501-12-17 The Empress is advised on retaliation
Saturday, December 17, 501 A.G.
The fleet has just arrived back from their first trip out of barrier, and the Empress calls for a meeting with those who lead the expedition, the small group adjourning to the audience chamber of the Imperial tower.
"Please," Mena says, motioning toward the chairs in the room. "Do make yourselves comfortable, and let me offer you something to drink. I know your voyage has been long, even if it was cut a bit short."
Prince Xander squeezes Annabelle's hand, and then looks to Mena. "How is he?"
Hasdrubal says nothing, simply moving at his usual pace toward the indicated chairs and listening for the answer given Xander..
"He is alive, obviously," Mena states as she closes the door, her voice quiet. "He is... well, the healers are calling it a coma, though that is not exactly what I plan to tell the general public. They will be told he is very ill, and is spending all of his time and energy in the gate chamber to secure our safety in keeping the gate closed. Which is.. a loose version of the truth. The gate /is/ secure."
Anna moves across to whichever chair Xander's going to sit in, keeping quiet for now only so as to allow the others to catch up. Though she does offer, "Do you want me to get drinks, Majesty, so that you can all concentrate on catching up?" She takes in a deep breath as Mena speaks of the Emperor's condition, clearly saddened by the news.
"How are /you/?" Xander asks, releasing Annabelle's hand finally to move over and hug his sister-in-law.
Hasdrubal adjusts the lie of his sword as he settles his lean frame into the seat. Taking in the information still without comment, the bastard-admiral rolls his head back, choosing silence again.
Mena lets out a deep breath as she returns Xander's embrace. "I've... been better," she murmurs. "But I'm alright. Just trying to keep my head above water with everything." To Annabelle, she shakes her head. "Unless someone else wants something, I'm fine, but thank you."
Anna smiles as Xander hugs Mena, looking so relieved that he's here to be -able- to give her that support now. Nodding her head quietly to Mena not needing a drink, she waits to see if anyone else wants one instead.
Prince Xander releases Mena, giving her a quick kiss to the brow, and then asks, "How can I help you? Just tell me what you need ..."
Hasdrubal shakes his head slightly in answer to the offer of a drink. He watches the exchange between Xander and Mena with intent dark eyes.
"I would hear of your trip," Mena decides as she steps back away from Xander. "Tyr and Maehdros landed two days ago. I need your impressions on them both. And of Landry, which I'm sure you've already heard of what happened."
Anna quietly broaches, "Xander, do you want anything to drink... or to eat even?" Otherwise all is well and she'll return to her seat again. She's most interested in hearing about it all too!
Prince Xander shakes his head. "I'm fine, Anna ... but thank you." He moves over to take a seat, motioning for Annabelle to join him, and looks at Mena. "I heard enough," he says. "Honestly, I think we all knew something was odd about them but we didn't know what ... I never expected them to come /here/ before we got back, though. I'm so sorry."
Outside the door of the audience chamber, a ruckus caused by a distraught Duchess Asha Barca.
Hasdrubal draws a slow breath, to rasp aloud, "You want an answer now- or should a body let little Asha in to shut her up, first?"
Mena glances in the direction of the foyer, letting out a heavy sigh. "For the love of Providence," she murmurs. "One damn hour," she mutters to herself, then stalks to the door herself. "I'll take care of it. Just give me a moment." She opens the door somewhat forcefully and walks out.
Outside the chamber..
"What in the name of all that is good is going on out here?!" Mena asks with annoyance, the door flying open to gain her entrance to the foyer. "I'm trying to have a damned meeting!"
What a strange situation this is. Asha is being carried by a legionnaire, soaking wet, without her bandages, and clad only in a hastily donned shirt and pair of pants. "Something's happening," she says, panting and looking drained of energy. "Something...I don't know, I don't know who to- or what-"
"Leave it," Mena says with a shake of her head. "Just... leave it." She seems to know something. To the legionnaire, she instructs, "Bring her inside, and then you can leave."
