“Excuse us, do you have a moment?” The woman who asked the question had the image of a cattail embroidered on the shoulder of her tunic, which meant she was one of the representatives of Kinul. Compared to almost everyone else, both she and her companion were underdressed, and certainly underequipped, with nothing more than some basic nature Affinity infused into their clothes.
「I have some people from Kinul wanting my attention.」 Taelah sent to Iniri over the Concord just in case she hadn’t already noticed. Ever since the Orrelin representative had blown up at poor Tissaria she’d been somewhat on edge, though she could tell Blue’s attention was on her at the moment and there wouldn’t be any repeats of that incident. The Village was slated to cook and bring food throughout the entire summit, and they had so far, but if people kept pestering them Taelah might have to rethink that.
「Tell me if you need me to come by. Kinul has been fairly shy so far, though, so I’d appreciate it if you’d talk with them.」 Taelah barely stopped herself from making a face. She wasn’t at all interested in playing with larger politics, and so far Blue hadn’t really asked her to, aside from using her truth-sense that one time, so she was willing to help out Iniri even if she had doubts about dealing with international issues.
“Yes?” Taelah asked them, setting down the pitcher she was carrying. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Elder Wren, and this is Elder Carrul.” She gestured to herself and her companion, who gave her a nod. “I understand you’re Elder Taelah?”
“I am,” Taelah admitted. She wasn’t sure how they’d found that out, but it wasn’t like there was a real attempt to keep her anonymous. The fact that they called themselves Elders as well was a surprise, though they both looked like they were more of the proper age, with lines and wrinkles and greying hair. Despite whatever age they had, both of them carried themselves with ease.
「They say they’re Elders, like me.」
「Kinul doesn’t have a monarchy or nobility. They’re just a loose collection of villages, so it does make sense they’d send village elders as representatives.」 Iniri told her, and Taelah relaxed slightly. If they were like her, that explained why they weren’t comfortable with the emperors and diplomats running around.
“Do you think we could talk less formally?” Elder Carrul asked. “We’re interested in trading with Tarnil and Blue, and we don’t have any problem recognizing Blue’s sovereignty, but we’re not sure what either of them would want from us.”
“Especially something worth rot Sources. Those are very hard to come by,” Elder Wren added, displaying her own dark blue-black sphere. “No village in Kinul has enough to buy them.”
“Oh, I see,” said Taelah, biting back the urge to tell them that Blue could provide a hundred sources a week if he really wanted to. 「What does Kinul have that Tarnil needs?」 She asked Iniri, while considering the question herself. Blue himself didn’t need much, of course, but Tarnil and the Village both had a use for people. Taelah really missed good cheese, for example, and since the Village lacked anyone with rot Affinity they could only do so much in that regard.
「Food and labor.」 Iniri replied promptly, which mirrored her own thinking. So long as Taelah considered Kinul just another village, the answer was easy.
“I’m sure you have quite a few of the younger generation who are restless,” Taelah told them. That was always the case in smaller villages. Most preferred to be [Farmers] or [Ranchers] but some would always want to go out and see the world. “Tarnil just came out of a war and The Village is fairly small, so they and we could use some energetic people to come help teach and rebuild. Ones that aren’t all that likely to stay.” Some would, inevitably, but that was all to the better. The Village would need at least a little new blood.
The two elders glanced at each other, communicating silently. Taelah was pretty sure it was just that they knew each other’s body language, rather than something like Companion Concordance. She could tell they were still uncertain about it, possibly because they wouldn’t have any idea who would volunteer to go see another country for a while.
“Tarnil could also use food. It would just be for this year and maybe the next, but we would be willing to buy as much as you have. Especially since I understand that you specialize in preserved foods?” Taelah didn’t know much about Kinul, but she did remember trying a jar of fermented pickled taro root, and while it was strange it wasn’t bad, and it certainly would last a while. Wren nodded, looking more confident.
“Would your Queen agree to those sorts of terms?” She asked.
“Oh, I just asked Iniri a moment ago and those terms are exactly what she wants. But to make things clear, she’s not my queen.” Taelah smiled at the Elders. “I’m Blue’s wife, not part of Tarnil.” The pair of them gawked at her, then started to stammer apologies that she waved away. “No, no, my role as Elder of The Village is all you need worry about. For personal deals with Blue, you’ll want to talk to Shayma. I don’t do any of that.”
“But if you’re Blue’s wife, why are you helping carry dishes?” Carrul asked. Before Taelah could reply, Wren elbowed him.
