“Let priests offer forgiveness before the hanging, a queen can only afford it after.”
– Queen Yolanda of Callow, the Wicked (known as ‘the Stern’ in contemporary histories)
I found out, to my mild surprise, that there were not one but three private dining rooms in the Alcazar. I’d not even been aware that were any, though it made sense upon refection: it was the part of the Arsenal meant to host important guests, essentially the facility’s diplomatic quarters. In my experience a great deal of diplomacy was had over meals and drinks, compared to the great formal conferences I’d envisioned as a girl. One of the two smaller rooms was where the First Prince of Procer received me, having brought her own private cooks to prepare the meal in the Arsenal kitchens. I appreciate the restraint of not having gone for the formal banquet hall, which was large enough that any meal taken there would bring with it a tiring amount of pageantry.
Instead we sat in an elegant and comfortable dining room whose walls were covered by panels of painted wood that I vaguely remembered being donated by the recently ascended Princess of Cantal. Lovely work with a touch of warmth to it. It was a pleasant departure from the bare stone that was so prevalent everywhere in the Arsenal. The meal itself was of the quality I’d come to expect from Cordelia Hasenbach’s personal cooks, which was to say both delicious and almost unnecessarily elaborate. Four services, each with a paired cup of wine – I noticed she drank on sparsely from hers – and ranging from some sort of potage whose ingredients came from a garden first planted by the founder of the Principate to a roasted bird that ate only enchanted seeds and was illegal for anyone but royalty to eat in most of Procer.
Unlike me, it seemed that Hasenbach had something of a sweet tooth. Though she’d eaten with measured grace throughout the meal, she dug into the fourth and final serving of a strawberry-topped custard tart sprinkled with slivers of marzipan with discreet enthusiasm. I ate enough of mine to be polite but found myself much more interested in the bottle of wine that’d been provided to me: Vale summer wine. Slightly cooled in a chillbox, as was the custom this side of the Whitecaps, it proved a pleasurable way to end the finest meal I’d had in a long time.
“I suppose it would be unpatriotic of me to admit I’m growing fond of Proceran cuisine,” I mused.
“I will refrain from spreading it around,” the First Prince drily replied.
I’d actually put on a dress for once, given that any fighting taking place tonight was unlikely to involved swords. One the downsides to being known as a soldier queen was that there was a expectation I’d show up to everything looking like I was fit for battle, something that was rarely compatible with the sort of cotton summer dress I remained fond of wearing. Not that I could put on one of those when meeting with the likes of Cordelia Hasenbach, sadly. The Arsenal was too cold anyway. Instead I’d put on a long-sleeved dress in black velvet, discreetly embroidered with my heraldry in silver thread on the sides. I’d not bothered with jewelry aside from a set of intricate silver bracelets set with grey agates I’d received as a diplomatic gift from Hasenbach herself a year or two back.
My own small preparations were, naturally, nothing compared to the spectacle that was the First Prince of Procer receiving foreign royalty. The intricate brocade dress in gold and pale she must have been helped into – it was too tightly fitted to her frame for it to be anything but laced in the back – ended in long skirts that matched the length of the light ermine-collared cloak in the same colours she wore over the dress. A long, slender golden necklace set with sapphires reached well below her throat and over the cloak, calling attention to the narrowness of her waist by contrast. A clever trick of perspective, that, helped along by the way the skirts expanded swiftly outwards. It made her look like slender girl instead of the woman with the Lycaonese warrior frame she actually was. The cape hid the broad shoulders too, I’d noticed, which was a recurring pattern with her.
Still, with the all the intricate layers and the way for once her long golden locks had been allowed to tumble down her back – in a very careful and artistic pretence of – carelessly I felt like you might be able to fit two of me in her.
“Much appreciated,” I drawled. “So, if it’s not too indiscreet to ask, how was it that you learned my favourite wine? I cannot help but feel deeply amused the prospect the famous Circle of Thorns going digging for that.”
“It was learned by happenstance during the Liesse Rebellion,” the First Prince idly replied, polishing off the last of her dessert. “A certain Hasan Qara used smugglers with which the Circle has ties to obtain a large enough quantity of the vintage that questions were raised.”
I breathed out slowly, startled by the way the grief had jumped out at me. It’d been some time since I’d last thought of Ratface. Who’d trusted me and followed me, only to die by an assassin’s blade on the night that Malicia had ensured that this could only end with one of us dead.
