A Ravenspire Foxgirl in Empress Joanna's Court
(OOC: This thread was played through elsewhere, and the events herein occur, obviously, before the events of the Blood and Destruction (http://www.nationstates.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=87656) thread. Lavenrunz's segments are reposted with the player's permission.)
Setsuna Arisugawa had a reasonably easy job, all things considered. She had been chosen for the ambassadorial position in Lavenrunz because her mindset was considered compatible with that nation's. She was polite, businesslike, somewhat reserved. Her CI/CT stint had given her experience in administrative duties, in organizing groups of workers and in collating multiple reports and gleaning useful information from the varying accounts. She was even Christian, though, like most citizens of Ravenspire, not particularly devout. She was nonhuman, of course, but it was hoped that her example would serve to favor equal rights.
All things considered, she did her job well, and it gave her few surprises, aside from the occasional endangerment of a royal. She was quite fond of Archduchess Aurora, though, and Ambassador Hanlon from CreepyTeef always seemed to be there to help in a pinch. So she didn't mind that, either, much.
Yes, there were few surprises. But today, there was one. She read the message twice, then a third time, slowly, to ensure that she wasn't mistaken. "A... state visit? But I haven't heard anything about..."
Then she shook her head and rose. There was a job to do. The Foreign Minister would have to be informed, and the Empress's staff. Fortunately, there was plenty of warning. But still...
Well, at least she didn't just drop in. I hope you know what you're doing, Sakura.
Aurora von Konigsmark wouldn't admit it to anyone, but her brief stint in the Marsh Islands had made her a bit more nervous than she had been. Consequently, she found herself unexpectedly bursting into tears when she read of Sakura's decision to visit.
Fortifying herself with brandy, contemplating for a moment the pistol in her desk drawer, she prayed desperately for an election soon soon soon! and sent a request to the Embassy of Ravenspire for an appointment with Setsuna.
The appointment was granted with astonishing speed, almost as though there were no bureaucracy involved. Scary, how efficient a properly motivated individual could be.
Setsuna received Aurora herself. Outwardly, the silver-haired woman seemed calm, but this lack of intermediaries was an indication of how nervous she actually was. "Excellency," she said, bowing. "Thank you for so quickly making time in your schedule to see me. May I offer you any refreshment?"
"Er...just a cup of coffee, please." said the Minister. "Well, I hope that everything is well in Ravenspire..." she began a process of polite small talk to put everything at ease, and then got around to business. "It is my understanding that Minister Sakura intends to grace Lavenrunz with a visit. May I ask you to fill me in on the details?"
"Of course. Please, make yourself comfortable." The room to which they had moved was like a corporate boardroom in miniature; wood-paneled, well-lit, housing a polished wooden table, a few comfortable chairs, and an audiovisual suite along one wall. Its decorations were few and unobtrusive, designed not to draw the eye but only to provide a reassuring psychological sense that the room was not sterile and bare.
"The first thing I should tell you," Setsuna continues once they sit, "is that she intends to visit in her other capacity, as a monarch. This is nearly unprecedented among our kind. Officially, the reason is simply to develop closer ties to one of our -- one of Ravenspire's -- most important allies. But I believe she intends to offer some proposal of state to Her Imperial Majesty."
At that time, a staffer discreetly brought in a tray of refreshments: a pot of fresh-brewed coffee, a pair of delicate-looking spun crystal cups and saucers with a sunflower motif, matching crystal containers for sugar and cream (not milk, but real cream), and a small plate of miniature pastries with fruit or cream fillings. He poured coffee for Aurora first, then Setsuna, leaving the addition of cream or sugar to their individual tastes.
"That is most unusual...in her personal capacity as a monarch! You must advise me on the necessary etiquette." Aurora stirs her coffee, looking thoughtful. "Of course, my dear Setsuna, I hope that you might be able to intimate something of Her Excellency's itinerary as well..."
Setsuna nodded. "I hope you'll understand that I may not be completely informed on that matter." That's the diplomatic way of putting it, I suppose. "As far as etiquette is concerned, you needn't worry about offending Sakura herself; she doesn't put much stock in titles. All the same, while her position is largely honorary, she remains the chosen ruler of our race, and we are in some ways a traditional people. She's respected by most of our kin, and since we are nearly half Ravenspire's population, she possesses a great deal of influence, even if she rarely exercises it. Appearances are important."
