←  Silver Quarter

Mistborn: The Inquisition


The First Rung

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 03 Dec 2011

The Silver quarter was quiet. Even in midday, where in other areas of Luthadel there would be the hustle and bustle, there were only a few people out and about.

Such was the advantages that being of the nobility bought you. Some of the more liberal nobles Wyldin had met said that the best things in life were free, such as a quiet stroll. Though it seemed so on paper, the nobles never thought about the price of their houses in the quiet area. That was the cost of the quiet walk he now enjoyed.

He shifted his arms slightly in the slings. He'd had them stuck in the damnable things for two weeks now. It would still be a good month before he could move his arms again. Until that day, his arms were pretty much bound across his chest.

It made practice of his allomantic power difficult. So far, he had limited himself to small leaps around his gardens at the rear of his small mansion. So far, h could throw himself into the air, and lurch to a halt just above the ground. He knew that many of the nobles he would be dealing with were allomancers. Luthadel was a dangerous place. One had to make use of their talents to survive. Wyldin would not let his incapacitation at the hands of the skaa stop him from using such a gift.

But today was not a day to be using his allomantic powers. No, he would be using the gifts he already had: Intelligence and wit. Until now, it had been difficult for Wyldin to approach great houses. He was new to Luthadel, almost unheard of in the central dominance. He was an unknown variable in the delicate balance of house politics. Until now.

For today, he had an informal meeting with a prominent noble of house Elariel. The second most powerful of the Great houses. If he could secure a contract with such titans, his father's gamble on expansion would be a success, and Wyldin would prove his choice in trusting his son was a good one. He already knew the choice was good. But others weren't as sure in Wyldin's abilities as he himself was.

Wyldin nodded to a bench, and his steward scurried forward, wiping the bench down to remove the ash covering it. He didn't want to mar his suit. Appearance was everything, and so Wyldin had elected for a black suit with a maroon vest, his steward ensuring no ash fell on him by holding a parasol over him.

Wyldin then sat down, watching the small bands of noble wander back and forth in the light ashfall. He crossed one leg over the other, his air relaxed.
Edited by Wyldin Sortell, 06 December 2011 - 02:24 PM.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 03 Dec 2011

Daerra sat back in her carriage, trying to relax herself and banish her frustration. This meeting was surely her father's doing. As soon as the meeting was arranged, Daerra had one of her assistants gather any information they could on House Sortell. The results were not pleasing. The Sortells were a northern house, who up until now had avoided Luthadel and it's games. While their courier business was successful, and their lack of attachment to either Deveaux or Venture despite being based in the north was attractive, this was obviously a job for a member of the second tier. The Landells had been different. As a house close to making a bid for Luthadel with an unorthodox business proposition, she and her father's prescience had been necessary. With a simple meeting like this, a lesser Elariel would have surely sufficed.

Of course, Daerra hadn't realized to potency of the barb until her father had come to see her off. "I hear Wylden Sortell is a very proper young man. He suffered an injury lately which will likely prevent him from wooing women at balls, and he's even older than you. Be careful not to dismiss him to quickly," he had said, all while soothing away her self-reliance, confidence, and happiness. Not wanting to let her bitterness make a fool of her, Daerra had kept calm, wished her father a good day, and climbed into the carriage.

He was punishing her, she knew. Or perhaps it was a show of power, to show that even though their factions were supposedly aligned she was still in his power. It was exactly the sort of thing Andrew loved to do, and Daerra was angry she had not seen it coming the moment she found out Wyldin Sortell had slings around both his arms. It was the perfect insult. Marrying a man like Wyldin Sortell would severely lower her station and her father also managed to imply only a man forced to desperation by two wounded arms would take her.

All these thoughts had to go, of course. It wasn't House Sortell's fault, and a contract with them probably could be very beneficial for both houses. While their house wasn't the most powerful, their business was apparently thriving. Then there was the mystery of his injury. The official reason for it was a skaa attack, and witnesses had reported his carriage had indeed been damaged. However, in Luthadel things were rarely as they seemed. Nobles lived pampered lives and were often kept away from harm. Unless, of course, they were allomancers. Daerra hadn't found any reason to suspect the skaa attack was fabricated, but she saw the reason in sending a seeker to deal with Wyldin anyways.

