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The Eagle and the Leopard

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Smiling slightly, more to himself than Pranana, Goulielmos nodded at the Senator's comment of the rolling plains of grain and the fruitful olive trees. It was definitely a very pretty view and clearly tailored to give him and his small entourage a certain impression about Rihan. The Megas Logothetes could not fault it. It was as much a propagandistic display as being given a tour around busy factories or the bustling heart of a city. He would have done exactly the same in the Senator's shoes. And, considering Tagmatium's climate and preferred foods, it would have likely been almost exactly the same view, too. Although he might have chosen to have agricultural machinery rather than people in the fields but the effective would have been the same. The Tagmatine minister looked out of the corner of his eye at the AND agent – she was discretely taking notes on what the Senator was saying about the Rihannsu agricultural ministry. And, likely, the amount of people working in the fields. They were probably slaves, after all. Eugenios couldn't stop the intelligence agent from reporting that to her superiors, sadly. He guessed that slavery would become a stumbling block in the future.

The journey continued to be very picturesque and Eugenios knew that he would definitely regret not being able to take any images of it home to his family. They would have loved to have seen this. Perhaps if relations between the Republic and the Megas Agios Basileia were to properly become normalised, he and Pranana would be able to have an official meeting. They could go through these motions again and Goulielmos would probably have to have acting lessons in order to maintain a convincing look of amazement at the vistas for the cameras that would undoubtedly follow the first official historic meeting between the two nations.

“The view is certainly incredibly beautiful, Senator,” said the Tagmatine. He wondered if he could detect a slight hint of something to Pranana's words. Triumph, perhaps? Maybe a touch of accusation – Just think of what we could have achieved if we had stayed. It did seem that the Tellosanoi had achieved much since the Departure and they likely would not have been given the same level of freedom with they had remained within Arhomaneia. Likely, they would have had to have kept to the lands allotted to them by the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, or even have been moved internally to an area thought to be at threat from barbarian invasion. Best not to mention that sort of thing. It' would be very undiplomatic to do so.

The eagles were a great touch. If Eugenios was as cynical as Honorios Kontarian, the Megas Logothetes for War and his good friend, he might have suggested that they had been purposefully released in order to provide for this moment, as this sort of diplomacy was as much about theatrics as it was anything else. Having to try to herd some leopards into the right place would be a nightmare. And the Tagmatine didn't really like them, nasty bitey things that did kill more than a handful of people every year. The Rihannsu probably didn't have that problem with eagles.

The sun was beginning to set as the cars drew up to the Praetor's palace and the Megas Logothetes remembered that Pranana had specifically mentioned the beauty of the sunsets in this part of the Republic. The building was awe-inspiring, a suitable home for the proud leader of a nation. The thought of how many Praetors had met their end here flashed through Eugenios' head and he suppressed it. If word of his own visit got out, then he hoped he wouldn't go the same way. Two bodyguards with just ceremonial, if completely functional, swords would not make much of an impact.

What definitely did make an impact was the honour guard that stood at the ready at the bottom of the staircase. Horns blared, announcing the presence of the Praetor himself. Eugenios stood straighter and brushed the sides of his suit down, hoping that it was not too creased from sitting in the car from the airport. He gave the Praetor the half-bow and straightened up before speaking.

“Praetor Terix, I am honoured to be here and representing Arhomaneia.The Agios Basileos kai Autokrator himself sends his greeting and hopes to one day meet with you in person.” He gave Terix a polite smile.

“The flight was fine, Praetor, the best that could be hoped for for such a long journey,” said Goulielmos. He didn't really like using Common, although he was fluent in it. The arrogance that came naturally to every inhabitant of the country that styled itself as the centre of civilisation was offended by the fact that its language was not the one of diplomacy. “The journey to your home was, frankly, magnificent.”

He wasn't lying. Even it had been carefully scripted, as the Megas Logothetes imagined it was, it was very artfully done and it did nothing to take away from the beauty of it. “I will pray that one day soon, you'll be able to visit Tagmatium and see sights that will make a similar impact on you as your nation has had on me.”

Doing as Terix gestured, Goulielmos followed him to the viewing platform and looked towards the west. Both men were silent for the next ten minutes as the sun sank below the horizon. It was as breathtaking a sight as both Pranana and the Praetor had suggested. Neither had really got across how beautiful it was and the fact that this was the first sunset the Tagmatine had seen south of the equator, on a continent he had never stepped foot on before, added to the occasion. He could see why Terix would want to stop and set aside the cares of running a country for a brief moment, when this was what could be seen. Few aspects of politics could be as rewarding as just watching the sun slip out of sight.

