The Blight Returns, Chap. 3-4

Sylvar attends a lunch. Folmon visits a factory.

Chapter 3.

House Aezeiros, City In The Clouds.

Sylvar turned to his brother and whispered, “Are all these things like this?”

“A lot of the time. You and Gwynn have been lucky. You haven’t been on display at the meat market.”

“Some of these people have a rather slippery grip on reality, you know.”
“Not from personal experience, though I am putting my foot down with dad and taking an overseas trip like you did this year.”

“That was enlightening and fun. Of course, I had Nimue with me, which made it even more fun.”

“Talk about making the biggest catch out there. Of course the ladies are going to gnash their teeth about that, but they were the ones that kept us away from Lady Qinvaris, her inappropriate partner and the girls. Mother wasn’t as bad about the purity of blood, but she didn’t know Lady Qinvaris and didn’t want to make waves by introducing herself to the Lady. What are they like?”

“I think that I will leave that for you to discover when you meet them. In any case, they are nothing like this crowd. I wish that Gwynn and I had been able to recruit some kids to make this more fun, but mother didn’t want to me to make a bad impression the first time around. The thing is that none of these people seem to want to talk with us.”
“We are here to be status symbols, not because we are worthy of being members of the high, at least not yet. When we are doing business, that’s different, but for these things, we might as well be statues.”

Sylvar grinned. “Inialos, we may be able to do something with that. There is a rather heretical shop out at the estate, with all sorts of interesting things, I know the Beinans and our sister is bonded to a royal fae. Here’s Nimue, so let me introduce you. Nimue, this is my brother Inialos. Inialos, this is Nimue Qinvaris.”

Inialos kissed her hand and said, “Charmed, milady. How did you meet my rather inappropriate brother?”
“He started to watch me as I would go on rides and leave wonderful things for me to find. Then I tried to trap him, we played Jump tag and ran right into a bear. Sylvar killed the bear, was injured and I nursed him back to health. Then some characters showed up and dragged me, my sister and my friends off to a fate that I don’t really want to think too much about. We all escaped and the boys joined us on a little jaunt through the Fellowship and the Republic. What are you two scheming.”

“I was thinking that we could make golem copies of ourselves for things like this,” Sylvar said. “Then we could not be here and here at the same time.”

“I wonder why mother is putting this on,” Inialos said. “Moral crusades are hardly her style and most of our servants are not the types to prowl the streets of the Lower City for entertainment.”

“Mariona was neutral territory,” Nimue said. “Some of these ladies wouldn’t have anything to do with mother and some others, so we couldn’t put things together at our House, the Yllanan’s or the Shahana’s. Lord and lady Beinan are away and we and the princess need the noise to keep the ladies and especially their customers off the streets without making it a crackdown. At least the crackdown can’t be seen as coming from us.”

“So there is something else going on.”

“Yes. Lady Trislana and the Justiciars in the Lower City are working to thwart a certain killer lady with abilities and a taste for her victims. The killer uses being a courtesan as cover.”

“I see. There is a real threat, which certain ladies would ignore, as long as they were not impacted directly, but set them on a moral crusade and you can remove the servants that are your killer’s prey from the Lower City somewhat. Brother, I think that I must leave you with your lady, circulate and get my daily quota of nonsense.”

Inialos walked away, seemingly being a bit drunk as Nimue said, “We need to get him out more.”

“My sister and I want to. I hadn’t realized how bad it was. I can put up with these things, though you, your sister and your friends do much better at parties. If it wouldn’t cause a scandal, I would have us all get together and do the Phoenix dance.”

“We can’t do that this time, since most of us are not here, but we can make arrangements. I liked your golem idea too. Your brother does a very good job of acting a bit drunk while he hasn’t touched any liquor at all.”

“I think that he has had practice. Gwynn and I were luckier than I knew.”

Inialos staggered his way through the crowd, slurring his voice just a bit and listening far more than he spoke. Since this was a luncheon, the guests were mostly ladies and most of them were tearing his mother and some other ladies to pieces, as normal. Nimue’s mother came under a great deal of sniping because of the wedding in Yellowleaf, the fact that she had rebuilt the park and all the irregular relationships that the family was having, said relationships being with Sylvar, Renna Shahana and Renestrae Glynynore, all of which were good matches for all the Houses concerned. Alok Yelroris caught up with Inialos and said, “Where were you hiding your sister and why didn’t you introduce her to our crowd a long time ago, Ini?”

