by Dan Hiestand
Up the Republic
Up the Republic
Republic of Veil’driel
City of Telminster
Beyond the great courtyards of Commonwealth Square, high above the ivory pillars and flowing fountains of the capital city of Telminster, the most powerful men in the Republic of Veil’driel were meeting. Only the High Council – the eldest statesman and senators were permitted access to the Grand Building the seat of the most dominant power on Ciridian’s government was in session on the highest floor.
The meetin was one of a long and endless series stretching back the course of several months since the outriders had returned from their horrific account of what had taken place at Lornda Manor. Of how Artemus Ward had not been the returned savior but traitor, the key player in a plot and scheme devised to leave the Republic all but defenseless from an invading army from over the sea.
Presently speaking was Senator Neville Katic, a slender man of nearly 70 with family ties stretching back to the administration of the great Cidril Vhair.
In front of the floor of scarlett marble with the Seal of Veil’driel polished and gleaming in the center sat First Consul Cornealius Reginald Leverette, thumbing the side of his chin and staring off into nothing as if staring into a horizon of deep thought and contemplation of words and points he had heard at least a hundred times before.
Beside him, seated in a place slightly lower, Praetor Aleister Ducheyne the highest authority of Republican Law was barely present. All of these long-winded speeches had numbed him long ago, and where he had at first spent himself and extraordinary effort to the point of exhaustion to make his points seen, he now sat through them quietly, alone in his thoughts, waiting for his turn to speak. A turn, he knew now, was little more than formality; for as his position granted him a seat in the chamber, he was by far the youngest present with no political ties to speak of.
For a moment, he was taken out of his thoughts as the giant bells tolled from towers not far away. It was 4PM, and only his eyes floated out the window, he was no further movement. His elebow rested on the wide chair arm, chin likewise on his thumb, pointer finger running up the length of his face and he was staring that dreamy detached stare in his eyes again, struck by what he deemped appropriate of the Senator preaching ideals while literally treading over the emblem of the nation.
It was session after session of men speaking just to hear themselves speak, doing nothing more than waiting for their turn to speak. Still, they were not evil men, only useless, met now by a disastrous mix of an unprecedented situation, arrogance and ignorance. Some of these men trusted all to the will of the First consul, guided by blind allegiance like their fathers before them. Others refused to believe Artemus Ward had betrayed them, still believing that sending aid to Sindell was the right thing to do, that there was no danger; that there was no army in Veil’driel as originally reported, refusing to believe the outriders.
“-not the first of our affairs have been exaggerated by the Outrider Order,” the Praetor heard, just beyond the edge of his conscious perception, and he had heard the speech enough times to know Katic would soon be wrapping up.
Yes, that was the other thing. The factor which made it even easier to dismiss his indepth plans for defense of the cities. Aleister was the son of an outrider, and worse, one who had ties to the infamous Bryce Valley mission of three decades prior. A mission that was, many of them believed, the first step towards this mess in the first place.
Katic was making his final points now, the sixteen other members sitting in their places around the chamber chuckling at some amusing aspect that they had heard countless times before. That was his ending.
Even the First consul was grinning as he stood. A tall, slender man of near 70, he patted the air in front of him as if it was necessary to calm the estemmed assembly’s understandable amusement but that there was in fact serious business to be done, and as much as he regretted it, this was not the forum.
Across the chamber, only one of the senators had not shown amusement at the scripted, spontaneous moment in his colleague’s long-winded speech. Unlike the others, this man had seen the power of the energy with his own eyes. He had stood on the battlefield and lived among the soldiers. He had spent the better part of a year no following their heroic deeds, chronicling the sacrifices and sharing their truths with all the people of the Republic. And now, for the last 3 months of that time, he had chronicled, in secret, something else.
He had watched in silence as they shouted down Aleister’s request to alert the public of the invading army. Pleading and all along waging an unwinnable battle to have more faith in the public that it would not cause panic but was rather essential to their survival. How his plan to send what few outriders remained to verify the existing of the approaching army to quell all doubt in these members who did not believe because it was imperative that they keep the few remaining military resources behind to aid in internal security.
