Title: The Lay of the Land
Description: [tag: Feroza]
Elaya Rasthani - May 10, 2011 09:55 PM (GMT)
The Lady Rasthani was in a good mood. She'd recently finished settling herself into her new abode and was now free to pursue her ambitions, the very things that had brought her here to the capital in the first place, with her full attention. To this end, she'd begun the tedious task of cobbling together a spy network some days ago but that work was nearing an end. All that remained was for her to secure another pair of eyes and ears within the palace itself - one could never have too many spies after all - and Elle hoped to attend to this last minor detail within the morning. It was why she was in the former banquet hall.
An invitation had been extended to one of the queen's handmaidens to meet with her here, away from the castle gossips. There was no need to cause unnecessary hysteria after all. Elaya was not looking to undermine the queen; she simply wished to be up-to-date on the monarch's whims. Thus, one of her more reliable sources had directed her towards this particular woman, said to be observant and ambitious. Most importantly, however, she was constantly within the queen's immediate surroundings, something her other spies could not boast.
All in all, Elle was excited, if only because she'd finally get to make use of her newly refurbished room. Gone were the long tables and countless chairs that had inhabited the space. In their stead now stood a single, round oak table, directly in the middle of the massive space. Two solitary chairs waited alongside it for her and her guest. Other than these, the entire chamber had been stripped bare, down to the white marble walls. Exactly as she had requested.
It marked a stark contrast with the remainder of her lavishly decorated home and purposefully so. Elaya wanted anyone entering this particular room to feel at ease. With all the former adornments gone, there was not a single nook or cranny to conceal a would-be spy. And due to the room's enormous size, anything spoken between herself and her guest at its center could hardly reach the wandering ears of her servants outside.
The noble smiled.
She was quickly interrupted by one of her maids entering to announce that her appointment had arrived. Elle thanked the girl, then quickly dismissed her as she straightened her skirts and patted down her hair in anticipation of the meeting.
"Greetings," the Lady Rasthani began, upon hearing the doors open once more. She prepared a smile for her prospective employee.
Feroza Panahi - May 11, 2011 07:07 PM (GMT)
At least one of the benefits of the Queen's ascension to reigning monarch of the islands was that it allowed her personal attendants more time away. Business wasn't for the eyes and ears of lowly servants; any time the members of court wanted to meet with Her Majesty was a period that Feroza was free to do as she pleased. While other maids would have taken to some domestic chore or been content to laze around in the servants' dining hall, she had her own appointments to make.
No one batted so much as an eyelash at her departure from the Castle that day; she wasn't worth enough to require escort, and had worked in the keep for so long -- nearly two solid decades -- that her coming and going was nothing to note. Still, Feroza carried an empty basket with her, perhaps with the intent of shopping in the market, as far as anyone knew. It was handed off to the maid at the door of the noblewoman's house, along with the grey shawl she'd worn over her head since leaving the sight of the Castle walls.
"Good day, m'lady," replied Feroza as she stepped inside the open chamber, bending a knee and bowing in a curtsy. It didn't take very long to look over the stark room, as was likely intended. This Lady Rasthani wasn't new to the game, or if she was, she'd had good counsel on how to play it. She went no further until instructed; guest in this house or not, she wasn't going to take the risk of letting her humble appearance down just yet.
Elaya Rasthani - May 14, 2011 03:28 AM (GMT)
Elle allowed her smile to widen as she extended her left hand towards the chairs at her side and slightly behind. All the while, her gaze continued to assess the woman before her.
"Please," the noble began, gesturing for her guest to rise. "Call me Elaya. If we are to enter into a partnership, then there must be a certain amount of trust between us. I find that this is easier to achieve if I view my partners as equals."
She let the statement settle, taking the chair closest by her in the meantime. It was a move guided by experience. A great many of those she did this sort of business with often seemed unable to grasp a noble treating them as an equal, most likely because they believed that she was doing so out of the goodness of her heart. An advantageous misconception. In actuality, however, her actions were guided by practicality. Through the years, from watching the difference in the reactions the servants displayed towards her overbearing father, as opposed to her more accommodating mother, Elle knew the latter approach to be much more advantageous in the end. The help begrudged her father his requests whereas they were more than happy to volunteer their time for her mother. Thus, in her mind, a bit of kindness was but a small price to pay for loyalty. Else, she could wind up with someone like this woman on her hands, a spy in her household.
"Would you like something to eat or drink during our discussion?" Elle finally chimed, "Lara should be in momentarily to take requests -- Feroza, is it?"
