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    VVesley
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The Truce - 3. Chapter 3

Jezebel sat at her desk, which had recently undergone some work. Now covered in art with traditional depictions of Saint Koba - Jezebel's patron saint and overseer of those that use poison as a weapon - the desk had been changed from how Jack Du Vance had originally set it up. It once had the Du Vance family seal carved elegantly into wood appliques, but that was one of the first things to be stripped off. Jezebel had also moved it from the head of the rectangular room over to the east wall, that way she could look out across the hall that she now called an office.


Jezebel had made sure to remove all traces of the former general, and had even burned his portrait in the great room. Traditionally, all generals that held an estate and lived in it had portraits of themselves commissioned. They were added in a great room or other designated area, and thus the building would tell the history of all of it's owners. Jezebel had seen this tradition all of her life, but had come to despise it in recent years.


In her own childhood home, most portraits were those of Di Coteau family members, with the most recent being her father Damien. Jezebel knew that it and the other two traditionally held Di Coteau territories all boasted mansions with portrait galleries that resembled family trees, and had seen proof of that during her stays with her cousins. In Alexandre's territory, the last portrait to have been hung was that of a younger Darion Di Coteau, Jezebel's late uncle. Alex had yet to commission his own painting, namely due to his being busy with an uprising. Jezebel wondered briefly if he would ever get around to it, but quickly decided that she hoped not. It's not like he's going to last long anyway. No sense in having his name join their ranks if he barely holds onto an estate for more than a year.


She strummed her fingers across the desk while sifting through papers, thinking about how she had come to realize that honoring the fallen generals of the past was a foolish practice. After all, it honors the weak. If they no longer rule their land... they don't deserve to be remembered. In Ysabel Clarion's estate, Randall Pyconne had been the last general to hold office. Jezebel had seen her aunt place her own portrait after Pyconne's in succession, and had initially wondered why Ysabel even bothered to let the artwork remind her of his presence. General Pyconne had been a relatively weak general, with a territory that was too valuable for him to manage. Taking him out was one of Darion Di Coteau's final acts, and Jezebel knew that he had intended for the territory to become Alexandre's. Once Darion unexpectedly died, it had gone to his late wife Ysabel. Talia had taken out all of Pyconne's supporters in the north as her first mission post-graduation from the Mullansburg academy, and had thus cleared the way for the fall.


After how easy that was... there is no way he should have his portrait still hanging in Ysabel's estate. And with Du Vance... it's good that there are no more portraits of him or his family here. Jezebel looked around the massive office, rather pleased. Eventually, this room will be covered in portraits of me. Only me.


All in all, Jezebel had removed and burned around 40 portraits of generals that had once inhabited her new home, effectively scrubbing their existence away. Their names would still be recorded in ledgers and history books, of course, but Jezebel figured she could work on those later. More fuel for the fire.


Jezebel read a few more letters, most of which were just the usual sycophants that welcomed a new general to the area in hopes of gaining some favor. While that wouldn't work on Jezebel to be sure, she felt that it was nice to know that there were at least a few sensible nobles around that paid their due respects. There was a sharp knock on the door, and Jezebel gave a terse "Come in."


The doors swung open, and in walked Mikhail. Jezebel admired the man's finer features. He was tall, handsome, and well-muscled from his life working the forge. He was also one of the few people that Jezebel knew that didn't walk around with a permanent scowl on their face. This was probably because he was a smith, which by Nabian norms were immune to the cruel dispositions of most. Jezebel couldn't tell whether she liked that or not, but she certainly enjoyed the eye candy that he made.


"Speaking of fire," Jezebel said with a low growl. She looked him up and down, and licked her lips. Mikhail opened his mouth to speak, but Jezebel cut him off. "How is work at the forge coming along?" Mikhail hesitated, as if he were going to ignore the question and ask what was on his mind, but evidently decided that he would simply answer his commanding general.


"Fine, General Di Coteau. We've continued producing armor and weapons for Alexandre at the rate that you set. There are no updates to report." The mention of her cousin irked a nerve with Jezebel, but she let it go.