The mention of food made the Megas Logothetes realise how hungry he was and he did hope that talk of politics could be set aside until after the meal, but that was unlikely. Again, Eugenios followed the Praetor into the palace itself. “If the food that your cooks have prepared is just a fraction as good as that sunset then I will be very impressed.”

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Dinner was served: Checca stew, Osol fish, and wild Hlai. Both men were given a vintage Kavit, a smooth wine produced in Rihan on the Praetor's own private lands and had gained further popularity abroad. To conclude, a sweet Sesketh cake was presented. He could tell his guest was largely satisfied with the meal if not still getting around the relatively foreign menu. To not completely mess with his Tagmatine palette, fine pastries from his homeland were baked to accompany their meeting. How they had received the recipes for the delicacies, let alone the more 'unique' ingredients had come through the Trading Corporation by way of an independent merchant who regularly traveled throughout the Ragos Sea in Europa. Senator Pranana had also joined them.

Their meals were being taken away, "I hope you enjoyed it," Mathon said as one of his attendants approached. "Daise, I have prepared the pastries and coffee for you and the Tagmatine Minister on the second floor Vathua overlooking the view of the Tor'ren Falls." Terix nodded to him. "Thank you, you are excused," he began to get up, as was his guest. "We will take the long way round to the opposite staircase," he said, a pair of Praetorians and the Tagmatines' guards had taken up their position. Although they were within the confines of the Palace, it was still standard procedure when a foreign guest was present for the protective units to be with their persons when moving from room to room. They proceeded to leave the dining hall and into one of the hallways. Tevus excused himself, allowing the Praetor to meet with the Tagmatine one-on-one. He himself had a busy day tomorrow involving his guest and so decided to go to bed early. He was aware of what Terix was going to discuss with him.

Both men passed by walls dressed in tapestries, hundred-year-old pieces of artwork, and elegant statues, including those from the very early days of Rihannsu habitation. They would walk by dozens of these works until Terix stopped him in front of a locked, glass casing. Inside was one of only four remaining copies of the original Na Temyytæra ('The Departure) written by one of Tellius' closest friends outlining their reasons for their disagreements with the Tagmatines those hundreds of years ago and what lead to their flight. Beside it was an equally as old tome: D'hwæl (Great Journey), the comprehensive twenty-year period in which the Rihannsu sailed from Europa, across the Adlantic - then known as the Great Ocean - and along the shores of the New World, including chapters on the peoples they met, interacted with, and at times, fought with. It was perhaps one of the most important literary works ever written besides the Bible, the Rihan Republic's constitution, the D'Vatta (Great Document), and an assortment of stories by authors of renown. "You are the first Tagmatine in five hundred or more years to gaze upon these tomes. I am sure you and others would be quite intrigued by their contents," he said. "But enough sightseeing, we have much to talk about," he finished.

Goulielmos and Terix ascended the marble staircase at the back of the palace and entered the lavish lounge. The guards, from both men, took up their positions on either side of the double doors. Inside the room, as promised, the coffee and the pastries were on a table. Two comfortable curule chairs, in the same style as those, sat upon by members of the Continuing Committee in the Senate chamber, were prepared with soft cushions. It was quite dark outside but the moon shone brightly in the night sky, illuminating the cascading waterfall just beyond the Palace. The Tor'ren River, a waterway that fed into the larger Sherdek River, could be heard faintly. All was peaceful. Terix entered the room first and saw the attendant. "You are dismissed. I shall call for you when I need you," he instructed. The humble man excused himself and left out a side door.

They got seated as Terix poured himself and his guest a cup of coffee. "I am sure you will find this quite familiar, fine coffee from Mauridiviah," he commented as he finished and got comfortable in his seat. "I am sure you've had enough of us trying to boost our egos and I certainly didn't invite you to just gaze upon our beautiful land or to enjoy a meal. No, no," he paused, "I instructed Pranana to convey my original message because I wanted to talk with you, seriously."

He took a sip of his coffee, "It has been over six-hundred years since there was a proper meeting between either one of our people. And mind you, as we both are aware of our joint history, it wasn't a pleasant one. But," he was being cautious with his words, "it is time to talk once more. I do not expect this meeting to be easy, for it was, neither of us would be talking - and this conversation would have simply remained between two low-level members of our diplomatic staffs and perhaps we'd hear about if the information was intrigued enough for our attention." He took another sip of his coffee. "As with the change of the world, so do the complications of interactions between peoples. The Republic cannot maintain its traditional approach to diplomacy. Along with our whole mentality must shift. Within reason."