Finally, she arrived at her destination. She waited as Jinzan climbed down from the driver's seat and opened the door for her, offering a parasol to protect her dress from the ash. It was black. Daerra was still trying to dress in mourning for Mikhail was often as possible. She didn't want to be stuck wearing black at the Elariel ball, but she also wanted to make sure her fledgling relationship with Claudia was not jeopardized, so she hoped to get the mourning for her cousin out of the way whenever she could. The black gown was trimmed with red on the neckline, waist, sleeves, and hem, and the fabric had a nice sheen that caught the light nicely. On her finger, she wore a white-gold ring with a large sapphire set among diamonds for contrast, and her earrings were ebony set with rubies.

Daerra got out of the carriage gracefully, and approached Wyldin with a confident stride, trusting in Jinzan to keep up to her with the parasol. He was seated with one leg crossed over the other in a confident pose despite his broken arms. From this and his face, she confirmed what her research had told her: this was a confident, practical man who would not let mere injuries stop him in his quest to succeed in Luthadel. Daerra wasn't sure what his father was like, but when Wyldin succeeded and became Lord of his house, she could tell he would be a valuable business partner.

When she approached, she gave a faint, dignified smile and a slight nod of respect. "Greetings, Lord Wyldin," she said, holding out her hand for him to kiss.

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 04 Dec 2011

Wyldin looked up as the young lady addressed him.

He rose, refusing help from his steward. He bowed at the waist, curteous as ever to a lady, especially to one from a Great House.

''Miss Elariel. A pleasure.''

He could not take her hand, but kissed it anyway. It was only proper, of course. He didn't want to offend a potential business partner.

Daerra Elariel, A very prominent member of House Elariel. She could see the use of him. But wished the job was given to someone other than herself. The subtle curl of the tips of the fingers, yet her eyes staying on him for a fraction, rather than looking straight away, as most noblewomen were wont to do.

She was still in mourning, it seemed. An interesting quirk. The dark clothing stood out compared to the women who could be seen strolling about the quarter. On the surface, she seemed different to the women he had met in court so far. Of course, time would tell as to whether she was anything more than the shallow waifs he had met so far, intent only on becoming the greatest 'catch' to move up the social ladder by marrying a rich lord.

''I presume you're here to discuss business arrangements?''

Wyldin saw no point in small talk. It only allowed the further playing of games, which, frankly, Wyldin had no time for. His broken arms were a constant irritation, and had left him short of temper. He masked it well, remaining confident in demeanour, yet businesslike, professional to the point of coldness.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 11 Dec 2011

Daerra mentally scolded herself. The man's arm's were in slings! How was he supposed to take her hand to kiss it? She suffered through his awkward manoeuvrings because she had no other choice, and resolved to be more aware of his handicap in the future. She also noticed the way in which his eyes studied her face and hands. His eyes had a keen glint to them, a sign of both intelligence and good observational skills. She would have to be careful with this one. The Sortells were couriers, and anyone who was successful in the information industry had to know secrets when they saw them. She would have to step up her game if she wanted to keep him fooled.

Calming herself, Daerra cleared her mind, focusing entirely on the emotions she should be feeling. She also took care to be aware of her tell points, aspects of her expression and posture that sometimes gave her problems and could potentially give her away. Wyldin's greeting had been cold. This was not unexpected, given the nature of their meeting, but if she was to make the most of this situation, Daerra wanted to be in the best possible position. Even the heir of a niche house like Sortell could be a valuable ally, and Daerra needed all the personal allies she could get, even more than Elariel needed political allies.

Daerra gracefully took a seat, staying completely aware of her body, and forcing every movement to look natural despite her state of affectation. With a gesture, she summoned JinJin into place at her side, sheltering her from the ash. Satisfied she was under control, Daerra shifted her act to the back of her mind, and let it run on auto pilot. Now that she had ironed out the wrinkles, it should run more smoothly if she payed less attention and let her instincts guide her.

Then, in the seconds left before she was expected to respond, Daerra quickly put together her answer. Wyldin was proving to be a straight forward man. Being professional and competent would gain his respect. She would refrain from trying anything else on him until she had more information.

"Yes. Before we get to far into negotiations, perhaps you could tell me a little more about your house. Our agents report your courier service is doing quite well, despite a few minor set backs." Daerra let her glance slip to his arms for an instant, confident that Wyldin would catch her and get her meaning. Then, she turned her gaze to the steet, watching for passers by. Sortell was new to Luthadel, and Elariel hadn't wanted to risk too much standing by arranging a formal meeting. Any passerby would hopefully think this was a social visit. Even so, Daerra had warned JinJin to keep watch for eavesdroppers.

