Chapter 8

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“It’s impressive craftmanship,” Rell said as he felt the soft wool between his finger and thumb. The bright pattern was one he'd never seen before. 

“Thank you for saying so.” The weaver smiled as she pulled the shawl tight around her. She was sitting at a sorting table along with a group of seven men and women. A few children scurried along under the table picking up the scraps and stuffing them into sacks. On the table were tufts of wool being teased out.

“Do you sell many?”

“I don’t. I only made it for myself.” 

The man next to her gave her a warning look and the weaver stared at her tools set before her.

“Ah right, I understand,” Rell said and winked at her. “Discards and the such.”

“It’s only what isn’t good enough to be sold. Mr Victor says it’s okay,” the man said. He was ten years Rell’s senior, but he was just a shopworker whereas Rell was the master's son.

“If my uncle says so then who am I to argue, but be careful around Kynon and the others.

“Look busy,” a woman whispered and all heads turned to their work. Rell stepped away from the table and then not sure what to do walked away nodding to himself.

“Rell,” a voice called out. It was one of the shop boys, a cousin of Rell’s but which uncle spawned the child was beyond him. They all had silly names that he failed to remember.

“Yes, Jeraphin?” Rell said.

“I'm Spari, Jera's my brother,” the boy said narrowing his eyes at his cousin. “You have a customer waiting for you on the shop floor.”

“A what?”

“A man, he’s got a sword and wants to speak to you.”

Rell followed the boy, a sickly feeling growing in his gut as he considered the handful of sword owners he knew. He peaked around the door onto the shop floor and was relieved at first to see that it wasn’t one of Vern’s thugs but Sabler, the relief passed when he saw Kynon talking to him.

“If Rell vouches for you then of course you should keep your meeting,” Kynon said loudly as he gestured for Sabler to follow him through to the backrooms. Rell raced to get in the doorway and stop them from getting through.

“Sabler, what are you doing here?” Rell whispered harshly but felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine when Sabler turned his cold eyes upon him. He tried to cover it with a cough, but Kynon smiled at his younger brother’s discomfort.

“You agreed last night to arrange a meeting between your father and me. I have come for that meeting,” Sabler said simply. He wore the same tough travelling clothes as the day before but had added a cloak to the ensemble.

“Rell, I wasn’t aware of such a meeting but if you promised it then it must be so,” Kynon said with a smile that reached his eyes.

Rell dug deep into his memory of the night before but like so much of his life it was all a blur.

“I’m sorry, Sabler, but I haven’t had time to arrange it. You’ll have to come back at some other time.”

“Father?” Kynon’s loud voice carried from the office, Rell turned paler than he already had been. “A business associate of Rell’s is here to see you.” Kynon appeared in the doorway and waved Sabler to come forward and join him.

“Sabler, don’t say anything crazy,” Rell whispered urgently and then followed him reluctantly into his father’s office.

The patriarch of the Quinto family sat behind a large desk surrounded by towering mounds of paperwork that threatened to topple over. His attention was on an open ledger set before him. Corbett Quinto was a tall man with grey hair neatly pulled back and secured at the nape of his neck by a black ribbon. The creases around his eyes deepened as his sons entered his office. Rell instinctively wanted to turn around and run from the building but Kynon and Sabler marched on regardless of the old man's ire.

“What are you bleating about? You have work to be doing have you not?” Corbett said waving a hand dismissively before turning his attention back to the ledger.

“A business partner of Rell’s has come to see you,” Kynon said as he slipped behind the desk to stand at his father's back. The manoeuvre was obvious to Rell, he now stood alone with his ‘business partner’ and would take the brunt of his father’s annoyance.

“I can’t imagine what business Rell would be involved in, other than gambling or drinking and I have no interest in that,” Corbett said but he closed the ledger and gave them his attention. When he saw Sabler for the first time he straightened a little and a hand strayed to a drawer on his left.

“It’s a misunderstanding, father. I said I would try and arrange a meeting, but Sabler misunderstood. We shall leave you to your work.” Rell took hold of Sabler’s arm but snatched his hand away in surprise at the coldness of his skin.

“It seems your friend is determined to have his say, so let him.” Corbett gestured for Sabler to come forward. There were no chairs in front of the desk since any supplicant was expected to stand. “You have the look of a soldier though so I fail to imagine what business you could have with me.”

“I come from the Lady Mira, rider of the White Dragon.” Sabler’s greeting drained the colour from Corbett’s face and left him with a nervous twitch.

“She’s alive?” Corbett clamped his hands together in an attempt to stop them from betraying his obvious fright. At Sabler’s nod, he shot to his feet and marched over to a lacquered cabinet.  The door opened with a creak and the pearl inlay caught the light revealing a wooded hill overlooking a sea, masted ships bobbing upon black water. Corbett withdrew a bottle and a glass.

