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Rihan

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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"I do not expect the Empire to completely wipe away history and assume that all is well - that the history of the past was nothing more than an illusion. I think it is fair to say that we both recognize that the events that transpired were from a period of time that both my own people were still developing their actual place in the universe and the ongoing orientation of Tagmatika moving forward from the ashes of the Aroman Empire of Old. We were nothing but one of the hundreds of warring peoples from the Central Europan Steppe only to be pushed into the West by other likeminded peoples. Even under the Tagmatine Emperors, and with our past arrangement, it was still foreign."

"But history is history, and we must respect it. Even in the worst of events," he paused. "It is the same history that we meet under. Right now, as you've mentioned, we meet removed from others. I did this not to admit guilt nor force you to do so to save face, but because there are genuine concerns. The passage of time is vast. Many a noble lineage here harken back to the days of the Departure, some even further back to the very earliest of recorded days. However, the Rihannsu may long memories and hold vendettas against their fellow aristocrats when it suits their interests, they know the world is changing. I know it is too."

"The road will be long," he lamented. "I do not expect the climb to be easy or without setbacks but I firmly believe, and there are others in the Senate, namely those who subscribe to the Suketh alignment, who believe we must shed away some of the paranoia and stigmatism of foreigners and embrace international cooperation. While I may not agree with them on some of their values, I do share their concern when it comes to the Republic's relationship with the global community. We cannot remain isolated. Nor remain isolated and brood."

Mathon, a man with a longstanding career in the navy, was saying things that many Jaridan or Jol Tan aligned senators would utter. "I asked for the secrecy of this meeting because I want this effort to succeed over the long-term through measured, cautious movement that can be undertaken without prescription of causing headaches for either of us." Terix imagined they were speaking on the same level but even he was being careful with Arhomaneiahis words around Eugenios. He picked up the coffee pot that was at the center of the table and poured himself another cup, took a sip and continued on. "I fundamentally believe there is a way to move our shared history in a positive direction, setting us both up a better future," he adjusted himself in his curule chair, put down his cup. "Perhaps not a formal embassy nor consulate - the establishment of diplomatic missions both here in Rihan and Tagmatium, led by representatives deemed acceptable to each party."

"Beyond that," he started, "to begin healing, we must learn from each other, break down barriers and stigmas." He wasn't so sure the Tagmatine Minister would go along with his next suggestion but he decided to take a step forward. "Perhaps," pausing, "a limited cultural exchange could be arranged to test the waters and if successful, a larger 'opening' for more from each people a chance to see the wonders of Tagmatium and the mystery of Rihan."

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Eugenios followed Terix's lead and slowly sipped from his cup, less for the fact that he was particularly wanted a drink than to give himself pause for thought. He was much happier with coffee than the tea that pervaded the Megas Agios Basileia – it was a taste of foreign lands, rather than the relatively stilted and hidebound Arhomaneia. And Mauridivian coffee was perhaps considered amongst the best that could be got within Tagmatium. It was certainly prized more highly than a lot of the Europan equivalents. Perhaps that was merely because it came from further away.

A limited cultural exchange... It would certainly be an interesting idea. Many countries did have cultural organisations in other nations, often working alongside diplomatic missions, to act in the way Praetor Terix was suggesting. However, Eugenios supposed, most other countries, the vaguely civilised ones that is, didn't have the same historical background as Rihannsu and Arhomaneia did. There were similar examples of countries possessing at least the same dynamic across the New World, although the complete lack of relations and determined ignoring between the two had no real parallel in any other nations.

In all honestly, the Megas Logothetes suspected that it might be a bigger issue for the Rihannsu that the Arhomaioi. The Church would probably throw a bit of a hissy fit but that would likely be for appearances' sake more than actual dislike of Rihan or its people. After all, the threat of heretics and apostates was bigger than heathens – the former were twisting the teachings of Christ whilst the latter were just ignorant. And, Eugenios supposed, if any of the Tellosanoi were exposed to True Religion, then there was the chance that the Church might find converts amongst the otherwise-atheistic population of the Aurelian nation. Even if they had been at the forefront of the calls to annihilate the followers of Tellos in the past.

“If not an embassy or a consulate, then of course we will still have to act in accordance to the diplomatic norms,” said Eugenios, putting down his coffee cup, finally. After taking a small sip, he had stared at the surface of the liquid, clearly contemplating the Praetor's words. “But I imagine that is something that you have considered, too. It would be far easier for it to be a true embassy but I appreciate that we must take small steps for the moment. As you say, we cannot ignore the history between our two nations, but that we also must not let it swallow us, either. This will be something that our nations will have to consider at a later date, until we have organised this cultural exchange that you suggest.”

