Aug 14, 2020 10:35 AM
Stiles and Robin do diplomacy in Jörmungandr
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Forni is no diplomat. His parents had realized quite early on that he preferred talking to listening, and had feared that the boy who never stopped running his mouth might run into a drunken fist or a dull blade.

Instead, his father's father had died and he had come into a position of prestige, power, and purpose. He left behind the trappings of childhood. Most notably, a nickname which had been fine among peers, but would not impress the laity. Now, he went by Ragnvaldr Ásketillson Hrönn, the name he had been given before the sea- at least, he did among those who needed to respect him. Not among this party.

They had been sent on this mission, the five of them, to expand Skathinaujo's reach beyond its traditional borders. They were simply another wave of their homeland. Where the vikings spread through military might, priests such as himself spread through words. Forni liked to think what he was doing was much more valuable for the cause. A priest, a diplomat for the priest, a translator for the diplomat, a guard for the translator...and a seidhkona for anything else. There was no need for these people to respect him at all.

"I wager that I can identify twice as many of the berries in these woods as you. Care to prove me wrong, Sjóna?"

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"I'll take that wager, and your coin along with it. Have you forgotten my favourite hobby? They do say memory is the first to go."

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"Do they? I must be forgetting many things. Unfortunately, while you were studying whatever it is you studied, I was learning more important things, like the berries found in northerly forests."

He starts naming berries, building a poem around them as he goes. It's a bit too bawdy. He pauses to smile, and adds an extemporaneous couplet about her.

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She laughs, though blushes a little as well - whether at the bawdiness or the bit about her, it's difficult to tell.

"Alright, alright, you have me beat, I did only know about half of those. Guess I should have spent less time communing with the gods and more time learning of foreign lands. It certainly would have left me better prepared for this trip." 

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"That's what I've been saying since we left. You're too out of touch with us simple, humble folk. Now, let's hurry along and receive a warm welcome at the next palace. It's been too long since I slept on a bed."

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"Longing for the comforts of home, Forni? So it's not just your memory..." She does pick up the pace, though - to be honest, she's looking forward to a real bed, too. 

 

Soon enough, they come to the edge of the fertile farmlands surrounding the capital of Styrend. The walled palace on the shore where the river flows into Lake Styr draws their attention from across the valley, its size and age a testament to the power, wealth, and history of the kingdom's royal house. The harbour is filled with traders' river ships, still a little strange to the eyes of their party, along with the trappers' boats commonly found in the harbour of any waterside city or town. From the waterfront the city then stretches out in a wide, walled semi-circle, the fine townhouses, merchants' residences, markets, and poorer residences difficult to tell apart from this distance, though the five grand temples of the Faith stand out, rising above most other buildings. 

It being early-afternoon, the traffic on the road is light, and they make good time to the East Gate. There's not much traffic there at the moment, either, little enough that the guards have plenty of opportunity to eye their party with curiosity and mild wariness as they approach. 

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This is the part of their mission he likes the least: being polite to violent thugs masquerading as a necessary part of society.

"Hale and glad! What a beautiful city for a first introduction to your land."

He idly wonders whether this place hangs their heathens or drowns them. Best not to find out.

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After the translator relays his words in their own language, one of the guards steps forward to speak with them.

"Well met, travelers. Where do you hail from?"

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"Further south. We call it 'Skathinaujo'," he says, enunciating clearly. Hopefully, the translator would follow suit. With how quickly their traveling party had been collected, Forni suspected he should be grateful not to understand how much his words were being butchered.

At this point, catching the diplomat's stern look, he steps back and allows her to take the lead.

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He frowns at this information, before turning his attention to the diplomat. Her words manage to soothe whatever concerns he has, and they're soon being waved through to make their way up to the palace. 

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The streets inside are much busier, particularly as they pass the market plaza, where the scents and sights (and the sound of the peddlers voices) entice them to stop and peruse. One of the hawkers catches Sjóna's attention, her cart of sweet pies sending her stomach growling. 

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Their guard doesn't much want to let her out of his sight, but protecting the diplomat and translator is considered the greater priority.

Forni peals off to join her.

"They won't honor our money here until we've impressed the king. We have a horrible reputation."

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"Right," she sighs. It's so strange that these people would be suspicious of her. At home, some might hold her at a distance, and many more avoid her eyes, unnerved by the feeling of the gods looking through her, but no one is suspicious of a seidhkona. 