"Perhaps, to begin, you could tell me what brings you to Luthadel."

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 15 Dec 2011

He was glad to see that he had thrown her slightly, struggling with his broken arms slightly more than required, but not overly so. He didn't want to seem an invalid, simply a strong man working over his problems.

Her posture changed, her body language becoming less obvious. The corner of his mouth twitched up for a tiny moment. She was a sharp woman. He had underestimated her, and been to overt. He wouldn't mistake that again.

As per usual, they asked about his house, and their activities. It was natural, Sortell was one of many houses that dealt in the movement of items. Sortell stood out, however, it was a premier service, only for those with incredibly important, valuable items. It was confidential, discreet and, most importantly, safe.

''A courier service sounds so pedestrian. It's a better term than my father uses. He says we 'trade in secrets'. Twaddle, naturally. I prefer the happy middle ground. We transport sensitive items. Anything you would not wish risked over great distances, we transport. It seems odd to trust such delicate matters to another house, but, as I'm sure you've heard, we of Sortell have always been trustworthy. It's business, not politics.''

Wyldin continued to watch the street, rather than turn toward Daerra. He would rather not cause himself more pain. It kept him alert, on watch for anything suspicious. Luthadel was a hotbed of political intrigue.

''Business. We have earned a handsome amount of money in the Northern Dominance. We need to expand, or we'll stagnate. And the capital is the best place to establish a new business. The richest and most powerful houses reside here. Where better than the seat of wealth?''

Wyldin turned toward her for the last moment of his answer. She sat still, giving away nothing from her body language. Good. It had been a long time before he had found it difficult to read a person.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 16 Dec 2011

Daerra caught Wyldin glancing out at the street more than once. Was he concerned he was being watched as well? Or perhaps just jumpy after his recent attack by skaa? House Sortell would not have been the first lesser house to come to Luthadel in the hopes of finding protection from more powerful enemies. Perhaps there was more going on here than what met the eye. There's always something more going on, she corrected herself.

When she spoke next, she added a slight playfulness to her tone. She had to be careful not add too much and risk losing her professional demeanor. At the same time, she wanted to lighten the mood to lessen the risk of offending Sortell. Wyldin had to know who he was dealing with, and that meant she couldn't soften her words. Her tone would have to do.

"My apologies Lord Wyldin, but I'm afraid you are incorrect," she said with a slight smile touching her lips. "If you are going to make it in Luthadel, you should know that business and politics are irreversibly intertwined, especially where the Great Houses are concerned."

Daerra hadn't noticed much in Wyldin's body language she could use, other than his alert readiness as he observed the street. Since she had little else to work with, she decided to try playing off his paranoia. "Take our meeting for example. Serious business transactions are not often discussed on a park bench are they? And yet, here we are, quite possibly discussing the future of your house. Were we strictly talking business, there would be no problem in inviting you to sup with me at one of our allies' venues, or Keep Elariel itself. However, as things stand, such a statement would not go unnoticed by the other great houses. My uncle understandably does not want to make any noticeable moves until he is certain the benefits will outweigh the risks. He is a very cautious man, my uncle."

Daerra swept her hand out. Too any passerby, it would look like she was remarking on the nice weather, or the scene in front of them. "Look at them," she said. "Workers, pages, minor nobility. Who knows who among them is watching us right now? Wondering who is that injured man speaking with Daerra Elariel? I hope you were not too attached to you anonymity, for by getting involved with the Great Houses is sure to get House Sortell all kinds of attention."

"You are correct, of course, in identifying the benefits in moving to Luthadel. The capital is the seat of wealth for the entire empire. I wonder, however, if House Sortell is prepared to deal with the increased risk and higher stakes associated with such riches. My house is powerful, but for a reason. We do not commit to agreements with parties who cannot last in Luthadel." Unless, she thought to herself, betraying no hint of what she was truly feeling, We plan for it, and lie in wait, ready to subsume their wealth and contracts the moment they waver. Daerra wondered which House Sortell would be, a valuable ally, or a lucrative victim.

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 17 Dec 2011

Wyldin did not smile, adopting the bearing of the newcomer. Arrogant, still playing to the rules of his previous place of business.

