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Brother's Quarrel (Closed)

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Hanga
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Brother's Quarrel (Closed)

Postby Hanga » Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:04 pm

Loricol
Capital of Hanga
March 10th, 2019
11:00 PM

For many years there have been talk of the imminent death of Emperor Jiang as the much beloved sovereign struggled to remain alive but alive he remained and continued his reign over the Celestial Empire. The passing of the First Son under Heaven would be a tragedy unto itself but the true thing that has the powerholders of Hanga whispering and posturing was the question of who would inherit that Jade Throne after his death. Prince Sun and Prince Zhide are twin brothers and the eldest of the Imperial family making both contenders for the Jade Throne and with no precedence of how to determine succession in this occurrence the situation is dire. Despite the fact Emperor Jiang still draws breath his mental faculties are not entirely with him making his pronouncement, when he does speak, hard to follow and decipher.

Prince Sun is known to be a deeply pious and learned man living a life of grueling religious discipline while also maintaining proper public appearances. While not physically intimidating Prince Sun has a calm and collected way to break anyone down always calling others to repent and praying with numerous members at court as well as with the poor and downtrodden he serves daily. A zealous man he seeks to maintain the integrity of the Hangian Orthodox Church and the moral well being of the people before all things making him popular with the influential Community of St. Basil and the faithful at large. The main fault that the critics of the Prince point to is his sheer idealism and detachment from reality as he concerns himself more with spiritual and religious matters rather than courtly ones so while Prince Sun may be a good and Godly man he will be a catastrophic Emperor.

Prince Zhide on the other hand is a loud and boisterous man who has taken to the arts of war and hunting with an equal zeal that his brother has taken to his religious studies. Proud and skilled with all manners of the martial field he is a proficient board gamer as well as battlefield tactician ruthlessly and efficiently crushing dissent in one of the southeast Asian tributary states. While efficient he is no monster emphasizing the need for national reconciliation around the Jade Throne and toleration regardless of race, creed, or culture. A brilliant administrator and admirer of the Hermetic Societies Prince Zhide enjoys widespread support among said Societies and the nobility at large. While efficient and result yielding Prince Zhide is a Machiavellian firmly believing that anything is justified if it brings about a more orderly, just, and free society this has led him to commit numerous acts that while they achieved their goal in the end scandalized the Imperial House Yang and the Jade Throne.

This was all on the mind of Chief Minister Hao Daijia as he sat in one of the many chapels that dotted the Imperial Complex, if he had to be honest the Imperial Complex was more a city within a city than a palace for the Celestial Court. His fingers mindlessly fidgeted with the chotki beads in his hands as he had long ago given up attempting to reach hesychasm tonight instead focusing on Earthly affairs. There was just so much that needed to be done and Daijia could not help but feel a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume of the task at hand, it was not just the potential succession crisis that had him up but the running of the Empire and wrangling the numerous Kings, Grand Dukes, Viceroys, Prince-Archbishops, and Lord Mayors into the single direction of the Jade Throne. With a long and deep sigh Daijia let out a simple prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, and Sovereign of all Mankind, save your people from themselves."

"Amen." A voice responded causing the Chief Minister to jump slightly before craning his head to reveal the Spymaster of Hanga dressed in his usual dark and nondescript robes, there was little fanfare and eloquence when one was a member of the Imperial Dragon Seal Guard but the respect they demanded more than made up for it. Daijia stood and bowed in respect.

"Spymaster Huang you honor me with your presence." Daijia stated differing to the man who was technically under his command but not everything was as it seemed on paper.

"As do you Chief Minister Daijia, as do you." Huang responded before gesturing to the unoccupied spot in the pew next to Daijia who let him in, Huang genuflected and crossed himself facing the alter as he entered. Silence held sway for a few uncomfortable moments for Daijia broken when Huang decided to speak. "I have heard of that the rumblings of the Celestial Court have made their ways into the common folk. Even the people on the streets are speaking in hushed tones about the coming death of our Emperor and what is to followed. Already the lords and republics are maneuvering to support their candidate for the throne and I fear that the Guard is being stretched thin maintaining order as is. Cracks are beginning to form your Excellency."

