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vielle

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On the day of Chairman Tynes’ visit, Varda finds herself worrying about the amount of white roses she needs to welcome their guests, of all things. She pointedly ignores the amused glances her siblings send her from where they sit amongst the various chaise lounges around the sitting room.

“All these foreigners making their way into our halls,” Jasper muses, a slight smile curling on his lips as he burrows deeper into the cushions, sprawled and languid, “and you are yet to grow used to such things.”  

“I know this must come easy to you, brother, but as you know, I am not very fond of being unprepared, especially for esteemed guests.” Varda shakes her head, returns to pacing back and forth across the floor, mentally going over their plans again and again.

“Surely there is no need to fret, sister?” Aspen chimes in, giving her a soft grin from over the pages of the book shoved under her nose. “You say they come to negotiate trade and perhaps an alliance. If they are willing to come to us, then there might not be a need to go overboard with the preparations?" She gestures to the door leading out into the hall beyond. “Which I am sure the servants have handled well.”  

Nai is silent as he sits perched on the windowsill, his face turned towards the glass and the landscape beyond. Varda sends him a desperate look he does not return.

“Varda.” Jasper tilts his head, his smirk fading, replaced with a serious expression. She stops guiltily, well aware of what that particular look brings upon her head. “The Lords’ Hall is spotless. The Summer Hall has been prepared for days now. Our banquet fare will be as exquisite as it always is. Your pretty flowers will be enough for all of them.” He shrugs and rises to a sitting position. “Enough of this, or you will wear down the wood at our feet and I will not appreciate having to delegate funds for redecoration.”

Varda takes a moment to understand his words, then breathes deeply, in and out in a measured manner. Her brother is right, of course; he usually is, but she will not grant him the satisfaction of saying so.

She nods, meets three gazes head-on. The assurance she finds is calming; it settles in her gut like a comforting blanket. “Shall we go and ready ourselves, then?”

As always, as siblings ought to, they follow her out the door without question.

 

@Tyler

Edited by vielle

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On the road leading up to the Hildebrand estate was a motorized column consisting of four Norkotian vehicles. At the lead was an open-top jeep, while directly behind that was an enclosed car of a civilian design, and behind that was a diesel truck with a canvas-covered back. Bringing up the rear was an A-1 Enforcer Tank, in reality just an armored car with a small tank cannon. The notably militarized appearance of the caravan was due, in part, to recent events back in Norkotia, which had forced a heightening of security measures. At the same time, the large amounts of military materials being shipped to the islands for the ongoing Yh'mi campaigns also meant military-grade vehicles were already easily accessible to the delegation when they arrived.

"It appears the whole family is here to meet us." Joseph Tynes remarked as he gazed out the window at the front of the estate.

"I'm afraid not, excellency. At least three members of the immediate family are not present." Diric Redbridge responds, "The family consists of six total siblings, as well as the matriarchal mother and at least one one spouse."

"I did not mean literally, Diric." Tynes sighed with a slight chuckle, "You know, you're going to freak them out with how much you know about their family."

"It is my duty to research all available information on potential acquaintances of yours. It will thusly be easier to calculate safety risks, political viability and long-term reliability of any agreements achieved." the Vulkish man replied, his tone ever devoid of emotion, "However, you needn't worry about this knowledge being presented in a way that may unnerve the sensibilities of the Hildebrand members. I shall endeavor to only speak when it is logical to do so. You shall have primacy in all conversational engagements."

Tynes didn't answer, as he continued to watch out the window as the little caravan began to pull up in front of the manor. Upon stopping, he reached over himself to open the door with his left hand, his right arm still encased in a cast. Despite it having been nearly two months since that fateful day when he was shot by a fanatic, the bones in his arm had not yet fully healed, and the doctors now feared his arm would never quite heal correctly. It was partially because of that assassination attempt that there were as many guards present as there were. One of them had been located in the front passenger seat of the executive car, and he had attempted to get out and open the door for Tynes before he did so himself. Even with his injury though, the young national leader was already stepping out of the vehicle by the time the guardsman reached the handle.

