Sinews of the heart
She swept the court, head held high, challenging any of the other Lords and Ladies to doubt her claims. Nobody spoke. All eyes were on her.
"Nergui Tsagaan, may he hunt among the dead, was the son of my body and of my spirit. He was taken from me, in fire. It was a wrong that can never be righted. Yet Justice was served. Those who lit the fire, and all those who stood by and did nothing, have burned."
Heads nodded. This was known.
"When Hanye of House Baruun came to tell me he had found the daughters of my son's body and of his spirit, I doubted. Yet his words were compelling and the sinews of my heart knew what he said was the truth."
A sussuration, cut off swiftly. This was news.
"I reached to them, recognised them as children of the Tsagaan, but also as daughters of their mothers, of the spirit of fire, glass, and dust. I offered them my blessing and the blessing of the Tsagaan, and set aside a place for them in my hall. They chose not to come to me, but to stay, and bring Justice to the Empire."
Another sussuration, especially among the merchant houses, and the priests. Not every whisper was glad, not every face was happy.
"And now, daughters of my son's body and spirit lie dead! Their blood has been spilled out by the Empire they thought to teach!"
Shocked gasps, angry shouts. The warriors and the priests demanded answers. Worry spread among the merchant families, while the keepers of fire and wind kept their own counsel.
"The Empire is blind to truth! it is blinded by idle talk of wisdom and watchfulness and of the striving that overturns everything! They hunted the daughters of my son and they destroyed them. Their crime - their only crime - was to speak of the truth to those who did not wish to listen!"
The ripple of anger in the crowd became a tide. From her throne, the Lady of the Five winds raised one ringed hand and the tide subsided. She inclined her head to Lady Tsagaan to continue.
"When will you see, when will you believe. The Empire despises us. Their priests despise us. They laugh at us. They insult us time and again! When we offer them understanding, they cast it aside. When we come to them in good faith, they cast us aside."
The Lord of House Ogudai bowed his head. The Keeper of the Copper Scroll nodded hers, her face set in a scowl of outrage. Murmurs of agreement rose and fell, but also murmurs of disagreement. She ignored them all and turned to address the Lady of the Five Wind directly. She spoke slowly and deliberately, her voice cracking with passion.
"And when our people speak of Justice, they are mocked, and they are bound, and they are MURDERED!."
She shouted the last word, slamming the butt of her spear against the flags beneath her feet. The chips of tempest jade embedded along its length chimed and shivered, relecting her rage. She spun, throwing her anger into the faces of the Ladies, and the Lords, of the great families.
"House Tsagaaan bears witness! House Tsagaan speaks with the voice of fury! And we are not alone! The voice of Kurest the Quiet is raised with us! The voice of Tenar the Elder echoes our fury! The voice of Loronyantar of the River resounds with ours! And we say that the time for patience is passed! The Empire will never be our friends! Enough is enough! There must be a reckoning!"
A roar of approval went up from many throats, setting crystals hanging from the ceiling vibrated with the force of her words, chiming and shifting uneasily in the silence that followed. She swept the crowd with her gaze again. Some met her eyes proudly, nodding their agreement. Others, though ... others looked away, and she burnt each of their faces into her memory.
The Lady of the Five Winds made a small gesture, raising the finger of her left hand.
Lady Saretta, rich silks whispering, glided forward into the centre of the court from the heart of a thick crowd of grumbling merchant families. She bowed her head respectfully to Lady Tsagaan."I share your grief," she began. "however, I believe that the situation may not be quite as simple as it appears ..."
The Empire is a powerful and influential nation, but it is not the only actor on the world stage. While the business of dealing with foreign powers is most often the remit of the Imperial Senate and the Imperial Synod, there are several ways for Imperial citizens to interact with and potentially influence foreign affairs - the most common being the foreign trade undertaken by fleet captains.