“I seem to have given offence,” Cordelia softly said. “My apologies.”
I mastered myself and waved it away.
“He was a good friend,” I said. “He died during the Night of Knives and I miss him still.”
The First Prince slowly nodded.
“If not for Agnes’ foresight and the protection it affords, I would have lost much of my family to the Tower’s assassins over the years,” the fair-haired Lycaonese said. “I can only offer my sympathies for your loss.”
I wasn’t sure if she was simply that polished a speaker or if she genuinely meant it, but it made no difference. Ratface’s corpse had been given a Legion funeral, in Laure, and one day I would settle his last accounts on his behalf. I could offer no more than that, though it would still be too small a thing for all that he’d freely given.
“We’ll lose more before this is over,” I simply said. “Tears are best kept for when the swords return to the sheath.”
“A sentiment my people are more than passingly fond of,” Cordelia said, faintly rueful.
Our conversation paused as an attendant came to take her empty plate, another bringing in an elegant porcelain teapot to replace it. The First Prince gestured for the woman to pour and she filled a cup with a dark tea fragrant enough I caught the scent from my seat – it was distinctly bitter, as Hasenbach seemed to prefer her brews. The attendants withdrew again after one filled my half-empty glass anew, leaving behind the bottle. Within moments we were alone in the room, and the tension began to rise. After the meal and the idle talk that’d accompanied it, we would finally be getting at the meat of why she’d wanted this meeting.
“We have a great deal to discuss, Queen Catherine,” the First Prince said. “This was true before I left Salia, and circumstance has since added to the heap of troubles ahead of us.”
“The Prince of Brus conveyed your opinions and offer to me,” I carefully said. “Yet I would take council with Lady Dartwick before speaking more to the subject.”
Hasenbach lightly sipped at her tea, never making a sound.
“Jurisdiction over the Red Axe is one matter,” she said. “The Mirror Knight and his involvement with the House of Langevin are another. Yet even further abroad we are not without ill news.”
“Mercantis?” I asked.
Vivienne had recently warned me the situation there was bad and about to get worse, mentioning that we’d speak more of it in person, but I’d not believed it to have gotten to the point of ‘ill news’. The Secretariat had warned me even earlier of going ons there as well, through Secretary Nestor, but they’d been vague and I was not in the habit of flinching from shadows. I’d been skeptical then and remained skeptical now. The City of Bought and Sold might have gained some leverage over the Grand Alliance by its merchant lords and banks becoming the foremost lenders to the war effort, but they had to be aware that there were limits to how much they could push that. Given that most of the mercenary armies they relied on for protection were either six feet deep or under contract, these days, they were also rather vulnerable to directly expressed displeasure.
Also known as violence.
“There is a limit to the papers I can provide you on the matter,” Cordelia said, surprisingly forthright, “as they contain privileged information on the Principate’s capacities of production and trade. I will have what I can sent to your quarters, however, and I would myself convey the conclusions of my staff if you have no objection.”
I hid my surprise. This was a lot more serious than I’d expected.
“Please do,” I replied.
“To summarize, unprecedented burdens and the interruption of near all our usual trade routes have effectively ended Procer’s ability to sustain itself without outside help,” Cordelia Hasenbach said. “Conscription and the previous drains on our treasuries are shaping what would have been a dire crisis into a risk of outright collapse.”
Coming from the woman ruling what was still the most powerful nation on the surface of Calernia, that was stark thing to hear.
“You should still be able to trade with Callow and Levant,” I pointed out.
It wasn’t that I doubted her, but rather more that I was surprised. I’d been reading the treasury reports for the Grand Alliance assiduously, and though there’d been dips they’d never been long-lasting. I’d believed we were staying afloat, if not necessarily by much.
“The profits to be found there are smaller than those our merchants are accustomed to,” the First Prince delicately replied.
Meaning the Kingdom of Callow and the Dominion of Levant, the two allies who’d not closed their doors to Proceran traders, were simply too poor for their trade to sustain Procer. That, I grimly thought, actually sounded about right. I’d been shocked at the wealth of even minor cities in the heartlands of the Principate for a reason.
“And within your own borders the trade is failing,” I said, cocking an eyebrow.
“Prices have gone up for nearly all goods,” Cordelia said. “To protect their own tradesmen and prevent other principalities form buying up their reserves, princes have been raising increasingly stiff tariffs.”