"Well yes this is disconcerning sir I hardly can say it is news for me. For months I have been hearing whispers and scheming among the Court and it was only a matter of time before the people began to mumble. Certainly you do not think anything worse than civil discontent will occur." Daijia retorted keeping his eyes firmly planted on the alter screen, an icon of the Blessed Virgin holding the infant Christ to be most exact.

"I do Chief Minister. The radical republicans are getting more vocal and some of the Boan kings in the north are speaking of another general uprising. The Jade Throne sits on shaky ground at the moment and a smooth transition is necessary for the continuation of our civilization, or else the barbarians will pick at our corpse for generations to come as we waste away. The image of the Imperial Family can not be compromised, you above all know the extent that we will go to ensure just that." Huang said staring holes into the side of Daiji's head as the other man fought the urge to gulp. He knew full well what would happened to those who threatened the image of the Imperial Family, his own brother was assassinated for attempting just that.

"Understood sir. I will preserve the Jade Throne with my life sir. A smooth transition will be done." Daiji said in the calmest voice he could muster before shrinking into the pew a bit when he felt the Spymaster grip his shoulder.

"Good, please do ensure that your Excellency. I do consider you a friend and would be highly disappointed if you proved a threat to the Dragon Seal." Then he let go of Daiji's shoulder before rising and leaving.

Sighing in relief Daiji slumped a bit, that damn Buddhist was going to be the end of him and he just knew it. Pushing himself up he knew exactly what he needed to do, increase security throughout the kingdoms held directly by the Jade Throne by making the military presence more potent. More soldiers, conscripts, retainers, mercenaries, everything they could afford seen and patrolling, especially among the semi-civilized barbarian outsiders who call Hanga home at the moment. No foreigner will interfere and House Yang will maintain the Mandate of Heaven till the Christ returns. With burning passion Daiji set off to work.
A culturally Chinese and religiously Orthodox Christian Empire of Tibet and India. Based on a Crusader Kings 2 play through.

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Thostalwick
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Postby Thostalwick » Fri Jan 11, 2019 2:09 pm

At Sea
March 11th, 2019
2:30 AM



The steamship Hallig’s Bounty cruised smoothly across the calm waters. The moon hid behind thick, grey clouds, but the sailors kept the ship true and steady in the black night.

Darkness has a special way of bringing you into your own thoughts. Looking out, the world seemed little more than their small vessel and an endless sea. The ship would, in time, cross this space, leaving the sea once again to its slumber, serene and everlasting. What was a man out here but a mote drifting across the face of something incomprehensibly greater than himself.

Travelling by night like this would make a philosopher out of Gosta yet. She sat, leaning against the foremast, twiddling a cigarette between her fingers. The watchman on deck had offered it to her, but he had already moved on before she realized she didn’t have a lighter. Nothing to do but wait for him to return from the lower decks for his rounds again, she supposed.

It would be a few hours yet before they made landing in Hanga. She was warm in her new ash white coat, fed, but weary. Weary of travel, but more importantly of having to keep so much of the old ways in her mind. But this is what the Mendicants do. You can sit and read for a lifetime in the comfort of the grand old libraries, but there are expectations for what that does to you. It makes you a learned woman. Like the Master said at the docks back in Eigenstadt: “With the knowledge of good and evil”, it was now her duty to go forth to combat the sin of ignorance that drives us to trespass upon our brothers and sisters and bring down the careful balance of things which kept us all alive and happy. It was lonely work. People rarely thank you for hauling them in for questioning and careful re-instruction. She could see the use of it all, not to give anyone the wrong idea. It was just tough.