“She was out at the estate being hidden by mother. Unfortunately for you, a faery prince from the Yllanans found her first.”

“Bother that. Of course your mysterious brother has made off with the big prize our mothers wouldn’t let us touch. A marriage to the Qinvaris will make your family and the business.”

“They met through my sister and her friends. Sylvar plied her with things he made and she led him on a chase through the woods where they encountered a bear that Sylvar killed for her. Nimue nursed my brother back to health and then Nimue was taken by the Richflights.”
“I have to wonder what Durlan was thinking. Taking Lower City kids is one thing, but going after the daughter of a House, who has a relationship with the Qinvaris. That was just crazy. At least we won’t be seeing the Richflights at things anymore.”

“He also went after my sister too, apparently. I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe it was because he got away with doing what he did for so long.”

“That was because of those magic portal keys he had. Of course, once the Beinans were back, that changed in a hurry. My cousin is in the Inquisition and Lord Romenor was making a stink about Lord Melaris making off with the Portal Serivce’s tools and wanting them all back. Lord Waestoris suspended Lord Melaris when a mage was caught at a portal messing with it with some of the missing tools. Lord Melaris had to cough up the tools or there were going to be all sorts of writs against Lord Melaris, the Inquisition and some others, with big fines attached.”

“What happened?”

“Nobody at the Inquisition knows. Lord Melaris is still under suspension, but the tools never showed up and Lord Melaris testified under truth spell that he had tried to return them and they had disappeared, so without evidence the writs haven’t dropped on the Ravathrya. That won’t help them very much. What’s left of the House is two brothers who don’t have writs of execution against them, some rather poor property in the south and the ladies here. The House doesn’t even know where its heir is. There’s Rydel.”

Rydel Shaguinal was grinning as he staggered up and said, “You two seem to be in deep conversation. Ini, you never mentioned that you had a sister.”
“She’s taken, Ryde,” Alok said. “If you want to play games with a faery prince, you are welcome to try.”

“The good ones always are. Of course our mothers don’t want us talking to the good ones, just the high elf duds that we all have been going around with forever.”

“Not all the duds, even. Renestrae hitched up with Dan Qinvaris and Llorva went up to the Timberlands with a fae man.”

“Maybe we should start poaching in the fae kingdoms.”

“That would be risky, especially for us, who have very few useful skills.”

Inialos’s mother caught his eye and moved her finger in a circular motion. Inialos said, “I’ve have to move on, so we will talk later.”

Inialos circulated, picking up strands of conversation until he ran into his sister. She said, “Hello brother. I hadn’t realized what they put you through.”

“You didn’t wear your Winterfaire dance outfit.”

“Mother wouldn’t let me and the other girls aren’t here. We want to get more practice before we do that again.”

“The dance outfit would scandalize the old stiffs.”

“Nimue and Alinis are very good at that and have been giving me lessons. It works better when they pop in on a visitor and surprise them.”

“Thank you for inviting me to your party.”

“Sylvar and I are going to get you out of this cage somewhat. Mother wants me to do more with things like this, so you will be seeing more of me.”

“With that magic chicken of yours? I’m the only one in the family or staff that hasn’t had any. If you can take some of the load off and come to these things, it will be a big help. After this is over, I will get together with you, Sylvar, Flix and Nimue and we can compare notes. I also want to know more about what’s going on.”
“We can do some of that. There’s more going on than just having to deal with the old sticks, isn’t it?”

“Yes. We will talk later.”

After the luncheon was over, Mariona grinned as she saw all three of her children as well as Nimue and Flix together in Inialos’s play room. “I see that Inialos has told you that there was more going on than some rather stuck up High Elves sniping at me while supposedly working on a worthy project.”

“Yes he did,” Gwynn said. “I undestand why you wanted Sylvar and me out of this. That luncheon was a snake pit.”

“Normally they aren’t that bad,” Inialos chortled. “The fact that the Ravathyra ladies were involved with their friends was a lot of the problem. Why they were involved is something that I would like to get some more details about.”

“Has the strange killing in the Lower City made the rounds up here,” Gwynn said.

“The slave being wrapped up in a cocoon and his guts sucked out? That got around the day after it happened. Of course the spider lady stories have been going around forever. We weren’t sure what to believe.”