She stirred a small amount of sugar into her coffee. "It would be best to address her as 'Majesty' on the first occasion," she continues. "And as 'Miss Kitsuki' afterwards, although she'll probably ask people to call her 'Sakura,' in which case that's acceptable. Her title means 'queen of queens' -- it's usually rendered 'high queen.' Her Imperial Majesty, of course, is on an equal social footing, and may refer to her familiarly, by her first name. Her Imperial Majesty's close family, by either blood or marriage, would be considered on a slightly lower social footing, but may still refer to her familiarly. There's only one tradition that I think you'd find unusual -- the gift-giving. It's considered polite in our culture to offer a gift to a host. It may or may not be valuable, but it will be something meaningful to her. It would be an insult to refuse more than once -- once is acceptable, to show humility, but she'd likely offer a second time, to show her sincerity. On the other hand, if she is offered anything material, she will probably refuse, and the expectation would be that the offer would be made again. You don't need to worry about that in private; like I said, she's rather easygoing. In public, though, if there's a chance our people might see it...
"As for the itinerary, I can tell you she'll have a small staff with her." Setsuna chuckled. "She'll probably hate it, but it's for appearances, again. No more than twenty or so, and she'll probably try to get away with fewer. But there will be at least six to eight. As part of the 'friendship' aspect of her visit, she plans to tour the spaceport facility at Astra, and I believe she intends to speak with her counterpart in your Ministry regarding the possibility of, ah, 'cross-training' as it were. However, this is her first destination, and her primary purpose seems to be an audience with Her Imperial Majesty."
Aurora looked thoughtful. "I see. This is rather strange, since...er...Miss Kitsuki is also a serving elected official. But then, that makes it a fascinating challenge. Rest assured, our own love of etiquette will make that part of it simple. Really, that will be the easiest part of this, as I'm sure you are aware.
The thing is, the Empress will feel bound not merely to present a gift in return. Her Majesty will feel honour bound to show hospitality. Will Miss Kitsuki's itinerary be flexible enough to accomodate that, do you know?"
"I'm fairly certain it will be," Setsuna replied. "Depending on the extent of the hospitality, that is. Her Majesty has proven to be very generous in the past, and if the plans were to be particularly lavish... but I think Sakura could be convinced to change her plans, if necessary. It is unusual, as you say, so whatever she wishes to say, it must be of great importance to her."
Aurora was suddenly wary, but didn't show it. Uh-oh, she thought. That's nearly the third time she's alluded to the 'mysterious message'.
You haven't been informed fully, have you Setsuna?
Aurora finished her coffee and said, "Well, I think that I will be happy to advise my protocol director to meet with your staff to discuss the details--and of course the Palace Staff will ultimately have to be met with--once the details have been worked out. Is that satisfactory?"
"Splendid." Setsuna smiled. "Thank you, Your Excellency. We shall place ourselves at your disposal. And should you have any further questions..."
"Thank you very kindly, my dear Ambassador. And for the refreshment, you are too kind." Aurora found her way out and wore a demeanor of pleasant satisfaction till she was in her car.
Then she began to wonder what the hell Sakura was up to.
When the appointed day had come, Sakura arrived in style. Replacing the customized Ravens she often flew was a teardrop-shaped Spacy vessel, a gleaming quicksilver craft that hovered above the ground, appearing seamless until the moment a portion of its side fell away, converting to an access ramp.
Those who knew the foxgirl might not recognize her at first glance, so changed was her appearance. The casual cheongsam she favored was gone, replaced by a shimmering gown of the finest Ravenspiric shadowsilk -- white, black, and a thousand shades of blue. As it moved with her body or the wind, a flock of cranes appeared to take flight across an evening sky. Upon her head rested the Asphodel Crown, gleaming black metal worked into the shapes of twined lily-like flowers, the 'petals' of which were inset with opal, moonstone, diamond, and -- in a single teardrop shape on each petal -- ruby.
Her attendants followed: a dozen foxgirls, dressed in black kimono with crimson obi; each robe bore a different pattern, one for each of the Great Clans of the Kin save Kitsuki itself.
"Preseeeeeeeeent ARMS!" shouted a voice.
The band of the Imperial Air Force struck up "Music for the Royal Fireworks", a march version, with flourish and panache, and the honour guard made a glittering display of bayonets and halberds.