Mena walks back in, leading a legionnaire carrying a soaking wet Asha. She looks, well.. annoyed. "Put her down right there," she tells the soldier, pointing at a chair.
Prince Xander smiles at Annabelle but his attention is taken - and rightfully so - by the appearance of a very wet Asha being /carried/ into the Audience chamber. One brow arches. "I didn't notice it raining."
It's not a sight Anna sees very often either! Her brows climb up high on her forehead, jaw dropping a little before she closes it. "Asha," she says, in a sort of greeting, though she's -so- not going to comment.
Hasdrubal rolls his head to regard the soaking sister. "Hrh," he rasps wordlessly. Any who might have expected the Bastard of Barca to fall over laughing at such a sight would be surprised. His expression does'nt alter. "A body sees you met Maehdros.."
Asha is looking very, very confused right now. Pale, and struggling to concentrate on everything. The legionnaire follows his instructions, then beats it. He wants /no/ part of whatever dragged a partially-dressed Duchess out of the baths without rebandaging injuries and without time to crutch her way here on her own. She, however, remains very quiet, looking intently at Mena, making no notice of other comments.
The Empress walks back to her seat and slowly lowers herself back into it. "Now," she says with a very tense air of calm. "Landry, we were talking about. It is hardly your fault. The Keeper knew it was a foreign ship, and he did bring them in. And accepted them into the castle. No one could know what was to happen."
"Right," Hasdrubal rasps, bringing himself back onto the subject at hand.. "Landry, Tyr, Maehdros, Illyria.." he lists off. "Landry is simplest, so, a body will begin there.." A deeply drawn breath. "Word will eventually get around what happened.. That Landry attacked Rourke, if nothing else.. The whole bloody world is taking our measure, so here's what a body thinks need be done: Once time is had to take words with the survivors- how many ships, how many men.. just where the bloody place is, we need send the Fleet on a punitive expedition. Show the rest of them looking what answer assassins can expect."
Prince Xander shakes his head. "I hardly think we should start a war over this," he says. "Granted, it was a horrible thing - I /know/ that - but what if the rest of them are demons too? Or what if they're /not/? What if they're innocent people?"
"If there was any reason to start a war, Highness, this would be it," Mena states in a tightly controlled voice. "Jareth almost saw this whole empire fall. However... I have spoken to Kylane, and am having Mogur speak to him as well to validate the truthfulness of his statements. Until I have word from Mogur, we shall bide our time. I don't imagine it will take very long. It's possible that Jareth wasn't even /from/ Landry, and just said so because he knew we didn't know any better."
Annabelle listens quietly, her eyes flicking between all those here as she processes her own thoughts though as of yet she does not voice them. She squeezes Xander's hand again though as if to check that he was really still there, that she's not imagining him being back.
“We have no idea what their capabilities are - how they are armed, what kind of magic they have," Xander says. "And with my brother in a comatose state ... the /last/ thing we want to do is start a war of any kind, with anybody." He's fervent about this. "I want revenge as much as either of you, but we have to think about the greater good of the Empire as a whole. We don't have nearly enough information yet to risk getting ourselves in over our head."
Asha's voice, when she speaks, is very, very small. "Your majesty, do you know what's going on at the Gateway?" They're cautious words, ones that try to cover a certain amount of pain, but ones with the dogged determination of duty behind them as well.
"You think we're not warring already?" Hasdrubal rasps. "The rest of them we treated with called Landry naught but a lot of pirates. If they're innocent, then we know for certain.. If they're not, then they need to feel a sting. Or does your Highness think we might save good relations with Landry.. after their King tried to kill ours?" that last was perhaps needlessly sharp, but Hasdrubal offers no apology. "Either way-" he goes on, "We have a chance none of the outside nations have been given; We need take it. Looking weak and afraid in from of Tyr will cripple us.."
