CHAPTER 142: SUBTERFUGE
Acro is the city of lights, of commerce and knowledge’ many would exclaim. All of these statements is true and become a source of pride for Arrandians and envy for others.
It is acknowledged that the great city is the center of culture, trade and knowledge in the human continent, in a city ruled by the powerful family of Vermont who bear the crest of the dragon and who their offspring all have white hair, a family regarded by some as royalty itself, with influence reaching to the whole continent with its trade empire.
The gold of their family is reputedly is even more than any other Kings in the continent, which is why they could afford lavish feast and banquet and can hire anyone they want.
And as the famed family grew in power, so does the city they ruled forming a city that is both strong militarily and economically.
The city is filled with hundreds of thousands of people every day from all walks of life. But today the air of the city in one particular part of the city is constricting, fill with ominous silence and people only hear whispers and guarded conversations.
Usually the city would be packed with people; every street will be filled with chatter, gossips and conversation.
Traders and merchants selling their wares, whalers and scholars could be seen striking up conversation however today a few weeks before the end of the year, the streets of Acro near the Administration quarters, something odd is happening.
There is no chattering, no merchants or traders as today the great lords and great houses from all of Arrandy is congregated there coming with their vassals lords and retainers.
Why this host of great men all over Arrandy is is congregated here with all their might their house possesses come here?
What could possibly, who could possibly summon them all?
There is only one man in the entire region of Aetherland that has this much authority to summon all this noble houses.
Arial the Central Celestial and the Prince of Arrandy, and it’s great Duke.
Arial exploits at the martial arts tournament has spread among the noble lords who has ties with the martial art world community and as such they are all became more intimidated at the young lord summoning them.
The question of the Vangua matter. The Invasion that the Duke of Arrandy has proposed. Whether they will follow the Duke to battle or sit this one out.
However seeing this somber mood, Arial who is sitting on the large wooden chair with its entire splendor, he instantly recognized there is far less enthusiasm for the invasion of Vangua than at the original conclave of Arial inner circle.
But Arial believe in the loyalty or at least their sense of benefit of what they can get by joining the war.
And if they do not agree….and this time he smiles…he has already formed a plan.
Then he question with his voice booming in the large hall.
‘Today we are gathered here with one purpose in mind. A great venture to the south of our border, to an enemy that does not back down, who regarded our pride as inconsequential, a thorn in Aetherland legitimacy, a pretender of some sort. And I have summoned you all of you here with one specific task in mind.’
Arial look at the faces of his vassal lords, lords that have an alliance with his family and those who have bend their knee to the Vermont during the last war.
The Blacktons, one of Arial most loyal bannermen is not here, guarding the southern border with House of Ormont and the Three Brothers.
‘Tell me who will contribute to my venture of Invasion’ Arial said arrogantly and then he sits himself down waiting for the response of the noble lords.
However the noble lords look at Arial with complicated expression and one could sense that these meeting did not exactly happened like Arial had expected.
The whisper rises with volume, as the chattering in secrets become more and more loud, and shouting began, like a concerted effort, a pre-planned objection to the young lord proposition.
There is some unspoken agreement between these lords, a plot Arial had expected but never this much of concerted effort to undermine him.
There is uproar among the crowd with each voicing their dissatisfaction to the young lord with great objection.
‘My lord, just because you wanted to invade Vangua and settle your personal score with Harald why should we be the one enduring it? This is your great war, your battle.’
Some of the noble lord protested.
‘True, my lord. It is our armies that will bleed, and it is we that need to burden their loss. What about our lands? Our farms? Who will man it? Who will farm when we go to war? Your land is bountiful and trades is in abundance but what about ours? Our land is small and as such we need to constantly guard it from internal and external enemies, my lord.’
They all said and voice their opinion seeing that the other lord speak.
‘Please consider our plight.’ Some of them try a different approach by begging.
‘This is too arrogant of you Duke Arial. You had simply assumed you had our support and then question us? You may be the lord of Arrandy but we are lords too. Your might is great but do you think our might is inferior?’
Vociferous opposition was expressed.
Then Lord Robert expresses his opinion loudly and confidently.
‘This enterprise is impossible, Duke Arial.’ He began his statement.
‘Vangua is strong and now with its land doubled their drafted army is logically bigger than before. The necessary manpower that will be needed to fight such a large force could not be raised in Arrandy alone, and not only that, what about us? You might have the means to acquire supplies for your army but how about us who have little land for themselves, with little more army then yourselves? We lacked the resources to finance such a massive endeavour. We might even starve before we see Vangua soil, die under the winter cold. As the representative that oppose this plan of yours, the rest of us asked for more time to deliberate on this important matter’
‘Y..OU! HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN YOUR OATH!’ Arial was about to hurl his insult when Silas stayed his lord hands.
‘Patience, my lord. There is nothing to be gain by losing your temper here. We have a plan remember?’ he whispers to his lord ears.
