A fine layer of snow blew lazily over the lands that surrounded the port city of Vonder, blanketing the sparse remaining patches of frozen earth and greyed, withering grass across the snowfields in a deepening layer of loose white powder. Vast Coniferous forests encroached on the northern and western borders of the fields, their tops lightly dusted with snowfall from the jagged mountain peaks beyond. Skirting the cities eastern flank was the winding body of the Orsaeda river, it’s mouth opening to let warmer waters carried from the Vi’har oasis to the north mingle with the frigid southern arm of the Adros sea on the cities southmost side. Wayward ice rafts broken from the frozen wastes far to the south of the city drifted north past the ports's sizable docks before melting in the warmer water, never quite gaining a foothold in the south most ice-free port on Tor’Saarns east coast, even as autumn’s grip quickly tightened into winter’s frigid hold.
Drifting along the coast were an uncountable variety of ships that came from every corner of Tor’Saarn. Some were headed up and down the Orsaeda, carrying goods between the east coast and Mar’Kiim city at the heart of Tierdun’s eastern province. Others ferried goods away from the kingdom to the myriad of nations that dotted east Tor’Saarn or to the many lands of the wider continent. Of all ships that passed in and out of Vonder’s port a solitary ship stood out from the others, the single example of its make in the harbour. It’s form was not unlike many other brigandines seen in the east, it had two decks, a pair of square-rigged masts and eight ors on both of the vessels' flanks. However the boat’s abnormal color and size set it apart from all other ships of it’s build. The vessel sat squat when compared to others of it’s like, and it was made from an unpainted, ghostly white wood hewn from Aerustan Spruce trees that outshone even the snows of the bay. The ship's masts were rigged with sails bluer than the tropical seas of the Faeren straits, the otherwise solid color broken by fine veins of silver.
The ship silently glided toward Vonder’s port, awaited by a contingent of guards clad in the lustrous, blue-silver shimmer of Cold-Forged Steel over a simple orange shirt. Over their breastplates lay single piece blue Surcoats emblazoned by the image of an inverted orange sword wreathed in blue flame, the thin fabric resting just above their knees. Amongst the ranks of soldiers stood both the pale furred Jackal men known as Ja’goroan and a lightly tanned race of men descended from the ancient bloodlines of Tiorath. These soldiers stood vigilant, forming a crescent behind three keenly dressed and well groomed men, a pair of Ja’goroan, one on each flank of a young Man. They were all clad in dark leather surcoats bound at the waist by belts with Cold-Forged buckles. Under their surcoats they wore an orange shirt, and over their left shoulders rested a single Cold-Forged pauldron, a long shoulder cape cut from the same cloth as their shirts flowing down past their knees. Their surcoats were emblazoned by the icon of a sword, their blades facing toward the ground. The Ja’goroan to the left’s icon was teal, the human’s white and the elderly dog-man on the right’s was orange, all of which were portrayed with a wreath of blue flame.
The man in the middle, a youthful figure with short, black hair shaved close at the sides and embellished with a light fringe that hung over his deep brown eyes and barely tanned skin, toyed with the hilt of a silvery-blue cold forged arming sword, the white-gold and true-gold weave of it’s filigree guard knocking against his flank. The length of the blade swayed in response, slothing off long sheets of ice as it brushed by his side.
“What is the matter, Sabrin?” said the grey furred man on his left, his fangs bared as a wry smile formed at the corners of his snout. “Are you having trouble with your new blade? Perhaps Cold-forged Steel is not suitable for your particular tastes, maybe you would be more comfortable with a more familiar metal, Tiorathan Steel perhaps? Your people seem ill adjusted to it’s use.” A cruel glint shone behind the dog-man's eyes as his smile widened further. “Enough, Ra’Dem”. The elder dog to Sabrin’s right barked, his commanding voice lowering to a faint growl as he turned to his compatriots and narrowed his brow. Flecks of silver catching the light that fell on his black fur. “Sabrin has proven himself more than trustworthy. He has every right to shape his blade withinin the cold-forges. Tiorathan by blood or not, the hand of a Tierdun lord will not be insulted by a less honorable steel!” The smile quickly disappeared from the younger Ja’goroan’s face as his amber eyes flickered. “Of course Lord Kiim! I did not intend any offence, nor desire to make any unsavory implication to our… friend. Only to...” Ra’Dem’s once still hands began to fidget nervously in front of him as he stumbled over his words.
