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Count of Izbal - Santino's Rise

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The years that followed the fall of Areder were tough. Much damage had been done to the land and the peoples of Orisia, apart from the massive scar that now marked the end of the consumed ruler. Since that day it seemed that further upheaval would take place, like aftershocks following a devastating earthquake. It was a credit to the remaining royal that she was able to see clearly enough through the settling dust of loss enough to put in place nobles in various cities to see to her interests and those of Orisia. One such placement was in the port city of Izabal and the surrounding lands. Being one of the few nobles who had not slept through the events; and hadn’t been taken with the exhausting task of jumping side repeatedly; Santino was rewarded with the title of Count.

Today the sound of seabirds were carried on the cool on the winds, the smell of brine an ever present undertone. The new Count had sent ahead and it seemed that the message had been received as the various members of merchant houses, shipping companies, and guild halls were present and each wanting to secure deals ensuring their own interests are taken care of.

He refreshed himself with a breakfast while the first of many were seen in. He spent time looking over the books and ledgers, no doubt just the ones they wanted him to see, keen eyes soaking in the information. He had no intention of drastically changing anything initially. He would have to get a proper feel for the flow of the city first. Much like his research with La’Ruta, everything had a flow and it was easier to make subtle corrections. He was patient, now, and the kingdom had experienced enough drastic change for the time being.

Following the entertaining morning more were seen to either a sitting room or the vast room that would be his study. Drinks were served as he sampled regional varieties and imports of note. He let them prattle on endlessly as they indicated the tried to impress him with their “most valuable commodities” or the “imports of note”. They were so obvious about trying to purchase his favor it was almost laughable. But the numbers didn’t lie. They never lied. They thought they were being clever but numbers that were too neat were dead giveaways. The latest emissary was dismissed and he offered a slight shake of his head to indicate the others could wait. A new blood doll was allowed in, a gift from a merchant family, the scent of La’Ruta upon her was enticing more so than the physical appearance of the girl. Having a relaxing snack wash away the irritations of the weasel like representatives was a perfect reprieve.

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“I take it you enjoyed our gift then?” She said -- a woman of impressive stature, but with a distinct feminine appearance. She was tall and slender, like a creature from a dream. Her skin was dark, rich, and of an appearance that brought to mind the warm spices of faroff lands. She was like him -- that much was obvious. There was a quality to her that made her otherworldly. Perhaps it was in the utter perfection of her features, the high cheekbones, the swell of her lips, the arch of her brows, and the color of her eyes -- a bright and rich, sunset orange that seemed borderline neon as she leaned against the door that lead into his private space and fell into shadow.

 

“I am sorry -- I haven’t introduced myself. I am Catherine DuPolanc, and that delectable little flower that you just tasted was a gift from my father. An attempt to win your favor that I am certain you already discovered, but which by the looks of, has been successful nonetheless.”

 

The dark-skinned woman smiled and her red lips spread sensually over perfect white teeth. She moved forward after pushing herself from the door frame and strolled into the room and toward is desk. With a motion of her head and a click of her tongue, she sent the lovely little blooddoll running out of the room and claimed for herself a seat across Santino.

 

“Let me get to the point, because I know you are a busy man. Our territories are landlocked, and the nearest ports are Izabal and Veelos. We are, at this very moment, making a similar offer to them. So here’s the thing. We want to use your port, but we don’t want to pay you. We feel that the business that will be generated by ships coming to collect our goods will generate more than enough to make the accommodation of our goods beneficial to you.”

 

She was dripping jewels. There were ropes of white pearls around her neck, layers of diamond necklaces and chains of gold. It seemed like much, but on her long and slender neck, and hanging between her small and firm breasts, she simply looked like the perfect canvas for showing off such luxury. Dressed in a white gown that made a stunning contrast against her skin, she looked like some oddly exotic, and yet perfectly trained courtier.

 

“I can show you the numbers, the sort of ships we would attract, the endless possibilities that helping us will give you…But first I want to know if you’re interested at all, or if I would just be wasting my time.”

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He pulled away from the blooddoll as the lilting query hit his ears. Offering a light pat, as one would a new pet, he turned to face his visitor. “She was well selected, and yes it wasn’t a far stretch of the mind to deduce the intent behind the gift.” he inhaled measuredly as he pondered for just a moment making only a cursory inspection of the woman in front of him before inspecting his books one more time and closing them.

Steepling his fingers idly as she spoke of her father’s intent. “You want to use A port. Otherwise there would be little need for two offers. Yet, his daughter coming as an emissary would indicate that this might be a favored offer. Unless your father has more than one daughter to send to accompany business offers. What sort of trade does your family engage in?” He pondered out loud.

