Interlude 11. Predictions And Klaus
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(All the conversation in the interlude is actually conducted in Kraut language.)

In the wake of things not going to prediction, Klaus had resolved to do the thing he previously put off as the very last resort option - consulting with an actual seer. He did not put much stock in it, but in the face of all his expectations flying into his face, even outright gibberish would be a fair cop at figuring out the thrice-bedamned Gillespies. He needed to know WHAT was the trap, curse it all, and as quickly as possible. His expectations did not pan out at all - the amount of steel offered, the price asked, the terms suggested, the options proffered? All of them, each of them WAY more generous then he expected. Way more fairhanded. There must be some hidden catch to all of this to explain this generosity.

He supposed that the trap could be the disruption of his control over the mercantile spheres in Kraut... But that alone seemed to be just a bit insufficient for the amount of resources they surely had to commit to fulfill their obligations. Klaus was not jesting when he asked Rory if the opening gift emptied the whole county of the steel. The sheer size of it suggested something of the sort, at least. By his estimation, the arrowheads and spearheads collectively weighted something close to quarter of quintal. Which meant that initial steel investment was somewhere more to the tune of half of quintal, given how easily metal was lost forging small things. Which, in turn, meant that monthly production was at least a full quintal of ripple steel. Maybe more. If that kind of pace was sustainable, Champagne knights would all be armed with swords and spears made out of it come next spring. And maybe something worse then that. He wouldn't put it past lady Gillespie to figure out how to make a plate armor out of that steel, too. Chainmail could be pierced, and a poisoned arrow with needle tip could reliably take out a knight in full kit, even if made out of that steel... but a full plate made out of it? It would make one completely impervious. A few dozen of knights armored like this would be able to scatter pretty much any lord's militia. If his highness Abraham possessed such a trump in his sleeve, why, he could dictate the terms to his vassals from a hereby unprecedented height of power. Why, that would make Abraham's command within his realm almost as unassailable as Salaadin's will was in Sultanate...

Shaking his head, Klaus hastened his steps. Old biddy was poignantly acerbic at best of times, and he had no desire to endure her razor-sharp tongue and wit if he made her wait, not when he was there to get a favor. Pausing before a heavy door, he lifted the brass knocker and smacked it down against the copper plate a few times, announcing his arrival. The door was opened shortly and an invitation to enter was proffered in a whisper. This was the domain of old Kassandra, the southern tower of the castle. Klaus winced. On one hand, Alphonse made a sound call. On other, well.... there were reasons why things were like they were. Kassandra, who was already wrinkly by the time Alphonse paid attention to her prophecies, had been as much of a fixture around the castle as Klaus himself had been. She's been picked up by then teenaged Alphonse shortly after his father was killed in a border skirmish. Notably, she was slated to be whipped for making a "crow's cry" as people had taken to call her dire warnings about king's impending death. It was then Alphonse had made a decision that ensured he survived to ripe old age. He ordered a stay of punishment until some of her other predictions could be verified. Upon finishing that, Alphonse's next order was to transfer the whipping to the lord of the land Kassandra was dwelling on. Prophetess herself had been cordially invited to live in the palace on the sole condition of giving any prediction regarding king's health to her servants as soon as she'd get any.

The problem with her predictions was simple. She never ever predicted anything in a way that made the subject of prediction feel like heeding it. In short, she was an old, stubborn, cantankerous witch who's tongue could make a statue cry from rage. Alphonse solved the problem by never ever visiting the old biddy himself. Instead, he had a few very well paid and extremely thick-skinned servants who made note of everything old woman would say, then wrote her predictions down and passed them to Alphonse's scholars for evaluation and summary. That system, while being far from a catch-all, had nonetheless furnished enough warnings to justify Kassandra's upkeep for as long as she would care to live. And now, Klaus had sought her advice. The zingers would be epic, he presumed, but he was willing to endure the needling from old shrew so long as she said anything new to add to his growing web of nonsense.

And... just as he entered the sitting room, he jerked. Because Kassandra gave him the heaviest glare he ever received from her. Which was an achievement, considering the fact that she's been blind for the most of her life. "Klaus." - old witch rasped - "Came to ask about the thing up west, finally?"

"The... thing?" - he ventured slowly. Being so forthcoming was NOT common for old witch. Not common at all.

"A piece of void that pretends she's a lovely girl, oh yes." - she crowed - "I might not have eyes no more, but one does not need eyes to see the hole in the gods-bedamned world!"

Well... that was already something worthwhile, he mused. Kassandra had some specific verbal tics that made deciphering her mutterings easier - for example, the mention of void implied defilement. So, it is highly likely that lady Gillespie is highly defiled, then. Explains the magic prowess and odd behavior. Maybe explains the origins of knowledge. Peering beyond the world could be fruitful if you can withstand the madness.

"How do I beat her?" - he ventured, opting for blunt approach. Kassandra would mock him, but she would do so in a way that implies the solution.

"You don't, she beats you."

Klaus frowned. That... was not particularly convenient. "She has to beat me if I am to win?" - he attempted to clarify.

Kassandra cackled. "No, you dumb boy. She beats you. You lose." - she returned simply - "You try to beat her, she beats you. You try to poison her, she does not notice. You try to hurt her girls, she rips your liver out and eats it in front of you. Your only chance is to leave her well enough alone. Not that you can do that, now can you? Cocky dumbass, you can't even grasp the idea you can't win, can you?"

"How do you know that with such certainty?" - he objected. Surely there was some way around that.

"How does a moth know where the lamp shines at night?" - she objected - "Prediction's a finicky thing, maybe, but some things are as bright and steady as a lighthouse. She shines on everything, she does. Nothing remains untouched by that radiance, no way. Not even old Kassandra. Now, git. I have a bath to take and a dress to be put on, if I am to meet the lass this evening."

"Absolutely not!" - he objected - "Last thing the kingdom needs is you driving her away with your vinegar words!"

His response came in the form of cane impacting him right between the eyes with significant force. Not enough to injure, but more then enough to make him yelp and jerk back. "You just try and stop me, boyo." - old witch rasped menacingly - "Your life's worth less then my eyes back. Oh, don't you make that face, you fool. The void's generous enough if you ask gently and in the right words. Not that you ever asked for anything gently in your life, now did you?"