''I should have expected things to be different here. I should have learned from my experiences.''

And then the belittling. Not overt of course, simply inflections and body language, minuscule changes as she spoke. Tiny things, Wyldin couldn't be sure, but his previous experience with noblewomen coloured his conclusion. He observed the passers by, easily picking out those who lingered, or hurried by too quickly. Dearra was right about observers. Luthadel was the crucible of the Empire's power. Everyone was out to end up on top. He would get attention for this. And all attention could be used to the benefit of House Sortell. They were still an unknown, a major risk. Wyldin wanted to change that. His father would have called him a firebrand for going straight to a major house. But Wyldin's father wasn't here. Hawksworth had left Wyldin to take care of affairs here in the central dominance. So far he had almost closed a contract with house Valoren, and already he was making his name known with a great house. No matter the result, Wyldin had what he wanted.

''Naturally, the interplay of politics and business would seem daunting. However, our enterprise will thrive on such differences between houses. We deal with sensitive items. Things houses don't want other houses knowing about. With all the cut-throat politics overshadowing every move, my houses business becomes an attractive, and, I dare say, lucrative idea. I know that House Elariel is tentative to take new moves. It is one of the reasons I approached you first of all the Great Houses. You have some lucrative alliances. With the publicity you give, House Sortell may be able to work its way up the ladder.''

Again, an impression of hubris, making himself seem arrogant. He winced slightly, his arms paining him again, shattering the illusion. He recovered quickly, silently cursing. Damn the Skaa. That thieving crew had held him back for too long.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 18 Dec 2011

Pride in his house, thought Daerra, as she listed the things she noticed about Wyldin. It would seem she had offended him a little. He knew his station in society. Though House Sortell was successful among the minor houses, it would never rise to the rank of Great House. Did he resent her for holding a privilege he could never attain? Could she use this to her advantage?

Wyldan was the house heir, thus any relationship built with him would be vital for the future of his house. How much could Elariel get out of him if she promised him a chance to take House Sortell in a new direction once he inherited? With it's multitude of contracts, Elariel was the perfect partner to help Sortell expand beyond its single business niche house enterprise, and give them a chance of advancing up the social ladder. The question was if this was something Wyldin would desire or not. One question among many that Daerra would have to discern before she made her move.

"It seems to me then, that your house has a problem," said Daerra carefully. She wanted to be as delicate as possible. Wyldin's frustration was a good thing, as it was an emotion she could use to her advantage later, but if she offended him too much she might lose her chance to influence him in the future. "The complex political situation in Luthadel provides a demand for your business, and you need to supply that demand in order to expand your enterprise."

Daerra leaned in, ever so slightly, creating a more conspiratorial posture. When Wyldin winced in pain, she let compassion color her face. Yes, that was it. If he mistook it for pity, that would give him more desire to rise above it, making him want what she offered even more. "But," she said softly, "By coming to Luthadel and trying to gain the Great House contracts you need, you involve yourself in the political situation you hope to exploit. What happens when one of your allies is beset with enemies, and one of those enemies gives you documents that could be very dangerous for your ally if they fall into the wrong hands. Do you deliver the package and save the integrity of your business, or do you turn it over in the hopes of advancing your house's interests in Luthadel?"

Daerra leaned back, and pushed back a stray strand of hair that she had knocked loose earlier exactly for this purpose. Wyldin would need time to think and digest what she had said. "You can see," she said in a more business like tone, "How this would be a concern of any Great House you would deal with. As you make alliances, other houses will fear to use your business just in case you sell their secrets. Meanwhile, the houses you ally with will want some measure of assurance that their new partner will not be used against them."

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 08 Jan 2012

The problem was an obvious one, one that Wyldin had occurred, but, naturally scaled down, in the Northern dominance. There had only been one way to deal with such a problem. It was natural that in the charged environment of Luthadel would breed such suspicion. A tiny upward curl of one lip, a hint of condescension. One of the first thing that Hawksworth had ensured was total security.

''That worry presumes that the couriers know the content of the packages they are carrying.''

Wyldin held out his hand, and his steward gave him a cylinder, seemingly made up of wheels, rendered in black stone with white stone caps.

''This is one version of our high-security measures. Only the right combination, set by myself as overseer, can open the device. Any tampering breaks a vial of acid, destroying the contents. I don't enjoy talking about our methods, but it seems to be the only way to win you over.''