“The Ravathrya ladies and their friends were pulled in because Lady Trislana wanted their servants off the streets to make it harder for the spider. She goes after servants of High houses, mostly for compulsions and infiltration and then for a meal. The meals you have heard about.”

“She hadn’t been around for a long time.”

“From what we know, she was staying home. Things happened in the Empty Lands after Nimue and the other girls were taken, and the lady realized that she wasn’t as informed as she thought she was.”

“Nimue, why did Durlan take you and the rest anyway? Taking kids in the Lower City was bad enough, but taking you and your sister was crazy?”

“They also went after me,” Gwynn said. “The Richflights were in trouble because the people they wanted had gotten wise and too many even in the Lower City had too much clout or were related to people who did. Durlan and his family were looking for a particular kind of kid or teenager and because the Ravathrya raids were doing poorly, the influx of new slaves from the Republic had dried up and the one child rule and the lack of elves to marry created a lot of inappropriate relationships. That is what the people who were paying the Richflights wanted, but I think that they thought that the families would abandon the inappropriate children rather than making them family. The way that Nimue’s parents acted, along with some other families and families like the Bryneiros and the Shanelis who actually bought slaves and recruited them threw them off completely.”

“The Bryneiros use their boys for the Justiciars and the Shanelis want sailors and carpenters. As for Nimue’s parents, that has been a scandal for a long time. So the Richflights needed the money they got from taking the kids and there weren’t any, so they started to go after people they shouldn’t. But you make no sense, Nimue. Your dad squashed a Great House in two five days.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be me, but Lord Shahana’s illegitimate daughter,” Nimue said. “That day we all decided to ride to my brother’s hunting lodge after we finished our party planning for the Winterfaire party for the day. So when Durlan and his merry crew came riding along, there we all were. My grandfather had people watching and dad’s people didn’t want to crowd them, so grandfather’s people weren’t in the right place and Durlan managed to get us all to a portal and to the one way portal at the Richflight estate. Of course Flix was at the lodge already with his brother, both of whom work for the Portal Service and had traces with them, so the port was traced almost immediately.”

“We had also been keeping an eye on the Richflights since they hired the guild to kill my grandfather,” Flix said. “The Justiciars were already suspicious and starting to talk with me and Gwynn about the Richflights and my boss at the Portal Service was looking into lost portals in the Lower City. We were also finding disconnected portals all over the place. The corporal took a picture and I recognized Durlan and his cousin, so they weren’t getting away with anything anyway.”

“Durlan liked to make noises about his sick games and made some hints about Gwynn,” Inialos said. “I told father that somebody was making hints about doing nasty things to Gwynn and he had guards when Gwynn was going to town. We never figured that they would try on that road that only we use near the broken portal.”

“The Richflights’ friends disconnected it,” Sylvar said. “The Richflights had a key that let them use portals like that to appear and disappear. They were going to use our portal to do that. Durlan probably looked like a post rider when he scouted Gwynn out and I missed him. The guards and projectors were a nasty shock for his people. Paeris Zylvyre showing up was worse. That saved me some trouble, because if he hadn’t, I would have had to intervene and I looked rather strange at the time.”

“Mother showed me a picture that she took. How did you do that to yourself?”

“I knocked the wrong box over, something went boom and my latent fae ancestry Jumped me away and I transformed. Since I was trying to attract attention from mom and dad, along with Gwynn, I became the thing. Nimue showed up and the thing went away.”

“Was there anything of interest that you all heard,” Mariona asked. “Sylvar and Gwynn are new at this, but I imagine that Nimue has had practice.”

“The Ravathryra ladies were as usual, mother,” Inialos said. “There was some concern over Mrs. Harper and the way she runs over the Proscriptions and everything else for that matter. There was some support for Inquisitor Delion as well.”

“I got some of that as well,” Gwynn said. “I doubt that the ladies would bring that up where Nimue or Sylvar could hear it.”

“We just had the typical sniping at mother, didn’t we, Sylvar?” Nimue said. “Of course there was some concern over the way daddy does his business and how he treated the Ravathrya. A lot of people were afraid of Republican influence or an invasion by the Fellowship. Of course a lot of people were also annoyed that they were not invited to our big party.”

“That was because you managed to get most of the Regency Council, the Grand Master and a good portion of the Council of Kings there,” Mariona said. “They don’t like us or certain other families like Nimue’s but being able to pull all that clout and have it come rattles certain factions a lot.”

