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Karradeen's history was interesting, from what she knew. Despite their demotion, Karradeen had been particularly prominent even before Damien's time, being one of the kingdom's primary defenders against the pirates that plagued it. Their naval strength was still significant at present, and their partnership with Norkotia gave them access to their weaponry. Thankfully it seemed she wouldn't need to be concerned about them rising to rebellion- the previous patriarch had died of illness, and the daughter had risen to power in place of the son, who the rumors had said was being groomed to take his place.

Perhaps the daughter had different views from her father. Perhaps not. At any rate, it was still safer to pay them a visit.

Besides, she quite liked the ocean.

Rozharon approached the mansion on foot after landing a safe distance away. She'd taken note of the watchtower, and though bullets and arrows wouldn't drop her, it would be unwise to have her first impression being accidentally shot.

"Gᴏᴏᴅ ᴅᴀʏ," she greeted the guards. "I'ᴅ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛᴏ sᴘᴇᴀᴋ ᴡɪᴛʜ Dᴜᴄʜᴇss Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ."

 

@Tyler

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While the watchman on the tower did not fire as Rozharon feared, he briefly lined her up in the sights of his rifle, before evidently recognizing who she was and lowering his weapon. On the other hand, the guards posted on either end of the front door were evidently not so well-informed. Both hoisted their rifles to hip-firing position toward the empress as she approached.

"Hold there! Or we'll shoot!" one of them blurted.

"Right! We weren't told to expect visitors today!" the second added, "What's your business here?"

"Yeah, and no lies!" the first added.

"I'ᴅ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛᴏ sᴘᴇᴀᴋ ᴡɪᴛʜ Dᴜᴄʜᴇss Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ."

"I said no lies!" the lead guard repeated.

Thankfully, further embarrassment was prevented by the arrival of Squire Josanne, who'd been notified by a message from the lookout. Though not a highly-educated man himself, the old sailor wasn't so dumb as to be unaware of the Empress of Taen's physical description, even if he had not seen her before in person. So when he emerged from the doors, he immediately snapped at the guards.

"Put those guns down you imbeciles! That's the Empress of the Taen Empire!" he spat.

The two guards exchanged a brief, alarmed glance at one-another, before immediately snapping to attention. Josanne rolled his eyes and sighed, before bowing respectfully in front of Rozharon.

"Apologies, your grace. These dolts have orders to prevent entry to unannounced guests; apparently they need an orientation on the exceptions." he explained, while making a beckoning motion to the open doors behind him, "Lady Karradeen will be here shortly, please come inside."

He led her inside, just as Abigail was coming down the stairs form the upper-level study. She was notably trying to straighten her hair a little, as evidently she hadn't been keeping it in form due to not expecting guests. Her attire wasn't entirely lady-like either, but one couldn't say it was sloppy in any sense, just practical and comfortable. Upon seeing Rozharon, she relented her attempts at straightening her appearance and simply adopted the correct posture for a woman of her station.

"Empress Rozharon," she curtsied with impeccable precision and grace, "Welcome to Gold Harbor. I'm incredibly sorry for the reception; I was not told to expect you."

She hid her embarrassment well, though there was a trace of irritation in her voice at the end of her statement. Abigail suspected a breakdown in communication between the peons was at fault, rather the empress having actually arrived unannounced as she had. Some underling would probably suffer her wrath later as a result.

Edited by Tyler
typo

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Rozharon simply stared at the guards, a patient expression on her face. She waited. An agitated man soon arrived, and with this same calm she watched him scold his comrades. A squire, perhaps? Someone with a notch more authority than them, at any rate, someone similar to Dali’s servant.

She accepted his apology with a nod. “Iᴛ’s ᴜɴᴅᴇʀsᴛᴀɴᴅᴀʙʟᴇ,” she said amiably. “I ʜᴀᴠᴇɴ’ᴛ ᴍᴀᴅᴇ ᴍᴀɴʏ ᴘᴜʙʟɪᴄ ᴀᴘᴘᴇᴀʀᴀɴᴄᴇs, ᴀɴᴅ I sᴜᴘᴘᴏsᴇ I’ᴠᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴜɴᴀɴɴᴏᴜɴᴄᴇᴅ.” Her tone was polite, tinged with a touch of amusement. Though she often went out in disguise, storing away the concept of her identity to remain unrecognizable, a nonperson, her public appearances were few and far in between. Perhaps she would do something about that soon.

Duchess Karradeen arrived mere seconds from when she entered the room, considerably less unruffled than Dali’s Lady Halisera. Considering the speed by which she’d arrived, the woman was unprepared, caught off-balance by her visit. Perhaps she was already anticipating Rozharon’s visit, knowing the constitution she signed could be held against her? Rozharon regarded her. Though nervous, no anxiety or guilt was present on the woman’s face. The seraph had glimpsed her frantically fixing her earlier, so it was likely the distress was mostly from embarrassment, failure to give her a proper welcome.

Abigail curtsied, another apology spilling from her lips. Rozharon heard the annoyance at the end of her words and waved it away. “Oʜ, ɪᴛ’s ɴᴏ ғᴀᴜʟᴛ ᴏғ ʏᴏᴜʀs. I ᴄᴀᴍᴇ ᴜɴᴀɴɴᴏᴜɴᴄᴇᴅ.” She paired a mildly apologetic look with the sentence. “I ᴅɪᴅɴ’ᴛ ᴛʜɪɴᴋ ɪᴛ ᴡᴀs ɴᴇᴄᴇssᴀʀʏ. I’ᴍ sɪᴍᴘʟʏ ᴘᴀʏɪɴɢ ᴀ ᴠɪsɪᴛ.”

