“…and not while you have those damned bells!”
It was the consideration of Aris Gammond that dwarves liked to punctuate points by hitting things. There had been, for a diplomatic meeting, quite a bit of physical violence compared to what she was used to during such proceedings. Usually there was none at all, or the entire thing had devolved into a fight by this point. Instead, the violence kept appearing, but it was always directed at objects rather than people. Aris wondered if this was merely the dwarven way of making sure their surroundings were stable. She would certainly want to check on a regular basis if she lived underground.
Aris righted her goblet before responding, hoping the care with which she did so would instill some shame in the dwarf. It did not. “I understand. You aren’t the first to raise these objections. That demand isn’t easy to reconcile. The orcs, for one…”
“Should be slaughtered while you have them all stunned, like anyone with a lick of sense would do. Y’recognize they’re a problem, and you refuse to act on it.” The dwarf’s surname was Feldspar. First name…Akar-something? Mentally, Aris just thought of him as Whitebeard. She wasn’t totally sure his beard was white, mind you, but Darkvision did strange things to people that were used to light.
“A poignant point and one that you could certainly express just as well in Council in Brise. We are more than willing to move a sizable proportion of your nobility…”
“Yeah, the ones you pick? The ones you think’ll cause the least trouble?” Whitebeard asked, his eyes narrowing as his expression crunched inward. It was like the entirety of his face was trying to implode. Or perhaps hide behind his copious facial hair.
Damn dwarf was shrewd. Yes, that was exactly it. “Ridiculous. We just have limited space-”
“Because you’re sharing it with monsters. Listen, tart…” It was Aris’ turn to have her expression sour. She made only brief attempt to hide it. “You promised this was going to be a trade meeting, not another one of your damned attempts to drag us into your prison.”
Annoyingly shrewd. Aris felt Navion stir behind her and waved him off, only glancing behind herself long enough to see him shrug and turn away. This was as much information gathering as it was diplomacy. “Nobody is trying to imprison anyone, mister…Feldspar.” Damned if she couldn’t remember his name. “We’re trying to minimize casualties from the migration. You aren’t exactly working with us.”
She referred, of course, to the catapults. Siege weaponry was one of the first things being outlawed by the fledgling councils of Brise. What was the point of destroying the last building materials the world would ever see? What would be the point of uniting in the face of a last, great threat if anyone could just end that threat with a few iron-clad flaming balls of pitch? The City couldn’t endure another fire. Not after the last two.
Whitebeard nodded his head. “Listen, that’s because whatever nation you’re representing, girl, you’re not our allies, formal or otherwise.”
“Because you won’t…”
“I said listen. You’ve come here five times to ask us to give up weapons, move around, give you control over where we make our homes. When you weren’t given that control, you took it with your bells and walls. I don’t know why we’d capitulate for a second to your demands if this is how you do your discussing.” Whitebeard was angry. That was something. He paused for a moment to catch his breath. He was old too. Aris knew she’d outlive him. Knew it. It was a strange thought every time it came up. Could even grow to be as old as Nav.
“You’re listing your own reasons as to why you should capitulate, sir.” She had fallen back on ‘sir’, now, having run out of polite ways of addressing the dwarf.. “We’re trying to give you the way that you can carry on your way of life with a minimum of trouble. The world needs to change if you want to survive in peace with the rest of us. That means no more sieges, no more isolation, and no more slaughtering your ancestral enemies just because you’ve done it forever.”
“Wrong, lass. We don’t have to change. Never have. Don’t need to join just because you’re putting pressure on. You know what pressure does to my people?” Whitebeard said. Aris wondered briefly how she had gotten so far without some sort of geological metaphor. “We just get tougher.” And the metaphor fell flat on its face. Navion looked at the ceiling, trying not to smile. Okay, maybe he won this one. They’d use his plan.
“Fine.” Aris said, standing. Behind her, Navion’s fingers snapped, the noise travelling unnaturally, as though it were a mosquito hum which buzzed past their ears and up the tunnels. “Then I don’t think we need to move on to trade agreements.” She ignored the instant flash of anger across the dwarf’s features. Her fingers slipped inside her belt pouch, drawing out a single flask of gray substance, sighing as the memory of its taste invaded her thoughts.
Whitebeard scowled at the potion. His guards, who looked to be his sons, lowered their halberds, taking a few steps.
In concert, Gammond and Dran’amir threw back their heads, downing the foul substance as the first note of the Peace Bells rang across the world.
Strangely, what stood out most to Aris on that day was not the re-location or sabotage or rout. It was the fact that she never could remember his name.
Which seemed fair, because he had never seemed to figure out hers either.