“We weren’t playing politics,” Nimue said. “We just invited friends like Princess Lelayme and they brought their friends and family. So we had the Regency Council, Lazuli and Lavidia’s parents, along with their friends. We also had people that work on our farm. In fact the people from the farm, the people that support our family were who the party was for. That party was our Winterfaire gift to them and that was what was important about it. We didn’t force the people to come and many of them we didn’t invite specifically. Right now, I’m not sure who brought the Grand Master, for instance. It could have been Lavidia or Lelayme.”

“I know that, dear. That won’t change the fact that you are on certain hit lists because of that and the Yellowleaf festival. They can’t build up their own Houses, so they will work to tear down yours. It didn’t help that you created a party that was more fun than anything that they can dream of. This thing today took some of the edge off of that.”

“That was why you discouraged certain things mother, wasn’t it?” Sylvar said. “You wanted this thing rather boring and dull like their things. Inialos, we are definitely working on golems for the next one.”

“Golems?” Mariona asked.

“Inialos was complaining that he was treated as if he were an object to be shown off and I suggested that we take advantage of the ruins shop and the Beinans to make duplicates that walk around and wave their hands around. So we can be there and doing other things too.”

“No you don’t.” Nimue said. “If I have to be at the dull things, you do too, Sylvar. You can make one for your brother, who obviously has had too many of these things, but you sir, are not getting off the hook.”

“I wonder if we can arrange for some poor schoolchildren from the Lower City to come to the next one,” Sylvar said.

“That would not be inappropriate,” Mariona said. “Were you thinking of some particular schoolchildren?”

“I was thinking of some servant’s children that joined the school recently and some children that came to visit.”

“That could be fun,” Gwynn said. “Bellflower and her cousins, along with the flamers from the Aerie.”

“Now they may be inappropriate,” Mariona said with a grin.

The Port of Chatsrey, Beltian Republic.

The bell rang on the front of the little store and Taerentym brightened as the customer entered. He had started his scriptoria because as a high elf, he had very few useful talents other than outdated management ideas for farming. So, he had taken his passion for art and calligraphy and started to write and illustrate books. The books had done well and he had met his wife, Matilda, shared blood and a family as well as writing and creating the books. When the children had come along, he had written stories and poems about the Empire and faery kingdoms and a publisher had seen one and wanted to publish it. That had started a pattern of new books for Winterfaire every year since the first one. For the most part he sat and sold copies of his books from his little shop while he looked for stories for the next book. Since his books for children did so well at the publishers he only took six commissions a year and he had reserved the last for a customer that had bought his commissions since she was a girl. She hadn’t placed the commission and Taerentym had been a bit concerned that Ialantha Atwater hadn’t stopped in before he would have no choice but to offer the commission for auction like he had the other commissions. With that in mind, he smiled as he said, “Welcome Mrs. Atwater.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Carran. I apologize for being late, but mother has been overseas and I have had to manage the family things somewhat. So how did your book do this year?”

“Well as always. My publisher has already given me the check for the next one.”

“We always buy our share, which brings me to this year’s commission. My brother was returned to us in rather spectacular fashion and since the story involves elves, the Empire, the Ravathrya and a lonely elvish princess, I thought that the story would make an excellent use of your talents.”

“This was your missing brother who was taken by the Ravathyra and enslaved.”
“Yes, the story is about Richard. Apparently he feeds the Empire and all these years neglected to tell the rest of us about that and his wonderful family. Mother has taken things in hand. Anyway, I thought that since the story of Richard and Rosaniya is rather epic, it required a piece of poetry and illustration worthy of it. So I came to you.”

“What did you bring?”

“I have my mother’s letters, pictures and a report that my father sent for the business. You can have all that. Richard and Rosa are coming down with my parents for a visit, so I will get you a chance to talk with them. In any case, I leave this in your talented hands.”

Ialantha put a rather large envelope on the desk, along with the commission check. “I have an appointment with my sister and you have my phone and address, so I will be on my way.”

She left and Taerentym pulled the pictures out to look at them. He looked at the first one and blinked. There, with a man who had the Harper look was the sister that Taerentym had had to leave behind, alone in the Empire. Of course it was obvious that she was not alone in the parlor that Taerentym remembered with four young elves that were obviously the couple’s children. The men in the family obviously did the same thing that his father had, dressing in practical clothing suitable for working on the farm. The girls on the other hand, were princesses that were among the most beautiful girls that he had ever seen and that was without any artifice. He put the pictures back in the envelope, put the closed sign on the door and walked back to his wife’s studio where she was working on a picture of faeries dancing. Tilly looked up and said, “Ialantha came at last, didn’t she?”

