The Rules of Play

The Rules of Play
Summary: Morla and Gustav discuss the current dangers to the South and seek to understand and predict the rules of play from their opponents.
Date: 24 July 2013
Related: None
Morla Gustav 

Wolveshire Castle - Stewards Office
The office of the Steward of Wolveshire is a relatively small room. It consists of a desk with seating behind for the steward and in front for visitors. A few cabinets along the left wall allow for storage and display of miscellaneous trinkets. A single arrow-slit behind the desks allows for some natural light during the day, and the placement of several candle-bearing sconces illuminates the room for the majority of the time.
July 24, 1329

The conclusion of the recent festivities have afforded many within the South little time to rest upon their laurels - once more their various council members recalled to the ducal seat for an impending conference with their Queen. Over the course of the past few days, House Lohstren has been steadily upon the move to ferret messages to and from the Summit as well as numerous journeys between Wolveshire and Laketown itself. The fact that the Lord Protector and March Flower seem to be operating upon opposing schedules does little to hinder the normal flow of political assessment and preparations.

The onset of evening finds the pale Flower in attendance, having taken over the expanse of the Stewardly office for the time being, as candles flicker with a warmth of illumination. Seated at the desk, her fingers dust over the parchment correspondence before affixing her own signature at the conclusion. Reaching to heat the wax in an effort to affix her familial seal upon the document - Morla instructs in a simple tone, "You are to ride on until you reach the hall and see to it that it finds the hands of the Dowager Countess, alone. I trust you are capable of such a task?"

"Aye, Milady," the courier bearing the colors of Lohstren responds as he reaches for the completed letter and adds it to his satchel, "Do you wish me to deliver a message for your sister?"

The colorless woman considers the question for a few moments before nodding once in return, "Yes. Simply tell her: I will see it done. She shall know the meaning of such a thing."

The courier seals his satchel and gives a final bow, "Aye, Milady," before turning to make his way out.

As the courtier hastens to quit himself of the Steward's chamber, he nearly runs into someone else attempting to enter - and it is good he does not, for the man leans heavily on a cane, and the resultant impact would likely have proved terrible for all involved. As the courtier collects himself, he offers a quick apology to a "my lord of Sollinger," giving the Pale Flower at least some idea of who is next to open the door…

And then there stands Sir Gustav of House Sollinger, former Blue Guard and just recently appointed Royal Steward to Princess Fayre. His days of martial knighthood are past him, as evidenced by the cane and eyepatch both, but he cuts at least somewhat of a dashing figure for his office - he is garbed in deep, rich forest greens on his doublet, with a cloth-of-silver half cape draped over his right arm. An ornamental sword hangs in a finely crafted sheath at his side, and on his lips is painted the fainted of smirks. "My dear Lady Morla. Her Majesty the Queen does bid me to your side - I do hope this is an appropriate time for consultation?"

The near collision at the entrance does inspire a lift of the pale woman's brow curiously, and the mention of the Sollinger name inspires a slow rise from the young woman in return. Morla waits silently for a moment or two behind the desk until the newly appointed Steward actually makes his way inside. Despite her best efforts, it is hard for those wintery depths not to drift down in notice of the weight applied to his cane. Yet it is with a slow warming curl of her lips that she greets him easily, "There is never an inappropriate time for receiving a friend in arms, Sir Gustav. Truly, a Sollinger is always a welcomed guest where House Lohstren is concerned." Her steps gracefully guide her out from behind the desk to circle closer in proper greeting as she gestures to one of the open chairs, "Please, do alleviate yourself of any undue burdens. You will need to forgive me for Eldrick is not here at the moment, so I fear you shall have to make due with myself. Would you like something to drink, perchance?" her gaze slides on over towards her own pair of guards and lone servant lingering near the back. At the mention of the offer, the serving woman comes closer as if in preparation for the order.

"Mead will do," the seaborn knight replies, as though it is an admission of guilt, though it does little to deter his smile - and if he has noticed her glance at his cane, he says nothing of it. "My thanks," he offers, taking a seat, only somewhat laboriously. "I am quite certain you will do just fine, my lady. Though I had expected to meet with the Princess much sooner, the Queen insisted I lend myself to your cause for the time being…so, if there is ought I can offer in assistance, it belongs to you. I am afraid I know little of what that might be myself; I have only heard rumors," he sighs.

