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Joy is such a joy to be around.

The delegation from the neighboring Kingdom of Nath entered the Queen's great meeting chamber next. Of King Belen Garand Luzea sang to Aliwe:

He rules lakeside Hadal where you were born.

The Queen greets him without a trace of scorn.

Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed har son

And is fresh in the minds of everyone.

Indeed, it was that very tragedy which led to the Queen convening the Council in the hopes of avoiding anything like it again in the future.

King Garand was followed by Count Hilkiah Zelus of the city of Mizal, who came to the Council with his beautiful wife Tamar Amshaid-Zelus. Mizal, which lay on the irrigated plain behind the Enkaa Dam, was the breadbasket of Nath. Indeed, Mizal fed the whole Land We Know. Luzea sang:

The more they grow in Hilkiah's Valley,

The more we toil in Aurra's Galley!

The Count was followed by the Baron Nahaliel Kerresh of Linan, who proceeded at a stately pace with his wife Ainia at his side. Linan lay at the center of the rangelands of Nath, where cattle were sold by the head or by the herd and driven alive to parts throughout the Land We Know to be slaughtered, and the choice animals of these were offered by priests to El Shaddai at the Temple in Hadal. Luzea sang:

Watch your step Baron, when ready to roam,

We just caught a whiff, reminder of home!

After that, the man Telan Blackseed, High Lord Advocate of Saiph League, made an unassuming entrance, a stroll without any pomp, that befitted his status here as an elected commoner out of place among blood nobility. But Queen Firegem knew that dealing with Telan (and the republic he represented) was the very purpose lying at the heart of her Council, and his real power equated to that of at least a duke, if not a king.

Telan Blackseed also was under no illusion here. The Queen's aim was nothing less than the formation of a league of all the kingdoms in the Land We Know which would be far stronger than the fragile Saiph League of cities. If that royal alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the eternally warring states, and that in turn would spark an existential crisis in the Saiph League. Over the eighteen decades of its exist- ence, the Republic had shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other nations in the Land We Know, or attending to the needs of those who manufactured those arms. Now, overnight, the entire basis of industry in the Saiph League could evaporate, unless the nascent league of kingdoms was stillborn. Blackseed was attending to that.

The mere fact that Queen Firegem had convened this council had recently propelled Telan Blackseed from the office of a lowly Freelord in the Markal region to the High Lord Advocacy itself, because he had foreseen the Queen's actions and publicly warned of it, while his predecessor, High Lord Advocate Thorgrim Grayeye, ever the conservative, had vacillated until it was too late. The charter of the Saiph League only allowed for the High Lord Advocate to be replaced in the event of his resignation or death. Grayeye refused to resign. This called for a practical solution. So most of the Freelords acting in concert provided the legal sanction for his death, and Blackseed's roving death squads provided the physical action.

Accompanying Telan Blackseed was a black-clad woman with the single name of Joy and no surname. Much mystery surrounded this Joy. She would not say whether she was begotten in the Land We Know, or one of the dead of Earth. Some said she was a great sorceress with power over animals. But one thing was certain. Joy never smiled, and her grim visage gave lie to her name.

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