Recalling why you were doing things could be a great comfort. She knew the Masters were worried about Thostals living away from home forgetting their moral centres. You pick up some nasty habits living away for too long. Among strangers to the faith, or worse, no faith at all. Mendicants often visited smaller communities to act as spiritual guides and correct errant thoughts and actions. But something in the official dispatches from the Consulate had given them all a scare. They needed eyes on the ground, and in the Masters’ estimation Gosta was the one to do it. These check-ups on state officials happened quite regularly, but something about this trip was different. Tense. Like they expected her to find something troubling and wrong in the halls of high office.

And thus she leaned on the mast: a hatchet man for the Masters. She found small comfort that she had found a serviceable enough vessel to get to Hanga. The Mendicants don’t get their own transportation. They were expected to walk, and when necessary, rely on the kindness of those with ships to cross the seas. This liner was owned by one of the more well-to-do merchant houses, by the look of things. The sailors were dressed smartly in company uniforms, and the machinery was well-maintained. As a courtesy, owing to her proximity to the Church, she had been given some small quarters below. She had attempted to do some reading and writing but had found the space too cramped for anything other than sleep.

She leaned, listening to groaning metal and creaking rope; to the ceaseless rush of the waves. She leaned and realized, as she often did when things got quiet, that she was alone. About as alone as one could be.

She grew tired of waiting for the watchman, and flicked the unlit cigarette overboard. It disappeared, sinking into the depths.

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Postby Hanga » Fri Jan 11, 2019 10:49 pm

Imperial Court
March 14th, 2019
10:00 AM

The Imperial Court had been assembled as it does every morning in the Great Hall where delegates and nobles from across the Emperor gathered as courtiers trying to win the favor of either the Emperor himself or high ranking members of the Imperial Ministries. There was a constant undercurrent of murmuring no matter who approached the Jade Throne, the only time that the Great Hall fell entirely silent when the Chief Minister raised his arm to announce a proclamation. The courtiers had already moved into their usual groupings, each one easily distinguishable by their groups usual clothing. The Community of St. Basil wore a simple black habit, some with prayers embroided into the cloth, and a white shirt undershirt of some sort, they and their supporters wore simpler clothes compared to those of the more flamboyant and elaborate fashion of the Hermetic Societies, their supporters, and the majority of the nobility. Bright colors and intricate patterns dominated the court as it seemed that many of the other courtiers were vying for the attention of others by the attractiveness of their clothing as well as its richness. The way that they grouped up seemed to signal which of the brothers they supported, the Community of St. Basil primarily on the left of the Great Hall and the Hermetic Societies on the right with a mixture of nobles on each side.

The great red doors of the Great Hall creaked open every now and then to allow delegates from first the tributary nations and second the ambassadors from non-tributary states. A line of guards waited along the wall in attention but they ranged from all over the place, wearing armbands that signified which foreign land they were from if they were of the Outer Guard or mercenary organization if they were mercenary men. Close to the entrance stood several men of Celtic origin on the right and African on the left, everything of the hallway was designed to make the delegates feel claustrophobic with thick walls and little room to stand made worse by the insistence of the guards to push the delegates as closely together as possible. The hallway possessed no windows and only rather weak emergency lights that cast everything in an eerie red glow as the guards enforced the discipline strictly with a low and deep humming broken by individuals only when they needed to enforce something.

The Thostal delegation was shuffled forward by the guards, one of them jumping slightly as he seemed to notice one of the members of the delegation. The guard quickly regained his composure though and returned back to a well rehearsed parade rest position, face hidden under his military cap but little else could be seen due to the poor lighting. The doors to the Great Hall opened wide as the Imperial Herald rattled off once more the delegation.

"The honorable ambassador from the Holy Empire of Thostalwick." The Imperial Herald declared as the crimson carpet was open for the delegation to walk down, the edges lined with guards in parade rest facing each other. The silent conversations that the groups were having continued as few paid attention their focus instead directed towards the various kings and Lord Mayor who held sway over other nobles or the leaders of the two respective Societies. The floor was marble with intricate flower designs and large stone pillars with intricately carved images in each pillar rising to the ceiling where a large statue of a dragon circled the entire room till it finally ended with the dragon head holding a large orb in its mouth. The sunlight that flooded into through the opened walls illuminated the orb making it difficult for those who had to walk from the door to the Jade Throne where the Chief Minister stood in his black and red robes before a screen where the Emperor sat.