“And, as a foreign minister, I can only agree with what you say that this Suketh alignment says. And as a biased foreigner that might stand to gain prestige in the eyes of his own monarch if he is successful in the mission that he has been entrusted with, too,” the Megas Logothetes continued, with a degree of self-depreciating humour. The edge of humour disappeared and Eugenios' face became serious. “No country remains isolated without suffering for it, whether directly or indirectly – political and economic marginalisation are the result and this would basically be what amounts to self-harm. You have a continent spread before you, however, and friendly relationships further afield couldn't hurt, either. As your foreign intelligence services would have undoubtedly shown you, the continent of Europa is full of isolationist or collapsing nations and both Arhomaneia and Adaptus came out of recent periods of such; the world almost past us by.

“Again, however, I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know or suspect, otherwise I would not be sat opposite you.” The flicker of a smile crossed the Arhomaios' lips, behind his neatly-groomed beard and moustache. He took up his cup again and drained it of coffee, leaving the last, bitter dregs at the bottom. Eugenios then sat forward in his chair. “I'm intrigued as to what form you envision this 'cultural exchange' to take. There have been, of course, international expositions in the past, although they have fallen out of favour in recent years. Do you have something like that in mind, but between our two countries? Or is it something more like nationally-sponsored package holidays?”

The Megas Logothetes thought for a moment before continuing. “I apologise for sounding a bit flippant there, Praetor. I can see that almost any option that we table at the moment may well have its opponents and in virtually any form that it might take. Whilst I don't think that there are Arhomaioi that are quite so vehement in opposition to Rihan visiting their country as there are Rihannsu to Arhomaneia, there will be those who will be against in on religious grounds, or even on principal. Yours, after all, is regarded as a barbarian nation – and one whose people tried to instigate a rebellion in God's chosen nation.

“Of course, you don't need the history lesson, but Rihan is the only nation in the world today to be able to say that. As you say, however, history is history – if the Megas Agios Basileia held a grudge against every nation that waged war on it or it waged war on, then there would be precious few other countries that we could do anything with.”

The Arhomaios reached forward towards the coffee pot and poured himself another cup. Without looking up from the task, Eugenios continued talking. “Perhaps, to a greater or lesser extent, I am in a better situation that you are, Praetor, if you forgive me for being so bold. I will not have to convince an occasionally recalcitrant Senate of the worth of any re-opening of relations. I merely have to convince the Equal of the Apostles of it. And he is already quite certain that it is time for relations between our two nations to improve. Or, at least, move to the stage that we recognise each others right to exist.”

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      “Friends and neighbors, I welcome you on this auspicious day to Bílehora, to the White Mountain, to enjoy the finest my nation has to offer in honor of the diplomatic efforts of your own.” He glanced around again, far quicker this time. “It is with much joy that I announce this meeting. For in this meeting, centuries of Aurelian heartache are finally being put aside. We are all working, together, for a better continent. More than anything else, that is what those who have come here today should take home with them. No matter the resolutions that are reached, by secret counsel of a dance partner, or by the fireside, remember at least that.” He gave a short smile. “Remember that we have come here, for the first time in hundreds of years, in brotherhood. The Aurelian nations, united for a day, if only in dance. With that in mind, I must move on to, of course, welcoming our guests. That is, those who have taken it upon themselves to arrive for this promising first day. You have my profound and sincere thanks.” He shifted, moving a page on the lectern. “I must welcome first the Rihannsu- our ancient allies on this continent. Surely these halls are no stranger to them, and surely neither is their longing for the richness of their home.” He smiled again, just a moment. Perhaps it was a little bit of a smirk. “However, what makes this day quite special is the fact that a new generation of Rihannsu are making their first trip to the Cape. Such ambitious men and women as their Praetor of recent years, the honorable Terix, and his administration- I can not resist naming a few notables. Allow me to extend an extra mention to the far-traveled Senator Charvanek, and her husband, Senator Darok, and his wife- and as well, the General Morror Kassus, and his adjutant, one Seranne Varak. General, I am afraid that you will find us a nation of seafarers- but I hope that whatever you came here to seek, you will find.” 
       