"Very well. And the saltpeter?" The mines on Jezebel's mountainous territory produced plenty of the substance, and Jezebel had been hoarding large quantities of it. The discovery that it could be made into a fine black powder that was explosive on contact with fire had rippled through Nabius, and it was quickly becoming a valuable commodity. Alexandre had requested large amounts of the stuff, and had already used it in battle. The practical application for war was not lost on Jezebel, and she had already begun thinking about how she might be able to weaponize it.


"That is also going well. We're more than capable of manufacturing all that you have asked for, plus enough to send to Alex." Jezebel frowned at the name, but nodded.


"Good." Mikhail waited patiently for her to say something else, but she didn't. When he finally opened his mouth, Jezebel cut him off again. "Did you need something?" Mikhail pressed his mouth into a hard line, and spoke.


"Yes," he said. "I came to inquire about my returning to the north. I've gotten your forge set up entirely, and it's almost completely automated. The men here can now run your operation without me, and I think my skills would better serve our side in the capitol, or back at Alexandre's place." Jezebel frowned harder at this, the request not being something that she had expected.


"Now, now, Mikhail," she said. "Don't you want to stay a little longer?" She stood up, and leaned over her desk towards him. This put her at an angle where her breasts were held down by gravity, and the cleavage between them was prominently exposed to Mikhail. "Having you around has certainly been useful, and I could enjoy... some company."


Mikhail gulped, but kept his eyes on hers. "I'm sorry, general, but I can't. I've heard the latest reports, and it seems like Talia was taken after the wallfort fell... I have to go back. I need to do what I can - I just can't stay here." Jezebel felt her mood go sour immediately after that, and she slammed a hand down onto the desk with a loud bang. This made Mikhail jump, which at least gave her some satisfaction.


"No!" she yelled. "I absolutely do not give you permission to leave, especially not for that bitch. You will stay here indefinitely, continuing to make my forge run and serving at my behest."


"But -"


"No buts! You do as I say." Mikhail looked up at Jezebel, a glare in his eyes. He was quiet for a few minutes, but eventually made up his mind.


"All due respect, General Di Coteau... but I am not your subject. I belong to your cousin's forge, and I am on loan from him. I'll take my leave in the morning." He turned, his back to her, and Jezebel briefly thought about chucking a knife into him for his disrespect.


"How dare you," she said, her voice almost in a whisper. Jezebel thought back to the other generals that she knew and idolized, and was certain that they would not have tolerated such flagrant disobedience.


Can you imagine if Ysabel or Yago were faced with this? By a lowly smith, no less?! Jezebel was fuming now and couldn't control her temper from boiling over.


"How dare you, you insolent piece of trash! You will not leave this estate, save for in a body-wrap! I expect you to produce twice as much tomorrow, and you'll have half the help!" Mikhail kept walking towards the door of the office, and opened it to make his exit.


"That's right!" Jezebel shouted, the pitch of her voice higher. "Get the fuck out!" When the door slammed, Jezebel sat back down in her chair with a frustrated groan. She rubbed her hands on her temples, and rolled her eyes. How dare he. I'M the general here.


She returned to her mail, flipping through the stack that she had yet to sort through. Now immensely annoyed, she rushed through the stack, not bothering to read the contents of her mail and only looking for seals or logos of those that she deemed to be important. About halfway through, she stopped, and her heart skipped a beat. Could that really be...? Jezebel looked down at the envelope in her hands, which was pressed close with red wax that had a silver throwing needle stuck through it. Yago.


She hurriedly opened the note and read through it's contents. The entire time that she was reading, her smile grew and grew. Well, she thought, it looks like your offenses against me won't go unpunished Mikhail. You will never make it back to my cousin.


***


Jared made it to the border of Alexandre Di Coteau's territory relatively easily, after having defected from his position within the young general's army. After the fall of the wallfort, the front line of battle had been set up in a near-vertical line that split Nabius in two. Jared had traveled up through the Capitol, then through Alexandre's territory in order to get to Ironia. The most direct route would have been through Marie Lafeye's territory, but that posed too much risk. Jared had managed to get through the region on the way in with the help of two contacts sent by Jezebel Di Coteau via Marion, but he did not have that escort on the way back. At the current moment, he wished he did have Marion's "sisters" to help him find his way. The journey was long, and he had spent far too many nights hiding in bushes and in old abandoned structures than was comfortable. It had taken longer, and Jared had no guarantees for passage through various checkpoints. The sex wasn't bad either, he mused. But at least I'm finally here.


