Fellowship of Purple Sails
"Therese! I did not think you were in Siroc! When did your ship get in?" She pulled back, held her friend at arm's length. Frowned. "You look terrible! Have you been ill?"
The League captain shook her head at the Freeborn merchant's blunt honesty.
"A very long trip, with pirates. And then this fog! I swear I thought that we were going to smash into the quayside. If it weren't for the pilot boats ..."
Olivia nodded, and looked past Therese to her companion.
"And who is this chiselled cliff-face?"
Therese placed a companiable hand on the arm of the large man beside - and slightly behind - her. His black and red clothing marked him as Highborn. Smart, but of a practical cut. Olivia prided herself on being a good judge of people, but had some difficulty evaluating the man on her doorstep. Despite his size, he did not hold himself like a soldier, but she did not reckon him for a merchant either. Perhaps a priest. She chuckled inwardly. It was easy to imagine that the Highborn were all priests.
"This is my friend Michael of Crown's Quay," she said, and winked at Olivia, out of her companion's sight.The Freeborn gave the large man another appraising look, and her smile slowly widened.
"Where are my manners! Come in, come in! We are about to eat and you are welcome to join us."
As they passed along the short hall to the garden, her Highborn guest quietly enquired as to how much a seat at the table would be worth. Olivia charged him three rings - she did pride herself on setting a very fine table, after all - and when his back was turned exchanged a significant glance with Therese who was plainly amused. As he pitched in, helping her nephews to lay the table, she quietly asked if he had been coached.
"Not by me," whispered Therese. "He's dealt with Freeborn before I think."
"So you're "friends" then?" whispered Olivia back. "What kind of friends?"
Therese told her, and the pair shared a slightly wicked laugh which caused Michael to look up in some surprise which made them laugh even more.
After the meal, when the dinner things had been cleared away, and the youngest members of the household put to bed, Olivia lit her pipe and the conversation turned to business matters.
"Im just back from Jarm," said Therese darkly. "Politics, and worse than usual. It was all snide remarks and backhanded compliments, and some frankly very rude enquiries about whether I was in the market for slaves. The new laws screwed me out of most of my profit from this trip - I can't believe they actually did it. No mana to Imperial traders as long as we are 'meddling in Jarmish politics'. I mean to say, what's the point of an embassy if they won't trade with us? Bloody Ferrero!"
Olivia clucked her tongue sympathetically. Michael shook his head.
"I don't entirely blame them, if I am honest. We engaged in some pretty sharp practices with the Jarmish, and we can hardly claim not to be meddling in their politics. Imperial support for Rigia is a slap in the face to Kavor and Vezak. I have a friend in the south who tells me that this is really about the reparations to the Asaveans."
Olivia was surprised. "What do you mean? What reparations?"
"Piracy. Imperial pirates. The Senate effectively gave the Plenum a hold full of weirwood. But it wasn't just the Asaveans we were stealing from. It's shameful, and I am just surprised more of the other great nations are not up in arms about it."
"Like the Jarmish are so special! What, they expect a holdful of ... mithril?"
"It couldn't hurt," Michael shot back. "If you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime."
Olivia leant back and blew a smoke ring. Her guests bickered a little, and she left them to it for a few moments before sharing her opinion.
"Still, it's better now I hear. The civil servants on ships? My Enzio - he trades in Sarcophan mostly - has only good things to say about it. At least in the south, the ships you pass know that you are not a pirate, even if you are flying Freeborn colours. It pays dividends. Small dividends, but enough small dividends add up to a big payday."
The other two largely agreed.
"It's still disappointing that there are so many bad apples in the barrel," said Therese thoughtfully. "That the Senate has to make them behave by sending clerks and scribes to keep an eye on them. It's like they are unruly children who will ... I don't know, set fire to the house if they are not under constant supervision!"
Michael looked serious. "True enough but ... I think it is easy enough to see the virtue in it. The guilty are kept on the straight path by the presence of vigilant eyes, and the ones who would not consider piracy are not inconvenienced by it especially. The would-be pirates can always give up their ships and go and fight the Jotun if they do not like it. I have no sympathy."
"It leads to Prosperity, either way. And it lets us hold our heads up as an Empire. Whatever else we are, we're not pirates. And in the long run, I don't need to tell a Freeborn merchant what a good reputation is worth when you are in trade."
There was a thoughtful silence.
"Of course, it will all end soon enough. There's a war on, and the Senate is eventually going to have to choose between keeping our captains honest and supporting another army. They already abrogated it once ..."
Therese favoured Olivia with a bright smile and with a remarkable lack of sinecrity said: "If only there was something we could do about it! Something we could do to encourage the Seante to keep the civil servants in place so that we could all benefit from a little less suspicion abroad!"
Their hostess sucked deeply on her pipe and blew out a long stream of smoke. She sat forward in her chair and favoured her old friend with a cool stare.
"I take it you have come here with some suggestions, then, and this was not just a chance visit?"
Michael looked sheepish, but Therese only laughed, a genuine laugh of good humour and familiarity."Oh, 'Livie. You know me so well ..."
The Fellowship of the Purple Sails is a newly founded sodality made up primarily of merchants and ship-captains from the League and the Brass Coast, supported by a number of Highborn benefactors. The captains and merchants involved have personally benefited from the decision of the Imperial Senate to place civil servants on trading vessels. This has lead to Imperial ships being received without fear and suspicion in some foreign ports - and while there are problems in others, they view this as being a diplomatic matter for the Senate rather than a problem with foreign fear of Imperial pirates.
