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Jan 20, 2022 9:21 AM
A utilitarian Easterner lands on Vanyel during the Karsite War.
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In the morning, after breakfast is brought, another page arrives to escort him over to Herald Vanyel's quarters. (He doesn't speak Hardornen either, but has a note to explain what he's here for.) This is a slightly longer walk than just to the Palace meeting-rooms, but takes less than ten minutes despite the coating of new snow on the paths. 

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Vanyel answers his door. It takes him a minute or so; he's still pale, and moving slowly, but he smiles at Janos. 

"Thank you for being willing to come all the way over here. Have a seat?" 

His quarters are very small. There's a sort of living room, with a writing-desk - the chair currently turned around to face into the rest of the room - and a dining table that would barely seat two people comfortably, with stools currently pushed underneath it so they're out of the way. He's brought a padded wicker chair over next to it, facing the desk chair. 

Vanyel shuffles back to his own desk and sits, with a sigh of relief. "Would you like tea?" 

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"It's no trouble. You seem somewhat recovered; I hope your Companion isn't fretting too much?"

Janos will sit, take tea if Vanyel's pouring (wishing he had a better way of making sure it wasn't poisoned than trust and intuition), and do his best to play the Third Game - giving away as little as he can that he doesn't want Vanyel to know, learning as much as he can, and, hopefully, making an ally.

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Vanyel is at this point intensely curious about Janos! And a little disappointed that he didn't have the ice dream last night, not that he has any idea what he would have said to Leareth, if he dared say anything. 

He pours the tea, and leans forward to pass Janos a cup. "So. I've heard from several people now that you have quite a lot of questions, about the war and about other things, and that they thought I'd be better placed to answer them. I have much less of an idea what the specific questions are, let alone the order of priority." 

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All right, what are his key questions. (That he can ask a Herald, without automatically enraging the evil god if his leading theory turns out to be true.)

The most obvious one for other people to bring up is that there is magic that is here considered unambiguously evil that is a significant fraction of the Eastern Empire's total productive capacity, and also another one which is how it only has civil wars twice every century, and also a third which is occasionally useful in sieges. Clearly they want Vanyel to talk him into admitting not only that he will follow their stupid rules but that their rules are not stupid, which, well, somewhat tricky. But that's the sort of thing that might well set Vanyel off; the real question is, how does he raise it tactfully -

"My main question is simple: Is there any possible way for you to provide unambiguous evidence you are in the right in this war. I am perfectly willing to admit that my instincts tell me that your story is true, I think the weight of evidence is in favor of that, I do not want to depend on it. I proposed use of a truth-telling Compulsion; they are apparently against your law, but even if we set the possibility aside, talking to Karsite prisoners or refugees from the war would help. Reading their declaration of war also would, except that I doubt it is in Hardornen. Once that is done, I can offer you a great deal of assistance - to name one thing you probably could not replicate, I know how to build an Imperial scorpion, a light artillery piece used for counter-mage fire. Accurate against a human at a hundred yards, with a trained crew." (That's actually a slight understatement, but Janos would rather not talk up more than he expects he can provide.) "I would prefer to do end the war quickly if I can, since I do not believe you can start on any large-scale economic development projects until the war with Karse is over."

"My second question is if you know of any books brought by King Valdemar when he left the Empire. These would presumably be written in the Imperial language, and might include copies of many of our classics of military organization and both tactical and civil engineering. Herald Jaysen suggested that you would be the one to know if anyone did.

"And my third question is if you know anyone I should be teaching earth-mapping techniques to; that seems like a fairly simple spell to use, since it can be done in my convalescence. Its primary use is for mining, locating particularly valuable or easy-to-access metal deposits, and I think that giving Valdemar that - thereby reducing your long-term dependence on Rethwellani iron and steel - would pay for my care."

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Vanyel frowns. 