After exiting, Tynes waited for Redbridge and the others to gather up around him, then finally approached the Hildebrand family. Unlike when Varda had last seen him, Tynes now donned a grey military uniform instead of a suit, though it was tailored to fit the white cast around his right arm. Due to the obvious injury, he did not offer her a handshake as he had done the last time they met, instead offering her a bow.

"Lady Hildebrand, it is good to see you again." he greeted, "Thank you for the opportunity to visit your home."

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Aspen tries her best not to stare, but she thinks she might be failing miserably, if the not-so-subtle jab to her side Nai gives her is of any indication.

The emissary from Norkotia—out of the siblings, Varda is the only one to have met him before, and she refers to him as Chairman Joseph Tynes, someone Aspen knows absolutely nothing about, not being one for politics—steps out of his carriage with an entourage of foreigners. Aspen finds her attention pulled instead towards the odd pieces of machinery that accompany their convoy, inspects the metal behemoths with a critical eye.

She wishes, not for the first time, to be allowed the supernatural ability to see into material things, pick apart the pieces that create a whole, figure out how intricate objects work from the inside out. Of course, she has the spark, which is comforting all on its own but is otherwise not the power she would have wanted for herself, not really.

From her vantage point flanking her sister’s left side, she can hear the sharp intake of breath against Varda’s lips, possibly inspired by the sight of Chairman Tynes’ right arm wrapped in a cast of sorts. Perhaps this is a new development, Aspen muses, giving a polite smile as the siblings fall into synchronized formal bows towards their guests.

“Hail, Chairman Tynes, and greetings to those who accompany you,” Varda begins, practiced and measured as she always does. The Lady Hildebrand extends a bouquet of white roses towards the Norkotian emissary with a sudden grin. “Of course, you understand why I offer the flowers. You do still remember our discussion during the A.N.T. conference, don’t you?”

Aspen and Nai share a glance at the familiarity Varda openly gives the man, but otherwise say nothing. Jasper’s expression is caught somewhere between hungry interest and genteel concern.

“We welcome you to Hildebrand Estate as our esteemed guests, Chairman,” her elder brother says, a suave curl to his lips as Varda pivots to offer the bouquet to the man standing beside the Chairman for him to hold on to. “I trust your journey here has gone smoothly? We have prepared refreshments for your company to enjoy, as per the customary Hildebrand hospitality.” Jasper gestures towards the manor behind them with a flick of a hand. “Shall we make our way within?” He turns, leads the way to enter Ravenel Manor, his siblings trailing at his heels, Varda at the rear nearest to the Chairman and his companions.

“How fares your country, Chairman?” Aspen overhears her eldest sister question the man, continues to face forward despite her curiosity in regards to the conversation at hand behind her.

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Of course, the flower-giving tradition was one of the aspects of his encounter with Varda at the A.N.T. conference that stuck with him the most. While flowers were a somewhat awkward gift to receive, he appreciated the gesture, and he thought it was a fine tradition regardless. Still, he was happy she gave the bouquet to Redbridge, who's reaction was merely to raise an eyebrow and offer a remarkably dry "thank you". It was unfailing how predictably the Vulk's responses were at times, which only served to amuse Tynes more with each instance.

"Naturally, my lady." he was forced to suppress a laugh, "I'm certain Minister Redbridge will see to it that the tradition is properly distributed to all of us visitors."

While his associate gives him a sidelong glance, Tynes maintains his gaze toward the Hildebrand siblings, listening intently as Jasper offered his own greetings and invited them inside. With a nod, he and the delegation followed, entering the manor behind their hosts. Varda spoke again, inquiring about the state of Norkotia, a question Tynes was happy to answer.

"Things are well, now. However, I must inform you that I no longer hold the title of chairman. A series of situations necessitated a restructuring of our the government, thus, I now hold the title of Grand Executor instead. You may simply address me as Executor Tynes or Mr. Tynes." he explained, "As for the incidents that forced the change... well, I presume you also remember our discussion at the conference?"

He turned toward her to look for a visual acknowledgement before continuing.