But he no longer counted himself among that burecratic throng. He had seen the faces, could still see them, of those of which the aristocracy was content to send into harm’s way for the good of the Republic’s way of life as they defined it. But now he knew the truth – that those men and women were not servants of the Republic of Veil’driel. They were it.
And as Tillian Bren held his unwavering stare on Praetor Ducheyne he could see the fuming rage in his distant, uninterested eyes. Boiling and suppressed. He had seen that very same look in the eyes of General Creed on the battlefield not so long ago – it was the look of a powerful, brilliant mind held helpless and bound by circumstance beyond all control.
“And finally we come to our Praetor,” the First Consul said, fully extending his robed arm and twisting ever so slightly toward where he sat to the side.
At this there was a poorly subdued groan from somewhere in the chamber, an emanation shared the sentiment of them all. And though he undoubtedly shared it himself, First consul Leverette frowned disapprovingly, shifting a glance for just a moment away from Praetor Ducheyne.
But the Praetor didn’t notice. In face, he didn’t even notice he had been called upon.
“Praetor Ducheyene,” the First Counsel tried again, and by now the pause was beginning to make things awkward. A quiet murmur had begun to circulate around the chamber, resonating off the stone walls that had presided over every meeting of the High Council since ancient times.
Even Senator Bren was no longer still, leaning forward in his designated seat and wondering if the young Praetor was about to break. If he would stand and say what he really thought of these men as he had vented to the senior senator on many nights in private.
But then the Praetor snapped visibly back to the present and then finally slowly stood up, clearing his throat and glancing around as if embarrassed by the delay he had caused, and immediately Bren knew there would be no impassioned speeches this time. No calls to actions or elaborate plans. Instead he gave the distinct impression of a man beaten. As if General Creed had accepted that the comets would simply destroy everything he loved, and there was nothing to be done. Indeed, if that were the case, and Ducheyene truly had given up as it appeared, it would have the same effect, doom for the Republic as if the Gereral had done the same all those months ago.
“Friends,” Aleister said, spreading his arms wide from his tall podium. “I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me, as I was mulling over the latest report from a scout team I commissioned to be headed by Lucas Reese. And it’s evidence that I’m afraid has changed my opinion…”
There was another murmur, though this for a different reason. For this was not only the first time he had not begun with a series of arguments against everything they had discussed, but he was apparently thinking of something unrelated to the current proceedings, implying that this was not necessarily the most important piece of business as far as he was concerned.
Sentator Bren might have been concerned at this, but instead he let out a breath as the tension left him, crossing his arms and leaning back a little in his chair. He saw quite well what was happening, how everything was calculated, and while this was a different Aleister than these men were used to seeing over the past few months, it was not as it appeared. In fact, he knew, Aleister was politicking the master politicians.
“Really, I must confess my surprise, Praetor,” Senator Tavic said, standing again out of order but as usual not reprimanded for it. He was obviously preparing for another political sparring session with whom he had always regarded as an upstart. A pet project of Leverette’s that was starting to get out of hand. “Here we are, gathered once again to deal with this,” now he glanced around the chamber, careful to only do so with his peripheral vision. “Supposed threat in route to our gates,” he looked back to and pointed at Aleister. “An army in which you, sir, have advocated extremist action over the passing months that would, in my opinion, plunge this nation into panic and chaos, and now,” he laughed a little, again glancing around to the chamber and his colleagues as if the action were a nervous tick. The master politician sensing a trick. “And now we find you not even paying attention to the very proceedings you have sought to disrupt? Well, prêt ell, Praetor, if you please … what could be more important than this?”
Leverette said nothing, only motioned for the old Senator to please take a seat, artfully careful to do so only after he knew the man was finished speaking. When Tavic did so, a satisfied little smirk on his face, Aleister cleared his throat again and he nodded slowly, as if having acknowledged a point to himself.
“Yes,” he began, and then sighed as if accepting the Senator’s wise criticism. “Truth be told, there is no other matter that which is before this most esteemed floor today. I wasn’t distracted, but rather reflecting.” He paused, as if perhaps expecting another rise in the murmurs that never came, and then he went on. “I will not say that I am in complete agreement with everything the esteemed gentlemen, and the clear majority have here professed. I do, however, admit that I may have been a little … ambitious?” he asked and now glanced over to the First Consul who smirked at him for the first time in as long as he could remember and nodded. “I know our disagreements have become a bit heated, at times, but that is all part of democracy, is it not? Disagreements will occur amongst brothers. Afterall, it is not an easy thing, but a higher calling to govern.”