Abigail Karradeen was an interesting case. She was clearly capable of leading House Karradeen, despite it being widely known that her younger brother was the likely candidate for rule. His demise, so quickly after their father’s death, was curious in itself. Rozharon had yet to know the full details, but for a house that was a major force against Ursa Madeum’s pirates, the attack was surprisingly effective and surprisingly timely.

Perhaps she was what would be called paranoid, but every possibility needed to be considered. Along with the constitution, she could bring family matters up. She needed to gain more information on the pirate situation anyway.

“As ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴜʀᴘᴏsᴇ ᴏғ ᴍʏ ᴠɪsɪᴛ,” Rozharon said, “I'ᴍ ᴊᴜsᴛ ᴄʜᴇᴄᴋɪɴɢ, ᴠɪsɪᴛɪɴɢ ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴏᴜsᴇs. I ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ɪᴛ’s ɪᴍᴘᴏʀᴛᴀɴᴛ ʀᴜʟᴇʀs ᴋɴᴏᴡ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴘᴇᴏᴘʟᴇ, ᴀɴᴅ sɪɴᴄᴇ ꜰᴏʀ ɴᴏᴡ-” though her gaze didn’t change, she focused on Abigail’s expression, “- Tᴀᴇɴ’s ʀᴜʟɪɴɢ ɪɴ Dᴀᴍɪᴇɴ’s sᴛᴇᴀᴅ, I’ᴍ ʟᴏᴏᴋɪɴɢ ғᴏʀ ɪɴsɪɢʜᴛ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ᴡʜᴀᴛᴇᴠᴇʀ ɪssᴜᴇs ʏᴏᴜ ᴍᴀʏ ʜᴀᴠᴇ. Pɪʀᴀᴛᴇs, ғᴏʀ ᴇxᴀᴍᴘʟᴇ, ᴏʀ ᴘᴇʀʜᴀᴘs ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ᴄᴏʟʟᴀʙᴏʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴏᴜsᴇs. Oʀ ᴘᴇʀʜᴀᴘs, ᴘʀᴏᴘᴏsᴀʟs ᴛᴏ ᴏᴜʀ ɢᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴍᴇɴᴛ sʏsᴛᴇᴍ?” She gave the woman a kind smile. “I’ᴍ ᴡᴇʟʟ ᴀᴡᴀʀᴇ ɴᴏᴛ ᴀʟʟ ᴀʀᴇ ɪɴ ғᴀᴠᴏʀ ᴏғ ᴏᴜʀ ʀᴜʟᴇ.”

Edited by Csl
fixed font of some of roz's lines

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It didn't take much to know who and what Rozharon was referring to when she spoke of governmental systems and people not in favor of Taen's rule. And since there was no value in deceiving the empress over a constitution that was to be shown to her anyway, Abigail concluded it was best to respond to the implication directly.

"This is about Lord Uldwar's constitution." she stated, cocking her head slightly, "Perhaps we should discuss this some place more comfortable? The living room is right this way."

She ushered the empress into the living space, the same place she had spoken with the aforementioned Oscar Uldwar not long about, about the likewise aforementioned constitution. Abigail selected her father's old chair, while Rozharon was permitted her choice of any of the other seats available. Servants were dispatched to fetch tea and refreshments for the two, though the unexpected arrival meant it would be a little while before these things would be prepared.

"Is there anything I can have fetched for you, your grace?" Abigail inquired as she gracefully sat down, "The servants are at your disposal."

Business aside, it was always important first to present the common decencies nobility owed to one-another by dint of their station. Even if her acquisition of the title of duchess was not gained in the most honorable of ways, Abigail would not allow the outward appearance of her House to be sullied in any way. If anything, the doom that befell her brother had saved the House from sure embarrassment at his entitled hands. It was far better that she sat here now across from the empress than he.

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Lord Uldwar’s constitution Abigail Karradeen showed neither the false hospitality nor the nervousness the Uldwars had displayed. She was upfront, professional, and polite.

“Nᴏᴛ ᴇɴᴛɪʀᴇʟʏ, ɴᴏ,” Rozharon said pleasantly, and followed her to the living room. The Empress selected the a chair a comfortable distance from Abigail; near, but not intimately so, not directly facing her, but rather slightly angled away, with no piece of furniture serving as a physical barrier between them.

“Tʜᴀɴᴋ ʏᴏᴜ, ʙᴜᴛ I'ᴍ ꜰɪɴᴇ,” Rozharon said in response to the offer.

For a fraction of a moment she pondered what approach to take. Abigail Karradeen did not seem to have either Uldwars ambition or Hildebrand’s submissiveness. If what she had heard about the Duchess was correct, Abigail had been committed to  doing what was necessary for House Karradeen. Her father had been complacent under Damiens rule. At the least, Rozharon could expect the Duchess to be unlike him.

She was the first female head of the House, after all.

“I’ᴠᴇ ᴀʟʀᴇᴀᴅʏ ᴛᴀʟᴋᴇᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇ Uʟᴅᴡᴀʀs,” Rozharon said conversationally, as if discussing something as light ad the weather, and not possible grounds for treason. “Wᴇ'ᴠᴇ ᴇxᴘʀᴇssᴇᴅ ᴄᴇʀᴛᴀɪɴ ɪssᴜᴇs ᴇᴀᴄʜ ᴏꜰ ᴜs ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴏᴠᴇʀ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘʀᴏᴘᴏsᴇᴅ ᴄᴏɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛɪᴏɴ, ᴀs ᴡᴇʟʟ ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ʀᴇᴀsᴏɴs ꜰᴏʀ ᴅʀᴀꜰᴛɪɴɢ ɪᴛ. I’ᴅ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴋɴᴏᴡ ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴍᴀᴛᴛᴇʀ, ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜ.”