"As I told you then, Norkotia had fallen victim to widespread corruption and vice. It has been my goal to combat these things, but it is a task easier said than done. I suppose I would liken it to attempting to instill discipline into spoiled children... unfortunately, those children will tend to lash out at first."

He tapped his cast with a couple fingers from his good hand, making an implication that he figured the woman should figure out pretty easily. He didn't feel the need to describe the entire situation to her, unless she wished for more details.

"That is the reason for the additional security I have with me today. Though, I'm certain there is no danger here, so if their presence disturbs you, I can have them wait outside."

He was referring to the four black-uniformed guardsmen that were flanking the Norkotian delegation. Each was equipped with a submachingun and a pistol sidearm, while their dark uniforms and grim expressions might have appeared intimidating to some. But Redbridge, among others, had insisted Tynes be well-guarded from now on, thus the Executive Guard was formed out of the preceding Secret Service organization.

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It does not escape Varda’s notice, the curious looks her siblings send her way. She is in no state to answer the questions bubbling under their gazes, however, not with her duties to their guests at the moment.

Varda falls in step easily at Tynes’ side, giving the rather stiff man holding her offered bouquet a cautiously polite nod. She cannot recall ever meeting him before, but the dry tone he had given her, the dispassionate look in his eyes—they most definitely remind her of a loved one, she thinks, an amused chuckle escaping her lips. As if sensing the wayward direction of his sister’s thoughts, Nai turns to look over his shoulder and send her a quelling look.

It scares her, a tiny bit. There is no shame in admitting familial intimidation.

Varda smiles brightly at her brother until his gaze drops, seemingly satisfied, then shifts her attention back to the Norkotian man walking in stride beside her. “Forgive me, Executor,” she stresses, and hadn't that been a lesson in current events; the nervous blush on her cheeks has yet to fade, “for mistaking your title and surely offending you on some degree. I’ve not received much news from beyond our borders recently, or I would have assuredly sent a missive and—and perhaps some form of potion or medicine or, erm,” she trails off, her gaze lowering towards the cast, and the rest of the words escape her.

She has yet to encounter any sort of grievous attempt to harm her or her family since the very first moments of her new status as Lady Hildebrand, but she is not naive to think it would not somehow occur, despite the will of those who defend her and Iyalon’s best intentions. If this is to be the price of such a position—

Varda’s smile is miraculously steady as she picks up the thread of conversation once more. “It heartens me to see you well, despite the circumstances, Mister Tynes. Your dedication to your country and to the welfare of your people is commendable.”

They find themselves in the Lords’ Hall now, regal and opulent and as spotless as Jasper had promised her it would be. The delegation trails the Hildebrand siblings as they make their way into the smaller hallways further into the depths of the manor. A few wandering servants stop to bow in greeting and not-so-subtly observe the foreigners striding across the tiled floors.

Varda chooses, then, to turn the conversation back to more lighthearted ground. “If anything, I believe more security is always favorable,” she laughs, casting a glance at the guardsmen flanking the group, their odd weaponry drawing most of her attention. She cannot find it in herself to regret letting her younger siblings join her for this meeting, not with the way Aspen’s eyes had sparked and Nai’s hands had twitched almost imperceptibly at the sight of such advanced machinery. “As my brother has mentioned, we have prepared refreshments. Perhaps your guards would not be averse to sampling the best produce that our fields have to offer?”

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Tynes again had to force himself not to laugh as Varda apologized for supposedly offending him. A more pretentious, entitled man might have felt that way, but Tynes was just a middle-class commoner who'd forced his way into the upper echelons of society. Such an error hardly bothered him.

"Oh, no offense taken at all." he quickly responded, "I was merely updating you on the state of things."

He paused as Varda continued, saying she would have sent a missive and potion or medicine.

"I certainly appreciate the thought, but you needn't feel any guilt over the matter. With the limitations on communication between here and Norkotia, I can hardly expect much news from our country to reach Ursa Madeum." he explained, "Currently, the only way I maintain correspondence with the Norkotian ambassador in Andelusia is through written letters, which is hardly the most efficient means of communication."