Beside the screen sat Prince Sun, he was a thin and frail looking man in his mid to late 20's with sunken features but the way he sat and the peace that was etched onto his face made him appear to be a man who had control over not only himself but the situation. There was nothing but serenity and kindness emanating from him despite the position of supreme power he held as son of the Emperor. He wore a simple black robe that covered everything except for a substantial portion of his chest which was instead covered by a simple white shirt of meager quality. Everything about Prince Sun spoke of tradition and faith, and through the glasses he watched with interest as the Thostal delegation entered with a slight smile.

Prince Zhide on the other hand was a man of strength with his muscles clearly visible from underneath his brightly colored clothing despite the fact it was rather baggy on him. A pagri covered his head while his brothers was tied neatly into a bun Zhide's hair seemed to be long and a little sporadic from the bits that stick out from the back, a rather elaborate ornament was attached to the pagri which the light danced on slightly. Everything about him screamed confidence, both of wit and martial prowess as if there was nothing at all he had to fear and just like his twin brother he appeared to be completely calm grinning as the delegation approached. The two princes were polar opposites that was obvious as the sat on their thrones, which were slightly lower than the large platform that held the Jade Thorn, the setup rather reminiscent of an elaborate High Altar. Men in black robes stood along the edges of the room and knelt in a line to act as a human altar rail signaling where they were to stop, halberds in hand and empty stoic faces as other black robed individuals stood among the crowd watching everything intently.
A culturally Chinese and religiously Orthodox Christian Empire of Tibet and India. Based on a Crusader Kings 2 play through.

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Postby Thostalwick » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:04 pm

Embassy
March 14th, 2019
8:00 AM

The ship’s whistle blew sharply, shocking Gosta out of a light doze. She pinched the sleep from her eyes, and stretched her arms behind her, giving a satisfying crack from her shoulders. They had arrived.

The Bounty drifted to dock at a small wooden jetty. The merchantmen extended a metal gangplank. She hopped to her feet and made her way across the deck and along the small bridge to shore. Her hobnailed boots clacked sharply on the wood. She didn’t stop to instruct the sailors about her effects still on board. Some personal papers, spare clothes, the usual. They knew to send her things to the Consulate. She knew the address, and the directions she has received back home came to mind easily. Off she went, lest the moss begin to grow under her feet.

It didn’t take long to get through the consulate’s security. A checkpoint was just inside the front gates, but Gosta’s papers from the Cathedral were more than enough to get the stern faced man manning the post to let her past. While she waited for him to run her information, Gosta let her eyes wander along the perimeter. She could see guards posted every few dozen meters, and small patrols snaking their way along the columns and trees. They wore lighter versions of the Imperial Army uniform: dark grey cotton shirt, forgoing the usual field jacket. All carried wicked looking rifles. Big men too, the lot of them. They certainly made Gosta nervous, and she was supposed to be here.

The checkpoint officer waved her through, and she returned with her thanks before moving on. The foyer was a grand sight, designed to impress no doubt. Marbled and polished wood, in the classical style. Gosta found the front desk, and inquired where the Consul-General’s office was. A clerk in civilian clothes looked surprised, but pointed up a flight of stairs. “Top floor. There’s only the one office up there.” Gosta gave her thanks again, and pretended not to notice that the clerk picked up a phone to tell someone about the strange visitor. As she climbed the richly carpeted steps, she tried to note the various departments she passed. “Department of Public Diplomacy” said one sign in intricate script. Another read simply “Legal Affairs”.