Sabrin met Ra’Dem’s gaze with a smirk. “Lost for words, Radem?” He chuckled. “You will lose that silken tongue of yours long before I brandish a lesser blade, let alone the traitor’s steel.” Ra’Dem’s brows furrowed as his eyes narrowed into slits. “And by this you mean” “Only to warn you that your particular brand of humor is best kept amongst friends”. Sabrin cut him off. “Of course, brother, I would expect nothing else”. Ra’Dem pouted. “Sabrin is right, it is best that you manage your impulsiveness in the company of our guests. Aerustan society is… traditional by nature, even more so than their southern cousins. They will not indulge you in meaningless chatter like the airheaded nobles of East Felsaed”. The lord then turned his eyes to the human, his voice softening slightly as he spoke “Is something bothering you, young Melevar?” “No, my liege. The excitement seems to have gotten to my nerves, nothing more”. He dismissed his elders' concern. “Are you certain?” The mean spirited smile returned to Ra’Dem’s lips, albeit hidden underneath a coi expression. “You look rather pale. Perhaps it is best that you take the time to rest. I am certain the Tradelord and I can take care of the visiting delegation in your absence”. “I am fine.” Sabrin was quick to answer. “Good” Kiim raised a hand to silence the two. “I need your mind’s at their keenest”. Kiim glared at Ra’Dem, his eyes narrowing as the still grinning dogman grabbed his attention “Both of you. I trust the pair of you have familiarized yourself with your readings?”.
Sabrin made a short, bowing nod. “Yes Lord Kiim”. Ra’Dem made a far more exaggerated bowing motion, his torso moving earthward as he did. “Certainly my Lord, I have taken every measure to ensure our success! Indeed, I am sure that I could handle the negotiations alone!” “Then you have either failed to read my letters in their entirety or desire glory alone at the risk of our houses' fates”. “No my lord, I only wished to convey my confidence so you would not concern yourself for my sake!” “Do I have reason for concern then, if you so strongly desired to bring this topic to my attention?” the elder lord’s nostrils flared, a fine mist forming as his breath struck the frozen air. “No! I will not fail you Tradelord!” “You are bold, I’ll give you that. But boldness is no substitute for true courage tempered by caution, pup. Measure your words carefully before you speak. You have yet to prove yourself as my second. Do not think for a moment that your uncle’s merit is bound to his name, or that Melevar is unworthy to hold the title once given to house Dem”. Ra’Dem stared at the ground, his hands rubbing together in an anxious display. “Of course. House Dem will always serve at the side of House Kiim, the only lords worthy of the seat of Mar’Kiim. The Tradehouse comes first and demands excellence in all things, I will not fail you''. “Excellence and loyalty in equal measure” Kiim responded, seemingly satisfied with the young lord's submission, as scripted as it seemed to his ears.
Melevar!” Kiim snapped his fingers as he turned to the human. “Do you comprehend our position better than Dem?” Sabrin snapped to attention, his hand leaving the hilt of his blade. “I believe so, my lord”. “And what position do you believe we are in?”. Sabrin’s eyes met his mentor’s gaze, unwavering as he spoke. “We are negotiating from a disadvantaged position, however due to your persistence we have drawn interest from one of Aerust’s more influential Varhiem’s, Vessiar if my memory serves. They are ready to enter a trade pact with Mar’Kiim city, the first such pact ever made between Aerust as a foriegn power. Tierdun will see a lot of new trade, and Tradehouse Mar’Kiim will be at its heart. You will of course need a way to move these new commodities inland, the waterways between Mar’Kiim city and Vonder should serve. This meeting is simply a formality, the terms of trade are already set out and ready for your signature and that of the Varhiem, and mine, of course as the lord of Vonder. We just need to be polite, coordinated and make Vonder look good to our visitors''.