Her tone was sweet, but not terribly so. She was more concerned with projecting a sense of calm, of power. From what little she'd seen of the woman so far, Elaya knew that she appeared to be quite observant. The cursory glance about the room had not gone unnoticed. Definitely a good trait in a spy. And so, this little meeting would continue.
Feroza Panahi - May 14, 2011 05:10 AM (GMT)
An equal? Feroza avoided laughing aloud, though she smiled warmly. It concealed the smirk she would've otherwise worn. Did she think she was talking to a child, a simpleton? Nevermind that both held Citizenship; class, wealth and opportunity still laid between them as the sea between this country and her homeland. No, they would never be equal, no matter how one was treated by the other, or how kindly their words exchanged.
Nevertheless, she dipped her head and took the empty seat courteously. "As you say, Elaya." Feroza smoothed her skirt around her, not quite settling back into the chair. She couldn't afford to get comfortable in a stranger's domain.
She nodded in affirmation, voice equally sweet without dripping, "Yes. Feroza. Though, you may call me what pleases you." As docile and submissive as her words seemed, it was at the same time a disobedience to what had been suggested a moment earlier. I am not fooled. We aren't equal. Not for a second. The door opened as the Lady said it would, and in came the serving girl, awaiting order.
"Water will suffice, thank you," she said graciously. Meetings like this rarely allowed her an appetite, and while she didn't suspect Lady Rasthani to poison her on first meeting, she didn't take chances with beverages she couldn't see clearly. Feroza folded her hands neatly in her lap, quiet until the maid had left them alone again. The empty room echoed back the sound of the door shutting tight.
To business, then. "I was informed that you have an interest in my services. You are, of course, aware that my duty is bound to Her Majesty, though." She waited for a response before pressing further; every contract negotiation had to come with some sort of disclaimer, after all.
Elaya Rasthani - May 14, 2011 05:45 AM (GMT)
After receiving Feroza's order, her servant set off immediately, with but the smallest of nods in Elle's direction. It was the regular etiquette in her household as the Lady Rasthani found this much more efficient than demanding lip service from the staff. Yet another bonus of the kindness first policy she'd adopted.
Then, once they were alone again, Elaya was met with the customary line from those seeking this type of work. She gave a nod instead of rolling her eyes as she'd wanted.
The woman's reaction was not unexpected. Nor was it imprudent. But if this interview had truly been a trap set by the queen, Elle doubted that such a paltry disclaimer would serve to quench the monarch's ire. Nonetheless, wariness was not a trait that she disproved of. In fact, this Feroza's show of it only heightened her value as a spy, for if the woman went about all her business in this way, she wasn't likely to be caught.
"I only seek to be informed of the queen's dealings to strengthen my own position, not to weaken hers. After all, it suits my purposes just fine that a woman is on the throne; undermining her would be counterproductive."
It was the truth. Most importantly, however, the logic was sound. And it covered her from possible charges of treason in the event that this maid had been sent to ensnare her.
Feroza Panahi - May 14, 2011 06:59 AM (GMT)
Her duty was to the Queen. That didn't mean her loyalty and all of her secrets belonged to the monarch as well, regardless of how long she'd lived in her service. To Feroza's knowledge, Astraea had no awareness nor interest in her meeting with a Baron's daughter, albeit one with ambition. A new piece on the board always aroused some intrigue in the court, but Elaya had yet to achieve anything worth making some sort of move for or against.
She didn't say so, though. No use undermining the Queen herself, either. If people wanted to think her simply a pawn in the nobles' game, that was their folly to live with. It was a benefit to have the Queen as her shield. They usually mistook her for a messenger dove.
"I cannot speak for our Queen, but I'm certain knowing she has gained an ally in the city would bring her some relief. Woman to woman, these aren't easy times to be educated, and powerful." It was a truthful statement. And while Her Majesty didn't know what was going on now, she would be told of it later. The useful bits, anyway. Feroza had no true obligation to disclose it, other than that it was only fair price for a long leash.
"Now, assured as I am that you bear no ill will toward my mistress, to what ends would you mean to use this information? That is, if you don't mind divulging. Again, I make no promises on her behalf, but she may support you directly if your goals are truly in line." She was obviously fishing for more information before making any of her own commitments. It was worth seeing how much she could catch, regardless of the fact that a blind man could see what she was doing.
