Double or nothingness
Abraham did not look happy.
"That leaves a loophole. One that seems at odds with the spirit of the treaty."
The magistrate ate another mouthful of egg while he considered this. It was bad enough that Abraham had come and interrupted his dinner, but talking about the Iron Confederacy always made him irritable. It was quite frankly ruining his meal. He was also much more aware than Abraham that their discussion was the focus of a certain amount of attention from the other people at the table.
"Certainly such a 'loophole' exists. But there would potentially be major diplomatic repercussions if the Empire exploited that loophole. The Suranni were quite clear in what they expected."
Abraham opened his mouth to argue, but Karkovitch raised his fork; he had not finished speaking and was not interested in interruptions.
"But the Senate cannot bind a future Senate. Any commission, such as the one being discussed by Dumon's Hand, would need to be officially authorised by the Senate. If they do so, it makes clear that they do not intend the law to apply to trades between individuals in the Empire, and only to trades from the Empire to the Iron Confederacy. But the Senate must still be aware that this will likely have significant repercussions."
Abraham considered for a moment.
"I see," he said slowly. "But I suppose it will only cause an incident if they are found out."
Karkovitch sighed, and put down his fork, pushing his unfinished meal away."They will get found out," he said a little sadly. "Eventually everyone gets found out."
During the Winter Solstice, the Imperial Senate passed a law banning "all sale and/or gifting of liao to the Iron Confederacy via ports or the Suranni-Imperial border, thus rendering any such trades being performed by Imperial citizens illegal." At the same time the Assembly of the Nine set the Silent Bell the task of investigation "if anyone of the Empire is trading liao with the Iron Confederacy."
Previous to this change to the law, it was not a crime to transport liao into the Iron Confederacy nor to give gifts of liao to Suranni individuals. Regardless of Imperial law, any merchant found transporting liao into the Iron Confederacy would have faced severe punishment from the Suranni templars. Now, all such trades are considered a crime by the Empire as well. However, thanks to its careful wording the law appears to still allow trade or gifting of liao to Suranni who are in the Empire. What they choose to do with the liao after they have received it is their own business.
Still, with the current fall out from the Liberty Pact sanctions and the unfortunate border incident it seems the impact of the new law may prove to be minimal in the face of the Suranni embargo on Imperial goods. Should the dispute with the Suranni be resolved, however, it would remain a crime for Imperial citizens to transport liao into the Confederacy for anything other than personal use.
The Silent Bell
- The Silent Bell has discovered information about a smuggling route transporting liao from southern Feroz into the Suranni territory of Arbonne.
- The Cardinal of Vigilance, Irada Von Temeschwar, will receive a full report.
The Silent Bell report to the Cardinal of Vigilance. They have identified a smuggling route dedicated to transporting large amounts of liao across the border from Feroz into Arbonne - the rugged territory the Empire knows as Kalino. In return, the smugglers are bringing significant amounts of metal including silver, green iron, and even small amounts of mithril into the Empire from Suranni sources. Evidence suggests that this may be the main route whereby the liao causing so much diplomatic issue for Imperial/Suranni relations has been entering the Confederacy. At the very least it seems that it is the avenue that the allegedly anarchist priests among the Suranni slave revolt secured their supply of liao.
The Silent Bell have not taken direct action against the smugglers. The rumour at Anvil is that they have identified a camp with a stockade, garrisoned by suspected criminals. They continue to flout the new laws, and are actively engaged in smuggling liao into the Confederacy. Anyone who wishes to know more should seek out the Cardinal of Vigilance, Irada von Temeschwar.
One important matter which the Cardinal will need to bear in mind is that there is no sign that the criminals responsible for maintaining the smuggling route are Suranni - rather they are likely to be Imperial citizens. Should the Cardinal organise a strike against these criminals, it would still be illegal to kill any of them without trial - they may wish to liaise with the magistrates to ensure that their response is appropriate and does not itself lead to more criminal behaviour. That said, it seems unlikely the criminals are likely to consent to being returned to Anvil.
- A representative of the Dumon's Hand is interested in working within the law to keep the flow of liao open.
In Spring 382YE, the Imperial Synod declared support for a Suranni rebel group known as the Dumon's Hand. The Hand are a secretive cabal of Suranni magicians, in a land where the practice of magic is both a crime and a blasphemy. They claim to be spiritual cousins to the Empire, recognising the virtues and using liao ceremonies as part of their opposition to the government of the Iron Confederacy. With the institution of the new law, it seems they are concerned that they may be about to lose their access to the liao they desire.
The Dumon's Hand are a secretive organisation - given that they face horrible execution if discovered this should come as no surprise. The Hand have established a "dead drop" of sorts that they have shared quietly with some Imperial contacts. Imperial citizens interested in communicating with the Dumon's Hand may do so via winged messenger sent to an Evangeline Sirav who will ensure the message reaches the leaderhip of Dumon's Hand - or at least the leaders of one of the larger cells. How long she will remain able to do so in the face of opposition from the Suranni templars is impossible to predict.
According to recent communications, Dumon's Hand is still interested in receiving aid from the Empire. They have already proposed a deal involving securing access to Imperial rituals in return for mithril, but there seems to be little sign of interest in this exchange from the Imperial Conclave.
A Pact of Rust (Reprise)
- A ministry could be commissioned to allow Dumon's Hand to acquire liao in return for valuable Winter vis.
There is also a suggestion that the Empire support their rebellious activities by endorsing a ministry that would allow agents to come to the Empire posing as merchants or pilgrims and purchase liao in return for a steady supply of heart's blood - Winter vis. During the Winter Solstice a judgement of rewarding raised by a Dawnish priest named Chauntecleer Words seemed to be gathering funds in support of the ministry.