      He shifted a little bit again, swapping pages. “With the Rihannsu welcome concluded, I may now greet the Shffahkians. There is no reconcilation more historic and profound than our own. No meeting of enemies, become friends, that has left such a mark on our continent. So I welcome you, too, under these lights, to the White Mountain. It is my hope that conversations here are made which further solidify and expand on our nascent friendship, and that the opportunity to prove our bond comes soon.” He switched pages again. “From Shffahkia I will extend a personal welcome solely to their President, Sera Adélaïde Larue, who has taken a great political risk by travelling here to greet us as a friend.” He looked around. “We could all learn a little bit from this willingness to take chances for the betterment of our nation, could we not? And, of course, I must also welcome our island friends, the Oyusards- there will be no lengthy mention of reconciliation for them, however, since we have enjoyed cordial relations for four hundred years now.” He now set aside the papers, done with the pre-planned opening. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are all forms of entertainment- there is drink, there is food, there is plenty of space to dance should you wish- and, of course, there will soon be fights for your entertainment. The finest brothers and sisters of the sword will duel for gold and for their honor on the hallowed sand, as my ancestors spoke many years ago when establishing this hall for the first time. It is on that note that I bid you all a good evening- and great joy during these festivities!” He backed off from the lectern, retreating into the shadows of the raised room set behind him. 
       
      Each guest began to mill about, most with a pre-planned destination in mind, some without. It was the Praetor who found himself with the most prominent goal, making his way decidedly through the crowd and brushing aside requests for conversation. He arrived rather quickly at the foot of the hall’s grand stairwell, leading up. The two guards at the bottom wheeled, one to either side, to allow him passage, and he was able to travel to the second story with little difficulty. Once there, he found a curious sight- three long couches, arranged in Tagmatine fashion, so that the one who sat could recline. In the center of the three, there was a grand map of the Aurelian continent on a spinning table, as well as other important documents slated to be discussed. The room was remarkably empty of a guard or servant presence, simply one of the former and one of the latter. The Grand Duke, as expected, sat, reclining at the far side of the room. He acknowledged his important guest with a simply nod, and motioned to either one of the other two seats. “The Shffahkian is late! So you may have your pick, not that it especially matters which you prefer.” He demonstrated this by spinning the table gently. “I am sure there is much for us to speak of, but it would be best if we waited just a minute for her to come… I am sure it will not take too long, what with the layout of the hall. Perhaps she has made the mistake of being willing to answer to the press on the way up here.” He mused a moment. “No matter. She will be along, I assure you. Make yourself comfortable, food will be on the way shortly- and then we may begin to speak of the heart of the matters which assail us.” The Duke seemed oddly tired, considering the considerable expense and worry that had gone into the design of these festivities. Even moreso, considering he could not see them from his seat, and had to content himself with just the thought that they were proceeding properly.
       
      The Senator Charvanek smiled slightly, content with the fact that she had been introduced specially, though chafing under the idea that her name had come -after- Terix’s, as always. Her expression stiffened into a frown, and she decidedly wheeled about to find her way into an important crowd, her husband stumbling to keep up with her. She quickly stepped her way to what seemed like a group of middle-aged men of some wealth standing in a circle, chattering quite quickly in Kirvinska. Though she could not easily make out the words, her approach caused them to slow down in their discussion and part to make a space in the circle for her. Motioning her in, the most senior among them took it upon himself to greet her personally- “My most sincere greetings, Sera Charvanek. I hope your trip has been quite alright, hm?” The jovial-looking old man smiled a little bit. “I welcome you to the White Mountain! My friends and I are a lot of romantics, we are, we’re simply discussing the root and legend of our people, our nation. And our destiny, to take back the Batreasca and create once again a unified Kirvina. A country for all Kirvinska people. A beautiful legend, isn’t it? Come- come! Drink.” He filled a cup of wine, almost pressing it into the slightly stunned woman’s hand. “Your people are no stranger to expansion either, haha!” He belted a laugh, looking to one of his compatriots, who nodded in agreement. The same man cut in, bearing himself a much more subtle and quiet voice, which stung slightly of a soft distaste. “We would love to hear what you have to say, Sera Charvanek. Do make a little room for your husband … the night is long, and I am sure there is a lot to speak of.” He chuckled, quietly. “Forgive my friend. But we are all a little ambitious on this day, as I am sure you could understand, being as you are.”
       
