|Nanamo did not learn of the circumstances surrounding her strange slumber until three days after she had awoken.
It was Papashan who finally unfolded the truth to her. Though the retired Sultansworn was no longer her bodyguard—a position he had held since the sultana was a child—he had never quite relinquished the role. At first, Nanamo could do little more than listen to each shocking revelation in stunned bewilderment. But when Papashan described the loss of Raubahn's arm, and the accusations leveled against the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, she was overtaken by fury and demanded that Lolorito be brought forth to face immediate judgment.
At this, Papashan shook his head. "I suggest you first allow Lord Lolorito to explain his motives, Your Grace," he said quietly. "Naught good ever comes of rushing to conclusions."
The following day, Nanamo summoned the foremost members of the Syndicate to the Fragrant Chamber—Lord Lolorito Nanarito, the purported mastermind of recent events; Flame General Raubahn Aldynn; and Dewlala Dewla, head of the Order of Nald'thal. Thus were the Monetarist, Royalist, and neutral factions each represented.
"I take it this intimate little meeting was intended as an opportunity for me to explain my actions," Lolorito declared airily.
"If there is aught you would say, then say it now," Nanamo responded with as much calm as she could muster.
"Very well," he sighed, as if indulging a spoiled child, and paused for a moment to remove his mask. It was considered a sign of great disrespect to wear such accoutrements to an audience with the sultana, but the Monetarist had always excused his discourtesy with the claim that his eyes were sensitive to bright light. Now, however, he stood barefaced without the slightest hint of discomfort.
"Forgive my candor, Your Grace, but it has become painfully obvious that you underestimate the dangers facing our great nation." The elder Lalafell's golden-eyed gaze remained steady upon the sultana's face while he delivered his blunt appraisal.
Raubahn's jaw clenched visibly, but he bowed his head and said nothing. Noting the Flame General's struggle from the corner of her eye, Nanamo motioned for the merchant to continue. She would heed Papashan's advice, and listen to Lolorito's account in its entirety—though she could gladly have strangled the preening little swine.
Somewhat predictably, Lolorito had come prepared to make his case. He spoke at length on the threat posed by the new emperor and a united Garlemald, warning that it was only a matter of time before the Garleans resumed their Eorzean campaign. To destabilize Ul'dah's government at such a juncture, he contended, was reckless in the extreme.
"To prevent Your Grace from enacting such a...radical reform, Teledji Adeledji chose the simple expedient of assassination. I merely slipped the reins of this foul scheme from his fumbling hands."
Nanamo caught herself clenching her fists as the merchant calmly explained how it had been necessary to maintain the illusion of her death in order to expose Teledji's sympathizers and thereby uproot the villain's widespread corruption. The audacity of the man...
"Had you deigned to consult with the Syndicate on the matter of your abdication, then perhaps such extreme measures could have been avoided," Lolorito smirked. "At the very least, Your Grace might have sought the advice of the General before making such a momentous and far-reaching decision."
Nanamo stiffened, each word a dagger in her breast. Lolorito was quite right. She had deliberately concealed her plans from Raubahn, knowing he would attempt to dissuade her from her course.
All she had wanted was a government answerable to the people—a government able to set aside self-interest and devote the nation's resources to solving Ul'dah's many problems, not least the ever-worsening refugee crisis. She had harbored hopes that the General, supported by a populace that had loved him since his days as a Coliseum champion, would continue to play a leading role in her imagined republic. Naturally, Lolorito and his fellow merchant princes would purchase influence as they always had, but the prospect of their wealth lining the pockets of the common man had seemed to her an acceptable trade.
But what tragedy has come of my clumsy maneuvering? The ensuing chaos had cost her dearest friend his arm, and all but destroyed the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, an organization to which she and every other Eorzean owed so much. A wave of regret rose up within her, and for a moment she felt she might drown in her sorrow.
"Of course, the execution of my plan was not without its flaws," Lolorito continued in an even, unhurried tone. "I did not anticipate the escape of the Scions, nor the violence that followed their flight from the palace—a most unwelcome complication."
According to Lolorito, accusing the Warrior of Light of murder and implicating the Scions as accomplices had been Teledji's idea. He speculated that the late Syndicate member wished to "repay" the Archons for interfering in the passing of the Carteneau Reclamation Bill . Lolorito himself purported to bear no ill will towards the order, but was forced to play along with their capture so that Teledji would remain ignorant of Ilberd's duplicity. Once the charade had ended, he assured Nanamo, he had fully intended to clear the false charges and release the Antecedent and her companions.
Nanamo railed inwardly at the implication that, by refusing to accept wrongful imprisonment, the Scions had brought retribution upon themselves. With an effort she hoped did not show upon her features, she held her breath and counted to ten.
"Regrettably, I did not anticipate the extent of Ilberd's insubordination," the merchant went on, oblivious to Nanamo's rising ire. "You are aware of our...disagreement with regard to the General's treatment, I believe?"
