The Landdragon Queen, Chapter 9-10.

Keerla meets with a young elf girl. Joram finds tainted coin.

Chapter 9.

Elysahone.

Keerla stood back from the crowd at the portal terminal, waiting for the girl who had sent the rather mysterious message. She wanted to find out what the girl had been talking about before discussing the things in the message with her grandfather. An attractive girl with elf heritage emerged from the crowd, walked over, curtseyed and said, “Lady Grewenys, I am Villia Fallingwater. I have been tasked by my grandmother to discuss the fate of the Sanctuary with you.”

Keerla noted the collar and said, “That is a very strange thing for a slave to say.”
“Do you know a good place to eat? We can chat about this over lunch.”

“I know all sort of places here in the city.”
“Good, because while I have heard all sorts of wonderful things about the city, I have never had the opportunity to come here.”

“What is your function as a slave?”
“I am an entertainer. I work out of a house in the Lower City.”
“You are not dressed for that work, what little as I know of it.”
“I did not want to attract undue attention. This is a family matter and grandmother would be rather annoyed if things get more complicated than they already are.”

Keerla stopped in front of a small café and said, “This place has a wonderful chicken pie. Why don’t we stop here?”
Villia grinned. “That sounds wonderful.”

They sat down, the waiter took their orders and Keerla asked, “So why would the future of the Sanctuary concern you?”
“Because my grandmother’s last name is Silverin. That was both her maiden and married name as my grandfather is a third cousin.”

“So the Silverin became slaves.”
“We made a bargain. Our service in exchange for the feeding of the people of the north and permission for the people to move to Fallingwater.”
“What about the Sanctuary?”
“It was originally called Silveri’s Folly. When we were struck by repeated Blight attacks, the family did not have the reserves to buy grain. For that matter, the Empress had more or less banned the Silverin from buying grain and the coin that was available, few would accept. The greenhouses and the farms in the Folly could not feed all the people at the time and a decision had to be made. So we prevailed on our neighbors, the Umevan and left the Folly to the folk that lived there to fend for themselves.”

“That explains why certain things don’t work. They need a Silveri to make them work. Are there hidden vaults of treasures as well?”
“You would know better than I would. The family doesn’t tell stories of such, but there may be reasons for that.”

Keerla laughed. “I used to poke around the depths looking for such things and there were some old, very old stories. On the other hand, you do not look like a Silverin.”

“We have learned to hide ourselves. It would not do for certain members of your family to know that we existed.”
“Why reveal yourselves now?”
“Necessity. The Sanctuary is becoming a power in the Empire and the Empress is concerned that members of your family would have complete control.”
“She hasn’t expressed such concerns to me, my grandfather was betrayed by his father and wants nothing to do with the rest of the monsters or the things they do.”

“We know, and if we had a choice, we would leave things as they are. Unfortunately, my brother managed to get himself headed to a royal marriage with Princess Immianthe and that attracted the Empress’s attention. So we are under pressure to come out of hiding. On the other hand, the family is small, my uncle has not yet married and the estate was just returned to the Umevan. My father is going to be needed by the Umevan for some very large tasks, my grandfather will not leave the winery to take on the Folly, and my uncle has his projects as well.”

“They are slaves. Couldn’t Jorge tell them to do something else?”
Milady, I was purchased by the Empress to perform a task. I cost her five thousand gold. I doubt that Jorge would sell my grandfather, but if he did, my grandfather would probably bring ten times that much. My grandfather is probably the best at what he does, in the world. You don’t tell someone like that to do something else.”

“Five thousand gold is a lot for an entertainer.”

“I can make that back in ten five days. A night with me is not cheap and I have some regular customers that are going to be disappointed that I have been retired.”

“I imagine that being retired is something that you have to face.”

“For the girls from the estate, that means going home and the rest of our lives. For some of the others, things don’t go well. At least elf girls have a chance for a long career and Lady Jessen and the Lady have helped the others find alternatives and husbands.”