"All right, I'm going to answer the war one last, it's the most complicated. I...think I know of a few books in the Imperial language." Though not from the Heralds' archives. He's fairly sure that one of the tomes he found in Leareth's cache down south is from the Eastern Empire. "I don't read it - I don't think anyone in Valdemar does, at this point. There may be more in the archives from King Valdemar's lifetime, I can arrange to have someone search." 

He looks thoughtful. "I think you should teach Savil the earth-mining spell. She's the strongest mage not deployed on the Karsite border, and if we're lucky, she and I can work together and figure out if it's possible to cast at a distance through the Web, which would make it a lot more feasible." 

Sigh. 

"And for your first question - I mean, is either side ever in the right, with the things we do in war? I don't know. They started it, and I think we can provide conclusive proof of that - you could interview some of the citizens of Horn, which was briefly taken by their forces in the initial surprise attack. They haven't responded to any of our attempts to open talks. I think we'd be willing to have someone who you agree would be informed confirm that under a truth compulsion." 

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"Thank you; if you could, that might be very valuable."

"And I understand and will do that, when she has the time."

... Aaaand he pauses about that last one. Um, yes. The side that is in the right is the side whose victory will maximize total utility. The greater good of humanity is, in any situation with two possible results, served by one of them happening; often the effects are undetectably small, often the effects are difficult to tell, but there's always some benefit, however tiny. An intervention on either side will tip the balance of the war, and while it is theoretically possible that intervening on neither side would be better still, that is the same level of unlikely as 'maybe the house catching fire every day is better than it not doing so', i.e., not really worth considering unless you have strong preexisting reasons to think that.

"Excellent. I can gate to Horn -" it was on the map, and both Scrying and Farsight are tricky to use from maps, but neither is impossible "- and check, if the legal problems with Truth-compulsions are not insurmountable, or any of the other possibilities I proposed might work; I would prefer not to violate your law." If they're more willing to let him use compulsions than talk to Karsite prisoners, that's important information.

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Nod. "Savil can also Gate you to Horn, if you need that. Also it's within my Farsight range, but you're not a Mindspeaker so it might be hard for me to share my Othersenses with you." 

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"I can make it there, I expect, though it would be much easier for someone who had already been there, and so I would appreciate either method of assistance." He doesn't want to give away all the details of his Farsight, after all, and even with it it might well take multiple hops.

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Nod. “You’re still recovering, so I’m guessing you won’t be up for a Gate that far for a couple of days? I’ll talk to Savil about it.”

Hopefully it’s not too conspicuous that Vanyel himself isn’t offering to Gate, despite his stronger Gift. Janos might attribute it to his injuries. 

(Vanyel is very aware that if Janos does end up helping with the war effort, he’ll need to inform the man of his weakness; it’s relevant to what he can and can’t do. It’s embarrassing, though, in addition to being something he would prefer to keep secret until they know for sure that Janos is taking Valdemar’s side.)

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Janos is pretty sure he could Gate out without passing out, actually! It would be stupid under most circumstances, but it's his preferred plan for if Valdemar tries to murder him. "Thank you. I'm be grateful."

(His actual assumption for why Vanyel isn't offering to Gate him is that he's busy, what with apparently being the center of the local universe.)

"If you have the time, finding me a Valdemaran tutor is probably the second-highest priority."

Though if Vanyel's about to go off and deal with this, he's going to raise another topic before the Herald-Mage goes; he still needs to carefully check about the whole morality issue, directly if Vanyel doesn't want to open it.

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"I believe Jaysen is already working on arranging that." Vanyel ducks his head. "Er, Savil and Randi both mentioned that you - seem to be finding Valdemaran culture and norms pretty different and a major adjustment, and that it would probably help clear that up if we spoke about it. But I'm not sure exactly what your questions are." 

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"... The first topic is, obviously, that we have not encountered most of the areas of difference yet. We may have different - unspoken assumptions?"