"Yes," Mena states simply to Asha, nodding slowly. "And I am sorry for your discomfort, but I'm sure it will be over relatively soon." And that is all the answer she is giving on that. She then nods to Hasdrubal. "I agree. This is not a time for us to look weak, especially with the Emperor being in the state he is in. But here is my question. If everyone on the outside is so against Landry, a land of pirates, why has nothing been done so far? Is not Tyr a naval force to be reckoned with? Why have they done nothing thus far? Or have they, and I just do not know?"
"May I offer... is it possible to bolster our defenses, as another focus of things? Is there anyway to set any magical warning on the Barrier, such that if any demon passes through it sets off alarms in the same way that alarms are set off in the castle here? I don't know if it's possible... it's just a thought I had," Annabelle grows quiet afterwards again though, not wishing to add to the chaos.
Asha nods to the Empress, then closes her eyes, trying to chase down the thread of the conversation as she sinks deeper into one corner of the chair into which she was deposited.
Prince Xander glances at Annabelle approvingly. "That would be a question we should ask of the Mogur, I would think ... and as for your question, Mena ... hell if I know. Landry wasn't on our map. I have no idea how to find it, and the sailors I spoke to from Tyr didn't either. But according to Red, the winged 'Queen' of his was a prisoner ... perhaps her people know how to find it. I haven't spoken to Red at great length ..."
Hasdrubal smirks. "Here's why-" he rasps to the Empress, "None of them can find the bloody place. Tyr sails in with it's great ponderous warships, and the pirates melt with the wind. Fortune is with us.. Landry's ships- if the Dagger is any indication, their best ship is a match for one of my common galleys. Now a body isnt saying 'charge off with the tide'.." that is to Xander, "A body is saying we bide our time, learn all we can from the survivors- THEY can tell us how to find the place.. and drop a big bloody hammer on the bastards."
Mena nods slowly, pressing her lips together tightly for a moment. "Biding our time is of course a better course than charging off. And perhaps, if Tyr is as willing to align with us as they say they are, we can consider making it a joint venture. Those of the Tyrian contingent have been /very/ eager to speak with the prisoners we have remaining from the Landry ship that landed."
"You're dreaming," Xander says, shaking his head. "Tyr can't find them, but we're going to? I remind you that the point of the Imperial navy is to protect the /Empire/ - how will you do that if you're searching the south sea for an elusive land of pirates? And if one of their party was a prisoner, perhaps the rest are as well. I know Rourke wouldn't condone punishing innocent people for the crimes of a demon." He shakes his head. "I know you're both angry, but this is madness, to speak of starting a war from our current position."
"Maybe we should find out more about Landry itself before we decide," Asha notes in a quiet voice. "For all we know, they won't be able to hold together without leadership, like a mercenary troop. Not that I like the idea of lots of /little/ pirates running around, but they might be easier to deal with."
"I do think though - the thought of an alliance with Tyr against Landry - it does make sense either way, whether or not we act openly against Landry in any 'obvious' way, or bide our time. Assuming there are no complications with Tyr, or reasons we shouldn't ally with them... it would benefit trade with their Country, no?" Annabelle quietly interjects once more.
"Tyr wants us for thier colony again," Hasdrubal rasps flatly. "Don't involve them. Everything they've shown a body has been to prove how much more important they are.." To Xander, a disdainful snort, "Prince.. We can find them, because Tyr never took any of thier number prisoner.. Mayhap the rest *are* prisoners.. ought'nt we go free them? Not madness, lad, but plain sense. Thier leader is dead, this is the PERFECT time to hit.."
Mena lifts a hand in a gesture of pause. "Let us put Landry aside for the moment, for if we do not get the information needed from the prisoners, this is a moot conversation. We /are/ protected by the barrier, so we do have the time to wait. Let us move on to Tyr. I have heard from a number of people that they consider us a colony, and they did for some time even before the barrier was raised. They will learn quickly enough that we are our own Empire. We do not /need/ them, outside of trade for what Green Fields cannot provide this year. And even then, there are other lands out there. I have yet to speak more at length with their Ambassador, but I would have your opinions on their forces and navies. For if they choose to blockade us in for any reason, they we do have a spot of a problem." To put it lightly.