Indeed, this very visit had been arranged by hand-written correspondence, much as Tynes's earlier arrangements for joint military training exercises with House Uldwar had been. In time, he hoped to establish a line of radio towers or telephone lines all the way from Casper to Norkotia. From there, maybe Ursa Madeum could be connected into the network, allowing more efficient communication between the islands and the distant mainland enclave. For now though, couriers were the only practical method.

In any case, he continued to follow the Hildebrands, offering a "thank you" as Varda complimented him on his resolve and noted she was pleased he was well, in spite of his injury. As they arrived in the hall, the offer of refreshment is made, which certainly seems to brighten Tynes's spirits even more. If the man had one weakness, food was that weakness. However, the offer toward the guards quickly prompted words from the ever-stoic Redbridge.

"I'm afraid the Executive Guard is committed to a regiment of strict discipline." the Vulk stated, "It would run contrary to their duties to consume sustenance outside of allotted timeframes. However, this standard does not apply to the remainder of the delegation."

There was a look of disappointment on at least a couple of the guardsmen, who were, admittedly, still relatively new to their position, as most of Norkotia's defense force was. But they knew their duties, so not one of them spoke a word of complaint. Tynes might have permitted them to sample the refreshments himself, but he recognized that men like them needed to maintain their routines, thus he did not reprimand Redbridge on his assertion.

"The Prime Minister is right, these men are not permitted such indulgence while on duty. I would have to say, these are the men whose dedication is truly commendable above all else." the Executor noted, "Of course, the rest of us will gladly accept your offer."

Realizing he had yet to properly introduced the delegation to the Hildebrands, as Varda has likewise not introduced her siblings to Tynes, the Grand Executor concluded he would see that done as soon as they had arrived at their destination. Once they were in the presence of the refreshment table, Tynes pivoted slightly and gestured at his friend at his side.

"Forgive me, I have not introduced everyone. This is Prime Minister Diric Redbridge, my closest advisor and trusted friend. Don't be offended by his disposition, many of his people are staunchly devoted to elevating logic above emotion. I honestly can't say I've ever seen him smile." he introduced Redbridge, smiling himself at the last implication.

"It is a pleasure, Lady Hildebrand." Redbridge gave her a stiff bow, his voice robotic in delivery, "And his excellency is indeed correct in his assumption, I have never once smiled in his presence."

"You see what I mean?" Tynes chuckled, before shifting attention to the Karradeen representatives, "Anyway, I don't know if you've met at other functions or not, but this is Squire John Dicken, of House Karradeen."

Between the two men from Ursa Madeum's most prominent merchant house, one was clearly a lesser-ranking aid, while the one Tynes motioned to was donning the uniform of a Karradeen naval officer. John Dicken was indeed a harsh-looking man, with a black tricorn hat, black leather gloves and a face wrinkled and weathered from years of service. His face held a natural scowl, but he smiled politely as he bowed before the Hildebrands.

"The Duchess sends her regards, Lady Hildebrand." he stated, though he did not introduce his assistant.

Tynes however, elected to do so for his own aid. Motioning to the last non-guardsmen member of the delegation, a younger man who clearly appeared to be here in a clerical capacity, the Executor spoke-up again.

"Oh, and Oliver Klein, my secretary."

The young man, possibly still a teenager, bowed nervously as he was introduced, though he didn't say anything. With introductions out of the way, Tynes left it to his host to take the next step.

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Upon their arrival to the Summer Hall and its sun-drenched furnishings, its long banquet tables laden in various bountiful dishes, Nai opts to stand behind the rest of his siblings, half-hidden behind Jasper’s shoulder as they watch their guests file into the room. He has never particularly cared for such meetings, would have preferred to stay in his lab and continue his research, but Lady Hildebrand had requested his presence, and so there he is.

He admits to a slight curiosity for the strange machinery the foreigners have brought along with them. Just a bit.

Varda smiles and nods and laughs at appropriate intervals between the introductions, interjecting when John Dicken had moved forward to greet them.

"The Duchess sends her regards, Lady Hildebrand."