Arial recognized the wisdom in Silas words and calm down his boiling hearts.
Arial sit back down at his chair and look and glare murderously at the noble lord and they all avert their gaze from that intense glaring.
Arial was thinking….should he force them? With his army…if he raises them…surely…No he decided.
That would only work for a short period of time and in the long term it will prove to be disadvantageous for him.
Then with heavy hearts Arial said
‘Then this meeting will be adjourned. A month from now we will meet here again to discuss this matter again. At that time I hope our differences can be resolved’ he said his voice is bitter.
The Duke disappointed with the result of the meeting did not even greet the noble lords and even his vassal as he open the huge door of the hall, his grumbling and complaints is reflected clearly on his expression.
The other noble lord is also uncomfortable by rejecting the duke offer but there are too many things that need to be considered.
And they all have decided this before entering the meeting, a coalition spearheaded by Lord Robert of House Dudley.
They have been persuaded that Arial quest is a fool errand and one that would weaken their house.
Robert did not do this out of malice but out of fear of failure.
His land is vast but not that vast to send an army to a foreign expedition, just to uphold his oath.
But if he objected alone the young lord request then the young lord will make him a target and everyone knows how the young lord treats his enemies.
With contempt and merciless anger.
So, he persuade many of the noble lord using the line of thought, of emotional argument, telling them of the young lord unrivalled ambition and what that would mean to the other noble lords.
And this way, the young lord could not really blame everyone.
Even if he did blame everyone, he could not fight the entirety of Arrandy else he ruin his chance and stability that Arrandy has achieved.
And today, he succeeded.
In one word, the meeting is a failure. And yet, the meeting is far from over and unease spread among this coalition of noble lords.
IN A SECRET MANSION IN ARRANDY
The night is cold since winter has come.
The snow has fall last week and the roads are painted white, the shop closed early, families return home and huddled up near the hearth with their families telling old stories, gossip about their lords and their ladies, about everyday life, it’s wonders and horrors and the premonition of a war that is coming.
The story of everyday life that is peaceful and never changing.
Earn some gold for the family, getting home, greeted by their family, exchanging stories and enjoy the simple pleasure that life has given them.
The life of an honest man.
That is the lives of a common folk, one that Arial Vermont once use to enjoy…a normal life with a normal parents.
But such privilege is lost on the house of great noble lords.
In winter, they do not hibernate, they do not rest, for plots are year round and intrigues and machinations is moving every day from old enemies and new, from rivals and nemesis all wishing them ruins.
They have no rest day from this kind of stressful life of lying and backstabbing and today is the same.
And tonight is the testament to their life. A choking existence, a kind of life, a life of lies and secrets where honesty and sincerity is hard to find, even nearing impossibility.
Tonight in a mansion near the city of Acro just outside of the city wall, many people can be seen entering a mansion, all walking in a suspicious manner, looking left and right fearing to be recognized, to be noticed.
Their coach stopped in front of the mansion and the people that get out from the coach are all man of power, each one a great noble lord of Arrandy and Althea, reputable and noble figures.
The meeting was adjourned a few weeks ago but the noble lord in the meeting did not go straight home.
How could they, with all the unease in their hearts and the dread they feel from the young lord, the cold attitude the young lord has displayed and the trepidation of the young lord unpredictable action?
They know they have offended the Dragon and they are trying to solve this matter with the Dragon and the Crowned Sword in Vangua without getting into war.
If Arial could hear their thoughts, he would have scoff at them on their naïve thinking. War has already being waged the moment Arial declare it.
And he has already taken all the necessary steps to ensure his victory.
Of course the noble lords, not all of them could see the young lord careful planning and cunningness, neither do they believe in the might of the young lord to take on the huge Vangua land but this is the Dragon they are talking about.
He has planned this from the beginning, seen all the variables and sure of his victory. Some lords are not present here.
Those that supported the young lord, like the Blacktons, Lonnes, Aldrey, the Palais, Lethe are not present here.
Ormont is also not present. These are Arial inner circle, those who swear fealty and utmost loyalty to the Vermont rule.
However their objective for coming late at night, in a cold winter, attending this dubious meeting is all in the sake of reconciling their differences with their lord and as such they have chosen an intermediary that they know the dragon would listen.
When they enter, they all take their seat waiting for their guest of honour. Their hope lies with this one man.
The man is living inside the city of Acro with his wife and son, so by midnight he will surely show himself.
It has taken many weeks since the meeting for the noble lords to persuade that man to come and listen to their appeals and persuading the man to speak on the behalf of them to ease the young lord anger.
Everyone knew that the young lord is fuming with anger in his castle right now. It’s not like it is a secret that the young lord find the unwillingness of the other noble lords on backing him on his quest, infuriating.
Then when all of the noble lords that oppose Arial plan has arrived they waited in the great hall with anticipation and hope.
They all waited in silence and not many of them strike up a conversation with the other, each one taking a considerable distance with each other.
They do not come here to chat.