She leaves the pie cart behind with a longing look and turns to rejoin the others. 

Their path takes them past the Temple District as well, of course, many in the crowd peeling off to enter whichever one they have business in. The Lyran-style buildings are made mostly of marble, as is tradition, the stone brightly painted and decorated with images of their gods. Sjóna looks around with bemused interest, tasting the light smell of burning incense which wafts into the street. 

A passing priest watches them with a furrowed brow, but whatever he notices isn't enough to make him investigate more closely, for now. 

Past the Temple District the crowd thins out noticeably, those remaining mostly the visibly wealthy, nobles and rich merchants and such, along with some guards and servants and a messenger or two. From here, it's a short distance to the palace gates, where they're stopped again by the guards, who demand to know their business at the palace. 

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These rich, pompous strangers do not need a foreign dignitary to prank them. They don't. No matter how much it would improve this place. He tries to look appropriately cowed by the guards and not as though tempted to crack variously offensive jokes at their expense.

"We only want to promote the interests of our nation, not encroach on your way of life," he says, when the diplomat looks his way.

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They appear to be taking his cowedness at face value. The translator relays his words and then indentifies them as a diplomatic party from Skathinaujo, a land to the south. 

After another round of 'soothe the guards', they are allowed through the gates and into the courtyard while someone sends a runner into the palace to inform the pertinent servants of their arrival. Sjóna investigates the fountain there while they wait, peering up into the faces of the three figures from whom the water pours. 

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Eventually, after Forni has placed the courtyard enough times to concern the guards, the courier returns, accompanied with one of the largest men Forni has ever seen. He wonders if that serves more for intimidation than effectiveness, and resists the temptation to find out himself.

They are led inside. Forni looks around the palace eagerly, to the consternation of his more subdued companions. He keeps his mouth shut, though. No need to attract undue attention from those with weapons on them.

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They are led to a banquet hall, filled with long wooden tables. Currently empty, save for a young man wearing the finest garb they'd seen so far. He stands from his lonely perch at the end of one table. He's smiling as he approaches the group. The guards take their positions. The prince glances curiously at each one of them.

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Sjóna gives him a bright smile in return, though glances at the translator before speaking.

The translator bows, offers a "Your Highness," and then introduces their party - though he titles Sjóna 'Lady Seer', names Forni a priest and scholar, and leaves the guard unintroduced. 

"This palace is lovely," Sjóna offers once he's done, "Definitely the nicest we've seen on our travels so far."

The translator glances at the diplomat before relaying that - of course nothing in those words was unusual, but it's a reflex at this point, to double-check with her before translating for Sjóna. 

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"Have you visited many palaces? I've heard a lot about Lyran architecture but I wish I could see it. We don't leave home much. Everyone have a seat."

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"This is the kind of welcome we should always receive. I feel very appreciated. His parents are plotting something."

He makes an opaque-to-outsiders rude gesture when the translator considers whether to translate that.

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"A warm welcome means they're plotting?" She asks Forni, "We've been welcomed warmly before, and nothing bad came of it."

Seats are taken, and she turns to answer the prince's question, "We haven't been as far north as Lyr, yet, so I'm not sure we've seen any of their architecture, beyond a few ruins and the temples. We've been trying to visit the rulers of every land we passed through, though, so long as it wasn't too dangerous, so we've seen quite a few royal palaces and castles and halls." 

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"Ruins seem interesting, if discouraging. What's it like, walking where a great kingdom once stood and not knowing anything about it?"

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"It's hard to put it into words, I think... It's sad that they're gone, yes, but the ruins are beautiful, too. They stir the imagination. In some ways they make a person feel connected to those who lived there so long ago." They made Unn, lady of tides and time and memory, stir inside her, wistful and hungry for the past. Speaking of it draws her attention now, as well, and Sjóna casts her gaze down to hide the stirring shadows in her eyes. 

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If he has much else to say to that, it's interrupted by the diplomat discussing what they came here for. The prince tolerates the change in topic, though he looks a bit put-out.

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"He seems excitable. Interested in foreign architecture. Should I try not to read into that somehow?"

His mind is already sorting through possible implications.

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She glances at him out of the corner of her eye, "I think that depends on what you're reading into it. Maybe he'll be interested in learning about the gods?" 

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