Which was reasonable enough, I thought, but with an eye on the Principate as a whole it must be crippling. Maybe Procer at its peak could withstand every principality becoming as an island and cutting off trading ties, but it wasn’t at its peak right now. Whole swaths of it had been ravaged by Black during his ill-fated march, the north had been turned into a series of ravaged war fronts and there was a mass of displaced refugees to care for in the heartlands. All those were drains that Procer simply wouldn’t be able to sustain if all its principalities were closed-off and trying for subsistence instead of prosperity.
“Prince Frederic mentioned confiscations, when we discussed the state of affairs in Procer in passing,” I slowly said. “How bad is it really?”
“They have become common practice even south of Lange, now,” the blue-eyed princess replied. “If princes attempted to keep to their war quotas without resorting to them, nearly two thirds of the Principate would begin toppling into bankruptcy.”
Oh fuck. That was… Hells, we were scraping through at rough cost and with only a little hope in the distance right now, but that was with the full weight of the Principate of Procer behind us. If it collapsed behind us the Dead King wouldn’t even need to crack our defence lines: we simply wouldn’t be able to field and feed large enough armies to keep him back. At that point we’d be forced to retreat, otherwise we were just feeding him well-armed corpses to march south with.
“But the Mercantis loans are keeping you afloat,” I said.
“It is not sustainable in the long term,” the First Prince said. “We will need increasingly larger loans to remain standing where we are the longer this continues. Yet you are correct, at the moment the coin from Mercantis had allowed us to ward off the spiral downwards.”
I drank deep of my cup, barely even enjoying the taste of my favourite wine.
“Are they aware of that?” I asked.
Meaning, was awareness of the not negligible leverage this represented the reason they were pushing us now?
“I am uncertain,” Cordelia said. “Given the unfortunate amount of success the Eyes of the Empire have had in infiltrating the Principate, however, I believe that on the other hand Dread Empress Malicia is.”
Of course she godsdamned was. This wasn’t the kind of knowledge she was just going to sit on either. Considering that she couldn’t really spare military forces to stir up trouble at the moment, the possibility of going for the Grand Alliance’s moneybags using her preferred weapons of knives and influence was the kind of opportunity she’d dig into with relish.
“For a woman fighting a civil war she’s remaining unpleasantly active abroad,” I growled.
The First Prince sipped at her tea.
“Lady Dartwick informed me that our… friend out east warned the Tower will soon take action in Mercantis,” Cordelia said.
Yeah, she’d told me that as well. Our friend out east, huh. My lips twitched. A pretty little euphemism, that, used to refer to Dread Empress Sepulchral. I’d known her as High Lady Abreha Mirembe of Aksum back in the day, though our acquaintance had only been middling – I’d strong-armed her into backing the creating of the Ruling Council of Callow using her nephew as leverage, but we’d not really crossed paths since. She’d risen to prominence in the years that followed mostly by virtue of ruling one of the few High Seats whose holdings had not been touched by civil war or foreign incursions. She’d failed to ride the wave of discontent against Malicia that’d welled up after the destruction of Thalassina all the way to the Tower, but against all expectations her eventual rebellion had not been brutally snuffed out by loyalist legions.
The two empresses past the Wasaliti were still grappling even now, and though Malicia’s position was the stronger Sepulchral’s own was in no immediate danger of collapse.
“I’d count that as good information,” I said. “Malicia scoring victories against foes abroad will strengthen her position with the nobles, so it’s in Sepulchral’s interests to see her thwarted.”
“You had some involvement with Sepulchral when she was still High Lady of Aksum, as I understand it,” the First Prince said. “Did you form an opinion of her?”
“Her nephew’s the one I had the most dealings with, and he was a follower of the Diabolist with waning ties to his aunt,” I cautioned. “But Abreha Mirembe…”
Black had considered her one of the most dangerous nobles in the Empire, considering the amount of blood she’d shed to claim Aksum, but it was not my father’s opinion being sought.
“In a lot of ways, she’s emblematic of Wasteland upper nobility as a whole,” I eventually said. “Cunning, even brilliant in some regards, but also appallingly callous. Abreha Mirembe does not have ideals – or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that her ideal is the acquisition of power no matter the costs.”
“The Circle judged her to be hard and opportunistic even by Praesi standards,” Cordelia shared.
“Praesi in her rarefied circle of nobility are expected to exalt cruelty in the same way that your princes are expected to show off their piety,” I frankly said. “That she not only survived but outright thrived in that environment should tell you a lot about her. She can be relied on to slide a knife into Malicia’s back every chance she gets, but not much else.”
