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The Eye of the Storm


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Liselotte Wiltord had never been a joyous person, even before the whole incident. And altough she had received a positive reply from the Stormlands, her mood did not lighten up much, also given that it could not be expected that such a meeting alone would solve the matter at hand. Still, the Premier was relieved about the response letter. Given unlike Arnault-Delareux, the Premier was no military leader, Wiltord had left the front to Général Beausecours, somone of whom she knew that she'd be loyal to her person. Instead, Liselotte Wiltord had opted to conduct diplomacy on her own, incognito, while Florence de Pétèvellier was in charge of the official talks in Stormsend.

 

Having travelled under the name of Henriette Vermillon, the Premier prepared herself for the meeting with Rafael Sha'am, Lord Protector of the Stormlands. Mostly this preparation was mental, as the nature of the meeting did not really require a lot of paperwork, with Liselotte carrying mostly just a select few things in a simple leather handbag. With that and one small package the size of a cubic decimetre, she sighed for a moment, before making herself on the way to the Rook's Keep, not even a diplomatic smile on her face, given that the situation was more than serious.

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A relatively inconspicuous car would be provided for transit to the foothills, and indeed, outskirts of Stormsend, where the Rook's Keep was located. Scattered throughout the hills were the homes of important government officials for the most part, relatively modest haciendas or futuristic-looking houses that all afforded a well-appointed view of the Stormlands' capital. This district was well protected by elements of the internal security services, as well as appointed members of the armed forces with the professed mission of protecting the most important leaders that the Stormlands had. The Rooks Keep sat at the top of the drive, on a fairly high point of land that offered some of the best views of the surrounding area, and gated off from the rest of the community, but despite the relatively amazing view and security offered, the residence itself was relatively modest.

 

Boasting a relatively large porch area, the residence seemed to be small in size compared to most residences that hosted the heads of state, the view offered to the Lord Protector was spectacular however. The cool air of the foothills was starting to sink in more as evening was approaching, and the twinkling lights of the capital spread out below could be seen in the valley below, a sea of light, concrete and glass that practically lit up the night. The Quebecois leader would be led by a female aide, clad in a toga, who had met her at the car, down to the Lord Protector's residence, walking towards a stairway that would lead onto the balcony. Rounding a corner onto the main facade of the balcony, a fire contained in an outdoor fireplace was burning brightly, offering some warmth against the cool, heavy air.

 

When Liselotte Wiltord rounded the corner, she would also catch the eye of the only figure on the balcony, which was Rafael Sha'am, leaning against the balcony railing and looking out at the city. The aide would dismiss herself quietly, as Rafael turned to assess his Quebecois counterpart, bringing a fist up to his chest, and bowing his head slightly.

 

"Madame Wiltord, I presume?" he asked, in a low tone that matched the quiet evening air that surrounded both of them. "Its an honor to host you."

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The architecture, just like so many things seemed quite different to what Liselotte knew from Québec and all the other places she had seen up to now. The way a society constructed its buildings often showed how it constructs itself and its governance, she thought, as she looked at the residences that described a modest, yet elitist class, literally overseeing the rest of society that lived below them. Silently, Liselotte watched the passing scenery, keeping to herself and contemplating various matters.

 

The de facto leader of the Laurentine Union and one of the longest-serving politicians, Wiltord looked hardly the part. Despite the quite melancholic atmosphere that surrounded her, Liselotte Wiltord looked remarkable young, age estimates ranging from early twenties to around thirty, hardly ever exceeding thirty-two or thirty-three though. Her long hair and eyes shared the golden colour of ripe wheat, however, despite the slightly more saturated golden irises, the Premier's expression was mostly cold and distant. Altough she usually preferred darker colours, for the vist she had chosen a white dress, with an equally white wide-brimmed sun hat, allowing her to stay true to her rather colourless fashion, while being more adquately dressed for the tropical sun. Indeed, her nickname at home had been that of Madame monochrome, the bleak prime minister that was hardly approachable and seemingly could not stand colours. Her person soon vanished, overshadowed by the compassionate queen and the much more active and well-liked Maréchal Evangeline. Only the formers abdication and the latters demise had caused Liselotte Wiltord to resurface in politics.