The Lohstren woman glances back to her servant and nods once as the knight selects his preferred drink, dismissing her to retrieve it. Mention of rumors and intentions only further inspire the smile to spread upon the pale Flower's lips, "Rumors, no matter how ruthless, often hold within them some small kernel of truth. If you have at least heard of them, you are not so entirely hopeless after all, Milord." Morla teases lightly before a degree of sobriety slides into her tone, "To be perfectly direct, the situation we find ourselves within is far from ideal. It could most certainly be worse, but despite what minor victories we have held in negotiations - I believe we are far from where we should be. Emotions run high upon both sides of the border and cooler heads are not often prevailing as they should."

The serving girl returns, extending a mug of mead in offer for the knight in silence, allowing Morla to slowly lower herself into the chair beside him with relative ease. She holds her silence for a few moments before adding in a more informative manner, "The Calvary has a firm hold of the landed borders and our patrols have increased in response to the initial mobilization of Jerric's troops to the North. If an attack is to come, it will require accessing the waterways to do so. While the Varghems may have mercantile ships and we have vessels of our own, none can hold a candle to the expertise your House commands of the waterways. A unified South has a far better chance of withstanding any assault. We have need of your house, Sir Gustav, not only in matters of insight in these Courtly halls - but within the field should things come to that."

At her last, the Sollinger scion can hardly but crack a smile. "My House much prefers the field to insight of the court, my lady Morla…as I am sure you know well," he offers, his speech slow, his tone somewhat disheartened. "But…they /can/ be persuaded, and if you have need of ships and bows, we Sollingers have debts aplenty that require paying - not least of which is to House Lohstren."

As he speaks, a hand slips into a pocket and produces a long pipe, which he fills and sets aside to light after he has indulged himself of the mead. A sip taken and short puff of his pipe later, he continues, "Now…I have heard that the trebuchets are dismantled, or at least, it has been agreed that they shall be. That is the /only/ offensive capability of the north that our ships have need to fear of - what can we say of their disposal? Have we any eyes on the situation to ensure the work is done?"

"It is my understanding that while the dismantling has been agreed upon, it is yet to be an actual deed that has been accomplished," Morla concurs easily enough as she continues to study him for a thoughtful moment, "However, I do know they are to be destroyed under the watchful eyes chosen by Her Majesty. Once that is done, I am certain we will be amongst the first to know." Her hands fold gently within her lap, her timber eternally calm and collected, "While Her Majesty seems to believe Jerric shall hold to his end of the negotiations out of a desire to secure a swift return for his sister, I am inclined to agree. Yet there is no guarantee that other Houses of the North shall follow suit. I expect we will likely find some measure of resistance from House Auldholme, if any. Already their heir has proven to be defiant to the royal edict of the North by allowing safe passage through sealed borders to traitors of the South. While I would very much like to think House Auldholme will act with honor and respect the edicts of their own Prince - past actions forbid me from being blind to the potential for resistance or retaliation in some small manner. I would be remiss if I did not at least apprise you of the potential for concern."

The Sollinger man nods, his lone eye fixed on the Flowers' as she speaks. There is another short puff from his pipe, the air above filtering a thin grey mist, then, "There is always to be concern in these kinds of matters. The North is a pit of vipers set against one another; Jerrick's word might well mean dirt," he almost spits, contemptuously, "When it comes to their vassals. Auldholme I would be wary of, but it is House Westmark I would not trust. They are like to feel the most pressure to keep the trebuchets intact, lest they lose the river to the Sollingers. Geographically speaking, of course," the seaborn noble adds, pointedly. "Have we any teams prepared to remove the offending seige engines in the event that the North fails to comply? It would be rather simple to have a small Sollinger fleet prepared to sail upriver as soon as a signal is given that they are indeed gone. And then the border is ours, my Lady, just like that. They would dare send nothing south with our ships blocking."

