Author Topic: The Art of Diplomacy  (Read 298 times)

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Offline Lijiang

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The Art of Diplomacy
« on: February 23, 2021, 08:20:06 PM »

To:- His Majesty King David III of East Moreland

It has been brought to the attention of the Majestic Empire that you are in possession of a large personal collection of art-works that potentially originated in Lijiang. We have read reports that the David III Gallery is currently displaying around 100 examples of this prized Lijiangian art form. During the time of our nation being under a period of mourning it is widely reported that many art-works of national importance have been sold overseas and we are keen, if possible, to see them returned to the Majestic Empire. We believe that Your Majesty has acquired these art-works in good faith however also believe that as East Moreland were the authors of the Cultural Exchange Treaty Organisation you would support artefacts being returned to their nation of origin if so requested. It is therefore our hope that you would permit a delegation from the Majestic Empire to visit Northfort and be permitted to examine these art works. If they are found to be originating from our nation then I would like to explore steps to see them return to Lijiang.

I hope we can rely on your support in this matter.

Best Regards

Dragon Emperor Tielin

Offline DaveIronside

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2021, 10:59:54 PM »

To:- His Imperial Majesty Dragon-Emperor Tielin

It is true that the David III Art Gallery does contain various works of art that potentially could be from Lijiang. Each of these were purchased by the Ironside family through legitimate auctions held in East Moreland over the last twenty years and to the best of our knowledge were not illegal brought out of any nation. We are though happy to look at a process which would see any art originating from Lijiang displayed in its homeland. As such we are happy to welcome whom ever you send to inspect the art works and there visit to the Gallery and Palace will be handled by Professor Maddie Howard, who is the Royal Families official biographer and the Royal Artist in Residence Jocelyn Hopkins who is responsible for managing the royal families art work.

We shall make arrangements for you to visit at your earliest convenience.

May The Gods Watch Over You and Your Nation Know Peace

King David III of East Moreland.



It wasn't everyday that Maddie and Jocelyn were pressed into diplomatic service of sorts. Jocelyn had attended a few functions when she had briefly been in a relationship with King David but nothing on the scale of having to determine whether her nation had inadvertedly been stealing art. It was something that could potentially be a bit of a banana skin and with minimal diplomatic contact between the two nations it was a case that neither woman wanted to screw things up. While this was not a state visit and Lijiang media had indicated that no member of royalty was attending it was left to the Prime Minister Henrietta Quinn to welcome the guests, she was probably a sound choice in another regard, she had been the co-author of the CETO agreement what felt like so long ago. She had then been Minister of Culture and Tradition but possibly because of how well that had gone now found herself as Prime Minister, the King's appointed representative to the Council. She waited patiently for the arrival of the Lijiang delegation, the usual Red Legion welcoming committee swapped out on this occasion for one wearing Air Force blue to provide an honour guard. Henrietta waited nervously for them to arrive and keen to help Maddie and Jocelyn get off to a good start.

On perfect time the Lijiang aircraft touched down and made its way to where they waited to greet it.

Offline Lijiang

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2021, 11:41:55 PM »
Jiang Guangtai was the High Lord of the Province called Mgu. It was a place full of thick heavy woods that were just beginning to get its colour back. He'd been the High Lord for close to seven years now and had been disappointed when the new Dragon-Emperor was named. It wasn't that Guangtai thought he should have been selected after all he was one of the younger holders of the title at 34 years of age. The fact they now had a Dragon-Emperor meant he would be expected to spend lots of time in the capital and he disliked the grey brick and concrete and found the valley where the Imperial Palace was a little too open. There was nothing Guangtai liked more than getting up early and going for a jog through the forests his province were famed for. There was a rocky outcrop in a glade that he liked to head to and there spend a bit of time meditating before getting down to the business of the day. He'd started the day doing just that and then had meet his younger sister Xiuli who had travelled down from the capital. The 25 year old lived at the Sanctury of the Two Dragons where her time was spent creating works of art for Temples and shrines across the Empire. The Priesthood had amassed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pieces of artwork and among them several large paper cuts. The two had been joined by a man from the National Imperial Museum, a man in his 70's and equipped with the thickest pair of glasses Guantai had ever seen. Sat on the airplane seat next to the museum man, Xu Zengcai, was a thick folder. The contents of the folder were the copies of the seals of the known artists who were recognised by the Empire as graduates of the various schools of art including the Academies. Each the size of the postage stamp the red square symbols were almost like what other nations would consider trademarks and they would be a key piece of evidence in terms of checking whether the works in Northfort had come from Lijiang.