      Darok, the other powerful Rihannsu senator present, had kept an eye out and stayed in place for around a minute. Spying the fate of his compatriot, to be consigned to a discussion on the destinies of nations with a gaggle of moderately alcoholic Counts, he determined to wheel out of the way of such an end to his evening and instead make his way to a more… sober crowd. After several minutes of strategic listening- strategic listening that made him seem quite the fool, head softly bowed by gatherings of other people without daring to join in- he found a group that he could stand to join, and roughly sidled his way into their circle without being called in. Here, too, there seemed a leader, and he cleared his throat. “Good evening, Serem Darok… I see that you have made yourself quite… amused, and that the festivities have had quite an… effect. On you… no matter.” This man was quite young, seeming twenty-something, with straight brown hair and sideburns. He seemed better suited to be an actor or a singer than- whatever he was, judging from appearance, but his deep and quietly tired voice did not suit such a role at all. “Janos H. Kalevaitis… I am the Duke of Ceara, and the man in charge of expansion of our government’s… naval and military industries, in preparation for… various actions, in light of our promising league and certain obligations that our dear Istvan bears… whatever you are here to discuss, I should hope that I prove, ah… helpful, yes.” He cleared his throat. “And no, I am not War Minister… but I am Minister for the Expansion of the War Ministry, and thus subordinate to him… I create new departments and… manufactories and such.” The man nodded. “You, Darok… I do not take you for a military man. You are a bureaucrat. That is fine, so am I… in a way. Make yourself known, I am sure we may speak of… matters in which our two nations may… aid each other, yes? I am listening…”
       
      The General Morror Kassus felt far more at home than either of the two scheming senators, the medals dangling off of his burly chest earning him many looks of admiration from the throng. It seemed almost to direct him, effortlessly and with many waves and raises of drinks, to the group of generals and admirals seated around a large table, drinking and speaking of their old tours of duty. Here there was no apparent leader, but several people spoke out to welcome him. “Come sit, fellow!” “There’s plenty’a space for ya’!” “Get this man a drink!” A similar hearty welcome was given to his second-in-command, who was sat quite comfortably right next to him. The two of them had full plates and drink slid in front of them, at which point a man bereft of his coat and vest but not his admiral’s cap raised his glass in toast. “To the Rihannsu!” The table raised their glasses in turn and belted out the same cheer. He turned to the pair with a smile. “Ah! So you’ve come to escape the papers and legalese of that crowd as well, I hope. Well, there are more military matters than we can count to speak of, so make yourself right at home. Including how our League is going to manage any shared military business.” He chuckled. “Word’s goin’ round that the Kirvinska navy’s boutta’ double, right boys?” The table gave another chuckle, though quite soft and reserved… but the man’s grin stayed. “Anything the Rihannsu are looking for, any aid you need, any advisors you need, allow me to proffer my services first by saying that we will almost certainly be ready to provide. A storm’s brewing on your eastern border, friend- who knows what lies In the Shadows?”
       
      The Shffahkian President had about as easy a time as Terix had, simply stalled for a few moments by the relentless barrage of the press, hungry for any information they could get about the gathering. They were only allowed in in limited numbers, but even this limited number congregated into a small blob, traveling around the dinner to interview those who signaled the okay. Even so, they were not especially welcome, gettng distasteful looks from all those who were not in the camera’s eye. Having escaped them, she found herself at the grand foot of the same marble stairwell, and a short number of steps later at its head. The other two leaders already reclining, she could scarcely mumble an apology before the Grand Duke waved his hand. “There is no need for that- I know how they are. Come, dear woman, and let us speak- there is much to be done tonight, and quickly, if we wish to catch even a hint of the festivities outside.” As she made her way to recline alongside the other two, the idea of what they were doing must have passed her mind- the three were reclined around a grand map of their continent, taking into purview all that lay before them the same way the Tagmatines had shown the first Kirvinska Duke more than a millennia and a half ago. The fate of the Aurelian continent was to hang in the balance, a continent that Adélaïde Larue loved dearly, and she would have to fight quite hard to pass any of her major (socialist) policies by the two reactionaries seated so closely across from her. She settled in, subtly, for a long knight of debate.
       
