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Queen Firegem's grand council of Royals in Atria begins.

When the grand conclave of royals hosted by Queen Aurra Firegem actually began, it quickly degenerated into a sort of trial, with an endless chain of accusations against the Saiph League left dangling in the air while Telan Blackseed attempted to defend against each one of them. The second of these was King Brogan Stronghammer, who after summarizing the tale of Evandr Firegem said, Menkal, too, has been viewed by the Republic as a place to drum up arms business. Last year this same Lord Telan Blackseed came to my palace as an embassy of the Saiph League and sold to me a forest of long pikes made from a new alloy he assured me would pierce any mail.

High Lord Advocate Telan Blackseed stood up to speak in his defense. I do not deny the essentials of the King's tale. The Saiph League is a merchant society after all. What I deny, Your Highness, is your implication that our deal alone was nefarious somehow. Are you making a claim here today that the pursuit of monetary profit is intrinsically evil?

It is not. No one here embraces a planned economy. But perhaps you saw Menkal wavering as a potential customer. Do you deny, Lord Blackseed, that you spoke of certain impious acts on the part of the men of Mizal?

All lies! Count Hilkiah Zelus of Mizal interjected with great anger. My God is El Shaddai, but we respect the deities of the other peoples of the Land We Know. We of Mizal never made straw images of Binah and kicked them through the streets of the city! We never wanted war to come.

Queen Aurra Firegem clapped her hands sharply once. That was the signal for her two serving wenches to come down from their hiding place and refresh her guests with water and small appetizers.

I admit I did send many pikejan to campaign against Nath on the basis of the lies of this man, King Stronghammer admitted. Lord Blackseed quailed a bit at the King's characterization of his report of certain rumors as a lie but he forced himself to remain silent for the time being. King Stronghammer continued. But the most amazing thing was discovering that despite my best efforts, the men of Nath were not caught by surprise at all. I was met on the approaches to Mizal with Count Zelus' entire infantry, armed with new plate armor miraculously capable of turning aside those very same 'innovative' pikes that Blackseed sold me. And so friend was turned against friend, brother turned against brother, with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the merchants of the Saiph League.

Telan Blackseed said in his defense, I fail to see any real significance in this tale, King Stronghammer. The Kingdom of Nath also have Queen Firegem's Alodran forces to worry about along their shared border, as well as family squabbles with the Hamaris in the west. That they would also be well prepared to deal with an invasion from the east was a side benefit.

High Lord Advocate Blackseed, King Arman Sunshield said, It is interesting that you mentioned my own kingdom just now. It seems that you are a man who really gets around, more so than even the House of Stronghammer who have a winged dragon to ride upon. And King Sunshield described being goaded into a sea battle against Menkal only to find the hull of his attacking ships mysteriously penetrated below the waterline and the vessels floundering, leaving Leviathan with many Hamari sailors for a meal.

The lesser noblemen of the four kingdoms told similar stories, sometimes even involving tussles between nobles within the same kingdom, and at every point there was the omnipresent Lord Telan Blackseed or his predecessors selling a problem to one side and the remedy to the other side. The stories with their common elements seemed to reach back into antiquity.

The pillar of light on the distant Holy Mountain attained maximum brightness. Queen Firegem clapped her hands sharply twice, and that was the signal for her two serving wenches to serve the midday meal.

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