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The meal was as delicious as the Praetor had suggested, if a little odd on Goulielmos' palate. The dishes were unfamiliar, as could be expected for a country so far away. Fleetingly, the Tagmatine had wondered if the Rihannsu would pull the old trick of giving the foreigner something like sheep's eyeballs to see what they could get him to eat. But this wasn't a public arena and if Terix was doing that, then it would display him as an odd sort of sadist. Which he clearly wasn't, as Goulielmos' hosts had gone to the trouble of preparing the odd item that he would find familiar, demonstrating that the Rihannsu were keen on operating in good faith. At least at the moment.

“It was a very fine meal, Praetor,” said Eugenios, although after the long flight and the lengthy car journey, he'd probably have eaten almost anything put before him. As Terix rose to his feet, Eugenios did the same and obediently followed the Rihannsu as he led the way. He noticed that his bodyguards were still around and he gave them a nod of greeting as he passed them. Not that either would acknowledge it, impassive in their blank helmets. The Megas Logothetes always felt it to be proper to be polite to them, at the very least. They weren't living furniture, after all, and they were charged with defending his life.

The works of art that Terix took him past were impressive, although the Megas Logothetes was no art historian but he could certainly appreciate that he was seeing something that no other Tagmatine had done before. There would be many in Arhomaneia who would kill to be able to look at them and, if all went well, perhaps they might be able to look upon ones similar. And the books... All of the copies of the Na Temyytaera that the Tagmatines had got their hands on eight hundred years ago had been burned and those that possessed them imprisoned or hanged. There was supposedly one copy was locked up within the bowels of the Megale Ekklesia, the Great Church, in Tagmatika, along with a great many other heretical books, although a layman like Eugenios wasn't aware of that.

The Megas Logothetes wasn't disappointed when Terix cut their sightseeing short – after all, they had business to get down to. He made a mental note to see if the Rihannsu would allow him to take a copy of at least the D'hwael back with him. Taking a copy of a book considered to be heretical would be pretty much a bad idea. The Church would bow to pragmatism when it came to the Megas Agios Basileos opening relations with a group it branded as heretics – after all, most other Christian states were basically heretics, too. But effectively smuggling a banned text into Tagmatium would likely be a step too far.

The walk through the rest of the palace was equally illuminating. Like Arhomaneia, but not. The Tagmatine wondered whether style was a conscious decision on the part of the Rihannsu, invoking a lost homeland and a future path that was now out of reach, or just an echo of folk memories. He decided to keep that musing train of thought to himself, in fear of offending Terix. The Praetor seemed reasonable and remarkably open-minded, from what Eugenios had seen so far, but the Tagmatine did not intend to push his host.

The guards that had been following them at a discrete distance halted behind them at the next doorway as the Praetor led the Megas Logothetes into the lounge. The Ikanatos and the Arkhontogennhemates would have stories to tell to their comrades once they were back in Tagmatium. Terix and Eugenios lowered themselves into the chairs and the remaining servants cleared from the room.

To business at last thought Eugenios, although not rudely. He picked up his coffee and took a small sip, just to wet his mouth. Terix's comment that the whole of his nation's mentality needed to shift, even with the caveat, was very intriguing. Like many other nations, the Rihan Republic had been isolationist until, well, the last few months. On the face of it, if Tagmatium had not the shared history with the Rihannsu, then the Megas Logothetes doubted that they would be having this meeting – his nation just would not really have been interested. It would be going as with the Aluxians and a dozen or so others; a tentative greeting, the exchange of diplomatic missions and going with the flow from there, or perhaps nothing more.

“I would not have thought that we were going to have anything other than a serious discussion,” replied the Tagmatine, again with a slight smile. “Praetor, that we are sat here like this demonstrates that this is about as far from a traditional diplomatic approach as possible. I cannot talk about blank slates. My nation and yours let the weight of history press on them far too much for that. I won't say that that is a bad thing, either. It keeps both Rihan and Arhomaneia grounded in a way that others are not. And people nurse grudges. From what I have been told by Pranana, some within your aristocracy and Senate would be offended by my mere presence and I do not doubt that there would be those within the more conservative parts of the Megas Agios Basileia that would be equally disturbed by a government official visiting Tagmatium.”

He smiled slightly again, heralding another weak joke. “Perhaps by being so clandestine, we make it look as if we're guilty of something when we are not.

“I said we cannot talk about blank slates in terms of the past but I will say that we have been given the chance of a blank slate for the future, a better one than most other countries have. Our nations have a connection, whilst built on a shameful past, that allows us to have a better idea of each other. The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion wishes to reach out to Rihan, perhaps even to eventually to... well, apologise for its past actions.”

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