There was a murmur at this, and then much to Tillian’s amazement, nods of approval being shared and positive words of approval shared between them all. And he smiled, though his nod of approval was to no one other than himself as he watched this young man out politic the master politicians. He knew well how to play to a crowd who much preferred talking about making hard decisions than actually making them, and he was doing it now. He was speaking in the ancient bureaucratic tongue of flattery and self-congratulation. A language known this world and all others over and across the farthest reaches of time.
And he was speaking it flawlessly.
“No, in truth, I was reflecting. Reflecting on my actions here, and while I must admit that I believed in my earlier words, I have found myself resorting to the fundamental values I hold so dear which has brought me to where I am today. The values of the law, of methodical thinking and logic. To be objective, blind to all else but the truth of a matter, and it has led me to this.”
There was utter silence now, so much so that flow of the fountains down in the courtyard below seemed louder than they had in recent memory. All were waiting eagerly for the next words.
“That if there were an enemy army in route to us, it would have already arrived. It has been three months. I believe it is the passing of months that has done the most damage to my argument, and quite rightly so, however something else now has just come to my attention which has led me to see the error completely,” he said with a very calculated, very convincing smile as he looked down to Tavic and extended an arm towards him. “Though my estemmed and honorable Senator Tavic may wish to believe it was his most convincing charm and political debate skills.”
A melody of light laughter floated over the chamber before receding like a tide, and now even Tavic smiled a little, nodding to the Praetor.
“Yes, I believe we can safely lay that argument of an impending army to rest, much to my embarrassment.” Again that ashamed expression. “And at last, I must admit that my … parentage could have very well influenced my strong desire to believe the outriders claims of the supposed events in Lornda Manor,” now he looked down and nodded, looking genuinely ashamed so convincing that Tillian Bren wondered if it was related to the words he was speaking themselves. “You all must understand that I was the foremost representative of the Republic during the recently discovered Communion Vault meetings with Artemus Ward, and when that communication ceased, well, it made the outriders claims seem that much more plausible.”
“So you are saying the outriders are in fact lying then?” a seemingly unconvinced voice asked from somewhere, and at this the Praetor looked up.
“No, not at all. Just as none here has been so bold. I only hold now, in light of no threat as I once perceived, to that which has been suggested here before. That it warrants further investiagation and talk before such ...” he nodded again to Tavic, gesturing to him as he said the word as a form of admission and acknowledgement. “Wreckless measures.” He nodded again. “I admit, who my father was has undoubtedly played a part in my quickness to take what the outriders are saying, unthinking, but this is not the first time this council has received information that has turned out to be folly. And that my father was among those, has no doubt played a part in that.” He held the daydream a little longer than looked away. “I have no doubt the outriders believe what they have reported to us, but that an army hasn’t arrived yet has changed my perspective, drastically. Our past has told us, my father among them, that not all military intelligence, as passionately as it may be relayed to us is always dependable. Afterall, it wasn’t so many months ago that an army was reported at our own doorstep and that turned out not to be the case. Now, we hear of another army, it has yet to come, and we’re just supposed to believe, to commit our few remaining assets we cannot spare to scout out the distant wilderness after we have just done that very same mission with out outriders? No, I think not.” He was heated now and calmed himself. “I’m sorry, forgive me. It’s just that I realize what I have been preaching now has been wrong. How if I had my way I could have brought us to unrest.” Now he smiled and looked up. “A politician’s ego is not lightly tossed aside.”
Another round of laughs and the expression on Aleister’s face saw that he anticipated it and had paused at just the right time. He started finishing his thought before the laughter fully subsided.