“Lady Jessen?”
“That is Lymseia Reymyar, the former Imperial mistress, who the baker, Benny Jessen, slave, found after the Dowager Empress sent some thugs after her. Lymseia purchased Benny, shared blood, had a raft of kids and grandkids while Benny built more bakeries and baked more bread.”
“Does he have a Seat?”
“Benny remains a slave. He and Lymseia didn’t want to pay tax to fund the Dowager Empress’s schemes and as far as they were concerned, a marriage agreement didn’t really matter. They keep some aspects of their lives separate and enjoy themselves. On the other hand, Lymseia is getting heat from the Empress as well to make it official and drop Benny in a Seat.”

Keerla laughed. “Perhaps I should ask you for tips on how to keep my boyfriend happy.”
“Is he unhappy?”
“Not really, but he is on the road a lot for House Glynynore as one of their top post riders. So he needs something to come home to.”
“How did you meet him?”
“We met on a bus. I had just escaped from the Sanctuary through the portal in Innshys and caught the bus. Somebody probably sent ahead and he and his partner Walnut got on the bus as I was travelling here.”
“You didn’t port?”
“At the time, I had a map that said that you could buy portal keys here. I was rather naïve and foolish then, so I thought that I could find out why my uncles betrayed the army and why the army was being kept as prisoners. At the time, we in the Sanctuary didn’t know very much about the outside world and what the family had tried to do. So I ported into Innshys and caught the bus with my servant, heading here to buy a portal key. Of course I could have purchased a portal key in Innshys, but I didn’t ask for one at the store and the lady there sold me the bus ticket I asked for.”

“Did you find your uncles?”
“They were laying about the palace, not doing much of anything, which from the standpoint of what happened next, was the best thing they could be doing. You probably know about the takeover and the rest of it.”

“Yes I do. Your great grandfather made some rather bad mistakes on his way to Ishendell.”

“Now, to get back to issue at hand. The Sanctuary is going to need better representation in the Conclave. So having your brother represent us and be our eyes and mouth in the palace would be a good thing. We at the Sanctuary can maintain things and keep the day to day business.”

“I will take that proposal to my grandmother. I do not think that she will have a problem with that.”

“One last thing. We should try to get your lonely uncle to the Sanctuary frequently. There may be ladies that are interested.”
Villia laughed. “There may be. They will be rather strange, though. Do you have any that like playing with distillation.”
“Is that what your uncle is doing?”
“Brandy and other distilled liquors, yes.”

“I will see what my mother thinks.”

“You want the families tied together.”
“Yes. At least I want more of the Sanctuary folk outside the bubble. I grew so much and my friends have as well when we looked outside the city for things. I want the rest of the city to experience that.”

“Would you like to arrange a meeting with my grandmother on the estate?”
“I would. I imagine that your grandfather likes to show off and Yellowleaf and the festival is coming.”

“I think that I see where you are going. I will wire you the day for your visit. My grandmother may wait until my parents return.”
“Where did they go?”
“They went to the Republic with Lord Fylson and the Lady. My mother wanted to poke a persecutor in the nose for going after my brother the way he did.”
“Isn’t that Prosecutor?”
“Not according to my brother, who was rather annoyed that the persecutor was trying to get Tad to testify against the Lord.”

“Did Jorge send a bear to the prosecutor’s house or something?”
“The prosecutor was going after the Lord because my brother continued to wear his collar for security reasons and when a bunch of girls badgered him about certain ladies that live in the Cloud City, kept saying, “I’m just a slave.” That was true at the time, but wasn’t when he was in the Republic because the Lord emancipated him after that thing in Zirgoccol and the reason my brother continued to wear the collar was that there was some concern that your family and some rather ugly people would make off with him again and he was concerned about the wrath of Immianthe.”

Keerla laughed. “Then he had perfectly valid reasons to wear the collar.”