They come here on an important errand, an errand that would probably decide their house fate.
Then suddenly they heard the sound of a carriage outside, arriving with the horses neighing outside.
‘Quickly open the door’ Lord Robert barking orders to the attendants.
There is some excitement on his voice, clearly he has felt happy that the man has arrived after the intense and suffocating silence of the great hall.
The attendants run to the front door and open it quickly and finally the noble lords fear is dispel.
He had arrived. The Snake has arrived. Silas enter with his usual theatricality, scanning the noble lords and his surrounding with his hawk like eyes, like nothing escape his wistful gaze.
Looking at the worry faces of the other noble lords, Silas had half a mind to chuckle. And then he laugh, a jovial kind of laugh, dispelling the anxiety of everyone present.
‘HAHAHA. My fellow friends. I have arrived, and surely as day come after night, I have come to bring you Light’ he said with a hint of theatricality entering the scene.
Many of the nobles are accustomed of Silas making a scene so they treat it like always, a normal behavior of one of the most cunning men ever to be employed by the Vermont’s.
He struts and then he sits at the top seat in the hall.
‘So my friends, why the sullen looks? Be happy. Be merry. It has been a long time since we meet, though the last time we meet we part with a bitter taste’ he said as the attendants come and pour some wine for him.
He sipped the wine a little then he put it back down.
He looks at Robert his eyes squinting and he smile his usual mischievous smile, showing a very childlike mischievousness smile, like a kid in front of a sugar store.
‘So I heard your request Robert. Sheesh. I have told you. I have advised you when you propose this to me a month ago. I have told you it is futile. It is risky. Yet, you in your stubbornness…never listen. Now he is fuming with anger. And you know how he is. It is not easy to soothe his anger. That is why I say not to mess with our lord.’
‘I do not have any other choices old friend. This I have told you in detail. My land, my men are mine to squander and following the young lord…to war even-‘
‘You fought in the last war’ Silas interjected.
‘In Aetherland. In the Dukedom. Not in a foreign land. Not against a Kingdom so much bigger than us. I have no choice but to oppose the young lord request’
‘People always have choices Robert. They always have. They just don’t know it or not wise enough to know. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. So better make it count, Robert. Though most of the times they are just blind into see what is in front of them.’ He said it with a smiling expression, a malevolent one….though that is his default expression.
Silas is seen smiling from the top of the chair. Of course the nobles don’t know they are making a mistake right now.
To ask Silas to be an intermediary.
Silas then asked
‘Tell me your worries and let me see if the situation can be salvaged. Let light in and I will shine away the darkly shadows’ Silas said quoting the Book of Light again as his prologue.
They then expressed their terror of crossing the border and pointed out the reason why their refusal is not against the sacred oath of fealty to lord Arial.
Robert explained to Silas that their obligation does not extend outside of Arrandy which means in Vangua their fealty is void.
They were not bound to serve beyond the borders is the argument they are making against their unwillingness to aid Arial Vermont on his conquest.
Silas listened to these reason and their complaint with great patience, not once his facial expression change, and showing nothing whether he is pleased or displeased.
After hearing their argument Silas decided he had heard enough.
‘I have listened to your argument and I have understood your plight.’ He declares. Then he turns his gaze to Robert.
‘Robert as a courtesy to old friend, I will accept to act as a go between this coalition of yours and our lord, the dragon’
The noble is ecstatic with Silas reply and his willingness to help them. They cheer Silas with happy hearts, believing this matter is solved.
‘However’ Silas said amidst the cheer and the jubilant cheer stopped. They all knew Silas always have a price.
But what does he want this time? Silas is a man that can be bought but only with the right price.
Of course these noble lords underestimate some qualities that made him great in Arial eyes.
And that is the unshakeable loyalty to Vermont family.
‘Not gold’ Silas said and sigh of relief reverberated in the hall.
‘I want full power to act as an attorney to your cause. I will consult you and the lord…..on my terms’
The other listening to this reasonable request from Silas doubt him no longer and quickly they agree with this.
Then he feast that night with the other noble lords, while telling them that he will visit them, a few days later.
Of course the coalition of noble lords could not know that Silas is Arial eyes and ears, a wily politician of Arial, whose outstanding quality, a redeeming quality of his cunningness is his outstanding loyalty.
It is an alternative plan concocted by Silas when Robert sends the letter to oppose Arial venture.
Sipping wine and drinking the ox soup, Silas has already begun his infiltration, his subterfuge.
He has brought his chatur pieces to the table and the Councilor has made its moves.
And once a councilor moves, no lies remains undiscovered, no plots ever hidden….and Silas is waiting for his lord to bring out the Knight piece to the table.
Or is it the Dragon piece he will bring to the table? Silas chuckle a bit, imagining the fun thing that will happen.
Certainly this is the life for Silas. He never had a dull day in Arrandy.
But that night, in a mansion outside the city a feast is happening, and for now Silas will enjoy it for the momentous task ahead.