These Chartered Yet Unsettled Waters December #BlogBattle-Navigate

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‘Spoofle,’

Queen Gervalene’s muted outburst was as much a commentary as she would allow herself.

Both her grandfather Gerveg (The Rock) her father Gerveg II (The Just) had died early, their bodies giving out through the demands of their spirits and minds. The former through war, the latter at the demands of constructing an iron sure administration. Thus was Greymorell a stable, uniform and secure kingdom amongst a region of still dyspeptic neighbours.

Not one which had previously had a queen though. And a young one.    

Gervalene knew there were many unhappy about this. However, she was the only heir to her father and the laws were quite specific about The Line of Succession. Such were the heritages of her forbearers no one questioned The Law.

The Law, however, would not stop folk nagging her about the Supremacy of her Council, ‘Ware The Ethereal’ and naturally Marriage.

After her coronation she had spent twenty and five days at this wind and sea swept remote bastion. Contemplating. At least people respected that; The House of Nüchtern was ever serious and reflective. She was of The Blood and would do her duty.

Whatever storms. She rolled up her chart.

 

Queen Gervalene’s wish to ride the sixty miles back to Castle Verwaltung was in keeping with House of Nüchtern.

On arrival she was greeted by her trusted Lady of Service Liefje.

‘Your Highness. Chancellor Dringend and council await,’

‘Choppy waters,’ she added.

‘Of course,’ Gervalene said.

‘And sewerage spill,’

‘Oh,’

 

‘Your highness,’ Dringend observed the stride of Gervalene’s entry, still dressed in manly riding gear, gauntlets into her belt. No delay with changes into courtish dresses.

‘My Lords,’ she called as if hailing another in a fog ‘To business,’ 

Murmuring of approval.

Nonetheless Dringend felt it was his duty to ensure this young Queen listened and did as advised. Unforeseen problems had arrived.

‘Your Hghness’ promptness is to be praised,’ as always, he drew breath before he launched into the list of ‘matters’

Taking advantage of the calm before the storm Gervalene steered towards the table bearing a large map and being studied by Duke Krijgsman, commander of the Greymorallench army, of noble bearing, veteran, widowed.

Conventional courtly wisdom reckoned just the right husbandly material for a young untested queen.

All eyes were on Gervalene, evidently she was drawn to him. He smiled, benignly, a good open gambit.

She drew closer.

Finger traced along the map.

‘My dearest duke. I am comforted to see you studying our positions. With the empire still being young, it is necessary to consider our security and make good our loyalty,’ she leaned in focusing on a land two kingdoms away ‘The question of Accession in Unurhig threatens war, thus spilling into our fayre neighbours in Besorgt. Our emperor dislikes squabbles. Please invoke the Treaty of Wohlwollen. Our neighbour King Glücklos will be relieved we come to aid of both Besorgt and beyond,’

Krijgsman appeared conflicted, then resolved. Whereas he had intended to make initial maneuvers for the queen’s hand, going back to his youth he had a particular loathing for the trouble making faction in Unurhig. Gervalene smiled encouragingly.

‘With all due speed your Highness,’ he said heart moving ahead of head and loins ‘Unurhig is a complex land, the campaign will take some time,’ It was, he felt only correct to let her disappointment down gently. As she had steered him to.

‘Good Duke, your attentions to duties does you credit,’ Gervalene said and swiveled to lock eyes upon a small man of attentive and eager poise, ‘Lord Ferris Clerke of Our Offices. Please draft correspondence of Emperor Lexor explaining our intention in this is to support the empire and request our consideration for Duke Krijgsman to be elevated to a General for the Imperial Throne,’

Krijgsman’s beam of pride was equaled by that of Ferris’. Ferris had yearned often not just to record the word of the Throne of Greymorell, but to draft on its behalf. The honour of trust. Oh Joy!

 

Dringend already distracted was caught off guard by the speed and astuteness of Gervalene’s moves which he had to admit were flawless. The marriage matter would be moved down the agenda. There were other sudden unwelcome issues.

‘He’s got the Tightening Nostrils; father warned me about those. Here come the serious squalls, and watch out for flying sewerage,’

 ‘Your Highness,’ Dringend said teeth gritted ‘Our own Arch Expeditor of The Lord God’s Word, Aufgeblasen has been unexpectedly, or so it seems, visited by Imperial Custodian Captain Ondsindet. They approach,’

Ah. The Sewerage,’

Gervalene had to assume Dringend had been, for once, outmaneuvered. There was mutual dislike between the Chancellor and senior fellow in the religious hierarchy of Greymorell. She had to assume this Ondsindet was another of the opportunistics looking to rise up the ranks. The Imperial Office of Religious Purity was full of them. A chancer seeing a new and young queen as easy pickings. Aufgeblasen by association must be trying for an imperial office.

