Vorfon Simpelta did not know how old the great chamber of Secca's Merchant’s Council was, but one man had reputed to him that the outer gardens had stood and been maintained for two thousand years, before even the great power that was The Vallarian Empire. He supposed such a claim would be exaggeration, were it not for the history books which all confirmed the age of the great mercantile city. Secca was the jewel of the west... an old, rusting jewel of pewter, perhaps, but its influence could not be denied. Its trade reached as far east as the northernmost lands of Elluria, and as far west as the Nainfenti plains of Leturia. In the space of twenty years, the Merchants’ Council of Secca had transformed a local trading body of western countries into one of the largest international trading merchant’s marine on the continent.
He looked among the great walls of limestone, lined with torches, lanterns, tapestries and great works of art. The dry smell of salt lingered in the air, infused with a strong aroma of incense that burned in various corners. Simpelta studied one of the larger portraits on the wall, of whom could only assume was the Griffon King of the Aerie, a kingdom he knew so little about save for their infamy in keeping humans as their peasant serfs. The Griffon King looked ghastly young and boisterous, no doubt this had been made shortly after his coronation.
He looked down again, to the great arc, the massive table of oak that seated the forty one merchant’s council. These men did not seem to mirror the beauty of this western city, rather the majority of them were old, frail looking fellows, wearing so much jewels and raiment; movement appeared for them a great struggle. Seated at the centre was Serkos Larkibi, a younger man likely in his forties. He seemed to hold the council, as it were. The Council was supposed to be an oligarchy, an elect group of men that made decisions together on common ground. This Serkos fellow, however, seemed to have an influence over them all. Once might consider him almost in the makings of a dictator, if not a mercantile tycoon, thoughts he did not care to mention. The council kept muttering amongst themselves, a few dossiers being handed back and forth.
Simpelta looked down to his uniform, the dull greys and blues of the Southern Arangothian Navy. Blood had been smitten on one of the cuffs and his collar. During the protests, when a raving lunatic had bashed the brains in of one of his servants, smearing Simpelta in notable red, he’d scantly had time to change before the remnants of his family had fled. He didn’t know the true aftermath of the great fire that had burned from the riots a week ago, but he could only assume the loss of life had been staggering. Not to mention...
“Lord Simpelta.” The Arangothian admiral looked up, to find the Councilman known as Serkos addressing him. “These reports and papers you have provided us... are rather lacking and inconclusive, to say the least.”
Simpelta cleared his throat. “Vorfonel... that is to say.. my lords...”
“Councillors or sirs shall be sufficient, Lord Admiral. You may address me as Sir Consul directly.”
“Sirs... I do understand that what I have come to tell you today, must come as surprise and shock to you all. Had your Council come to Drache in my service to tell me of such things, I would be at a loss for words myself. Truly, these are desperate times, and as such my conduct and presentation has been hardly been, what one would call, following the usual norms of decorum. I come to you on behalf of His Grace, the Sithire—“
“Who has sent us no word or correspondence to advise The Council of your impending arrival, Lord Simpelta,” Serkos interjected.
“That.. that is true, Sir Consul,” Simpelta replied, trying to keep his temper at bay. “I bear no official seal of His Grace, nor of The Crown or his Majesty, King Arlok. I... I have come here on my own volition.”
Voices raised among the counsellors, eyes casting two and fro. Serkos raised his own voice to bear. “To what end, Lord Simpelta?”
The Lord Admiral to the Arangothian Navy stiffened, maintaining his composure as best as he could.
“I bear notice from Arangoth, and we seek to find our allies in this newfound war, that these lands must once again be at peace and guarded from the threat of outsiders.”
The voices of the Council raised higher, agitated shouts echoing loudly in protest. It took a moment for Serkos and a few others to raise their hands and quiet the din back into mutterings and harsh whispers. Once calmed, Serkos regained his seat, his darker tanned features looking blankly to the Arangothian official.
“You ask us, sir? We, the grand council and masters of this great city, a city that has maintained peace and prosperity for two thousand years? You ask us to join your nation, as it were, as allies in a conflict that has not yet begun, to wage war with an enemy that we, until this very moment, have thereupon maintained no prior knowledge, diplomacy or trade of any nature... to shed Seccan blood for the sake of maintaining Arangothian sovereignty?”
Simpelta’s lips drew into a tight line as he boldly stepped foward. “I do.”
The reply from the council could not have been louder – it was so loud that Simpelta found it nearly impossible to think. Words such as outrage, warmonger and arrogance were thrown about, even a few of their precious papers were tossed, like the stones of the angry mob he’d faced weeks ago. It took Serkos much longer to silence them on this occasion – a plea which only met half of their ears, at first. In time, they silenced, and Serkos stood this time, palms flat on his desk.
