Jericho and Natsuki are on a long patrol. The Countess Crowley has these running around the clock. As best as Dogwood can tell, the Demon horde is still encamped in the foothills and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Additional attacks are expected soon and they want to have ample warning before they happen.
“This looks clear. Lets head to the next waypoint.” Jericho says. It’s been a quiet patrol. They often are but it’s necessary to stay alert while doing them.
“Countess Crowly sent a nice letter of congratulations on our marriage. I don’t know if you saw.”
Natsuki has grown used to these patrols, sort of, although she’s still having trouble adjusting to the combat side of things. It’s not something that comes to her easily. Still, the patrol has been relatively easy so far.
“I’m not seeing anything on my instruments and Stalker is behaving herself today.” Comes Natsu’s voice. She misses having Jericho in the cockpit with her but needs must – and if things go south, they’ll need the two bots at least.
“I did. I also saw the pointed message that we weren’t to expect to renege on our offer of inviting to her the wedding.” A battlefield wedding, that’s what they’d had and it’s not just the Countess who’s … making blunt comments. Prince Kai had been absolutely heart broken.
“That’s good.” The bot behaving that is. It doesn’t always. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes and much like Natsuki her bot is willful. And sometimes outright disobedient.
“Well naturally they want to be in on all the pomp and circumstance. And they will be. I never expected that we’d get out of having a ‘real’ wedding.”
And of course people will be invited and scene and favor assessed and all of the social maneuvering that goes on with that.
“How are your people taking the news?” Natsuki is a big factor in House Taniguchi, even though she’s not its leader. So her people will have… opinions.
One day they’ll work there’s a pattern to Natsu’s PUMA’s behaviour. The AI is certainly clever enough to cater for her inexperience, after all.
“It’s not the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony, Jericho and our wedding was ‘real’ enough.” Natsu actually sniffs over the radio at Jericho. “It’s the damn party they want. And Kai just wants an opportunity to sigh at you for winning me.”
Mind you the celebration isn’t going to be a bad idea. When they come the other side of this.
“My people? My bannermen are miffed we did it. They all wanted to be there to form a guard of honour. The manor staff are happy though Richard lectured me on the proprietary of it all.”
“There’s some concerns of course about how things will change. Whether I’ll be able to continue in my role with the House or if … you’ll demand my attention for your House.” That’s mostly the holders who have grown accustomed to the part-elf. “And of course there’s all the question about when …”
She doesn’t finish that. It’s the next question most married couples get.
“They’ll get their chance.” Jericho smirks slightly. “Though my CorSec are also going to want to be part of an honor guard.” And Jericho has a rather close connection to them that he doesn’t want to strain. “Isn’t Kai just going to sigh at me for the next several decades regardless?”
It seems likely that he will. The Prince loves his drama, even when he has to create it himself.
“Ah yes. That question. Well…” That’s a good question. Jericho assumes that they can. But they haven’t yet and that’s rather interesting. “What would happen, do you think, if we never did? Just… out of curiosity. And do you even want to?”
“They’re counting on us Jericho.” Natsu guides Stalker across the terrain. She’s become adept at moving the metal cat at least. “And of course they shall be. My Captain is already making plans on how it can work. But are you sure your CorSec want to? I mean … it’s me, after all.”
“Kai will, yes. You know that. If not over the fact that you stole his ‘love’, something else.” Natsu is so very fond of Kai. It’s strange really – how friendly the two are. Why had they been allowed to grow up together?
“Do you not want to, leannan?” IHe can hear the curiousity in her voice. “I … yes, I do, I think. I expected it would happen when we were ready.” beat “If we didn’t though? Right now that would be problematic for both of us. Lady Taniguichi hasn’t shown the slightest interest in having children, or even getting married. If we were too, I’m certain she’d name ours her heir. You have a similar as well. Gabrielle is, as yet, unattached. You and I, leannan, are the ‘great hopes’ of our Houses continuing. Until our relatives decide to step up.”
“The Guild Charter has a succession protocol built into it.” Jericho points out. “Most do. So I’m less worried about what would happen to the guild than what would happen to your House.” Which presumably does not have a legally documented and extensively studied succession protocol…
“I would love to, dear but I wasn’t overly concerned with getting it done right now…” He pauses to check his sensors. Still nothing. “Why do you know the Royal Family so well? I can’t imagine yours was especially well connected and if you’ll forgive me love, being seen with you at a young age can’t have done Kai any favors socially.”