The three chatted most of the journey over, Guantai and his sister Xiuli catching up on family matters, Xiuli and Zenhcai on works of art and all three together on their expectations in East Moreland. As their executive jet descended Guantai re-read the letter that the Dragon-Emperor had given him instructing him on how to undertake this task and it boiled down to three points, be respectful, be firm and be oppurtunistic. The Dragon Emperor had read that East Moreland were a nation with so many global links, as a nation that hoped to become as equally if not as well connected it would be important to perhaps have a nation like them onside. It was though important that the Empire not look weak as even though East Moreland may be a nation with many allies and friends the Emperor couldn't be seen as backing down. Finally the Dragon-Emperor had hoped for a chance for Guantai to pursue other related matters if he could. They'd been told that the Morelander Prime Minister would be meeting them and so as a result the High Lord would have a chance to discuss many matters with her. As they entered East Moreland and followed the River Irthing north Guanti had been watching out the window and compared it with the Dragon Spine back home, it looked smaller but that was to be expected as the Dragon Spine was the mightest river in Mundus, at least to the mind of a man who was making his first visit outside the Empire. The city of Northfort was very different from the air than he had expected. With the exceptions of the Golden Enclave and the odd park the Empire's capital was harsh grey stone and concrete. Guantai hoped there would be a chance to visit some more of Northfort.

Upon landing Guantai pulled on his black Samfu jacket and took a deep breath. Sensing his nerves his sister  Xiuli hugged him. "You'll do great brother" she reassured him as she stepped back. "The Two Dragons will help you...I know it" she beamed warmly as she turned to check that Zenhcai was ready with the folder tucked under his arm.

"Ready?" Guntai asked and without awaiting for the answer headed down the small flight of steps that would allow him to set foot on the first foreign soil or in this case tarmac he'd ever set foot on. He recognised the Prime Minister from her photo and approached her. He would have normally bowed but she was a commoner as far as he knew and so instead simply extended a hand. "Prime Minister it is delightful to be here. We are thankful that your King has agreed to consider our request and regardless of the outcome it is my hope that we can explore a little of your capital. Please allow me to introduce my sister Xiuli and a technical expert from our Imperial Museum Zenhcai."

Xiuli stepped forward. "We understand that your King David is a collector of art work and in particular those in the style of our culture. We have had some of our artists at the Sanctuary of the Two Dragons make some art that can be your own." She removed from a long wooden tube a scroll showing the scene of a Honey-Badger posturing against a snake. "The artist is a young lady from the Province of Mgu where my brother is High Lord." She bowed respectfully to the Prime Minister before stepping aside.

"We are ready to head to the gallery, or wherever you wish us to witness the artwork whenever you are." High Lord Guantai was keen to get started.

Offline DaveIronside

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2021, 10:38:47 PM »
Henrietta Quinn spoke first to Guantai as he was the highest ranking of the group and therefore protocol would mean he would need to be treated with the respect his rank determined. "His Majesty King David is more than happy for you to spend as long as you need to, or want to, in Northfort. He has made sure rooms are available for the three of you at the Palace if you need them." Northfort Palace was a sprawling parkland and between the Palace itself and the various outlying buildings and lodges it was never that difficult to find accomodation for visiting guests. Whether Guantai and his accomplices would need it though was yet to be seen.

As Xiuli presented the scroll it was hard for Jocelyn's interest to be restrained and she soon found herself cutting in. As a noble families daughter it probably wasn't too out of place but after her first few words she paused uncertain whether Henrietta was approving or not but with the Prime Minister saying very little that was a cue for her to be confident she could continue. "Let me assure you that His Majesty will be very excited to get this. It's an amazing piece of work. I hope that perhaps one day you'll allow me to come and see how this is all done. I know with the works you think may have come from your nation I'm fascinated by the way its been done, so bright and colourful yet so delicate. Please don't take this the wrong way but I am hoping these art works we have are not from Lijiang as I would miss us not having them on display."