The statement was left open. Rozharon had set forward no defense of Taen, nor condemnation of Uldwar for their actions. Her tone, as always, was carefully tuned to be neutral.

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In truth, Abigail had not been the most ardent supporter of Uldwar's idea, even if she had put her signature upon the document. She had concerns about his proposal to put a vote to the people, the uneducated rabble who could hardly understand what it took to be a leader or politician, on who should be appointed to the throne as intermediary between the nobles and Taen. She had ultimately reasoned that support for the constitution would unify enough of the houses so that, even if Taen rejected it, they would be forced to come to the negotiating table. In fact, that was probably Abigail's best way to present her case in this situation, though she would not neglect to mention her other concerns. There were other reasons that needed to be laid-down to provide context, after all.

"To be frank, Your Highness, there are issues which have become particularly concerning to myself and my house. The recent surge in pirate activity has disproportionately affected us, as it tends to do. It is not my house's way to ask for help, but it is also my believe that re-establishing the proper standing of the noble houses in Ursa Madeum will help deter these increasingly fearless brigands. Unfortunately, I fear the houses are no longer respected as they once were."

It was here she had to tread lightly, as she did not know the empress well enough to understand her patience and temperament. Offending Rozharon could have dire consequences, but certain things needed to be addressed.

"And, I'm afraid certain decisions made by Taen have contributed to that. While I'm sure you felt you had a valid reason for doing so, I believe the decision to arbitrarily promote foreign commoners to the position of nobility has had the consequence of undermining the integrity of the houses as a whole. If the Empire can make just anyone into a noble, it degrades the meaning of the position. Some of us have been educated from birth in the arts of diplomacy, military leadership, financial management and social custom, a burden we are trained to carry where others cannot. You must understand that it harms all of us when you place unqualified people into positions of power."

Yes, she may have placed her own biased opinion on what was "qualified" into her wording, but for all intents and purpose, she was certain she was right. Even if the members of House Singlance possessed some positive quality that Abigail was unaware of, the simple fact that they were peasant immigrants who knew nothing of what it meant to be a citizen of the islands, much less what it meant to be a noble of the islands, automatically made them unworthy of the rank. That wasn't to say that they might not be useful in some way, but Taen had gone to far in granting them titles that should be reserved for those who were truly worthy of them.

"My decision to support Lord Uldwar's proposal was not because I have absolute confidence in his proposed system, but rather because I calculated that if he succeeded in garnering enough support, it would show the empire that the houses are serious about safeguarding our position in society. Ultimately, it would prompt a negotiation between Taen and the houses, so we could legally confirm where we all stand. And if Lord Uldwar failed to obtain further support, then the proposal would simply have to be discarded and all I will have lost was a small amount of ink."

Edited by Tyler

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“I ᴀᴘᴘʀᴇᴄɪᴀᴛᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ꜰʀᴀɴᴋɴᴇss,” Rozharon said. Abigail Karradeen continued to be upfront and honest- a notable improvement from her dealing with Uldwars. It would be simpler to work with this woman.

“While I'm sure you felt you had a valid reason for doing so...”

She did, of course, but very well couldn’t explain she was intentionally using the Singlances as a catalyst to, so to say, rock Ursa Madeum’s boat and test where the nobility stood in regards to Taen’s rule. Of course above all it was done because the Syngraf willed it, but another explanation was necessary for the humans.

“Tʜᴇʏ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʀᴏᴜɢʜ ᴍᴀɴɴᴇʀɪsᴍs, ʏᴇs. I’ᴍ ᴀᴡᴀʀᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ᴅɪꜰꜰᴇʀᴇɴᴄᴇ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴄᴜʟᴛᴜʀᴇ ᴍᴀʏ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴀs ᴀ sʜᴏᴄᴋ, ʙᴜᴛ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴄᴏɴᴛʀɪʙᴜᴛɪᴏɴs ᴛᴏ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ ᴀʀᴇ ᴠᴀʟᴜᴀʙʟᴇ ᴇɴᴏᴜɢʜ- ʀᴏᴀᴅs, ᴛʀᴀᴅᴇ ʀᴏᴜᴛᴇs, ᴇʟᴇᴄᴛʀɪᴄɪᴛʏ, ᴇᴅᴜᴄᴀᴛɪᴏɴ.”