At last, the Consul-General’s office. Gosta took a breath and entered, her coat tails billowing around her as she rounded the corner. She was met by a tall, but bookish looking man in his mid 50’s, dressed in ceremonial military regalia. He wore thin wire-frame glasses, and his slightly greying hair receded well back onto his forehead. He looked up from his work and regarded her warmly. “Welcome, Mistress. I hope you’ll forgive the lack of ceremony for your arrival. We’ve been working night and day, you see. We’ve just been called to audience with the Emperor.” He caught himself. “Er… the Hangan emperor I should say.” He gave a sensible laugh. “I hope whatever you report back to your superiors doesn’t include that.”

She had to admit, the man possessed an easy charm. She was expecting a much cooler welcome. She remained standing, folding her hands behind her back. “The pleasure is all mine, Consul-General. I must say you’re taking a visit from the Masters rather well.” The Consul gave a dismissive wave. “Oh, this isn’t the first time I’ve been investigated. I know they say it’s routine, but Mendicants showing up at my door seems to be the routine rather frequently.” Both stood in silence for a moment, but they both broke out in a shared smile. Each knew the score, so there was little need for ceremony. The consul held out his hand. “Hiram Bartus. I am yours, Mistress.” Gosta held his hand gracefully for a small moment of respect, and replied. “And I am Gosta Saula, but you may call me Saula.” Bartus looked pleased, and sat himself once more in a cushioned chair. “I expect you will be needing full access then? Records, personnel files, the usual?” Gosta nodded curtly. “Just for reference later, in case anything strange turns up.” “You will have it then. We can get that for you today” Bartus replied.

He looked contemplative for a moment, then leaned forward. “The meeting with the Emperor I mentioned is this morning, in fact. How would you like to accompany me to the court?” Gosta furrowed her brow. “Meet the emperor? Just like that? I’ve only just arrived.” Bartus looked a little sheepish. “Well, its not just a social call, believe me. I think there’s something big going on in the palace. But… well it’s these locals. They like to make a big show of approaching the emperor and appearances are everything to these people. Normally I don’t have many dignitaries from Thostalwick to bring with me, so I go alone. I think it makes us look bad when we can’t send a bigger delegation. I confess my interest is purely mercenary.” Gosta had to think. This was all a bit sudden, and she didn't like being used as a pawn in someone else’s game of prestige and reputation. And yet, how often does one get a personal invitation to meet foreign heads of state? She realized she had already decided, and her brain was merely catching up. “Very well, Bartus. I would be happy to accompany you.” “Marvelous!” the older man exclaimed. He grabbed his coat and ceremonial sword off the mantle, and held the door open to depart. “By your leave, Mistress Saula.”

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Postby Thostalwick » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:08 pm

The Throne Room
March 14th, 2019
10:00 AM

The two Thostals stood behind the grand throne room doors. Bartus gave Gosta a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Just remember. Do as I do, and everything will work out. Oh, I may have neglected to mention; we are expected to kowtow when we reach the end throne. Do you know what that is?” Gosta shook her head. “It’s a local custom”, Bartus continued. “Just go to your knees and press your head to the floor. After you do that, you may rise to one knee for the rest of it.” “You’re joking” Gosta gasped in indignation, though it was clear that he was not. “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” Bartus gave a knowing look. “In my line of work, it’s preferable not to divulge everything important until after the deal is done.” If they weren’t in public, Gosta had a mind to take issue with this misstatement, but it was too late now to back out and embarrass the Consul-General. “Sickening.” Gosta hissed to herself. That kind of self-abasement for a worldly sovereign should have died out long ago. “They wanted us to stay down on the floor for a lot longer you know.” Bartus retorted. “Be thankful I got them to compromise as much as they did. It isn’t easy convincing an emperor to change his mind”.

The magnificent red doors swung open and both Thostals quit their frenzied whispering and snapped into upright posture, looked straight ahead. “The Honorable Ambassador from the Holy Empire of Thostalwick!” a herald shouted, shockingly loud in the cramped room. The two stepped together and made their way forward. There were nobles dressed in every colour of the rainbow. Soldiers lined the walls, each looking to be from a different place. A show of force for their benefit, Gosta guessed. Let everyone know that you command fighting men from a hundred kingdoms and none will challenge you. The décor was opulent beyond imagination. If the Emperor wanted to give an impression of being from another world, he had certainly succeeded. As she walked, Gosta tried to avoid eye contact, but thought she saw one of the guards staring at her. If he had moved, it was almost too quick to perceive. She hoped this wasn’t the kind of place where social mistakes were taken too personally.

