I felt a little uncomfortable, watching the reunions that were going all around me. While it was a relief to find all the prisoners were safe, just as the Queen had wanted, still something bothered me. Maybe it was the way Alex wouldn't look at me, they way her brother had all her attention. But then, that couldn't be right. It was not as if I had an interest in Alex was it? I had merely been assigned to her by the Queen, and as such wanted to protect her. Surely that was all there was too it. Besides, not only was she an Iberan, and one with what appeared to be a very protective brother, but she was of the middle class. Whereas I was of the noble class.
No, what I was feeling now wasn't an interest in Alexandra Ford. There had to be some other reason for why I was feeling so unsettled at the moment.
It was at that moment as I was considering this that James came up beside me. "I wonder how much they know?" he asked, as if considering the idea. "How much of what is part of their history too is known of them."
"I suppose your asking if I think they know of the provinces and the way they are currently leaning?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
James grinned slightly. "Knowledge is power after all. Knowing they have support might be enough to give them that little bit of extra leverage, should a time come when they could use it."
"I suppose we should tell them," I replied. "After all no one expected Ibera to last so long in a war against Handrin. Perhaps there will be a day when they have something to bargain."
I headed towards Jon and Sebastian, men I identified as the leaders, now that the male party had arrived. Somehow though, I managed to gather the attention of all those in the room, rather than just the two I had wanted. . I could tell that he had attempted to corner only Jon and Sebastian, and yet Alex had been reluctant to part from Sebastian, and Katrina showing an unwillingness to allow Jon far from her sight. And where Katrina went, so too did her father and brother. The others had seen the group gathering and had joined in. It seemed everyone would be privy to this news.
"You wanted to tell us something?" Jon asked, once everyone had gathered. I nodded, before beginning my explanation of a question. "What do you know about the provinces of Handrin?" he asked, looking at Jon and Sebastian in particular.
Jon seemed to consider this, but it was Sebastian who spoke up. I suppose it made sense for him to answer, from what I heard he had been in the spying game longer than Jon had been. "While it is hard to separate fact from fiction over the years of telling, it is rumored that the provinces were the spark that ignited the powder keg that was Ibera."
"Indeed they were," I replied. "Though it was some time ago. From what I have heard, while Ibera fell to Handrin control through military might, the provinces did not. They had formed an alliance, and were too strong for even Handrin to conquer. Instead they brokered a treaty with the ruler of Handrin at the time, gaining the protection of the larger nation. Over time this protection resulted in their coming under Handrin rule, while still enjoying a large degree of freedom. Their taxes were low, and Handrin interfered little in the way they ran their society.
"Ibera on the other hand fought against Handrin, and suffered a large defeat. They became a spoil of war, and were taxed accordingly. Ibera, while becoming a part of Handrin, was treated as if it was less than its ruling country. The degree of control executed by the King was high, for Ibera had fought hard and he was worried that if he did not subdue them then they would rise again."
"But they did rise again," began Sebastian. "They rose because they were too controlled, because Handrin asked for too much and gave too little."
"Thats right," I replied. "Ibera began to dislike the yoke they were forced to bear. But it wasn't until they learned of the provinces that they really began to grow restless. Here they were, their taxes high, and much being asked of them. The protection they were afforded seemed to be more about protecting Handrin from the threat of Ibera than protecting Ibera. And then there were the provinces, allowed to go their own and pay much lower taxes, but afforded high protection at the slightest threat. There was an inbalance here, and they knew it."
"And so they went to war," added Jon.
"Yes. There was war for generations, though for a time there was peace. King George took an Iberan wife, and that seemed to settle the sides for a time. But little changes were made, and Iberan knew they had to fight again."
"I don't see what this history lesson has to do with us now," began Luke, looking confused. "All this is in the past after all."
"But the past often affects the present does it not?" I asked before turning back to Jon and Sebastian. "Though the man is right. This is all just a history lesson, without the next bit of information.
"When Ibera first went to war, they went alone. They had no allies, though they tried to reach out. But the provinces, though seeing the imbalance of power that existed, were not willing to risk their privileged position on a war they felt would be short and bloody and not in Ibera's favour."
"But the war didn't end that way," replied Sebastian, as if beginning to connect the dots.
"No, it did not," James said, stepping forward. "The war, while bloody at times, was long. Ibera fought for generations. Then King George did something the provinces never expected, he took a wife from the country he was at war with, in a way to make peace. And there was peace, as we said. Peace in which this new Queen began to work. For while she could not influence her husband, or Handrin as a whole, she could influence others. For instance, people like the provinces, people like me."
This revelation seemed to surprise those gathered. "You're from the provinces?" asked Jon, surprised. The only one who did not seemed shocked by this news was Alex, as if she had heard the news before.
"Yes, I am from the provinces," James replied. "I was born and raised in Fandora, though it was at court in Handrin that the Queen found me and recruited me. But even before that, I had heard whispers among my province, talk of the unfairness of it all. Not everyone supports what Ibera is doing, but there are many who see your cause, and who believe it is a just cause."
Excitement began to show on the faces of some, and I had to hold up a hand. "You must know, that these people are probably unlikely to fight for you. They would risk too much to do so. Besides, the provinces individually are small and have lived a protected life. No, the fighting is something Ibera would have to do itself. We don't tell you this information to gain you new soldiers."
"Then what use is this information?" asked Luke, in frustration. After all, it had been a long tale already and on the surface it seemed there was little of use there.
"There is use to be had," I began. "If you know how to use it. This information, while no use in battles, will be of use later, should the time for negotiations begin. Think how much more power you will have to bargain with, should you have the provinces at your back, compared to just Ibera. While they may not fight for you and risk what you have, they will be willing to take a stand for you. Their power is not in battle, but in politics. How else would they have been able to negotiate the treaty they did?"
Jon nodded, as if considering the words, and I could tell that Sebastian was seeing the wisdom of them as well.
"So then, all we need to do is overpower a powerful nation," murmured Jon. From his words it was clear that it was a lot to ask. Finally he glanced at me. "But I thank you for telling us this. You are right, this is knowledge we could use later, given the chance."
I could tell some of the others wanted to ask more questions when suddenly there was a disturbance towards the entrance of the chamber. The men immediately sprung to their feet, hands diving for weapons, when a figure entered the room. It was quickly evident to both James and I that the woman before us was the Queen, returned. Yet the newly arrived men had yet to meet her, and so I quickly stepped forward, executing a perfect bow. "I see you have returned your majesty," I greeted.
"As have you, I see. And you have brought company with you," she replied, quickly noticing the new additions to the group. "I will have words with you shortly, of course. But right now it is important that I borrow James."