“What is this, father? Who is Lady Mira?” Kynon asked sensing that his plan had misfired.

Corbett snorted and poured himself a drink. He took a deep gulp of the amber liquid. When he turned back around he'd regained some of his composure.

“You don't remember, Kynon? I imagine you were too young, ten maybe,” Corbett said. He took a deep breath and topped his glass up.

“The banishment?” Gasped Kynon. His tenth year had been one of turmoil and upheaval, his family had been turfed out of their ancestral home and shouted at in the streets. He remembered the long walk that they all took, handcarts piled high with their possessions and slaves with bundles on their backs. Kynon had carried Ariella while they're heavily pregnant mother led the way to their new home.

“Mira,” Corbett said but corrected himself when Sabler scowled. “Lady Mira was on the Hundred  Council at the same time I was. She was ambitious for the kingdom; it was her dream to change the way of things. People followed her but not enough. Eventually, the council moved against her, and she was punished for it.”

“The rebels tried to overthrow the order, they were traitors and were banished because of it.” Kynon didn’t see Sabler move until the dagger was against his throat. Rell blinked and took a step backwards in surprise at the speed of the man, it had been like a blur before him.

“Stop!” Corbett barked loudly. Sabler’s head snapped to stare at him. Kynon gulped but Sabler slowly withdrew his arm from Kynon’s neck. “I understand your loyalty, but you must understand that the supporters of the empire are seen differently here. Lady Mira and her followers were banished.”

“By short-sighted fools,” Sabler growled. Rell was wide-eyed and leaning backwards so much that he wobbled and had to stick his leg back to stop himself from falling over.

“What does the lady seek now, after all this time? For fifteen years I have had no word of them, they crossed the mountains and were lost to sight.” As Corbett spoke, he kept an eye on his eldest son.

“And to thought apparently,” Sabler said harshly. The knife slipped back into its sheath as he returned to stand in front of the desk. Rell took a few steps back from his old friend and wished he'd followed his earlier instinct to run and hide.

“I had to see to the survival of my household. When I saw the cause was lost, I did the only thing that I could.” It was Corbett’s turn to be angry.

“My lady holds no grudge. She has forgiven those that turned their back on her.” Sabler gave a nod of his head in absolution.

“My father has nothing to apologise for,” Kynon said indignantly, his pride overcoming his fear, but he held a hand to his throat protectively nonetheless.

“Kynon, you should know the truth." Corbett took a sip from his glass before continuing. "When I was on the council, I sided with the imperialists. I believed that we were too content to just plunder and demand tribute when we could have been creating an empire ruled by the dragon lords. We formed a society and pushed hard for the council to change but in the end, we lost. Lady Mira was banished along with a dozen of her followers. Together they took their families over the mountains. I and a handful of others chose to stay and fell upon the mercy of the council, mercy that they chose to scrimp on. I kept my head, but I lost my seat.”

“I knew it was bad but that’s…” Rell started to talk but the glare he received from his father silenced him.

“That’s why? You made the right choice.” Kynon nodded in understanding.

“I don’t need your agreement, boy. It was a hard decision to make but it was mine. Tell me Sabler where is the lady now?” The way Corbett looked out of the window it seemed to Rell that he feared this lady might be out on the street at the moment and that it wasn’t a meeting he was keen on.

“A western spur of the Intraana.”

“Has she made an agreement with the dwarves? The Heaven's Spire wouldn't tolerate dragons in their domain.”

“They have their own problems. Lady Mira led her people to a new home, knowing that if she wanted to create an empire she would have to do it far away from the Dragon Eyrie.”

“She’s actually doing it, the empire. But with what? They had only a handful of dragons when they left and there couldn’t have been more than a hundred people in her waggon train. I saw it snake up to the pass, I would have known if there were more to the number.”

“She has made allies in the hinterlands, tribesmen that desire more. People have flocked to her banner, more each spring. Soon we will have a mighty army, large enough to take new lands. It is for that future that I have been sent here to you.”

“Speak plainly about what it is the lady wants from me. But before you ask me you should know that I have very little influence beyond the circles of a few businessmen. I have my family and that comes first. I will not jeopardise my safety or that of this house.”

“Father, it's treason to even speak to this man, we should throw him out now and have done with this nonsense.” Kynon's cheeks were flushed and he looked ready to drag Sabler in front of the hundred with his own hands.

“You are right, but I imagine he will not go quietly and since I am just listening it isn’t treason, it is only that when acted upon.” Corbett leaned backwards in his chair and steepled his fingers. Now that it was a negotiation he was back on firm ground. Rell slipped into a seat by the door, out of the conversation but still within earshot. He glanced to his right and out into the corridor to see Ariella leaning against the wall just outside, she winked at him, and he turned back to the room without acknowledging her.

