad.” The captain hesitated, fearing he should not pry in official matters, but worked up his courage. “Who is our ambassador to Terraversa?” “Román Fontonajo, our former and first Admius Legistrad, has agreed to step out of retirement to represent Eslandola as Grand Ambassador on this mission. He is to officially announce what we should have said to Terraversa and the Brick Seas months ago. He will be sailing to Nova Terreli this month to prepare for his trip.” “Do you need me to do anything for the ambassador?” asked the captain. “No, other arrangements are being made for him,” replied Guilder. “Just deliver this letter to Kings Port.” “I will see it done,” replied the captain. And with that, Guilder was off. Captain MacMathain clutched the diplomatic pouch tight. Not being a man of politics, he wondered to himself what the announcement would be. But for Román Fontonajo to come out of retirement, it must be important.