Fara yawned, covering her mouth with the hand that wasn't holding a telescope. She'd been watching the slow approach of the wagon train along the road for the better part of an hour - Fortagenta was flat as a board, and from her vantage point she could see for miles in every direction.

There were nearly a dozen wagons, each pulled by four tired-looking oxen. Most of them were open to the elements, and she could tell they contained miserable looking passengers. Human passengers, in mud-coloured tunics for the most part. Also in each wagon sat two soldiers in chain, wearing dark coloured surcotes and exotic-looking helmets. Travelers from the Iron Confederacy.

Fara was a little concerned about why they seemed to be transporting people, though. She fervently hoped there was not going to be any sort of international incident on her watch.

She scrambled down the ladder from the watchtower, and collected two more soldiers to accompany her, then walked out along the road to meet the newcomers. Ahead of the slow-moving wagons marched a man and a woman, deep in conversation. Where the soldiers wore simple chain and undecorated surcotes, both of these travelers wore find chain infused with weltsilver, and their surcotes were beautifully embroidered with what looked to be the heads of birds. Ravens, or crows. Both wore the marks of naga lineage.

The man actually waved when he saw Fara approaching.

They met up a few hundred yards from the farm. Pleasantries were exchanged. The two Suranni appeared relaxed, unconcerned. Both were armed - he with a pair of vicious looking short stabbing blades at his side, she with a heavy great hammer slung over her shoulder. A bec de corbin, with a literal crows-head.

After the initial greeting, Fara got straight to the point. She pointed to the wagons.

"What's in the wagons then?"

The woman spoke. "Slaves," she said easily. "Imperial slaves."

Fara opened her mouth to say something explosive and the male Suranni shook his head exasperated and rolled his slit-pupil eyes. "Forgive my companion, she is being whimsical. It would be fairer to say they are ex-slaves. Each of these is someone who could make a credible claim to be from the Empire, enslaved by mistake. It's unfortunate but sometimes people who would otherwise be our friends end up in the mines, or working in someone's kitchen. As we agreed with your ambassador, we are returning them to the bosoms of their families. Free, without charge. Each one can name all seven of your "virtues" and swore convincingly that they are of Imperial blood."

Fara shut her mouth again and raised her eyebrows.

"What are you going to do with them?"

The Suranni woman smiled broadly showing sharp fangs.

"As far as we understand your law, they were free the moment we crossed out of the Kalino hills. We are simply giving them a ride as far as the port of Bramar. Once they get there ... they are no longer our problem."

The first of the wagons came level with the conversation, and Fara watched as it moved slowly past. None of the slaves in the wagons looked at her as they passed. They looked worn-out, broken, shattered by lives of hard work and little food.

She felt angry, and turned around to give the Suranni a piece of her mind.

"You should think before you speak," hissed the naga woman, all pretense of good humour gone. "Your people know that our mines and fields are worked by slaves, yet they still welcome our goods and our coin. We, at least, are not hypocrites. Can you tell me that when we reach Bramar nobody there will sell me a bottle of wine because of this?"

She jerked her head at the wagon. Fara said nothing.

"We are keeping to the spirit of our agreement with your ambassador," said the man, more evenly. "Even though the Empire has seen fit to refuse our offer of a treaty. Now that we have a border with your Feroz, there was no reason not to deliver the first of the freed slaves ourselves. After all, it seemed like the neighbourly thing to do."

All smiles again, the Suranni asked if there would be anything else. Fara shook her head, and watched them walk past and continue on along the road beside the wagons.


The Iron Confederacy, apparently in line with some agreement with the Imperial Ambassador to the Suranni, Lukash Biessek von Temeschwar, have freed just short of a hundred slaves at Bramar in Feroz. In each case the slaves are either former Imperial citizens, or the children of the same. For the most part, they seem to have been purchased "in good faith" from unscrupulous slave traders. The Suranni are unapologetic, dismissing Imperial concerns that they are buying slaves at all as irrelevant.

The Suranni are claiming to have completed the conquest of Kalino - the eastern territory of the Lasambrian hills - giving them a land border with the Empire for the first time in Imperial history. There have been numerous communiques back and forth between the Suranni embassy to the Empire, and their masters in the south.


The Suranni have requested a formal opportunity to speak to the Senate on the matter of a treaty; they have requested a closed session, and that the Ambassador to the Iron Confederacy be present. They have given little indication regarding what they wish to talk about. All they will say is "You do not have a treaty with us. You are at war with the Jotun, and with the bastard Grendel. We wish to discuss this situation."

The Iron Confederacy delegates are expected to arrive at Anvil during the Winter Solstice, and are likely to dispatch messengers to announce their arrival well in advance to allow the Senate time to prepare.

The Suranni are notoriously suspicious of the Empire, and have a well-known hatred of magicians, but there are certain people in the Iron Confederacy who have special dispensation to deal with foreigners and their "wicked ways". One such person is 'Jeanne de Hibernat, High Priestess of Evra the Smith, The Temple of Iron Hammers, Robec. Any Imperial citizen wishing to communicate with the Suranni is urged to do so cautiously - they are well known for their prickly tempers.