“The lady has her plans, but I assure you they lay in another direction,” Sabler said. “When word of Lady Mira's conquests reaches the council she would like them to fall upon friendly ears and supported by those that know she isn't a threat. She has no ill will to the council and indeed still thinks of this as her homeland. All she does is for the greater good of her people.”

“But I am no longer on the council. I'm barred even from entering the chamber.” Corbett spread his hands. "Even if I wished to help I don't know how."

“You have influence, and the lady would see you use this to help others onto the council that would look more favourably upon the lady’s plans.”

“You want me to seed the council with her supporters?” Corbett asked incredulously. “I fear you overestimate my reach.”

“I know just how far you can reach. But that is not what my lady requires of you. You have resources that she would see put to our cause.”

“Ah, money then is that it? Well, I have some of that but what is this cause that you think we share?”

“Why the future of our people.” Sabler touched his chest in what Rell thought might have been a salute. “The lady only asks for what she thinks you will be willing to give and then as an investment, a sign of friendship. It is your connections in the city that I truly require, but more importantly, I want your introduction. I'm a stranger in a city that I once called home. The people I wish to speak with will not answer the door to me.”

“You take a big risk coming to me like this. My eldest son is correct when he says that this is tantamount to treason. I should go to the council directly and inform them of your intentions.”

“My intentions are honourable I can assure you. I want little more than to see a friendly voice among the council. This is nothing more than everyday politics for the dragon kingdom. I don’t ask you to break any laws or to harm anyone physically.”

“How does this benefit me?”

Sabler gave his thin smile or as Rell saw it a close approximation of how a human might smile but somehow lacking.

“The dragon empire is expanding and with that growth, so will our need to trade. It won't be one-sided though. Through our conquests, we are already amassing valuable goods. If you help us, we will look kindly upon you.”

“Trade lines? Is the lady planning on coming close to the valley?”

“Lady Mira seeks to build her kingdom south of the Chanet,” Sabler said referring to the desert region to the east of the Dragon Eyrie.

"Karalon?" Corbett gave the idea some thought. "Placing herself between the Jurati and the Vale will win her some friends on the council. But are you able to stand against the elves?"

"Lady Mira wouldn't move her kingdom if she didn't think it wise."

"Of course, but a handful of dragons to conquer a region?"

“Our flock has grown.”

Corbett sat quietly for a moment in consideration.

“I will think about it. You have candidates in mind I imagine?” Corbett asked and Sabler nodded his head. “I will send word when I have made my decision. Rell will see you out. I assume he knows how to reach you when I want to talk?”

“I will tell him how.”

“Good. Now I think it best if you don’t visit here again. If I have a message, I will send Rell to deliver it.”

Rell’s eyebrow twitched at this. He had no interest in getting involved in treason. None of the profits was going to reach him, but then again, he may be able to sneak something off the top. Corbett knocked on the table and Rell saw that he was being watched by all three of the men. He wearily got to his feet and then left the office with Sabler in tow.

“Rell, use the rear exit. I don't want either of you observed on the street.”

Rell led Sabler down a short corridor, retrieving his coat on the way, and then through a heavy door out into the courtyard. Ariella sat on a chair just by the side of the door. Her coat wrapped around her, and her hands thrust into the deep pockets.

“Rell,” Ariella said cheerfully.

“Ariella,” Rell said as he looked askance at his sister. Sabler stepped into the courtyard and Ariella stood up smoothly with her hand offered in greeting.

“Ariella.” Sabler's cheeks flushed as he took her hand and gripped it tightly.

“I heard your name, and I couldn’t believe it. You were just a little boy when I last saw you,” Ariella said. Rell watched them both from the side, Ariella tried to pull her arm free, but Sabler held on a second longer.

“I remember you very well, I have thought of you often,” Sabler said and smiled thinly. Rell rolled his eyes and started to walk away. “I was hoping to get the chance to see you.”

“You're seeing me now,” Ariella said sweetly, the sound struck Rell as false, but he wasn’t in the mood for one of his sister’s games. "What are you doing now?"

“Leaving,” Rell said sharply and strode across the yard towards the rear entrance.

“Still hungover?” Ariella called after Rell. “What say we take our old friend here for a drink and something to eat?”

“He’s eaten,” Rell snapped as he pulled the bolt back and opened the thick door. Beyond was a narrow alleyway that ran behind the buildings. It was littered with refuse and home to a pack of rats that Rell had a history with. He found his old stick still propped against the wall and gave it a test whack to refresh the rodent's memories.

“I would like that,” Sabler said, and Ariella slapped her gloved hands together.

Rell groaned and slumped out into the alleyway, sure to wave the stick at the shadows as he passed.

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