1866-10-29: The Secret Bargain
The Secret Bargain
Summary: Eleanor Greycen and Darren Haldis surprised everyone at the Archducal election in 1867….this is where their plan began.
Date: 10/29/1866 IA
Related: Unprecedented
Darren  Eleanor  

Dusk was already falling over the fortress of Giorgio’s Redoubt, and a light but steady rain fell, just cold enough to make things uncomfortable for travelers and guardsmen alike, though the Sergeants of the Watch made certain to rotate their troops regularly to stand near the hearths in the tower and warm up. The Greycen troops stationed there walked through their routines as they normally would, and to the outside observer, nothing would seem out of the ordinary. Even the small party of armed men that approached the gate would likely have received no particular scrutiny, despite flying no banner. Traffic to the fortress was not unheard of, though the Greycen had resisted attempts to turn it into a site of pilgrimage based on the events that had transpired there. The fortress was too useful to turn into a mere attraction.

However, it was this “sleepy” facade that served the purposes of those that met here now more than any amount of strategic location or defensibility. The party at the gates was ushered in after a cursory inspection and the presentation of a writ of Travel bearing the Greycen seal. The group was whittled down further to three men as they were led deeper into the fortress, to the office of the fort’s commander. However it was not the fort’s commander who sat behind the large desk in that room when the three men entered, but rather the Duchess Eleanor Greycen of Stoneshield herself, flanked by two of her loyal knights. Likewise the leader of the travelers was no common warrior, as he pulled back the hood of the oilskin cloak he wore and revealed himself as the Duke Darren Haldis of Eastfield. He inclined his head to Eleanor, then dismissed his two guards with a gesture. They hesitated, but when he fixed them with an emphatic look, they relented and allowed themselves to be escorted outside by Eleanor’s own two guards, who looked equally ill-at-ease of the prospect of leaving their Duchess alone with one of Rivana’s deadliest warriors. But they were loyal and discreet…and that was why all had been chosen for this particular journey.

“All right then, Duke Haldis, you’ve piqued my interest and dragged me from my den. This had better be good.” The “Stone Lioness” maintained a frosty facade, but she bit back any further cutting remarks, watching the Bastard Duke intently.

“I think it’ll be worth your time and trouble, Duchess Greycen.” He reached to his belt, uncapping the near-airtight case at his waist with an audible “pop” and extracted a safely-protected scroll from within, offering it towards her. “I’ll spare you the trouble of reading it all. It’s draft marriage contract.”

“I suspected it might be, given your last message. I’d be dying to know who told you the l’Faust’s were meeting with me, but I know better than to believe you’d tell me.” Eleanor’s tone remained icy, but she studied the scroll without opening it, “For Katerine, I presume? Now, since you seem inclined not to stand around while I read this, why don’t you tell me why in the One’s holy name I would marry my daughter to you? I can assure you, the Archducal title is not enough on its’ own to grant that boon, and I’m not certain I would need any of Eastfield’s votes at all to secure the position.”

“You would.” Darren said simply, “You can likely sway Duke Gerrell. He’s young and knows he has no chance in this election based on his parents’ treachery. You have the resources to make it worth his while to swing his support to you. But the Carlings never will vote for the mother of the man that killed Ranulf Gerrell. Traitorous piece of filth or not, he was their blood. The Bayard could likely be convinced…but that would still mean you need one more. And that’s where I come in.” Darren moved to seat himself in an empty chair before the desk, unbidden. “We both know I can’t afford to be Archduke right now. There’s too much work to be done in Eastfield, and between you marrying your younger son to Raelyn Cassomir and having more to bribe Symon Gerrell with than I do, I couldn’t get the votes, anyway. All I could do is stubbornly hold out until the Queen was forced to recant her conditions or you gave away half your Duchy to sooth Willard Carling’s ego. Neither of those outcomes does me and mine any good.” He paused a moment, “But if you’re getting ideas that I wouldn’t be stubborn enough to hold out and take the pain if you’re unwilling to negotiate, think again.”

Eleanor regarded Darren intently as he spoke, weighing, assessing. There was no air of desperation to him. No hint of fear or nervousness. No sign that this was an arrangement he desperately needed versus one that was simply a desired outcome. Seeing no leverage to be had there, for the moment, she nodded, “All right. So what is it you want? Not simply my daughter, I presume?”

“No, but she’s the key to ending this stupid, petty feud that’s existed between our families for no good reason that I can find.” Darren gestured to the unopened scroll, “The Marriage contract gives your House access to Whitewalls again, to include the berthing of ships and quartering of troops, as well as certain economic benefits for funnelling some of your trade through Whitewalls. I think you’ll find it’s nearly identical to the arrangement the Farrants had with my House prior to their tragedy.” He added, “Despite being attached to a marriage contract…the agreement will exist in perpetuity. There are stipulations, of course…I’m not giving Whitewalls to you anymore than my house had given it to the Farrants…but it’s fair. For both of our Houses.”

“I’ll look over the details later. I’m sure there will be matters that require further discussion or clarification.” Eleanor paused a moment, “Did your mother aid you in drafting this?”

“She did.” Darren admitted, canting his head curiously, “Why?”

“Because then there will likely be less of such matters.” Eleanor said simply, leaning back in her chair, “So I give you my daughter. My House regains access to Whitewalls and the benefits thereof, and you insure my ascension to the Archducal seat.” She considered, “This is almost sounding too good to be true, Duke Haldis.”

“It might, on the surface.” Darren acknowledged, “But I don’t need the distraction of this feud, and neither do you while you’re trying to help run the Kingdom. It gets me a worthy bride, improves commerce in my Duchy in general and my Mother’s lands in specific, and wins me some extra Royal favor for being open-minded enough to make this overture.”

“We…we win Royal Favor.” Eleanor noted.

“True. But when the time comes or the opportunity arises, I expect you to be honest enough to tell the truth as to how this meeting came about. I get credit for the idea, you get credit for accepting it. Perhaps not as much as I will, in the long run, but I’m sure the Archducal amulet will be a balm to any wound there.” Darren said, just a touch archly.

Eleanor was silent a moment, then allowed the ghost of a smile to flit across her face, “It may, at that.” She rose to her feet, “I will review this tonight and we may discuss it further over breakfast tomorrow. Food and Quarters here have been prepared for you and your guardsmen.” She paused, and a brief glint lit her eye. If Darren didn’t know better he’d call it mischief. “If we find accord in these next few weeks, we should wait until after the vote to make any announcements.”

“Agreed.” Darren replied, laughing a bit as he rose to his feet as well.”It’ll provide a nice bit of political theater that will set tongues wagging for years.” He smiled then, and fairly genuinely at that.

In spite of herself, Eleanor found at least the semblance of a smile to return towards him, though in her usual fashion it held little warmth, “I will confess, Duke Haldis…I have held some small hope that you would prove less a dullard than your predecessors.” She paused a beat, “Very small.”

“Well, if we’re being honest, I’ve held some tiny hope you wouldn’t be a completely unreasonable bitch.” Darren noted with a smirk. “As it turns out you may only be somewhat unreasonable.”

That elicted a tiny, soft chuckle from Eleanor, “Fair enough.” She inclined her head to Darren, and returned the gesture, “Until later, Duke Haldis.”

“Until later, Duchess Greycen.” Darren replied, waiting for her to depart to the Commander’s quarters she had commandeered, before her guardsmen led him to where his men…and as fine a meal as could be arranged in a place such as this…awaited. It had hardly been a heartwearing rapprochement….

But it was a start.


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