For their part, the benefactors are more concerned with the philsophical implications. By enforcing the law over Imperial citizens abroad, they say, the Empire has created a hundred additional ambassadors who proclaim the virtues of Prosperity and Pride. "The thieving bandit, or the reaving pirate - both are equally worthy of our despite."
This wealthy sodality is prepared to put their money where their mouth is. "The Prosperous are not selfish." they say. "All that is worthwhile is shared with those who deserve it." With that in mind, they have joined together with like-minded merchants across the Empire and raised fifty Thrones to donate to the Senate. They have committed themselves to donating another fifty Thrones each season, as long as the Senate stands it's ground against pirates.
The sodality has made no secret of the fact that it is looking to do more than simply support the Senate, at least in the long term. They have not revealed any plans at this time, but there appears to be an open invitation to the most prosperous ship captains and the virtuous wealthy to join their cause. A Winged Messenger might be dispatched to Michael of Crown's Quay, at Crown's Quay, in Necropolis by anyone interested in learning more about the any long-term plans the Fellowship might be discussing.
The Senate has reinstated the civil servant observers on all fleets sailing from the Empire. This means that it is not possible to commit acts of piracy against foreign nations (Asavean Archipelago, Principalities of Jarm, Commonwealth, Sumaah Republic, Sarcophan Delves); nor is it possible to use your fleet to trade with barbarian forces (Jotun, Grendel). This will remain the case unless the Senate again chooses to remove them once again.
Furthermore, the Fellowship of Purple Sails (named for a colour closely associated with the Civil Service) has taken it upon themselves to do everything within their power to ease the burden of this project on the public purse. As long as the status quo is maintained, the cost to the Empire to support the assignment of Civil Servants to ships will effectively be negated.
This sodality is made up of a large number of minor trading houses with an interest in foreign trade, as well as independent ship's captains, and has the backing of several benefactors and priests of prosperity. It remains to see whether their organisation will seek to exert any pressure on the Senate to secure opportunities with foreign trade, or whether they will be satisfied with the presence of civil servants on their ships.
First the good news; the port at Rigia has benefitted greatly from visits by Imperial fleets, and used it's growing prominence to secure trade deals within Jarm that have increased the amount of green iron it provides to visiting captains.
The bad news is that shortly after the Summer Solstice, the House of Princes passed a resolution making it a crime for anyone in Jarm to trade crystal mana to Imperial citizens. Consequently, the ports of Kavor, Vezak and Rigia no longer offer mana crystals to visitng captains. This is in addition to the ongoing problems encountered by captains visiting northern and southern Jarm.
Jarmish politics are murky at the best of times, and this appears to be a move aimed as much at the "upstart" eastern Princes as at their Imperial allies. There are likely to be several captains who have prospered pursuing trades with the eastern magocracy who will want to have words with Oswi Twice-burned, the Ambassador to Jarm - and perhaps with the Urizeni Eriktho who is the ambassador from Jarm to the Empire.
The Anger of Sumaah
The Sumaah Republic has closed the port of Zemeh to Imperial citizens. It has expelled traders and diplomats alike. In a short official statement, the House of the People has declared that it will not continue to associate with those who ally themselves with idolatrous slavers; nor with an Empire that refuses to acknowledge or address the concerns of a sovereign power.
This means that Imperial citizens can no longer send their ships to Zemeh, nor trade with the Sumaah Republic. It is important to note that the Sumaah are still foreigners, even if they are in the throes of a political tantrum. An embassy is under construction in Necropolis, but it has not been completed at the time of this writing and so no official ambassador exists. It is likely, however, that the Sumaah would recognise the authority of any cardinal of the Imperial Synod who wished to contact them - the most likely candidate to open a dialogue with might be Heln Stianser; Censor of wood, metal and stone; The High House of Prosperity; Sumaah Republic.
The Common Good
The Commonwealth remains largely unimpressed with the Empire. The Senate passed a motion during the Summer Solstice to build an embassy, however. This appears to have mollified the south-western nation a little, but while it sees to have helped stop the situation there getting any worse, Imperial captains are still encountering increased tarrifs and bureaucracy. It is likely that the delay in actually constructing the embassy will exacerbate the situation significantly. Captains are encouraged to speak to Senator Atte of Sermersuaq on this matter.
In the meantime, the Senate could appoint an ambassador with authority to contact the Commonwealth on behalf of the Empire (most likely to Militärattache Ludkhannah Schöningen, die Stahlhalle, Volkavaar); but in the absence of a completed, official embassy this would be more a gesture of goodwill than a long-term solution.
The Fellowship of Purple Sails continues to donate the money needed to keep Civil Servants on fleets. On the international stage, the situation has not noticably changed.
While continued Imperial trade with the port of Rigia improves the ability of the eastern Jarmish princes to build their port, the nation as a whole remains skeptical of Imperial involvement of their politics. While the Senate has agreed to an apology for past mistakes, it's not clear whether the Jarmish House of Princes has received it yet - not how effective it will be - although a similar declaration from the Imperial Conclave may prove more effective at defusing the diplomatic crisis.
The Sumaah continue to be angry, and Zemeh remains closed. There is even some rumour of Sumaah warships turning vessels sailing under Imperial colours away from their national waters. While a motion was raised to appoint a Sumaah ambassador, it was delayed until the final senate session of the summit and consequently cannot actually be completed until the Winter Solstice.
Finally, the Commonwealth remains cold to the Empire. Funds were disbursed to help build a suitable embassy, but the south-eastern nation continues to bedevil Imperial captains with tarrifs and trade restrictions.