Nai watches his sister’s gaze light up at the statement, and really, it isn’t surprising, from what they know of Duchess Karradeen and her ascension to power as the head of her noble house. Of course his sister would be delighted at any possible chance to personally meet her. He does not acknowledge Aspen’s sidelong glance at him. “Please send my regards to her as well. I’d very much like to speak with her face to face one day,” Varda smiles, inclines her head to the naval officer.

Executor Tynes finishes introducing his company and looks on expectantly. It takes a subtle cough from Jasper for the Lady Hildebrand to snap out of her thoughts and extend the same gesture towards their guests.

“Ah, yes,” Varda smiles, moves to stand near her siblings. “This is my brother Jasper, Lord Steward and Bursar of House Hildebrand. He is also our mediator when it comes to affiliations with foreign institutions."

“May we come to a fruitful discussion today,” Jasper drawls, nods his head in greeting with a charismatic flair. Nai resists the urge to roll his eyes at his brother’s propensity for showmanship and instead observes the proceedings carefully.

Varda continues, gesturing towards the dark-haired woman by her side. “My sister Aspen, Head of Research and Development for House Hildebrand.” Aspen says nothing, merely bows elegantly when their eyes turn towards her, back ramrod straight and lips pulled into a polite smile.

Varda waves a hand towards him, then, and she gives him a coaxing smile when their gazes lock together. For his sister, he tells himself: for his sister, he can be civil, at the very least. “Lastly, my brother Nai, Lord Herbalist of House Hildebrand,” she says, and Nai forces his mouth to curl in a tight smile, drops his head in a low bow to their guests.

“My other siblings are currently occupied with other duties and are unable to attend,” Varda’s lips pull down in a frown for a moment, clearly disheartened by the fact, but then form a smile as she continues, “but I believe we have more than enough minds to go about our business.” She gestures to the table, eyes twinkling with mirth. “Shall we take our seats and enjoy the fare?”

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Tynes offers nods to each sibling as they are introduced, a handshake still being impractical in his current state. Even so, it was pleasing to finally make the acquaintance of more members of the Ursa Madeum nobility. It was noticeable to him how the Hildebrands were so much more youthful and awkward in comparison to the members of the other houses he'd met with. There was a certain childlike quality to them, that was not present in the imperious Uldwars or in the stuffy Karradeens. That wasn't to see he viewed them as children, but he got the sense they were not the calculating political gurus that the heads of the other houses were.

"Sounds good to me." the executor responded as Varda beckoned everyone to sit.

The delegation took up their seats, Tynes having Redbridge at his right side, but otherwise sitting close to Varda and Jasper, as he anticipated them to be the most important conversation partners. Two of the guards stood behind the Executor, though he waved them to move back so he had a little more breathing room. Subsequently they took some steps back, which made Tynes far more comfortable. The other two guards remained near the main entrance, giving any Hildebrand guards room as necessary, but keeping an eye on the main way in and out regardless.

As everyone began to sample the food, the Executor pondered how to open their proper discussions. Obviously the polite thing to do would be to ask his hosts about stuff that interested or concerned them first, before worrying about any of the things he was hoping to accomplish on this visit. The only problem was he didn't know these people very well, so any small talk needed to be very small talk.

"So, I take it that it is always this humid on Ursa Madeum?"

Because when it comes to small talk, the weather is literally as small as it gets.

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Around a mouthful of salad, Varda smiles at the question the Executor offers up. Of course one is to begin with small talk, trivial matters to fill in the gaps and break the soil before planting seeds of deeper matters. She and Jasper share a glance, amiable and amused, before she swallows down her food and speaks on their behalf.

“Well, yes. We have grown used to such things as children of these islands, but it can sometimes pose a challenge when it comes to crop production.” Varda twirls a piece of lettuce around her fork before continuing, a twinkle in her eyes as she grins. “I’d rather not bother you with the specifics, but to achieve high-quality crops, climate control is of utmost priority.” She waves a hand out towards the windows and the woodland beyond, where the treeline obscures what seems to be glass buildings, their wide expanses peeking over the greenery. “Hence the existence of our greenhouses, the most advanced of their kind in Ursa Madeum so far.”