Now for a hard tack into the wind as her old marine bodyguard would say.  

She appraised them in best emotionless regal style as her father had taught her. For when The Time came.

‘Gentlemen,’ she said. There were mental gasps. Displeasure. The Queen was not using either man’s title. When arrogantly challenged that had been her father’s opening response. She had been taught well ‘You concerns please,’

Aufgeblasen at seeing a younger female version of Gerveg faltered, playing for time coughed and cleared his throat, Ondsindet ignorant of the land’s heritage forged on. There was strong evidence of a spready of Whychery into ‘this realm’, it had been simmering but with the death of Gerveg II had moved to seize the prize, he did check himself by adding the words ‘during transition’, but Gervalene caught the message. ‘Instead of Ethereal he had used the abusive word ‘Whychery ’and not just insulted her but her father. Prepare to engage,’

‘Your solicitude is appreciated Captain Custodian,’ some imagined frost was in the air ‘This is weighty indeed. A regent must care for their people. Respect their emperor. But must above all serve The Good Lord God,’

Having made what probably would not be a very memorable statement she curtly ordered the two men to follow her. A glance from her Chancellor and the ceremonial guard fiercely stepped into the herd the two men.

Gervalene did not pay attention to the words trailing her or Aufgeblasen’s puffing to keep pace, anyway she was sure he knew what was coming. They steered the swift tack to port and she led them down a quiet corridor to an rarely visited room.  She knocked softly.

‘Please enter,’ came a quavery, friendly voice

Theologian To The Throne Geleerd had been middle aged in her grandfather’s years, unofficially he was known as The Conscience of House Nüchtern. It was known, but not spoken of, that he had been the only one who could steer both Gervegs away from some of their more frighteningly harsh ideas. He maintained an unswerving iron resolve to the moderate and could quote from all five holy books in a gentle but deep reproof to his target. Those who thought him a wandering old duffer were swiftly appraised otherwise.

Gervalene took his hands as he rose with greetings to her, his body seemed to rely on resolve to keep going.

‘Your Highness. How kind to visit,’ a twinkle came into his eye ‘And you dear Aufgeblasen,’ then a knowing look ‘A Captain Custodian too. I am honored,’

 Steering around the smidge of sarcasm Gervalene explained the reason for the visit.

‘Dear Master Geleerd,’ Gervalene spoke as grand-niece ‘These gentlemen,’ there could have been more frost and a chill breeze ‘Are concerned over matters of Ethereal Abuse in Our realm,’ one admonishing regal index finger rose as The Custodian began to say ‘Whychery,’ he got as far as ‘Wh’  ‘As your queen I would ask of you to discuss this with them,’

          ‘Of course, your highness,’ he said with much affection.

          He had been her Ethics tutor, he taught with humour. She still thought of him as an uncle.

          ‘I will instruct the guard to stay. To ensure there are no interruptions,’ these words were addressed to Ondsindet.

          And she left, Aufgeblasen full aware that there was going to be a remorselessly long discourse which would leave him floundering. Why he could not have avoided this? She had moved so fast. Ondsindet was on his own.

 

          The muted hub-bub stopped on her return.

          ‘Let us be seated good lords,’ she said ‘There must be more to discuss,’

          Dringend was impressed by her maneuverers, she was indeed of The Blood and presently he was in her wake. At his imperceptible nod others waded in with their own matters.

          As Gervalene could only grasp about one quarter of what was being said but assumed each proponent had his own possibly financial interest. To avoid the shoals of delay she agreed to proposals, although saying pointedly to the clerkes ‘Let the record show: On the advice of- ‘. Thus, when something went wrong, as it probably would, everyone knew who to blame. After the first two had doomed themselves, the others were less intense with their interests. Tax reform reducing the burden on the wealthy was completely dropped.

 

          The council ended. Two remaining. As Dringend gathered his papers Gervalene placed a hand softly on his arm.

          ‘This was all a test? I am sure you could have stifled clumsy Aufgeblasen without my help,’

          Dringend seemed to muse on the question.

          ‘The Regent will ever be the last bastion,’ he replied.