It was now Maddie who took over. "We've done our best to find the providence of each of the images" She handed over a file a few hundred pages thick, "You should have there the photo of the art work and the details of how King David acquired it. No piece has been in East Moreland for more than 30 years and none of them in the King's possession before 2001 when he purchased his first one from a collector in Silverhills. That piece of art work we know came from Aeternum and so is not from Lijiang. Some of the others we know are perhaps 500 or so years old but we have no details other than who the King purchased them from. Hopefully you can help us now work that out."

With the formalities dealt with the Prime Minister lead the group to a wait fleet of cars and soon they were heading away from the airport. It was a reasonably short run until they hit the Riverside road that took them down the River Irthing. The river became more twisting as they entered the city itself and in several places small canals ran away from the river marking where in the past cargo brought to the city by river would work its way down to warehouses and factories. The gallery sat on the edge of the Embassy Row and while the whole gallery hadn't been closed for the day the top floor which normally houses private events had been turned into a specialist display of the works of art. Jocelyn had made the decision when the news of the potential diplomatic snafu had been in the press, it had created a buzz about the pieces that had sat in a combination of the galleries specialist storage areas and one of the small wing rooms. Now though they had all been set up in the top floor room on a series of wall displays and display boards that filled the vast space. They'd done their best to put them into some kind of order with all those that to Jocelyn's eye looked like they shared a mark that was similar, the small fient red squares that served as artists signatures had faded on some and if Jocelyn was being honest her chance at reading Lijiangian calligraphy accuratley would be a complete fluke. Over the last few days the display had been rather popular and while Jocelyn understood the need to stand by the Kingdom's support of the CETO charter she also didn't want to see the works of art go. "If there is anything you'd like to see in the gallery as we go then please just let us know" Jocelyn asked as she lead them to a large elevator that served the six floors of the gallery building. She pressed the button for the top floor and waited patiently as they smoothly made their way up to where the art work awaited.

"Please feel free to go about your inspection." Henrietta gestured for the Lijiangians to enter the gallery and begin what they'd come here to do.

Offline Lijiang

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2021, 11:45:40 PM »
Xiuli had been pleased a fellow artist had liked the work and looked forward to getting to show a foreigner the ways of it being done. That may take some time to come about but the way the new Dragon-Emperor was trying to open things up then that may not be too far in the future. "I'd be happy to have you come and stay with the artists that reside at the Sanctury of the Two anytime you wish to." Xiuli responded politely.

Zenhcai accepted the folder the Morelanders had prepared and believed it was a good sign as it showed that at least for now the hosts were happy to abide by what they had enshrined in their CETO charter. He began scanning the information and while it appeared in order there could be a problem. "If I may explain something." He spoke from the rear of the car. "One of the issues is that perhaps the purchase by your King was above board and legal in the nation that he made it, the problem though is some of these works of art may have passed through three or four other sets of hands before ending up on the wall of the gallery. This is why we were concerned about the visit. We wish to make it clear we are not calling King David an art thief but sadly some of the people he has done business with could maybe be described as one." The car had now made its way to the gallery and the trio took in the sights around the city before entering. It was very different to Lijiang, more traffic, more hustle and bustle and far more noise. If this was to be the future of their own city then Guantai didn't really want it but he had been a man who had grown up in the forests and woods and never felt comfortable in the cities anyway.

As they walked into the gallery Xiuli wanted to stop and explore the art work that was on display. Perhaps there would be time later but for now they had a mission at hand. She actually felt a little nervous as they took the elevator up to where the work had been put ready for their inspection. While she had seen thousands of examples of this type of work at home she had never seen so much of it in one space at one time. As the doors opened she wanted to rush out and just dash from piece to piece but naturally being the sister of a High Lord that would not be fitting and so she calmly walked to the first one and began exploring it. The piece of art was a simple plain red piece, the paper slightly faded but clearly showing the coils of a snake in the beak of some kind of large bird like a stalk. The calligraphy on the scroll it was mounted on was telling a story of a battle between mythological creatures. She could tell instantly it was over 200 years old and she stood and marvelled at it. "So, is this one of ours?" Her brother asked her.

