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We search Orsin’s room in waves, first Alan, a priest by his side, slowly and carefully finding nothing. Then Gregor accompanied by a master carpenter and a master stonemason. Conners, Travers and Leumr wait in the doorway, the first two impatiently and the last gratefully. I lean against the hallway wall staring at the backs of two of my guards and muttering to my Sword, confident the guards will believe I’m just indulging in my usual comments about over-protective, smothering, paranoid…
“Alan and the Priest. They are both very strong, in their own ways.”
“And what would those ways be?” Of course, my Sword doesn’t answer other than it’s usual ‘not Sorcerer’. Irritating. Just like my guards.
“We have found gold and papers,” Gregor calls to me. I push past my guards and stop in the doorway, surprised. Four, no five chests filled with gold coins.
I ignore them for the moment, the papers are more interesting. I’m pleased to see Alan agrees; he already has the papers laid out on a large table. He points to one written in Jajel.
“Package received. Three messengers dispatched. On confirmation, send second package by my courier.”
Taver growls something under his breath and Alan glares. I let them pour their anger out at the harmless sheet of paper since they can’t get to the person who wrote it. I’m more interested in the next letter, just a sum of money and a range of dates. Innocuous unless you know the date of the pirate attack on Misthold was in the middle of the range. Afred of Haflt’s letter is a masterpiece, two pages that say nothing. I can’t see the point of even bothering to write it.
“The real message,” Taver answers the question I don’t realize I had asked aloud, “Was probably given verbally. The letter is just to explain why the messenger was here.”
“The date on the letter is after father refused to make common cause with Halft, but before the Enchanters were unmasked.” Taver nods agreement. I try to decide if it makes any difference.
“Do you intended to search Destruction’s rooms today?” Gregor asks, his hand on Leumr’s arm, holding him in place.
“Yes,” answers Alan.
“No,” answers the priest, glaring at Alan and Taver in turn, “These two are going to rest now. The sorcerer’s room can wait until morning.”
I realize how tired Alan is when he doesn’t protest. Gregor releases Leumr, and snaps an order for him to be back first light, or else. He ends up talking to Leumr’s back, but something like agreement comes back up the stairwell.
Taver and Conners go to Taver’s little nest by the main fireplace, driven there by the force of will of two priests. Alan follows me to my favorite table, and the priests allow it. Gregor has been left behind to supervise counting the money, and to arrange for it to be guarded. I have the papers with me, wrapped in silk and then put in a leather pouch.
“You aren’t going to burn Destroyer’s grimoire are you?”
It takes me a minute to realize what Alan has asked. I am too busy to worry about what we have found today. I will worry about what we find tomorrow when we find it. “I’m really trying to decide if I should send these by courier to father.”
Alan shakes his head in total disinterest. “I want the grimoire.”
“So you can experiment and kill yourself,” I think but do not say, not even to the Sword. Then I think about how many times Alan has run toward danger, for the realm—for me.
“Alright,” I finally tell him. “You can have it.”
For a moment Alan looks at me as if I have grown a second head. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I assure him.
He smiles at me, so thoroughly happy that my guards start looking at him with suspicion, and I start looking for things to throw at my guards. All that is within reach is a basket of apples—and they made me really miss Thunder. All Thunder wants is the occasional apple; he would never blow himself up playing with magic or tell me things that give me headaches. I definitely like Thunder better than Alan or my Sword.
I leave Alan grinning to himself, doubtless imagining all of the fun ways of killing himself he is going to find in Destroyer’s grimoire. I debate leaving my Sword lying on the table until I think about my guards probable over-reaction.
I interrupt Traver and Conners trying to estimate the amount of excess taxes Orsin had collected.
“I want to get these papers to father. Can we send enough men for it to be safe?”
“And signal to any watching that the courier carries something important?”
Well, I already knew Traver was better than me at warfare. “So we just send a regular courier?”
“Three couriers spaced over five or six days. And since my head is still hurting…” I look at Taver in surprise; I wouldn’t expect him to complain if his head was falling off. But when he continues, I understand. “Perhaps you and Captain Conners can write the dispatches for the King.”
I think about glaring at him; I don’t like writing reports any more than he does. But then I remember he took the full force of the fall my Sword protected me from, so I just smile and agree.
Conners and I write dispatches and instruct the courier. Then I chase Conners home to rest. I have no doubts about tomorrow being interesting; just as I have no doubts that my next meeting won’t be.
Taver decides he needs nap. I think Taver has decided he doesn’t need to talk to the guild masters—or, more accurately—listen to the guild masters.
I decide the meeting will be at the guild hall of the apothecaries. Gregor and I arrive deliberately late, so I can be sure all are gathered and I don’t have to wait. The news of the five chests of gold has entered the realm of rumor and multiplied, so all are excited.
I disappoint them massively when I tell them how much was really found, and how much—or little, from their point of view—is available to be returned.
“There should be much more than that,” one of the wealthier merchants wails.
“There was, it was spent.” I tell him, and continue before he can ask, “On things that it is the King’s decision to reveal.”
That silences him for a minute. Then they start to debate how the money is to be divided. I interrupt before they even get started.
“Distribution of the recovered funds is my prerogative.” I can tell that several of the Guild Masters aren’t happy with my assertion, but my Sword is strapped to my back, and my guards are, as usual, standing around the hall. Probably unnecessary; Gregor’s glare likely is enough to quail any arguments. “Funds will first be restored to those damaged the most by the illegal taxes, and by that, I mean those with the least resources, so don’t bother trying to make up fantasies. I will judge ‘damaged’ on the basis of how able you are to absorb the loss.” I don’t bother to note the faces of those angry and those agreeing, my guards have already been instructed to pay attention to their reactions. I do notice, and am pleased, Zale nodding in agreement.
Now I let them talk, argue, and whimper. Not that it will change anything, but just so they will know they have been heard. I don’t change my mind, I don’t explain my decision. I just use variations of father’s you do have a point, but ‘no’ answer to stupid suggestions. Eventually I lead them to the realization that the best they are going to get is public acclaim for embracing my solution. They would rather have gold, but they decide to settle for reflected glory.
I praise them for the decision they had no choice but to make, and lead my parade of guards out of the hall.
I decide I have done enough for one day, and spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around the city. Children are playing in the streets, and old people are sitting the their doorways enjoying the sunshine. The city is well on the way back to normal. Everyone looks at me, but no one tries to speak. I decide to blame my guards.