Rozharon paused, “I’ᴍ ɴᴏᴛ ᴇɴᴛɪʀᴇʟʏ sᴜʀᴇ ᴡʜʏ ᴛʜᴇʏ sᴇᴇᴍ ᴛᴏ ᴅʀᴀᴡ ᴀɴɢʀʏ ᴍᴏʙs ᴡʜᴇʀᴇᴠᴇʀ ᴛʜᴇʏ ɢᴏ, ʙᴜᴛ ɴᴏʙɪʟɪᴛʏ ɢʀᴀɴᴛs ᴛʜᴇᴍ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ ᴀᴜᴛʜᴏʀɪᴛʏ ɪɴ ɴᴀᴍᴇ. Iᴛ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʜᴇʟᴘ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ sᴛᴀɴᴅɪɴɢ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇ ᴍᴀssᴇs sɪɴᴄᴇ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴇꜰꜰᴏʀᴛs ᴡᴇʀᴇ ᴄᴏɴsᴛᴀɴᴛʟʏ ʙᴇɪɴɢ sᴀʙᴏᴛᴀɢᴇᴅ. I’ᴍ ɴᴏᴛ ᴡɪʟʟɪɴɢ ᴛᴏ ʟᴇᴛ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ʟᴏᴀꜰ ᴀʀᴏᴜɴᴅ ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴇᴏᴘʟᴇ ɢᴇᴛ ʀɪᴅ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴘʀᴇᴊᴜᴅɪᴄᴇ ᴀɴᴅ ʙɪᴀsᴇs. Pᴇʀʜᴀᴘs ɴᴏʙɪʟɪᴛʏ ᴡɪʟʟ ʜᴇʟᴘ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ᴀᴅᴀᴘᴛ ᴛᴏ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ’s ᴄᴜʟᴛᴜʀᴇ. Pᴇʀʜᴀᴘs ᴛʜᴇ ᴄᴜʟᴛᴜʀᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ᴀᴅᴀᴘᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴀᴄᴄᴏᴍᴍᴏᴅᴀᴛᴇ ᴛʜᴇᴍ. Eɪᴛʜᴇʀ ᴡᴀʏ, I ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ɪᴛ’s ɴᴇᴄᴇssᴀʀʏ ᴛᴏ sᴘᴇᴇᴅ ᴜᴘ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴡᴏʀᴋ.”

“As ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘɪʀᴀᴛᴇs… I ᴡᴀsɴ’ᴛ ᴀᴡᴀʀᴇ ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴘᴀɪᴅ ᴀᴛᴛᴇɴᴛɪᴏɴ ᴛᴏ ʟᴏᴄᴀʟ ᴘᴏʟɪᴛɪᴄs-” whatever sarcasm might have been in those words would be hard to detect when said in her unflappable manner, “-ʙᴜᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ɪssᴜᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ʀᴀɪsᴇ ɪs ᴀ ʟᴇɢɪᴛɪᴍᴀᴛᴇ ᴏɴᴇ.”

Rozharon leaned forward, folding her hands, seemingly deep in thought. “Yᴇs, ᴛʜᴇʏ’ᴠᴇ ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴀ ɢʀᴏᴡɪɴɢ ᴘʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍ ꜰᴏʀ ᴀ ᴡʜɪʟᴇ.” Sʜᴇ ɢʟᴀɴᴄᴇᴅ ᴀᴛ Aʙɪɢᴀɪʟ. “Hᴏᴜsᴇ Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ’s ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴏɴᴇ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ ᴍᴏsᴛ ᴇꜰꜰᴇᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ ᴄᴏᴜɴᴛᴇʀs ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ’s ᴘɪʀᴀᴄʏ ᴘʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍ, ʏᴇs? I ᴀᴅᴍɪᴛ I ʜᴀᴠᴇɴ’ᴛ ᴅᴏɴᴇ ᴀ ᴘʀᴏᴘᴇʀ ɪɴsᴘᴇᴄᴛɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ ɪssᴜᴇ ʏᴇᴛ-” she could probably fly over to their cove and eradicate them if she wished, but the Syngraf willed her to maintain the status quo. “-ʙᴜᴛ I ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ɪᴛ’s ᴛɪᴍᴇ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ʙᴇ ᴅᴏɴᴇ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ɪᴛ.”

The seraph sat up straight, letting her gaze meet the Duchess’. “Wʜᴀᴛ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ᴛʜɪɴᴋ ᴏꜰ ᴀ… ᴄᴏʟʟᴀʙᴏʀᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ ᴇɴᴛᴇʀᴘʀɪsᴇ ᴛᴏ ʟᴇssᴇɴ ᴘɪʀᴀᴛᴇ ᴀᴄᴛɪᴠɪᴛʏ? A ᴛʀᴀᴘ, ᴀɴ ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘɪʀᴀᴛᴇ ᴄᴏᴠᴇ, ᴇǫᴜɪᴘᴘɪɴɢ ᴍᴇʀᴄʜᴀɴᴛ sʜɪᴘs ᴡɪᴛʜ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ᴡᴇᴀᴘᴏɴs, ᴡʜᴀᴛᴇᴠᴇʀ ꜰᴏʀᴍ ɪᴛ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ᴛᴀᴋᴇ. I’ᴅ ɢɪᴠᴇ ᴡʜᴀᴛᴇᴠᴇʀ ʀᴇsᴏᴜʀᴄᴇs ʏᴏᴜ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʀᴇǫᴜɪʀᴇ ꜰʀᴏᴍ Tᴀᴇɴ, ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄᴏɴᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴏʀᴋ ᴡɪᴛʜ Hᴏᴜsᴇ Sɪɴɢʟᴀɴᴄᴇ.”