          As cryptic as the reply was she read the undertow.

          ‘I do hope The Captain Custodian is careful with his subsequent commentary. He should know how much in Fond Regard Dear Gerleed is held in our realm. And The Emperor would not like some mere Captain Custodian to upset such a loyal realm,’

          ‘Quite so Your Highness,’

         There was unsaid agreement.

          The Guards would report on words overheard. Agents disguised as peasants would record predictably sour comments made by the fellow on his journey out of the realm. It would all be managed and filtered to the Emperor.

          Ondsindet would be wrecked on the rocks of politics. Aufgeblasen would limp back to his safe habours and be compliant.

          ‘Marriage? Another day then?’

          ‘Quite so Your Highness,’

 

          In the deep night she surveyed her chart, it had served her well, warning of the dangers upon this stretch of the Sea of Life. Look to the Ethereal for guidance but never predictions. When her abilities had surfaced Geleerd was there to tutor her, as he had with her father. She learnt never to abuse the ability only to navigate with it. Her chart, crafted with her own skills. And never make much of this gift. Just a skill like any other.

 

          She slipped into bed welcoming arms enfolded her.

          ‘Long day sweetling,’ sympathised Liefje.

          ‘There will be the marriage thing,’ came the grumble.

          ‘Got an answer. Grand Duke Profugi. Younger son of Maggiore of Cisapline. His older half-brother wants him dead to tidy up the inheritance. It’s not unusual thereabouts. He’d make a good King Consort. The rank and station would remove him as a threat to his sibling. Thus, he would be happy to settle here,’

          ‘There will have to be children, ‘grumbled Gervalene in between yawns ‘I like children and would make it my business to cope with pregnancy and labour. It’s the starting which vexes me,’

          ‘Only a few times a year,’ Liefje said ‘after that he can run free, but discreetly. He will understand. It’s ever such a common arrangement these days. And you can learn to be friends. He is known to be affable and open minded,’     

‘A few times a year,’ Gervalene muttered as sleep advanced ‘Oh the duties my realm calls upon me,’ her hand squeezed Leifje’s ‘Be thou my guide sweet pilot,’ she said and slipped off to sleep.

          ‘Thine evermore sweet Captain,’ Liefje whispered in reply and kissed the sleeping head.

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Of Maze and Mists Folk (July#BattleBlog- Hatch)

The Maze Folk

          Threll, Invigilator Civic to Prince Machthaber of  Dienlich, was a man who wielded calm patience as a weapon of fearful effectiveness. Nobody wanted to be the one who caused him to lose his temper; in his usual demeanour he left an efficient enough trail of woe upon any who suffered his professional displeasure.

          ‘This is most unfortunate,’

          He sounded as if an unforeseen weather event was causing cancellation of an afternoon’s repose in his garden. However the slight furrowing of his brow warned the two before him. One was trying to keep the word ‘grave’ out of their thoughts; it gave a prescient air to matters.

          Both knew not to serve excuses up to Threll. Reasons and self-criticism were your best hopes; no babbling either. Calm and composed, was the way

          ‘Very unfortunate,’ Surveyoress Bekwaam said, contrition in her voice, encouraging her colleague.

          ‘Quite so,’ Surveyor Ervaren agreed.

          Threll considered the two of his senior staff.

          ‘Indeed,’ he said ‘And have you formulated how the deep coded false message to the rebel group to act, thus showing their hand actually contained a warning they had been compromised? It should have been impossible considering our failsafe programmes,’

          Bekwamm straightened clutching the file into the crook of her arm.

          ‘Three separate layers of code, each with their own clerkes did not account for clerical errors being transposed,’ she swallowed ‘We should have considered this,’ and handed The Analysis to her superior.

 

          Some days before.

          ‘Time to unlatch the hatch, and sneak the catch,’ the fellow trilled.

          Ven being the professional thief of the duo gripped the fellow. Palavelle by name, being a rogue Mechanical. His talents enabled him to work through a quadruple lock with three sets of alarms, his lack of common sense allowed him to announce his success to the locality and would have had him march into the final, least subtle but most effect trap.

          Two axes swung down from the walls in a criss-cross motion.

          ‘An’t you lucky,’ Ven hissed ‘I know the classics. Now let’s get in before someone comes to find out who is singing damn silly songs, this far from a tavern,’

          Once they eased passed the still slightly swaying blades Ven had the man relock everything.