"I don't trust Tyr." This, apparently, is the sum of thoughts Asha can muster at the moment, crossing her arms tightly over her chest, eyes still closed.
Prince Xander shrugs. "Well, there's a reason I'm not on the council, I suppose," he says. "I haven't the experience any of you have in matters like these, but for whatever it's worth, I still advise against it." AS to the Empress' next question, he sighs. "I can be of little help to you there, Mena. I was quite ill during most of our stay in Tyr's isolation port."
Anna can be of even less help on the matter of Tyr, thus it is that she grows quiet again, watching and listening to all said.
Mena's lips quirk only slightly. "With all due respect, Your Grace, you don't trust anyone."
Hasdrubal snorts. "They already did." The bastard admiral mutters. "Tyr had two of it's biggest ships posted at the gate in the Barrier when we got there. And not meant to answer to us. Vincente talked- he's good at that, and in the end the Keeper's name made them shove off, but the statement is bloody plain: they can blockade us if they want." A slowly drawn breath. "Thier Navy is bloody massive. More than two hundred ship, with hundreds aboard each. They all drive by sail, and they handle sluggish, compared to a galley, but.." Another snort. "Only a madman would pick to face them in a battle. But as Landry proves- fast ships handled well make thier great bloody Fleet is about as effective as a blind man in an art gallery." A drawn breath. "But if they blockade us, so be it. They can;t get in, and we can manage on our own.
"Yes, well, Tyr deserves to be not trusted. Hasdrubal and I even agree. That counts for double or something." Asha's hand shakes as she pinches the bridge of her nose, drawing in a sudden, deep breath before letting it out slowly.
Anna's brows arch high at the mention of a potential blockade by the Barrier. That would seem to give her some cause for concern about them, though she still keeps her peace.
Mena listens quietly, breathing slowly as she does so. "And I am very glad that you were recovered to return home, Highness. When we heard of your illness, we were very concerned. As for trusting Tyr, of course I don't. I don't immediately trust anyone, in truth. And I trust them even less now with the news you bring, Admiral, of the attempted blockade. This doesn't make me happy to hear at all." She pauses, frowning. "But we must try to go forward with relations, as we cannot let our people starve. And if we want to trade with other nations, we must remain in somewhat good relations with them, else they will block us in."
"Pardon if I am not making much sense, and jumping topics," Mena murmurs. "My mind seems in a thousand places at once."
Hasdrubal shrugs at the apology offering no comment. "Some good news, though.."
Duchess Asha nods slightly to Mena's last words, clearly trying to concentrate herself. "Good news?" she asks quietly, a precious tone of hope.
"I think you are doing amazingly well, Majesty, and I am in awe of how you are dealing with everything. Truly." Anna's words are spoken sincerely, intended as a gesture of support.
"Good news would be more than welcome, Admiral," Mena says to Hasdrubal.
Mena smiles faintly at Anna, a grateful look.
"Maehdros are bloody barbarians, but they're honest, and straightforward. Saeros is the sort who'd make a good friend, and a poor foe. Plus, he's half won to our side, already- and has no love of the Tyrish." A drawn breath, "The feathered Queeen.. the one Jareth had taken prisoner.. Her mother is Queen of the Harpies.. They promised trade and good relations just for bringing news she still lived.. Imagine they'd do more to have her returned. there's other countries as well.. We were a half day out of a place called Leuvier when we turned the flotilla back home. Allies of Tyr, but peaceful. Diplomats, and merchants. Might make a good place to start establishing ourselves.."
Prince Xander arches a brow and looks over at Hasdrubal. "Illyrians. Not Harpies."
"I like Maehdros," Asha says quietly. "They remind me of the clansmen back home. I know how to deal with that. And I liked the Illyrian woman, as well. If we're choosing allies, I'd rather have both of them than the Tyrians."