We’d strayed from our original discussion Mercantis, though, so I subtly changed the subject back to it.
“Mercantis,” I said. “I doubt you would have brought it up to me without having some sort of a solution in mind.”
The First Prince drank from her cup, taking her time, and set it down so delicately I barely heard the clink of porcelain on porcelain.
“Diplomacy will not be enough to settle that matter,” Cordelia Hasenbach said. “It is unfortunate, but no less true for it.”
My brow rose. Well now, that was bold of her. And a far cry from her usual methods.
“I can’t commit my troops still in Callow to an attack on the city,” I warned. “Even if I could afford the vulnerability to Praes that’d bring, only a fool would try an assault on Mercantis without a proper fleet.”
Which the Kingdom of Callow did not have. In theory it might be possible to requisition river barges and fishing boats up the Hwaerte until there were enough floating rafts to manage a crossing with, but considering that Mercantis had a small but professional fleet of dedicated warships trying that would just be pissing away an army at the bottom of the Great Lake.
“Nothing quite so significant is required,” the fair-haired princess replied. “A few Chosen and Damned, however, would make the point felt quite clearly.”
I grimaced. It’d be less of a headache trying to shake a few of those free than trying to shuffle around troops, admittedly, but it’d still be a headache. The real issue was that at least one of those Named would need to have a reputation as a genuine threat to something the size of a city-state if they were to serve as a potable warning against overreach. We had few Named of that calibre, and they were best used up north on the fronts. Pulling one off for what someone unaware of the nuances might think to just be petty politics would not be popular, aside from the actual martial considerations in pulling out such a war asset.
“I could reach out to the Kingdom Under,” I suggested.
Mercantis was under their protection, and the dwarves had a vested interest in the Grand Alliance continuing to make a dent in the forces of the Dead King.
“If the King Under the Mountains can be convinced to intervene, it will have a significant impact,” Cordelia agreed. “Yet the dwarves have traditionally been reluctant to involve themselves in such matters.”
Which was probably why she’d not opened by requesting I try that – she didn’t believe the Kingdom Under would actually move even if asked. She might not be wrong, since they were a pretty mercenary people and they didn’t exactly owe me any favours at the moment. Those had been spent keeping the drow fed on their exodus, amongst other things. Might as well find out, though, there wasn’t much to lose in asking.
“I’ll draft a letter,” I said, drumming my fingers against the table.
“Thank you,” she smiled. “While I would ask you to consider the practicalities of sending Chosen to Mercantis, such a measure would yet be distant. I have arranged a conference with representatives of the Consortium here in the Arsenal. I would be pleased if you could attend it.”
Impressing the merchants with a look at the Arsenal, huh? A pretty simple tactic, but it’d probably still be somewhat effective considering how unearthly and impressive this place could look. It wasn’t like this place wasn’t going to turn into a major diplomatic artery for a month or two anyway, we might as well make use of it properly.
“I’ll be there,” I agreed. “Have the details sent to my people.”
I let a moment pass.
“To be sure,” I slowly said, “you do want me in that room to scare them, correct?”
The First Prince of Procer was too self-controlled to be visibly embarrassed by my laying out the truth so bluntly, but I doubted it was a coincidence she chose that moment to take a sip of tea.
“Your reputation carries a great deal of weight, Queen Catherine,” the blue-eyed princess carefully said. “Your displeasure would not be courted lightly.”
Meaning that those representatives were a lot less likely to try to push the Grand Alliance if I made it clear that such a mistake would lead to my gating in with a few thousand drow one evening and expressing my displeasure. Fair enough. I’d have hesitated to be the rabid hound of this play more if there were likely to be long term diplomatic consequences for Callow, but my abdication should see to the worse of that. Besides, by then my home should be a lot less afraid of Mercantis’ displeasure: if trade with Praes and Procer was open, then the Consortium’s usefulness as a middleman waned significantly.
“I’m sure they can be made to understand that if their greed ends up feeding Calernia to Keter, before the end I’ll personally lead my armies to raze Mercantis to the ground and salt the ashes,” I mildly said.
“The very sort of talk that might give the ambitious pause,” Cordelia delicately admitted. “The imprudence in relying too heavily on the Consortium has been made clear, however, which demands other measures be taken. Bringing peace to even part of the Free Cities would allow for the resumption of trade, and so lessen the burden on the southern principalities.”