“Lord Simpelta, allow me to entertain you of a similar plea that was made by one of the grand traders of Arangoth, Narmotti and Nedge, not five years ago in this very chamber. The great pirate menace that threatened all trade, which bought near the entire mercantile seaboard to a standstill. Indeed, both lords and merchants of your sea offered to us their plea, and we answered it! Indeed, sir, did we answer it. A fleet, we offered. Nine ships, each of them with sailors, marines and soldiers to serve. And we offered these in good will – no bounding contract we considered was needed save for their own acceptance that they would come to our need when our times were dire. How did your most precious Sithire answer to our offer? Silence and mockery, with both he refused us. With both he had the audacity to claim we were making Arangoth our debtors, to hold them to ransom! With such anger did we receive his reply that we broke near all contact with your Privy Council.” He stood back, hands resting by his sides. “And now here you stand, in all goodwill and earnest, to offer His Grace’s plea – which I might add you have no official dossier to speak of. If you must have an answer sir, then it will be no, and truly no. We will not be subject to serve Arangoth on her terms, and her terms alone.”
Simpelta frowned for a moment, honestly dissapointed to hear of such inaction from his fellow Arangothian Duke. But he rallied his wits and replied, “To the actions of our Sithire, I am truly sorry, Lord Consul. I had no knowing of such blatant disregard on behalf of his grace. But this conflict... this Reshalian Empire sees fit to take that which is theirs. They see these lands as theirs for the taking. Why assume that they would simply stop at Arangoth, and be done with it? They would truly feel this whole continent is there’s to conquer, I am sure of it!”
Serkos slipped back into his seat, now that the Council had finally maintained some sense of order. “You seem so sure of yourself, but on the other hand you say you’ve had very little contact with this... whom did you say they were?” He leaned across, looking at the rumpled poster Simpelta had given earlier. “The.. Reshalian Empire... and the.. Great Heirachy of Races? Rather over-assured lot, by the sounds of it.”
“They are not of this world, Sir Consul. They come from another plane, another...”
“...level of existence to which our very lives are threatened, yes I’ve read your letter and report, Admiral Simpelta, of which I must ask of you to excuse my scepticism. Your city is quite prone to visitors from other worlds, is it not?”
“Well, yes, quite, over the years it’s seen such things, one might suppose...”
“From some great flying city which came from the heavens above to float about your lands for months, to a... great mind-bending creature of some nature, to some... what was it? Some deathly dragon creature, or somesuch nonsense. You have seen such things from other worlds on many occasions in your city, is that not true? Many of which have come bearing ill tidings and wishing rampant destruction upon your nation and its peoples, each of which have been driven back by the very people who defend it?”
“A rather arbitrary description, Sir Consul, but we have had many foreign invaders from other, er, planes of existence, invade our city... yes...”
“So why is this –“ he peered over the report again “—Resheel. Why is it any different to the other invaders you have driven back in the past?”
“Because Arangoth, her land and her people... are dying,” came a foreign voice into the conversation. Through the massive doors of the council chamber stood an elder gentleman, with reddish brown hair and official attire upon his person.
Serkos looked taken aback. “Who is this man?” He turned to his secretary, who turned over pages hastily, a worried expression over his features. The secretary glanced back to Serkos, shaking his head and looking utterly lost.
The new arrival stepped forward. “Lord Bakchost Gagibi, Emissary to the Crown of His Majesty, King Karos the Fifth of Griffon’s Aerie. Aerie Ambassador to the Midlands, and to Arangoth.”
Serkos seemed to pale ever so briefly – the last time a Griffon with such a family name had wandered in here, it was commencement of a civil conflict that had almost turned into another rebellion in the Aerie. “Lord Gagibi, we did not receive word of your arrival...”
“Nor did I send it,” Bakchost replied, stepping forwards. “Sir Consul Larkibi, good councillors, please forgive my sudden and obtrusive entry into this chamber, but I have listened to much of the discussion between you and Vorfon Simpelta, here. His words cry the desperation and fear of his own people – I have been serving in Drache, and I have seen first hand the misery and depravity suffered at the hands of its incompetent leaders, but moreso from the barren lands that have served to deprive them of food.
"Good councilmen, heed my words – this famine that plagues the midlands – it is no ordinary famine brought by poor weather. The famine is spreading... and has spread to the outskirts of Elvendeep, and to the southern reaches of the great Talatibitem. We have reports that this drought is reaching the outer rims of Rashnad, and even Aslar. Our crops now begin to wither, just as Arangoth’s did in months fore. The very crops your city depends upon each and every season.”