The sultana nodded mechanically, and replied after a moment, "I cannot well imagine why Captain Ilberd should desire General Aldynn's death."
Lolorito nodded in turn, and launched into another practiced explanation. He had, he revealed, initially secured Ilberd's services with the promise of sufficient weaponry and funding to transform Ala Mhigo's refugees into a well-armed and well-trained militia. These "resistance fighters" were to be deployed to their former homeland, where they would hinder the advance of imperial forces.
"As well as delaying the Garlean invasion, this mobilization would have had the added advantage of thinning the throng of refugees crowding Ul'dah's walls," the merchant pronounced with no small satisfaction, the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
At a look from the brooding Raubahn, the smile vanished, but Lolorito pressed on, "Alas, General, your mere existence presented Ilberd with something of a problem."
The Monetarist likened the former gladiator's position in the Syndicate to a beacon of hope for Ala Mhigo's displaced and downtrodden. Many, he noted with faint amusement, preferred to cast their gaze towards the light of an unattainable star, rather than turn and face the grim shadows of their troubled reality.
"Ilberd believed that the General's death was the only cure for this pernicious romanticism," the merchant continued, turning back to the sultana. "But while there may have been some truth to that, we needed our one-armed friend alive if we were to persuade Your Grace to sit the throne once more. And therein lay the root of our contention."
Had Raubahn been executed...what then? Would I have thrown reason to the desert winds, and called once more for the sultanate's dissolution? Nanamo suspected that she would. Damn you, Lolorito.
"Pray accept this token, Your Grace. Mayhap this material example of my support will remove any lingering doubts as to my loyalties..."
Nanamo accepted a scroll from the merchant's outstretched hand, and unfurled the fine vellum sheet. She read aloud the contents of the document—a legal contract that, when signed, would confer ownership of all of Teledji Adeleji's assets, and half of Lolorito's personal wealth, to the crown.
"Seven hells!" Raubahn roared, his patience finally spent. "You think to bury your sins under a mountain a coin!?"
A single gesture from the sultana was enough to silence him. He set his jaw, still scowling, while Lolorito affected a wounded air.
"My dear General, is not the sacrifice of coin the most fitting means for a merchant to express his contrition? You will note that there are no stipulations or constraints on how Her Grace might spend this fortune. Build a monument to the Scions, ease the suffering of the refugees—the possibilities are endless," Lolorito beamed benignly. "I would humbly suggest, however, that some thought be spared for the looming imperial invasion."
Having dispensed this final pearl of wisdom, the merchant addressed the sultana once more. "I thank you for your patient audience, Your Grace. Now, if you will excuse me, there are pressing matters to which I must attend."
With that, Lolorito replaced his mask and, without waiting for the sultana's leave to withdraw, strode briskly from the chamber.
And so the meeting ended.
Drained, Nanamo retired to her private quarters to reflect on the merchant's words. I cannot forgive the man his methods, she mused, but mine own scheme is no less deserving of censure. Her shortsighted resolve had invited bloodshed and turmoil, and she knew not how she might atone for her wrongdoing. For his part, Lolorito had surrendered a princely share of his riches—which, as a merchant, was an act akin to relinquishing his own flesh and blood. But what could she, as sultana, do to repay the debt she had accrued?
"Fetch General Aldynn!"
Raubahn arrived at her chambers soon after, escorted by Nanamo's new lady-in-waiting, and she handed him the contract without a word. When the General saw the sultana's flowing signature appended to the document, his brow knit in consternation.
"I despise that man," she declared, flatly.
"As do I," came the reply.
"And yet, I despise myself even more. I failed to confide in my most trusted advisor and blithely invited open rebellion within the Syndicate. My callow ambition has visited pain and suffering upon those who deserve it least, and shown me to be the greatest fool of all!"
At this, Raubahn could only bow his head.
"Lolorito is a callous, calculating villain, driven only by greed," Nanamo grated. "But in spite of this, I cannot ignore his skill as a politician nor the deeds he has performed in service to Ul'dah."
Nanamo closed her eyes as warring emotions threatened to engulf her once more. But she held firm to her emerging purpose, and looked up to find Raubahn gazing upon her with fatherly concern.
"Summon the war council, General," she commanded in a clear, strong voice. "We must discuss how Ishgard may be reintegrated into the Eorzean Alliance. And then we shall explore our strategy for opposing the inevitable advance of the Empire."
Nanamo took a deep breath, and fixed Raubahn with a resolute stare. "I will be intimidated by Lolorito and his ilk no longer. No matter her personal feelings, a sultana must make use of every resource at her disposal...for coin and country."
She had ascended the throne at the age of five and sworn an oath at her coronation—empty words that she had memorized but not understood. The oath she swore now, however—though it better befitted a soldier than a sultana—resonated through her entire being.
"For coin and country," Raubahn echoed in his deep rumble.
Then the one-armed general smiled, and Nanamo could not help but do the same.
Ul'dah was a sultanate once more.