Elaya Rasthani - May 14, 2011 08:08 AM (GMT)
Elaya considered the proposal. It wasn't that she was above throwing the woman a fish or two for her net, more that she was reluctant to shed her cloak of anonymity before her plans were fully prepared. Any fool could have staged a grand entrance into the capital and strongarmed their way into court. But such an approach would have made the locals defensive. They'd spent their whole lives sniveling after the royals after all. No, Elle had deliberately kept a low profile to ensure that she would remain an unknown entity, a non-threat -- for the time being. It was the reason why she'd not made a move up to this point.
Yet, the possibility of a direct line to the queen did have its own appeal. If this woman could actually manage it. The only question that remained was whether or not it was worth revealing her true capability or, at least, a part of it for. Once given up, such an advantage could not be recovered.
"They are," Elaya finally answered, her tone firm. "I simply seek to replace my father in his office as Trade Master. It is a position that I no doubt would have gained in time if I were not a woman, but my father is tethered to the old ways. I wish to know if the queen is the same."
Again, her words rang with truth. Not the full truth, but the truth nonetheless. And one which still would not hurt her should her potential spy be more than she seemed.
The noble smiled, even as there came a knock upon the door signaling Lara's return.
Feroza would get no more from her for the time being so she felt perfectly fine allowing the girl back into the chamber. They could continue their discussion after she left again.
Feroza Panahi - May 14, 2011 09:05 PM (GMT)
In Lara's arms was a tray, a large pitcher and two clear goblets atop its polished face. She balanced the weight on one arm, placing a cup in front of each woman, then taking blown glass vessel in her hand. "Your drink, milady," the girl said politely, beginning to tip the container, filled to the brim with chilled liquid.
Sitting up in her chair, Feroza held up a hand to stop her, "Oh, no. I'm no lady, sweet girl." The correction was important to make. Her gaze switched to Elaya for a second, seeking permission to give a command before adding, "If it's no worry to your mistress, I shall pour for myself, thank you." Serving herself wasn't merely a precaution. It was also a matter of pride.
There was some hesitation in the maid's reaction. She, too, looked over at the lady of the house, then bowed her head with a smile, "Yes. As you wish." Lara poured for her mistress, set the pitcher down between them, then gave her another one of those expectant, wordless looks before leaving again. It was a silent dismissal. Much could be read from how Lady Rasthani treated her lessers.
With the girl gone, Feroza filled her glass and took a slow sip. It was pleasantly cold, slightly sweet. "Ah. Quite refreshing." Thirst quenched and their discussion secure once more, she could address Elaya's concerns now. "Her Grace faces quite a lot of prejudice due to these 'old ways', of course. However, any significant upheaval of the present order of things could cause too much disruption and dissent. It's a difficult position to be placed in, as you must know."
In fact, as pretty as Feroza's speech was, she had yet to say anything new. That was the point, though; she wouldn't give anything solid without knowing where that information went. But she had to offer something to validate her use. "Where she may lie when it comes to policies of inheritance is...uncertain. Understandably, she wouldn't make any moves that could threaten her own control. Still, I can bring this matter to her attention, see how she responds to the possibility."
Feroza took another sip, then set the glass down, folding her hands on top of the table. She was still smiling placidly. "But that isn't why you need me. There are plenty of other mouths who can whisper into the Queen's ear. I think the real question at hand here is, why should I need you?"
Elaya Rasthani - May 16, 2011 04:07 AM (GMT)
The woman was bold, Elle had to give her that. This trait, however, she found herself much less fond of. And apparently, Lara shared the sentiment. The serving girl's eyes had given that much away when hidden from the outsider's notice. In the moment before she'd dismissed Lara, Elaya'd seen the annoyance in them. No doubt it was due to the stranger making her job harder.
As for Elle's own irritation...
"I don't need you," she corrected, tone calm and matter-of-fact. "As I explained before, my aspirations are hardly inflammatory. I only sought to employ a person such as yourself to ensure a smoother delivery."
The noble smiled, an understated affair.
"Remember, whispering into the queen's ear was your idea, not mine."
A momentary pause for effect.
"As for why you need me, well, I suppose it would be the money. After all, if you ever hope to lift yourself up out of your current station, you'd need plenty of it. But you know that. It's why you're here, isn't it?"
Feroza Panahi - May 16, 2011 04:49 AM (GMT)
Money. Yes, that was what a Trade Master's daughter would think a worthy price to pay. Feroza hid a smirk at the suggestion. The most valuable currency in these circles was knowledge, and she had access to the source worth the most. That didn't mean she wasn't always looking to gather more.