Rozharon waited a moment, gauging the woman’s reaction, then continued, “Tʜᴇɪʀ ᴛᴇᴄʜɴᴏʟᴏɢɪᴄᴀʟ ᴇxᴘᴇʀᴛɪsᴇ ɪs ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴀᴅᴠᴀɴᴄᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴀɴ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ, ᴀɴᴅ I ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ʙᴏᴛʜ ᴏꜰ ʏᴏᴜ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʟᴇᴀʀɴ ꜰʀᴏᴍ ᴇᴀᴄʜ ᴏᴛʜᴇʀ. Tʜᴇʏ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʙᴇ ᴀʙʟᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴘʀᴏᴠɪᴅᴇ ᴡᴀʏs ᴏꜰ ᴅᴇᴛᴇᴄᴛɪɴɢ sʜɪᴘs ɪɴ ʟᴏᴡ ᴠɪsɪʙɪʟɪᴛʏ… ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴇꜰꜰɪᴄɪᴇɴᴛ ᴘʀᴏᴘᴜʟsɪᴏɴs… ɢᴜɴs sɪᴍɪʟᴀʀ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴏsᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ʜᴀᴠᴇ. Tʜᴇ ɢᴜɴᴘᴏᴡᴅᴇʀ ɪɴsᴛᴀʙɪʟɪᴛʏ ɪs ᴀɴ ɪssᴜᴇ, ᴜɴꜰᴏʀᴛᴜɴᴀᴛᴇʟʏ. Tʜᴇʏ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ᴀʟsᴏ ʙᴇ ɪɴᴛᴇʀᴇsᴛᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʏᴘᴇ ᴏꜰ ꜰɪʀᴇᴀʀᴍs ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴍᴇɴ ᴄᴀʀʀʏ. I’ᴅ ʟɪᴋᴇ ʙᴏᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ꜰᴇᴇᴅʙᴀᴄᴋ ᴀɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀs ᴏɴ ᴡʜᴀᴛ sᴛᴇᴘs ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʙᴇ ᴛᴀᴋᴇɴ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ᴀᴅᴅʀᴇss ᴛʜɪs ɪssᴜᴇ. Oꜰ ᴄᴏᴜʀsᴇ, I’ʟʟ ʟᴇᴛ Hᴏᴜsᴇ Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ ʜᴇᴀᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴇɴᴛᴇʀᴘʀɪsᴇ, ᴀs ʟᴏɴɢ ᴀs ʏᴏᴜ ᴘᴀss ᴀɴʏ ᴘʟᴀɴs ʏᴏᴜ ᴍᴀʏ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ᴍᴇ.”

Rozharon leaned back in her seat, steepling her fingers. She tilted head to the side. “Tʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛs?”
 

Edited by Csl

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"If I may be so bold, Your Highness, I believe it may have been a more effective arrangement to have them work under an established house, where their supposed expertise could be applied directly to field, while the acquisition and distribution of the necessary resources, as well as diplomatic and political affairs, could be left to those with more tact in such matters." Abigail promptly, if not a bit impulsively, responded to the empress's assertion that Singlance was better served with noble titles.

She let that response hang in the air for a moment, before they moved on to the pirate issue. Here, the empress acknowledged the problem for what it was, even if she seemed to mock Abigail's assertion that the perceived weakness of the houses was emboldening the sea-faring anarchists. As much as House Karradeen had always taken pride in handling its own affairs without the need for outside assistance, the series of misfortunes they had undergone in recent months had significantly hampered their ability to do so. Abigail couldn't deny that the offer of Taen assistance on the matter was a difficult one to pass up.

But the requirement that it be conducted with House Singlance indicated there was more at work here than merely trying to defeat the pirates. Whether it was something as innocent as trying to grant the commoners a chance to prove themselves, or a much less noble purpose, it was difficult to tell based on Rozharon's disposition.

"With Singlance?" Abigail remarked, putting a hand to her chin in a manner that more indicated that she was calculating the possibilities of such an endeavor.

The empress continued her explanation, briefly making note of something that struck Abigail as significant. Of course, everyone was aware of the gunpowder instability in Terrenus. Abigail had watched Karradeen sailors get run-through because their pistols misfired, while at the same time she'd seen pirates blow themselves to ribbons with their own cannons. As a result of this, Karradeen forces had largely used ballistas and crossbows during the reign of the Tyrant King, as they were more reliable than the available gunpowder weapons. However, the clandestine smuggling efforts of the late Firmus Karradeen had resulted in a large stockpile of Norkotian firearms, which were not only far more powerful than the muskets and cannons used by local buccaneers, but also infinitely more reliable because they used a petroleum-based ammunition instead of powder-based. This stockpile had been kept hidden not only from Damien, but from most Karradeen officials as well, being known only to a select few in the family hierarchy. After the tyrant's death, these stockpiles were used to update the Karradeen fleet, a significant event that Abigail was surprised had escaped attention for this long.

Perhaps she wanted to know where it all came from. If the members of Singlance were firearm experts, they might very well be able to trace the ammunition back to Norkotia, or at the least, be able to study and replicate the designs. That said, Abigail had no qualms about giving full disclosure of the dealing to the empress, as it was certainly not illegal, nor were their reasons for procuring such arms objectionable in any way. Rather, it was because she know that the Norkotian Chairman was very particular about who he allowed to buy guns from his country, partially because he wanted the designs to stay under the radar. She would just have to make sure Singlance didn't try sketching design schematics or anything.

"I would not be opposed to such an operation. Many of our ships have already been designed to fool pirates into believing they are underarmed. If we can arrange for a fleet to pass through pirate territory, supposedly carrying cargo that would be too valuable to pass-up, we might be able to draw a large number of pirates into the area at once. I will need to draw up a more detailed plan of course, but it is not impossible. Our fleet is stretched thin at the moment, however; so we will need time to schedule enough ships to take part in such a trap." the duchess mused, "And of course, Singlance will need to be willing to play their part. I will not tolerate unnecessary losses due to incompetence or insubordinance."

Edited by Tyler

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“If I may be so bold…” The suggestion was not an unwise one. But the safest hands were still their own. The third option wouldn’t be wise to put into play so soon, when things still hadn’t settled properly.

“I’ʟʟ ᴛᴀᴋᴇ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴄᴏɴsɪᴅᴇʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴ,” Rozharon simply said in response.