“Even with a succession protocol, leannan, you need to be looking to the future. You and / or Gabrielle.” It’s quiet, Natsu knows the Guild is a little easier to deal with than her House. “Ideally, Zelda needs to produce heirs but there are provisions for my progeny to inherit. It won’t go down well, but they won’t be the first mongrel Dogwoodites to inherit.”
“You weren’t? I must be slipping!” The teasing tone comes over the comms. “I thought you pined for me day and night … I’ll have to work my wiles on you some more.” It is possibly strange they haven’t yet. There might be a good reason for that, though.
Natsu scans her instruments again, noting they all seem to be reporting correctly. “I can’t remember how it happened, leannan. It seems like I was always Kai’s companion. We spent a lot of time in the nursery together.” The part-elf thinks on it.
“It started happening not long after Mama and Papa were killed, though. I wasn’t very old, as you know. At a young age, I think it was easier to keep me ‘hidden’ from prying eyes. It was when he turned eleven and had to start taking up Court duties, it became more difficult. It was around then, that Grandmama took me to live in Faerie with her.”
It’s strange really. And Natsu had to have thought on it.
“You must have made quite an impression though, for him to have remained such a… close friend.” Kai seems comfortable around Natsuki in ways that can’t simply be explained by knowing her when he was a child. “It seems as though you two grew up together. How long were you in Faerie? And… what caused you to return?”
It could be that the kingdom has some quiet relations with whatever Elven court Natsuki’s grandmother hails from. That wouldn’t surprise Jericho though he does think that such a thing would have gotten out… somehow.
“Do you wish for me to pine for you day and night? That might make campaigning a bit difficult.” The Baronet teases, knowing what the answer likely is.
“We did, leannan. Or as near as. I was five or six when they took me to the nursery to play with him. We were nearly inseperable until it came time for him to take his place in the Court.” Morgan had taken Natsu away at that time. To give them time apart? Possibly.
“Faerie? A month or so until Grandmama got her manor at the Court settled, then we went to live there. I lived with her at her manor until I was fifteen. So three or four years.” She’s silent for a very long time, the only sound that Jericho gets is that of his puma as they stride across the ground. “I came back because at one Knight in her Court tried to kill me and very nearly succeeded. She decided, mainly because I demanded, I was safer in Dogwood.” She’s mentioned that she’s never really fit in either of her worlds. Is that part of that?
“Of course I do, leannan. It’s only right. You have married the most seductive woman in all of Dogwood, after all.”
“Did you come back to be with Kai again? Or rather, did you come back into the Royal court? Or elsewhere?” Jericho hasn’t ever asked about this part of Natsuki’s past. Not in this kind of detail anyway. His bot takes a small stream like it’s a puddle and trots on.
“I have married the most beautiful, most seductive, most desired, most wonderful woman in all of Dogwood. And if she wants me to pine for her, I assure you that I will.” Jericho is part teasing but Natsuki knows the depths of his affections.
Though in wartime it can be difficult to find a place for those.
Natsu’s silent at the question for the longest of times. Her bot splashes after Shadowcat and spreads out again.
“In a way. Yes. They couldn’t have me in the Court. Four years was a long time and when I returned I wasn’t just a part-elf child, I was a part-elf Woman. My presence was … problematic.” Jericho might well imagine what a hormonal, charismatic part-elf was like. “Kai and I were still friendly. We spent as much time as we could together. I went to school, majoring in Art. There were a lot of field trips in the first few years to the Court to study the collection there.” And gave her reason to be near Kai.
“Kai and I have never been together, leannan.” She says quietly, though the nuance is likely lost over the comms. “I didn’t think my … past … bothered you.”
*** OOC Time: Fri Jun 07 12:10:13 2019 ***
“Was your presence problematic because you were an elf? Or because you were a friend of the prince?” If she was… hormonal, that might well explain a few things. Jericho might almost say that Kai is a bit hormonal still.
“It doesn’t bother me, banphironsa. But I’ve also never really asked about it.” They splash through another waypoint and Jericho adjusts their heading to the next one. “Do you still have enemies at court?”
“I often wondered which was worse, leannan. My breeding or the fact that Kai and I were … close.” There’s enough silence to let Jericho know she’s thinking. About things or about what to tell him. “Maybe it was because he was Crown Prince and they didn’t want him to be associated with me like that. Romantically, you know? It didn’t stop others seeking me out … other nobles.” She’d been Fifteen then and … well, that’s young. “But I think it was a bit of both, if I’m honest.”
Maybe it was just that she’d been young and tempting.