“You seem to have taken your readings quite seriously, certainly more so than Ra’Dem! Perhaps I should have made you my second!” “I would not jest so frivolously before the men, master Kiim!” The elder’s eyes rolled at Ra’Dem’s interuption. “It is not your place to determine my intent.” “I merely assumed” “What made you most comfortable”. He turned to the white ship that began to align itself with the dock before turning to bark orders to his followers. “Look sharp, men. I want helmets fastened, shirts tucked and arms at the side” Kiim’s echoing, authoritative voice prompted several guards to straighten wrinkles from their shirts and one of the detachment’s Ja’goroan soldiers to place a helm held at his waist over his head, the glinting metal resting over his skull and upper muzzle. Sabrin turned to the glowering Ra’Dem as he kicked at the wooden boards underneath him. “Don’t fuss Ra’Dem, I’m sure that as long as your self-interest and the Tradehouse’s goals align lord Kiim would not exclude you”.
Ra’Dem opened his mouth to argue the point further, but was forced to bite his tongue as a sturdy wooden board descended from the brigantine, however his glare lingered on Sabrin for a few moments longer before he turned back to the ship. His expression switched in a moment, changing from a scowl to a beaming grin in an instant. Two rows of armed men clad in metallic white armor formed from smooth, rounded shapes over cyan silken robes descended from the vessels flank, the silvery tips of their ivory colored spears glinting even in the dim overcast sunlight of Tierdun. A pair of elongated ears on either side of their head emerged from under the sloping crests of their helmets, swivelling in a methodic yet animalistic manner that contrasted their otherwise human faces. Although tall for their race the Kiari soldiers stood far shorter than most humans, the largest amongst them barely reaching 156cm in height. However, their tall and slender figures gave the illusion of a far greater height, their form similar in proportion to the most slenderly framed humans.
As the head of each row reached the deck they turned away from one another, leading the following row as they lined themselves across the dock then turn on their heels to face Kiim’s delegation, hammering the bottom of their spears at their side as they stood erect, their eyes fixed on the three lords. Behind them followed a pale, abnormally tall Kiari woman, easily standing at an impressive 160 centimetres. She was clad in white plate over silver mail, thick, silvery hair flowing from underneath her crested helm onto her high held shoulders. Her fingers were wrapped around the grip of a white bladed longsword hung from her left hip, and the handles of a pair of Falcata were visible over the top of her shoulders. “Are you Lord Kiim? She scanned the full height of the elder Ja’goroan with luminescent honeycomb eyes, from the soles of his leather boots to the brass wreath atop his head. Kiim chortled. “Yes, I am Kiim, and I assume you serve the Varhiem?” She simply dipped her head in response to Kiim’s question. “The host is ready!” She called out without addressing the lord further, seemingly oblivious of both Ra’Dem and Sabrin.
After only moments three more figures came into sight from the ship's depths, a dark haired man and woman in grey servants attire aside a woman, short even by Kiari standards, no taller than 126cm perhaps one of the smaller caste? Her build was similar to her compatriots, although marginally thinner and wrapped in fine silver and gold filigree interwoven with a flowing silken white gown. Her head and shoulders rested under a hooded, open fronted shawl woven from cyan fabric inlaid with brass that stretched down below her sandals. Her Servants held the fringe of her cloak as she boarded the plank, moving slowly downward with a short stride, the already light sound of the woman’s footfall lost to the sounds of waves lapping at the ship’s hull. The two nearest guards crossed their spears to form a makeshift archway as she passed, finally making landfall. The Servants removed her shawl as they kneeled at her side. Her frame was slender and toned. Both her long, thin hair and her unmarked skin were as white as the snows of Aerust. She appeared dainty and frail, yet Sabrin was taken aback as she drew near.
