Chapter 79: Kingdom 21
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It was getting late in the evening when Sable heard yelling from her father’s room. She ran to his door, pushing it open, Benzhi was standing before her.
“What have you done,” she accused him, pushing past him to look after her father.
Ventiry was standing as well, “do not fret dear, we were just coming to see you.”
“What?” she spluttered. She looked at Benzhi quizzically, “you did it? I thought you were just a meat axe, you .. . are … a … healer?”
Benzhi looked at her sternly, she melted under his stare, “did I not say I could do it?”
She nodded weakly, she had not believed him, she only allowed him to try because…she wasn’t quite sure. There was not much danger, nothing to be lost and he was so… forceful.
“You will learn there are some whose word you can trust,” he said while he pat her shoulder patronisingly. “As I expect to trust yours, Sable,” he turned to face her father, “Ventiry.”
Ventiry nodded, smiling, “of course boy, of course.” Where Sable saw an intimidating six foot one warrior, clad in black leathers, capable of dealing death at a whim, her father rightly saw through his façade. He saw an overgrown boy, albeit talented with qi manipulation, he was not intimidated in the slightest.
“Father, you need to rest,” Sable said concerned as Ventiry made his way around the bed to follow Benzhi back to the meeting room.
“Nonsense, I feel wonderful,” he declared, “I have been in bed long enough. Let us see to our new client.”
“Client?” Sable peered at Benzhi as they walked to the meeting room, “was that all you were after. You just wanted my father to represent you,” she accused.
Ventiry laughed joyously, “oh Sable, dear Sable. I ….am….healed. I will live. He could have asked me for anything. Instead, he gifted me a wonderful client to start anew.”
Sable did not look convinced, “anything? Why did he not ask for all your wealth or our home…or….” she glared at Benzhi as they all sat.
“Now,” Ventiry was seated, “who do we have here.”
“This is Carney, she will be our trader bringing the goods from the Alpine Forest to here and returning with supplies we need,” Benzhi introduced her and looked around.
“I sent Jax back to the inn, to explain the delay,” Carney said.
“I want to get into the meat before you go…wait…you can stay here the night. We have plenty of room,” Ventiry requested.
It was agreed, they would talk into the night and meet with Skorrick in the morning.
“Tell me of the Alpine Forest,” Ventiry asked, “not what you think regarding goods, but, well everything. The people, the culture, the land, everything.”
Benzhi talked at length about the wood elves, the stoneskin dwarves and the Gaels. Where and how they lived, and how the had worked together to incorporate the grey elves and refugees from Vaugend. He described the mountains, the forest and the mystical beasts. His love for the place shone through, but events had been conspiring to keep him away.
“Certain aspects we wish to remain secret,” Benzhi said, “for one, we do not wish it known that grey elves live amongst us. And two, my name, in particular, must be kept out of any connection to the Alpine Forest.”
“Why?” Ventiry asked.
“Because people are looking for me, dangerous people,” Benzhi said, “Myrkalfar, Qizhu and one other.”
Ventiry looked concerned, “I am not concerned about you being hunted, but this will affect your land politically. If there is no clear leader, who will sign treaties, who makes decisions, it makes diplomatic relations strained. Loctris can deal with a council from the Alpine Forest, but, a strong leader would make a huge difference politically.”
“Wait, so you don’t just organise trade agreements?” Benzhi asked.
Ventiry smiled, “no my son, I am your agent, for the Alpine Forest, we would represent you in legal matters, diplomatic and trade.”
“This is more complex than we thought,” Carney stated.
Ventiry chuckled, “exactly why you need us. We understand the laws and the players. It is up to you to know your goods and their value, we will just ensure you are not swindled and paid on time. That you do not run afoul of the law or any persons of import.”
“We will need to first establish the state, titles, bank accounts and signatories,” Ventiry informed them. “Once this is done we will have the Alpine Forest recognised as a foreign territory.”
“You should consider declaring yourself Benzhi,” Carney urged him, “it would make things so much easier.”
Benzhi shook his head. “One of the main reasons I am here is to draw any potential enemy away from the Alpine Forest.”