“In principle I’m very much in favour,” I said. “I simply don’t see a practical way to achieve peace in the region anytime soon.”
The wars in the League of Free Cities had reached a point of stalemate, more or less. Basileus Leo Trakas still ruled in the city of Nicae itself, but he’d lost the countryside to Strategos Zenobia and neither could afford to dislodge the other. Penthes’ armies had been whipped on the field by General Basilia, who’d managed to get Helike in order behind her, but after the casualties of the Proceran campaign and half her army leaving to serve under the Grand Alliance she didn’t have the siege or mages to take Penthes itself – whose much-despised Exarch Prodocius was rumoured to be propped up by Malicia directly. Stygia was quietly feeding the flames, hoping to expand after everyone was spent, and neither Atalante nor Bellerophon seemed inclined to get involved.
Only Delos was keeping an eye on things, but while the Secretariat had passed information to me in the past it was also very reluctant to surrender its current neutrality. The askretis had no interest in a war after the way their last one had gone.
“Though there will be difficulties,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, “if the signatories Grand Alliance were to wield their clout in accord it would not be impossible to effect change.”
I watched her and drank from my cup, noncommittal. There’d been good reasons for the Grand Alliance being so reluctant to involve itself in the wars of the League, and though what I’d learned about the darkening of Procer changed the situation some I was still inclined to caution there. Any resources spent on trying to plug that sinking boat might very well end up wasted with nothing to show for it, leaving us even worse off than before.
“A shared recognition of Strategos Zenobia as the legitimate ruler of Nicae, for example, would strengthen her support,” she suggested.
“Not enough to topple Leo Trakas,” I pointed out.
Which would make the gesture entirely pointless, as far as I was concerned.
“Perhaps so, if paired with a severing of all ties with territory under the rule of the Basileus,” Cordelia said.
That’d put pressure, though not an enormous amount: with sea trade in the Samite Gulf good as dead, Nicae wouldn’t be taking any real losses by this. It’d still be made a pariah to a large coalition, though, and that might make some nobles in the city turn on the Basileus out of fear the sanctions would remain even when things calmed. It was also, however, something that might just backfire spectacularly if the people of Nicae were moved to anger by the foreign interference into their affairs. Something that the First Prince would be well aware of, which meant there was another angle there.
“Under what pretext?” I asked.
“I would have the Grand Alliance name Leo Trakas a friend to the Dead King, and so an enemy to all the living,” the First Prince said.
My hands clenched. I forced them to loosen, the drank again from the cup as I gathered my thoughts. The refusal on the tip of my tongue had been instant, but it had been more a thing of instinct than thought. This entire proposal smacked of the House of Light declaring me Arch-heretic of the East to me, only even more shamelessly political. Basileus Leo Trakas was inconvenient to us, and circumstances might well have forced him into some degree of alliance with the Tower, but it was going a step too far to call him an ally of the Dead King. I calmly set down my cup.
“I don’t like the precedent this sets,” I said. “We’re an alliance, not the ruling lords of Calernia. And while this sort of denunciation might be taken as face value by a lot of people, given the war we’re in, we both know that Leo Trakas is mostly trying to stay alive at the moment. I’ve little pity to spare for the man, but I’m not comfortable using titles like ‘friend to the Dead King’ as a diplomatic stick.”
It was the sort of thing that made a man genuinely desperate, and a Basileus with both nothing left to lose and helpful Wasteland friends was a recipe for disaster.
“I understand your hesitation,” the First Prince said. “It does not please me to have to resort to such a method. My advisors suggested the same manoeuvre be used to exert pressure on Penthes, in truth, but I balked. It would be an overreach.”
So Exarch Prodocius, arguably by far the worse man of the two for having helped Malicia arrange a use of Still Water, would be spared the same epithet. Because Cordelia was trying to put together the western half of the League as a mostly stable trading bloc for the Principate, not the east. The naked truth laid bare by what she must have considered to be a demonstration of restraint only made me more uneasy. Some of that must have shown on my face, as she pressed forward.
“As you have yourself pointed out, we otherwise lack the means to truly affect matters in the Free Cities,” the fair-haired princess said.
“I still think that even in putting out the fire in Nicae you’d be laying the foundations for a worse blaze down the line,” I said. “Did you go to Levant about this?”
