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“Go over this one more time.” Mynar is sketching a rough genealogy on a scrap of paper.
“Master Bard Dekker was the first cousin of Wills, who is Desee’s father.”
“And Klys is her brother?” Mynar draws a few more lines as he talks.
“No. Klys is Desee’s foster brother. His mother was Wills’ wife’s best friend, and his father was a Bard, which apparently influenced Wills to foster Klys when he became an orphan. Because Wills and Dekker were very close growing up.”
“So Desee, who is Bard Dekker’s first cousin once removed, is being denied entry to the goldsmiths guild.”
“Being denied the opportunity to even apply for entry.” I wait while Mynar considers the convoluted mess I brought home. I know he would like for it to go away, because it is going to upset mother; half-blind Bard Dekker sat with the dying in Kaskl and sang to comfort them. And two of those were our half-siblings, dead much younger than we are now. Dekker is buried beside them and Duke Rals, mother’s first husband.
“This is poor timing.”
I know what Mynar means. There is still ill feeling in the city over Alys, and guildsmen are jealous over their charters. But the difference between being denied by a jury of her peers, and being denied presentation to the jury by one man, is too big of a difference to ignore. Especially for the powerful and wealthy goldsmith’s guild.
Mynar and I debate how to convince father to be tactful without mentioning Alys. We waste our time; father has been dealing with politics since before we were born. He knows when to be firm, and when to go at his objective sideways. This is definitely a sideways problem.
“Why didn’t she come to me for help. Doesn’t she know that Dekker’s kin would have claim on me?” Mother is hurt, partly because Desee hasn’t asked her for help, and partly because she hasn’t known Desee needed help. I look at Mynar, we both know why, and we both aren’t going to say. No one wants to remind mother of what happened in Kaskl and see the pain she thinks she hides.
“So who is this ghost?” Father asks.
“Klys,” I remind him. “The foster son.”
“No. If it were a real ghost, who would it be.”
Mynar and I have no answer, and mother isn’t listening. Her eyes are focused on the past.
“I think the ghost is Dekker,” father finally explains. We all look at mother to see how she reacts to this suggestion.
She smiles, “Dekker would approve.”
“And I know just how to start this rumor,” I tell them, thinking of the old man in the stable and an inventive journeyman bard. And four horses. This time I’ll take apples.
I go to see the old man first. The sergeant on duty tells me that his name is Webb. I really should be more like Mynar, and remember names. We march down the lower streets, the sergeant and two guards first then me and four other guards. I’m wearing the sword, mostly to make up for the fact that it has only been out at night for weeks. I walk in what sunlight I can find; the hill shadows the street except at noon. I get the feeling that the Sword appreciates it. One of the guards carries a bag of apples, because, of course, a princess does not carry her own apples down a city street.
I tell Webb the truth; he is retired guard. He listens intently, and I think he is proud to be asked. I tell him the words to the song we have decided the ghost plays while I feed the horses apples.
The bard is another story. I don’t know him, and I don’t trust him. But I flatter the daylights out of him by asking his opinion.
“Whispers have made it to the court,” I share with him, as if telling secrets. “And I would have the opinion of a Bard. Is there any reason to suppose the ghost tormenting this street is the ghost of Bard Dekker?”
“Master Bard Dekker, who died fighting the plague at Kaskl?” His eyes open wide. “He was a powerful Bard. I will listen and watch,” he promises me in a whisper.
All in all, not a bad afternoon of work. I circle around to a wider street with sunshine for the walk back to the castle.
Within two days the rumor comes back to the court from several different directions that Bard Dekker is haunting Cliffside Lane. Mother lets people see that she is upset, knowing they will guess the wrong reason, and father makes it clear that he is not happy that mother has been upset.
I don’t do anything more; I planted the seed, and is it flourishing.
Klys comes to the stable one night, to ask the guard to assure me he isn’t pretending to be Dekker. My guard sooths him, and tells him to keep haunting, but not to get caught. I let myself, and my guards of course, be seen walking the street at night. Since I know Klys is targeting the goldsmiths, I avoid the nights when their guild meets. So although the princess is patrolling, she never even catches sight of the ghost. I tell myself that being under estimated can be an advantage later, but I still don’t like publically failing to catch the ghost. “Sideways,” I keep reminding myself. “Sideways.” King’s are also jealous of their charters, just from the opposite direction: the guilds use them to define their rights, and the king uses them to define the limits to their rights.
Things build nicely. Father plays politics well. Someday I may figure out why politics are acceptable, but spying isn’t. I know Mynar agrees because that is what father has taught him. Mother just shakes her head at both of them. Still, father times it nicely and when he sends word for the goldsmith guild masters to appear at the next weekly court; they are grateful he is considering their problem. They would be less gratefully if they knew about a more softly worded invitation to Wills and his family.