Relations with international powers - both those close to home and further afield - is a constant balancing act. The distant nations have their own interactions that have nothing to do with the Empire. In the west the Sumaah and Asaveans have been at war for decades, while the Commonwealth and the Principalities of Jarm seem to exist in a constant cycle of saber-rattling and open conflict in the east. Sarcophan, like the Empire, is caught in the middle - and seems to view every interaction between great powers as another opportunity to expand its already prodigious wealth.
Then there are the more local powers - Faraden, Axos, the Iron Confederacy, and even Skoura. Human dominated nations close enough to the Empire that they may even share borders with Imperial territory. Then there are the orc nations - the Thule in Otkodov have been at peace with the Empire for a handful of years (and you can learn more about relations with the Empire's northern neighbours here) and now there are the Druj (you can learn a little about relations with the eastern orc nation here). Another delicate balancing act - very few of the Empire's close neighbours seem to especially like the Empire and there are many more reasons for conflict and enmity than for cooperation and amity.
The Empire has ambassadors to many of the foreign nations - near and far- and thy receive regular updates about affairs concerning the nations to which they represent the Empire (you can find a list of current Imperial ambassadors here). Yet not all diplomatic ties are above-the-table - for example this season sees the appointment of the Regario Dossier in the League for example, a Bourse seat that receives an annual update on the state of play, and insight into what is really going on between the other powers of the world. Indeed, no Imperial title can make up for simply being in the right place at the right time.
The trade winds blow, and they reflect the state of play in the Great Game.
International Justice (Faraden)
During the Winter Solstice, two Freeborn sisters Maricela i Tsagaan i Guerra, and Amaia i Tsagaan i Erigo confessed under inquisition to being priests of the false spiritual power the Faraden call "Justice" and the Empire identifies as Vengeance. They were sanctioned by the Imperial Synod, and the legal system took over. Both women - along with their third sister Laodicia i Tsagaan i Riqueza - ended up dead. The matter should have ended there.
Unfortunately, it did not. A month later, a formal communique reached the Faraden embassy in Segura from the House of the Five Winds. A high-status Faraden priest named Khotol of the Tsagaan family, supported by several other families, is demanding an explanation for crimes committed by the Empire against "daughters of our House." It appears that these sisters had been formally adopted by an influential priestly family, who have whipped up support from a significant majority of the Faraden priesthood, outraged by the implementation of Imperial law. They are denouncing the deaths of the i Tsagaan sisters as proof that the Empire is an enemy of the Faraden people, and that there can never be a compromise with people who refuse to recognise the spiritual power of Justice.
Letters have flown back and forth between civil servants at the embassy in Segura and the Hall of Five Winds. The matter is apparently being taken very seriously in the lands of the Empire's western neighbours; there is apparently a not insignificant amount of sympathy for the Tsagaan cause in several military families including the powerful Ogudai who have their own reasons to be unhappy with the Imperial priesthood. There is talk of "seeking justice on behalf of the daughters of Tsagaan" - a phrase with very ominous overtones.
The immediate upshot appears to be that the priests of Faraden are sending a high-ranking investigator - a priest - to the Empire during the Spring Equinox to discover the truth about what happened during the last summit. There is a strong implication that if this investigator is dissatisfied by what they find the Tsagaan and their allies will "enact bloody retribution on everyone involved."
The civil service has prepared a briefing for Tal'Shar i Zabala i Erigo, the Ambassador to Faraden, concerning this situation, and will be included as part of their normal briefing material. They will most likely be the first port of call for the Faraden investigator, and it is certainly within the remit of their responsibilities to secure the best outcome possible for the Empire to this international incident.
Eastern Promises (Jarm)
Relations between the Empire and the Principalities of Jarm continue to strengthen. Previously, the Imperial Senate has actively sought to secure a strong trading relationship with the Principalities. During the Winter Solstice they further gave permission for a Jarmish enclave in the Tassatan countryside as well as commissioning the Asavean priest Almodin Oktístis to design and build a dedicated quayside at Cargo to handle significant shipments of Jarmish weirwood. Furthermore, last summit Heilyn Bronwen's Rest secured a Declaration of Dissemination from the Imperial Conclave to authorise the sharing of a powerful military ritual with the Princes of Jarm.