“The Holy Seljun was willing to agree,” she replied. “Though only after a formal vote of signatory members, and only should that vote be unanimous.”
Ah, so Wazim Isbili was cleverer than his reputation implied. That way Tariq’s distant nephew could let me refuse Procer on his behalf instead of having to do his own dirty work. That trick of procedure, though, spoke to me of a smaller nation used to existing in Procer’s shadow and wary of helping it gain too much influence even in a crisis. Those passed, after all, while influence gained during them lingered a lot longer. Of course, if I could figure this much out then Hasenbach could as well. I cocked a silent eyebrow at her.
“As I said,” the First Prince of Procer repeated, “I understand your hesitation. Perhaps a more cautious approach would better suit? A private mock-vote can be had, and should it be unanimous a letter of warning can be sent to Leo Trakas as to what will follow.”
I didn’t like having even the pretence of my seal of approval on this, but unfortunately she was right that we weren’t flush with ways to settle the mess in the League. It might not be avoidable for me to get my hands dirty here. And I can always change my vote when it comes to actually going through with this.
“You’re leveraging him,” I said, implicitly agreeing. “So what is it you’re trying to leverage him into?”
“Opening the gates of Nicae to Strategos Zenobia, who by law is the senior ruler of the city-state,” Cordelia said. “This would be under guarantee of safety for him and his partisans, naturally. I have been corresponding with Zenobia and she is amenable to those terms.”
I couldn’t help but notice she’d not mentioned General Basilia, who’d been the one to raise Zenobia up in the first place. Mostly as a way to keep Nicae off her back while she went after Penthes, but it couldn’t be denied the two were aligned with Basilia the distinct greater of that alliance.
“I could get Helike to accept those terms,” I said, “if Zenobia is willing to turn on Penthes.”
The First Prince’s eyes narrowed as she watched me closely.
“In what sense?” she asked. “The city will have little force to field after this.”
“It will have ships,” I said. “The lack of which is one of the reasons Basilia can’t siege the coastal fortresses properly.”
Able to cut them off from the sea, the Helikean general might be able to starve them out even if she couldn’t take the walls. Or at least make a good enough threat of it that Prodocius’ army would have to either give battle or face the prospect of losing every holdout outside the walls of Penthes. Considering that Basilia seemed a lot more interested in winning her wars than cementing influence over Nicae, I suspected she’d take naval support from Nicae over Leo Trakas’ head on a pike. He’d made for a pretty middling rival, anyway.
“I will have to contact the Strategos,” Cordelia said, “yet I suspect she will be amenable to such terms.”
I suspected that Hasenbach would push for acceptance, regardless of whether or not Zenobia liked the deal. It was compounding gain with gain, from the Proceran perspective: with a fleet on her side, Basilia would be able to become a serious headache for another ally of the Tower. More importantly she’d be doing that fighting in the eastern territories of the League, far from anything Hasenbach currently cared about. Considering that while I might be the effective patron of Basilia’s Helike the Principate had a much more contentious relationship with her, keeping the general busy in the east might even be considered yet another gain. I nodded sharply.
“Stygia’s going to be an issue,” I said. “Lukewarm as they might be on the Tower, they’re not going to let alliances firm up the western League without taking measures.”
“I concur,” the Lycaonese princess said. “And it so happens I have a few thoughts on how to check them.”
We must have spoken for at least an hour more after that, breaking only for a bit when we had to send for maps – I was trying to make the point of why a Nicaean support fleet would practically double the size of what Basilia could field in soldiers just because of the supply line they represented – and Hasenbach excusing herself to use the privy. It was turning out to be a thoroughly productive evening, and though the suggestion of sponsoring defensive pacts between cities against Stygia in particular would be dead in the water without Atalante or Delos being brought on, it was a solid notion we could keep pushing without a significant investment of resources on our part.
In time the subject was exhausted, at least in the sense that more could not be discussed without the both of us having sought answers outside and read through reports. I was just starting on my third cup of Vale summer wine by then, though I’d been slow in drinking it, so I was largely sober and feeling rather vivified by how much we’d gotten done. In a concession to my own consumption Hasenbach had sent for a cup of hydromel she’d been nursing ever since she’d finished the tea, and it was that she set down when the conversation hit a low ebb.
“I believe we have discussed the matter exhaustively enough for the night,” the First Prince said.
“Agreed,” I said.
I sighed, leaning back into my seat.
“So let’s talk about the troubles closer to home.”