The Fifth Path (12/30)

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 28th King of the True Land

Running Title: A King’s Awakening: Walking the Fifth Path to Understanding

Composed Aru 7th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 10: The Palace of Xexan

I did not sleep well after the second assassination attempt. The first time we had captured the assassin and Anatu had been watching over her. At this point I trust Anatu completely and totally, so that assassin was not a problem any more. The second one escaped though. That they had been skilled enough to not get caught after Anatu had blocked their initial attack also worried me a bit. Thus far in our journey my Protector’s prowess at fighting had been so far above anything that we have faced that it made physical danger seem much less of a threat. In the very heart of a kingdom just as large as the true lands however, it might be conceivable that their would exist those who could at least match her. And potentially whoever was targeting me had enough resources to employ such skilled servants. My Scholar’s news that two of the council had potential motive for my elimination was about what I was expecting, but it was still disheartening.

For most people, I think, the prospect of negotiating an alliance with an isolationist power while sharing no common language with its rulers would be challenge enough. For me and my companions though, assassination attempts had to be thrown into the mix. So now I had to solve some kind of complicated plot in a city known for its complicated nature while not knowing the language of any of the citizens. Add in existential fear of assassins actually bursting into my room and ending my life, and I think, gentle reader, you can forgive me some tossing and turning. Still, I was not too tired when I awoke, and the bitter beverage that was served at all times of day in this land seemed to have some of the same awakening properties of the coffee of the true land. So by the time our morning meeting got going I was ready and raring to go.

The meeting went well enough. It was however, just as strange to me as all of the meetings since getting into the capital city have been for me. The natural order of all decisions throughout the journey thus far has been the natural order of all meetings between a Baal and their servants. I lead the discussions, and bring in suggestions and ideas from my companions. Sometimes my companions can be dismissive of my initial suggestions and we end up going with something nothing at all like I had originally planned, but each step is still a decision by me. Now however, that has shifted. While no one is subverting my authority, neither are they deferring only to it. There seems to be no real leader in terms of direction of discussion, with it moving from topic to topic based on stuff brought up. And while I can still make the final decision on each step, this has two caveats. One, Anatu can also have the final say. If we are discussing something, some times she just makes a statement about a decision and we move on to the next topic. Secondly, and this has only happened once, so maybe this is all in my head, I was once about to make a decision on a topic, and Anatu caught my eye, arched an eyebrow at me, and I just automatically stopped, and waited for her decision instead. Its a strange feeling. No matter how I look at it, I can’t seem to see my power being usurped exactly in any way. The social dynamic just changed. Its not necessarily a bad thing, as again, I trust my Protector’s judgment, but it feels weird. Perhaps this effect will fade as we move further in time away from the period where my Protector had to make all the decisions. It doesn’t feel that way though. It would seem that this Awakening is changing not only me, but my companions as well. Hopefully everyone can keep their minds free from the corruption of the false world.

In any event, my Scholar was once again sent out alone, the only one of us able to effectively act away from our guide due to the language problem. His rapid improvements in the language are impressive and have proved extremely useful. He was sent to follow the money trail, as apparently there are extensive records of payments and money changing hands withing the palace, for the scanners allow the wealth one is carrying with them to be checked very easily. It was not something I would have thought of, but our guide mentioned the records after Anatu made some comment about the gentlemen with the scanners always laughing about something every time they scanned her. Once my Scholar heard about this, he lit up, and he explained his plan. Then he explained it two more times until we all mostly understood. We would know who is paying who and by how much by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had two goals for that day. One was to continue the negotiate with the council, and the second was to make an attempt at an alliance with the negative money printing council member who’s name was thankfully pronounceable. Our ability to actually do anything about the assassin sender even if we figured out who he was was limited as foreigners. We needed someone with a lot of political clout to fight our battles for us on that front. Depending on how long these two things took, we might get a chance to explore the city a little more as well. The first day’s exploration had been clouded by the incredible, mind numbing, bureaucracy we had to endure, and yesterday we were too busy because of all the ceremonies I mentioned before.

There was about an hour left before the meeting with the council after the meeting concluded and my Scholar practically danced his way out of the room and towards the records office. I spent that time learning a few greetings and formalities of Xexan from our guide. While I had no hope of becoming anywhere close to conversational in the short time we had here, I had learned a lot of languages in my life, and the least I could do was learn enough to greet others and be polite. Such things could go a long way I knew. As such, when the meeting finally started, I was able to greet each of the eight council members with the proper greetings and titles, which earned me a respectful head bow from each one, which, according to our guide, was about the equivalent to a standing ovation in this situation. I was happy my memorizing skills had not failed me, and glad my tongue was finally managing to wrap around these new sounds.