The court is full, everyone except the guild expecting to be entertained with ghost stories. There are more than enough members of the general public to mask Wills presence from the guild, so they stand placidly by while father deals with several smaller issues.
He finally waves the guild masters forward, and everyone starts paying attention; the main show is about to start.
“Our Queen is upset,” father starts. There is a murmur from the crowd; they don’t like the thought of mother being upset. “Master Bard Dekker was dear to her.” Father doesn’t have to explain that, everyone knows the stories of even the least of the heroes of Kaskl, and Dekker was one of the greater. “She doesn’t like common rumor bandying his name. It isn’t respectful.” Father turns and looks at mother for a moment. Mynar and I stare at the crowd, as if they were the ones guilty of upsetting our mother. I’m carrying the Sword again, have been carrying it much more often ever since Alys’ death, even though I’m not sure why. I’m wearing the red vest for the first time too, which has set off its own spate of gossip. Father times the moment just right, and continues. “I intend to resolve this matter. Today. And clear the names of those unjustly maligned.”
The guild masters look pleased, assuming father is talking about them. My training master could tell them about the dangers of assuming.
“There are rampant rumors that Lord Dekker’s ghost harries the goldsmith guild because they unjustly denied his cousin.” Father lies with such conviction, even I believe him, despite knowing it isn’t general knowledge the goldsmith guild is targeted. And no rumor has even whispered Desee’s name.
Mother looks at Desee and gestures her to the side of the throne. “I know this will be difficult for you, my dear, but it is necessary.”
Desee just nods, obviously confused. Klys looks frightened, for all that he was warned beforehand to say nothing. Wills is starting to look angry, but since his anger seems to be aimed at the guild masters, I don’t see any problem.
“Hannr,” father commands, “As head of your guild’s jury, I want you to explain—simply so that all may understand—what flaw you found in Desee’s presented work.”
Hannr looks toward his fellow guild members for help, but gets nothing but blank looks in return. “Ah,” he stutters a little then tries again. “The jury actually never sat for Desee.”
Father waits, demonstrating via body language that he is expecting more.
When Hannr remains silent, looking at the floor, Father turns to Desee. “Did you request your work be presented to the jury?” Father’s tone is a work of art.
“Yes.” I could have hugged her; she couldn’t have answered better if she knew father’s purpose. Just a flat ‘yes’ with no explanation.
Father looks back at Hannr. “Why wasn’t her work judged?” Father is reasonable, showing by his tone and manner that he knows there must be some good reason.
Hannr remains silent, suddenly much less assured. What had seemed acceptable to him when the guild masters met, was looking less appealing when about to be dragged into the light of day before the king.
Ankr steps forward when it becomes clear Hannr isn’t going to speak. “I judged her work to be insufficient to be presented to the jury.”
“Oh?” Father’s tone could not have been more bland.
“It would have been a waste of the jury’s time.” Ankr is a fool. He thinks he is convincing father, instead he is busy tying the knot of the noose that will hang him.
“So you select those who are to be presented to the jury?” Father’s tone is mild, barely interested.
“Yes,” Ankr is firm, believing he has proven his point. He has just put the noose around his neck and father is about to drop the trapdoor under him.
“And when was this change to your charter approved?”
For the first time Ankr realizes he is in trouble.
“It’s just a minor administrative change, not worth your attention, your majesty.”
“Really?” Father’s tone makes it clear he is really asking Do you think I’m that stupid. “One man having the power to determine who joins the powerful goldsmith guild is definitely a matter that concerns me. Bring our copy of the charter,” father calls to one of his clerks. It appears fast enough, everyone knows father had it ready. Mother is patting Desee’s hand and glaring at Ankr.
Father has the clerk read the charter. Ankr tries to defend his position, and some of the other masters spew out long sentences that fade to nothing as if even they realized they are making no sense. The more they try to justify themselves the more guilty they appear.
“Enough!” Sudden silence falls. Father is done being reasonable. “You will be given a new copy of your charter, since you seem to have forgotten what it says.” No one else speaks; the masters barely breathe. “You made this mess—you will now clean it up. You will come back two weeks from today and report to me and to all of the citizenry how you plan to amend matters. If I do not like your plan, I will provide one of my own.” Father’s tone is threatening. He ends court by walking out, followed by Mynar and mother, then me and the sword.
The four of us eat dinner quietly in what is mother’s morning-room, leaving the court free to gossip.
“I don’t understand why you let them off so easily,” Mynar is quizzing father; not really complaining, but trying to understand.
“They will propose a harsh plan when they come back, for fear that I will impose a harsher one. And the other guilds will see me as protector of the charters, which they would not do if I imposed a solution.” Father is smug and mother complacent; clearly they consider the matter satisfactorily settled.