Winds of Change

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“And the current King of Verivon?” Gabriella prompted, eyeing Rick.

Rick fumbled through names for a moment before settling on Dedrick. “King Dedrick, and his heir is Roderick.”

“Good. King Dedrick has several daughters nearing marriageable age, who, if they were not already promised to princes of other countries at birth, will be married soon. With what countries would King Dedrick find it most profitable to seek alliances through blood ties?”

Dar humphed as he stretched his muscles from this morning’s sword practice with Emanuella. “Anyone would like a blood tie to Avrez-Kar.” Rick was longing to hear the outcome of that novel encounter, but he could wait for his own lesson to find out.

“Yes and no,” answered Gabriella. “Who would want Avrez-Kar requesting military aid to invade neighboring countries with whom you have been peaceful for Cycles, even Eras? If you are Brillabar or Danyon, however, alliances are powerful things, though in truth they have only lasted a generation at a time, if that.”

“If I were King Dedrick, I’d want alliances with Umsellon, Rumeth, Sharingseld, Faryssum, Crestwen, and Kheldegar. Pendymonon, Danyon, Brillabar, and Avrez-Kar are too far away to worry about directly and if they do wage war, I’d be able to call on the help of my neighbors, who will be able to come to my aid much faster than say, Pendymonon,” mused Fiorra, pointing to each country on the map in front of them.

“A good point,” said Gabriella. “For what other reason are these countries good allies?”

“Umsellon supplies half the land with food,” Ander replied. “Rumeth is one of the Land’s largest supplier of silks and cloth, while Faryssum and Crestwen are known for wool and tapestries and have long carried the largest part of the stone trade.”

“And Kheldeghar,” Rick added emphatically with his finger in the air, “is renowned for its wine.”

Dryly, Gabriella said, “That’s not all Kheldeghar is known for.” Rick knew that, of course, but found wine by far its most valuable asset. He also found that Gabriella had fixed him with one of those you-better-know-what-you’re-talking-about-now-that-you’ve-opened-your-mouth looks. She did that quite often since their trip back from Tillabeth. But he was prepared.

“Quite right,” he replied calmly. “Sharingseld is also known for its wines, as is Triador, though the chances of getting one’s hands on a Triad wine is about the same as sitting down to dine with Destiny.” Noting Gabriella’s eyes narrowing with what he had come to interpret as impatience, he continued. “Kheldeghar is known also for its horses, tanners, saddlers, and in recent years, some small amount of spices.”

Gabriella nodded at him. He may have found the language more difficult to learn than the others, but there was nothing wrong with his memory. Plus, he loved to keep Gabriella guessing as to whether he’d studied or not. Usually he studied as expected, but there were times when the economic woes of Verivon twelve eras ago or the constant amendments to Danyon’s governing laws lulled him more to sleep than the nightbirds outside his window at dusk.

“Where is the family stronghold located in Verivon?” asked Emanuella, her brows knit together in curiosity.

A small smile lingered about Gabriella’s mouth. “In Vannadar.”

They turned to search for Vannadar, but Emanuella was already answering. “Vannadar is on the Bay of Carding. And Verivon doesn’t have a very strong Navy, just enough to defend itself for a moderate period of time. In fact, no one else really keeps a very strong Navy except for Pendymonon, Danyon, and Brillabar, even though everyone of these countries in the south has access to hardwoods to build ships. If I were Avrez-Kar and I got tired of aggravating Brillabar and Danyon, who fight each other when they’re not fighting Avrez-Kar, I would give a wide berth to Pendymonon, who has both a strong Navy and a strong Army. Pendymonon is known for armor, after all, among other things and King Leopold is wealthy with all his mining operations, so attacking him would only waste my own resources. No, I would send my Navy around to the Illyth, build a small port in that cove where any patrolling Crestwen or Pendymonon ships would be unlikely to notice. I would refuel, and attack Verivon where he’s virtually helpless. How many ships can Crestwen and Faryssum supply? They’re cattle and sheepherders at heart. And Rumeth? He’ll help because he doesn’t want anyone encroaching on his boarders, from what I’ve read of him, but Umsellon won’t be able to help much, farmers don’t build ships.” Emanuella glanced around at the rest of them. “If I were King Roderick, I would know that simply by maintaining good trade relations with Umsellon as a king, I’m going to keep my country fed, so there’s no real need to send one of my daughters to the farmers. Besides, the better half of Verivon’s population is located toward the coast, so it relies on its own fishing industry for food rather than Umsellon.

“I would send a daughter to Rumeth to strengthen a continued alliance, one to Pendymonon for ties to Naval assistance, and a daughter to Kheldeghar for cavalry ties,” Emanuella finished.

“Very good, if militarily based. Verivon has been at peace for some time, but times are changing. Older kings will be passing on their thrones, and younger kings will be wanting to prove themselves.” She looked around at them for a moment. “Enough of history for today. Fiorra and Ander, you may resume your herblore. Emanuella, come with me. Dar, I believe you and Rick have a lesson?”

Dar grinned as he pushed back his chair across the wooden planks of the cabin floor. “Get your sword, pansy.” He slapped him on the shoulder.

Rick winced. “Did you have to do that?” The wound had closed just a day after he’d received it, thanks to Fiorra’s quick-healing, but the muscle was still mending and was very tender.

As soon as Gabriella had spelled their swords and they were out of earshot of the cabin, Rick dug Dar in the ribs. “So, O Teacher, how fares the new student?” Dar had stalked into the cabin earlier that afternoon on the heels of Emanuella, a sour expression on his face, while Emanuella had looked exhausted and downed the entire jug of water. Rick had been cutting up fruit for the noon meal and had distinctly witnessed his red-haired benefactor bite back her mirth as she turned away to slice fresh bread. Rick suspected there was more to the arrangement than Gabriella let on, but that was usually the way of things. He often wished he was partial to just half of the information in that beautiful red head of hers.

Dar glowered at him and said nothing as he pulled his sword free of his scabbard.

Grinning, Rick said, “That good, huh?”

Dar swung. Rick had just enough time to yank his own sword loose and duck. Hm. Dar’s mood had gone from sunshine to thunder. And then he had no time to think at all save the mechanics of his next move.

Finally, after over half a mark of solid sparring at a battle intensity, Rick panted, “Dar, I don’t know what happened this morning to make you so mad, maybe she beat you, but I’m not an anvil. Quit hammering at me like that.” He backed off and mopped off his face, his shoulder burning from the force of Dar’s blows. It usually took over a mark before his shoulder really bothered him.

Dar looked stricken for a moment. When Rick finished drinking from the waterskin, he passed it to Dar. Dar drank a few sips and put it down on the tree stump. “I’m sorry. I – didn’t realize I was….” He seemed like he was trying to find a way to say something.

Rick shrugged. “I don’t mind. Just remember, you’re a lot stronger than you think. We pansies are fragile,” he grinned, holding his sword up.

For the next half mark, Dar drilled him on the mechanics of the newer combinations Rick had learned. He was determined not to complain about his shoulder, which, while it had stopped burning as fiercely as it had during Dar’s attack, had settled down to a dull ache. He decided he was going to break down and soak in a hot bath after Dar left the cabin later. Fiorra’s herbs did wonders, but nothing soothed bruised and torn muscles like a hot bath. And he would also wait until Dar didn’t have a sword in his hand to find out what was eating at him.

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