The negotiations that day were exceptionally fun. Not only were we finally getting into the phase where decisions could finally start to get made, but I was also using my questions in suggestions, not just as valuable parts of the negotiations, but also as signals that might draw out emotional responses from the council members. It seemed likely they were all skilled at hiding their facial expressions, but the off chance of a reaction that might actually tell me something meant it was an important thing to try. As such, my suggestions and answers were a bit more blunt then they would be if I was putting all of my effort into diplomacy, in hopes that rapid shifts in tone might shake one of the council members up. It slowed down the negotiations, but as we finally neared the end of the meeting, I could see it start to work. The council members were starting to get more distracted by thoughts of what they would be doing later as we got close to the end, and thus paying less attention to the flow of my words, or rather the flow of my guides words. As such, it was more possible to surprise them by shifting tone rapidly. What the small amount of info I was able to gain told me was strange however. Based on the way they reacted, both of the council members who had been pegged as potential assassin buyers seemed actually interested in the success of this deal, reacting positively as it moved forward, and seeming distraught if the negotiations hit a snag. The other strange bit of info I was able to gain was also not expected. One of the members in charge of the port authority, and thus standing to gain the most from additional trade, seemed incentivised to slow the process down, seeming worried when it sped up, and, after I started looking at it, intentionally bringing up points and things that would serve to take up time. We would have to look into him. In the end the meeting ended well enough, with some progress made, but still, potentially, a ways to go. I said the appropriate goodbyes, and we exited the room.

Now we needed to try and get the attention of our potential benefactor. The scheme was relatively simple, but I was happy to have come up with it. With my usual leadership role being less important in the discussions, it had felt like I needed to contribute more on the idea front. We started by asking a completely different member of the council where the mint for the positive money was. Then, we would head there, then through conversation and happenstance we would decide to check out the negative money mint and just happen to bump into our target. From my Scholar’s work yesterday we knew he was always at the mint to check on it in the early evening, so we planned everything in order to get us there at the right time, and have a good reason to be invited in to his private office and have a chat.

Things went smoothly up to the point where we were visiting the positive mint. Unfortunately the owner of that mint had a big problem with our target, so it became very difficult to bring up the idea of visiting the other mint without offending our host. Thankfully our guide managed to play on the mint owner’s feelings of superiority, and we got him to talk about it in the context of his mint being better. From there we managed to get the location and a pretext for visiting it easily enough. As we were traveling across town to our real destination however, we passed through a dense crowd surrounding a sale on fish, just brought from the port. While I was walking through, one of the many frenzied shoppers suddenly turned, large knife in hand and stabbed me, or at least tried to. I managed to jerk away just in time to avoid being skewered, but the blade still managed to cut through my clothes and put a gash in my chest. My protector was on the man in a moment, but something startled the crowd, people started running into us, and the man managed to escape in the confusion. Needless to say, I was a bit frazzled. Unfortunately this put a bit of a snag in our plan. It would not seem natural at all for us to keep going to visit a mint we supposedly only have a passing interest in right after I got stabbed. Going anywhere but a hospital or back to the palace would be very suspicious. But, we were able to adapt.

Since we actually knew where our target council member lived and what time he was expected to arrive at his mint, we were able to head towards the palace, but do so in such a way that there would be a good shot we would run into him on the road. And seeing me bleeding in the street it would be only appropriate for him to stop and offer us a ride. And that was just what happened. We all entered into his carriage, and he took us to a doctor he knew well to treat my wounds. And in the short bit of time we had in the privacy of the carriage, we sought to bring him into our confidence, explaining about the assassination attempts, and expressing a fear that it was the work of another council member. His response was strange. He acted shocked by the attempts on my life, but it seemed feigned, and he seemed disinclined to get involved in the situation at all. It didn’t seem likely that he was the attacker, but, I realized, it did seem that he likely knew who was, and was scared of them. This did not bode well. We had not considered the possibility of a complicated net of loyalties within the council, or the possibility of some members being manipulated by others. So it was with a great deal of concern that I sat, thinking about the possibilities even as I was stitched up, and my wound cleaned.