“Yes. Apparently her long lost brother was found.”

“Wonderful! That will make a wonderful story.”
“It gets more interesting. I’ve told you about the sister I had to leave behind. I had thought that by now, she would have been crushed like so many others. Apparently she and Richard found each other.”

Taerentym pulled the pictures out. “Ialantha is my sister in law.”

Tilly had a huge grin on her face. “We haven’t talked very much about your family. You haven’t wanted to say very much.”

“I’m not sure what to do. I couldn’t return and there was no way to know what happened to my sister. We had the kids and now the grandchildren. But my sister and Richard are on the way here, more than likely and Ialantha is going to walk them through our door.”

“You could refuse the commission.”
“Not really. Ialantha was giving us the commissions right from the start and even pointed George at us when he needed a children’s author, something that has done very well for us. This would be turning down a commission for family, even if it wasn’t turning down a commission for family.”

“I’m glad that you are doing the right thing without me nagging you about it. The best thing is to tell Ialantha and Mrs. Harper. In the meantime, I must finish this, so that we can start on this commission and you sir, are going to find out about your sister and the wonderful family that I see here so that you can write a truly epic piece of poetry.” Tilly looked through the pictures, held up a picture and said, “It looks to me as if the story is truly epic indeed.”

 

 

 

Chapter 4.

The Retreat.

Stormfire came into Rolin’s office. “My sister wants Sollor.”

“You know, I haven’t seen him around for a five day or so, milord. Ilbryen told me to send Toross and his boys home and I assumed that he was taking over assigning somebody to guard Sollor. Have you talked with him?”

“Yes and we looked all over the place. I even Jumped to the other port and he hadn’t been seen there.” Stormfire grinned “We can look around, but unless he shows up someplace, there is no way to know what happened. The portal has been disconnected, so there was no way a Justiciar could find out his movements, come to the Retreat and pick him up.”

Rolin returned the grin “I suppose not. I had a guard on him, but as I said, Ilbryen insisted that I send Toross and his people home. I don’t think that he liked the way that his sister was making eyes at Toross. The easy way to deal with that is to tell Toross’s wife, but that is rather difficult since the road portal is the only one that works. I sent Toross home in any case.”

“Ilbryen’s sister makes eyes at just about every man that she sees, especially if they are a possible way out of here. You can ask around about her.”
“I already have. She has quite a reputation.”

“She and my sister, though my sister is much worse. Have you heard anything from your brothers about the Lower City lately?”

“Funny that you should ask about that. My wife and the other ladies of the House have had enough with our misbehaving servants and would like Justiciar Zylsalor and the Lower City Guard to crack down on certain activities. They have filed a request to the Regency Council and are pressing on the Justiciars.”

“Why are they doing that?”
“They, and some other ladies have taken rather large hits in their reputations as of late. The dissolution of the House certainly did not help, especially with the accusations that went with it. So the ladies needed something to distract the gossip and your sister’s bad habits provided an excuse, so they are pursuing with their usual vigor for as long as it lasts. Things will be back to normal in the Lower City when things get warmer later in the year.”

“Why don’t they tell the slaves and servants to stay home?”
“Because then the ladies would be constrained somewhat. Also keeping the servants home would not provide the distraction that the ladies really want. A moral crusade on the other hand, will.”

“Also, taking action against somebody else will not require that the ladies suffer themselves. I see. Do the Justiciars have people that can plan an entrapment? My sister had a bad night recently.”

“I wouldn’t know what the Justiciars can do. I do know that Lord Bryneiros has purchased slaves with certain skills and encouraged them to join into the families of the Justiciars with a large degree of success. In fact he recently raised a former slave to full Justiciar status.”

“Why did he do that?”
“The man heads the Justicial Office of Investigation and has for a long time. He married the daughter of the Justiciar Of The Gates and has the Chief Justiciar’s daughter working in his office. Justiciar Dawkins was placed in charge of my brother’s case and it was not because he was an incompetent mortal. He managed to get full and compelling evidence of my brother’s crime even without any of the evidence that others had or testimony from the survivors. Some of that was luck, but if you see a long string of such luck, you have to believe that it is ability and not luck at work. Considering your sister, his office may have had something to do with it.”