He paused. "As far as I can tell, the first that I have noticed is is - in the Eastern Empire, our study of philosophy tells us say that a good action is one that has, or can be expected to have had, good consequences, and a bad action is one that has or can be expected to have had bad consequences. Your majesty said that certain types of magic were fundamentally bad? My school would call that a category error; did he simply mean that it was illegal, or were we having translation difficulties? 

He pauses, again. "Is it worth changing to mindspeech for this, to avoid confusions from the Hardornen langauge being neither of our first?"

(This is actually his actual motive.)

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:- Sure, Mindspeech is probably better for this. And - hmm, I think I do recognize some of the distinction you're drawing, but I think maybe we need more concrete examples to go through. Er, what does Imperial law actually forbid - are murder, theft, rape all illegal?: 

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:All of these are forbidden by the law; philosophy holds that this is because they usually cause net harm, and because if we legalized a subset of them, that would have negative consequences - a law that read 'do not steal unless you are taking something worth more than you to its owner' would lead to many people making inefficient thefts, and also leave merchants in greater fear of theft, so we pass the law that will lead to the best consequences given human nature.:

:But the law also permits the government to decree executions, forced marriages and confiscations of property - in extreme circumstances, with punishment for officials who abuse this power - because such circumstances may come.:

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Vanyel nods, thoughtful. His body language is relaxed, but his eyes are very intent on Janos; it's clear that he's giving this conversation his full attention. 

:Valdemar's law also allows for executions and fines paid by confiscation of property, if that process has gone through the courts. We don't have a provision for forcing marriages, though mostly because I'm not sure what problems that would solve for us or when it would come up. And one major difference in the law, here, is that compulsions and use of blood-magic are both illegal, and I would say it's for the same reason you describe - because we believe that they almost always cause net harm, and because we don't like the incentives and possible negative consequences that would occur if the law had exceptions: He frowns, thinking. :In Valdemar's case, I do think a significant chunk of that is that - our citizens trust Heralds to be good people, not just people who will follow the laws of the Kingdom - which could be changed - but who are on their side. And I think that makes a big difference for Valdemar, that Heralds are trusted. I suspect it's part of why we have so few civil wars or local rebellions: 

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:Forcing marriages is something that has been illegal under some emperors, legal under others. Its primary purpose is to ensure that valuable magical bloodlines do not vanish, but many Imperials - including myself - think that we could handle this much more effectively just with financial incentives, since the law is so often abused:

Janos is doing the same; this conversation matters.

:I recognize your argument. But to focus on just the most extreme case - truth-telling compulsions are useful. They are not tremendously difficult, they have no long-term side effects, they cause no particular mental damage, and they allow you to abolish both torture and ignorance in court cases. I can understand a general ban on compulsions outside necessary government work, I can understand a ban on compulsions used on citizens not under investigation, I can understand a legal alternative under those circumstances. I have trouble believing that your alternatives are better, and your sovereign certainly seemed to believe that even they were always banned:

He pauses. :I can... recognize you may have difficulties, if your people believe that compulsions are always evil, and you are restricted to doing things they respect? But I - do not particularly understand why they assume compulsions are always evil; even if they laying a compulsion is usually an evil act, there are clearly exceptions, and the more you can trust that the Heralds are good people, the less likely they will, in fact, abuse the power, and so the risks from allowing them to overrule the law in times of need are tremendously lesser:

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...Oh. Right. 

This...is a little awkward. He discussed with Randi yesterday when and how it would make sense to inform Janos of the existence of the Truth Spell. Because Janos is making a very good point, and no wonder he's confused; he's missing some very important context. He might have preferred to wait a little longer - to be sure Janos intended to help with the war, once he verified the facts - but this conversation is going to be stuck unless he reveals it now. 