“We will establish a council of four, representing the four tribes of the Alpine Forest, as the grey elves need to remain anonymous,” Benzhi said.
“For now the council will consist of Gisael, Reyas, Carney and the only member not present Bhar, her representative will be Skorrick,” Benzhi stated, “will that suffice?”
Ventiry nodded, “yes, it will. Is there one of these that can act as speaker?”
Benzhi pondered the question, Gisael was a rock, however wood elves thought differently on some matters, she could also be undiplomatic in her stoic nature. Reyas was strong-willed, indomitable, but it was not in her nature to do this, she could be fiery and quick-tongued. Bhar was not here, and it would not do for her representative to be the speaker. That left Carney. She was capable, if inexperienced and she was not in the Vanguard, allowing for an ongoing presence without being called away on other duties.
“Carney,” Benzhi stated simply.
Carney gasped, “surely you cannot have me as speaker above the Daughter of the Forest, the Daughter of Stone and the Daughter of the Mountains?”
Benzhi looked her in the eye and said with conviction, “you are the right choice.”
Carney swelled, Benzhi was able to lift her up and fill her with confidence with just a few words. She nodded, grinned and turned beetroot red.
“That is settled,” Ventiry continued, “moving on I suggest we assign Sable here as your accountant and contract administrator, she will serve you well and it will free me up to focus on negotiations and lobbying.”
Benzhi waved his hand, “I do not understand half of what you are saying, just do what is best for the Alpine Forest and that is enough for me.”
Ventiry looked at Benzhi seriously, “do not be too trusting lad.”
Benzhi grinned like a predator, “oh do not worry, I can end a life quicker than I can restore one. I trust that you are smart enough to realise that.”
Ventiry laughed, “yes I am. And look how Sable is shaking,” he grabbed her wrist and held it over the table, her hand was trembling.
“Father,” she said embarrassed, pulling her hand away.
Benzhi stretched, it was getting late, he would usually be asleep by now before meditating in the early hours of the morning.
“We can continue tomorrow,” Ventiry closed the meeting.
Sable led the pair upstairs after showing them where to wash. She came to a door and halted, “are you staying together?” She asked.
Carney looked at Benzhi, he shrugged and entered the room. She shrugged and followed him. Sable said sarcastically, “I guess that is a yes.”
Benzhi was meditating a few hours before dawn, as was his habit, he was practising spreading his senses enhanced with qi sense out at an ever-expanding sphere. After months of practice, he was able to achieve two dozen steps in any direction, the only problem was it took all his concentration to succeed.
It was at the perimeter of his qi sense he could hear and feel the footpad watching their window. The young man, he surmised from his heartbeat had dozed off after a four-hour shift. He was nestled against chimney embedded on a split level wall to the roof above.
Benzhi rose, ending his meditation session prematurely. Carney was sleeping soundingly on the bed, she was so cute he had to use all his willpower not to disturb her.
He searched for an exit that was not his bedroom window and after finding one made his way over to the sleeping rogue.
One skill Benzhi had not practised was moving silently. There had never been a need. His speed and mobility had served him up until now. Consequently, as he closed on the rogue a tile slipped and fell, crashing down one story and landing in a resounding crack. Loud enough to startle the sleeping rogue who stood bolt upright scanning the area before his eyes laid on Benzhi.
The rogue moved to climb a wall before Benzhi could cross the roof, he turned and reached for a handhold, but before he could pull himself up, his target turned pursuer, had pulled him off the wall. The rogue now dangled like a kitten in Benzhi’s left hand.
“Hi,” Benzhi said jovially.
The rogue grunted and squirmed. He pulled a dagger and slashed at Benzhi, the blade just bounced off and fell from his grasp.
“Now, now, I haven’t hurt you…yet. Play nice, or I will see how far I can throw you,” Benzhi admonished the rogue.
The rogue cursed his luck, the target had been shadowed for days, and he was the one caught. If he survived, he would never live this down.
“What ya want?” the rogue asked and a hoarse whisper.
Benzhi laughed, “You are the one spying on me, I should be asking you that.”