She looked carefully at it. "The story is from Lijiang so I believe it is likely to be. I can't see a makers mark though." She turned to Jocelyn. "Do you think we could perhaps open the back of the frame. Some of the marks could be there?" She asked.

Offline DaveIronside

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2021, 08:53:53 PM »
Jocelyn had suspected that they may need to do this at some point but she wasn't particularly happy about it. "If we can I'd like to avoid that. Could we not use something like x-ray or UV to check." Many old paints used elements that perhaps would show up and mean not destroying the frame which while it was going to be much younger than the print was still something Jocelyn liked. "What about we make three lists, the works of art that we're confident are not Lijiangian, those we are confident are Lijiangian and those we may need to remove from the frame. I'll make some phone calls and see if the University have facilities to allow us to do some non destructive tests. If they do then we can make arrangements for the tests to be done and if not then we'll think how best to take them from the frames."

Maddie stepped away to make some phone calls as Jocelyn had suggested, she knew Royal Northfort University had the equipment needed to do this however with her own University, the Royal Merriman being newer and smaller she wasn't as sure. She had her fingers crossed she wouldn't need to phone RNU as she'd prefer to keep things in the hands of her institution plus she suspected her mentor Dr.Marcus Merriman, the Universities founder, would have liked to see this process for himself. It took her a while to get through to the various people and she breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out the archaeology department and the Art History team had everything they'd need. She returned to the room, "The Royal Merriman University has everything we'd need for non-destructive tests so long as the materials are compatible with the methods. If we let them know when we need them they'll get the work done. Assuming you're happy with that arrangement."

Offline Lijiang

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2021, 10:45:32 PM »
Xiuli had mixed feelings about the proposal from Jocelyn. She would have taken every single one of the works of art home given a chance. Even if they didn't actually come from Lijiang it was easy to see how they would be able to be compared to those at home and so being displayed in Lijiang was a much more fitting fate than some Morelander home. "If we can avoid any damage that is preferred I would like to leave any items that we can not prove rather than open the frames and risk damage. To have the work of art somewhere in Mundus able to be seen is more desirable than being able to take them home yet damaged."

Zenhcai nodded his agreement. "I think we should make the rounds and put to one side those we have and then scan the others. Those we can not identifiy stay here while those we can we take home."

The work of creating the two collections took several hours but soon out of the 100 or so artworks 28 had been agreed by all parties to have the mark of the artists from Lijiang and would be coming home. Several of them showed the images of the numerous families of dragons and Lord Guangtai had already put aside one showing the six Azure Dragons with a plan in mind to personally present it to the newly crowned Queen Dandan who represented that family of Dragons. He hoped to make a good impression.

There was a group of 17 or so works that were disputed and they'd seek a solution to that later however now the 13 that had hidden marks would be examined by the University team once that had been worked out.

Offline DaveIronside

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2021, 11:33:51 PM »
Jocelyn was rather disappointed to see some of her favourite art-works leaving the Kingdom but she knew how important the King felt ensuring nations retained their own cultural artefacts was. "We'll make arrangements for these pieces to be boxed up securely and moved to the airport to be taken home." Jocelyn left to go and tell the staff to get on the boxing job while also making the phone call to hurry up the equipment from the University.

It took about an hour for the team from Royal Merriman University to arrive and then they began the slow process of scanning each image and hoping to find some kind of hidden mark. The 13 suspected to have hidden markings were first through. Out of the 13 only two had marks they realised would be from Lijiang where as another six joined the 17 that were already being disputed bringing the total up to twenty three that they now needed to find a way forward with.

It was Henrietta Quinn who was going to have to take up that fight but having spoken to the King there was already a plan a foot. "We have a proposal ready for settling this dispute. Infact its a two step proposal. The first is that these art-works will remain the property of King David and will, when in East Moreland be displayed with an explanation saying they are "Suspected of being made in Lijiang" as you do not claim His Majesty broke any law in acquiring them it doesn't obligate him to return them even under CETO. The second step is that for six months of the year His Majesty will, as a gesture of friendship, lend the art works to the Dragon-Emperor. Naturally we would expect the gesture of friendship to be reciprocated and so we suggest that perhaps this gallery host a special exhibition from Lijiang, you select some art works around a theme of your choosing and we put them on display here. This way your people get a chance to see these works while at the same time we can introduce the Morelanders to more of your culture and history."

