The lives you love to lead
"You've got it bad," she said. There was no compassion in her voice. She seemed amused. "Who did you say gave you my name?"
"Holberg Ollis. At the Waterway." He sounded dejected, his voice practically a monotone. "Over the river."
Velyna di Maestra smiled mirthlessly. "Ollis needs to learn to keep his mouth shut."
She tapped her pipe against the table three times, then smirked.
"It's two crowns a dose." she said. Jaik's eyebrows shot up, but she raised a hand to forestall him. "Don't argue. We're a long way from Holberg, and its getting harder and harder to get hold of with the militia all over the trade."
Jaik nodded slowly, and pulled out a pouch. He counted out six crowns, mostly in rings. Velyna didn't bother to conceal her contempt. She swept the money into a drawer, and nodded to the thug behind her. The massively-built woman tossed three twists of paper onto the table in front of Jaik. He picked one up and started to unwrap it.
"Not here, idiot," snapped Velyna. Jaik straightened up, allowing a spark of anger to show.
"I've not leaving until I've checked it," he said belligerently. "It could be anything."
Velyna looked irritated but she didn't argue. She took another lungful of smoke and stared at him through half-lidded eyes. The paper was greasy, containing perhaps a tablespoon of coarse blue crystals. Jaik gingerly balanced one on his thumb, crushed it, and snorted the resulting dust. He felt a familiar sharp tingle spread from his nostril and was unable to stop a grin spreading across his face.
"It's good," he said. "Very good."
"Good enough to give you the spine to... what was it? Take care of your sister's Mestran boyfriend?" She sneered. "You people are all the same. So pathetic. If you had any backbone you'd not need bite to get you going. Now get out."
Jaik stepped back but didn't turn. He nodded a couple more times, no longer hunched over.
"Yes. Good enough to help me take care of my sister's Mestran boyfriend. Or to get a gang of thugs riled up enough to burn down a bakery. Or to beat two cicisbeo half to death. Or to send a band of bravos across the river looking for a fight in the wrong neighbourhood."
"Don't you-" but he interrupted her, all pretence finished with. Her eyes widened.
"Velyna di Mestra, I am arresting you for possession of the proscribed substance commonly known as bite. You will accompany me to a magistrate, to answer questions about this and about your involvement in six incidents of violent assault and one case of arson. Tell your people to stand down, or things will go badly for you."
The dealer jumped to her feet, sending her chair flying. Her thugs drew blades menacingly. Constable Jaik stood his ground, arms loose by his sides, mouth quirking in a confident smile.
"The building is surrounded," he said. "Did you think I'd come in here alone?" He grinned insolently at Velyna di Mestra and then in a more quiet voice said: "You broke the rules, Velyna. Now you have to pay the ferryman."They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Velyna looked away, a snarl rippling across her lips. She gestured to the rest of her people, a sharp chopping motion, and they lowered their blades.
Bite and the River
The Senate has outlawed the possession, sale, and use of the drug bite. It's widely believed that the drug originates, or at least originated, among the Druj orcs. It seems to be coming into the Empire through Holberg, and despite the rumours that is it a product of the Mallum, it remains popular among the Bravos of the League. The magistrates and the militia, funded by the Senate, are diligently fighting to stamp out the trade but it is proving challenging. It seems that as soon as they bust up a bite ring, another one starts up somewhere else. Yet at the same time, it is getting harder and harder to get hold of the merchandise. It's taking its time, but slowly the law is winning the war on bite. It's taking longer each time for a new supplier to start up. Progress is being made.
The drug is still popular however, and has been linked to incidents of bravo-related violence in Temeschwar, Sarvos, Holberg, and especially Tassato. Outside Holberg, it seems that the bulk of the bite being smuggled across the Empire is ending up in Tassato. Several clashes between bands of bravos have turned bloody in the last few months, mostly due to some fool on one side or another using the drug.
With any luck, if the militia and the magistrates continue to achieve the level of success they have so far, the bite trade will probably be stamped out by the start of next year.
Temeschwar, Sarvos, and Empress Giselle
- Arguments have been raised that Empress Giselle should be returned to Sarvos in spite of the Grendel threat - or perhaps because of it
When the Grendel sacked Sarvos in 380YE, one of the places they attempted to loot was the tomb of Empress Giselle at her family's ruined estate in Caricomare. Only quick thinking by some locals saved her sarcophagus from being stolen by the orcs - although the raiders did manage to escape with the remains of her husband Teodore von Mestra. After some wrangling, the Senate decided that she should be reinterred in distant Temeschwar, apparently to ensure she would never again be threatened by the Grendel orcs.