Empress Joanna was struck by the beauty of it. For some unaccountable reason she was reminded of Elsa, and found her eyes filling with tears. She forced herself not to cry and wrenched herself back into reality.
When the anthem came to an end, Empress Joanna stepped forward and said, "Your Majesty, on behalf of the Empire of Lavenrunz, I welcome you to our country." only Sakura and a few attendants heard a slight quiver of emotion in her voice.
Sakura smiled. "Your Majesty," she replied, nodding her head in respect, "I am honored to be here. Your country is lovely, particularly at this time of year, and your reception is beyond measure."
One of her attendants knelt, presenting a rolled bundle of white silk, which Sakura began to unroll. "I'd like to present a small token of appreciation, if I may." Inside the silk proved to be the empty scabbard of a sword -- one of the curved, single-edged blades popular in Ravenspire. It was lacquered wood, unadorned black, with small chips in places. "This belonged to the man who raised me," Sakura explained, rolling the item back into the silk. "The sword it housed was never recovered, but this, he'd left behind."
"This is a very personal gift." Empress Joanna says quietly. "It is beautiful--and meaningful. I should not accept; your generosity is too great."
Some of the officials there, Count Hohenloe among them, are a bit uneasy.
"It is kind of you to say so," Sakura says, "but it is all the more fitting that you, who has been so generous in the past, should have it, particularly since you and he share many traits in common. You are an excellent judge of character and a leader of men, and though you do not resort to the sword hastily, when the time comes, you do not hesitate to wield it steadfastly and respectfully. It may be inappropriate for me to say so much, but will you please reconsider?"
"I will accept this with honour then." Joanna replies. Bowing, she accepts the sword and admires it for several moments, at last, with a show of reluctance, handing it to Baron von Bresnvorts, who takes it with a bow. "And now, my dear Sakura, would you accompany me to a state carriage?"
The carriage is typically drawn by four Friesians, who stand quietly waiting.
"Thank you," Sakura says, accompanying Joanna. As they near the carriage, she notes, "Impressive animals. Bred here in Lavenrunz, I presume?"
"Yes, they are." Joanna says. "They have great stamina and strength, are gentle enough that they make good carriage horses, but have a smooth enough gait to be good for riding. If you like, we could send some to Ravenspire."
Autumn has come to Hofburg; oak, linden, birch and willow leaves are scattered on the ground. Sakura can't help but notice for all the beauty the faint tinge of smog in the air though.
"It's very kind of you to offer," Sakura replies, "but I'm not certain we could care for them properly. Most of the terrain in Ravenspire isn't well-suited to horses, and most of what remains is inhabited or otherwise in use, these days. Cattle are already all but gone. One of the consequences of a globalized economy and a growing population, I suppose."
"Ah, yes, I see." Empress Joanna sighs and says, "I do hope that you will enjoy your stay...I have ordered a state banquet to celebrate your arrival and I hope you will be able to attend."
"I'm honored by your hospitality," Sakura answered with a smile. "I would be delighted. As for the rest, I'm certain that my time here will be very pleasant. Lavenrunz is a nation with a long and rich history, and I look forward to learning more of it."
A trumpet fanfare and drumroll announce Empress Joanna and her guest, who enter side by side. Immediately following are those members of the Imperial Family who are present, and then dignitaries and ministers of state, each escorting a Ravenspire Foxgirl or attendant of appropriate rank.
A duck and turnip soup--more savoury and smooth than it might sound, and beautifully presented is brought before the guests.
Mourning dove braised in wine with grapes follows, and beef of course from the Empress' herds. Excellent wines and other drinks accompany all this.
Sakura samples each of the dishes that is presented, though without drawing particular attention to the fact. She clearly approves. "Your chefs exceed even their lofty reputations," she says quietly at one point. "As does the sommelier. The white is mild, but it complements the fowl wonderfully."
Elsewhere around the table, the talk is likewise light dinner-table conversation.
"And you are a fine example of haut couture--as all your folk appear to be." Empress Joanna remarks. "Sakura, forgive me for being businesslike, but I am very concerned about the future of SATO. You may have heard that I intend to resign soon. The pressures and troubles recently have made it difficult, and in any case the role of SATO is changing with the decline of the Reich."