“Yes he did. The persecutor was an idiot. My mother probably enjoyed herself immensely.”
“What if the persecutor doesn’t go after your mother?”
“He will. My mother is perfectly willing to make enough noise and fuss to get exactly the attention she wants. We can get the details when they get back.”

“I see that Yddren found us. Villia, this is Yddren Hotflamer of the post service. Yddren, this is Villia Fallingwater, who is acting as a go between for her family and mine.”
“What about? The Sanctuary doesn’t have slaves and she is one.”
“We are discussing emancipation and family responsibilities. Villia is a member of the Silverin, who held the Sanctuary long ago and who the Empress would still like to have hold the Sanctuary. We, the folk of the Sanctuary would like better representation in the Conclave, so we are negotiating a deal.”

“A good deal or an expedient one?”
“So far it looks like a good deal.”
“So long as it doesn’t involve Jorge sending something nasty through a portal, it is going to be a good deal.”
“What about bears?” Villia asked.

“The bears have the portal codes already, that is if they don’t catch the bus. I’m not worried about the bears. The other things that Jorge does, I do worry about.”

“Just be nice to my brother and his princess and you should be fine,” Villia said.

“That might not be so easy. There are a bunch of us who know all the high guard in the Imperial detail by name, since they have been in and out so much.”

“How does a post rider get involved in that?”
“Because I have certain authority, the post road is right outside the Sanctuary, I already know all the people in the Sanctuary and when the menaces are loose, guess who Folwin calls in.”

Keerla and Villia laughed.

“I will say that Tad has been a good influence on the menaces and they have been occupied with training with the Flight Instructor, the guildsman and his friend and probably others, along with being busy with what your brother and Jorge have been up to, so random menace activity has reduced significantly. Did your mistress send you on this errand, Villia?”

“You apparently know who I am.”
“By your professional name, Sylph. A night with you was the reward for special services for those of us who did not have relationships at the time. I had the opportunity for one of those nights after doing something rather ugly on the road.”

Keerla turned to Villia and said, “Then you are a dragon as well?”
“We are protected against certain things and since it wasn’t a bond the transformation did not happen. A bond would have been rather inconvenient for the house as it would probably have started a fire. In any case we are protected against things like transformations and children. There is a mage in the Lower City who ensures that the protections remain.”

“Your life is more complicated than I would have thought.”

“Somewhat. At least that part is almost over and I can have the life I choose. Why don’t we meet at the tavern in the Cloud City in a five day?”

“The Ravathyra tavern?”
“Yes. I will buy the lunch then.”

“That will work. Until then.”

Villia left and Yddren said, “I’m sorry I was a bit late.”

“That wasn’t a problem. The conversation was rather interesting.”

“Was the proposal as good as you said it was?”
“It was, actually. The fact is that we in the Sanctuary are vulnerable if we do not have somebody to speak for us in the Conclave. So the deal is something that we need. Also, there are tales of the Silverin from long ago. I think that I will port to the Sanctuary and see what I can find in the library. For one thing, that girl did not look like a Silverin should, if the tales are correct.”

“Then you have a mystery to chase.”

“What was she like?”
“What do you mean?”

“You had a night with her.”

“That was before I met you and she was not you. It was an experience, but there was nothing there, on both sides.”

“You say the nicest things. I wonder why the empress purchased her.”

“For her skills in certain areas. I imagine that one of the princes is about to get an education.”

“She was not looking forward to that.”

“I imagine that she considers it an unpleasant part of her job and that she has done such things before. She is certainly skilled at dissembling somewhat and she has a string of admirers.”

Chapter 10.

The Hideaway.

Dúhael activated Haciathra and said, “Milady, I thought that I would have a chat with you.”

Haciathra grinned. “What about?”

“We have retrieved the devise from the vault in the south and it is on its way here. The problem is that it has failed and right now, we do not have the resources to repair it.”