When the tomb was completed, it was widely criticised for being less a monument to the League Empress, and more a monument to the Brotherhood of Torn Banners of Temeschwar. In the two years since, there has been some grumbling that she should never have been sent so far afield. A small movement has begun to have her returned to Sarvos; the civil service has been approached by several concerned citizens eager to discuss bringing Giselle home.
Some critics have suggested that the threat of the Grendel means that now is not the time to bring her back. The counterargument has been made that now is precisely the time to restore her - as a simple of the defiance of Sarvos and the League if nothing else.
At the moment there are no legal grounds for returning Empress Giselle to Sarvos. The question of whether she should remain in a League city, or be interred in the Necropolis alongside the other deceased Thrones was settled several years ago. Those who remember Giselle fondly argue that while the Senate agreed to send Giselle to Temeschwar, they also said that the League National assembly would oversee the tomb.
With a suitably worded statement of principle that received a greater majority, the League assembly could call for Empress Giselle to be restored to Sarvos. There are two obvious places that her sarcophagus could be interred.
The Old Tomb
Since the city was liberated, the old tomb on her family estates has been largely repaired. It is not as prestigious as it once was - and certainly not as overblown and dramatic as the monument in Temeschwar - but it is relatively secure. As long as the Grendel do not conquer the island of Cigno again, the sarcophagus could in theory be returned here. It has the advantage that it will cost no additional funds as the construction has already been completed.
Alternatively, Giselle could be interred in Capodomus Cathedral, one of the largest religious structures in the Empire. This towering monument encrusted with precious materials and objets d’art would make a much more fitting location for Empress Giselle to lie in state. There would need to be some remodeling - the civil service estimate that suitable changes could be made at the cost of 10 wains of white granite and 20 crowns. This would create a new title - the Bishop of Capodomus who would receive 16 votes and 8 liao, and be the custodian not only of the Empress' tomb but also of that prestigious cathedral that stands proudly in the heart of the city of jewels.
If Giselle is moved back to Sarvos, the Civil Service say that the title Guardian of Giselle's Tomb would still exist, but the number of pilgrims visiting the memorial would decline. Within a few seasons, the production of that sinecure would have settled to 6 votes in the synod and 3 liao, mostly drawn by the wonderful art that covers the memorial rather than by the sarcophagus of one of the few Thrones not to be interred in the Necropolis.
However the effect on the people of Sarvos would be much more significant - having "their" Empress restored to them would energize the people, particularly in the light of the recent changes to the Colossus of Sarvos which now bears her face. Any attempt by the Grendel to invade Sarvos during the next year would be met by stiff resistance. Obviously, civilians are unlikely to be able to face down an entire Grendel armada, but for a year after the Empress was restored to Sarvos, any invading force would require an additional victory point to conquer each region of the territory.
Both of these opportunities were contingent on a statement of principle being passed in the League national assembly with a greater majority. More recent developments with the Sarcophan enclave and the proposed refurbishments of Capodomus Cathedral have significantly changed the situation in Sarvos. If the statement of principle is endorsed by the assembly, the new opportunities presented would be framed in terms of how they would interact with the enclave or the refurbishments.
Exemplar of Pride
The renewed interest in Giselle has prompted some of her stronger supporters to suggest that the Synod has done her a great disservice in refusing to recognise that while she was not always Wise, she was still a very virtuous woman in her way. Those who knew her spoke often of her love for her people, her nation, and her city. Everything she did was in their name, for all that it might have angered the other nations. As such, claim these eager supporters, the Synod should admit that Empress Giselle was herself an exemplar of Pride, or of Loyalty. If this were done, it would be possible to use a dose of True Liao to create an Inspirational tomb for a woman whose love of the League has never been in doubt - whatever her other failings - potentially inspiring people in all four of the League cities.
Civil Service Summary
- A statement of principle by the League national assembly would allow her body to be restored to her old tomb on her family estates in Caricomare.
- Alternatively, with some building work commissioned by the Senate, she could be interred in state in Capodomus Cathedral in the heart of Sarvos.
- If she were returned to Sarvos in any capacity, the people of the territory would be inspired to resist barbarian attackers.
- Moving Giselle would seriously impact the current Guardian of Giselle's Tomb, leaving it as a place of interest primarily to the Temeschwari and reducing its impact to 6 votes in the Synod and 3 additional liao
- Finally, if Empress Giselle were returned to Sarvos and declared an exemplar of Loyalty or Pride, an inspirational tomb might be created that would inspire the people in all four of the League cities.
Holberg, Walls and Beasts
The city of Holberg has suffered more at the hands of the barbarians than any other League city, but its people refuse to be cowed. While the rest of their territory is increasingly given over to the wilderness, they continue to transform their sprawling metropolis into a beacon of beauty, learning, and defiance on the eastern borders of the Empire.
