“This is an outrage and if this is the way you intend to run the city, you can forget about the support of the Guilds,” the new head of the Bankers Guild declared.
Fallon glowered at him but a sheaf of requests for money had arrived just that morning from the nobles of the neighboring counties. With money he could purchase, through them, food and goods from counties further away. The food situation was better but it seemed there were many other things the city needed for winter, from firewood to wool for clothing, while the animals stabled within the city to be slaughtered and eaten later needed fodder for the next moon or two. He might get enough gold if he raided the Bankers Guildhouse or he might not. And he could not take the risk.
“What are you talking about?” he asked innocently.
“Duchess Dina. Arrested in the square outside this castle! The Guilds are all happy to deal with her but if she is imprisoned or executed then we shall have to rethink our support,” the Banker said loftily.
“And what if I decided to come calling and look into your affairs, see whether you are secretly worshipping Zorva?” Fallon challenged.
The Banker sat up straighter. “We have all sworn loyalty to Aroaril,” he said. “And if you destroy the Guilds you will throw this city into chaos. No merchant will deal with you and none of the nobles sending food and goods in from the counties will trust you. Duchess Dina was someone we could all deal with. You, on the other hand, are the man who gutted the King in front of a cheering crowd. They are too afraid to work with you.”
Fallon leaned back in his chair, his mind racing. Was this part of Dina’s plans? Had she made the Guilds secret promises in exchange for their support if anything should happen to her? Do we even need the Guilds? Why not just march into every Guildhouse, arrest their leaders and take their money, share it out among the people? It was tempting but they were clever men. They would have planned for this possibility, while he had not. By the time he had men mustered and marching, the Guildsmen would be scattering like rats in torchlight. Unless he got their leaders and their money then he was creating more trouble. He had to get ready for a fight with the Kottermanis and make sure Bridgit got back safely. Fighting his own people in Berry, even if they were Guildsmen, was foolish.
“Well, I am afraid you are mistaken,” he said. “Duchess Dina was not arrested. She is merely resting in her townhouse. We have had a strenuous few days of fast marches and hard camps. Not something she was really used to. She will be available for meetings tomorrow, where she can tell you herself.”
He smiled at the Banker, thinking that he could take a page from Aidan’s schemes.
The Banker looked uncertainly at him. “She was not arrested? Not taken screaming and crying into the castle?”
Fallon made himself laugh lightly. “A foolish jest between friends. She will tell you herself when you see her tomorrow. Shall we say noon, so she does not have to rise early? Bring as many Guild leaders as you feel necessary.”
He could see the confusion on the Banker’s face and enjoyed it. If nothing else, this would buy him enough time to be ready to search every Guildhouse at a moment’s notice.
“We understand the Duchess might be tired after the success of your march through the counties. We shall make it brief.”
“Excellent,” Fallon said. “Well, if there is nothing else that concerns you?”
“No, that was my reason for visiting.”
“Good. Well, I am glad I could clear that up. And after you have met with the Duchess, we can perhaps discuss terms for a short-term loan to keep the city operating?”
He saw the man out to the door, where Gallagher was ready to take him back out of the castle.
“What are we going to do? That traitorous bitch is not going to help us,” Devlin said. “What in Aroaril’s name were you thinking of when you said that?”
“She will help us. She has spent a night in the cells. We offer her the chance to live in her townhouse and, if she behaves, the chance to go and live quietly in the country somewhere after all this is over.”
“Why not keep her here, right under our thumb, in her rooms?” Gallagher asked.
“Partly because we need to use them but mainly because I don’t want her hearing or knowing what is going on around here. Who knows what servants she has in her pay?”
Brendan thumped the table. “I will not see her get away with it!” he growled.
“And nor will she. We will lie to her, pure and simple. And at all times she will have two dozen guards around her. Men we trust. If she tries anything then she will suffer a tragic accident. And we shall be ready to raid the Guildhouses at a moment’s notice, if they kick up a fuss.”
Brendan grimaced. “I don’t trust her any further than I can throw her.”
“Well, that could be quite a way,” Padraig said with a wink. “She’s pretty small, you know.”
“This is not a laughing matter,” Devlin said.
“No, it’s not. But we need to use everything we can to get this city ready for the Kottermanis. If that means tricking and lying to Dina, then so be it. We have just forced the nobles around here to help us. If they smell weakness then they will all stop the food coming and then we will have even more trouble,” Fallon said forcefully. “And what about the Guild of Magic? With their help, we have blinded Swane. If they turn against us then we would have more problems than a lack of flour. I would not like Swane to see how weak we really are here.”
He looked around the table and they all nodded, even Brendan.
“We had better keep a close eye on her though,” he added. “We’ll pick at least a score of our best recruits and put Casey in charge.”
“Not one of us?” Brendan suggested.
Fallon shook his head. “We’re too well known. The Guilds will smell a rat if we are there. They don’t know Casey.”
“Aroaril, I hope you are right about this,” Devlin said. “It might be safer to keep her here.”
“Would you invite a snake into your house? I fear she will be up to mischief here. In her townhouse she will be all alone, watched by a score of our best men at all times and only those we allow can enter. I don’t like keeping her around any more than you do but you heard that bloody Guildsman. People are talking and we don’t have the time or the energy to waste on fighting inside Berry. We have to get ready for the Kottermanis. Besides, there is a kind of justice to it. She used us to help her plans. So we use her now.”
The Bloody Quarrel: episode 5 is released on the 7th of January.