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Senator Charvanek’s companions looked at each other, and then back to her- at each other, and then back to her. A few of them began to laugh. “A cute estate — ” “Hohohoho..” “Now there’s a Rihannsu for ya’..” The one in the lead shook his head, turning his attention to her once again. “Well, Sera Charvanek- if there is one thing that our continent needs, it is civilization. It is true that before our arrivals, the continent was dark, to say the least! In two ways!” He laughed again. “Of course, and your philosophy is to be admired! Although what it has in beautiful precepts, it lacks in … soul. Owed to the lack of a faith, I think.” He nodded once. “Many have tried to convert your nation before, many have failed. I’m sure more will come, an’ you’re ready for them. The Upper Ganser- my, a magical little highland. Quite bereft nowadays of the countryside which made it famous, I’ve heard. It’s been reclaimed for utilitarian and industrial purposes. Not as charming, of course… but more efficient, sure. I can admire that, I think I can admire that.” He downed a bit more of his drink. “Tell me though, dear- you say you’re- you haven’t said that.” He paused. “Are you very well studied on the nature of the continent as we gentlemen are? Of course, I speak of historical and ethnic studies. Forgive me for denying you ease of concept by using the Kirvinska word for it, but I am sure you have heard of the Tárek? Do you have a stance on them? What is to be done, nowadays?” He chuckled. “The Oyusards think that you and us alike should pay them reparations- reparations!” He chuckled some more. “Like those damn statues we’ve built and letters we’ve signed haven’t been enough. The hippies can go deal.” The giant man laughed again, prompting a chorus of good-natured chuckles from his friends. Who were these people?

 

Kalevaitis raised his eyebrows for a moment, his eyes sparkling with interest.  “I see… then excuse my genuinity. I do not think it is… very common, back home, for you… yes. You are a man very interested in… self-advancement, as you say… but, mm. We can still do business… yes, I think we can. In Rihan, do you not profit from your own policies…? Bathe… in the kickbacks from your own laws?” He smiled, good-naturedly. “It is no matter to me… my friend, for war requires infrastructure. And infrastructure… I can always provide.” He took his wine glass in hand, sipping a little bit before setting it back down. “The Trans-Aurelian railway… certainly a great piece of ambition, yes. But much of it will have to be built with… Shffahkian grunts. And protected from hostile or… jealous Tárek chieftains. So it will be a… difficult piece of ambition. But with our pockets combined…? Yes, I agree. ’tis in the realm of possibility.” He sipped again. “You must speak to me more of Enolia… I am fascinated. Any conflict so grand… so momentous… must require more than its fair share of war materiel. War materiel which your present war economy… may not be prepared to entirely provide. Are you… ready to make deals, Šerem Darok? For if you are ready to speak… of money, we may do so.” The man smiled, again. It was a cold sort of businessman’s smile. “There are others in my… line of work who may feel qualms about providing other powers with our… infrastructure, but I bear no such scruples… and neither does our beloved Istvan. He is… quite on board with this idea. So there shall be no need to go behind his back… this time, or ever, if I am lucky.” Kalevaitis drank a third time, seeming to be done with his wine. “Prove myself… an interesting phrasing. I suppose it is true that your domestic industrialists will need… convincing. I will tell you then… before we speak of deals. I will be kind to you… before you let Kirvinska companies in… do pay careful attention to your own; for centuries of protectionism have a… mm… a quality-lowering effect.”

 