Offline Lijiang

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2021, 09:40:14 PM »
As several of the works of art were presented to be scanned Xiuli held her breath hoping that they would come back as being from Lijiang. She got her wish on a few occasions but on several others she was forced to try and hide her disappointment she knew though that now it came down to the disputed ones it would be her brother  Lord Guangtai who would be in the driving seat of proceedings as far as Lijiang was concerned.

Guangtai waited for Henrietta to finish presenting her points before opening his folder and placing on the table a photograph of a building looking far different to its surrounding neighbourhood. "That Prime Minister is the soon to be completed Mgu Cultural Centre. It will sit at the heart of my provinces capital which is currently being given a face lift. By the time we have done it is my hope that Mgu will be centre of Lijiangian art, culture and scholarship outside of the Imperial City. With this in mind I have a counter proposal for you and your King. We have an area somewhat this size and half again. My proposal is that this area will be known as the Ironside Gallery. The arkworks we have in dispute will be put on permanent display with an explanation that King David of East Moreland acquired them and believing in the spirit of CETO wished them to be displayed in a land likely to be their own. That will take up only perhaps a quarter of the space. We would then invite his Majesty to determine what fills the rest, he may choose a display of Morelander artefacts, we can even accommodate musical and theatrical performances if he wished. The King therefore has a chance to share his culture and traditions with us, as Lijiang opens up to the world their will be curiosity and this could place East Moreland in a favourable light, after all you already charmed many of our people during your pre-World Cup visit. Naturally we would like His Majesty and his Queen to come and cut the ribbon on the opening of his exhibition within the museum. The existence of an Ironside Gallery outside of East Moreland would be a fine way to cement his legacy as a patron of the arts as well as his beloved CETO. What do you say?" 


Offline DaveIronside

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2021, 12:12:41 AM »
Henrietta had to admit that the Lijiangian Lord had done his research. CETO was a project dear to King David's heart and tying the return of the art-work to it was clearly designed to try and sway the monarch. She thought for a moment or two, "I will suggest to His Majesty that he accepts the offer, however in the end the art works are his and therefore any decision beyond what we had agreed prior to your arrival is something he will need to consider. Please give me a few minutes to go and make a phone call." She excused herself and phoned the King as they'd discussed.

"How's it going?" the King asked as he answered.

"Fine, as suspected some are clearly from Lijiang and Jocelyn is preparing those for transport, there are however several pieces that are disputed and as expected they want them." They had discussed this issue and David had been wary of perhaps the Lijiang delegation chancing their arm at getting the whole haul but having been reassured that it was just 23. "They have a rather unique solution we didn't count on." She outlined the proposal and could tell from the silence on the other end there was a rather surprised King too.

"Henrietta can you let them know I'm considering the matter seriously. Take them for lunch at Zac Braithwaite's place." Zac Braithwaite was a well known Morelander chef, famed for his TV Shows of farm to fork cooking and his restaurant was a favourite of the King. "I'll have an answer for them by time you have desert."

"I'll not turn a chocolate cheesecake down" Henrietta replied, "I'll speak to you soon Your Majesty." She put her phone away and returned to see Guangtai and the others. "Lord Guantai His Majesty is considering your offer and has instructed me to take us all for lunch while he makes his mind up. If you'd care to follow me." They made their way to the rear of the gallery where Henrietta had a car waiting. The trip to the restaurant was a short one and having had an aide ring ahead the chef was waiting in person in his whites as they arrived.

"Prime Minister" he extended a hand to Henrietta, "Your Grace" he bowed to the guest from Lijiang. "I'm excited to showcase my food for you. Please come inside" He held the door open to allow them to enter and a young smartly dressed girl in white shirt with a red tie escorted them towards the rear of the restaurant and into a private room which had a large window looking directly into a well ordered kitchen. "Today we have for you some salmon and eggs, then a game pie which sadly we've had to change slightly from a traditional recipe, and then because we know our Prime Minister has a sweet tooth a Chocolate Cheesecake. I hope you enjoy the food." He bowed and left only to reappear seconds later in the kitchen where it was clear he'd barked a series of orders at his staff who instantly began pulling pans from stacks and setting about the tasks at hand.

