There is a knife in Janos's chest!
:Damn it. Should we get a Mindhealer in for it?:
:Huh. Worth considering. Melody's still at the front but I guess 'Adept mage who fled a horrible Empire and maybe wants to help us' is pretty high priority. Randi knows?:
:Only the things I knew before he woke up. I'll call a meeting after this and brief everyone properly. Anyway, let me focus:
She frowns at the mage. "If we do untie you, do you give us your word not to harm anyone here or try to leave? - I wouldn't recommend getting up, anyway, you were injured and you're suffering from backlash." Which she doubts she has to tell him. It would be hard for him not to notice.
"Yes," he says. Since she's reading his mind, he can just think the clarifying details - there are unlikely circumstances (left here without food or water for days) where he would try to leave, and if any assassins try to stab him he'll harm them in self-defense to get them to stop - but he absolutely means the spirit of it: Under any reasonable circumstances, he'll stay here without harming anyone. "And I understand. If you know what happened to the rest of my clothes, there was a spare focus-stone on my shirt collar" (next to the ward-stone, actually) "and I'd feel more comfortable if I had it." His thoughts also contain the fact that the clothes have miscellaneous other assorted useful features, but not what they are.
Savil nods, carefully. The Truth Spell reads intent, not technicalities, and the blue halo stayed bright and clear.
"We're not going to hold your basic Healing treatment hostage to your cooperation with us," she says quietly. "Though, of course, if you try to harm or threaten any of our Healers or support personnel, we do have to put their safety first. I don't get the sense you're likely to - at least not by your own choice. Can you tell us what the other artifacts are that were with your clothing, and what they do? In particular, are any of them communication-spell talismans or other items that might allow your Empire to give you new orders here?"
... He's appreciative of the fact that they're giving out the basic healing free; either they value him a great deal or they're extremely rich. And he nods (somewhat impatiently) at "put their safety first." Of course they're going to do that; he's got no intention of double-crossing them, he just wanted to be clear he wasn't binding himself not to defend himself if double-crossed. And -
"Defenses of one sort or another, mostly. A subtle always-on general-purpose ward, several less subtle, more specialized wards I can activate, a few spare focus stones..." He isn't bringing up everything (because, honestly, he's still pretty fuzzy with the backlash), but - "Nothing harmful to your known interests -" though that would be more useful if she'd tell him anything about who or what her organization was - "and nothing that would let the Empire communicate with me. If you have any kind of imperial representative here, that would be much more dangerous for these purposes." Specifically, imperial orders that might have been forged or misinterpreted are covered by Priority Five, and he needs to obey them to the extent they are legitimate. And Priority Two might come up any time but he's not thinking about that.
Savil can sense that he's avoiding thinking about something, if not what, and it's making her uneasy. Not that she wasn't already uneasy at the entire situation.
"All right. We're well defended here and a very long way from the war, so I shouldn't think you would be in any danger, but - I suppose I can't promise that, and if you'd feel safer with your defenses, I don't blame you. We're not going to leave you unsupervised for now, because - well, honestly, we were not expecting this and we can't be entirely sure, yet, that you're not being followed. I think we can un-chain your hands, though." Her lips twitch. "The Healers said you ought to eat something, once you were awake, and I'm not in the mood to spoon-feed you."
:Van, we're going to have to tell him where he is sooner or later, do you–:
:I don't see any reason not to tell him now. And - there's an upside to doing it while he's still letting you read his thoughts. It'll be informative, to find out if he's heard of Valdemar and if so what he thinks of us:
:King Valdemar fled the Empire:
:Yes. There is that. I'm not sure if it'll make him hostile to us or more sympathetic, and I'm curious to find out:
Savil acknowledges this wordlessly, and then smiles at the man. "I'm Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron. Welcome to Valdemar."
They're fighting a war. Bad news for them. Good news for him, since it means they need him. (That thought is not even marked as 'potentially false'; it's conceivable, though he is not currently conceiving it, that their military structure will be so dysfunctional they don't make use of him, but that would be their failing, not his.) If they want to watch him, that's fine; he's planning to do nothing but stay here and heal and think.
There was a duchy called Valdemar, once. It was famous for horses - half the Empire's breeds claim to have their origin, there - and otherwise of no interest to anyone. Occasionally a Duke of Valdemar is mentioned on a list of noblemen, if some history happens to be giving a list of noblemen. He's seen Valdemar's tax registers; it paid less than some baronies. Then there was Emperor Cestil III's cesspool of a reign (Old lightning-struck Cendas had used him as a regular example of how not to rule), and at some point in the civil war that ended it, Valdemar stopped being mentioned on the tax registers. Presumably, one more casualty of the war - between the quakes and the random invasions and the burning his own capital, it's a marvel the Empire survived. Janos isn't even sure which province Valdemar-that-was is in, now.
The Empire tries to get good maps; at some point, they noticed that Hardorn's maps had a western neighbor that called itself Valdemar. Occasionally scholars theorized that a few refugees from the Duchy had gotten out when the crisis was at its worst and the Old Capital could hardly rule itself; occasionally books written in Valdemaran would turn up at the end of a trade route, written in some bastard descendant of the Imperial language, and scholars argued over whether that meant that Valdemar had Imperial ancestry or if it was just that they "could recognize culture when they saw it, if not well." (He tosses in a mental apology to the woman reading his thoughts; those were the scholar's words, but he doubts anyone appreciates that kind of condescension.)
If they are descended from the Empire, then the question is if they think well of it, as the center of culture and the origin of their people, the last, great piece of civilization from before the Mage Wars blasted the world nearly to rubble, or if they think of it as Cestil III. Whichever way they do (holding the conditional), he should assume they have much better magic than any of their neighbors and probably better philosophy. His dream may be easier than he'd thought it would be, when he left.
