--which is tricky, because they're not in control of that major external conflict. They're pawns in it. Important pawns... okay, maybe rooks *g*--but not players. (Which is a terrible pun, I know.)
Their conflict lies in choosing their sides, as this enormous dog-eat-dog every-man-for-himself-and-the-Devil-take-t
What's interesting is that there's a bit of pressure from some of my beta readers to expand the scope of the story and make it more heroic/high fantasy: they want a perspective that's in control of these policy decisions, which of course my fellows aren't. They're also so far the people who much prefer the "fantasy" side of the story as opposed to the "historical" side of the story.
The beta-readers who seem happier with both sides are also much more likely to understand how the conflict is evolving, but I suspect that probably has to do with more familiarity with the way low fantasy (well, it's not really low fantasy either. If anything, it's more structured like a spy novel, where the external politics are almost a force of nature) works.
So I need to very much clarify the players in this outside world--the world of the force-of-nature politics--while refining the focus of the narrative so that those things happen very much in the background. I expect there are readers who still won't find it appealing--it's not a save-the-world plotline, after all--but at least I think I understand what I have to do now.
Now the challenge lies in figuring out how to make it happen.