She wishes it would always be so, but with the threat of the more advanced noble house of Singlace and their technology looming on the horizon, House Hildebrand will have to take extensive steps in order to maintain their jurisdiction over the agriculture of their land. This conference, of course, is one of those steps.

Ultimately, Varda herself is not averse to establishing any form of ties with House Singlace, and an alliance at best will be rather beneficial for both parties. However, there is still a fair amount of hindrances to that line of thought, most of all her skeptical siblings.

“Does Norkotia have its own greenhouses, Lord Executor?” Jasper interjects, curiosity painted stark upon his features. Varda’s eyebrow twitches minutely, but she otherwise does not question it, opting to take a sip from her goblet instead as her brother takes ahold of the conversation. “Surely with your advancements, there would be so? I must admit, I am quite interested in improving our facilities.” His eyes turn to the other two siblings further down the table, wordlessly demolishing the shared savory bread basket between them but no doubt listening intently. “You see, our current generation of Hildebrands lean more towards the scientific disciplines, and there are none quite so inclined towards constructive, architectural pursuits.” Jasper’s lips curl up, his head tilting as he pivots his gaze back towards the Norkotian delegation. “Therefore, I am taking it upon myself to learn. Perhaps there are greenhouses in your country that implement more progressive types of machinery?”

Edited by vielle

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"Fascinating. I would have expected the warm, humid climate would be favorable to crop production, particularly with a year-round growing season." Redbridge rubbed his chin in thought, "I would be interested to observe the results of past harvests, if you have them recorded."

It was just like Diric to request logs or books, but it also made the man irreplaceable with the amount of knowledge he managed to cram into his mortal mind. Tynes smirked in amusement, just before Jasper drew his attention with his inquiry.

"Yes, we have greenhouses, though they traditionally have been used for specialty foods, usually for wealthier citizens. Norkotia is very, very dry compared to here, thus our primary method of growing crops is through advanced irrigation networks. Garrison Lake, or "Sidereal Lake" as they refer to it on the Terran maps, is virtually inexhaustible, making it ideal as a source of water. I do believe there has been a recent increase in greenhouse construction lately though..." Tynes answered, trailing off as he looked over to his friend for assistance.

"Yes, the recent expansion of trade relations with Ursa Madeum has created an interest in tropical food production. Due to the inhospitable climate, some companies are experimenting with greenhouse farms. These are limited due to size constraints, but they permit the local production of foods not otherwise found in the region." Diric explained in his dull voice.

"Between that and some of our early trade results, the grocery stores are already starting to set up sections exclusively for imported goods from here. I recently tried a few tropical fruits myself, shortly before the trip. I really liked that long yellow one--"

"I believe you mean the banana, excellency." Diric corrected him.

"Right, the banana!" Tynes nodded and made a pointing gesture in emphasis, "Anyhow, even though our greenhouse technology isn't super widespread yet, I'm willing to bet our climate control systems would be beneficial to you regardless. You'll need to get electricity out here first though, but I'm sure that will be coming before any of us know it. We are able to humidify our greenhouses to replicate tropical environments, but we should likewise be able to dehumidify a structure if the crops require a temperate climate. Not to mention, it could be applied to residential structures as well."

He was doing his best to hide it, but the Grand Executor wished for air conditioning more than just about anything right now. The car he'd traveled her in had it, but the same couldn't be said about the Hildebrand estate.

"Speaking of farming technology though, Mr. Klein, can you bring me those photographs?" Tynes called over to his secretary.

The young man, who was indulging himself in tropical fruit, jumped to attention and hurried over to Tynes's side. The secretary had been carrying a briefcase with him, which he opened and produced several black and white photographs. These he turned over to Tynes, who cycled through them quickly, then placed them on the table and slide them toward Varda and Jasper.

"I wished to have an example of each of these transported here, but the logistics proved a bit too complicated to arrange in the timeframe we had."

The photographs showed images of a tractor and a combine, some of the pictures being action images showing the vehicles doing their work, while a couple were static profile images to show better detail.