The wording of the new law does not seem to rule out the creation of such a ministry; Imperial citizens would not be transporting liao across the Imperial/Suranni border nor bringing it into the Confederacy by port. What Dumon's Hand did once the liao was purchased would be their own concern.
|Total Liao Provided||Production|
|8 doses||2 doses of Heart's Blood|
|20 doses||7 doses of Heart's Blood|
|40 doses||12 doses of Heart's Blood|
|56 doses||17 doses of Heart's Blood|
The Empire could establish a ministry that would supply the rebel magicians with liao, in return for access to their significant reservoirs of Winter vis. The ministry would ideally be built somewhere in the south-western Empire, not too far from the Iron Confederacy. Previous suggestions it be built in southern Feroz or south-east Segura have been reconsidered given the new law and Suranni trade embargo. Now Dumon's Hand favours somewhere a little further away from the border - perhaps Kahraman, Madruga, Tassato, Sarvos, or even Casinea or Necropolis. The ministry’s function would be concealed from the Suranni as effectively as possible. It would most likely take the form of a small shrine, a nondescript inn or paradour, or a shop of some kind.
Commissioning the ministry will require a Senate motion or Imperial Wayleave, or an announcement by the Arcane Architect. It would cost 8 wains of white granite, 8 wains of weirwood, and 32 crowns in labour costs. Construction would take three months. The ministry would create an Imperial title, who would not only oversee the ministry and exchange liao for winter vis, but would also serve as a liason to the Dumon's Hand when they need to speak to the Empire. The obvious well worn path for appointing this ministry would be a judgement or appointment from an appropriate assembly of the Imperial Synod, or perhaps a declaration of candidacy from the Imperial Conclave depending on whether the ministry was seen to have a spiritual or magical emphasis.
The result would not only allow the exchange of liao for winter vis, but would give the Dumon's Hand the support they desire in fighting the Suranni dukes and priests. Obviously it would risk a severe diplomatic incident if the Iron Confederacy discovered its existence but all appropriate steps would be taken to conceal it from the Suranni.
Sweetest Tongue has Sharpest Tooth
- Some priests are concerned about the secretive beliefs of Dumon's Hand and request further, public, information.
While the Imperial Synod supported Palladius of Urizen in their claim that Dumon's Hand sought to lead virtuous lives, not everyone is so sure. In particular, a Highborn priest named Susanna of the Seventh Star is concerned that all is not as it seems. She is particularly worried about claims that Dumon's Hand "draw on a number of spiritual forces other than those recognised by the Imperial Synod". Wasn't one of the reasons given for turning against the slaves who had fled the Iron Confederacy their unrepentant use of auras related to malign spiritual presences? How would the use of such tools by the Dumon's Hand any different? Should the Empire, and the Synod in particular, not be more discerning in who it chooses to ally itself with?
Inspired in part by the mandate enacted by Shadrach of Felix's Watch that urges the Grey Pilgrims to reject False Virtues and idolatrous behaviour, Susanna suggests the Synod should gain a better understanding of Dumon's Hand, their practices, and their spiritual beliefs. While Palladius of Urizen vindicated Adal of Dumon's Hand, Susanna suggests that it may prove unwise or unvigilant to base the appraisal of an entire organisation on the word of one individual.
She points to the invitation presented to the Axou by the Assembly of the Nine during the Summer Solstice 381YE as an example of how the statement might be worded (Judgement 79). While she understands that invitation was related to an opportunity presented via the Ambassador to Axos, she is confident that if the statement were upheld with a greater majority, and a message sent to their agent, the leaders of Dumon's Hand would have little reason to decline.
The Highborn priest proposes that the General assembly raise a statement of principle calling for representatives of Dumon's Hand to come to the Empire after the Spring Equinox and share their spiritual understanding with the priests of the Way at a suitably neutral place. Ideally, she suggests, somewhere well away from the gaze of the Iron Confederacy where there would be no chance that Dumon's Hand representatives might endanger themselves. She suggests the White City itself, or perhaps the Seminary of the Swan in Reikos.
Truth is Truth
- A small number of priests require no futher evidence of the dangers presented by Dumon's Hand
A small number of priests go further than Susanna of the Seventh Star. Lead by Mitra the Uncompromising, an Urizeni illuminate with a reputation for cool pragmatism in religious matters, they require no further evidence that Dumon's Hand is dangerous. While they claim to be enemies of the Suranni dukes, that does not automatically make them friends of the Empire. Their claim that this "Dumon" is a paragon and the true source of liao is already sufficient grounds for condemning them as heretics. They admit that they openly use malign spiritual forces as weapons against their oppressors - which would be enough to see them executed were they Imperial citizens.
Mitra and her friends call for the General Assembly or the Assembly of Nine to condemn Dumon's Hand for their heresies, and urge the people of the Empire to shun them. Further, they say, Palladius of Urizen should be called to inquisition immediately and required to explain the reasoning behind vindicating a group of self-proclaimed heretics and blasphemers. They also suggest a statement of principle in the General Assembly that calls for the Empire to choose who it supports more carefully - that alliances with blasphemers and heretics may be pragmatic but that they demean the Empire. Mitra points specifically to the former alliances with Asavea and Jarm as compared to the virtuous alliances formed in the wake of the Liberty Pact.
These same priests, however, still see the value of finding allies within the Iron Confederacy who are opposed to its unvirtuous ways. They suggest the General assembly or the assembly of the Nine should prioritise identifying abolitionist individuals and groups among the Suranni who are not themselves blasphemers - either secular forces or those open to the truth of doctrine and the Way. Perhaps the Silent Bell may be able to help, or perhaps Imperial citizens may already know of such groups operating in the Iron Confederacy and may be encouraged to come forward and speak of them if they believed they would receive Synod support.