“I should tell my sister that.”

“It won’t do her much good. Even if she were able to get somebody in the office, she could never trust what she gets and as I said, Justiciar Dawkins has a good track record and is not incompetent. That is if it was his office that was involved at all.”

“Who else could it be?”

“Who else have you offended recently? I imagine that Rosaniya is not pleased with you right now and your sister was playing in the Lower City, where I discovered that it isn’t safe to play. Toross could tell you more, but there are people that don’t want the hit that their business would take if your sister has snacks in the Lower City. I will send a message to Erlan and get more, but I would tell your sister that the Lower City can be dangerous for her.”

“So it isn’t just one group, but many?”

“Yes. I had a hard lesson in that when I sent Camus to recover some slaves so that I could send them back to the Republic.”
“Why did you want to do that?”

“Because a number of them had relatives on my nephew’s prosecution team and his representative suggested that having relatives as slaves in the Empire could be used against us at the trial and afterwards. Camus and I messed up and didn’t pay attention to the fact that some of the slaves had relationships that made them more like husbands and wives, rather than just slaves, the largest being Lord Qinvaris. The funny thing is that I have known Richard for over twenty years and the idea that he was a slave never occurred to me until Rosa was shutting me down because I was trying to put pressure on her, an act of true stupidity on my part. Of course it was Camus that was responsible for that and neither of us asked the questions we should have, considering the number of half elves in Eyrding.”

“Are there many half elves in Eryding?”

“There were. How many are there now or have gone to work in other of Lord Shahana’s ventures is hard to determine. I imagine that they are working in the timberlands, on his brother’s ships, on his brother in law’s houses or in the Hidden City.”

“You have given me much to think about. I will take my leave.”

Stormfire Jumped back to his quarters.

Iron City, The Fellowship Of Peoples.

Derhog Flaskbreaker looked at the document in his hand and at his son, Derhog Jr. “Why did you hand me this?”

“Because the last time anybody ordered these from us, you made them, father.”

“That was fifty years ago.”

“I know. I was tempted to just send this back and say that we no longer make crossbow bolts but it’s been slow and we could use the work.”

“I don’t even know if we have a print.”
“I found some drawings and have a draftsman updating them now so that we can use our current tools. We won’t have to hand forge the tips and we can make most of the parts from tube. I just wanted to see if you had any comments about these.”
“Other than the fact that you shouldn’t have taken the order, no. I heard rumors about what these were for and after I made that last batch, I didn’t want anything to do with them. These are harmless by themselves and I can’t show you what they did because it didn’t happen with the batch I made. It’s your turn now. I’m retired and the business is yours. I’ll talk with Fingrig and go over things with him. How many did they want?”

“Two thousand.”

“That is more than they wanted the last time. I will say one thing, get the money up front and do not start work until the draft clears.”

“Done and yes, that is the way I will do that. Frankly, I should have refused the contract, because there was something sketchy about the Imperials that wanted these.”

“My dad, your grandfather, took the last contract and he didn’t like it much either. But you accepted the contract, so we will fill the contract. For Flaskbreaker and Sons, that has been our bond since great grandfather had his forge.” Derhog looked across the massive shops. “We do business straight, because that is who we are.”

Folmon looked at the foundry and said to Umibroth Longgrip, “I could get in trouble at home even admitting that something like this existed, let alone that the family owned it.”

“Aye, Mr. Beinan. But your cousins need the foundry and so you have it.”

“There are patterns at the House and the estate that should come here. We also need to have a drawing duplicator slipped past the Inquisition.”
“Won’t that give you trouble?”

“I have an arrangement with the Inquisition. As long as it is inside the House or on the grounds, the Inquisition won’t say a thing, so an electrical generator, steam plant or anything like that and they won’t squawk. Outside the House, The Portal Service or my property in the Lower City and the House may be in trouble, depending on what it is.”

“How much property do you have in the Lower City?”

“More than my house, but more than that, I won’t say right now, as I have tenants and I don’t want it known who they are. The building was my old master’s before he was shutdown.”
“Exiled?”
“No, but his kids didn’t want to take the risk of being squeezed by the Inquisition and my master and I couldn’t run the business by ourselves, so we rented the shops. That way the Inquisition sees several shops, all doing different things that may or may not be heretical, but are not worth the fight it would take, especially if the customers are the Shanelis, the Ravathrya, the navy, the army and the Justiciars.”

