A Meeting of Peers

Lord Kleinvoet cleared his throat, and lightly tapped the croquet-sized wooden ball on the slightly bowled circular wooden base it sat upon. The gentlemen around the large marble-topped table stopped their quiet murmuring amongst themselves and turned their attention to the halfling.

“What is your impression of our guests thus far, sirs?” Kleinvoet said with his customary warm smile. “They have been here a week and each of us has has some interaction with one or more of them. Have we reached any conclusions?”

One of the other halflings at the table muttered loudly enough for all to hear, “Longest week of my life at that.” and took a drink of wine. There was discreet and somewhat muffled laughter from everyone assembled. He paused to consider his next words, and then said, “I was under the impression that they didn’t ask a lot of questions. And yet here I am answering inquiries about everything from how often we engage in crop rotation to what manner in which the militia is called up. My wife’s mother never had so many damn questions.”

More laughter followed until Kleinvoet gently tapped the wooden ball again. “Yes, I can understand your frustration. I can’t say that any of us have had an easy time of it. I wasn’t expecting…” and his voice seemed to trail off a bit before he found the right term and added, “… quite this much.”

One of the two humans at the table leaned forward to say, “They’ve been asking about the ondonti. I don’t care for their tone.” He looked at each of the others around the table who murmured their agreement and continued. “We know how their Archduke feels about slavery. I suspect that they believe that the ondonti are being forced to work the land against their will, or that the ondonti are not welcomed here. If they proceed under false impressions of how things work among our people in these provinces then I fear we will have not made the close friends that our Commanding Governor and his predecessor thought they might be.”

Among the murmurings of his peers another halfling at the table said, “It is true, I had not anticipated how, oh what is the word for them, ah yes, weird, how weird the Maelonbourgers would be. But you all accepted the fact that their leader is highly unpredictable. He is surrounded by oddball characters to be sure, but they haven’t any of them given us or anyone else a reason to doubt their intentions. We’ve all had a chance for our own peace of mind to use magic and intuition to determine their objectives and their goals.” More murmurs from the men gathered around the table showed an agreement with this assessment. “Let us then continue forward with this, I suppose you could say, courtship. They are the best chance anyone has ever had of bringing Lotharingia to heel. Nobody else has ever shown an interest in ending the tyranny of the Fallen Knights with the intensity that Maelonbourg has.”

Everyone had to concede the point being made, and all of the gentlemen nodded their heads. The human who had spoken earlier said in something of a growling voice, “Be that as it may, the ondonti are nonnegotiable. They belong to the lowlands and that is where they shall stay.”

Kleinvoet tapped the wooden ball again to silence the murmured agreement of the men gathered and said, “Agreed. Free tradesmen and workers in the cities may be allowed to emigrate to Maelonbourg if they choose, but all must apply for permission to leave from their provincial governor. None that work the land, ondonti or not, shall be given leave under any circumstances.” Kleinvoet knocked the sphere a little louder than before to drive his point home. “It is so ordered.”