Andraste followed through with her statement to begin negotiations as soon as possible. She only took an hour to settle into the chambers at the top of the Diplomatic building before arranging for the negotiations to begin.
The room selected for these proceedings was a simple conference room in the Diplomatic building rather than the keep, for the sake of convenience and presentation; the negotiations would get off to a rocky start if the Queen felt like she was being insulted if she was made to walk all the way to the keep and go before Trajan and August, two men who were technically below her in rank. Trajan and August were already beginning the negotiations from a position of strength, so this small concession was easy enough to make.
Present at the meeting on the Bull Kingdom’s side was Trajan, August, the three Paladins, Leon, Minerva, Aquillius, and about a dozen other diplomats that Leon recognized from his brief stint in the Diplomatic Corps, including Lucilius, Anna, Eleanor, and Juliana. On Andraste’s side, there was the seventh-tier Queen herself, half a dozen sixth-tier mages, and about a dozen more fifth-tier mages. There was also one more seventh-tier mage that accompanied the Queen who looked so old that Leon half expected him to die on the spot.
To start things off, August, as the highest-ranking member on the Bull’s side, said, “Welcome to the Bull’s Horns, Your Majesty! I am Orestes August Taurus, Prince-Regent of the Bull Kingdom. This is Trajan Anastasius Taurus, Prince of the Bull Kingdom and Consul of the Eastern Territories…”
August continued with the introductions of the more important people on his side, including Aquillius, Fonteius, and the three Paladins. He did not introduce Leon, as Leon was too weak and politically insignificant to draw attention to, a point which Trajan explicitly made to his nephew before negotiations began. Trajan may have allowed August and the Paladins to know Leon’s true identity, but he made it clear that he would not tolerate any of them spreading that knowledge around.
When August was halfway through the introductions, however, Andraste interrupted, exasperatedly saying, “Let’s just get this on with, boy.”
August was completely taken aback and fell into an awkward silence.
Aquillius then took over, giving the young Prince a moderately graceful out. “I suppose knowing exactly who everyone is isn’t terribly necessary, but there are better ways of getting that across.”
Andraste shot Aquillius a death glare and said through clenched teeth, “You have my Marshal captive! I sent her as a messenger, and you took her prisoner like barbarians! And you have my brother!”
Aquillius cocked an eyebrow at her adding Owain like an afterthought.
“Let’s just make peace and be done with it!” Andraste continued. “Just keep in mind that this invasion was unsanctioned, it was not conducted with the consent of my Kingdom’s government. Owain acted only with a few other bad actors.”
“You call two other Marshals ‘a few bad actors’?” Trajan asked incredulously. “Seems an awfully flippant way of referring to the highest echelons of your Kingdom’s military.”
“They were traitors, and if you hadn’t killed them, they would’ve faced execution back in Pretani,” Andraste growled in anger. “The warriors who followed them were patriots and cannot be blamed for the actions of their superiors. Once the traitors were dealt with, they returned home.”
“Is that what happened? I seem to recall them only deserting once it became clear that they weren’t going to win without destroying most of their army,” Trajan shot back with a proud and provocative smile.
“They did not choose to come here,” Andraste said, her strong seventh-tier aura growing thick with killing intent and her gaze lowering until it was a menacing glare fixated directly on Trajan.
The Bull Prince, however, didn’t so much as bat an eye, and his own aura grew until it matched the Talfar Queen’s as best as it could, and it didn’t lose out that much, indicating how recently the Queen had ascended.
“How about… we tone things down a bit?” Aquillius said with a hint of nervousness in his voice. “We have come together to discuss our common desire for peace, no need to throw that away with a few hasty words…”
“Yes, let’s get back to the matter at hand,” August loudly proclaimed, not letting Trajan or Andraste get a word in to stop him from moving on. “Here’s the situation, Your Majesty,” he said, emphasizing his use of the honorific to try and remind her of her manners to get her to do the same, “we have Marshal Gwen and Prince Owain in captivity, and we have repelled one of your armies. Your western provinces are doubtlessly too deprived of resources to stop us if we were to march east, and I don’t think you’d be able to abandon your war with the Han Kingdom to stop us, either.”
Andraste shifted her glare to August, but she restrained her aura and got it back under control. “What do you want?” she bluntly asked.
“I want peace, and a binding one at that,” August said. “It took a shameful amount of time for both Your Majesty and your Elder Council to disavow Prince Owain and the Marshals Arthwyn and Bran, given that this was an unsanctioned invasion. From now on, all future invasions of our territory that are not immediately disavowed will be considered as acting with the full consent of your government and will lead to all-out war. The only reason we have not launched a counter-invasion while you’re busy in the east is due to basic civility and our own natural desire for peace.”
Andraste’s sharp features turned downward into a slight frown, but her eyes kept staring death at August, forcing the young fifth-tier Prince to start getting anxious. But he didn’t back down, he knew that his Kingdom was the one with the stronger hand, and for all her posturing if Andraste had another way to deal with this situation rather than negotiation, she would’ve used it.
“Let’s talk specifics…” the old seventh-tier man accompanying Andraste said, drawing a brief glare from his Queen. “I and the rest of the Elder Council desire peace as much as you do, and we would like to bring these negotiations to a swift end. We do have our problems to deal with, and this incident with our errant Prince is something we look upon with great shame.”
“Hmm, ‘great shame’, huh?” Trajan scoffed. This statement elicited a look of anger from the Elder Councilman, but fortunately, a pleading look from Aquillius prevented Trajan from saying anything more.