“I think I see. You make guns and things like that.”

“I’m not going to say what we make there, because the family has a discretion policy and so do the tenants. The Inquisition spent far too much time harassing me and I don’t want them harassing my neighbors. In any case, I want to move our foundry work outside the Empire except for some things.”

“That makes sense. It won’t be cheap to operate that way.”

“Expensive is my parents committing suicide to hide where the family went to protect them. Expensive is a sister that I have barely seen in almost a century. Expensive is not being able to live in my own House. Compared to that, everything else is cheap.”

“Your point is taken, Mr. Beinan. Compared to that, everything else is cheap.”

“Yes it is. In any case, it’s easier to have dwarves here and the foundry work in one place rather than at the estate with some exceptions, most of those involving foundry work done for the Qinvaris.”

“I see that you thought things out.”

“Umibroth, last year, my wife and I had our little shop in the Lower city and I was fine with that. Then two ladies showed up and my life was turned upside down.”
“Might I ask who they were?”
“Mrs. Harper and her daughter in law, Rosaniya Qinvaris. They wanted to fix the swans in the park and needed me to do that.”

“So the swans dance again.”

“Yes they do. I also have a commission for two more similar automatons that I will have to make for Rosa’s daughters when they get married. Rebecca wants me to make a masterwork for the House as well.”

“Where is your wife?”

“At Clearcrag visiting with some relatives. I will be joining her, meeting my relatives and then we take the train to Kugrim where we are taking ship to Chatsrey. We decided to take the train and the ship because things are piling up baggage wise, what with Rebecca’s shopping and the gifts from family.”

“You are going to meet with more relatives.”

“Yes. There is Terry reminding me that I need to make our train, so I must take my leave.”

Folmon walked over to Terry and said, “Time to go?”

“Not yet, but something else came up. I have a lead on those crossbow bolts. I think I found who made them.”

“Who?”

“Flaskbreaker and sons. They used to be a weapons maker and still do some of that, but they fell off into other businesses because they never made guns. They made edged weapons and make knives and bayonets for the army as well as camping supplies for everybody and hand tools. Their biggest growth business has been bits for machine tools”

“So they used to make crossbows and bolts and now they have moved on to other things. Do you think that they would make the bolts again?”

“I don’t know anybody that works there, so I couldn’t tell you. On the other hand, I can take you, as Mr. Beinan, looking for a machine tool bit supplier and they might talk with you.”

“How long before the train?”

“Two twentieths.”
“Ok, we play the game this way. Make a call from the office here and say that I want to talk to somebody and see the shop while I’m here because we have big orders coming up and I need new tools. It has the advantage of actually being true, for the House anyway.”

“Already did.”

“Terry, there may be a music box with your name on it.”

“I wasn’t looking for one, but my mother will love it. Let’s go.”

Derhog watched as the Beinan company car drove up. This was a great opportunity for the company if he could attract the business. The driver opened the door and an elf of indeterminate age, which meant that it could be anything from twenty to one hundred and twenty got out with an aide. The pair walked up to the door and Derhog bowed. “Lord Beinan, I am glad to meet you. I am Derhog Flaskbreaker.”

The elf held out his hand and said, outside the House and it’s businesses, I prefer Mr. Beinan or Folmon. Inside the House and businesses, there are so many Beinans going around that I have to use the “lord.” This is Terridial Stonefellow, my family’s man that they set on me here in the Fellowship.”

“Let me show you around. I understand that you will need a lot of lathe bits.”

“Yes. The fact is that tool steel bits are as scarce as hen’s teeth in the Empire for obvious reasons, the House was closed down for a very long time and we were not in a position to order during the turmoils. So I am short for the House itself and the estate. My cousin has been repairing the portal network which while it hasn’t been a deep strain on tools, it has required some and the House has been contributing as part of its contract with the Portal Service. In the long term, we will be tasked to maintain things like the steel tool supply for machine tools. We also finished a large repair job for House Qinvaris and that drew down the tools at the House.”

“So your tools are old, but use standard size bits.”
“Yes. In any case, I want to procure some for immediate use as well as a list. Do you make tools for handling by elves?”
“We have a low burn line yes, coated in aluminum so that elf fingers do not get burned. We introduced the line some time ago for the Lower City.”

“So you ship there already. Excellent. That will work out well for us. Why don’t you show me around and I tell you what I need immediately and what we are planning in the future.”