At long last, the major construction effort to raise the walls of Holberg has been completed. It has been two-and-a-half years since Menno Van Ritsjhof first presented his plans for the new defences of the eastern League city. The walls protecting the upper city of Holberg are now the largest single fortification in the Empire - an immense bulwark of white granite and grim League soldiers protecting not only the city but also parts of the eastern Empire from the jealousy of the Druj.
Of course the new walls only directly protect the upper city; yet with such a massive fortification nearby the sprawling suburbs and the beautiful Holmauer Park are hardly defenceless. This does not stop a few residents of the lower city grumbling about the fact that there is technically noting between themselves and the Druj except a few miles of marsh and forest. Even that grumbling is muted in the light of the splendid new walls that stand as a monument to the determination - and engineering prowess - of the people of Holberg.
The Ilotari and the Imperial Menagerie
Work has also been completed on an expansion of the Imperial Menagerie. The menagerie continues to be self sufficient, but with the additional enclosures and the acquisition of a few new animals, the tourist revenue has increased significantly. The Civil Service are already looking for opportunities to secure even more exotic beasts, and are interested in receiving suggestions from young Kay Griffinsbain, the current Keeper. As it is, one opportunity has already presented itself.
The Ilotari family of Asavea are not particularly influential, but they are rich and apparently quite popular. It appears that in one of his letters home, Almodin Oktístis mentioned the Imperial Menagerie to a cousin among the Ilotari. That cousin has been in contact with the Civil Service, with an offer of not one but two unique creatures that have a particular tie to his family: a mated pair of leomarids.
Completely unknown in the Empire, leomarids are marine creatures that look peripherally like a union of lion and fish, or perhaps sea serpent. A long piscine lower body with wide fins shades into a muscular upper body complete with two sturdy clawed legs, and a head with a distinct muzzle filled with fangs. The head and shoulders of the creature are covered in a mass of flexible tendrils reminiscent of a lion's mane but actually a little closer in function to the tentacles of a sea urchin, capable of delivering a stinging venom to those who get too close. The whole is sheathed in green-golden scales - those on the lower body being smaller and more delicate but darker in colour, while those on the upper body are more armoured and lighter in colour. The creatures are actually air-breathing, but like dolphins, whales, and seals are adept at holding their breaths for long periods of time. They live on rocky seashores across the Asavean Archipelago, where they are known to prey on dolphins and sharks. Reasonably intelligent as animals go, a pride of leomarids is more than capable of killing and eating a much larger shark, and occasionally even a small whale.
The Asavean family are not giving these creatures over out of the goodness of their heart's however. In return they the Keeper of the Imperial Menagerie to arrange a formal invitation from the Imperial Senate for members of the Ilotari family to attend the "summit against slavery" announced during the Summer Solstice. They have been very specific in what they want: a statement by the Senate in the form of a Senate motion, similar to that used to invite the Commonwealth, the Sarcophan Delves, the Sumaah Republic, and the Axou, inviting the Ilotari specifically to send a delegate.
In return the Ilotari are prepared to make a gift of a mated pair of leomarids to the Empire, and to provide handlers who can train Imperial staff at the menagerie how to look after and groom the creatures. They are not easy to keep in captivity, requiring plenty of warm salt water, a reasonably large habitat, and a significant amount of meat to ensure they remain healthy. But they are hardy creatures, and the Ilotari believe they will not only be able to survive in the Empire but with a little luck may actually thrive. Regardless, this will be the closest any Imperial has ever been able to get to these majestic predators and presents a unique opportunity to examine them close-up.
Obviously this opportunity is contingent on a successful invitation to the summit against slavery, so it is available only during the Autumn Equinox. it is possible that Jarrigk Wegwandelaar, the Ambassador to Asavea, may have more information about the Ilotari.
A small crowd had gathered to watch - someone was already selling toffee apples and cups of hot soup to them. Seeing the spirit of his people in action - whichever side of the river they were from - always made Jaik happy. Further along the street a dozen Marchers stood, close together, muttering and whispering. He was pretty certain that the anonymous tip that had lead them to Velyna had come from one of them. He had half a mind to send some of the other constables to question them. Gitta saw where he was looking and shook her head.
"Don't bother Jaik," she said. "Nobody is going to talk. Just be glad that we've gotten another bite dealer off the streets at least for now.
"The word is that the Fog Devils were drinking in Little Whittle before they went after Torrio's bakery." said Jaik tiredly. "It's not the first time we've been told that someone in the enclave is whipping up the gangs. Torrio was Regarian, but he didn't deserve to lose his livelihood. Didn't deserve those burns. This bullshit has to end."
But he knew Gitta was right. He sighed deeply, and hunched his shoulders against the rain. "Maybe we should...""Forget it, Jaik." said Gitta, laying her hand on his arm. "That's just how it is in Marcher Town."