The mention of the Westmarks brings a wry twist to her soft lips, the March Flower shaking her head slowly, "Give the Westmarks a bone and they will gnaw it raw, Sir Gustav, I have no doubt they shall seethe at the decision of their liege. Oh, make no mistake they will rant and rave - but the Baron is not fool enough to bite the hand that feeds him. At least not openly. They shall lose the river to Sollinger, and it is a sting they will remember." Morla echoes faintly, "A sting, which could very well sow the seed of insubordination and potential insurrection if allowed to take root in days to come. But for now? I do not believe open attacks will come from their direction. Riedel is too tenured in politics and practice to dare seek open defiance to their royal edicts, though I would well imagine their temperamental heir will have plenty to say upon the matter in their Northern halls."

Lips purse slightly as the pale beauty continues to muse over the other houses, "If a hand is to strike at us, it shall come from Auldholme - for their heir is weak and easily puppeted upon a string by those that have nothing but hatred for the South. I do /suppose/ it is possible for any retaliation to be secretly sanctioned by the crown… and such a childish antic would not entirely be outside the realm of possibility given Jerric's previous tantrums. Though that would require some motivation upon Jerric's part to see the heir of Auldholme potentially fall, and while inept, I am not so certain Braec would condone his son scheming against his own loyal vassals."

"The loyal ones, perhaps, but there is little and less of that to be found up north," the cyclopian steward snorts, before rinsing the words out with a quaff of mead. "It is true, Westmark would not strike so openly. In fact, should Auldholme commit to military faux pas, I might even assume the hand at the end of the string was the good…what do they call him, the Shadow Baron? His, but hidden. Still, if that is where you think the greatest danger is, you have more knowledge of this field than I," he concedes. A puff of his pipe later, and then, " So we will have the river. Then what? Is the endgame simply holding the line, or does the crown wish us to press our advantage once we have it?"

"I do not believe we are looking to press forward, at least not as of yet," Morla clarifies, her gaze slipping to regard that puff of smoke as she relaxes within her chair. Her finger idly begin to turn the signet ring upon her finger as she adds easily, "While the North is indeed a concern, it is far from our most pressing concern at this time. We still know very little of the threat which lingers to the East - and that is a border that has been quiet for far too long. Kerrilyn has never been a subtle woman and the fact we have heard no noise from the Ellowe borders is troubling." Her chest rises and falls easily, partaking of the slightly sweetened air due to the compote within her companion's pipe, before lifting a hand to tuck a frosted curl behind her ear, "A scouting group is being assembled as we speak that shall venture out past the Ellowe borders into Overlake. It is with our greatest hopes this reconnaissance mission shall give us more insight into what armies the East might be able to conjure at whim. The sooner we have use of that intelligence, the sooner we can make preparations to secure our borders from the East as well."

Gustav puffs a few more times at that news, his brow furrowing as his smoke rings grow thicker, and his face more pensive. "Ellowe is a troubling notion in its entirety. I am not overly familiar with its geography, but…we Sollingers have /excessive/ experience with the exploration of…new territory. As it were," he opines, selecting his words carefully. "Should you require a team to borrow, I am certain we could provide one…perhaps even have a ship built for their waterways. Assuming they have any."

Morla's lips curl into a genuine smile followed by a soft laugh, "Oh my dear, Sir Gustav, I do not quite know of any one individual who is privy to knowledge of their geography. Which I fear is very much part of the problem." The younger woman continues in a gentle manner, "Most of what we know of Ellowe is based upon myths and legends - the tales our mothers and fathers spoke of just before bed in hopes of deterring our curiosities away from the dangers of the East. I am not even sure it is possible to discern fact from fantasy where they are concerned. But as those darkened lands have become the sanctuary of Darrin and Kerrilyn, knowledge of the terrain and beasts which call it home have become a necessity."