          ‘Ah latch the catch. There’s the thing,’

          Why, Ven mused to himself did these rogue Mechanicals have to been so artisy and showy? They didn’t impress nobody down the working end of the City. After this job was done he’d have quiet words with his Guv’nor, Old Fryd about this one. Even if a contract was a contract, and the whole job was for someone, who might be acting for another someone else, if fellows like Ven Jek was caught, the last conversation would be with a rope.

          Meanwhile, get the business done. Hope everyone in the town house of a lesser duke, one Sabatch, placed too much faith in that lock and assumed it was doing all the work. 

          ‘Stop humming. This is no social visit,’

          ‘You should be happy in your work,’

          ‘I save, Happy, for when the job is over. Save all your talents for third door up on the left,’

 

          ‘It’s not a bad piece of work Guv’nor,’ Ven said handing over the ornately carved lapis lazuli statuette. Old Fryd surveyed with work with a veteran’s eye, but nonetheless passed it to the gang’s own antique expert.

          ‘Actually, very nice,’ the fellow said examining details through magnifier ‘Well done young Ven for bringing such a delicate piece out intact. I’ve seen a thousand golds literally knocked off the value through carelessness,’

          Old Fryd winced at the memories.

          ‘How was our,’ he coughed dryly ‘Specialist,’

          ‘Typical talented risk from the Comfy Class, getting his thrills,’ Ven said sourly. ‘Lucky, we didn’t raid some sort of professional Antique collector, not so legal,’ 

          Their own expert pulled a face.

          ‘They do get very cross and usually have accurate ideas where to express their displeasure. Did he pick up anything of for his own collection, a souvenir?’

          Ven shrugged.

          ‘He fiddled and nosed with a few bits; that was all. Shouldn’t use him again Guv’nor. Him and his damn sing-song silly rhymes. As if everyone appreciates them,’  

          ‘I’ll take care of those words Ven. That I will,’        

 

          Around the same time.

          ‘Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have the name of Hatchapatch,’

          Fegdale tightened putting down his newspaper in a sharp movement. The club was a place where one was supposed to sit and enjoy silence.

          ‘The matter has never occurred to me, Wingsleyden. In fact, I would say I couldn’t care two straws on the subject,’

          ‘Even so,’ the man had continued as if the matter were of fundamental philosophical concern ‘It would be fairly hard going for the poor fellow. You could make all sorts of poor jokes at his expense,’

          Fegdale glowered at Wingsleyden, who seemed unconcerned by the sight.

          ‘Why this sudden morbid interest in such an unlikely name?’

          Wingsleyden waved his own newspaper in response.

          ‘Why? Because I encountered the name in this journal. He’s suffered a ballooning accident at a farm cottage. And the bally paper has made light of it,’ his voice took on an injured tone as he waved the broadsheet in Fegdale’s face, pointing to a small column set aside for trivia ‘Hatchapatch Catches The Thatch In An Inflated Despatch,’

          The irony that one of the biggest fatheads in town was inadvertently blurting out a significance message was not lost on Fegdale. There was no time to reflect on such synchronicity. At least the warning had reached him sooner than the usual network of bemused gossip arising from a seemingly random quirky newspapers items. He grunted his excuse for leaving.

          ‘It comes to something when a fellow cannot find peace and quiet at his club,’

          The bustle of night time mixed with the steady autumn rain would provide distractions and cover. As watchman this was one of his roles. Raise the alarm.

 

          ‘This is very thorough, and it has to be said honest work,’ Thrall said to the pair, at the next meeting. ‘Taking full responsibility for all of your region’s status,’

          Ervaren took the lead.

          ‘We should have been more vigilant with the codes. Both in their drafting and overseeing. Complex systems need constant surveillance,’

          ‘Always a problem,’ Thrall agreed ‘ Balancing a system’s theoretical composition not to be compromised with its efficiency in practice,’      

          ‘Mistakes have been made, I hope lessons learnt,’ Bekwamm added ‘At least the rebels should be relatively easy to trace, with their nascent unprofessional approach,’ 

          ‘Yes,’ agreed Thrall ‘As the old tag-line goes. Good luck, bad luck. Who can say?’

          And sighed.

          The duo laughed, lightly.

          Slightly relieved.

 

          Palavelle relaxed and then only slightly when the coastline slipped from view. Even in uncouth company, being a simple conveyor dropping a message tube into an indifferent vase had been a thrill. All the fuss afterwards though; folk vanishing, strangers come to spirit you out of town. Far too rich a diet for him. Exile it would have to be.