Something hid beneath her subtle form, he was sure of it. Her white hair formed two braids that ran from above her temples and intertwined at the behind her flowing hair. The hair that ran in front of her face hung low and draped over her shoulders, parted away from her ghostly blue luminescent eyes, thin-bridged button nose and subtle bowed lips. Her icy eyes moved slowly between Sabrin and his counterparts. As the convoy of guards had passed they each left a brief aura of heat, lingering in the otherwise frigid air, and yet as she passed her aura seemed faint, as if what little heat she emitted was stifled even by the thin layers of silk that hung from her shoulders. As she met Sabrin’s gaze he had his answer. Their icy depths made no attempt to shroud what her delicate form had concealed so well. The radiant orbs quickly moved between the members of the Tierdunite cohort as each of them gained her attention, scanning them in turn and in no particular order. In a glance they had reached the young lord, resting on him. ‘Impress me’ they seemed to say, reaching into his mind, speaking to him alone. Sabrin fell to his knee and brought an arm to his chest in an instant, his bowed head barely lowered beneath her eyes. “Lord Sabrin Melevar, lord of Vonder, serving at the pleasure of Aerust, Iniri Vessiar”. He had never met the woman, yet he knew for certain who she was. She stood high and proud, her fluid movement drawing attention away from even the most impressive of her escort. She seemed so sure of herself even so far from her home, the uncertain and nervous glances of her companions replaced on her by a look of measured wonder. Although her followers were impressive, clad in their near ethereal glinting armor none of them carried themselves like the Kiari nobility he had met. But her movements, the confident and measured gestures, the eyes that seemed to pry apart the world around them reminded him of the lords of Bevrasten’s hill-clans. Seeing his compatriot take the knee Ra’Dem mirrored his actions, lagging only seconds behind. “Lord Ra’Dem, serving at Aerust’s pleasure!” his hand drawing near his chest after an exaggerated circling motion.
The Iniri stepped back at the sudden display before her lips lifted into the bow of a polite smile. “Rise, kind Sabrin, charming Ra’Dem. I should kneel before you, I am a guest in your home after all.” “A guest of the highest esteem, my lady. If you need anything you have only to ask your humble servants.” Ra’Dem quickly shot to his feet. Sabrin on the other hand slowly lifted himself from the dark planks beneath him, his arm not entirely leaving his chest for several seconds. “Please, my lady, consider my humble Vonder as much a home to you as it is to me. Never has a fairer guest been welcomed by the city. My lands are yours to use as you see fit, and my men are at your command”. She quickly turned to her silver haired enforcer, concealing the slight reddening of her cheeks. “At ease, Eleria, I can handle myself from here”. her tone was familiar, as if speaking to an old friend rather than a subordinate.
The Iniri’s eyes lit up as they caught sight of the Tradelord, the two sharing a wide grin. “Hul’Kiim, it has been too long!” she nodded toward the old dog. “Indeed Vihara, far too long. Tell me, how has life treated you since we last met?”. “Better than many. But we can discuss our lives later, I believe we have a treaty to oversee!”. “Speaking of which, where is your father? What keeps the Varhiem? Will he meet with us soon?”. The Iniri’s eyes lowered, her once proud manner faltering, the youth seeming to drain from her as her already pale face whitened further, the reminder of her father serving only to dispirit Vihara. “He… he is” Hul’ kneeled to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder, the other taking grasping around her fingers gently. “He won’t meet us here, will he? ''. Kiim whispered to her, abandoning his usually formal tone for a more tender voice. “I’m sorry, the Varhiem has… other business to attend to…” Viharra looked into the Ja’goroan’s eyes, slipping her hand away from his. “Say nothing more. We can talk further behind closed doors. Sabrin?”. “Yes my lord”. “You know Vonder best, would you care to escort us to your manor?”