“No matter how many there were before, leannan, there is only you now. I wouldn’t change that for the world. At court? Which one? I’m not really welcome at either. In Grandmama’s lands I wouldn’t say they were enemies, just that they don’t think I should exist. In Dogwood? I’m sure I do. For all my ‘low’ standing, I can be quite … influential.”
“Having the ear of the royal family via the crown prince would earn most people enemies.” Jericho points out. It’s just especially true for Natsuki because she’s someone who is viewed as ‘lesser’. She shouldn’t have that influence in peoples’ mind so they resent her for it. Just as they resent Jericho for marrying her. He shouldn’t have done it. So they rail against it.
Quietly. His blade is known to be quick and his temper dangerous.
“Now that we’re at war we will have to be careful that enemies don’t take the chance to let the demons get rid of us.” Withholding support is a classic move in feudal politics, even if the enemy is right at the gates.
“Well, yes. There is that but never underestimate how much I am reviled, Leannan. Look among your own people for that. Not that I blame them, I nearly tore your Guild apart because of my foolishness.” It hadn’t been Natsu’s fault at all, really, but she’d been used with precision against Jericho.
Jericho has a two edged sword to deal with. The resentment, certainly but also those who thought they might possess the part-elf for themselves eventually.
“You know they will, Jericho.” Stalkers foot hits a patch of wet earth and slides a little, Natsu compensating for it without even thinking. “They’ve started already. Withholding troops to support ours, claiming their own borders and what have you. It would be all too easy for them to be in the wrong place at the right time. It’s a good thing we’ve bolstered our finances and can afford mercernaries as well as entering alliances with the psi-stalkers. If Dogwood can’t reach accomodation with Vesper, maybe we should anyway…”
“That’s treason.” Jericho says and she can hear the smile in his voice. “Or it is if Prince Kai doesn’t personally sanction it, which I think he might.”
Jericho has been dealing with the corporate version of that. Guilds getting aggressive. Looking for opportunities to impact supply chains, woo away business partners and so on. Gabrielle is currently in the process of initiating a hostile takeover of the Mithras’ Guild’s primary supply chain to make a point. And to be honest he’s glad she’s got to deal with that. She’s better at it than he is. He’d simply bring his expertly trained, highly motivated army into view and ask who wanted to argue with him and several hundred of his closes friends.
“Kai’s demonstration is set for tomorrow. That… mercenary you contacted should be there. I expect he’ll ruffle feathers at the court. But that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Treason, leannan?” Natsu sounds innocent over the comms. “To enter into agreements with more mercenary groups? How is it different to what we’re already doing?” She’s thought on this a little and whilst far from a solution, she’d be prepared to face down the legal challenges that ensued.
“How is Gabrielle faring on your side of things? Is Guild House Trent going to grow soon? Add a new supply chain to your, our, arsenal?” In a way, Natsu might like to have worked with Gabrielle. That type of warfare is what she’s better suited to. But it is what it is, they needed her in the field.
“Yes, Mister Greymane will be joining us. And ruffling feathers, might be what we wanted. It’s a subtle reminder of what we’ll deal with on our southern borders if things go wrong OR if we make an accomodation with the CS.”
“Guild Mithras is about to be upset with us, but the point will be rather loudly made. And yes we will have some new assets to play with. Maybe, if Mithras is very polite, we’ll //sell// them back.” Sell. For a profit. Because they’re still making a point. And that point is ‘don’t even think about it’.
“People have sort of forgotten that Vesper won the last war, haven’t they.” And the mercenary might be about to remind them. “As to different to what we’re already doing… well, I don’t know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But that’s definitely not a headache I want to deal with unless absolutely necessary. We don’t need to be dealing with the courts while we’re trying to fight a war.”
“Maybe Mithras will see the error of their ways. At the very least, others will hopefully do so and allow us to focus on what what we’re trying to do. Which is save Dogwood and keep it as close to how it is today. There’s not way this war won’t change us though.”
“They have. With the Agents of the Crown keeping things in order, making magic and the more powerful D-Bee’s all but invisible, they think “we* won. And we simply did not. The King knew that when he made peace with Kailastia at the time.” The few attacks / attempts that have occurred in the past few years simply hadn’t made much of an impact, the Agents of the Crown had done their work well.
“It’s not something I want either, leannan, to be dealing with the Courts during all of this. But I also won’t let all that we’ve worked for be burned to the ground because of Court Politics.”