 

As she finally arrived at Sha'am's place, the Rook's Keep, Liselotte silently walked up to the balcony respectfully nodding to the aide as she left and assuming a bit more friendly expression, as she was welcomed by the Lord Protector. With a careful smile, she would bow slightly in return and greet him. "Indeed, that would be me. Monsieur Sha'am, I believe?" Showing Liselotte's reservation, her voice would carry a quiet and soft tone. "I'm likewise honoured to have been received by you, despite the difficult times and your surely filled schedule. Please have this token of appreciation. It is not much, but it would be improper to impose on you empty-handed." Carefully, she would hand Sha'am the package, which contained a half-litre bottle of thick, amber-coloured maple syrup.

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Rafael would give the Liselotte a well-appointed look, the politician who was supposed to be the premiere minister of Quebec seemed to be quite young, and he wondered if this was at first a joke. He was used to most leaders being of middle-aged stock, a little unlike himself, being in his late twenties, he had risen to the top of the High Council as its leader due to his youthful energy that seemed to go along without end, and the ability to coordinate all the councilors together as one group. He was far from a veteran politician, but he could make up for that with a facade of youthful energy and confidence that could sometimes border on cockiness. Overall, it was his ability to unite the High Council and work tirelessly to ensure the nation's continued rise, if the price of such excellent qualities was his youthful borderline cockiness, and enduring his "work hard, play hard" attitude, it was worth it to the members of the High Council.

 

He accepted the packaged gift with a nod of the head, "I thank you for your gift, I appreciate it very much," he said, with a gentle tone as he carefully took it, and slowly opened it. He pulled the bottle of maple syrup out, and smiled. "I will have to share this with the High Council the next time we have dinner and a meeting here, they very much enjoy a good syrup on their crepes and hot sausages, thank you."

 

He grasped a well-sized piece of wood from a stack that was next to the outdoor fireplace and deftly added it to the fire, sparks flying up into the evening air. The sounds of the city below drifting lightly up to the Rooks' Nest as he turned back to Liselotte. "Speaking candidly, I was quite disappointed when peace broke down in North America, it seems that things have only gotten progressively worse since that. There is so much potential between the nations of North America if they can put their differences aside with one another to work towards a common goal, and add to that other nations of the hemisphere, you have a bloc of nations that can accomplish so much." He sighed for a moment, leaning against the balcony, "Please, feel free to take a seat if you'd like, and if you'd like anything to drink, I can certainly fetch it for you."

 

"I'm only hoping that the upcoming discussions result in something much more positive than the last ones did," he stated. "I don't feel as though the failure of the last discussions was anyone's fault, it seemed as though both sides had no chance to really come to terms. They were so far off center that being able to find a result that satisfied both parties was unavailable."

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Liselotte would silently take a seat, watching Rafael speak and feed the flames with fresh fire wood. She had noticed the strange look he had given her, but to her, Rafael was not the first to do so, nor would he be the last one, most likely. She knew, people expected something else to lead a nation, but Liselotte cared little. In general, Liselotte Wiltord was not the person to be all nice and caring and despite the youthful and light appearance, her demeanor stood in stark contrast, as she would not hesitate to make sacrifices, if they seemed necessary. Her style of governing Québec was neither compassionate, nor was it marked by exceptional efficiency. Indeed, this was the Premier who got herself couped by the military. But beneath this facade of almost incompetence was a person that had seen more than her appearance would suggest, who had her means of staying alive and getting things done, if she really wanted to. To most, Liselotte Wiltord was simply a mystery, seemingly without friends, yet not without her silent supporters, not prominent, yet not ignored.