A hint of desperation. Appeal to the arrogance of the Great House. He needed them. Needed their benevolence to give them contracts, so they could survive.

''The devices are variations, all similar, however, obviously, differing in regards to the package. Our couriers work in teams, bluffs and redundancies. Each group has a replica of this, and part of the phrase to open the device. As each team gets to the rendezvous or dead drop, they combine their knowledge, and...''

Wyldin twisted the wheels, and the cap came off of the cylinder.

''Your documents.''

Naturally, the system was more complex and watertight than Wyldin's simple explanation. That much would be obvious even to the most dense observer. Methods couldn't be given away. A house couldn't survive if it gave away secrets so huge as their modus operandi. There would, naturally, be four or five teams out on the delivery, but only three were needed for the pass-phrase. Any less reduced security, any more made it obvious at the delivery point.

''This guarantees the courier, and any of the house members will not know the contents of their quarry. If they do not know, nothing like house loyalties will get in the way. It's a system that's been working for my house for years.''

He paused for a second.

''Some houses prefer to give the recipient the pass phrase, but sometimes that's not viable, for example, on the first delivery to a new recipient.''

It wasn't the full information, but enough to give an overview of the process. Enough to allay any fears about double-crossing.


Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 09 Jan 2012

Daerra nodded thoughtfully. House Sortell's security measures seemed to be even more impressive than her sources had indicated. It would seem that Wyldan had encountered the problem Daerra had posed to him before. It made sense, in House Sortells business it would be necessary to use such elaborate measures to assure paranoid noblemen their parcels would be safe.

His answer also left Daerra with a problem. Either he didn't grasp the full extent of the position a business like his put him in personally (which Daerra highly doubted given his obvious intelligence and powers of observation), or he was avoiding talking about it. If the latter were the case, Daerra had her work cut out for her. While the Sortell business itself would be valuable to House Elariel, Wyldan Sortell could be even more valuable, perhaps even to her personally. She would have to be careful if she wanted to get what she wanted. Forcing the issue too soon could scare him and his business off entirely. Daerra would have to take a more round-about route if she wanted to achieve her objective.

"Impressive," she said, taking care to keep her tone and voice perfectly neutral. By explaining his methods, he had given her a slight advantage. It was one she did not intend to relinquish lightly without due cause.

Daerra took a moment to study the container in Wyldan's hands, but made no movement to take it from him. "Let me see if I have this straight then," she said carefully, looking up to meet his eyes. "In order to open one of these containers upon delivery, all parts of the pass code are needed, correct? What happens if one of your couriers were to meet an unfortunate end, hmmm? Then whatever was locked inside your fancy container could be lost forever."

Daerra tilted her head slightly to the side, making her study of Wyldan obvious. She shifted her neutral expression into one of thought, as she pretended to work through the problem. "But of course, the person who set the lock would also know the combination, and I believe you said that duty belonged to you, didn't you?"

Daerra leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, letting a playful smile spread across her lips. Using her mental 'as if' trick, she added a slight glimmer to her eye. She had to show him at least a hint of interest to avoid scaring him off. "You've convinced me of the soundness of your methods, Lord Wyldan. It's obvious with the amount of thought you have put into your system that the messages you transport are completely safe from the couriers who deliver them, and whoever might be trying to persuade them to forsake their duty. However, you have yet to inform me how you intend to keep House Elariel's valuable secrets safe from yourself."

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 02 Feb 2012

There was always a flaw in every business. Something that could be exploited. Lady Elariel had struck right to that central facet. That one aspect that couldn't be altered. Hawksworth had tried many methods to eliminate that single flaw in the system. But someone would have to know. It was the only way.

''You are indeed correct, madam. Someone has to know the code. And it should be the one with the most to lose. I betray a contract, and I am at least losing a business. At worst, I die. There is always an aspect of trust in a business arrangement. Ours is in regards to having one individual knowing how to access your sensetive information. Trust an individual who would lose more in giving up that information than keeping it to themselves.''

Big houses had to appear to be in control. They would do nothing unless they had the upper hand in any deal. It was not a perfect system, but it was the way the world worked. At times, the system could not be bucked or played. Some rules were like titanium. Strong and unyielding, yet would break if stressed.