Truth be told, there wasn't any higher a place a woman of her birth and station could be than where she was at presently.
Feroza spoke Escovan without any trace of an accent, held all paper rights to Citizenship, yet there was slim chance that some Refugee-born peasant could make a better life than the one already possessed. A baseborn woman such as herself was unlikely to ever own enough lands to be respected, and as many Lords had asked her to their rooms before, none sought to make those arrangements permanent. She had no need of property to maintain, nor want of a husband or child to restrict her, anyway. The Castle was as much her home as the monarchs who laid claim to it, and Queen Astraea wasn't an overly demanding mistress.
Funny, the way the rich and privileged thought they understood the value of everything. Coin to pocket was just an added bonus.
Feroza bowed her head in concession, "Indeed, the offer was my gift to you, Elaya, for your generosity as a host. I shouldn't want to make my visit here a waste of your time." Demurely, she added, "Need was, perhaps, a strong choice of words. My apologies for any offense."
She gave her own pause there.
"However, you still wanted a close line to the Queen's thoughts and business, did you not?" the woman asked carefully. Need, want. It was all just wordplay. "Twelve years in her service, living in a chamber a few feet away from her personal quarters. You'll hardly find anyone who knows better than I. Though if you do, why, I'd pay good money to you for the name of that little bird," she said in jest, even if it was hardly a joke.
Elaya Rasthani - May 16, 2011 05:18 AM (GMT)
"Of course." The Lady Rasthani reached for her own goblet for the first time, taking a small sip before speaking again. "Your qualifications are more than adequate and I am still in want of such a person. As for the apology, it is unnecessary. I was not offended."
She stopped, raising the glass in her hand to her lips once more so that she might buy a bit of time for her thoughts. There was still something off about this one and Elle couldn't quite put her finger on it. Feroza over-exaggerated her role as a mere servant and yet, from the questions she'd posed, she clearly thought herself more than such. And she hadn't ask what the job would pay. Every other individual that Elle had interviewed had seized upon the opportunity to inquire once she'd brought up the issue of money. It was most peculiar.
Elaya set the glass down. She was ready for a bold question of her own.
"What is it that you hope to gain from this little endeavor?"
An invitation. The two of them could continue to talk circles around each other... Or they could start to be more forthcoming. Elle thought it only fair for the maid to take the next step given that she'd been the one volunteering the majority of the information so far.
Feroza Panahi - May 16, 2011 05:43 AM (GMT)
The Lady was catching on.
"Entertainment," Feroza answered flatly, not a hint of sarcasm or trace of a smile on her lips. Her hazel eyes were dark. She remained expressionless for only a moment, bringing her cup to her mouth, and setting it back down after a long drink.
The mask had returned, bright, pleasant and charming as ever. "That was a joke, a poor one, at that. No, m'lady," she said casually, the address almost said in mockery. "I only hope to gain more awareness of what goes on beyond the Castle walls. What use would I be if I confined my resources to scullery maids and stable boys, already in Her Grace's service? Us little people overhear a lot of things, but a rumor can be a far cry from reality. Your voice is stronger than others, of course." It was a mostly truthful reply.
Aloof, she gave a simple summation: "In the end, what benefits my mistress is what benefits me."
Elaya Rasthani - May 16, 2011 06:24 AM (GMT)
She'd given a polite smile at the so-called joke out of courtesy but little else. There were more important matters to consider. For instance, whether or not it had been a joke at all. Elle was not so sure that it was. The explanation helped to paint a much clearer picture of the woman after all. It seemed that she wished to play the nobles' games. And on behalf of the queen no less.
That last revelation set her thoughts racing about. Obviously, Feroza's uses were limited by the admission... but Elle's current plans were such that the maid could still be viable. As long as her interests lay with the queen's, then the woman would remain a valuable source of information.
"I accept the terms," Elaya finally stated, cutting right down to business. "If her majesty should deign to grant my request, then it would only be fair and, prudent, of me to help ensure her position." The words were missing a lot of her usual tact, but deliberately so. Elle wanted to make certain that there be no opportunity for confusion here.
"The location of my family's holdings make us alluring allies. I would not be averse to warning her majesty of those with less limited ambitions than my own."
Feroza Panahi - May 16, 2011 08:36 AM (GMT)
"As I said before, I grant no promises. I will bring your inquiry to Her Grace," Feroza reiterated, just for equal clarity on what her end of their bargain would be. "Whether she heeds the words of a servant, or not, is out of my power. But if she responds well to the idea, you'll receive word of it promptly. That I can assure. Consider it my first token of our negotiations."