The whispers and voices that raised now were heightened. Voices cried back and forth across the great chamber. Serkos stood, raising his hands for calm, while Simpelta looked to this new diplomat, lost for words. He eventually nodded, his expression grim. “That is indeed most grave news, Lord Ambassador.”
“Gentlemen, please!” Serkos shouted, raising a hand, and silence eventually came. “Lord Bakchost, that is quite startling news... you... you are sure that the issues and reports we have heard of the crop failures in the Talatibitem are connected to this Arangothian famine?”
Bakchost stepped forward, his keen eyes looking to all gathered. “I am not only sure, Sir Consul, I am most certain of it. At the rate it has consumed both the south and north of Arangoth, if my worst fears are confirmed, the Talatibitem will be a wasteland by the turn of the year, and our kingdom and your city will surely be facing the same dire consequences that have befallen Drache.”
The voices that came were whispers, harsh and panicked. Serkos seemed to struggle for words, but Bakchost pressed on before he had a chance to speak. “I also bring more grave news, Councilliors. News that up until now, has been a closely guarded secret. Our Most Honoured Restara, Her Majesty Queen Nikea of the Sainted Maple... has fallen gravely ill.”
This brought a hushed silence to the entire room, until Serkos finally found some words, and stood. “We are most saddened to hear of such ill tidings, Lord Bakchost. I had the honour of meeting Her Majesty personally, during her time in Drache. Do... are your physicians tending to her needs? What.. what is the cause of her illness, pray tell?”
“The Royal Physician and his attendees have been seeing to The Restara’s needs on an hourly basis for the past month,” Bakchost replied. “I have also been advising where necessary. The alarming fact is that her symptoms bear close resemblance to an illness that has been affecting a good many Griffons in our kingdom. We had tried to keep such things a secret to prevent panic, but this sickness is now growing.”
“A plague, sir?” Simpelta interjected. “Such awful times we are in.”
“I am not sure of the nature of this sickness, Vorfon Simpelta,” Bakchost replied back, used to the Arangothian forms of address. “But it has been increasing in numbers.. the usual signs are severe lethargy, and a depressive, melancholy state, with those affected unable to do little in the way of mobility. Some cases are far more severe than others, particularly among the elderly.”
Serkos muttered to another councilman, and he turned back to Bakchost, nodding. “Er, yes, we have had a similar sickness affecting our local griffon populace here in Larkegow,” he admitted begrudgingly. “We too have tried to keep this secret, for the same reasons.”
Bakchost nodded. “It the opinion of both myself and a number of connected physicians, that somehow this famine is connected to the illness. And...” he continued before Serkos could interrupt, “it is of my own personal opinion and that of the Rastra Council, that these... Reshalians, whether by indirect or direct means, and whether by motives intentional or not, are the catalyst that has brought about this famine in the first place.”
For the umpteenth time, the council descended into noisy chaos, and the secretary took to thumping a large jaded stone upon the desk to bring about order to the assembly.
“Do you have any proof for such claims, Lord Bakchost?” Serkos asked tiredly. “Either a connection to this sickness and the famine, or a proven connection to this famine and these.. Rasheel peoples, who seem to have become the main topic of discussion for today’s council meeting?”
“Sadly, I do not,” Bakchost replied. “I know only a little of this Reshalian Empire by personal experience, a few of the officials whom I have come into contact. I cannot speak either well or poorly of them, but I must state that if indeed they have come as conquerors to bring about pestilence and depravity to this land, the Aerie will not sit idly by on its laurels to await the outcome. And might I also remind you, Sir Consul, that by virtue of our two hundred year treaty, your are obligated to assist the Aerie in the fight against her enemies.”
“I am quite well aware of our treaty, Lord Ambassador,” Serkos replied sternly, his voice raising for the second time today. “However, I will not go about signing war declarations or providing mercenaries on mere conjecture and baseless accusations alone.” He sighed, brushing a hand through his dark hair. “We, The Council, have much to discuss for the rest of the day. Lord Bakchost, Lord Simpelta... I would seek your company this eve, in private, to discuss these matters further. There will be no further visitations for today. Thank you gentlemen, and good day.”
The secretary perfunctorily snapped the jaded stone to the desk, and the chamber became a sea of noise again, noise that would not fall silent for until darkened, starlit skies lit up the East Seccan harbour.
The ancient western environs are full of lore and mystery. From the free port city of Secca, to the misanthropic land of Leturia and the tyrannical kingdom of Griffon's Aerie. Surrounding these nations are the ancient elves of Elvendeep and the vast orcish lands of Zul Kiras. Other areas of interest include The Ferluxebi Desert and Nahuatl.
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