Hasdrubal affects a crooked grin, "A body keeps mixing those up... Oh," he adds, looking back to Mena, "That's where Warnock picked to stay. took a shine to a featherbed, and shares it with the Queen's second daughter."
Mena does listen closely to all the advice given, gaze moving between each in the room. "I did have a long conversation with the Prince, and I find him very blunt and straightforward as well, which I do prefer over the pretty political lies that others often offer. As for the Illyrians, I have yet to speak to...," she trails off, eyebrows shooting up at Hasdrubal. "Master Etienne is the one that stayed behind?"
Prince Xander grins at Annabelle. "The thought never even crossed /my/ mind," he assures her. HE doesn't mention that he was sick in his cabin for their whole stay in Illyria.
Anna can't help but quip a smirk at Hasdrubals call of the Illyrian's being Harpies. She's still quiet though, and turns to look at Xander's hands, a small frown at the sight of his bandaged wrist again. His good hand though, idly she lifts up so as to press a kiss to the back of his hand. She grins back at Xander for his comment and replies, "Good, or I would be forced to hunt you down and castrate you, love."
The talk of staying behind with Illyrians seems to drive Asha's train of thought off its tracks again, leaning deeper into her chair with a brief, pained look as she rubs a hand over her face.
Hasdrubal rasps, "Aye." A slowly drawn breath. "Then again the Harpies wanted a body to stay, so there's no clue toward any good taste." A snort. "We'll need a second trip out there, obviously. Missed half the world on this one."
"Oh, pardon.." Hasdrubal adds, without any sincerity in his voice, "A body meant *Illyrians*."
Mena gazes at the Admiral for a long moment, her expression unreadable before she nods slowly. "I know the Emperor would wish a second trip, yes. Especially with the success of the first, even with the incident with Landry. But let us first deal with your return and the arrivals we already have. So. Our consensus is Maehdros is more trustworthy than Tyr, but we have to play nice with Tyr for now so they don't turn on us." A short pause. "Prince Saeros the Red wishes Lady Sared for his wife."
"Prince Saeros is a few tiles short of a roof," Asha mumbles under her breath.
"Did you tell him he'd have to fight Red for the right of her hand in marriage?" Mena suddenly asks Asha.
"That would be one way to form an alliance," Xander opines. "Does she want to marry him?"
"I don't know," Mena answers Xander. "I've not yet had a chance to speak with her at all."
"Not exactly." Asha lets out a heavy breath as she drops her hand from her face. "He wanted to challenge me for her. I told him she wasn't mine to give, and if he wanted her, he could challenge her for her own hand. I'm not convinced he's very bright. Or he is very bright, but he's choosing not to apply it to this. Or he's just a superstitious clansman. They do this sometimes, just for the sheer glee of making my life difficult."
Hasdrubal holds Mena's gaze while she leaves it on him, "Aye, that's the notion." Turning then to Asha, "Aye.. A body beat him bloody, and the lad came back with a barrel of ale, and a grin. Wish every place were that kind of crazy." Turning again toward the Empress. "Maehdros is trustworthy, so long as we look strong. Tyr are self important asses, but we're stuck with them for the nonce.. Illyria will be friendly, but stay apart.." Back to Asha, "Oh stuff yourself, little sister. The Sared girl did her part damnably well.. and if she'll have the lad, we've got our alliance."
"/I/ don't care if she marries him," Asha says, raising her hands. "Really, I don't. I just don't want to deal with /her/ giving me sullen looks for the rest of her natural life thinking I sold her off or something."
"The man was very put off that it was insinuated that our custom was for him to challenge who he wished to wed," Mena says with a shake of her head. "I'd like to deal with the Prince myself, in the future, so if he has problems, please do direct him to me. He is reasonable, if easily angered. But I'm quite used to that."
Hasdrubal hrhs under his breath. "Deals well enough with a body. If'n you want something done with him that is'nt dignified to broach yourself, just say so.. Which reminds me.." Hasdrubal rises lazily to his feet.