“Well someone has to carry it, right?” Wren told him. “Would you just stand and watch if your village was helping out?” Carrul had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“My apologies, Elder Taelah,” he told her.
“Honestly, I’ve gotten the same question from my own people more than once,” Taelah confided. “If you want, I’d be happy to show you around our Village, one Elder to another.” That wasn’t an invitation she felt comfortable extending to anyone else she’d seen so far. Nor did she think any of them would be interested. Wren and Carrul, though, reminded her of her fellow Elders and wouldn’t really look out of place.
“We would be honored, Elder Taelah,” Wren said, then paused as Carrul’s stomach growled. “…after we eat, perhaps?”
“Of course,” Taelah said with a smile. 「I’m going to be taking Elders Wren and Carrul to the Village to discuss things after we eat.」 She sent to both Shayma and Iniri.
「Thank you, Taelah. I know this isn’t what you’re here for, so I greatly appreciate you securing Kinul’s support.」 Iniri replied. Shayma’s message was shorter and to the point.
Taelah suppressed a laugh. She and her fellow Companions were very different people, but she liked having them around. They made it easier to deal with people outside the Village.
The other Elders bid her a temporary farewell as she returned to oversee the teleportation and transportation of the food. It didn’t take too much more time, and when she returned everyone to the Village, they had their own spread to take from. It wasn’t ferried by servants, but she preferred the buffet-style layout anyway, especially since it meant she could sneak an extra berry tart or two since she’d been craving them recently.
She carried her plate with her as she walked around the people eating lunch there, chatting now and then and making sure that nobody had any problems or complaints. The work of cooking and cleaning was just that, work, but with everyone together and with all the unusual food it had more the feeling of a celebration than of a burden. The Village was done and cleaning up long before Iniri told her that the official luncheon was done with, and Taelah teleported back to the summit to pick up Wren and Carrul.
The moment they appeared in the Village they both turned to look in the direction of the tree. Taelah couldn’t sense anything unusual from it, and while it certainly had an unusual appearance, so did any number of mana-enhanced trees. All she could figure was that something about the fate mana inside it prickled the instincts of people since everyone turned to look at it when they first arrived.
“Welcome to the Village,” Taelah said, gesturing around at the various buildings and the temporary outdoor cooking facilities that they’d put together for the summit. “We’re in the Caldera, even if you can’t see us from as far up as the summit site.” The Elders broke their gaze from the tree and surveyed the village square.
“I expected it to have more marble,” Wren confessed.
“Blue provided forests and quarries, but we built this all ourselves.” She told them. It was an important distinction, one that showed they were Blue’s people but not Blue’s servants. Even all the work they were doing for the summit was simply because they were asked, not because they were ordered.
“Oh, that is interesting,” Carrul said, nodding sagely. Taelah had the feeling he followed her logic.
“Yes, we live well, but by our own hands. Blue provides us with access to things we would not have in a normal village, but we still have to actually harvest and process stone or lumber or fruits.” She guided them away from the still-ongoing dishwashing and along the smoothly-paved path of the village square. “I think it says a lot that we are Blue’s people, and he appreciates us for that.”
“He does? It is rather difficult to really grasp what Blue is. We’ve met Shayma, of course, but she isn’t him.”
“Oh, I quite understand where you’re coming from,” Taelah assured them. “It does take some getting used to, but I’ve always found Blue to be quite fair. In fact, I rather like him, obviously.” She chuckled, and Wren and Carrul joined in politely. “Quite frankly I don’t think you have anything to worry about when it comes to Blue. With Iniri, her kingdom and Blue’s interests come first, but I don’t think she’ll be anything less than fair.”
“That was more or less what we were thinking,” Carrul said. “We’ve been considering the potential trade. We’re quite willing to send most of our stock of preserved foods to Tarnil, but sending people is more of an issue. You’re right that there are youths who really ought to see more of the world, but I would feel more comfortable sending them to you. Tarnil might drown them.”
“I see.” She quite understood what Carrul meant. “So long as there aren’t many at a time, I think we would welcome some visitors, but we have our own quirks they will have to get used to.” She pointed to where Dreams-Ahead was lugging a cart full of cut wood. He was less imposing than Cuts-Like-Cold but still clearly a monster to every sense. Wren and Carrul stiffened, glancing at her. “He’s one of Blue’s,” she said, by way of partial explanation. The full story was too complicated to get into right off.
“Oh. I suppose…” Wren glanced at Carrul, who looked back and shrugged.
“I suspect it will be good for them, in small doses.”
“Why don’t I introduce you to the other Elders,” Taelah suggested. “And we can talk about who you’re going to be sending.”