It seemed foolish to wander the city after such an attack in broad daylight, so we returned back to our rooms in the palace. I had the strange experience of walking in to my room and finding my former assassin making my bed. Whatever had driven this girl to try and kill me seemed to have vanished completely, at least as far as Anatu was concerned. I still had my reservations, but if my Protector, the person sworn to defend my life with hers, believed in her, I wouldn’t fight it. What could have possibly transpired that inspired that trust is a mystery to me, especially considering the complete inability for the two to talk to one another. Anatu and I took the time to learn a board game from our guide, the same one he had wasted several hours on during our first day of traveling. It had a lot of depth to it, and I could see how one might value a good game of it quite highly. Once we got the rules down, our guide bested both of us a few times, then set us up against each other. It was an interesting contest. We both ended up winning a few games. I had more experience with board games in general, but she was better at seeing some of the attack angles in the game.

We kept playing until Nabua returned. He was dead tired, and dropped a bunch of names connected to each other with reasoning in front of us, muttered something about not knowing anyone’s name, then passed out in his room. It seems we had forgotten that our Scholar didn’t know the names of anyone except the council members, so while he had been able to make connections he didn’t know who they were really between. Our guide chuckled and took the papers into his room, mentioning that he’d try and make sense of the names in the morning. Anatu and I played a few more games, but I started to get tired and made some dumb mistakes in all of them, allowing her to win each one. I was a little annoyed and wanted to win one before I slept, but after the third loss I realized it was not happening that night. I said a sulky goodnight to my protector then passed out.

It was the next day when everything came to a head. The guide was out and about in the morning connecting names with faces and figuring out who everyone was. Meanwhile my Scholar was busy writing. So once again that left Anatu and I to play the board game. I was pretty determined to win the first one, and after a hard fought battle, I did. But she picked up the next few, and it soon became apparent that my experience was being caught up to, and I needed to improve if I didn’t want to keep losing. The grin my Protector was wearing was getting dangerously smug. I could feel my mind returning slowly to the place it had been earlier in regards to my Protector, and I knew I should quit before the effect increased, but my pride wouldn’t let me. As I kept losing, the tone of our conversation shifted, falling into the rhythm of those nights. It was a good thing that our guide burst in when he did, exclaiming that we were all in deep trouble, because I was on the borderline of being able to think about the outside world at that point. I managed to shake myself out of it by the time my Scholar was fetched, and the guide started explaining the situation. My Protector sat down next to me and apologized for going too far. I shook my head, telling her it was my fault. Then we both listened.

I must confess I did not follow all of the reasoning. Some of it was exceedingly complex financially, and some had to do with local culture, but the end result of it was that the money paying for these assassins seemed to be coming from the royal treasury, which could only be accessed by the vote of the whole group, or by the young king. Since the whole group negotiating with us while trying to assassinate me at the same time seemed pretty silly, it somehow had to be the young king, or someone acting as him setting up the assassination attempts. We decided that I would go to the next meeting with the council while at the same time Nabua would try and talk to the young king, see if he could figure something out.

In the end the mystery was solved in a rather anti-climactic fashion. While I was continuing the negotiations, my Scholar managed to get an audience with the king. It then soon become apparent that the king had indeed sent the assassins but mostly because he had liked Nabua from first impressions and he didn’t want him to leave right away. Nabua apparently gave the kid a quick lesson on morality and explained that he was doing something important right now and wanted to keep traveling, but would be willing to hang out until he had to leave. Once the news of this reached the council room, the one council member who had been slowing me down stopped trying to do so, apparently having been under orders from the young king. The negotiations progress smoothly from there, and it reaches the point where I think one more day might be enough. I don’t of course know the reason for this until I meet up with my Scholar later that day. With the assassin threat gone, we finally get to explore the city a bit, and release our ex-assassin servant from our rooms. She decides to stick around until we leave though. While we are out and about, I purchase a copy of the board game that the guide bought us.

We all celebrate not getting assassinated with a lot of food and games that night. Anatu and I show Nabua how to play the game, but when we play him, he ends up winning his first game against both of us. We keep playing him and he seems to be getting better at an alarming rate. After he destroys us for the fifth or sixth time he starts breaking down laughing. Apparently he and the old guide had been playing it together basically since we met the guide, and he was just pretending to be new at it. Anatu smacks him, but he just keeps laughing. We all have a good time and then fall asleep.

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