Glasses and goblets were raised to Gyles’ words. Alistair stared on in mirth that the implication had passed by most of the guests save for Lord Humphrey and the Ambassador himself. The Karg stared flatly back over the top of his raised glass at the young smuggler before raising it to his lips in recognition.
As Gyles sat, the Ambassador stood, “Indeed, and in that vein, I would like to offer a toast to Ser Aedan who I understand slew the creature. A powerful deed and we thank you.”
Glasses were raised and drinks taken. Aedan inclined his head, “It was not my sword alone, but the craftiness of my companions as well.”
When the Ambassador sat again, Aedan turned to face him, “Do you know many of the Ship’s Captains of your people?”
“I know a fair number, yes.”
“We are seeking a captain who flies a red banner with crossed swords beneath a wolf’s skull.”
“Ah yes, the red banner belongs to the Malagor.”, the Ambassador sneered out the word, “And the sigil itself belongs to Ydrek, one of their warlords. I could…make an introduction to their Ambassador, but I warn you, Ser Aedan, they are savages.”
“Perhaps, let me think upon it.”
Food followed and polite conversation on its heels. The heir of Summerfield held a form of court, sharing news and humorous tales while Father Mattias spoke of the steps it would take to restore Edmunton to its prior state. It was this conversation which led the Ambassador to speak while the servants were clearing the dishes.
“Lord Humphrey, perhaps this is a good time to conclude our discussions on the mine.”
Lord Aedan quickly looked to nobleman, “The mines, My Lord?”
Lord Humphrey nodded as he sipped from his desert wine, “Yes, Ser Aedan. Ambassador Yoreck, hearing of our troubles at the mine, has agreed to provide men from his….tribe to work it and wagons with which it transport the ore. He wants to see the flow of ore return to Iron’s Bay.”
“But those mines belong to the Duke, and by right, the King; they should not be seen to by peoples not sworn to the Crown.”, Ser Aedan set his goblet down.
“It will take time to find men to work the mines and build new wagons. Time that Iron’s Bay does not have, Ser Aedan. Ambassador Yoreck has those things at hand and has already called for them.”
“Indeed, Ser Aedan. Already the Malagor, another clan of my people, court the Duke directly but they are animals; incapable of the discussions that Lord Humphrey and I have already shared.”
“Humphrey.”, Alistair swallowed the contents of his goblet and refilled his cup, “It seems wise that we should determine what happened at the mine before attempting to work it again.”
The Ambassador clicked his tongue against his teeth, “Yes, we will. As Lord Humphrey has said, I have called for one of my men to come with the wagons. His name is Yardros, he is a Norn. Even now he journeys to us.”
Alistair drank deep from his cup, “And what, exactly, is a Norn?”
“Ah yes.”, the Ambassador said, “I forget there are no such men in the East.”
Alistair rolled his eyes.
“Lord Humphrey uses the word Sorcerer to describe the Norns and their skills; he is very powerful and will see that the mines are safe.”
“Too bad that he is not powerful enough to defeat the beast that stalked Edmunton, and harried the Keep.”, quipped Gyles.
“There was no way to send for him once the beast had trapped us here. Upon Father Mattias’ news of its destruction, we sent word.”, the Ambassador turned to face his host, “Lord Humphrey, while I have great respect for your hospitality and guests, I dare say that this is a matter of trade, a subject in which these men have little experience. It is clear that at least some of your guests believe me to somehow be in league with the creature, which is not only untrue but muddies the discussion at hand.”
“Actually,” Gyles shifted in his seat, “I have quite a good deal of experience with trade and Alistair has dealt with a number of mines in the past. As to your claims about the creature, I think it is you trying to muddy the waters here.”
“Or just airing a guilty conscience.”, Alistair said from behind his raised cup.
“So how is it that you and your men would see to the logistics of the mine and ore?”, Gyles asked.
A fox’s grin crept onto the Ambassador’s tattooed face, “I am so glad you asked, Master Sett. Allow me to explain how such things work.”
The Kargish Ambassador proceeded to explain, in great detail, how they would organize the mine workers, teamsters and usage of the wagons, along with an extensive plan for its distribution. By the end of his answer, many around the table were nodding, including Lord Humphrey. Gyles realized he had given the man the exact opportunity he needed to highlight how helpful the Kargs would be.
Aedan interrupted, “My Lord, I know nothing of the operations of mines but I do know that these mines are the lifeblood of Iron’s Bay. We cannot entrust our livelihood to outsiders, no matter how excellent their plans may be.”
“Strange isn’t it?”, Alistair reached for the bottle of wine again, “That Ambassador Yoreck has wagons and men at the ready; that he would know exactly what was needed at the mines in this time of confusion.”
Ambassador Yoreck ignored Alistair’s barb and looked at the nobleman, “Lord Humphrey, by his own admission, your knight knows little of business or mines. You have heard my plan and agreed with it yourself, and the resources we need to restore the flow of iron ore have already begun their journey to us. Might we just move to conclude this discussion?”“Economy and trade are important, yes.”, Gyles turned his own gaze to Lord Humphrey, “But it is equally important to perform our duties to the kingdom and to its subjects; it is important to find justice for the men and women murdered in Edmunton and this requires caution in these days. We must not do anything that might bind us to an alliance which we later regret.”