At the far room sat the Emperor and his two sons. Or at least, Gosta assumed the emperor was there. He sat behind a screen, with his sons flanking either side. One prince was dressed humbly in black, and looked to be more of a monk than a prince. He was thin, but carried himself with true nobility. At least he looked happy to see them. The other prince, however, betrayed little. He was a brute of a man, radiating strength like rays from the sun. He looked like someone used to dealing with trouble.

They reached the throne, or at least as close as the courtiers allowed. Bartus gave her a small tap with his boot, and they both sank to the floor. Pressing their foreheads to the floor, and rising to rest on a knee, just as Bartus said. The Consul threw his arms wide and began to speak in a bellowing and grandiose voice. “Your Imperial Majesty, First Son of Heaven and ruler of all things in God’s creation. We are but lowly servants of the Emperor-Prelate, and we humbly beg for you to keep us all in your favor. May God keep you, and all who live under your divine protection, in the palm of His hand.”

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Postby Thostalwick » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:11 pm

“It is further our wish to present to you the customary gift from the Crown. My associates in the consulate have been instructed to make delivery of a truly exceptional work from the Galleria. A grand portrait depicting the famed defiance of St. Vesian at the walls of Shimon against the godless Merovians! We await your remarks upon its beauty with great anticipation. As men of refined taste and culture, we are confident that this gift will delight and entrance your court has it has ours.” Bartus switched tones, now almost conversational. “I hope your majesties will forgive my not bringing the painting with me to the throne.”

That seemed a natural end to the consul’s show. Gosta was about to rise when Bartus, inexplicably, found more to say.
Last edited by Thostalwick on Sun Jan 20, 2019 2:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Thostalwick » Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:15 pm

“In addition to his greetings, our lord Emperor wanted to make known to you his intent to increase the scale of our military exercises. The Imperial Army has scheduled one additional field training exercise per year, to be conducted on the 14th of each January and June. Army Group Kautlo will be conducting theatre actions against the Free Inland Cities, an endeavor which should last no longer than September of this year. Further, the Imperial Air Force will be increasing its current training operations from four per year to six. Lastly, The Lord Admirals of the Imperial Navy have reached consensus about stationing an increased number of ships and munitions at Skapa, though I will spare you an overly verbose dissection of the particulars.”

Bartus rattled off these figures and names with striking speed, such that it was almost impossible to keep pace. “It is our intent to present you, Lord, with all the information required such that rational discourse between our great royal houses may prevail, and avoid the sins of mistrust and antagonism.” This, Bartus said with a sickening smile. The assembled Hangans gave no immediate reaction.
Last edited by Thostalwick on Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Hanga
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Postby Hanga » Mon Jan 14, 2019 8:06 pm

Chief Minister Daijia raised his arm and as he did so the black robed individuals that were mingling with the crowd began to quiet the crowd down, slowly the undercurrent of murmuring halted. As the quietness drew out the Chief Minister lowered his arm and addressed the Thostalwick delegation. "The Jade Throne welcomes the honorable delegation from Holy Empire of Thostalwick and thanks them for the extension of friendship between our two Christian realms, long may God watch over your lands." He said before he took a step back and listened to what was being said from behind the screen.

"His Imperial Majesty would like to inquire why it is that the delegation that stands before us is in fact slightly larger than is normal for the usual court appearance? Regardless of this answer his Imperial Majesty would also like to inquire of the status and safety that the Thostal citizens feel within the borders of the Celestial Empire? If they have been alarmed by the increase in military presence we would like to apologize for the scare, we simply have found it prudent to increase the size of the Imperial Military temporarily to further dissuade talks of 'liberation' and 'freedom' of the tributary states." The Chief Minister informed them in a voice that was quick and analytical, as quick as one could be with courtly language that is.

