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II - The Killing Floor

Chapter Text

Bren-paidhi to Ilisidi lord of the Eastern Association, salutations

Aiji-ma, you asked me to assess the thoughts and reactions of the aishidi'tat to the recent news from the South, so that you may understand whether perceptions of your alliance with the Marid might change.

I cannot deny to you, aiji-ma, that the reaction has been one of shock. It is well understood that Machigi’s actions were perfectly legal, given that he filed Intent in the proper form, and his feud was carried out by his duly appointed agent and that agent’s subordinates. No person not subject to his Intent was harmed, and all of the treasures and property of the state were unharmed. This is not in any way contested by anyone.

But it is the public nature of the thing that brings great unease to those who would normally be favorably disposed towards him.

As for those who would normally be unfavorably disposed, the reaction has been of utmost horror and displeasure. Those who had already laid the claims of savagery and ruthlessness at his feet, and who objected to any normalization of relations with the Marid, now claim themselves vindicated, especially the lords of the Edi and the Gan, who despite your masterful move that resulted in Machigi abandoning the Marid’s claims to the West, continue to despise him. Aiji-ma, they name him Vakhe’in of the Marid.

Early on in his career, a group of human business people on Mospheira had attempted to obtain a license to build and operate a meatpacking plant. Every paidhi had to deal with this or something like it: some proposal grounded in an utter lack of understanding among humans of the importance of kabiu — propriety, or the “spirit of good example, as he sometimes put it — to the majority of the planet’s people. Even in the more progressive parts of the mainland, atevi did not raise animals for meat — one hunted, and only took game within its proper season. So an industry that engaged in wholesale slaughter and packaging of meat for mass sale would have egregiously violated that all-important concept of kabiu. “Violated” is too gentle a term.

When the news that such a concern was being considered leaked across the Strait, this word, “vakhe’in”, suddenly acquired prominence in speeches both in the hasdrawad and the tashrid. Both chambers of the atevi legislature had been outraged, and it had threatened all his work. He had done a major revision of the word’s entry in the only authorized Ragi-Mosphei’ Dictionary — practically rewritten the damned thing as part of his attempt to convey to Mospheira just how deeply, deeply offensive the idea of the meatpacking plant was to the atevi. It had been an exhausting feat, finally convincing the government to deny the license. God! What an uproar it would have caused it if had gone through!

“Vakhe’in”, noun, singular. Plural, “vakhe’iin”. Originally the Dictionary had defined it as “wild animal” or “beast” or sometimes (especially in machimi) “butcher”, but Bren had come to know that it held a far deeper horror than these Mosphei’ words could convey. The vakhe’in was a creature of atevi legend known for killing. It was not a mere animal, however, that killed for survival in accordance with the natural way of the world. Animals were, by their very nature, kabiu. But the vakhe’in was a monstrous creature that did not kill to live or to feed its kith and kin — it kills indiscriminately and out of season, wastefully disposing of life to satisfy its own dark joy. Alternately, it was a beast (or person) that killed without limit, selfishly taking all the prey for itself and leaving none for following seasons or generations. Sometimes it referred to an animal suffering from disease or injury that would cause it to behave this way, and when such an animal was found, it was always subject to immediate termination.

The vakhe’in, in short, was the embodiment of that-which-was-not-kabiu, and even those atevi who considered themselves progressive shuddered at it. So the fact that Machigi’s opponents in among the lords were now applying this word to the man did not bode particularly well for peace in the future.

Certain antagonistic lords in Shedijan, wishing to dip in the well of horror that was the scandal of the proposed meatpacking plant on Mospheira of so many years ago, have taken to referring to his audience hall in Tanaja as “the Killing Floor”. They are particularly appalled by the fact that this occurred in the place meant for public petitions. And because the Edi and the Gan are a people who value lively public discussion in common spaces as central to their consensus-building style of governance, they have been too happy to side with these critics. If I had any hopes that your brilliant actions to settle the Marid would ease them out of the their hatred of the south, aiji-ma, I fear they may be dashed.

Aiji-ma, you may remember well the archives aboard Phoenix, and the stories which so captivated the imagination of your grandson. Do you remember dragons, those great scaly beasts that collected gems and jewels and precious metal into their lair, and would fight any hero who would attempt to retrieve them? The Edi and the Gan, but particularly the Edi, I think, are like such creatures: they have made their two-hundred year history of conflict with the Marid into a hateful jewel that is precious to them. Perhaps, in time, in the next generation or after, they will learn to open their claws and let this awful treasure go. But now, aiji-ma, I can only think that they use it to justify their continued disdain for the South.

Of the opposition to Machigi, however, I would assess that the Edi and the Gan are the loudest of the lot, and that however disturbed they may be, overall the majority of lords support a continuation of the present balance of power and alliances in the aishidi'tat. In time, the memory of this will fade, especially if trade continues and the economy thrives. It short, I do not think that there will be a concerted effort to remove him, and the alliance of the West-Central, South and East associations will hold. Please accept my felicitations and best wishes for continued development, growth, and prosperity in all your endeavors.

Signed, Bren-paidhi

Ilisidi Lord of Malguri, the aiji-dowager, to Bren-paidji

We have received your letter and convey our thanks for your analysis, as thorough and thoughtful as ever.

The actions of Machigi-aiji do not concern us. We hold them to be internal matters, conducted — as you yourself noted — within the full bounds of the law, and with a great deal more finesse than other actors in the region have managed in the past. It does not shock us that one who has been subjected to repeated assassination attempts and illegal coups by unsettled persons within his domain would find a novel way to test man’chi.

“Novel” — God!

The continued tension between the west coast and the Marid Association concerns us. If left unchecked, it will only continue to grow. At worst, it may flare into violations of the law if the Grandmothers feel justified in reengaging in irregular activity against the south. At best, it will bring distraction to the hasdrawad and the tashrid and slow their progress in matters of import.

In the interest of peace and the settling of distractions, we propose to broker discussions between the Edi, the Gan, and the Marid. Malguri being too far and too strange for the Edi and the Gan, and Shedijan being already too full of politicians, we request the use of your estate at Najida for such a conference.

Bren blinked and read the last line twice. And a fortuitous third time, in the vain hope that perhaps he’d misunderstood it the first two times. But alas, he understood it all too well. Ilisidi didn’t. Just. Propose. This. At. My. Estate. But no. She had done just that. And this was Ilisidi, which meant that he could not say no.

We have every confidence in your staff to handle such a potentially volatile meeting of minds within the boundaries of your house with their customary flawless hospitality, and are even more confident in your extraordinary diplomatic abilities. You will, we are sure, bring to bear your unique perspective to persons who might otherwise fail to see them, blinded by unfortunate history, cultural differences, and differing approaches to leadership. You have never failed us, and we are assured of your success in this endeavor as well.

We look forward to breakfast on your new terrace, Bren-ji. We shall enjoy the early morning breezes from sea, the magnificent view of the bay, and of course, your delightful company.

Signed, Ilisidi of Malguri

Breakfast. She had just proposed bringing two lords and — including herself — two aiji under his roof for a conference, and this shortly after one of the four proposed attendees had just conducted — what was that other thing they were calling it? Oh yes, “the Massacre at Tanaja” — and she expected him to be the fortunate fifth. And then, after breezily assuring herself of his ability to somehow bring them to peaceful agreement, she had invited herself to breakfast.

Bren leaned back his head and groaned. He had just finished renovations and repairs from the last Marid-centered disaster at his estate, and now this. My house is going to be destroyed!