:We have an alternative: he sends, quietly. :A technique that can only be used to verify or compel honesty - also, incidentally, one that doesn't require a mage, only a strong Gift of some form, and which is very clearly not a compulsion and limited-use, so less alarming to our citizens. Before it was invented, there was a provision for Heralds to use Thoughtsensing during an interrogation - which is still legal under the right circumstances, but is rarely necessary now: 

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How long have they been using it on him.

Does he feel like he's being compelled to tell the truth - 

He murmurs "two plus two equals five" under his breath, just to test whether he is capable of speaking a false statement. He is. Great. Baaaack on topic. Apparently Thoughtsensing is common enough that they carved an exception into the rules there instead of Compulsions? Interesting.

:That's fascinating. We don't have anything better than Compulsions for truth-telling, ourselves: Not that they bothered developing one, since they had Compulsions.

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He's going to wait a moment for hopeful bonding over Cool Magic Stuff. Then:

:The essential question as I see it is fairly simple. Let us suppose that you did not have that specific technique, and even that Thoughtsensing was rare enough that it was rarely practical. Would you then adopt compulsions in that limited case? Or does the desire to preserve the good your reputation does overrule that many innocents being falsely convicted and that many guilty set free?:

He frowns after a moment, then speaking again to release the pressure. :I understand that it is only a hypothetical. But - there are two different Valdemars I could have landed in. The first trusts its heuristics but is willing to overrule them for a sufficient good; treats its reputation like an old-growth forest, to be preserved for the good it does unless the hour is at its most desperate, then regrown slowly, at great cost, and - possibly - in a shape that better served the country. The second abides by them no matter what it means for the country's people. In the first, I can argue for situational, safe use of extreme tools if in the most desperate circumstances, measure the damage done and say that it is worth less than - so many lives saved, prepare plans for both scenarios, establish clear restrictions and follow them. In the second, I cannot. I know that in either, I will be acting in obedience to a law that forbids them so long as I am in your service, but - it still means a great deal to me, which Valdemar I am in:

Because it is, to a very great extent, the difference between a Valdemar in which he is capable of honestly convincing people of things, and one in which he has no choice but to lie and flatter. One in which he can have a reputation based on honest trust, and one in which the government will, ultimately, be on the side of its mad, evil god, and hence be his enemy.

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Vanyel nods. 

:- Just to clarify, we've used the Truth Spell on you, but only the first-level version, which you wouldn't be able to notice. Second-stage is much more obtrusive - I doubt it feels exactly like a compulsion, but you'd notice it: He considers offering to demonstrate for future reference, and decides against it. 

:Anyway. I - think that's the right question to ask. I can say with confidence that my Valdemar is the first one, and I want to hear your arguments for - whether and when it's the right time to use extreme tools in desperate circumstances. I've...already done a lot of things I don't feel good about, in this war, and - I do think blood-magic is worse and costs our reputation a lot more than just killing enemy soldiers, but - I think there has to be some kind of trade you could make, there, that could be worth it - if you could kill one volunteer instead of setting a thousand Karsite soldiers on fire...:

Vanyel pauses. Frowns. :I can't promise that others will listen to you, or to me. And I can't promise to always have counterarguments that are legible to you - if the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why. But I do want you to make your case to me: 

He rubs his chin, thoughtful. :I almost want to tell you to read Seldasen on ethics; Seldasen was a Herald during a period of war, he also wrote our main reference treatise on tactics. But his treatise on ethics - covers a lot of things related to the question you're asking. I think Seldasen is someone you could have had this conversation with, and I think that Randi and the others on the Senior Circle will take your arguments more seriously, if you can cite arguments from his work. Unfortunately I don't think there's a Hardornen translation, but - maybe you could work through it with your language tutor, or something: 

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"[I]f the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why."

"[I]f the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why."

"[I]f the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why."

"[I]f the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why."

"[I]f the Groveborn has a bad feeling about something, Randi may listen to that over logical arguments, even if Taver can't explain why."

THANK YOU, VANYEL, FOR ANSWERING THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION ABOUT HOW YOUR SOCIETY BEING BROKEN WORKS.