“The important thing is that we have it and Harald does not. He and my sister denied the devise to us and that was costly. Without the devise, our adversaries will not be able to obtain the resources to oppose us in the long term.”
“Our adversaries have almost all the resources at this point. They control the mana wells, the Empire and the Blasted Lands.”

“Not all the mana wells. We can recover, now that you have coin to use to destabilize things and the wells in the Mortal kingdoms will not have anyone to tell the folk there about them, since my brother’s campaign to convince the people of the Mortal Kingdoms that mages are corrupt has borne fruit.”

“That campaign has been weakened by the actions of the late Grand Master. It will take a great deal of effort to rebuild it.”

“The removal of the five cities should aid the campaign.”

 “It would have if both royal families were exterminated and the countries thrown into complete chaos. Unfortunately the royal family’s heirs survived, so there was continuity, the Mortal Kingdoms know who was responsible for the Scourging and we were not able to disappear cleanly.”

“Is that important?”
“It could be. We also did not retain all the people that I had planned to retain and that has created some setbacks.”

“Setbacks are to be expected. Be strong and overcome. At this point the only course left is to be true to the Project.”

“The folk want to see victories. The enemy opposed us more vigorously than I expected and created some of the setbacks.”

“Can you use other means to deal with the enemy?”
“The method we have used in the past are lost to us. We have no Dancer or Hunter at present and much of our operations are committed or in the wrong places. We never considered losing the Empire and we have to a large extent.”

“Persevere. I imagine that other things are going as you planned. I would not be too discouraged. Let us go over your plans and see how to make our enemies gnash their teeth and howl in despair.”

 Lensa watched the young lord go on his ride from the hidden window. She had found a door to the stables that no one else remembered, but hadn’t quite had the courage to use it as yet. She missed her daily rides and the young lord looked lonely and a bit frightened on his rides.

Evacuation Camp, Outside Dolmas.

Joram walked down the muddy ‘street’ and toward the rather crude tavern where he had been told that some folk he knew were having a quiet drink. Jon the cooper spotted him and said, “I thought you had become too high to mingle with folk like us, Joram.”

“Because Princess, that is Queen Cécile likes my landdragon? That doesn’t change who I am.”

“She will tie you up all too soon. Just you watch. So why are you here? Other than to have a tankard, that is. I will buy.”

“You will buy? Where did you get the coin?”
“I will have you know that Duke D’lastre sent his man with coin to look for folk with the crafts he needs.”
“Dolmas coin?”

“Good Vestian coin.”

When they entered the tavern and sat down, Joram discreetly put his hand in his satchel and turned the radiation scanner inside on. The scanner obligingly started beeping and making a scratching noise. Tomas, the baker said, what is that?”
Joram pulled the scanner out and said, “I must have turned this on by mistake. This is a radiation scanner. The bankers are using it to find the coin that was in the five cities when they were Scourged. The coin is poison that can kill you slowly.”
“The coin can kill you slowly?” Tomas asked worriedly.

“If there is enough of it. The queen is having the Vestian coin that was not in the Scourged cities marked with a marking machine from the Lower City so that folk will know that it is not poisoned. The bankers and the landdragons from the radiation lab on the Qinvaris estate are setting up a booth and that was where I was taking this.”

“Could it scan my coin?”

“Bring it here and we can take care of it right now.”

Tomas left and returned with a coin tray. Joram ran the scanner over it and then over each coin, finding two silver pieces that made the scanner light. Joram said, “Take these to the booth for exchange. I would take your coin trays over to the booth every day to make sure that you didn’t gather a lot of poisoned coin. The more you have the worse it gets. Jon, we should check that coin you have.”

Eral the tavernkeeper brought his coin tray over and said, “Try mine as well.”

Joram did and selected five silver pieces of different weights. “Take these to the booth for exchange.”

Jon put his purse on the table and the scanner went wild. Jon looked at the coin and said, “Is all of it poisoned?”
Joram put the coins one by one over the scanner and every one of the gold pieces and most of the silver was tainted. “You were handed poisoned money stolen from the folk in the five cities. Think about that and the kind of folk that would do such things. I would hand the coin back where you got it and tell whoever recruited you to look elsewhere.”