“Shh,” the rogue rasped, “ya will wake the dead.”
“Oh, that’s not my problem. I have a reason to be here. Do you?” Benzhi asked.
The rogue thought quickly, there was only one way out of this mess that he could see. “Let me go, I will tell ya everyfin I know,” the rogue offered.
Benzhi laughed again, this time louder, “how about. You tell me why you are following me and I will let you go when I am done with questions?”
“I don’t know why I followin ya, “ the rogue said idiot under his breath, “I am a pad, we get orders, we follow ‘em. All we know is; follow you, report on what ya is doin, meeting, talking about and if possible what goodies you carry. All the reg stuff.”
“Very good,” Benzhi said, the rogue got his hopes up, “now tell me. Where is your base.”
“Like I feckin tell ya that, I will be killed,” the rogue answered his hopes plummeting.
“Fine, understandable, how about this question,” Benzhi was nothing if not accommodating, he felt the rogue was telling the truth. If he spilt their base, any of them, his life would be forfeit if he was found out. No problem, he could follow one later.
“Are any of your guild qi masters?” Benzhi asked.
“Of course not, ya feckin idiot, why would you be a teef if you were a qi master?” the rogue answered the idiotic question.
“Hmm,” Benzhi thought, he wanted to get his money’s worth and felt they weren’t quite there yet, “ok how about this. Is your guild following anyone in my group other than me?”
“I dunno, I don’t think so. I prolly woulda seen if we were. And we ain't a guild, we are a clan, with oaths and shit, and it's for life…guilds ain't like that,” the rogue answered.
“What’s the name of your clan,” Benzhi asked, the rogue looked tortured, “the last question I promise.”
“You didn’t hear it from me…but it’s no secret..so..Kipe. We are the Kipe.
Benzhi dropped the rogue, “I don’t have anything of value except my skills,” he said before jumping ten paces, flinging tiles everywhere in the process and landing on the wall of Ventiry’s home. Benzhi scampered up and into the window. This time he did wake Carney.
Over breakfast, Ventiry continued, “I had an idea last night. Although you will not present as the leader, you plan on being present as a hired bodyguard no?”
“And from what you told me, you are purposely staying away from your home at the Alpine Forest because you do not want these enemies tracking you there and putting the people in danger? Is that right?” Ventiry asked.
“He has no problem putting us in danger,” Sable quipped.
Ventiry waved the comment away, “no no, dear. He is not one of us. And the hunters can question blackcloaks, whitecloaks and rogues all they like. We don’t care.”
“If you are ever in danger, just tell them everything you know about where I am and what I am doing. The only thing I would want you to hold back on is my relationship with the people in the Alpine Forest,” Benzhi added, “And to answer your question, yes that is right. Until we can find a solution to my problem, we will stay away from the Alpine Forest, or I will at least.”
Carney lay an affectionate hand on his arm, it was so like Benzhi to put others safety ahead of his own. Asking them to spill the beans with no hesitation.
Ventiry continued his train of thought, “then I suggest you and your Vanguard enter the annual tournament.”
“Won’t that bring too much attention to the Alpine Forest?” Benzhi asked.
“It will bring attention to you, perhaps flush out your pursuers while you are surrounded by all the deadliest qi masters in the kingdom,” Ventiry stated, “there are many other benefits as well. You will promote the Alpine Forest by gaining standing, especially if you do well. And it is the event that everyone in power attends. Everyone.”
“When is it?” Benzhi asked.
Ventiry looked at Sable, he had no idea he had been in his sickbed for so long.
“Two months,” she said.
“Until then we shall make ourselves busy. Today we will meet with Skorrick, open accounts at the royal bank and hopefully procure you a business and living premise. Do you have many valuables with you?”
“We have a bagful of gems,” Carney showed the size with her hands.
“They would need appraising,” Ventiry said.
“I can easily get more,” Benzhi offered, “and I have these.” He rolled out the concentrated qi kernels onto the table.
Sable asked, “what are those?”
“I am no expert my dear,” Ventiry said, “but I would guess that is a King’s ransom of qi cores.”