 

Listening to the Rafael Sha'am, she nodded quietly, the thoughts lined out catching her interest, though being hardly surprising, given the Stormlands' actions up to now. But it also was this, which had caused her to seek a meeting in the first place.

 

"Well, I honestly doubt the ordinary citizen wants this war. Already thousands have given their lives on both sides, billions of value have been destroyed, a continent is at war and the long-term effects are still to come. Truely, this is a nightmare of sorts and I hope that it ends soon. The upcoming talks with the American Commonwealth will now mark the third attempt to resolve this crisis, and the first since some semblance of constitutional order has returned to our country. Yet, I'm very pessimistic about the future." Liselotte would look rather grim. Personally, she had seen the records of the army, and though her reaction was rather modest - it truely had become a statistic - it was still nothing that could be left unadressed.

 

"It is not so much, that I do not believe in peace. No, surely, sooner or later a peace will be signed, at the latest, when one side gets utterly defeated by the other. However, letting it get that far... I guess I do not have to point to estimates of how many more lives would be lost, while the peace itself would most likely be for nought. I do not believe in a peace that was enforced at gunpoint. My hope is for a peace that allows both sides to preserve their honour, instead of this becoming just the foundation for the next conflict. But for this to happen, peace negotiations would need to stop being an absolute zero-sum game."

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Rafael would be content with letting Liselotte speak her mind, the Quebecois leader seeming grim, but he wholeheartedly expected this discussion to be one that had vast overtones of grimness. Although he had initially blamed himself for the failure of the initial peace talks that the Stormlands had mediated, he had quickly realized after some deep thoughts in the days after, that both sides had intractable demands that had made progress essentially impossible. Of course, the Stormlands could have taken a much more bull-headed approach to the negotiations, utilizing its strength to try to bend the will of one of the parties, the result probably would not have been positive, nor a long term peace achieved. The thought of such threats had been quite fleeting, but using them would have compromised the capability of the Stormlands to continue to remain truly neutral in any way, shape or form.

 

As such, the Stormlands had been left to watch as North America made sacrifices to the gods of war and blood, with hundreds of thousands of casualties, not just on the battlefields, but also lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children... friends. It had been sobering to read some of the news reports, and it was gravely unfortunate that the hemisphere had come full circle, and Americans were killing Americans once again.

 

"Many ordinary citizens, I've found, at least here in the Stormlands, don't care about the day to day comings and goings of the government, unless they're not getting enough food to eat and enough to keep them happy. Its an unfortunate truth that many people do not care about internal politics and representation until it effects their lives, it is only then that the seem to actually care about anything. I am very hopeful for these upcoming talks, this war has already spilled too much American blood. It has adversely effected our foreign policy in the Americas for its duration, it should have never come to this," stated Rafael, quietly, not looking at Liselotte, looking into the fire, and seemingly thinking heavily for a moment.

 

"A lasting peace is what needs to be established in North America, which means that both your nation, as well as the Commonwealth, will need to come to a set of terms that is acceptable to one another. While establishment of trust may take years, maybe even decades to restore, it may be a possibility to bring back again, but reconciliation is something that requires a desire on both sides for it to happen. If there can be no reconciliation, then there can be no lasting peace. Any agreement we develop, I want it to be lasting, and if it can be established, I think that the Stormlands can work to repair bonds in the Americas. It will take much time, it will take effort, but reconciliation is something we are wholeheartedly willing to try to repair the bonds that have been frayed."

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Liselotte carefully watched Rafael, as he spoke, and even though he did not look at her while speaking, it seemed rather obvious that he was still concentrating on the matter at hand. Her frustration over the war had multiple reasons, not just the obvious loss of live, which was a human tradgedy, but also the utter failure of diplomacy, which was a political tadgedy. Liselotte shared a believe of many people in Québec, that the war had been actively sought by the American Commonwealth, given the hawkish speech by Martinez, who had been widely quoted by the media in the Laurentine Union. But to assign blame like this, she knew would not get her anywhere, thus Liselotte kept it to merely one sentence.