“Let’s make this easy, then,” Andraste said through clenched teeth, “we re-instate the peace deal we agreed upon eighty years ago, and I pay you eighty gold talents for my Marshal and my brother.”
“Eighty each?” Aquillius asked, knowing full well that Andraste meant forty for each. “That seems a low number for both…”
Andraste’s face twisted in anger—she clearly had the same level of patience for diplomacy as Trajan did—but before she could retort, the Elder Councilman asked, “What, then, would you consider a fair amount?”
“For a Marshal?” Aquillius wondered out loud. “One hundred and twenty talents for her. For a Prince, though, let’s say two hundred talents.” Each talent was worth six million silver pieces, so needless to say, this was a staggering sum, even for a Prince.
The Queen glared at Aquillius and said in a low voice, “You have a questionable sense of value.”
“You can’t put a price on family, or on strong and experienced commanders,” Aquillius responded with a light tone. He knew that amount he demanded was far too high, but he was going to offer some concessions anyway.
“Fifty talents for Marshal Gwen, and eighty for the Prince,” the Elder Councilman countered, causing some of the Legion knights to almost groan out loud, causing Trajan to give them all a dirty enough look that they shut themselves up instantly.
Aquillius made another counter-offer, and after several minutes, he and the Councilman had brought the number down to ninety-five talents for Gwen, and one hundred and fifty for Owain. Both sides would’ve agreed privately that in a strictly pragmatic world, neither Owain nor Gwen would’ve been worth that much coin, but Andraste and the rest of the Talfar government wasn’t going to allow one of their highest ranked commanders and a Prince of their Royal Family languish in a prison in the Bull Kingdom, even if that prison was extraordinarily comfortable and that Prince could easily be called a traitor.
But the ransom was only a single part of the new peace deal that August and Trajan wanted. They also demanded four hundred gold talents for war reparations, a formal apology, and a commitment to peace in that any commander that attacks the Bull’s Horns was to be declared a traitor and stripped of their rank within the Talfar Kingdom.
They were eventually negotiated down to two hundred talents paid over twenty years, and the commitment to peace. The formal apology demand was dropped entirely. Other than that, the border was reaffirmed, and the Talfar Kingdom promised not to take their desire for vengeance out on the people of Florentia, or any other Bull Kingdom citizens living within its borders.
All-in-all, the negotiations lasted a mere two and a half hours, making it one of the quickest agreed-upon peace deals in Aeterna’s history—though, to be fair, it was easy enough to agree as most of the legwork for peace had been done eighty years ago during the negotiations for the previous peace deal, not to mention their two Kingdoms were never formally at war.
Perhaps most surprising, though, was that when Aquillius and the Elder Councilman finally hammered out this peace deal and Trajan and Andraste were no longer enemies, their overly hostile demeanors dropped.
“Now that all that is over and done with, I would like to see Gwen and my brother,” Andraste said as she sat back in her chair and softened her gaze.
“I’ll have them brought up,” Trajan said as he did likewise.
Both of their auras calmed significantly and the killing intent they emitted vanished almost instantly once the peace deal was agreed upon, much to the relief of nearly everyone else in the room save for the seventh-tier mages, who were barely affected by their killing intent.
Several minutes later, Legion soldiers escorted Gwen and Owain into the conference room. They took seats on the Talfar side of the table, and Andraste closely watched for any sign of pain or abuse.
“How are you doing?” she asked Gwen, a tiny amount of concern finding its way into her voice.
“I am doing well, Your Majesty, I haven’t been mistreated during my ‘stay’,” Gwen answered with a smile and slight bowing of the head.
“And you?” Andraste asked, her voice taking on a dangerous tone as she glared at Owain.
The Talfar Prince almost jumped out of his skin under his sister’s withering gaze, and he managed to squeak a terrified, “I’m fine.”
Andraste glared at him so intensely that Leon thought she might’ve been happier if Owain had been afforded the same fate as Arthwyn, but that ship had sailed, and he was now her problem again. With a wave of her hand, two hundred and forty-five golden ingots appeared on the table, causing the wood to creak under the strain of so much weight.
“I… suppose that’s one way to make a payment,” Aquillius muttered as he stared at the bewitching sight of so much shiny, glittering gold. He was expecting something much more formal than the Queen herself just dropping the agreed upon ransom on the table, but he had to admit that it was an incredible power move and the effect it produced was obvious; everyone’s eyes were drawn to the gold, and there were audible gasps from some of the less disciplined soldiers and warriors in the room.
For his part, Leon wasn’t too distracted. He still had ninety-nine nearly identical gold ingots in his vault in Teira, along with boxes of silver coins. He was still duly impressed, but he didn’t drop his professional demeanor the same way that some of his fellow knights did.
“Our business is done, we’ll now take our leave,” Andraste said as she rose to her feet. The rest of her entourage did the same, and Aquillius was so taken aback at the suddenness of their announcement that Andraste was halfway to the door before he managed to respond.
“Your Majesty, please consider yourself welcome to stay here for at least a night, it’s surely been a long ride…” If the diplomat were to be honest, he was very much relieved that the Queen was leaving, but hospitality and politeness still had to be shown to such an esteemed guest.
“The offer is appreciated,” Andraste said with a surprising sense of warmth that she hadn’t displayed since she arrived, “but I must return to my Kingdom. I, unfortunately, do not have the luxury of spending too much time enjoying the hospitality of my neighbors.”
“I understand,” Aquillius said. “In any event, it was a pleasure to have you here, and to bring peace back to our Kingdoms.”
With that, Andraste and the rest of her retinue—including Owain and Gwen—departed the room without another word, and in less than an hour, had left the Bull’s Horns for their own Kingdom.
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