The mention of a ship and team are met with an accepting nod of her head, "I believe we are looking to assemble a rather skilled team representative of all of the Southern houses and names have been submitted for consideration. It was our intent to utilize the strengths of both of our houses for the bulk of the expedition, as our families are far more equipped to handle any potential dangers that might be encountered upon such unknown shores. Meanwhile, House Varghem shall absorb the financial expense of such an excursion as supplies and the like are prone to be quite taxing." Pursing her lips for a moment, she adds as an afterthought, "We had considered making a request of one of your stellar vessels for the expedition, but after careful review - we feel it might be best to draw as little notice to this mission as possible. Besides, it is too much burden for any one house to bear to contribute both men and vessel… and the burdens must be equally dispersed if this mission is to be of any success."

"/If/ that is what you believe, I shan't press the offer," the Sollinger knight begins, before fixing his eye rather more pointedly at the lady. "But I cannot help but feel myself more suited to offer this than most…you see, my lady, House Sollinger is not all sailors and shipwrights. Some patrol the woods for lumber worthy of our ships, and we mill it right there. If discretion and secrecy are your concerns…I may be able to convince a team of ours to construct a small vessel for your expedition team's use within Ellowe's borders itself. Its practicality may be limited by the landscape, of course, but having a vessel…I find…always lends well to the morale of a group."

Arching a brow slowly with consideration of the offer, the pale Flower seems to mull over the idea, "I had not ever really considered that point. We have considered hiring an external ship that could pass without too much notice, but whether or not such a ship would be able to maneuver in narrower channels or discreetly within Ellowe is a matter that we have not discussed." Biting her lower lip for a moment of further consideration, she finally grants a gentle dip of her head in a nod, "Allow me to speak with the Lady Prada about the possibility, though I am not entirely certain of the timeframe or that we would be able to wait for the construction of such a vessel. Time, I fear, is all too short and not a luxury we truly have in this venture. Our primary concern is to ensure this expedition remains beneath the notice of both the North and East, themselves."

Again her fingers begin their idle play upon her signet ring in thought, "Sollinger has always proven to be a most steadfast and honorable friend to House Lohstren, Sir Gustav, and I would not by any means wish to overtax that relationship between us two. We shall have need enough of your shipwrights and captains in the days to come as it - I would ask only that you reserve some for yourselves. My greatest fear in all these preparations for war and missions for knowledge resides in knowing that just when we think we have covered every angle - something shall come out from the one corner we have not accounted for."

"Then allow me the liberty of reminding my lady that that is precisely why the queen has us," Sir Gustav announces, his tone only slightly more upbeat than it has been. "Any man can win a chess game if knows when and where the pieces will move. She needs men and women who can adapt to a changing board. Or changing beast. Or," he holds up his cane, "Changing life. I have had the pleasure of watching you conduct business when I wore the Blue; I know well your aptitude in that arena. Allow me to show you mine," the seaborn steward offers, before draining his cup, and rising to his feet. "I have letters to draft, my lady. The sooner the better, I should think. I trust you will keep me appraised of our predictions as they unfold, in the meantime?"

The rising of the seasoned knight initiates a mirrored rise from her own perch as she lets his words touch a faint hint of a smile upon the corner of her lips, "We can only predict the pieces upon the board, Sir Gustav, if our opponents seek to play by the rules. I believe we are entering dangerous waters where the rules we have been conditioned to understand since birth barely scratch the surface of what lays ahead for us all." Morla pauses for a long moment in consideration of his words, her wintery depths drifting back towards his cane as she finally bows her head in acquiescence, "I do so look forward to working with you in this arena, Milord. For it will be nice to have a companion with whom I can play the game that grants me insight to which I am otherwise blinded. Rest assured I shall notify you of any further changes as I hear them." She nearly forgets as she offers with a faint smile, "Oh! And do be so kind as to visit my brother should you get the chance. I know he would welcome time spent in the company of a Sollinger."

And that finally cracks a small grin from the gimped knight. "She speaks of being blinded to the one-eyed man," he remarks aloud, before stifling a chuckle by puffing quickly on his pipe. "But indeed, I share your enthusiasm. And I will seek out your brother…he and I have much to discuss as well, I should think, much more than simple company. Fare you well, my lady - and know that it is always a pleasure to share your company as well," he offers, giving a bow that is made slight only by the labor it takes to make whilst leaning on a cane. And then he is gone, leaving little behind but the fine sweet mist of his smoke.

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