With the formal statement of Autumn, followed by further commitments to Imperial/Jarmish trade in Winter, the new year has begun with a more positive relation between the two nations than at any point in recent history. Jarmish traders continue to seek opportunities to secure more Imperial custom, and each of the three Jarmish ports continues to provide a little extra wealth to Imperial traders who visit in the coming months.
- The northern port of Kavor will supply an additional ingot of green iron in the coming season.
- The southern port of Vezak will supply an additional crystal mana to each visiting ship.
- The eastern port of Rigia will provide an additional measure of dragonbone.
Of course this increase in prosperity is contingent upon the Empire remaining on good terms with the Principalities of Jarm. If relations were to sour, not only might the productivity of eastern trade routes suffer, but the quaysides and trade enclaves the Empire is building with the Jarmish might crumble and become little more than expensive follies.
The priests of Axos
The Axou remain hungry for liao. It is impossible to know for sure quite how much of this precious spiritual material they have purchased from Imperial priests and merchants since the Winter Solstice, but they continue to pay well over the odds. The price has dropped slightly - but is still significantly higher than it has been in the past. There is some muttering in parts of the Empire about this - a priest of the Axou faith visited the Symposium of Revelation during the Winter Solstice and apparently delivered a bitter attack on the very doctrine that helps guide followers of the Way. A few questions have been raised about whether it is appropriate for Imperial citizens to sell liao that may be being used for blasphemous or heretical purposes.
The Imperial Synod has not so far chosen to either encourage or discourage the trade of liao to Axos. They could still use a statement of principle to do so and if the statement passed with a greater majority, it might influence the outcome of this opportunity. More seriously, the Imperial Senate may pass a Senate motion to amend the law regarding the trade of liao to the Axou - making it illegal - in which case they could remove this opportunity completely
Western Prosperity (Asavea)
The Temple of Balo and the Black Bull has (finally) been completed, bringing Asavean captains and mariners to Feroz. At the same time, this has increased the perceived status of Imperial traders visiting the Asavean Archipelago. The presence of a temple to their idols in the Empire appears to give some mild "seal of approval" to their merchants, meaning every Imperial fleet visiting Nemoria will receive an additional measure of iridescent gloaming each season. If the Empire provides further proof of good faith by completing the construction of a temple of the Way in Nemoria, the western trade route could become even more profitable.
As always with such benefits, they will only endure as long as the Empire continues to enjoy good relations with the Asaveans.
An inevitable denunciation (Sumaah)
The Präster of the Sumaah Republic are still believed to be in possession of the Imperial Crown - the symbol of Imperial authority since the time of the First Empress. They also remain at war with the Empire - and the port of Zemeh remains closed to Imperial visitors. Since the Winter Solstice, the House of the People in the Sumaah Republic has, perhaps predictably, denounced Imperial involvement in the Asavean Archipelago. In particular, they have criticised the decision of the Empire to endorse a temple of the Way in Nemoria, and suggested it is a betrayal of the principles of their shared faith.
The patience of the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth remains cool in its attitude to the Empire. Imperial fleets are still welcome in Commonwealth ports but that welcome is far from warm. The Jarmish seem to be missing no opportunity to rub the noses of their traditional rivals in the fact that the Empire favours them, and not the Commonwealth, in matters of international trade. Everyone knows that the current ceasefire between the Commonwealth and Jarm will not last much longer - the two nations are like two large, angry dogs forced to live in the same garden - and it is only a matter of time before tensions boil over into open warfare. When that inevitably happens, the Empire may find itself caught between two equally powerful nations who despise each other.
As always, these opportunities are significantly more volatile than most. The decisions of Imperial citizens during the coming summit have the potential to significantly alter relations between nations; we will reiterate the exact state of play when Downtime opens after the event.