      The young Oyusard lady was not a major functionary, not a major diplomat, and not a military officer. Her name was Pania, and she was simply there to meet some people and enjoy the company of Aurelia’s most distinguished elite in the name of her nation. She padded softly towards the gathering of young fencers, their helmets in their laps, ready to spring into the fray. Their amicable chatting continued even as she came right in front of them, and they waved, collectively. They even made a spot for her, pulling her up further into the crowd, and putting her in between a dashing young soldier and another young, noble-seeming lady of similar age with her hair pulled up into an elaborate crown of braids. They both wore the dark armor of duelists, and seemed rather good-natured. The man on the left bowed, first, and then the lady to his right- they introduced themselves as “Palemon, Victor of Spars” (appended with ‘by that logic, you’re also Eater of Chickens, aren’t you, Pale’ by one of the other fencers) and “Anne vár Attre.” The man spoke up first. “We’re to be the first two to fight, you know? Annie here’s really got it out for me, I beat her a few w- “ He was interrupted by the blaring of the horn to announce the first fight, at which the two of them slided rapidly down through their companions, tugging on their helmets and buckling them. 
       
      It took several moments for them to get down and clamber over to the right part of the hall, Anne running faster to reach the opposite side of the fighting area. They came onto the sand from opposing sides, bowing slowly to each others as their names were announced by the presiding referee. A small crowd had gathered to watch the battle, mostly Kirvinska, as it was their sport, and a soft wave of commentary began to wash through them. Certainly an interesting group of people to speak to, should any wish to join them. They paused for a few moments, facing each other, and their hands dropped to the hilts of their swords. When the order was given, they drew and approached each other, hands coming out so that their curved sabers crossed. On the count of ‘one-two-three’, they circled their wrists so that they crossed each others’ swords three times, and then began to back up, each one taking a moderate crouch. The man struck first, his elbow wheeling the weapon back in a curved and elaborate moulinet over his shoulder to barrel right for his opponent’s head. She shifted to one side, bringing her own weapon up to parry his away from her, and then rushed in for a slash across his chest. The two of them danced this way for upwards of a minute, prompting the crowd watching them to enlarge significantly now that the match was known to be even.
       
      The quiet violin music,
      the song of sword-fighting,
      and the soft chattering of a crowd with all to gain and all to lose.
       