"The bulkier vehicle is a combine, which is used to harvest crops, while the other is a tractor, which is used for a wide variety of purposes. With just one of each, your labor time and cost should be reduced dramatically." Tynes stated proudly, "When they do arrive here, they will be accompanied by experienced operators who will show your people how to run and maintenance the vehicles."

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As the Executor slides over a series of printed images—monochrome but printed—towards Varda and Jasper, Aspen pretends to be nonchalant, tries not to be too blatant in her curiosity, sparked from the moment the Norkotian had mentioned their greenhouses and new farming technology. From where she sits, and her neck can only crane so far, the machinery plastered on the photographs looks similar to the sketches of the progressive sort of automations Jasper had brought along with him from his trips abroad.

Her two elder siblings share a quiet conversation, soft undertones for their ears alone as they gaze upon the images in their hands. When Varda looks up and notices her staring, the Lady Hildebrand smiles amusedly and slides over the photographs towards Aspen and Nai, who each take a handful to study.

“I’d very much like to commission a Norkotian delegation to take a look at our greenhouses, see how they may be improved with this electricity you have as well as your climate control systems,” Jasper comments first, leaning forward with intent, an exhilarated gleam in his eyes. “Our greenhouses do have the capacity to replicate various atmospheric conditions suitable for varying plants, but perhaps there are more advanced technology that can be added.”

Aspen meets Nai’s gaze from across the table, takes note of his brow furrowed in thought, those dark eyes slightly hazy with the mental calculations going on in his head.

“Aside from that,” Varda interjects, “we do find ourselves interested in the farming equipment you have shown us.” When the servants move forward to pour wine into their goblets, she uses the intermission to take another mouthful of salad, chews carefully and swallows before continuing. “House Tankred, one of our dearest allies, have just recently forged a small fleet of mechanized seeders for our disposal in the fields. The Norkotian machines will complement them quite well, indeed.” The silver ring, beautiful and bold, gleams in the sunlight from where it sits on her sister’s finger. It is quite possible that the foreigners will not understand the importance of that engagement gift, not quite, not without the proper knowledge beforehand, Aspen muses, unless they had done their research well. “I must send word that we are not replacing them,” Varda jokes, her eyes crinkling as she turns to look at her siblings before shifting her focus back towards the Executor. “I see a viable business proposition here, Mister Tynes. Perhaps you may put forward what you would have in return for our acquisition of these things?”

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Of course, there was a individual here who did his research more thoroughly than most men could bear. Indeed, unless the engagement had been a well-kept secret, it was almost certain that world had reached the man who was the eyes and ears of the fledgling Norkotian Union. But Prime Minister Redbridge knew better than to broach the topic in this particular venue, not unless it became necessary. And at the moment, it was not necessary, so while his ever watchful eye may have long ago noted the presence of the ring upon Varda's finger, he did not say a word.

Instead, Joseph Tynes remained at the forefront of the conversation, his mind still momentarily devoted to the business matters they were already discussing. As Varda inquired what Norkotia would want in return for their machines and technology, the Executor leaned back in his seat, as he formulated his response.

"As I stated, I intended to bring an example of each of those machines with me, but circumstances would not permit it. However, they will still be delivered here eventually, and when they do, you can consider them a gift from Norkotia to House Hildebrand." he stated, grinning as he did, "If you find them useful, which I am confident you will, I notify the companies that manufacture these implements, then they will send representatives here to discuss the particulars of further sales."

"And naturally House Karradeen will be involved in this discussions as well." Dicken spoke-up, "It is our fleet that will ensure your goods arrive here, safely."

"Of course, that is a given." Tynes nodded to the squire, before turning back to Varda and Jasper, "Anyway, as for what is practical now, I believe it would be best to establish a simpler agreement that ensures favorable regulations and formalizes the framework for both immediate and long-term trade. I'm not much with writing up such documents, but I believe Minister Redbridge and Mr. Klein could work something out with Lord Jasper."

But with the meal nearing a conclusion, and with the prospect of another boring pencil-pushing session appearing imminent, Tynes was looking forward toward a different activity.