Two more craftsmen came to the table and handed Joram their purses, with the radiated coin. Once that was done, Joram drained his tankard, put the scanner in the satchel and said, “I need to get this to the bankers.”

“What do we do now?”
“The queen will help you start again. Be patient. Write a list of the tools you need and take it to the queen’s office here. We will rebuild. Be wary of those offering you coin to leave the kingdom. They may be buying something other than your skills.”

“Aye, Joram,” Jon said. “I should not have doubted you.”

“If a group of you want to get together and make lists of what you need, I can arrange an audience with the queen. The queen is very concerned for you folk and wants to rebuild as soon as she can. These other folk are putting you on the fire with your own family’s and neighbor’s coin that they made off with after murdering them. The taint of that remains on the coin. I need to go.”

Joram walked up to the small shack where Betrek was supervising the installation of a small vault and Mercury was setting up a scanner. Mercury looked up and said, “How did it go?”

Joram put the scanner on the table. “Very well. This thing sang its song and the coin I planted with Tomas did as well. Some coin has started to show up, but I think that I may have persuaded people that having it is a very bad thing.”

Terrial D’lamber stopped to scratch under the hard leather tunic he was wearing. He was on his way to his next target, Roauld, the carpenter, when a voice said, “We have had enough of your poisoned tongue and cursed coin!”

Terrial was thrown to the ground and a purse dropped in his lap. He looked up at Jon the Cooper and said, “What do you mean? This is good Vestian coin.”
“Tainted by the curse of the dead. The Scourge poisons the coin and this is poisoned. We all saw the devise say so at the tavern and the old stories tell of such things from the Mage Wars. Coin was how the mages spread the poison and now some folk are doing so again. I would go, like the dog you are, back to that master of yours and tell him that the folk of Vestia know better than to take the Dark’s poison.”       
Cooper stomped off, Terrial stood up and looked around. Roauld was looking at him and shook his head. “You better leave, before Jon spreads the word around.”
“Are you open to my offer?”
“I am not. I would not take coin from the dead. That is bad luck, especially from the Scourged. Considering where we are, spreading the curse of the dead is going to end you in trouble when the word spreads. I would go, and quickly.”

Terrial walked away and two of the men that worked as camp guards surrounded him. “Milord, you must come with us.”

“What is this about?”
“There has been some talk going about the camp about you handing money that is poisoned around the camp. We want to take your coin to the scanning station and have it checked.”

Terrial was marched to the station where a fae man said, “Is this the man?”
“Yes, milord.”
“Mercury is fine, sergeant. Milord, I must insist that you place your purse on the table here.”

“So you can rob me?”
“Not at all. I have no need to rob you. In fact, if the coin is as we suspect, we will be saving your life. Let’s see what the scanner says.”

Terrial put his large and full purse on the desk and the scanner, even before the purse was opened, screamed. The fae reached for a pair of gloves and a pair of tongs, pulled a leaden box to the purse and placed the purse inside, closing the box. “I am afraid that I have to confiscate this coin, as it is obviously radioactive. If you have any more coin from the same source as this, I would bring it here and turn it over.” The fae handed Terrial a small booklet. “Read this and hand it to your lord. Contact with coin from the Scourged cities in quantities will kill you, slowly. In any case, coin with radiation will be considered stolen from the crowns of Vestia and Apua and confiscated, if it isn’t turned over. In any case, having any large amount of this coin is a very bad thing unless you have people who know how to take precautions. Sergeant, take this man to the gate and send him on his way.”

Astia.

Cécile grinned as Joram came into the hall. “Were things handled?”

“Duke D’lastre will not be using the tainted coin for anything and people in the camps all know to look for it now. I think that anyone else will have a hard time with the coin.”