      It would be a grand evening.
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    • MP's to vote on this years budget Thursday This Thursday Mp's are set to vote for this year's budget. This will be the first big vote since Parliament rejoined after the Christmas break.  Obviously the Tories with the majority in the Commons and Knights the budget is expected to pass easily.  We will be covering Budget day tomorrow and will update you with any news. With GBNB I'm Amy Collin's.
    • Dead Shffahkian Inmate Found in Solitary Confinement Cell Ignites Controversy Jaïr Taulle, 38, was found dead in a solitary confinement cell in the Éleigne Federal Penitentiary on January the 7th 2019. The death was initially reported as a suicide by the prison faculty. However, the sister of the deceased, Anne Lozé, didn't buy the initial report later filing a request for an investigative committee to look into the matter on January 9th. The Committee for the Investigation of Prisoner Maltreatment in Éleigne Federal Penitentiary returned January 14th with its findings that would go on to shock many Shffahkians. The committee found that Jaïr Taulle had died of dehydration as a result of extreme neglect from the prison staff.   Interviews with staff members reveal that he was left as the only inmate in solitary confinement by a checking error leading to him essentially being forgotten. A guard wishing to remain anonymous said ".... [the] part where solitary confinement is located is actually rarely visited by guards or staff when there's no inmate there." The committee concluded with the finding that a checking error had led to Taulle being reported as absent from solitary confinement when in reality he was still there. The guard in charge of checking was found to not have been actually the one to conduct the procedure. Rather he had left it to another guard which according to the anonymous guard isn't very rare. "The lack of resources and manpower often leads to situations where senior guards allocate their duties to newer officers." The horrific discovery of the actual conditions in Éleigne has galvanized many into action and caused an uproar in many parts of Shffahkia. The locals living near Éleigne have signed a petition to close the facility down. The petition will be looked over by the Mines Générales rehabilitation committee. Yet this isn't the first time the treatment of prisoners has caused uproar in Shffahkia. It isn't even the first time Éleigne has caused such controversy. Colloquially Éleigne is known as Monmor (Mont Mort) for its location and infamous reputation.  Prison reform has long been discussed and advocated for. There has even been a hit movie called "The Blue Inmate"  based on a book of the same name written by Sacha Taôme. The Blue Inmate is a biography telling the story of the writer's own experiences as an inmate in a similar neglected facility in the early 2000s. The most memorable scene from the movie is the so called "yard execution" where a guard outright shoots an uncooperative inmate. "The system became very clear to me at that moment. Guards who are willing to do egregious acts get promoted while the decent leave. This is all in the name of efficiency, to keep the facility productive. The food shortages, overworking inmates and the disregard most are put under make perfect sense when you think of the purpose of the facility: to produce as much as possible with the lowest cost. It all creates this toxic atmosphere where inmates live in a perpetual state of terror fearing for their very survival. To my knowledge, that guard hasn't faced any repercussions for taking the inmate's life to this day." Sacha writes about the occurrence.  Tougher Than Tough When Is It Enough? Enacting prison reform isn't a simple affair. The Federal Senate, the Chamber of Representatives and the Collective of Ministers have no say in prison reform as rehabilitation and facilities related to it are strictly under the control of the Shffahkian Council. The sitting president of the Council, President Rémy, has flat out stopped any attempt at reform. His "tougher-than-tough" rehabilitation policy is mostly credited with the current prison system and its results both good and bad. According to the current system, inmates are classified as either risk inmates or not. The risk classification is given to repeat offenders or inmates charged with especially heinous crimes such as murder or corruption. In practice, this creates two systems, and depending on the system where an inmate is put, it could be the difference between rehabilitation and neglect.  System 1 has been praised for its efficiency and results. First-time offenders often find that prison life in the 1st system resembles everyday life with facilities looking more like campuses. Inmates also have a myriad of employment and education options. The 1st system is first and foremost made to rehabilitate. As a result, it boasts great results such as a low return rate. The 1st system seems and in many ways is radically forgiving. It is focused on the bigger picture, what's best for society. In stark contrast to the 1st system, is the 2nd system where so called risk inmates are sent. Repeated offences, bad behavior and heinous crimes lead to an inmate being branded as a risk. The largest difference between the two systems is that the 2nd system is not designed to rehabilitate its prisoners. Risk inmates are often forced to into physical labor and are offered little in terms of educational opportunities. The 2nd system has a history of being put under international and local scrutiny for its cruel and unusual practices. Inmates that do leave the 2nd system often experience dire physical and psychological medical problems from beatings and psychological torture which are a part of everyday prison life. President Rémy's prison reforms have set a bleak outlook for anyone designated to be a risk since funding has largely been allocated to the 1st system. A 2017 study from the University of Shffahkiaville revealed that 2nd system facilities allocate only a 6th of the funding per prisoner than their 1st system counterparts.  "The lack of funding has led to facilities having to compensate through 'morally grey' activities. These include selling prisoner labor even when the facility in question isn't a labor camp and reselling prisoner's food and other supplies which means prisoners often get food only every other day in the present and that prison cafeterias are often empty. This is because facilities in the 2nd system often have such lacking funding that we have next to nothing left after we consider the pay for the faculty. If a facility wants to have educational courses or anything of the sort, it has to come up with the funding itself." An anonymous warden had to say of the situation. The Senate, Chamber and Collective of Ministers have all passed bills officially requesting for prison reform from the Council, but President Rémy has stood by his reforms arguing that a harsher stance on repeat offenders and heinous criminals deters crime, and that lowered funding leads to the resources being spent on those who still have a chance of rehabilitation. In fact, President Rémy has advocated for even harsher treatment but has been stopped by more moderate members of the Shffahkian Council. With the situation as it is in the Council, prison reform of any kind seems unlikely despite popular demand. 
    • The Aresi Stone is a story I'm writing about the deciphering of the Aresi Stone that could possibly take an Indiana Jones-ish turn. It will involve @Limonaia and @Prymont initially, but the nations can decide to be involved later. How does this sound?
    • Hey Aluxia I can whip up a fairly clear map for you if you want to just give me a rough sketch of what's going on.
    • With a gentle nod at the completion of the summit, he got up from his table. He went and set a timer for 30 minutes on his phone and began to follow those who left to visit the Eisteddfod, ignoring the press following him around completely. He could just feel the headlines begin to be written and generated, "President Tartaglione seen visiting PyeMcGowan Eisteddfod," he imagined. There was still that feeling in the back of his mind about possible listening devices being placed in the conference hall. One reporter with a notepad leaped in front of the president. "Loki Freymarsson, Alenian National Tribune! What has changed about the Chionian and Leverne Island fishing rights? What did you talk about in there?"  President Tartaglione suddenly panicked, Loki had scared him and he almost forgot what he was supposed to say. With a stutter, he spoke, "tariffs on imported foodstuffs are being lowered." Loki squinted at the president and, with a nod, wrote it down on his notepad. "Thank you, Mr. President." Loki ran off and vanished into the crowd. President Tartaglione continued with his day and returned to the Hall of Prosperity cafeteria for lunch.
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