Daerra Elariel was a sharp mind. A rare, appreciated thing in the social quagmire of noblemans court. Most of his fellow nobles could barely keep up to his wit. Balls had become bland and listless. For once someone to actually converse with.

''As you have identified, only I know the combination. Business is often a gamble. And relative to the rewards you can reap from our services, this gamble is negligable in the grand scheme.''

He remained calm, smiling slightly, for he was pleased. Not desperate. He believed what he had said. He hoped Daerra Elariel belived so as well, as the gamble truly was a tiny, infentissimal blemish on the visage of Sortell operations.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 03 Feb 2012

Trust an individual who would lose more in giving up that information than keeping it to themselves. There it was, her opening. The question was whether or not the time was right to take it. Wyldin seemed like an honorable man. Would he take offense at her suggestion? On the other hand, if she waited would she get another chance?

I've exposed a flaw in his family's business. First I need to put him at ease. "You give an interesting presentation of an effective business model, Lord Wyldin. I have to say, I'm impressed, both with your trade and with you." Daerra leaned back, making an obvious study of Wyldin and his container.

"From your answer, I trust you understand the importance of making a good impression, not just of your business, but of yourself. You could have a flawless track record and a perfect method, but all would be worthless if you proved untrustworthy."

Placing her hands demurely in her lap, Daerra straightened her posture, staring directly into Wyldin's eyes, doing her best to take in every reaction. "I think it's safe to say that my house would be interested in a contract with a house like yours, Lord Wyldin. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. However, my uncle is a cautious man, especially when taking risks with such sensitive material. Let's say he will be satisfied when I tell him what you've explained to me, and the only thing holding him back from agreeing to a contract is you. How would you go about earning the trust of my house?" Your move, Lord Wyldin. Let's see how far you are willing to go to advance in Luthadel.

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 10 Feb 2012

''You would not be a Great House if you were not cautious, madam.'' Wyldin nodded, smile still affixed to his face, letting nothing show. It would not be shrewd at this cucial moment. Some of the lesser members of the house had lost contracts in this very moment.

Great houses always wanted more. He had given up as much as he wanted to, exposed far too many vulnerabilities that could be used later. Now he would have to convince her without giving away any more.

''Many potential clients ask for a demonstration of our work to convince them of the skill and professionalism of my house's services. Perhaps a successful test run would allay your Uncle's fears?''

Admittedly, such displays had soothed the worries of the houses in the Northern Dominance, smaller houses that couldn't afford the luxury of Luthadel. Free trials, however, were always welcomed. There was no better way to judge a racehorse than to see it run.

It was a great method to sell his services to the more skeptical houses. It was a negligable cost to both parties involved, and Sortell almost always gained a contract out of the demonstration.

''Naturally, the demonstration would be at no cost to your house. A demonstration allows you to see my house in action, as it were.''

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 10 Feb 2012

Is he dodging me again? Or is he missing my point? It was a difficult distinction to make. Wyldin was in business mode, locked into a demeanor of bland professionalism. Every gesture or facial expression that could be construed as detrimental to securing a contract had been eliminated. It made him very difficult to read, which left Daerra with a problem. If he was dodging her, forcing the issue could offend him. However, if he was missing her point, then not going further would mean never getting what she wanted out of him.

Daerra paused, taking time that Wyldin would assume she was using to consider his offer, to study the man himself, and go over what she knew of him. He was about her age, just beginning to come into adult-hood proper and be his own person. A few years of experience and trial had wiped away the hesitancy and self-consciousness found in those fresh out of adolescence. His wants were likely similar to Daerra's own, at their core. Once, he had likely had to prove his competency to those who doubted him because of his age. At the age of twenty-four, any man as competent as Wyldin obviously was would have left that tired stage behind by now.

Like Daerra, he was done proving himself, and was ready for true personal success. A younger man would have been more desperate to succeed, but Daerra could see that Wyldin would not hesitate to walk away if she pushed him too far. At the same time, he would not be overcome by caution like an older man. If she proposed a risk in the right way, showing him the advantages, he would not be afraid to take it. Or so she hoped.

"I'm sure my uncle would appreciate a trial run. He is a cautious man, after all. However, I think you might be mistaking me, Lord Wyldin. You've already convinced me of the soundness of your methods, and doubtless a similar demonstration, combined with a trial run, will suffice to convince my uncle." Daerra paused again, letting him wallow in her scrutiny.