The Duchess seemed to give deep thought to her proposal, then gave her assent. Rozharon nodded, noting all relevant pieces of information Abigail shared. “I’ᴍ ᴘʟᴇᴀsᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ʜᴇᴀʀ ᴛʜᴀᴛ.”

Now, she needed to ensure none of the violence Singlance had showed towards the Uldwars would be present during this enterprise. It wouldn’t be difficult to ambush the pair, extract some of the inherent aggression that characterized their personas, and replace it with a desire for cooperation. That, or simply have them promise to obey Karradeen’s plans to the letter, unless they deemed it absolutely necessary to disagree, and in those cases, to do so with tact and politeness. Asking them to minimize crass speech seemed too much to ask at the moment, but she would try as well.

The Singlances were many things, but as far as Rozharon was aware, they were kept their word.

Abigail seemed to be thinking of that possibility as well, albeit with more trepidation than her.

Rozharon smiled. “I’ʟʟ ᴛᴇʟʟ ᴛʜᴇᴍ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇʜᴀᴠᴇ.”

She would, if circumstances permitted it, also be present. Neither of the houses had supernatural abilities nor magical technology, and would lower her odds discovery to nearly zero. As was planned.

“Iᴛ’s sᴇᴛᴛʟᴇᴅ, ᴛʜᴇɴ,” said the Empress, rising from her seat. “Fᴇᴇʟ ꜰʀᴇᴇ ᴛᴏ ɪɴꜰᴏʀᴍ ᴍᴇ ᴏꜰ ᴀɴʏᴛʜɪɴɢ ʏᴏᴜ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ꜰᴏʀ ᴛʜɪs ᴠᴇɴᴛᴜʀᴇ. Is ᴛʜᴇʀᴇ ᴀɴʏᴛʜɪɴɢ ᴇʟsᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪsʜ ᴛᴏ ᴅɪsᴄᴜss ʙᴇꜰᴏʀᴇ I ɢᴏ?”

Edited by Csl

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There was a moment or two of pause after Rozharon asked her final question. Abigail couldn't help but notice that the empress had not said much on the matter of Uldwar's constitution, instead only addressing the issues behind Karradeen's support for it. However, the concerns over Singlance were not just about the competency of the members, but also over the reasoning behind elevating them to such a status.

"And what of Uldwar's constitution and the standings of the houses within the empire?" she inquired, her tone momentarily carrying the finesse of a noble lady once again.

Based on what the empress had already said, it didn't seem like Uldwar was to suffer any repercussions for their efforts, which would be nothing new. Oscar Uldwar had somehow escaped demotion (much less execution) despite being one of the most visible and active of Damien's collaborators. It was something Abigail seethed about deep down inside. How could Uldwar avoid punishment, yet Karradeen, who had secretly smuggled food, supplies and weapons into the islands under the tyrant's nose, while also helping many people flee to the mainland at the same time, be stripped of their former prominence on the grounds of "complacency"? Sure, they charged for these services, but without any real business left in the islands, how the hell were they supposed to meet expenses? Profit had all but evaporated during those years, forcing the family to often dip into their private fortune to keep the business afloat. Needless to say, they hated King Damien as much as anyone! The only difference was Karradeen wasn't foolish enough to say so to Damien's face, unlike some.

Despite all that, Abigail still held a certain element of respect for the patriarch of House Uldwar. As imperious and duplicitous as Oscar was, Abigail knew she could always expect the man do anything to safeguard power of his own house. And in the instance of his constitution proposal, that meant he also sought to protect the power of the other houses as well. But Oscar Uldwar was not the one who held the true power on Ursa Madeum.

"Most of the houses have stood for decades at the least, centuries in many cases, and all have reason and cause for their position. Whether House Singlance proves themselves worthy of the title in the future remains to be seen, but their sudden and arbitrary promotion does little to set my mind at ease." Abigail spoke again, voice seemingly steady at first, but as she leaned forward to continue, a flash of anger blazed through her eyes, "Especially when they are placed above my own house! Karradeen was punished by being stripped of rank, despite being no more guilty of aiding that bastard of a king than Uldwar or Hildebrand were!"

Abigail realized that Rozharon would likely question why she waited so long to bring up this issue, but the reality was that the young noblewoman's hands had been tied. Her father had been too sickly in his later years to try and air these issues to Taen, while she wasn't permitted to do so herself. Now that she was leader of the family, she was just too damn busy to be able to deal with more than one political issue at a time. But with the empress sitting right here, right in front of her, things needed to be said.

"I can accept the assistance of the likes of Singlance, your highness. But if my house is to be considered the lesser to foreigners like they or like Senaria, then I must know... why?"

Hot tempers were the downfall of many a man. Women too. Abigail could only hope her barely stifled flare-up had not cost her house further.

Edited by Tyler

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“As I sᴀɪᴅ, I’ᴠᴇ sᴘᴏᴋᴇɴ ᴛᴏ Uʟᴅᴡᴀʀ. Iғ ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴛʀᴜʟʏ ᴅᴇsɪʀᴇ ᴀ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ɢᴏᴠᴇʀɴᴍᴇɴᴛ sʏsᴛᴇᴍ ғᴏʀ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ, ᴛʜᴇʏ’ʟʟ ᴋɴᴏᴡ ᴛᴏ ᴀᴘᴘʀᴏᴀᴄʜ ᴍᴇ ᴅɪʀᴇᴄᴛʟʏ. Iғ ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴀᴛᴛᴇᴍᴘᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴅᴏ ᴀɴʏᴛʜɪɴɢ ᴍᴏʀᴇ sᴜʙsᴛᴀɴᴛɪᴀʟ ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ Tᴀᴇɴ, ᴛʜᴇʏ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴘᴜɴɪsʜᴇᴅ,” Rozharon said matter-of-factly. 