“What about the Duke?”
“You will have to ask King Aestaeros about that. I think that if you asked for his head, the king would give him to you. On the other hand, you may have problems closer to home.”
“What do you mean?”

“Your uncle, Duc D’lanate died in Altensee, but your cousin, Elderic, who was not in the city when the Scourge hit, may have obtained some of that coin.”
“May have?”
“The duc is staying on his estate, he is your heir and I am too well known to poke around too hard. Some recruiters that apparently came from him had some of that coin.”

Cécile frowned. “Have you spoken with Justiciar Dawkins about this?”
“Not yet. He has been up in Altensee and I don’t have a Jump point there.”

“The duc isn’t actually my heir. He would be Radal’s regent, though. That is unless I change the will to make Geral the regent. I think that you should make step Jumps to Altensee and discuss this with the Justiciar. Go as the landdragon.”

“What if the duc sends somebody after me?”
“Go see Jimmy before you go and equip yourself. I imagine that my cousin will be surprised at what he encounters.”

“Ok, I will do that.”

“Be careful. I wouldn’t send you, especially by yourself, but I have no one else that I can send and I have this feeling that we may not have a lot of time.”

“You think that the enemy has another strike planned?”
“Yes. I especially think that Terrence and I are at risk, since we survived. That means that you are at risk, to get at me, if there weren’t other reasons.”

“I will be careful.”

Aestaeros came into Fulques office and said, “I understand that Johel is being a very bad boy again.

“What did he do this time?”

“As you know, Queen Cécile is concerned about various lords poaching the folk from Vestia as they are in the evacuation camps. Joram was sent to see what he could do about that, he made arrangements with Jomney to have the bankers and radiation lab folk set up a scanning station and scan for coin from the Scourged cities. Johel had sent a man to do some recruiting and the coin he was using turned out to be radioactive.”

“Turned out to be radioactive or radioactive coin was planted?”
“Turned out to be radioactive. Joram arranged with some friends to supply some radioactive coin, but the coin used to recruit was definitely from the Scourged cities and tainted.”

“Was it made clear that having that coin was a bad thing?”
“Yes, it was. Johel’s man was taken to the scanning station, the coin was tainted, confiscated and secured.”

“Get together with Dugal and arrange to have the Exchequer visit Johel’s estate with some people with the scanners. I want it made clear that having that coin and letting it circulate is a very bad thing. We do not want the coin circulating and making people sick. There are too many old legends about that and the sickness was one reason that mages were so distrusted in the past.”

Fulques smiled. “I will put this together, then. Should I take advantage of my brother, since he is here?”
“Why not. I imagine that Gander will not mind as this is part of his case.”

“Then I will do that.”
Altensee

Gander looked at the shielded grove in the center of the city. In spite of the fact that the trees of the grove were dead, the shield remained up. Someone or, something, more than likely, had used glamor to confound the people sent to retrieve the Animator. In any case, Gander was more concerned with city hall, the lorekeepers and the city nobles. He was hoping to find out if there had been one that had left suddenly, right before the city was Scourged. Leaving the grove, he went inside a house where Tom and Naexi were going through the butler and major domo’s notes. Tom looked up and said, “Nobody seems to have done anything unusual. One family member was out on the family estate, but it is the harvest and he’s probably still working on getting the crop in.”

“Keep looking. We want to look for survivors that had warning of what was coming.”
“Why do you think that were any?”

“Just call it a hunch. I have this feeling that there was something bigger than just robbing banks, Especially here, in Altensee. The other cities were all becoming more like the Blasted lands after the railroad connected them. Altensee was different.”

“Because of the fae connection?”
“That, and other things. The royal families have relied on Altensee for advice for centuries and you can see the impact that has here, in the city surrounding the grove.”
“How do you know so much?” “I grew up on my grandmother reading Elf Carran’s tales with her little inputs. You were not as close, and grandmother was busy, so you don’t have that experience. Let’s get this done.”

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