He's confident in the competency of his business, and in himself. He's an heir, seeking to improve the house he will one day inherit. He's not just after another contract, otherwise he wouldn't have come to Luthadel. "What I am asking, is how you, personally, will earn Lord Elariel's trust, and mine. I'm sure you have dozens of lesser houses who are desperate to keep their dirty little secrets hidden. I assumed that, in coming to Luthadel, you were looking for more than just another contract. You're obviously a very talented businessman, Lord Wyldin, and I can see that you know it. With the right friends, those talents could take you very far here."

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 01 Mar 2012

((SOrry this is late, I have quite hectic workloads))

Wyldin smiled again.

''I'm afraid one of my flaws is that I define myself too much by my business. To much passion, my father calls it. I have always seen a solid business as a sign of one worthy of trust. But I suppose that such an idea would not be good enough for your Uncle, a man who wishes to judge character rather than business acumen.''

He chuckled.

''Too much pride in my business, I'm afraid.''

The tone was polite and warm, and Wyldin's eyes displayed nothing but contentment. All his body language pointed towards no negativity from the young lord. Inwardly, he chastised himself. In the outer dominances, simply being good at business was enough for trust. But here, in the Central Dominance, in Luthadel, business was not all that was needed. He had known that, and yet he had slipped back into his style from before. He had only been in Luthadel a couple of months. He needed to remember where he was.

''However, there are certain aspects in the running of my houses affairs that show trustworthy aspects. As has been shown during our meeting, my business relies on secrets. If I were untrostworthy, would we have succeeded? I have worked as a courier in training for my role, and worked with my father in helping the planning phase of transportation. I have experienced all aspects of my trade before taking on my role as heir and head of the central branch. You have undoubtedly been observing me for some time before this meeting.''

He paused. Friends would be useful in Luthadel. Relations with house Valoren and the heir Kaled were already improving thanks to the contract and the friendship formed over a chessboard. But a major house. That would yield useful results.

''You are of course right about more than simple contracts. In order for Sortell to survive, we will need friends and allies. I have made moderate successes so far, but, as you have so accurately observed, they are with lesser houses. If I were still a youth wishing to prove myself, I would rush off to show my trustowrthiness to you through some extarvagent display. However, I'm past trying that, and I'm sure both you and your Uncle are past caring about such displays.''

He adopted a pose of contemplation.

''No, to win the trust of a great house would require something suitably... refined. I would ask you to accompany me to a ball, but such an elligable lady in such a high position would not do well to be seen with an unknown like myself.''

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 13 Mar 2012

Daerra froze up for a moment, before quickly returning her posture to normal, mentally chastising herself for allowing herself to be surprised. The momentary changes in posture and facial expression had been minute, however she was sure they had been glaringly obvious to an observant man like Wyldin. That was unexpected... Was Wyldin in cahoots with her father, hoping to shame her or throw her off balance? She wouldn't put it past her father to go to such lengths to teach her a lesson, show her her proper place, or give her a hint. [i] A Sortell contract could be incredibly valuable, and Daerra didn't think her father would jeopardize it with such a petty display of power, unless he had already secured some sort of arrangement with the family, and Wyldin was now doing Andrew a personal favor to Andrew by participating in this farce.

Daerra found herself unsure of how to proceed. If this was some sort of joke at Daerra's expense, every moment she spent her would make her seem more like a fool. However, if Wyldin was being genuine, she couldn't risk storming off now and losing a valuable potential ally. She couldn't accept his invitation of course. Daerra was far above his station, and to do so would damage her reputation, and make Elariel seem desperate. Besides, her sources indicated her father was arranging a date with one of the prominent Ventures in the hopes of reconciling the differences between their houses. Of course, Andrew had made no move to inform her of any of his plans. Even though they were supposedly allied right now, he still liked to take every opportunity to keep her in the dark.

The key, she decided, was to look at what she knew of Wyldin the man. Was he the sort to engage in such a farce? He didn't seem like the type, but many gentlemen hid darker sides beneath their polite courtesies and manners. After a moment of consideration, Daerra decided to go with her gut, basing her decision on what she had managed to judge of Wyldin's character over the course of their conversation. He had not given her any indication that he was anything but earnest and professional. Despite his business savvy, however, he seemed mildly uncomfortably socially. He acquitted himself well, but his mannerisms were stiff and formal, well controlled and calculated, rather than natural and genuine. While that might make him an easy target for Andrew's manipulations, Wyldin seemed to be highly intelligent, and not likely prone to theunprofessional acts of social cruelty that her father was so fond of.