There was a growing heat behind the question, though. Rozharon waited for it to well up, spilling out of the Duchess’ carefully-composed professionalism.

There was no simple answer to Abigal’s demand. As far as Titus had told her, Uldwar had been spared demotion due to their help in identifying the Houses who had willingly supported the Tyrant King. Uldwar had apparently claimed Karradeen had been willingly complacent, and what little smuggling they had done was purely for their own profit. She could tell Karradeen this, which would surely drive a wedge between the two Houses and possibly alienate Uldwar more.

Then again, Oscar Uldwar had proved at least mildly capable of twisting words to his own benefit, and might claim Taen had lied about his role in Karradeens demotion.

There was, however, another path she could take this conversation.

Rozharon was silent for a few moments, seeming to wait for Abigail Karradeen to calm down.

“Aᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴛɪᴍᴇ Eᴍᴘᴇʀᴏʀ Tɪᴛᴜs ᴅᴇᴍᴏᴛᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʜᴏᴜsᴇ, ɪᴛ ʜᴀᴅ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴏᴜʀ ᴀᴛᴛᴇɴᴛɪᴏɴ ᴛʜᴀᴛ Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ’s ғᴏʀᴍᴇʀ ʜᴇᴀᴅ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ ʜᴀᴠᴇ… sɪᴍɪʟᴀʀ ᴍᴏʀᴀʟs ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ Tʏʀᴀɴᴛ Kɪɴɢ. Wᴇ ᴅᴏɴ’ᴛ ᴡᴀɴᴛ ᴀ ʀᴇᴘᴇᴀᴛ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ᴇᴛʜɴᴏᴄɪᴅᴇs ᴜɴᴅᴇʀ Dᴀᴍɪᴇɴ. Cᴏɴsɪᴅᴇʀɪɴɢ ᴛʜᴀᴛ Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ ʜᴀᴅ sɪɢɴɪғɪᴄᴀɴᴛ ᴍɪʟɪᴛᴀʀʏ ᴀɴᴅ ᴇᴄᴏɴᴏᴍɪᴄ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ ᴏᴠᴇʀ Uʀsᴀ Mᴀᴅᴇᴜᴍ ᴄᴏᴜᴘʟᴇᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ɴᴜᴍᴇʀᴏᴜs ᴀᴄᴄᴏᴜɴᴛs ғʀᴏᴍ ʀᴇʟɪᴀʙʟᴇ sᴏᴜʀᴄᴇs ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴇ Hᴏᴜsᴇ ᴡᴀs sᴍᴜɢɢʟɪɴɢ ɪɴ ɢᴏᴏᴅs ғᴏʀ ɪᴛs ᴏᴡɴ ᴘʀᴏғɪᴛ, Eᴍᴘᴇʀᴏʀ Tɪᴛᴜs ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇᴅ ɪᴛ ᴡᴀs ʙᴇsᴛ ᴛᴏ sᴛʀɪᴘ ɪᴛ ᴏғ ʀᴀɴᴋ.”

“Sᴇᴇɪɴɢ ᴀs ɪᴛ ɪs ʏᴏᴜ ᴡʜᴏ ʟᴇᴀᴅs Kᴀʀʀᴀᴅᴇᴇɴ ɴᴏᴡ, ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜ…” Rozharon paused in thought, “I ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ʙᴇ ᴘᴇʀsᴜᴀᴅᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ʀᴇsᴛᴏʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʜᴏᴜsᴇs ғᴏʀᴍᴇʀ sᴛᴀᴛᴜs. Wᴇ’ʟʟ sᴇᴇ ʜᴏᴡ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘɪʀᴀᴛᴇ ᴇxᴇʀᴄɪsᴇ ɢᴏᴇs. Is ᴛʜᴀᴛ sᴀᴛɪsғᴀᴄᴛᴏʀʏ ᴛᴏ ʏᴏᴜ?”

Now, there was a hint of a sarcasm - perhaps, even mockery - in those last words.

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Abigail didn't like the tone the empress had begun to take with her, but it was not the condescension that angered her the most. No, it was the comparison of her father to the Tyrant King. For all the things her father was, all the reasons she had hated and resented him in the later years of his life, he had always been a man of business, not an impulsive dictator. Morality was not what was important, but practicality, and Firmus Karradeen had been a intelligent, calculating man in his prime, with perhaps the only exception being his chauvinistic refusal to acknowledge his daughter as his worthy heir. King Damien, on the other hand, was a total madman, whose actions were not only cruel, but exceedingly incompetent. Even if Abigail had practically spit on her father's grave by arranging the assassination of his chosen successor, Abigail would not have the honor of the house be impugned by rumor and conjecture.

"My father may not have been a perfect man, your highness, but he was nothing like Damien Gillick! The tyrant was nothing but a locust, a pestilence that consumed everything in its path with reckless abandon. My father was a man of commerce, of business. He was a merchantman, a planner, a builder!" Abigail seethed.

"M'lady." Squire Josanne, who had been standing in the room in the background the whole time, tried to calm her down.

"Right... of course..." Abigail shifted uncomfortably as she tried get control of her temper, "I apologize, your highness. I fear you simply don't know what House Karradeen truly did during the king's reign. The blood barrier nearly destroyed our business, which would have meant the end of our house, had we not discovered a way to breach it. Even once we had, we were still under constant threat of collapse, as the king's spies and enforcers, Uldwar among them, were everywhere. Between their efforts, Damien's oppressive taxes and demands for free services, pirate raids, and disputes with our contacts outside the barrier, charity was a luxury that could not be afforded. If Karradeen's fleet could not be maintained, the only source of transport between the islands and the mainland would have been lost, and then all those people who complained about our rates would have been even worse off."