          ‘Do you think he ever knew who he was working for?’ Ven Jek asked from the alley shadows as the ship sailed on.

          ‘Doubt it,’ Wingsleyden drawled glad to be relieved of his public voice.

          ‘Fribbin’ Comfies thinking it’s game,’ Ven spat. ‘Speaking code without checking,’

          ‘You try being one, year in year out chum,’ Wingsleyden said in grim humour ‘Forget your own name in a while, you will,’

 

          Fegdale was carefully drafting his confession, making sure it was officially obvious he had actually been working for the princedom as a decoy agent within the Dukes’ rebellion. That was what he had been told to write. He confessed to being quite wrong, the prince’s administration was very efficient. And was that not what everyone wanted? From his cell window he could see the scaffold. He shuddered thinking on his narrow escape.

 

          Maid Bekwaam comforted by her last herbal tea, walked composed to the scaffold. There was no more to be said. She had been caught in acts of treason. At least Thrall had assured her, her mother would be protected from the threats which had forced Bekwaam into the rebels’ hands. How they had targeted her was still being investigated. She was glad it was autumn, she would hate to be seen sweating.

 

          Bekwaam could remember the rope, it was silken, then the brief tightness. Now she was blinking? Someone was peering into her face with a magnifier. And she was breathing?

          ‘Yes. She is recovering,’ the someone said, her focus returned, he was elderly and maybe familiar?

          Two pairs of women’s hands raised her gently, sweet clear water to her lips, she knew enough to sip, and wait for clarity.

 

          She knew this one; Franzet ‘Old Fryd’ Durchtrieben. In criminal terms equivalent to nobility, always careful in his playing of sides. Thus, not surprising to learn now his network had found out her fate, unbeknown to her smuggled a powerful narcotic into her tea; the resulting feigned death, her coffin switched with another. All an effective rescue. Further details she might know eventually. Until then, be guardedly grateful.

          ‘Hello Miss Bekwaam. I won’t repeat the explanations. Glad to see you looking well,’ he tutted ‘Hate to see good resources wasted. Can’t have that,’

          ‘Thank you for thinking so,’ she replied, still a little croaky.

          ‘We’ll be easing you elsewhere. Five hundred myles south and west to Elinid. I expect you have a working knowledge about how that city is run. We have an agreement with the Silc clan there. They could use someone of your deductive and organisational talents. You’ll like it. Not so stuffy. Still spry enough to start afresh,’ he winked ‘And we’ll arrange for you to keep in touch with your old Mum. We got tender folk are already explaining basic matters to her, so it won’t come as a shock,’

          Bekwaam had to admit, currently this was a better outcome. She could not help but wonder if Thrall had some idea about this. A much broader and deeper game maybe.

 

          Ervaren brooded into the into the glass. He should have helped Bekwaam and not been instrumental in laying her upon Strategy’s bloody altar, our sacrifice of gratitude for a bountiful harvest of the treacherous, all to ensure our prince slept well.

          Without the usual knock the door to his study opened. His servant, a solid veteran entered, three men followed him, stern. Ervaren was familiar with the type, those who did not need to be obvious. He managed a harsh laugh and swilled his wine.

          ‘And so, the covering of the traces. My turn then,’ he raised his glass in a sincere salutation. ‘Make it quick and dignified. And Lave here, I bear you no ill-will,’

          One man of iron-grey short hair afforded Ervaren a softening of his expression.

           ‘Surveyor Ervaren. Your remorse and the urge for self-chastisement are understandable. However, these are pragmatic times. The empire’s stability always paramount. Invigilator Civic Thrall is willing for your talents to be seconded,’

          ‘Seconded?’ the effects of the wine flushed out by professionalism.

          ‘Yes,’ the voice was now shielded ‘The Invigilator understands he is too close to be effective on one issue. There are concerns regarding Prince Machthaber. Being the subject of avaricious potential rebellions does not exclude a prince from suspicion on other issues. You will receive instructions on methods of reporting,’ a thin smile ‘All for the stability of the Empire,’

          Later, pondering, Ervaren could not help but feel it could just as easily have been Bekwaam receiving those words. Imperial Stability was such an amoral concept.

 

          Duke Sabatch was vexed. Another occasion of Court People trampling through his town house. He would vet his staff better.

 

          Thrall made fresh entries upon the map of relationships and alliances. It would not do to lose track of who was who and what was being hatched by all sides. At least Sabatch was consistent, The Useful Idiot.