Sakura nods. "I've heard as much, and I appreciate your vote of confidence. If I may be equally straightforward, however, Ravenspire is reconsidering its own role in SATO. With the Reich turning inward, the opinion seems to be that SATO is in risk of losing its purpose. In addition, its sheer size causes certain logistical issues... but you would know that better than anyone else."
She continued, "On the other hand, that doesn't have to mean the end of an alliance with specific nations. I certainly hope it doesn't. Yours is one of the states we've been enjoying closer ties with."
"No, no, that is not my intention. But now we need to move towards perhaps helping solve conflicts before they start, providing compassionate relief...and I could think of few more than yourself, Sakura, to replace me as Secretary-General of SATO. Your diplomacy, your calm reason, your committment to finding solutions that are alternatives to war while being resolute if it is necessary...perfectly qualify you."
"My diplomacy?" She seems genuinely surprised, but pleased nevertheless. "Er... I don't usually handle things that way. I mean, I have, but..." She spreads her hands. "In any event, I doubt most of SATO would follow me. And if we were to withdraw, even partially... well."
Empress Joanna looks rather saddened by this. "I understand, but I hope you appreciate this. That I would have supported you, had you wanted it." she looks at Sakura closely. "I have always respected you, even when we disagreed in the past."
"I do, truly. It means a lot that you would nominate me for a position like that." Sakura smiles, this time with a touch of regret. "Especially given our past disagreements. I hope you know that the respect is mutual. I believe your outlook is similar to mine, in many ways; sometimes I wonder what might have happened if our peoples had met earlier."
"If I may speak plainly," Sakura continued, "that is what brought me here. Our nations have become somewhat close, through our mutual alliance, and this has brought significant benefit. However, there is growing uneasiness among my people regarding Lavenrunz's stance involving nonhumans. They would like to believe that an ally would regard them as equals in every respect."
She lifts her wineglass in both hands, although she doesn't drink; it seems more a desire to occupy them than anything else. "You and I are aware that Lavenrunzian society has made, and continues to make, great strides in this area recently. That being the case, I would not ordinarily bring the matter up. But... I think that matters now stand such that a single symbolic gesture could effect a great shift in its favor. A sea change, if you will."
She smiled, almost apologetically. "It would also serve to bring our nations closer together. I'm sure you're aware of this already, but my people make up the largest percentage of Ravenspire's population. We and the nation of Ravenspire are not the same, but each has a significant influence on the other. Which brings me to my proposal."
She met Joanna's eyes evenly, with a resolute expression. "I would like to see our families formally bound together. I believe this would prove beneficial for both our nations."
Empress Joanna looks at her with astonishment. "But...we are not of the same race. How would any progeny be possible? Furthermore there is a matter of religion. A von Sachshausen must marry a Christian. I do not want to seem narrow minded, for I am not, but since you have given this some thought I would like to hear how exactly you imagine this could possibly work."
"The former isn't as much of an issue as it might seem," Sakura assured her. "At the risk of sounding indelicate... my people are sexually compatible with yours. There might be a hitch, in that all such children, so far as we are aware, are female -- but Lavenrunz doesn't appear to be especially patriarchal. And as for the former, Christianity is not unknown in Ravenspire." Not quite, anyway.
"There are other potential problems with a marriage, of course," she continued. "Most of your children are promised to others, or already wed, and the youngest is too young. Even if she weren't, there are few males of any rank among my House, and most of those few are old, having earned their titles in our war of independence. So marriage seems difficult.
"But there is another way. How would you feel about adopting an additional daughter?"
Empress Joanna is taken aback, but she looks thoughtful. "It needs careful consideration, Sakura, but..." she smiles warmly, "My heart immediately responds to that. Perhaps it is the mother in me, but...do you have a child in particular in mind?" Joanna is astonished at her reaction, but the thought of having a child not either on the cusp of adulthood or grown and married is very pleasing somehow.
She nods again in reply. "There are several that would suit, but one who I'm honor-bound to present first as a candidate. She is a young woman -- physically, about sixteen years of age; mentally, difficult to pinpoint. She is extremely intelligent, but she's experienced an arrested emotional development due to the past circumstances of her life. That's one of the reasons I place her forward; the Lavenrunzian aristocracy is a more disciplined society than even the most traditional of Ravenspire houses, and I think she needs that guidance in order to... well, to heal."