"Perhaps before then though, we might take advantage of the daylight? I would enjoy an opportunity to see the grounds of your estate and the surrounding area." he suggested, "And perhaps you would all like a ride in our vehicles as well?"

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"Perhaps before then though, we might take advantage of the daylight? I would enjoy an opportunity to see the grounds of your estate and the surrounding area. And perhaps you would all like a ride in our vehicles as well?"

The twinkle that sparks in her siblings’ eyes at the Executor’s statement does not go unnoticed by Varda, who immediately turns a beatific grin in the Norkotian’s direction. “That is a splendid idea, Mister Tynes. We would not be averse to showing you the bountiful yield of our fields and the wide expanse of our lands.” She tilts her head, gives her brother a considering look. “It would also perhaps aid us to witness your technology in action. All in the name of investigation and comparison, of course.”  

Once their plates have been wiped clean and the goblets drained, the servants rush forward to gather the tableware, performing their duties with brisk efficiency, as the Hildebrand children stand together and slowly make their way to the door. “This way, then, good sirs,” Jasper smiles as he sweeps his arm out in a gesture for their guests and their retinue to follow them out into the hall. It does not take long to return to the front steps of Ravenel Manor and the sight of the rolling fields of green that stretch out into that distant horizon.

The sun seems to perpetually shine over the lands of Hildebrand on the days foreign dignitaries come to visit, Varda notes amusedly, turning her face up to bathe in the warm sunlight, eyes closed and lips curled. Coming back to herself, she quickly steps forward to the head of the group, near Executor Tynes, as they come to stand before the Norkotian convoy.

It is rather intimidating, however, to interact with something entirely new so thoroughly. She watches Aspen eye the metal vehicles with a sudden, nervous gleam in her gaze, watches Nai take a few steps back to stand behind Jasper even as his hands twitch from where they hang limp at his sides. With that, Varda knows that she has to step up, takes a deep breath. Despite her awkwardness, she will have to pave the way for the rest of her siblings to come closer to the new, unfamiliar things on their doorstep.

“Interesting!” She studies the smooth, metallic surface of the enclosed car, stares at the parts that make up the entirety of the vehicle with a mildly befuddled aura. “Where would you like us to take a ride in, Mister Tynes?” Varda asks, pivoting on her heel to face the Executor with a curious look.

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That was a good question. The truck wasn't the nicest place for a ride, so that wouldn't be preferable, and the armored car was probably not the best for sight-seeing. That left the enclosed, executive car, and the jeep. Besides the driver, each could comfortably seat three passengers, though a four could be squeezed in if necessary. 

"I've already had enough riding for one day, so I am content to remain here." Dicken stated as Tynes glanced toward him.

"That works." the Executor nodded, "Actually, I believe it would be suitable if your younger two siblings rode with Minister Redbridge, as he will be able to more effectively explain the mechanical functions of the vehicles to them. Then you and your eldest brother can ride with me?"

"Lieutenant, load your men in the truck and follow behind--" Redbridge began to instruct the guard officer, only to be cut-off by Tynes.

"The guards won't be necessary, Diric. Give it a rest for just a few minutes."

"I must protest, your excellency. We will be in open countryside, which places us at greater risk for ambush. You should never go anywhere without a security detail." the Prime Minister retorted indignantly. 

"I'm making it an order, Mr. Redbridge. Get in the jeep." Tynes deadpanned, before looking toward Varda and Jasper, "You can both sit in the back if you prefer, or I can sit in the back and one of you can sit in the front."

He motioned to the seats at issue as he spoke, using his uninjured left arm. While the jeep was often more fun to ride in, as it was open-top and had rather better off-road capability, Tynes wanted most desperately to get into the air-conditioned vehicle, if even just for a few minutes during the tour. It also would be an opportunity to show off that function to the leaders of the house, which might make them more open to getting it for their home.

Meanwhile, Diric Redbridge reluctantly moved to the jeep, but waited for Aspen and Nai to embark so he could guide them through the seatbelt buckling process and give them a proper orientation on vehicular safety.

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