Now that she sat he focused on her more directly. Which was a little out of character for him. He tended to focus little on the people as the information they relayed ran through his mind. Now she was among the few he actually took the time to actually pay full attention to, shelving whatever it was that normally occupied that space. He rose and move to the opposite side of his desk and sat in the chair to the right of Catherine. “You believe the increased revenue from your family’s business to be compensation enough? What will bind this agreement? The blooddoll?” he smirked a little, “She was delectable, but hardly something worthy to bind such an agreement.”

Then, she began to speak his language. Numbers. “No, not wasting your time, however the self made proclamations of one’s own company’s worth is hardly something to judge such a thing by. Empirical and historical data, aside from first hand experience, is the most useful to see how worthwhile this will be for me. I have no intention to let any hold me hostage with a bargaining chip of unknown value.” Despite his words it was a refreshing change from the simpering puppets he had entertained so far. It kept a faint smile on his face. “Does Master DuPolanc, delegate these matters to his daughter? Or should I speak with the man himself about them?”

A clap of his hands and servants attended with refreshments “One of the things I refuse to go without. Due to my business, before gaining this,” he motioned with a couple of fingers to indicate his new status, “Various items from my home estate offer a unique taste not found elsewhere,” the tray had tea’s and fruits all of which had been cultivated with varying exposures to La’Ruta, “Certain… essences make the taste more vibrant… more invigorating. Please,” he motioned ot the tray for selection, “enjoy while we discuss this matter further.”

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She glanced at the tray of colorful and artfully displayed cups of tea. The smells alone were glorious, but the sight of them was quite a treat as well. However, she seemed surprised at his offer to partake.

 

“You can consume such things?” She asked this with dismay, perhaps even a touch of disgust. Her elegant features showed suspicion as she arched a brow, curious to see him sip one of the cups of tea or take a bite out of one of the slices of kiwi or mango. Of course she had heard of vampyres who were able to enjoy the delights of human food without the nasty side effects that afflicted most. Of course she had never expected to meet one such creature here in these parts.

 

She fluttered her long lashes and settled back into her chair, refusing to allow the topic at hand slip away.

 

“My father has three daughters, all of them educated and brought up in the family business. I hope you don’t find it offensive that he sent me and did not come himself, but I can assure you that I am an extension of his will and am at liberty to make decisions on his behalf.” She smiled politely, half expecting him to laugh or insinuate his displeasure. She was prepared for that of course. He wouldn’t be the first man to reveal his unwillingness to work with a female counterpart. “Our business is simple but dangerous. You just sampled some of our goods. After the rebellion against Areder, and the displacement of many of our kind around the world, a demand for the enriched blood of La’Ruta became apparent. We saw they demand for a very specific good and we made it our business. We don’t sell humans or dragons or any other type of magical animal. The risk is too great, dealing with living cargo. We simply harvest blood, bottle it up, and sell it.”

 

From the sleeve of her loose fitting blouse, she pulled a small rolled up parchment. Carefully she unrolled it and set it on the desk. “Here’s a ledger from last month’s sales. The numbers could have been more than five times what you see there, if only we had the capability of exporting our goods freely. We have the supply and the demand is there -- we just need a way to get our product out. The sort of ships that come in to buy these goods, they are quite wealthy and will pay a high cost to dock here. They will also buy supplies, and probably even show interest in…” she glanced at the tea and fruit, “your produce.”

 

The elegant woman sat back and crossed her long legs, which were covered in a dense black material. She wore knee high boots. Her heels were caked in mud, as if she had recently been ridding. She had indeed come by horse, and though she looked quite unkempt, it did not steal from the loveliness of her visage as she took in the measure of the man who sat across from her.

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He smirked at her amazement at his ability to sample something other the crimson fluid that carried so many subtle undertones. He took a cup of tea and sipped at it as if to sate her own curiosity. “Yes, I am able to sample a number of… unconventional treats. I do apologize if I have offended you.” he motioned for one of the servants to approach, “Perhaps one of these might be more to your palate.” The slender young man, perhaps eighteen, stood beside Catherine’s chair. “He comes from my home estate. They are rather… rich in La’Ruta there.”
 
He smirked and sampled a few of the more exotic fruits while she explained her position here. “Well, I suppose it is the the parental duty to ensure their progeny are properly instructed. It is good to hear that you are empowered to make the important calls.” He nods slowly as he remembered some of his siblings that hadn’t survived. Most were strong willed and intelligent. He suspected his mother wouldn’t have tolerated any weak young. She was quite the strong woman herself. He wasn’t unfamiliar with professional dealings with the fairer sex. “Yes, I can see how your family’s trade would be quite lucrative. It would be logical to base trade from here… smaller shipping costs than from other locations… less of a bite out of these numbers here. Cascading effects of their presence… yes.” he said more thinking out loud than replying directly to her before looking up. “I have already met with a couple of rather wealthy shipping organizations that would likely be interested in such an export. One might… be persuaded to offer contracts to one or more of them. Exclusivity or perhaps limited exclusivity in exchange for lower fees.” he finished his tea with a smile.
 