The generals’ table still seemed very receptive to their guest, and hung right onto his every word. They were not quite enchanted; but they were nothing if not interested - what stories of military strife and glory did this decorated foreigner bring to their halls? Of what great victories could he tell them? They stayed pensive, waiting for more, smiling at any opportunity. The man speaking to him before found his window and continued to speak, prompting the rest to fall silent and listen to the conversation. “Cooperation! Of course! I really do wish to know what you fellows have planned on that end- ‘course, I know what we’ve planned, but that’s not a surprise, eh? Naval integration and all that mess. Leave the national armies alone, but stick the navies under one that really knows wha’ it’s doing.” He smiled, proudly. “I joke, of course. But naval matters are not your national focus, even if you are led by an admiral- the admirals most certainly thank you for your respect, by the way.” “Hear hear!” “It’s rare that we find both sides of the administration coming to these friendly words. So thank you! But on integration matters— we’re curious to see what you Rihannsu have cooked up for the Continental armies. Our own are so detached, as you know. Serving border garrison duty, mostly, policing roles. Although, do not despair… the Counts’ and Dukes’ retinues are as massive as ever.” He cleared his throat. “But Enolia, my friend General. We have received disturbing news as to the size of your mobilizations. Under two-hundred-thousand men. How do you expect to a win an extended war on such a long front if you can barely garrison it?” He frowned. “Something must be wrong in the intelligence I have been supplied, there is no way that’s your plan.” The general speaking to Kassus nodded, once. “I must introduce myself, of course- General Martinas Belitska, servant to the Kirvinska Crown.” He nodded. “Not responsible for too many operations at the moment. We are at a lull.” 

 

The Grand Duke seemed a little interested in the Praetor’s choice in attendees, and did not attempt to hide it. He participated in any conversation about the League with an open mind, ready to forge a compromise of a document that would seal the fate of the Aurelian continent and solidify the deal s that had been hinted at in their earlier meeting. “… Thank you, Praetor, certainly. A great deal of planning and money went into this ball, a great deal of effort. It is also Rasa, as you know, and so the festivities outside will reach fever pitch before the night is out. We are a little bit insulated, but Rasa is a grand affair, and our own noblemen will be celebrating it as well. Hopefully it does not overshadow the ball, though I doubt it will entirely. They are quite distinct arrangements.” He followed the Praetor’s gaze every time he turned to look to the crowd, not secretly either, trying to figure out just what he was looking at. At the revelation and then explanation, he nodded, knowingly. “There are always claimants, always other people seeking what is not theirs… and a system like yours does not breed loyalty.” He shook his head a bit. “My Kalevaitis is much like your Darok in wealth. There they are, talking. But to my memory, one is loyal, and one is not. Such are the advantages of a monarchical system, my friend.” He turned his attention to Charvanek next. “Aha. Charvanek, you say? She has made a grave mistake. Those men she is talking to are not powerful at all, they are academics. They are with the AKS. That is, the linguistic and cultural bureau which is to cover all Kirvinska peoples. Preserving old writings, and cultural works, and so on. Charming, certainly, but… not powerful. They are a lot of romantics, as well, I am sure they are bashing your country in conversation with her. I wonder how she will… take that.” He allowed himself a tiny chuckle. “You are more than correct, though. It is wise to keep your closest enemies… nice and tight, so you can keep an eye on them. After this ball, I will approach my man Kalevaitis, and ask him what he spoke of. I am sure he will tell me.” The Grand Duke moved to shift the topic. “He has been speaking to me of these grand transcontinental infrastructure projects. The Railway, for instance. Where does Rihan stand on these matters?”

 

Meanwhile, in the shadow of their conversation, the fencers still danced back and forth. Several fights had rotated up to now, but the heavily battered Anne and Palemon still had not been totally eliminated from the tournament. Every once in a while, they returned to the sand, dark armor scarred with the indents of hours’ worth of sword-blows. The crowd had not lessened, even as the fighting began to reduce in quality- to the Kirvinska, the point at which a successful fighter tired out, broke, lost the will to continue- that was the most interesting part of a fight. So those nobles who had been there at the beginning stayed, enraptured, following every move and moulinet, every flash of the sword. Occasionally, the defeated were carried off, armor savagely raked and pitted. But such was the reality of sport in Aurelia, and the crowd grew to encompass not just Kirvinska, but Rihannsu and Shffahkians as well, all viewing in unison. Even the lone Oyusard was there, perched on the shoulders of two handsome young combatants who would not be entering the fray until later that night. 

 

Kalevaitis turned for a moment, to regard the fencers, then back to Darok.

“Are we not just they, armed with different weapons? How poetic it all is…”

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