"Regardless, I can still fulfill the role you summoned me for," she said, perching on the edge of her seat, while her fingers clasped together on the tabletop. "I'm quite willing to share what I've learned from the Queen, and perhaps others being hosted in her keep, in exchange for tidings from the coast."
Then, in that light tone, wavering between sarcasm and sincerity, she ventured to add, "Should you feel the need to offer me more compensation than that, I won't object, of course. But I wouldn't want you to think me greedy." Maybe she wasn't in want of wealth of her own, but she knew people who could use a spare silver every now and then. She had other patrons for that, though, if Lady Rasthani wasn't a generous tipper.
Elaya Rasthani - May 20, 2011 10:54 AM (GMT)
"Not at all." The words were surprisingly neutral. "I drew you here with the promise of payment. It's only fair that you receive proper compensation."
Elaya offered a half-hearted smile. She'd purposely ignored addressing the maid's reiteration. After all, her own statement hadn't been a reminder or plea to have her case heard. It'd merely been a statement of conditions. If the queen failed to supply those conditions, well, then the statement then simply ceased to be true. Elle highly doubted that a woman, sitting upon a foreign throne, would fail to arrive at the same conclusion and thus, was fairly confident that she'd be supplied with a stake in the woman's reign sometime in the near future. The queen would be a fool not to do so given that she was merely asking for her father's position. It would cost her nary a thing.
But then, not all royals were intelligent. And the current monarch had, of course, started life as a glorified concubine...
"Would you like to be paid in silver or copper?" That last stray thought infused undue mirth into the statement. "I'd be glad to accommodate either preference."
Feroza Panahi - May 20, 2011 05:46 PM (GMT)
"I don't anticipate any sort of pay until I've made up my end, first. But a donation of copper should do," she replied with a slight shrug. Whatever amusement Elaya had found in the suggestion was not lost on her, but it didn't bring any real reaction. They both knew she couldn't very well carry around a purse of silver, unless while accompanying the Queen. And only a fool would carry currency around in that quantity for spending, unless they had a specific payment to make. Feroza was hardly insulted.
"We have an agreement, then," said the handmaiden coolly, sitting up straight. Time to close the deal. "Do you have a servant you trust well enough to bring a sealed message to you? And vice versa. Would they be able to bring your word to me, or a representative of my own?"
Elaya Rasthani - May 24, 2011 03:02 AM (GMT)
"I do," she answered, tone equally casual. "I'll have him introduce himself to you before you leave. You can discuss any dealings regarding your representative with him as well."
Elaya stopped and reached for her glass again, picking it up to her lips to take a small sip before continuing.
"Your copper shall be ready by the time your discussions are complete."
The noble let it linger at that, providing opportunity for the maid to speak should she deem it necessary. If the woman had nothing further, then all that remained was for her to see Feroza to the door and pull on the chord that summoned the servants.
Feroza Panahi - May 24, 2011 06:26 AM (GMT)
"Give me three days' time and you'll have your answer. I'll speak with your man about when and where exactly," she confirmed, sliding her chair out from the table just slightly to indicate that she was ready to leave. There was little else to say at the moment, aside from the typical courtesies.
"Thank you for your time, and your hospitality, milady," Feroza said with a smile, rising to her feet. She repeated the curtsy she'd performed at the beginning of this meeting. "Though I'm afraid we may not see much of one another for some time, it was a pleasure making your acquaintance. I don't anticipate returning as a guest any time soon, but please give my gratitude to your servants. The water was excellent." There was a touch of sarcasm to that, though she was sincere in her appreciation of their efforts. After all, she knew the value of having good help quite well.
Elaya Rasthani - May 26, 2011 10:43 PM (GMT)
Elle rose shortly after her guest had, setting her glass back onto the table in the process. She bid her time afterward, nodding in reply as the woman continued to speak. Her mind registered the words but nothing really caught her interest -- at least, not enough to prompt a comment.
Only when she was sure that Feroza was done did Elaya deign to speak again. The subsequent statement was saturated with sweetness.
"Of course, I'll be sure to let them know." A smile. "Until next we meet."
The noble gestured towards the door, then began walking there herself, taking great care not to hurry herself. Upon reaching her destination, she pulled upon the silken chord set off to the left of them and simply waited for the mahogany panels to crack open.