"I appreciate it, Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron. I'm pleased to be here." The Kingdom of Valdemar. "Colonel Count Janos. Can I ask you who Valdemar is at war with and for a general overview of its political situation, or would you rather talk to your superiors -" presumably a Kingdom has a King, unless their mutual second language is getting to them "- before telling me anything more?"
She reads his thoughts. She tries not to give away any of her reaction, which mostly means her expression stays fixed and blank.
“I’m going to consult with the other Heralds before telling you any details,” she says drily, “but the war is with our southern neighbor, Karse.” She has no idea what a man from the Eastern Empire might know of the kingdom. Apparently he barely knows anything about Valdemar; he seems not to have the faintest inkling of what a Herald is.
She rises, abruptly, and pushes back her chair. “I’ll send in one of the Healers. Do you need anything.”
"Completely understandable." It is; for all they know, the Empire learned how to beat Thoughtsensing a hundred years ago. "A map, if you can trust me with it." He'd ask for a book, but he doubts they have any histories in Hardornen. And water would be good, but he expects the Healer would know more than he would. "I appreciate everything you're done."
(Karse... appears on the maps. He has probably heard something about it. He thinks they might have a religion, maybe? But that's distant memories of Cendas's distant descriptions of distant kingdoms, not anything actionable. In every practical sense, he's going into this blind.)
"Of course." Savil thinks that there are probably some books in Hardornen, if not necessarily the most informative ones, but then again she's not sure it makes sense to try to be informative with this man, yet. She badly needs to talk to Vanyel. And the King, of course, but she's pretty sure Randi is just going to defer to her nephew too.
She stops at the door, sticking her head out into the hallway, and waits there until another woman arrives. "Er, this is Healer Gemma. She doesn't speak Hardornen, though she's got a bit of Mindspeech - are you a Mindspeaker as well as a mage?"
"Not at all." So much for the idea he could think on his own after Savil left he appreciates everything Valdemar is doing to help him.
Janos smiles at the healer, trying to be as polite and nonthreatening as an Adept can be. Hopefully she'll put him back together; hopefully Karse-or-whoever hasn't suborned her (yet?) and he isn't about to just get assassinated.
Savil is about to leave, but she catches this thought, and makes some quick internal updates about just how disturbing and terrible the Eastern Empire probably is. (And is also slightly offended on the Heralds' behalf, that he thinks the Karsites would have any chance at all at slipping an assassin into the House of Healing, which also treats all the injured Heralds fighting in the war, but she's trying not to take it personally; he clearly has even less context on them than she has on his homeland.)
:Savil, you know, it would probably be reassuring if we tell him we're not planning to read his mind as a matter of course. It's not like we need to. - And you don't have to tell him that the Truth Spell exists:
:Are you sure? We could run it by Randi -:
Randi, Vanyel thinks, is almost certainly just going to ask him for his opinion anyway and go with that.
:I think we want to be showing him that we're friendly: Building trust, even in the unlikeliest of places, and this is actually a much easier scenario than Leareth.
:All right, ke'chara, I'll trust you on this. I guess:
"We're not intending to keep reading your mind," she tells the man. "It's against the Healers' ethics, to do that to their patients unless it's somehow necessary in an emergency." And the same goes for the Heralds, but she'll leave that one alone for now. The mage hasn't seemed to even guess that the Truth Spell exists, so that's something.
Gemma is not really a strong enough Mindspeaker to reach someone un-Gifted. She shrugs, and mimes that she's going to remove his chains.
So at least they won't be offended if he shields! Good. He'll raise his mental shields, smile at Gemma, and casually obey her medical instructions bar the usual assassination checks, while... thinking.
First: Valdemar appears to be competent. Savil said she was impressed by his magical items - and she's lighter-armored as a matter of course than he is - but she's clearly an Adept of reasonable strength herself; they have sufficient Healers to take care of any random Adept who stumbles into their lands, and sufficient mages and mindhealers to ensure he doesn't cause trouble - even at war. Savil gave away very little information; it's possible she's the country's best mage, but it's more likely that it has one or ten percent as many Adepts as the Empire, and almost as well-trained.
Second: Valdemar is interesting, and a war is an excellent opportunity for an ambitious man to rise, but - to be frank - he has no idea if he wants Valdemar or Karse to win the war. He can't assist Karse, of course; that would make the Valdemarans wish they hadn't saved him, and you don't want to be someone who people wish they hadn't saved, but he knows perfectly well it's random chance he landed in Valdemar instead of Karse, and for all he knows a Karsite victory would produce a world that matched his preferences much more than a Valdemaran victory would. He needs more information before he can commit to any actions in the war more complicated than paying off his debt.
(There's always an argument somewhere in the Hall of Learning over whether you want to support the winning side, which will result in a swifter end to the war, or a losing side, which needs you more. Savil didn't act like she was losing a war, but she didn't sound like she was winning it, either.)
Third: He's not pitching the Eastern Empire very well. Partly, that's because he doesn't know what story to tell - he can think of three different honest and truthful narratives of his motives with respect to it, all of which would appeal to different factions - but it's also a failure of his. He's been outside the Empire, before, or as outside the Empire as you can get riding with a full imperial legion, but he's never been somewhere the Empire wasn't the center of the world, never been somewhere it wasn't known, respected, feared, the center of civilization and the primary threat to everything outside it. That... will give him a lot more power and a lot more opportunities to screw up.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he's smiling.
He never liked playing for low stakes.
He'll smile on the outside, too, and obediently listen to his Healer's instructions, while he tries to decide what the best strategy is for making himself the next Emperor loyally serving the Empire.