Anna leans her head gently against Xander's shoulder as she listens to everyone discussing various matters, none of them which she has, or should have any particular say in. But she's happy, and unbelieveably content. And actually, quite tired too since she barely slept a wink the previous night for excitement of everyone getting back. She closes her eyes, just a little as she smiles. Except that that little becomes a little more. And then she starts to accidentally drift off to sleep as a contented little Anna kitten, though she would be mortified if she realized she was doing so, here, in front of everyone else. Ahh well, sleep is bliss especially upon a Xander shoulder.
"Thank you, Admiral, I will keep that offer in mind. He did speak very highly of you," Mena says, watching the man as he gets to his feet.
"I'm not going to walk around apologizing for his inability to understand /our/ culture," Asha snorts softly. "If he can't handle not being given what he wants, that's his problem. He never mentioned anything about it to me." She shifts in her chair, closing her eyes again with another deep, balancing breath. "I don't care," she says tiredly. "Whatever you want."
Prince Xander smiles to himself as Annabelle falls asleep on his shoulder, and slips one arm around her to keep her there as he continues to listen to the various discussions. "Perhaps you should take time to speak to her, Mena," he suggests, meaning Narjis.
Mena nods to Xander. "I do plan to very soon. I've kept her waiting quite a bit. But it could not be helped, really."
"Surely she can't blame you," Xander agrees. "And as her circumstances have improved a hundredfold in /our/ care versus Jareth's, she ought to even be grateful. Perhaps you should take Red with you when you speak to her - they spoke together quite a bit on the ship. In fact it was the feather that Narjis gave Red that got us an audience with the Illyrian."
No doubt the knights in attendance with tense slightly as the least trustworthy individual in the room lazily looses the bindings hold his plain hilted broadsword on his belt. Still sheathed, he holds it midway up it's length, and steps toward where Mena sits. "Your husband named a body Admiral. Not you. And seeing as how it's your word on the throne now-" The arm holding the sword is held out to Mena, lengthwise. "If you want rid of a body, now is the time. Take this and keep it if you want another for your Admiral. Take it and give it back, if you want me. But know that what a body does.. I do my way. I'll give my word, if you'll have it."
Asha remains curled up in the corner of her chair for the moment, dragging a hand quietly through her hair, knotting it loosely at her nape.
Mena rises slowly to her feet, accepting the sword from Hasdrubal carefully. "My husband did name you Admiral, Hasdrubal," she agrees with a slow nod, looking down at the sword as her fingers curl around the thing tightly for a moment. "And I have no want, or need to change it." She takes a deep breath, then does offer the sheathed blade back to the man. "My husband has faith in your ability, as do I. The navy is yours to lead, Admiral. You have more than proven yourself worthy of it. I do understand that you make your own way in the world, but... I like the way you do things. As you chose to serve my husband, I only hope you continue to serve me in his stead."
"So be it," Hasdrubal rasps. A deft action of his hands and the sheathed sword is bound once again to his right side. "Any further need you have for the nonce?" he asks of the Empress, before either leaving or reclaiming his chair.
Asha stiffens suddenly, eyes opening more than they have since she arrived. "It's done," she says, awkwardly trying to push out of the chair and stopping with a pained look of frustration the moment her feet hit the ground. There's no way she's going anywhere without her crutches.
Prince Xander watches that odd ceremony with interest, giving Mena a reassuring smile if she happens to look his way, but he does not speak to interrupt it.
Mena shakes her head to Hasdrubal, giving the man a slight smile. "No, not for now. Perhaps we can speak more tomorrow, however, when my mind is more at peace. Thank you for all of your efforts on the voyage, and.... welcome home." She glances for a moment to Asha, then to Xander before looking back to the Admiral and inclining her head.
Hasdrubal mutters, "Hrh," to the welcome home, before offering a short bow, and turning to withdraw. He has captured pirates to speak with...