"Game Pie is one of our nations great traditions. We used to be a nation that hunted extensively for wild meat, however that's become more farmed these days as we try and protect the environment. We've had to reintroduce some species such as Wild Boar which has been a great success. A proper Game Pie has venison, rabbit, pheasant, pigeon and boar but sadly with the Yellow-Tongue virus that hit we've had a ban on the hunting of Deer and Boar so Zak here has switched the recipe to rabbit, pheasant, pigeon and bear." Henrietta did her best to make conversation with the guests, comparisons of cuisine, the project in Mugu for the Cultural Centre and even the rugby world cup. Braithwaite's staff served up each course in turn and ensured drinks flowed. It was when the Cheesecake was being served that an extra body entered the room.

"Lord Guangtai" King David placed the guests dish down in front of him before extending a hand. "I hope Henrietta, Jocelyn and Maddie have been taking good care of you." He walked round to Xiuli and Zenchai and introduced himself before taking a seat at the opposite end of the table. "I wanted to come as discussions between us have gone in a direction that neither me and Henrietta anticipated, in a good way" he smiled and he politely refused a serving of the cheesecake from a young waiter. "You see I would very much be delighted to see an Ironside Gallery in Lijiang, and I'm thrilled you would even consider it. I am minded to accept your proposal however I would have two conditions. The first is that Lijiang are members of CETO. That way I can be assured of the long term safety of these art pieces. The second is that I would like something in return." The King reached into his jacket and produced a picture printed onto some paper, he unfolded it and slid it to Guangtai. "I would like to commission a traditional Jian Sword I hope I pronounced that correctly. I would like you to find me a smith who could make one using as many traditional methods as possible, naturally I'll cover the costs, but what I would really like is that when I visit you can find someone who can give me a lesson in its use, as you know East Moreland places great value in swordsmanship and I find it interesting to discover other disciplines of swordsmanship. If you join CETO, arrange for me to buy a sword and have a sword lesson then you may take the art-works home with you in the way you outlined. Do we have an agreement."

Offline Lijiang

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Re: The Art of Diplomacy
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2021, 11:15:32 PM »
Guangtai was slightly taken aback by the informality of how the Morelanders seemed to negotiate. Back in the Majestic Empire it was needed for such talks to be taken in a place of business and formalities to be adhered to. Guangtai had heard of how King David was a person who believed anytime and place could be used to deal with business for his nation but did not expect him to suddenly appear. Gungtai had never eaten Morelander cuisine before, it was very different to back home, more heavy, more meaty and less variety. While a Lijiangian meal was more of a chance to enjoy six or seven different dishes with each person sharing in them as a community. This way of dining was very different to Guangtai but he had to admit he did enjoy it. Cheesecake was not something that was really well known in Lijiang but he had to admit it was good, he could see his sister Xiuli savouring the taste, being part of the Sanctuary of the Two Dragons she survived on a diet that was far from luxurious and this meal had been both eye opening and a treat.

Guangtai stood as King David entered and bowed deeply. "I am honoured to be meeting with you Your Majesty" he resumed his seat. Tielin had already mentioned an intention to join CETO, the Dragon-Emperor saw it as a route to get many of the misappropriated art-works returned and so Guangtai was confident he could agree to the first of the King's demands. "I believe firmly that the Majestic Dragon-Emperor will be appoaching CETO in the coming days, knowing that he will be ensured the support of the founding father of that organisation will be extremely positive and so  I will gladly adhere to that. As for the issue of the sword I can make those arrangements however it would be an honour for us to arrange it as a gift. As for the lesson we have the Dragon-Emperors Imperial Guardsman still trained in a variety of traditional weapons and combat forms. I am certain we can arrange for someone to show you some of the techniques. I understand however that Your Majesty is already well versed in the use of swords. Perhaps when you come over for the opening you would be kind enough to bring some tutors of your nations style and share that with us. Is it fair for us to say that we have an agreement to take the art work home?" he asked eagerly.