Jared took in his surroundings, glad to see the waters of the ocean nearby. He had gone as far north as possible, hoping to fit in with the ragtag group of sailors, adventurers, and tradesman that populated small fishing villages near the coast of Nabius. He could be inconspicuous there, and the Coyne region wasn't too far away. He'd go through the Monciet lands before reaching home, and knew that he was safe as soon as he crossed that border. While the Monciet region was still technically under the control of Nabius, Marion had thrown a secret coup that restored much of her power. Jared would be allowed to pass, and almost all of the danger in his journey was gone.


But the danger that I was in previously... Jared shuddered to think of the battle that he had participated in, and flashbacks of it kept replaying in his mind. I hope that nothing like that ever comes to the Coyne castle. Was this what it was like when Marion's castle fell? Jared thought to the bloodshed and gore that he had witnessed on the battlefield, and just how many lives he had taken. And the fall...


By far, the memory that plagued him most was his fall from the top of the great wall. The sensation of his stomach dropping as he had tumbled over the edge kept coming back to him. And Alexandre Di Coteau had risked himself to catch me... Jared didn't like the idea of dying by falling from a huge height, and panic occasionally rushed through his body in a cold wave just from the memory. I almost died.


Jared had spent most of his journey back to his home country trying to not feel stupid for ever having agreed to the mission in the first place. His cousin had pleaded with him to avenge their family, but it had all gone too wrong. Jared was no assassin, even though he was skilled with a sword and buckler. Stealth and backstabbing simply weren't his way, and that had become abundantly clear when he tried to employ those tactics in recent weeks. It had been easy enough fighting his way up to the general's side, but when it came time to end it all... I failed.


Actually, he thought with a small laugh, I failed spectacularly. Not only did I not kill my target, I actually had my own life saved by him. What an idiot I am. He shook his head, continuing towards home. He was approaching an aviary and knew that it was one that could be used by both Nabians and Ironians alike. He was in a port town, and traders from all over came to the area. It wouldn't be suspicious to utilize the business, so Jared thought that he might.


And then the dinner... he actually seemed genuine. I've met other Nabians before, and there was something... different. Jared couldn't quite place his finger on it, but he somehow knew that Alexandre Di Coteau was not the typical Nabian citizen. He had goals and ideals, and the conviction to see them through. Jared felt resigned, and hung his head as he approached the front desk of the outdoor aviary.


"One raven to the Monciet castle, please. It's for special attention to Marion Monciet." The worker there raised an eyebrow but didn't comment.


"That'll be 3 silver pieces then." Jared grunted in response and tossed the coin his way. It was Nabian currency that he had picked up while in Alex's army, and the worker pocketed it. He passed over an ink pot and quill, along with a small piece of parchment. Jared accepted the items and began writing a note to his cousin. He didn't truthfully know how she would react to what he was about to tell her, but hoped that it would at least soften the blow before he made it to her. He put the tip of the quill to the paper, and began writing his message for delivery.

***
Marion relaxed on a chaise lounge in the western tower of the Monciet castle bathing in the white sunshine that poured in through an arched window. She had opened it, and was taking in some of the fresh air that wafted in via a lazy breeze. While the weather and outlook for the future were both getting better and better in Ironia, Marion still felt lost. Her expression was somber, and a single wet line trailed from the corner of an eye down to the cheek and over her chin.


"Oh Jared," she whispered aloud. Marion was still holding the scroll of parchment that had arrived via raven just a few hours prior, and had already pressed wrinkles into its surface from reading over it so many times. It was hard to accept its contents, but Marion also had a difficult time accepting many things lately.


I can't believe that I put you in danger, and exposed you like this. My greed for vengeance was so overpowering that I sent you into the thick of war. If I had lost you, too... Marion shuddered, thinking about the horrors of that possibility. Jared was almost all the family she had left, save her aunt on his side. And that hardly counts, Marion thought. Matilda Coyne had lost most traces of sanity after her husband had died, and Jared had been effectively running the Coyne region of Ironia ever since. And I put that all at risk.