“But now the agents are gone and there’s an army of demons camped at the door.” It could be because the people in the capitol are not from the South. The Duchess of Ashford remembers how Vesper took her city. The people of the south remember dragon roars and magic fire still. They’re in no hurry to antagonize Vesper, but they’re often overruled.
“If only I knew someone with connections who was skilled at playing the court game…” Jericho says with exaggerated concern. Because there is someone within the sound of his voice good at just that.
“After we have our ‘formal’ ceremony, perhaps you should take a trip to the capital and assess the situation. Maybe talk to Kai.”
“This is very true.” Natsuki answers. “And now all the vultures in the capital can see is a House that is stretched thin, a House that shouldn’t be one at that, and they smell opportunity.”
She snorts over the Comms at the sarcastic and leading comments. “Which is why we have Mister Greymane coming in and we we’re working on other Houses. But leannan, you know as well as I that we need to have contingency in case things become dire.” She’s not wrong and they both know that no plan survives first contact.
“Do what, Jericho?” He might hear the warning in her voice at that. “You want me to leave you, after our ‘official’ ceremony, and travel to the Capital? To see the Crown Prince? And who know what other men?” It could be teasing but the optics of this aren’t sitting with her well. Still, it might need to be done.
“Not THAT soon after it.” Jericho says with a snort. “Do you think I’m going to miss out on the most eligible woman in Dogwood after I’ve managed to corner her?” That’s a novel way of putting that. Did he corner her or did she corner him. Either way SOMEONE is cornered.
And they’re both enjoying it so whom is probably not especially important.
“Maybe Kai can discretely visit. Can Kai do ANYTHING AT ALL discretely?”
“Eligible only in your eyes, leannan, for which I am grateful.” Natsu chuckles wondering much the same thing as he. Who had cornered who? He had made her pursuit him – much to their mutual pleasure – but in doing so, he’d also capture her sole attention.
“I will arrange it, of course, Jericho. Our Actuaries will want to review the accounts soon, at any rate, so it’s a good cover.”
“Maybe Kai doesn’t have to do it discretely. He’s been made the Commander of the Crowns forces and has been dealing with the CS. I’m sure there’s something that he needs to deal with on our lands, the Spire for instance. And I don’t know, Jericho. Have you heard much about him and your sister?”
“I’ve heard that they’ve been seen together and I’ve spoken to Gabrielle about it.” Jericho says. “Pleased as I would be if she were to find… something she could keep in him, she tells me it’s not to be and they’re just enjoying themselves. I’m inclined to take her at her word.”
Which is all well and good but hearts are funny things and Jericho knows that all too well.
“I know it’s been making the gossipmongers in the Capital work overtime, which I admit amuses me greatly.”
“And yet, you haven’t heard of when or where they meet, really. They’re seen when they want to be and not otherwise. Yes, Kai can be discrete if he *really* wants to be. He just seldom finds reason to be.” Gabrielle has given him reason. And Natsu probably will as well.
“Ah well the gossip mongers think you’re trying to balance things out. Your marriage to me bringing the Guild down, her’s to raise it and more.”
Stalker hasn’t missed a beat in all this time. Certainly, she had slipped and slid at points but it hadn’t given Natsu pause. Was that Stalkers AI doing that or had Natsu just become that comfortable?
“Ask Guild Mithras whether you’ve brought the guild down any.” Jericho snorts. It is true though. Natsuki is seen as a detriment because of her blood and socially that’s certainly true. The Guild is paying and will pay a price for including her. However she brings far more than just a pretty face and that’s becoming obvious to his people.
Which is good. Jericho can be quite stubborn and his guild giving him trouble was bringing that out in him. It may endear him to Natsuki that he’d dig in his heels for her but it definitely didn’t to his advisors.
“Have him come out then. Quietly, if you can, my dear.”
“I know you don’t think so, leannan.
“I know you don’t think so, leannan.” Natsu can’t help but smile. His stubborness had kept here there, rather than letting her withdraw and step down in favour of another.
Stretching slightly in her chair, as much as the harness will let her, she can’t help but how much longer they’ll be patrolling.
“I will do that. He will want to come and pout at you, anyway.” And she’s the demonstration from Vesper to setup as well.
The two bots arrive at the final waypoint. Well. Sort of final. Really the halfway mark. They’ve gone out as far as they’re going to. Now it’s time to turn around and go home.
“I’m sure he will take ample opportunity to pout at me repeatedly.” Jericho snorts. “Come now. We need to complete this patrol on time or many, many other people will be pouting at us. And I would like some time alone with my Dame Trent tonight…”