Folding her hands, Sakura continues, "Her name is Raven -- she doesn't claim the Kitsuki name, although she's of my blood, and has the right to. She's also acquainted with several of your children already, and she seems partial to Lavenrunz in general. You may have met briefly; she was a bridesmaid at Magda's wedding."
Empress Joanna seems amused. "Raven? She would be rather a handful. But I wonder if you really know what you are asking, my dear Sakura? As you say--orderly--but it is more than that. She would be judged as she never would be as a friendly foreigner. Minute things would become of great importance. And beyond all that there is duty, personal devotion to Lavenrunz and to the Crown. Oddly enough Raevyn is not an imperfect background for this, but in Raevyn personal responsibility does not exist as it does here. Do you think that she could rise to this?" the Empress' sharp blue eyes search Sakura's carefully.
"I wouldn't make the suggestion if I didn't," Sakura said evenly, meeting Joanna's gaze without flinching. "It's true that she'll need to be educated in the intricacies of Lavenrunzian forms and customs; she's still a child in some ways, and Raevyn didn't do much for her socialization. On the other hand, she learns quickly, is favorably disposed toward Lavenrunz to begin with, and hasn't yet fully internalized any societal value system, although she's been exposed to several. She'll have fewer habits to break than anyone above the age of seven or so." She offers a wry smile. "I suspect the most difficult lesson to teach her will be when something that is true should not be spoken."
The smile melted away as she continued. "But she would learn. It should be possible to teach her some of what she would need to know before she came to Lavenrunz -- enough to avoid publically embarrassing herself or your family, certainly. Beyond that... I don't harbor any illusions that it will be easy for her. She would be a symbol of a change in society, and there are many people who resist change. She would also be of the nobility, by adoption, and their lives lack most of the privacy that the commoners and even lower aristocracy enjoy. And she is clearly not Lavenrunzian by blood, and there are those who would resent that. Honestly, I'm not at all certain that I'm doing her a favor by proposing her.
"But, Joanna my friend, she would see it as such. Her gratitude toward Lavenrunz runs deep, and her devotion to Magda is complete. If she were to become family, I suspect she'd prove equally devoted to the von Sachshausens as a whole. She's never had a family, you see.
"For my part... her presence will catalyze the change that's occurring. Aside from reassuring my people, your acceptance of one of us as your daughter would have a ripple effect on Lavenrunzian society. Some will react against it, but I think that most respect your judgment enough that they will re-examine their own opinions. We'll have to rely on her own example to sway them more completely; there will be a few others, such as Setsuna, but none so visible to the average citizen. I have confidence in Raven. I think that, in a few years' time, there would be a wide, if perhaps grudging, acceptance of equality under the law; in a few decades, after a generation or two, acceptance could become the standard. It would probably happen anyway, of course, but it would take longer.
"But also... it would make her happy. I don't think she would be, in Ravenspire, and since that's partially my responsibility, I owe it to her. I know it won't be easy, but I'm certain she could succeed."
Empress Joanna nods. "At the end of the day...I truly believe that it is the good we do in the world, our responses to need and to the call to do our character one better that matters." she says softly. Her eyes are far away for a moment, and then manage to refocus. "Yes." she rises and says, in the silence that follows her rising, "I ask you to raise your glasses to this excellent leader of a noble people: a wise woman of great stature, a staunch ally and a gallant friend. The ruler of the Foxgirls: Queen Sakura! Wassail!"
"QUEEN SAKURA! DRINC HAL!"
Whatever Sakura was expecting, that wasn't it; she blushes bright red at the compliment. Nevertheless, following the toast, she rises to offer a reply: "And to Empress Joanna! A more compassionate monarch, a more talented leader, a more graceful hostess, and a more steadfast friend, I have never known. Kampai!" Sakura's small retinue echoes the toast with fervor.
(OOC: Fin. I suppose it would be open to RP responses at this point, although the "Blood and Destruction" thread I cited in the first post might render those a moot point.)
Going to bump this a couple more times over the next few days, to give certain people a chance to read it...
OOC:If it wasn't for Ravenspire, I would never know what day it is.
OOC; Uh-oh, you missed Wednesday. Oh well, I'll let it go this time but be careful next time.
Here, I'll help you out:
OOC: I was going to let it go, actually. 8)
But since Lavenrunz has recently returned... bump for general interest.