By asking Jared to infiltrate the Di Coteau line and assassinate Alexandre, Marion had left Jared with little option but to go. The request was from ruler to ruler, cousin to cousin. And sure, it's not outlandish. Most rulers in Nabius and Tomacia rise to power and fame by doing their own dirty work, rather than have someone do it for them. In Nabius, the glory of the kill and a surprise beheading of the figurative snake was a common tactic. The Di Coteau's had employed it extensively throughout their lineage's history, and many a general was made from that strategy. Tomacian's had historically also always been on the front lines, whether as assassins or when commanding troops. This had more to do with the honor and responsibility associated with taking life, but the fact that leaders often attacked each other face to face was why so many of the largest names in both countries had crossed paths. Different motives, but the same idea.


And Ironia... Ironians do not do this. Marion sighed, running one hand over her bald head. Ironia had been a nation of peace prior to the start of the great war, and had always valued kindness and harmony with nature. The people were simple, and most were not trained in the art of battle. Marion knew that the land had been even more fractured than it was today in terms of government as well - when there was no need to mobilize, people turned to local leaders. Several tribes that once roamed the great nation had since disappeared, and Marion thought that was a shame. She had always thought that if Nabius were to be defeated, the Monciets and Coynes should do something about making a restorative effort.


But it doesn't look like that will happen. Marion glanced over the note in her hand another time, and crumpled it up. Its contents were seared into her memory:

Marion,


I have failed in my mission, and barely escaped with my life. Upon further reflection, I cannot in good conscience kill my target - there may be more to the Nabian civil war than we originally thought. We will discuss more upon my return.

Jared


Barely escaped with his life. Barely. Marion had initially been frustrated, and then was hit with a wave of regret and fear. Ironians did not historically sneak into enemy territory to murder their enemies in cold blood, and they certainly did not have a foundation of conquering others through violence baked into their core. Marion was a member of an international group of women that studied a select set of lost arts under Almanita Nandra, and several lessons had recently come back to her. Under Almanita's tutelage, Marion had learned to remain calm in the face of tragedy, and not to lower herself. But by risking my own family to seek vengeance... have I become just like Nabius? Have I become exactly what I meant to eradicate?


The question haunted her, and she determined that she would take the rest of the day to engage in a bit of introspection. I must be better than them. I am better than them.

Thank you for reading!

Copyright © 2018 VVesley; All Rights Reserved.
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Will Mikhail fall into the hands of Yago?

Jared is the honorable man I hoped he would be and there is more to Marion as well.

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11 hours ago, drpaladin said:

Will Mikhail fall into the hands of Yago?

Jared is the honorable man I hoped he would be and there is more to Marion as well.

We will see! 

And yes, Jared and Marion have a lot yet to come. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

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Jezebel will fall of her own pride. She'd do well learning the phrase Memento mori. Maybe that's the point of keeping old portraits?

Jared and Marion have some thinking to do. The world is changing and they should change with it. 

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18 minutes ago, Puppilull said:

Jezebel will fall of her own pride. She'd do well learning the phrase Memento mori. Maybe that's the point of keeping old portraits?

Jared and Marion have some thinking to do. The world is changing and they should change with it. 

She would indeed. Jared and Marion certainly have their own motivations and growth lines. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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I was none too happy about Mikhail going to Jezebels' in the first place, but I guess it was necessary to the war effort to help her get her mine and forges up and running efficiently. Now I have to hope he doesn't fall into Yagos' hands although it would be good for the plot of the story. Maybe he and Talia will team up and escape together.

Don't know why but Marions' little epiphany having read Jareds' letter has got me feeling really positive. Could this be the beginnings of a possible thawing and perhaps later even eventual peace. If so, only good things could come of this for all. Really enjoyed this chapter.

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15 hours ago, Goodie said:

I was none too happy about Mikhail going to Jezebels' in the first place, but I guess it was necessary to the war effort to help her get her mine and forges up and running efficiently. Now I have to hope he doesn't fall into Yagos' hands although it would be good for the plot of the story. Maybe he and Talia will team up and escape together.

Don't know why but Marions' little epiphany having read Jareds' letter has got me feeling really positive. Could this be the beginnings of a possible thawing and perhaps later even eventual peace. If so, only good things could come of this for all. Really enjoyed this chapter.

Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for reading and for the comment!

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