The two delegations made their way through the snow dusted streets of Vonder, the tangerine clothed Tierdun guards walking ahead to clear the growing crowd ahead of them, followed by Sabrin and Ra’Dem at the front of the pack, in turn followed by Eleria and finally Vihara and Hul’Kiim, deep in conversation and surrounded by the Iniri’s Aerustan guards. Citizens traversing the city stopped to look at the strange people from a foreign land, whispering as they passed by. “They seem far too… familiar” Ra’Dem broke the silence between himself and Sabrin. “Lord Kiim spent a great deal of time negotiating with the Varhiem. It makes sense he would have made friends in Aerust”. “The lords of Tierdun should know better than to trust outsiders, Tiorathan”. The dog made a low growling sound as he spoke. Sabrin clenched a fist at his side, fighting the urge to strike Ra’Dem with all the might he could muster. “Hold your tongue Felsaedan!” “I am no Felsaedan! They…” “Used your ancestors as a shield against mine and abandoned them after the war?! My ancestors have as much reason to hate Tiorath as yours do Felsaed! We are both men of Tierdun, solely. And it is not befitting for lords pledged to the same Tradehouse to bicker so frivolously, certainly not over something so trivial as forgotten heritage! Come to your senses Ra’Dem, or at the very least quiet yourself”.
Ra’Dem muttered to himself for what seemed like a full minute as the convoy marched over the city's flagstone streets. “Fine. But surely you admit that it is most irregular for a Tradelord to become so familiar with outsiders?” “As familiar as you and the nobility of east Felsaed? You sure seemed close to diplomats of a nation you professed to hate!” “That’s an unfair accusation! My duties as a diplomat require me to indulge many people I would not like for the sake of our Tradehouse!” “And I’m certain your… forays with the lord of Aradon’s daughter were purely diplomatic!” “I thought you wanted to stop bickering, but it seems to me that you are phishing for another spat”. Sabrin looked at the ground ahead of him, realising his mistake. “You are right Ra’Dem. For what little it is worth I’m sorry”. “You can make it up to me simply by indulging my question”. Sabrin lightly chuckled as the last word escaped his companions mouth. “Fair play. You wanted my opinion on the apparent closeness between Lord Kiim and the Iniri?” “Yes, if you please”. “I do not find it concerning by any means, not to any meaningful degree anyway. Yes it is odd, outsiders have proven themselves difficult to trust when their cultures are so vastly different from our own, but for now our people interests align, and for as long as they do perhaps it is best we allow ourselves to draw close, or seem to at the very least, if it means making our interactions run smoothly. What truly has me concerned is the apparent news of the Varhiem. The Iniri didn’t care to elaborate, but her hesitation was itself telling. There seems to be some issue within their house, large enough to affect the head at least.”
“Do you think it will interrupt the negotiations?” “No, not in any way that matters”. “I thought the Varhiem needed to sign the treaty for it to be recognised? Surely even the Iniri does not have the authority to act in his stead?”. “She is his heir, but I believe you are right. However a transcript of the treaty would need to be taken to Aerust for record keeping purposes anyway, so there's no reason we cannot take the original document to have it signed, even if that means we need to send an overseer of our own to the Varhiesdarim. Whatever the case I’m sure we will hash out the details before the day ends. But that’s enough chatter, we’re here”. Sabrin turned on his heels, his arms held outward and a wide grin on his face. “Honoured Iniri Vessiar, Great Lord Kiim, and our guests from Aerust…” He gestured to Eleria and her contingent of guards “and from house Dem” he gestured to the grey Jackal, “Welcome to my home, Aldanhold!”. Behind him stood a wrought iron gate cut into the centre of high walls hewn from a dark, grey stone. “Men, open the way for our guests”. The armored men now at his sides set themselves to pushing the large door aside, slowly revealing low cut stone and wood buildings inside, huddled around a raised mound, a second wall atop the landform.