“My Lord,” Aedan followed Gyles words before anyone else could speak, “The iron that comes from these mines not only sustains us but keeps us safe, gives us purpose and defines the very nature of who we are. We cannot hand over something so important for others to safeguard.”
“And…he’s probably lying.”, Alistair raised his cup to the Ambassador.
“I have heard enough from commoners, and tradesmen and warriors! This is business and trade, let these men do what they were born to do and likewise us, Lord Humphrey.”
“I agree.”, said Lord Humphrey, “I do not wish this conversation to stir any more blood than it already has. There are merits to all the words spoken here. It occurs to me that such a decision might not be for me to make but for Lord Roderick. Therefore, I shall write to my cousin and ask for his decision on this matter. In the meantime, we will proceed with the plan that Ambassador Yoreck has described.”
Ambassador Yoreck inclined his head in recognition, “As you wish, Lord Humphrey. We wish only to see a strong partnership between your people and ours.”
The Kargish Ambassador stood and excused himself, along with his bodyguards. Lord Humphrey followed but not before requesting Ser Aedan’s presence in his solar. The other guests drifted off in the wake of their host’s departure. Unwilling to discuss anything where hidden ears might overhear, the three companions bid each other good night and went their separate ways.
- * * * * * *
Ser Aedan was shown in to Lord Humphrey’s solar, where he found the nobleman hunched over his desk with a quill in hand.
He looked up, “Ah, Ser Aedan, thank you for coming. I confess, time runs against us. I do not wish to let others work in the mines but larger still is the need to get the iron ore flowing again. I would do almost anything to see that happen. In that regard, Ambassador Yoreck’s offer is the best chance for our people to survive and prosper. I have made just such an argument in this letter to Roderick. Would you see it delivered to him and put your word behind mine?”
Ser Aedan took the offered letter, sealed with wax and the sign of the Iron Bark, “My Lord, I will see your missive delivered to Lord Roderick but I do not agree with you. You must know that. I will make my own case to Lord Roderick to deny such an alliance.”
Lord Humphrey sat back in his chair, his shoulders sagging, “Well, I applaud your honesty, Ser Aedan. I know that you are injured, so if you do not feel that you can deliver such a letter quickly, I would be willing to send it with Master Sett if you desire.”
“No, My Lord. My injuries are not a concern. I will deliver your letter.”
“Very well, my thanks, Ser Aedan.”
- * * * * * * *
Gyles had abandoned his cloak, hoping to appear less like a guest and more like a working member of the keep. He milled about the stables, then the smith, the battlements, and a handful of other locations, all without much to show for it. It was in the kitchen that he struck gold. Her name was Marissa, a young cook’s apprentice with a loose tongue and the ability to wag it while still working.
“Quite a supper tonight, huh?”, Gyles asked, testing to see how much she might have heard.
“Oh yea’.”, she paused long enough to cast a sidelong glance at him, “I ‘eard words were exchanged, wiv’ you in’a heart of it.”
“Me? Those rumors might be exaggerated. Just talk of the mines and what is best for them.”
“Mmm, hmmm.”, she continued to roll the dough in front of her, “You’va hawk? Christa told me you’va hawk an’ that you carry secret messages.”
“I do have a hawk; her name is-“
“Did Lord Humphrey give ya’ any letters? What kind of messages did he give ya’ to deliver?”, she stopped and stared at him directly.
“Letters from Lord Humphrey? That would be spicy!”, Gyles turned, dipped his finger into the garlic butter and tasted it, “What do you think of the Ambassador? Do you trust him?”
“We’d an idiot a years ago, when I was just a girl, but he died. When you talked to ‘im, ‘is face would get all twisted up…like he couldn’t understand ya’ but ya’ could always tell he was tryin’ to understand.”
Gyles, confused at the relevance, let her continue.
“Well, when they come in the Keep, there’s four of them. The three that are about all the time and fourf’ one who looks like an idiot, ‘cept he don’t make no faces at all. He’s got one eye that’s all black and the other that’s like a man’s ‘cept its red.”
“Two different eyes, aye?”, Gyles tried to appear unimpressed, “Did they call him a Norn?”
She bit her lip and narrowed her eyes, “Nah, ‘eard one of ‘em say something like moran or moreray or something like that. But they keep ‘im all shut up in their quarters. We have to bring food for ‘im but they don’t let ‘im come to the door. They always take it and bring it to ‘im. What do you think they’re about?”
“That’s a good questions, Marissa. If I hear anything like that, I’ll make sure you know; will you do me the same favor?”
“Alright.”, she said with a sly smile, “Secret courier.”
- * * * * * * *
Alistair knelt down in the alcove dedicated to Mother Melora in the chapel; candles in various states of life burned on the small shelves below her image. He had come from the kitchens and the hallways that served it like the arteries of a heart; he knew now how the food would come, and the portions would be dealt, how the guests’ plates would be prepared. Now, his knees pressed to the prayer stool, he folded his hands and closed his eyes.
“All-Father, bless me and forgive me for what I am about to do. I see now that it falls to me; that Aedan is bound by oaths which have no hold over me. I may act freely out of love for my friend and his family and so I do. You have given me your wisdom to see this moment, and now I must ask for your bravery to see it through. _ In nomine patris, et matris, et sanctum iucidem dimitte me pro peccatis meis.”_