 

"To be honest, I personally do not like Americans. I think however, this sentiment, which is running rampant within the Laurentine Union is neither surprising, nor entirely unjustified. Still, I do not think our nations are better off continuing the war, they have not been better off when starting it. Monsieur Sha'am, I must say, I find your view of the situation to be very thoughtful and also... careful. I have high hopes that the Stormlands will be managing itself well in the future, if these two qualities are applied in the correct amount. However..." Liselotte would make a very short pause, preparing her words.

 

"However, I think, there are some issues, where I am worried about such an approach being ultimately unable to solve the North American mess. Please excuse my critcism, I'm fully aware of your contribution and am very thankful of that, but ultimately, I am a representant of my nation. A nation that still is at war and has not achieved to improve relations in three consecutive meetings, where we always left on worse relations with the Americans than we entered with. I, like many others in Québec see the approach of the Stormlands as being very considerate and trying to not risk causing any negative feelings. This policy, in the light of the last round of talks, has left many wondering, whether it could be successful and given that a failure of these talks would mean a continuation of the war, with even more casualties... Monsieur Sha'am, the basis of cooperation is peace. And the basis for peace is respect. I think, if there can be a solution, it has to be sought with a much more narrow perspective than we see at the current time."

 

Liselotte seemed quite serious, looking at Rafael and the fire. Altough the flames reflected in her amber eyes, flickering and dancing, she was hardly speaking with true irritation. If there were any emotions, it would be an obvious disgust for the Americans expressed once and a rather moderate tone filled with concerns for most of the rest.

 

"It might seem to be so distant, especially now, but it has not even been a decade since the old Faraway Realm existed. I knew back then a person, which had a vision. A person that honestly believed in North American unity and which worked towards realising it, to the point of silently considering the unification of all North America under one country. By peaceful means of course. This was old Prime Minister Kirkwood. I would say, I am nowhere as much a proponent of cooperation, but I would not categorically rule out the possibility. You see, back in Kirkwood's days, there was a balance in North America, there was peace and this peace was built upon mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation. A spirit that needed to be cultivated first. To expect the Commonwealth and Québec to work together after a peace is signed would most likely be a frustrating experience. Monsieur Sha'am, I think, fundamentally, your approach is correct. But in practice, it might focus too much on the long term and already fail in the short term. We need not forget about cooperation and long-term objectives of stability, no, especially due to keeping those in mind, we need to focus most of our attention on the peace process. From earlier, I take, you share my opinion, that the peace can be conductive to post-war cooperation only, if it does not leave one party as the one to completely lose out. The peace would need to have to, maybe not fully, but at least mostly, satisfy the two parties, to the point that it is not sabotaged over time. The Laurentine Union has made offers to the American Commonwealth and has been the one to initiate the negotiations on an armistice. I am not sure, what more we could do, within the framework of bilateral negotiations with the Commonwealth at the current time. I think it is here, that the Stormlands should come into play. And please excuse my maybe rather disrespectful tone, but I would like to see the Stormlands not merely as the one to host us and serve the drinks. A future American cooperation will need the inclusion of the Stormlands, so might the peace talks. as an active contributor. I would not ask for the Stormlands to abandon a neutral position in the conflict, I know, you value your ties with both the North American sides very much. However, I would argue that a more proactive policy might be needed. Monsieur Sha'am, I would hope the Stormlands to be able to do what our nation cannot. That is, to change the calculus of peace and war. I honestly believe, mere bilateral negotiations will just continue the zero-sum game. Maybe it would be more conductive to give a more multilateral dimension to it, by having the Stormlands change the calculus to a non-zero-sum game. I would be very willing to expand on this idea, but Monsieur Sha'am, what are your thoughts on the matter?"

 

OOC: Fixed a repetition.

Edited by Evangeline Anovilis
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