His host nodded thoughtfully as he lit a slip spill of wood in the flickering dim flame of the lantern on the table . He transferred the flame to his pipe as he crossed to the window, extinguished the spill, and flicked it out into the starless night. He sat next to the orc, saying nothing, puffing on his pipe.
While they could hear the music from the dining hall, between them a silence stretched. The orc felt compelled to fill it.
"There is a story I heard a lot in my youth about a young hunter who catches a handsome rusalka bathing in a hot spring, and binds it with a powerful oath. The rusalka has no choice but to agree to wed her, and together they raise a family. In the end, the hunter is eaten up inside with doubt - does her mate love her or does he only pretend to love her because of the oath? In the end she tests that love by releasing him from the oath."
The two leaned on the balcony looking out at the empty sky and the fat moon. Dalbor sucked on his pipe, then offered it to his guest. As the orc took a deep lungful, the old cabalist blew three smoke rings.
"I assume the rusalka eats her?" he said casually.
The orc coughed a little on the sweet smoke, taking a sip of mead.
"Oh yes. Her, most of her family, and several other people in the clan. Then he takes their children and disappears back into the wilds to wait for the next fool who mistakes an oath for love."
The two shared a guarded smile, and then became serious.
"There is a lesson there," said Dalibor thoughtfully.
His guest stared at him for a long moment without answering, or blinking.
"We should rejoin the others," he said.Dalibor nodded, and the two magicians returned to the hall together without speaking.
At the end of the Autumn Equinox, the red star known variously as the stalker and the miscreant slams into the Thule territory of Sküld in eastern Otkodov. The night sky over Varushka and parts of northern Dawn become bright as day - albeit a crimson tinged day - for a blinding moment. The sound is heard as far south as Highguard. The resultant pillar of ash is visible for several hours throughout Miekarova and Volodmartz. The star's impact is preceded and followed by isolated rains of burning rock that strike parts of Skarsind and northern Wintermark as well as north-western Varushka. Some of these independent starfalls contain small amounts of the precious material ilium, promising to make anyone who can secure one a small fortune if they can find a buyer.
For a little over two months, there is no word from the Thule. Then, a fortnight before the Winter Solstice, an orcish delegation comes down through the mountains of Brez, approaching the cabalists of Void with a message from the Dragons for the people of Varushka. The red star has fallen where it was agreed; it represents a significant deposit of star metal; the Thule intend to honour their agreement and will be distributing a share of the ilium to the Varushkans.
Now all that is to be determined is how that share will be delivered.
The share of the ilium that the Thule are offering the Empire amounts to 4 rings each season - equivalent to the Regario Dossier. They have placed two stipulations on the trade.
Firstly, it will continue only so long as Varushka remains at peace with Otkodov. Secondly, they are only prepared to allow a Varushkan to receive this bounty - it was the Varushkans they negotiated with and it was the Varushkans who kept faith with them. On other matters, however, they intend to look to the Imperial Senate.
Accepting the offer
Any Senator may raise a motion to accept the offer of the Thule. If they do so, the ilium share will create an Imperial title, and become a National Bourse Seat for Varushka, appointed during the Spring Equinox each year by the well worn path of voting by the owners of either mines or forests (or, if the Senator wishes, both). The Senator who raises the motion will be responsible for determining who will vote.
The Senator will also be responsible for determining where the trade will take place, and where offices will be established to formally accept the ilium. The Thule have suggested that they would be most comfortable with a location at Void in Brez; Ivarsgard in Karsk, or Wendell's Hope in Miekarova but would be prepared to accept any reasonable location along the northern Thule-Varushkan border. Finally, the motion should also indicate the name of the new Bourse seat. The Thule have ventured no opinion on this matter.
As a Bourse Seat, this will require a small upkeep from the treasury, in the same way that the Steel Fist and other ilium seats require a small upkeep. However, in a similar manner to the Steel Fist, should the Empire ever go to war with the Thule, the new ilium seat is likely to be one of the first casualties of the ensuing conflict.
Declining the offer
Alternatively, the Empire may decline the offer of ilium. A Senator can raise a motion to declare that the Empire is not interested. In this case, the northern orcs will simply keep their ilium bounty. An attempt to name a nation other than Varushka as the recipient of the National seat, or to make it an Imperial seat, will have the same effect.
In the event that both motions are raised and pass, the civil service will seek guidance from the Senate as to which decision the Senate wishes to formally present to the Thule.
The Thule 'diplomat' - a warlock going by the name of "Rak who speaks for the Dragons undivided" - is currently enjoying the hospitality of the cabalists at Void. He has let it be known that the Dragons are expecting an embassy to be constructed in the near future, should the Empire wish to maintain diplomatic relations.
Rak has let it be known that the Dragons favour an embassy built in Varushka, and appointed as a national rather than Imperial title. For the time being, they would prefer to deal with people who have demonstrated their ability to work with the orcs rather than risk an incident with someone from another nation who lacks sufficient pragmatism to deal with the Thule. One of the first things the Thule would like to discuss once such an embassy is completed is a possible joint venture to remove the current curse that is hiding the stars from the people of the Empire - but there are sure to be plenty of other things to talk about.
The Northern Trade Network
Similarly, Gar the Trader has likewise let it be known that the Thule are interested in participating in the Northern trade network - assuming the Empire has a use for the crystal mana that represents the wealth of the Dragons. However, they have identified a problem. In order to connect their internal trading routes to the central hub in Torfast they would need to use the difficult passes in northern Skarsind which are currently controlled by Dogri Thulebane and his supporters. An attempt by a small band of orcs sent to look at the feasibility of building a road through one of the passes has ended in violence. There is no way they are prepared to risk their caravans coming south while this "maniac" is in control of the routes from both Otkodov and Silver Peaks. Gar expresses some regret for this - it represents the loss of an opportunity for the Thule to learn more about the Imperial Orcs as well as providing more immediate economic benefits.
The Thule could remove Dogri themselves relatively easily - even one of their armies would quickly overrun the stubborn Winterfolk and their self-proclaimed "Skarsind congregation of Loyalty." Yet doing so would be in breach of the peace treaty of 379YE - and the Dragons are not interested in breaking that treaty by sending their forces into Skarsind without an invitation from the Imperial Senate.