“No, it is of my opinion now that while the outriders are no doubt sure of their version of events, they are quite simply wrong as evidenced by the absence of an army at our doorstep. The true danger, the attack of this mysterious enemy is obviously concentrated in the Kingdom of Sindell, and as such under both the counsel of the wizardess Jaden and our own outriders before their story changed, we have done the honorable thing and committed our forces there. We must now turn our attention inward and strengthening ourselves and maintaining order during these uncertain times. So, now, count me among you, and please understand that I am still learning.” He looked down and away. “Unfortunately I have a lot more to learn than I would like to admit.”
After a long pause, Senator Tavic stood, slowly. The fiercest oppononent to the young Praetor. He drew out the standoff and waited for the praetor to look up at him and even then there was a pause.
“We are nothing if not products of our many mistakes,” he said, the first kind tone he had used directed toward him in months. “We’ve all been there, and I daresay this one will not be your last.”
Aleister smiled, nodded, folded his hands in a gracious acceptance and nodded. And then, much to his astonishment, the chamber arupted into applause, pleased to have a consensus once again.
Amidst the clapping, as aleister looked out towards them, Tillian Bren noticed First consul Leverette and Senator Tavic exchange and approving look as if there was some deeper meaning there. Tillian Bren had no reaction at all, studying it all unfold around him and then he turned to the administrator.
“Then if there is no other business, I call this seventh emergency meeting of the Veil’driel High Council closed. Any protest?” He looked around a moment. “No protest lodged. Call it closed.”
At this, in the same way they had for centuries spanning memory, all of the High Council stood in unison. The administrator walked over to the window sill and doused the small torch that was signaling a meeting in progress. As soon as the flame was doused, a moment passed, and then there were four loud bell chimes from the tower, alerting all in Telminster that the sesson was closed.
Now the chamber erupted into loud chatter and self-congratulation as the session let out and how they congratulated themselves and pretended to be important, etc. Especially after today when it was slightly more elevated because of the exciting events. The people were waling up to the Praetor who was the man of the hour again, he was the man of the hour. Now even the First Consul came over to shake his hand, shake the hand of the protégé he had made things happen for, and it was the first time he had shook his hand in a very long time.
Aleister shook the frail hand and laughed loud and legimately at something he had said to him, and now Tavic came up to the Praetor and shook his hand, and they were engaging all three of them in a spiritied discussion, as they put the water under the bridge and congratulated themselves.
Now, Tillian Bren did slowly rise to his feet and walked through the crowd and over to the Preaeor, he nodded and smiled to hose there.
“Senator Tavic,” he said with a smile, then looked up to the Leverette. “First Consul.” Then he turned to Aleister. “Praetor, he said, if I could just have a moment of your time. This week’s herald is nearly completed, but as you might imagine there are beginning to be rumors of our little High council sessions. The people are getting restless and as you remain a very popular figure I was hoping to interview you for this piece.”
Praetor Ducheyene smiled, feeling the gaze of the Consul and Tavic on him.
“Oh no, of course not,” he said. “Yes, I’m sure the people love me … another commoner, son of an outrider, rising to the ashes to sit beside the First Consul piece. How can I resist?”
There was a smattering of laughter. Senator Bren included.
“I wonder if you might excuse me,” Ducheyne said.
“Indeed,” said Leverette. “And I wonder if I might interest you in dinner at my home in the Telminster Magistrate House tomorrow night.”
Katic did not look like he approved, but smiled that thin arrogant smile nonetheless.
“Oh, I would be honored,” the praetor said, fully understanding the implications of the invite to being political speak. Then he turned back to the First Consul. “Consul,” he said with a smile. “I wonder if we might meet tonight about the Winterwine tax bracket?”
Praetor ducheyne nodded.
“Is there another kind with those folk?”
The three men laughed a little and First consul said:
“Of course, of course.”
With a final nod Aleister was leaving the group and walking away with Senator Bren. His arm around his shoulders.
“Now, let me tell you something, he said. “Let’s see if we can make me look a little better than last time with all that talk of my practices in the litigation between…” then he trailed off as he got too far away.
Behind him Senator Tavic and the First consul watched him leave.
“I might have been wrong about him, afterall,” he said.
“Yes, it’s as I told us,” Leverette said. “He’s young. Give him time.”
“Yes, the son of a war hero who at least has now given signs of knowing his place.”
“Yes, given time all the passionate young ones fall in line. And he has uses.”