He sat back and relaxed in his seat. “I think perhaps an arrangement could be made. Though I might wish to take a more thorough look at your ledger here. You are welcome to a room, unless you are expected back immediately. If so, I can look over these more while you go and remove the dust of the road from yourself.” He taps his chin lightly his mind working over numbers, organizations, families… and a number of other things. The web unfolding in his mindseye. “I assume there would be some sort of contract or agreement that would make this a binding decision, Miss DuPolanc?”

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She looked up at the young man that was presented to her. He was well trained, he came forward and knelt at her chairside. After giving the handsome young man, with delicate boyish looks, a gentle pat on the head, she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “You’re offer is very kind but I’d rather not drink during business, besides, I can assure you that I have my fill of La’Ruta from our own stock.”

 

From there she smiled brightly and listened to the rest that needed to be said. She knew that most of it was her new potential business partner thinking out loud, and she found herself quite fascinated with the way he worked through information. He was handsome, she hadn’t really given herself time to notice it -- but now that she could be still and silent, she saw it clear as day -- not that she had never seen day. There was a sharp intelligence to his features that made him seem overly serious, but that melted away the moment his eyes settled on hers. There was mischief in his gaze and it made her smile, almost without meaning to.

 

“You are welcome to a room, unless you are expected back immediately. If so, I can look over these more while you go and remove the dust of the road from yourself.”

 

“That sounds absolutely lovely, and no -- I am not expected. I was told to remain as long as needed to secure a deal that would be favorable to both our families. There aren’t many of us left, so we make it a priority to try and make our dealings with what is left of Areder’s nobility.”

 

Slowly she pulled herself up and out of her chair. She was sleek and beautiful, even if she was covered in dust. She stood with her hands on her waist and grinned as he asked about an agreement or contract.

 

“Of course, after we’ve agreed on terms of service and expected returns, we can decide on how best to cement our dealings -- whether by contract or some other method.” Her dark lips, a perfect cupid's bow, curled into a telling smile as she excused herself and left the room.

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He nodded slowly, “Someone will show you a room where you can relax and collect yourself.” He glanced to the door and an older looking woman with a massive ring of keys entered. The other servants gave her a rather wide berth. Her countenance was severe yet her appearance was impeccable. She obviously ran the day to day and bowed to Santino and slightly less so to Catherine.

Rising he took the opportunity to take in the roadworn form before him. She was confident and was apparently trained to handle at least this portion of her family’s business if she wasn’t completely suited. With only this brief conversation to base this off of he would hold off any premature categorization. “Did your father suspect I would be difficult to persuade?” He tapped his chin only a short moment, “Based on the rumors I’ve heard I suppose that is not an unreasonable assumption to prepare for.” Turning to the older woman he spoke softly to her, “Of course, my lord.” Turning she walked off briskly and the sounds of others falling into step in her wake with a “Yes, mam,” causing a faint echo.

Turning back to Catherine he placed his hands behind him clasping one with the other, “Areder’s nobility… Sounds like you speak of my parents who still slumber. Yet not even they could stomach what he was doing to the land. Still they sleep and I am left with both the failures and successes left since the incident. Many weren’t as fortunate.” he stepped closer, less than a foot apart. Still his tone didn’t change and his eyes remained locked upon her unwavering. Still something changed about him as he closed the distance, “To say I am one of those is most inaccurate. Noble though I be I don’t belong to them. I might work for them as our interests are aligned.” He nodded as she turned to leave and remove the dust of the road from herself and relax some. Picking up the ledgers he began sifting over them again carefully and sitting back down at his desk.

When she left the room she would find the older woman waiting there, keys tied to her side and a single key in her hand. “If you would follow me Mistress, Lord Damonval had the house lady’s chambers set aside for you. They had been previously unused. It’s mostly a large sitting room with a large bath in it.” she began to walk at a quick, purposeful pace. “Fresh water is being heated. Even, Lord Damonval has maintained a few things that would be suitable for your use. I will take your things to be cleaned while you relax. If you wish I can have someone standing by for your bath and another should hunger come upon you. Anything else please do not hesitate to ask.” She stopped in front of the large doors to the spacious room as men lifted large pots emptying them into the large stonework that was the bath. Once finished they exited quickly. The young man from earlier and a young woman, of similar age stood on either side of the doors waiting for the next command.
 

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