"I'm flattered, Lord Wyldin, but I'm afraid I cannot accept your invitation. I must offer my apologies if I have misled you in this matter, as I was approaching this meeting from a purely economic and political perspective. The Elariel ball is of great importance to my house, and because of that a high ranking member of the family like myself cannot afford to attend with someone so far below her station. I don't mean to offend you, but that is the reality of the situation. However, if you wish to improve relations between our houses, I may be able to arrange for you to escort a less prominent member of our family."

Wyldin Sortell's Photo Wyldin Sortell 04 Dec 2012

Wyldin noted the shock, minute though it was. A smile ghosted across his face as he took joy in it. Once, it may have offended him, such shock and horror at a major house member being seen with his like. But now, he saw it as the tool it was, another way to test the water, sraw out what you truly wished in all.

And there it was.

Wyldin smiled. He seemed to ignore the slight on his name by bringing up station. He knew his place. In the pool of noble society, he was a minnow. He knew that. He would have to begin small.

Small, like a minor member of a major house.

''I would be honoured to escort even a minor Elariel to such an exclusive event as an Elariel ball. I'm sure that when there, I can show off my skills as a trustworthy business partner.''

He remained unmoving, seeming to exude calm confidence in his actions.

But then, a single thought came to him. Social interaction. Proper social interaction. He had never enjoyed it. It would not be on home turf, so to speak. He would be willingly entering the Elariel stronghold. It would be a tough battle in there, many astute observers like himself. All of them in for themselves.

It seems the pool had grown somewhat. He liked a challenge. His steward showed him a pocketwatch. He nodded, thanking his manservant.

''It seems we have all the details we can gain here, but we have done so earlier than I would have liked. I would be interested to know a little about one of my future possible business partners. You may need secrets entrusting to my house at some time or another. I'm sure there's some small tidbit of you're life you're willing to give up in the name of social interaction?''

Behind all the façade, he geniunely wanted to know. Daerra seemed like someone he could have a cordial relationship with. Nothing as improper as love, but a friendliness that could be enjoyable a few months down the line.

Daerra Elariel's Photo Daerra Elariel 06 Dec 2012

Daerra smiled, thankful that the awkward situation had been successfully side-stepped. It would seem Wyldin wasn't working with her father. For all she knew, securing an Elariel to escort to the ball had been his aim all along, and he had asked her knowing it was impossible in the hopes that he would be given a more realistic but still desirable date in compensation. It was a daring move, but well worth it if things payed off for him. Now it would just be up to Daerra if it would or not. Part of her wished her cousin Vivian was closer to Wyldin's rank. Her cousin had managed to become quite the nuisance since her return. It would have amused Daerra to see Vivian accompanied to her first ball in two years by a man with two injured arms. Unfortunately, Vivian, while annoying, was still first tier, barely a step below Daerra in rank. Should she choose to find Wyldin a date from among her family, a lesser cousin would need to be found.

Daerra put the thought aside, along with the possible lower ranked allies she could reward or higher ranked enemies she could insult by matching them with Wyldin and returned her focus to the exchange before her thoughts could begin to bleed across to her face.

"Tidbits, Lord Wyldin?" she asked without missing a beat. Her tone was amused at light. A lighter mood was welcome after the awkwardness of his invitation. She had not forgotten her original goal in speaking with Winston, or the wealth of secrets his house could secure for hers, but for now, she would let the matter drop. If Winston had caught on to what she was hinting at, he obviously wasn't interested, having answered her challenge with by offering a show of character rather than a show of faith. Indulging him would give her time to plan a new strategy.

"I don't know how you can expect a young woman to share her secrets with a man she barely knows, Lord Wyldin," she teased. Yes, a playful tone was what was needed now. If she could put him at ease and get him talking, perhaps she would get another chance to breach the matter she had come here to discuss. "Though, I suppose you seem to be of good character. I have a policy against putting my trust in strange men, but perhaps, if you were able to make yourself less strange to me, I would be willing to make an exception. Tell me something of yourself, so I can decide for myself whether or not you are the sort I would like to share my 'tidbits' with." A game of secret for secret might be just what Daerra needed. She hoped Lord Wyldin would take the bait, and that he knew how to play.