After the shadow fey were foiled in their attempts to exert their will in the Crossroads and other regions of Midgard, the Queen of Shadows has redoubled her effort to establish relations with the Grand Duchy and its ruler, the Imperatrix.
The Imperatrix has never shied away from entreating with their elven cousins, the shadow fey who inhabit the Winter and Summer Courts. After all, her court receives diplomats and ambassadors from many lands, many of whom might be considered rivals or even enemies. But knowing the unseelie court’s penchant for mischief, caprice, and desire to dominate “lesser races,” neither does the Imperatrix tolerate even a whiff of duplicity in dealing with it. Trust has not entered the conversation where the two powers are concerned.
Case in point: The Queen of Shadows wishes her emissary to be cloaked in a veil of illusion, visible only to the Imperatrix. The Imperatrix has refused to confer any special status. As the Imperatrix decreed: “If Her Grace the Queen of Shadows wants her emissary to be received, then he or she will stand in line—and be seen by the entirety of our court—just like everyone else.”
The Queen of Shadows finds this condition galling. But for a few weeks, as the leaves change color and autumn takes full hold, she acquiesced and instructed her emissary to reveal herself.
The Unseelie Mission
Three people—and their seemingly innumerable goblin servants—operate in the Grand Duchy. But only the delegation’s leader has been revealed. The other two work secretly from a narrow three-story manse situated on the south shore of the Rhogarn River on the outskirts of Hirschberg. The manse is cloaked in an illusion of abandonment and disrepair. Already, the mission has spread rumors that the manse is haunted to discourage visitors. Importantly, the site serves as an access point for the Shadow Roads.
The delegates are as follows:
Her Excellency, Revealed Ambassador Tamarisk Bowes
The head of the delegation has an almost child-like obsession with pink and frills, appearing in frocks and gowns adorned in shades of the color, from frilly chiffons and elaborate gowns of lace and taffeta to dresses of sleek satin and silk. Her white hair, usually done up or set in flouncy curls, is variously adorned with small pink ribbons, streamers, barrettes, or bows. When she speaks, she has a sing-song voice, which is also child-like. Her moods equally hint at immaturity, bouncing back and forth from carefree to pouty.
The older, experienced members of court find these aspects of the ambassador, who in all other respects appears as an adult woman, disconcerting. Speaking with the ambassador, one finds that beneath the array of pink and fluff there is someone who can intelligently discuss a wide range of subjects, if the grating, sing-song voice, and her shifting moods can be tolerated.
She is quickly gaining support from the easily fascinated younger members of the Imperatrix’s court. They have reasoned that if Ambassador Bowes reflects her people, then they are flighty, frivolous folk offering little of consequence, save for amusement. Certainly, they say, there is no cause to hold them at arm’s length as the Imperatrix does.
Stockier and swarthier than most shadow fey, Darwin leads some to wonder how much goblin stock he is descended from. But there is no denying his penchant for stealth and trickery.
Darwin’s task is to create situations that elevate the ambassador’s standing among the common people of the Grand Duchy. To this end, he is busy setting up situations where Bowes will have opportunities to do good works, such as take an action or offer assistance that will meet with the approval of the lowborn. Perhaps she will coax a pet cat out of a tree or offer charity to the poor or downtrodden.
The project gaining his most attention is to arrange events so the ambassador might save from harm—perhaps even mortal peril—the child of a courtier in the Imperatrix’s court. It is the trickiest of the tricks, because the Imperatrix has a reputation for sniffing out falsehoods and so the opportunity of the ambassador being on hand must seem completely happenchance.
The other two members of the delegation do not completely trust Saxifrage, a wily free agent who answers only to the shadow fey queen. Like the namesake plant that blooms only in the shade, Saxifrage concocts plots and schemes completely in the shadows. Saxifrage is such a mystery, neither Tamarisk nor Darwin has discerned the androgynous Saxifrage’s gender (nor are inclined to do so).
Saxifrage’s main purpose is to act as scout, probing the Grand Duchy for strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward military conquest. Saxifrage is making notes on troop strength, war wizards in the Imperatrix’s defense force, and fortress locations. Whether the shadow fey are inclined to such mount such an assault is an unanswered question, but that is not Saxifrage’s concern.
Regardless of the Shadow Queen’s intentions, Saxifrage is concentrated on observing the habits and capabilities, both magical and martial, of those closest to the Imperatrix. The schemer hopes by the end of the autumn mission to have a thorough catalog of the abilities and habits of the Imperatrix’s guards, advisors, and closest confidants.