As he spoke though both of the brothers continued to size up the delegation, they had been here before and had argued before the court more than once, especially in regards to the ways to maintain loyalty of the tributaries. Both were trying their hardest to keep their peace, Prince Sun doing an excellent job while Prince Zhide was not so much. In the rest of the court though there was some shuffling but no one dared to utter a word, instead some courtiers signed to each other as there was no rules against communication just speaking. Thostalwick was a sore spot for many members of the court, they were seen as usurpers and obstacles to the Harmonious Global Society led by their civilization. A pretender to the Jade Throne was the common conception of the Emperor-Prelate of Thostalwick but diplomacy was a necessity, especially against fellow Christians. Sooner or later though every knee will bend to the Emperor till the True Lord returns or the Great Deceiver usurps the Jade Throne and ushers in the End Times.
A culturally Chinese and religiously Orthodox Christian Empire of Tibet and India. Based on a Crusader Kings 2 play through.

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Thostalwick
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Postby Thostalwick » Mon Jan 14, 2019 9:49 pm

With a sinking gut, Gosta saw an imperious robed man raise a hand, and saw all who gathered hush in response. Maybe not a prince, but someone with grasping fingers on the levers of power. These courtier types usually mean business, and worse, always knew political gamesmanship. He accepted Bartus' flowery greeting with as much joy as one expects when taking a dose of medicine.

"Why is the delegation larger than usual?" He asked, sneering down from his perch. Oh hell. That meant her. A terrible place to be noticed, and on her knees to boot. She kept her eyes glued to the floor and trusted Bartus to get her out of this. Let him do the talking, indeed, if he was half as silver-tongued as he let on.

He didn't skip a beat, the old fox. "A gesture of honour, my lord. My friend here is a Mendicant from our great Cathedra of Vriburg. She is a scholar of the Holy Word of great prestige and skill, only just arrived this morning! With someone of her status visiting our hospitium it seemed only fitting to present her to you as a symbol of our shared brothership in Christ."

It was tough not to blush with an introduction like that. She wondered herself if any of it was Bartus speaking honestly, but she prayed these mandarins believed it so, nonetheless.

Bartus kept at it for an impossibly long string of praises of her Order and their work. And yet for all his gushing outreach to the Hangans, he seemed to be making a point of using as many old Thostal words as possible. It would have been out of fashion back home- quaint, but antiquated. It was possible he wasn't even using the right words for what he spoke of. Was he trying to confuse them? Or keep some distance through the use of our oldest tongue - rebuke hidden amongst breathless praise. We still have our secrets.

And then, of all the wondrous things in this world, the courtier actually apologized to them. Apologized for the number of troops out and about. Asked about the safety of Thostal expatriates. Gosta couldn't help darting her eyes around at the grim-faced guards lining the throne room. There certainly was enough "security" to make her feel decidedly unsafe, but she kept that to herself. Bartus was quick on his feet again. "I have received many letters from our citizens on that very subject, my friend! They wish to convey their thanks to you, oh emperor, for the increased security! Never before has a Thostal abroad felt more secure as to their persons and property."

He glided over what Gosta caught right away. The poison pill. Tributary states. Dissuading liberation, or more likely rebellion. Might that be what Bartus predicted earlier, the 'something big' going on at court'? They didn't mean us, did they? Gosta wondered. Did they see us as a tributary, or at least some subordinate? Was our independence a threat to be crushed? Her mind raced, deciding to address a letter home with the news as soon as possible, wanting to leave this place... but with a breath, she recalled with some pride that Thostal Intelligence was second to none. They didn't need her to perform troop counts. All she had to do was what she was sent for. Her heart continued to pound, but her mind was easing now. One thing was for sure. Hangan eyes were not just on her. They were on the fatherland.

The princes kept their posture. The monkish one was all calm, but the other was still a mystery. It was maddening keeping an eye on them without staring.


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