Chapter 173 - Diplomatic Corps I

Heyyy, so I finally wrote and posted the BTS explaining names that I promised to several months ago. I also explained all of the noble ranks in the Bull Kingdom because it was past midnight, I was tired, and it seemed like a good idea. Check it out here, free for everyone, not just Patrons! I also made the other BTS posts free. Beware minor spoilers.

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Leon walked into the office of Marcus Aquillius, closely followed by Alix.  The first thing they saw was the back wall of the spacious office, which was entirely made of crystal-clear glass.  In front of the wall was Marcus Aquillius himself, sitting with his back to the windows and leaving himself completely obscured by the relatively bright outside light.

The shadow of Aquillius looked up from his desk, and said, “Are you two just going to stand there?  Take a seat.”

Leon and Alix sat down in the comfortable armchairs in front of the desk while Aquillius finished what he was working on.

“Please forgive me,” he said, “but this letter can’t be postponed.  I’ll get right to you two in a moment.”

“Don’t worry about us, Sir, please take your time,” Leon said politely.  His response brought a subtle smile to Aquillius’ face, who was expecting an angry and insulted retort from the seventeen-year-old knight.

The three sat there in silence for ten more minutes while Aquillius deliberately took his time putting the finishing touches on his letter and re-reading it several times.  The room was filled with the sound of his pen scratching on the paper, which Aquillius hoped would create an oppressive and tense atmosphere.

After the diplomat finally set aside his pen and carefully folded the letter into an envelope, he turned his shiny blue eyes to his guests.  He was pleasantly surprised to see that neither Leon nor Alix seemed impatient with his little bit of theater.  In fact, both seemed quite calm, with Leon quietly meditating in his chair and Alix staring out of the windows behind Aquillius, admiring the beautiful view that an office in such a tall building provided.

‘Well, this is encouraging,’ Aquillius thought.  ‘I almost thought this boy would arrogant beyond belief, after achieving the fourth-tier and knighthood at only seventeen…’

“Now then,” he said out loud, “let’s talk for a few minutes.”

His words brought Leon and Alix out of their distractions, and they turned their eyes back to him.

“Do you both know what it is we do here?” Aquillius asked as he carefully brushed a few strands of his relatively long brown hair out of his eyes.

“This is the Diplomatic Corps,” Leon answered.

“Yes, that is what we are, but what do we do?”

“You go out and talk to foreign people, make treaties, and negotiate things,” Alix said.

“A wonderfully non-detailed answer, but not inherently wrong,” Aquillius said quietly.  “The Bull Kingdom has only two direct neighbors: the Talfar Kingdom to the east, and the Samar Kingdom to the south.  The diplomatic corps is headquartered here in Ariminium because this is where the borders for all three kingdoms meet.”

Leon frowned slightly.  He didn’t quite know what the geography lesson was for, but he was sure that he didn’t need it.

Seeing Leon’s reaction, Aquillius decided to get to the point.  “Because of our relative isolation, our kingdom doesn’t have much contact with foreigners outside of here, the capital, and the trade cities on the coast of the Gulf.  But, what few foreign relations we do have, are managed by the Diplomatic Corps.  We negotiate everything from non-aggression pacts to trade treaties.”

“But those two kingdoms aren’t the only foreign relations we have,” Leon said quietly.  “There are also the Valemen and the stone giants…”

Aquillius was about to say that the Valemen weren’t organized enough to warrant attention from the Diplomatic Corps, but he caught himself just in time.  He judged that the sentiment wouldn’t be well received with a pair of survivors of a fort that was just nearly wiped out by a Valeman raid.

“I’m glad you bring up the stone giants,” Aquillius said, deflecting away from the topic of Valemen, “because right now our focus is on ending the frequent raids they launch on the Eastern Territories.  To that end, you two will be helping in our endeavors, assuming I don’t send you back to the regular Legion.”

“We don’t have any experience or training with this kind of work,” Leon warned.

“And I’m not sending you to go out and make peace with the stone giants alone,” Aquillius said.  “You two will accompany me and several of my more experienced knights as we do the work.  We can arrange specific training later, but for now, your only job is to watch and listen.  The stone giants aren’t particularly proud, so they’re hard to insult, but I still don’t want you two to talk more than you have to, just in case.”

“Are the stone giants really that big of a threat?  How hasn’t the Legion ended their raids by now?” Alix asked.  She was a Northern girl through and through and had little knowledge of the threats in the Eastern Territories.

“Stone giants are incredibly dangerous,” Aquillius answered, with all the patience of a lifelong diplomat.  “By the time they reach adulthood around the age of twenty, they’re invariably of the fourth or fifth-tier.  They rarely advance any further, but they live in tribes of hundreds and thousands.  Hundreds and thousands of fourth and fifth-tier mages, alongside a few sixth-tier leaders, and all the added strength of a giant more than twenty feet tall.

“Making matters worse is their mastery of the terrain they live in.  It’s incredibly difficult for humans to get through the Border Mountains, but the giants have little trouble.  They can move quickly, while the Legion can’t get enough soldiers into the mountain range to properly bring an end to the raids.  That’s why this is a job for the diplomatic corps.  All the Legions in the Bull Kingdom can’t end this threat, so it’s up to us.”

“What, specifically, are we to do?” Leon asked.

“First of all, I haven’t decided to allow you into the corps, yet.  I can quite easily issue you new orders and have you seeing to the defenses between the Horns.”