There was something about the implication that making a profit was unjust which just infuriated the woman to no end, even if she was well aware that their charges made it difficult for people to afford the goods they brought into UM. But seeing as the king was a continuous drain on their wealth, with pirates also frequently cutting into their budget, it meant prices had to be high in order to make profit. And profit was necessary, as merely meeting expenses meant that there would be nothing on-hand for unforeseen circumstances. And more importantly...

"Our house has always prided itself in its business savvy, and anyone with any financial sense whatsoever knows that wealth is not created through charity, especially when nobody has any money left to give. My father could have given away his fortune to the poor, but Damien would have just taken it from them, and what good would that have done?! No, maintaining the business, keeping people working, keeping wealth and goods flowing in and out of the islands... that was the best way to help people!" Abigail snapped, "And we knew we couldn't sustain it forever, not so many people turning toward piracy and so many of the houses being bled dry!"

"M'lady, perhaps we--" Josanne tried to interrupt again, but Abigail wasn't to be denied this time.

"I know my father was planning something more! He had been stockpiling weapons right under the king's nose for nearly a decade, and only a few of us at the highest levels of the house knew about it! He always told us it was for an eventual offensive against the pirates, but I know better! He was going to arm a rebellion when the time was ripe, of that I am certain! Unfortunately, he fell ill, and then Taen invaded soon afterward, meaning that plan could never be enacted. So now, instead of being rewarded for our efforts, we were punished for them, because unlike some of the other houses, Karradeen actually succeeded in hiding our operations against the king!"

By the time Abigail stopped speaking, she realized she was no longer seated, but on her feet, fists clinched, glaring down at the empress with blazing eyes. Josanne was petrified, not at Abigail naturally, but at what Rozharon's reaction to the outburst might be. 

"I... I apologize, your highness." Abigail's demeanor softened immediately, her fingers spreading out as she relaxed her stance, "That was... unbecoming of me."

She sat back down and rubbed her forehead, her face showing signs of fatigue from all the stress she was under.

"I should be grateful you offered a chance for me to make things right, forgive me." her tone began to return to the tight, measured tone of a noble lady.

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Well. This had been a very productive meeting.

In the span of a single rant, Abigail Karradeen had given Rozharon a clear picture of her character, her views on Damien Gillick in comparison to her father, a personal account of Karradeen’s experience under the Tyrant King, and oh, something truly interesting - the old house head was apparently planning a revolution.

It was a pity Taen had come when it had for Karradeen, at least. Though the revolution, as Rozharon well knew revolutions went, would have been either long, drawn-out, and successful, or short and quickly extinguished. It would have been bloody either way. It was doubtful any stockpile of weapons could have stood up against the Black Knights, but regardless, it was good to note Karradeen was in possession of those.

Rozharon, perhaps unnervingly so, did not so much as bat an eyelid during Abigail’s outburst. The seraph waited patiently, expression blank, with the air of a parent waiting for a child to tire itself out from throwing a fit.

“Iᴛ’s ꜰɪɴᴇ,” Rozharon said, her tone perfectly neutral once more. “I ᴜɴᴅᴇʀsᴛᴀɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴀsᴛ ꜰᴇᴡ ʏᴇᴀʀs ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʙᴇᴇɴ… ᴅɪꜰꜰɪᴄᴜʟᴛ. Aᴛ ᴀɴʏ ʀᴀᴛᴇ I ʜᴏᴘᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘʀᴏᴊᴇᴄᴛ ᴡɪᴛʜ Sɪɴɢʟᴀɴᴄᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ʟᴇss sᴛʀᴇssꜰᴜʟ. Tʜᴀɴᴋ ʏᴏᴜ ꜰᴏʀ ʙᴇɪɴɢ ʜᴏɴᴇsᴛ, ᴀɴʏᴡᴀʏ."

Karradeen's demotion wasn't necessary, as far as the information available to her told her. However, restoring their status was not an option at the moment. She would not go against Titus' word, at least not so quickly.

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Abigail was relieved that Rozharon didn't seem offended, at least not on the surface. But then, that could merely mean the empress was an expert at hiding emotion, and was planning to dole out punishment in a far more deliberate way in the future. There was nothing that could be done about that now, though. Thus, she merely nodded when Roz thanked her for her honesty.

"I will notify you as soon as preparations have been made for the joint venture." the duchess stated, addressing the Singlance matter, "But it may be some time, as our existing obligations take precedence."

As the empress stood up to leave, Abigail made sure to be there to escort her to the door. Normally she might offer a visiting noble the opportunity to stay longer, for dinner or even a guest room to stay overnight, but she felt she had embarrassed herself enough during this impromptu meeting. 

"Safe travels on your return, your highness." she said respectfully as the seraph stepped out the door and into the oppressive Corinth sun. 

As with anything, this incident had been yet another learning lesson for the young noblewoman. Just further proof that no matter how much you studied or how much you experienced, life always found a way to surprise you. The next time the rulers of Taen encountered Abigail Karradeen, she would be prepared.

 

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Summary: Empress Rozharon visits Abigail Karradeen to discuss her signing of House Uldwar's proposed constitution. Abigail raises her concerns about Taen's rule. An anti-pirate campaign with Karradeen and Singlance is discussed and planned, and Rozharon opens the possibility of Karradeen being returned to its former status as a major noble house.

@Alexithymia

Edited by Csl

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