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Janos is careful to let as little of that as possible slip on his face; Vanyel is highly intelligent, but he hopes his experience keeping secrets at the Imperial court is enough so that he can conceal just how hard that hit him. Groveborn is the secret master of the Curse of Valdemar, got it. Now he has a face for his enemy.

:I think it was completely reasonable of you to use the Truth Spell on me, given that you knew very little of who I was. I would appreciate being informed in advance in the future, but I would be happy to make the vast majority of my statements under the Truth Spell; since being able to guarantee that my information is truthful is much more useful than being able to lie, when dealing with allies:

:And I very much appreciate it. Those - kinds of circumstances - are the ones we consider when making the tradeoffs; since we do not have the reputation for not using blood magic and we do have mages trained in how to do it safely without damaging themselves or the environment, we use it more than would be optimal for you; not normally in battles, because we only very rarely fight large field battles where the power would be necessary, but as our method-of-execution for extreme crimes, since the power can be used for more rapidly digging canals:

And sometimes prisoners of war who can't safely (or, at least, can't profitably) be resettled, but Janos does not intend to import everything about the Eastern Empire into Valdemar.

:And I do understand that you may have trouble explaining precisely why. Moral instincts are extremely valuable sources of information, and the Empire has been burned many times, overriding its instincts with logic, but, ultimately, the logic does let you do better in the end: Frankly, it's been burned a lot more by emperors who were just evil, like the current one, who is still a very good emperor outperforming most others thanks to using science and logic to align his nation's interests with his own! :Can I ask who the Groveborn is?: Obvious question is obvious.

... Also, 'old books by an ethicist-and-general' are actually going to be REALLY USEFUL. Once you know the main reference on tactics that someone who has never fought a war before is using, you know their soul.

:If Seldasen's work is very old, his language might be closer to mine, but I don't know if that would be enough to allow me to read him. Either way, it might be something I could manage with some help from my language tutor:

And then a pause for the question Vanyel's goals are best served by Vanyel answering: :Does Karse have an equivalent reference treatise on tactics, or strategy, or logistics? Or do they depend more on practical experience?:

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(Also, just to be clear: They told him what book they were getting their tactics out of, after never having fought a war in a hundred years. Have they just given up on distrusting him? Seriously? Why would you POSSIBLY do that if you did not trust someone with your ENTIRE COUNTRY'S SURVIVAL. Why would you give ANYONE you did not trust the manual to BEATING YOU IN A FIGHT. Why.)

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Vanyel listens attentively. Nods along. 

:Right. And - yes, we used the Truth Spell because we had little idea of who you were, and -: How to phrase this... :And it looked like you'd gone with a strategy of being honest, if not fully open with us - which, to be clear, I don't expect, of course you're going to be holding back until we've built more mutual trust here. So are we. It was useful to verify that you weren't lying to us. ...If you want to do the same, I can cast a Truth Spell on myself, later: 

And on to the next question... :The Groveborn is, approximately, the leader of the Companion herd. There's more than one of them; the current Groveborn is Taver. He's...different, from the rest of the Companions. Groveborn aren't born like normal horses; the name comes from the fact that they seem to just walk out of the Companions' Grove, which is on the Palace grounds and dates back to the Founding. Groveborn are powerful, less - humanlike, I suppose. Taver is immortal, though he can be killed by violence, which happens, every so often, but he comes back. Taver is the oldest of the Groveborn. He was around in King Valdemar's time. In terms of Foresight, all of the Companions have it - usually not very clear, more like a gut feeling than a vision - but we believe Taver can see further ahead: 

Another pause. Vanyel rubs his forehead. :...Honestly I'm not sure what reference Karse uses. It's not something that our spies have been able to discern. My guess is that it would be a treatise written and referred to by the priesthood of Vkandis, who are really just as much if not more the true leadership of Karse than the King: 

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