“What would you need to convince you not to assign us such a menial task?” Leon inquired.  He wasn’t thrilled about being in a job where he had to talk to and negotiate with other people, but he still considered that a far sight better than wasting his days sitting in a watchtower.

“I’m going to be heading into the Border Mountains in a few weeks.  I’ve been making some headway with the strongest tribe of stone giants in the region,” Aquillius explained.  “You two will accompany me, and I will evaluate you, to see if you’ve the temperament to be in this corps.  I don’t much care that you’ve no training or experience in this field, as those will come with time, but not everyone is made for the finer points of diplomacy, and I want to see if the two of you can handle this.”

“So just watch and listen, as you said before?” Leon asked.

Aquillius smiled and nodded.

“We’ll depart in… nineteen days,” Aquillius said, after quickly checking his calendar.  “So, for the time being, I’ll arrange for you two to be assigned your quarters.  You won’t be sleeping in the regular barracks with the other soldiers, but I would advise you not to get too comfortable—you’re in your probationary period, and if I decide that you’re not suited for this line of work, you’ll have to move.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” Leon said, appreciating Aquillius’ honesty.

“Now then, are there any questions you might have?” the diplomat asked.

“Who else should we watch out for?  Like, other high ranking knights here that we should be mindful of?” Alix asked.

“And just some general specifics of how many people are here, and what our position is relative to theirs, unless you think we should just learn as we go,” Leon added.

“These are good questions, and I’d be happy to answer them for you,” Aquillius said.  “For starters, there are three senior diplomats in the city, including myself, and we’re all of the sixth-tier.  We’re all ranked equivalent to a Legate.  I report directly to Prince Trajan and assist him in matters he needs doing, such as the negotiations with the stone giants.  The other two senior diplomats are in charge of relations with the Talfar Kingdom and the Samar Kingdom, respectively.  They don’t report to the Prince, but to the King.  I doubt you’ll have too many interactions with them, as you’ll be working under me.

“Moving on, there are more than three hundred additional diplomats assigned to the three of us, and they’re the ones who do most of the actual legwork in ironing out the specifics of our treaties.  I, personally, have eighty of them working for me.  Then, there are perhaps two or three thousand others who take care of other necessary duties, mostly having to do with dealing with our Kingdom’s bureaucracy.”

“Any need for knights whose skills start and end with the sword?” Leon asked sarcastically.

“Not really, as the Legion assigns us a battalion of guards whenever we leave Ariminium.  In the case of the stone giants, however, we will only have about a company’s worth, as any more would cause us to move too slowly within the mountain range.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Leon muttered.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Aquillius said.  “Not many people can get such a glowing recommendation from Clovis.”  After a confused look from Leon, Aquillius then added for clarification, “Sir Clovis is the Consul of the North.  He used to command the battalion that guarded me years and years ago.”

“I see,” Leon responded.  He’d wondered how the Consul of the North knew a diplomat on the other side of the Bull Kingdom, but not so much that he was actually going to ask about it.

“Anything else?” Aquillius asked.

“I have nothing that can’t wait,” Leon replied.  Alix shook her head, indicating that she had no other burning questions, either.

“All right, then.  Head back outside and wait in the lounge; I’ll have one of my assistants come along in a few minutes and help you two get settled into your quarters.  He’ll also give you further instructions, but since there isn’t much for you to do, the next few weeks will largely be yours to do with as you please.”

“Understood,” Leon said, and he and Alix rose to their feet and walked out of the office.

“Hmm,” Aquillius hummed in thought once the door closed behind the other two.  “That went much better than I expected it to…”  He glanced down at a letter that was still on his desk, amidst the other papers that he had pushed off to the side.  This was the letter that the Consul of the North had sent him, describing the events at Fort 127 and how Leon had reportedly conducted himself.

“I guess you’re not as much of a liar as you used to be, Clovis,” Aquillius said to himself with a laugh.

Outside, Leon and Alix walked back to the lounge.  Leon was intent on getting some food, while Alix was lost in thought.

“What’re you thinking about?” Leon asked curiously.

“Nothing really,” Alix replied.  “It’s just, I’m not looking forward to heading into the Border Mountains—I kind of got my fill of mountains in the Northern Territories…”

“I understand.  I’ve lived my entire life around mountains, and it’s a bit frustrating that even coming south hasn’t changed that,” Leon responded with a nod of his head.  “Did you know that the Knight Academy actually had earth mages build artificial mountains for training purposes?  Of course, after I left the Frozen Mountains, I had to end up in the one place in the plains of the Central Territories that had fucking mountains!  I’m beginning to think that I’ll never get away from the damned things!”

Alix chuckled, then said, “Well, I’m not so passionate about it, I’m more concerned about the stone giants.  Dealing with hundreds of fourth and fifth-tier mages doesn’t sound like something I can handle…”

“We made it through that Valeman raid, I think we can make it through a few conversations,” Leon stated.

“Hmm, I guess it’s good to have some perspective.  Hopefully, these stone giants won’t be trying to kill us like the Valemen were…”

“Sir Aquillius mentioned that they were making progress with the giants, so I assume that means they’ve spoken before.  They shouldn’t be too hostile…”

Shouldn’t be isn’t too reassuring,” Alix replied.

“No, but it’s better than knowing the giants will be outright hostile.  Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and play it by ear.  For now, let’s get some food!”

“Sounds like a plan!”

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Chapter 174 - Diplomatic Corps II

Chapter 172 - The Bull's Horns