Derhog took the very approachable Lord Bienan through the plant and ending at the museum that the company maintained for showing the things that the company had made in the past. Lord Beinan looked at a row of crossbow bolts and said, “Those look familiar. In fact I have been looking for the shop that used that mark on their bolts.” He pulled a bolt out of his brief case. “We found this and a lot more like it. A client of mine wants to know where they came from.”

He handed the bolt to Derhog. Derhog looked at it and said, “This was ours. May I keep this and show it to my father. He probably made it.”

“You can have that. I have to leave shortly, and will be leaving the country, but my rather large client would like to know if you are making these.”

“We don’t reveal current orders, but we haven’t made crossbow bolts of any kind for a very long time. The only potential customer would be the Imperial Army and they buy from Red Mountain.”

“Ok, the House will not be needing anything like that, because if we did, the Inquisition would destroy us and we would deserve it. I have to make my train, so I will take my leave.”

Folmon said his goodbyes and got into the car with Terry. As they drove off, Folmon said, “What do you think?”
“I’m going to talk with the boss and some friends in the army. They probably have an order for those things right now.”

“I think so too. If they didn’t have an order, he would have asked more questions about the bolt, what it did and called his dad down to talk to me about them.”
“Do you think that his dad is still alive?”
“Dwarves live a long time. He’s still around, probably enjoying his retirement. I suspect that somebody came to Derhog with the order, they needed work and he took the order without asking too many questions. At least he didn’t start asking questions until the contract was signed and he had a nondisclosure agreement to deal with. When we get to the station, wire off a message to Jandar about this. When I get to the Republic, I am going to have send a message through the Embassy.”

“What does that bolt do?”
“When we found it and several hundred friends, it was loaded with the Blight. Right now I think it was the Blight that was supposed to cause the turmoils that didn’t happen because the Emperor was mad and so there was no point. We found the bolts in an old Imperial ruin. There are more caches, we think, because some people wanted portals disconnected, but I had to leave before the other caches were investigated.”

Derhog went to his father with the bolt. “Father, I had an interesting new customer and a bit of a quandary.” He handed the bolt to his father. “This is one of yours, isn’t it?”

Senior looked it over and said, “Yes, it is. Who gave this to you?”

“Lord Beinan, head of the House.”

“I see your quandary. The Beinans would be very good customers indeed. Was this the local company or somebody else?”

“The head of the House in the Empire.”

“Then a VERY good customer indeed. Did he say why he was here?”

“Not exactly. Family business and getting the House started up again in the Empire as a result of some large contracts. Then he pulled that out and said that a large customer wanted to know where it came from and if we were making more.”

“Did he say anything else about it?”
“That if his House was handling these, the Inquisition would destroy the House and it would have been justified.”

“So he was telling you that these things are very bad indeed. First of all, we finish the order and find out where it goes. The bolts are a carrier for something else and that is probably what Lord Beinan’s customer wants. Second, we contact Military Intelligence and alert them to this. They may have a lead on this already.”
“Won’t that break our nondisclosure agreement?”

“We won’t tell them who our customer is. Unless there is an immediate or serious threat to the country, we can’t break the agreement. That is the law. We can alert them to a situation and we should, especially if it is going to cause something big in the Empire. That brings me to my third point, if the customer is late in payment or there are any other issues, we close the whole thing down, take the loss and call Lord Beinan or his office and ask who his large customer is.”

“That makes sense, father. Right now, I wish that Lord Beinan had shown up before the customer’s people did. Another thing. I am having somebody dive into the archives and find everything we have on these things.”

“Set Glanor on it. Don’t tell him why, though. See what he finds blind and what he comes up with. He likes delving into the things that we would really rather forget. Other than showing up with things that we should have forgotten, what was Lord Beinan like?”

“Not stuck up at all and very good at business. I had the feeling that he handled most of the business in the Empire he had by himself.”

“So a small business, but since most of the family was scattered and he was probably trying to not attract the Inquisition’s attention, that makes sense. Is he married?”
“He had a band, fairly recent, so it may be an unorthodox marriage.”

“Did he say how much tooling he planned to buy?”
“I think he wants quite a bit of new tooling. Apparently the House in the Empire has some large contracts coming up.”

“So a good customer to cultivate then. Did you show him the new carbide tools?”

“Yes and provided some samples and a toolholder from our no burn line.”

“Son, I am proud of you.”

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