The Spirit’s Blade – Chapter 17

Haldri Paxmer hated waiting. It was beneath the dignity of a Queen to wait on the appearance of a lesser being, and in the end everyone else beside Haldraxan was a lesser being when compared to the Queen of Paxmer.

“Oh good, you’re still here,” Merrin Quick said as she was escorted through the door that led to the queen’s Tactical Reception room.

“You are tardy,” Haldri said. “I do not know that I have business to do with a shipping clerk who delivers herself late to a scheduled meeting.”

“I would take offense at that, but I actually did start as a shipping clerk,” Merrin said. “You should try it. It’s very enlightening to see how an organization can run smoothly or poorly based on how well the management understands what they’re asking their workforce to accomplish.”

“I need no lessons in governance,” Haldri said. “What delayed you?”

“Late delivery of news on some sourcing opportunities,” Merrin said. “I thought you’d appreciate having the most up to date information for how much of your speciality materials we’ll be able to deliver.”

“I will appreciate the news only if its good,” Haldri said.

Merrin smiled and shook her head, either in disbelief or mockery. Haldri was tempted to forget the strategic value the Gallagrin guildmaster represented. Feeding Merrin to Haldraxan wouldn’t support Haldri’s plan at all, but it would make the queen feel marvelously better, or so she imagined.

“It’s not good news,” Merrin said. “It’s fantastic news. House Scor had its outstanding tax liens called in by the Gallagrin crown.”

“And why should we be concerned over something so trivial as Gallagrin coins moving from one noble house to another?” Haldri asked.

“It’s complicated,” Merrin said. “Are you sure you want the explanation?”

“You seemed to feel it was important enough to delay this meeting for,” Haldri said.

“I wanted to walk in here with the proper information,” Merrin said. “I don’t promise things I can’t deliver, and being aware of the current state of the market is a big part of that.”

“Then tell me why this affects your market,” Haldri said.

“House Scor was a supporter of King Sathe during the civil war a few years back. They backed him up till the end but when Queen Alari won the throne, they claimed they’d only backed Sathe because he held their heir and his two younger brothers as hostages against the house’s good behavior,” Merrin said.

“If they backed the Butcher King, why do they still exist?” Haldri asked.

“A lot of nobles backed Sathe,” Merrin said. “When the Queen ascended to the throne, her court was one quarter allies, one quarter enemies and the remaining half were people who were somewhere in the middle.”

“In Paxmer we have a solution to problems like that,” Haldri said.

“The Queen doesn’t have dragons to call on,” Merrin said.

“Of course you don’t,” Haldri said. “Just those foolish little spirit bonded warriors.”

“Yeah, and the Pact Knights are scattered among all of the nobles, so the Queen had to be careful with how she reconstructed the kingdom,” Merrin said. “One of the areas that’s produced a lot of friction is who pays for all the rebuilding. Even seven years out from the fighting there are still bridges that haven’t been rebuilt and fields that need to be recovered.”

“You make it sound as though the kingdom is in such poor shape that someone could simply walk in and conquer it by saying they did,” Haldri said.

“Probably looks tempting but I wouldn’t recommend it,” Merrin said. “Rebuilding the nation’s defenses has been a top priority. The Queen has invested a lot the country’s wealth in restoring both its economic and military viability.”

“And House Scor factors into this tale how?” Haldri asked. Because she was a queen, people seemed to uniformly consume as much of her time as they possibly could. Haldri was certain that Merrin would fall into that trap as well and explain the minutiae of Gallagrin politics and its economic conditions for as long as the queen allowed her to speak. It was better, Haldri decided, to keep the conversation on track lest she give in to the royal urge to throttle the inane prattling out of Merrin before another word could be uttered.

“House Scor was the recipient of a sizeable chunk of gold which went towards the production of just the sort of weapons and armor that you’re looking for.” Merrin said.

“And how does that do us any good?” Haldri asked. “We don’t need the Paxmer queen better armed. It’s a shame our brother left her with any arms at all.”

“House Scor was given the gold for prototypes,” Merrin said. “Which they produced using a new smelting method. They claimed the weapons and armor would be lighter, stronger and easier to maintain, and the initial testing of the prototypes proved that out.”

“How joyful,” Haldri said. “So Gallagrin has superior mundane weapons.”

“Gallagrin has the prototypes of superior mundane weapons,” Merrin said. “That’s all that the crown paid for. House Scor went on and began producing a sizeable quantity of their gear on their own in anticipation of heavy demand once the results of the prototype testing were released. That’s what put them in the poor position they’re in today.”

“The results were never released?” Haldri asked, finding herself delighted that someone had been double crossed. She could work with that sort of information.

“The results were contested,” Merrin said. “Poor testing methodology was the official reason given. At the same time, the crown decided it was time to call in the back taxes which House Scor owed since rebuilding a country is a costly endeavor.”

“Did they hope to seize the weapons as part of the tax payment?” Haldri asked. As much as she hated Alari Gallagrin, Haldri couldn’t help but smile at the properly draconic display of royal privilege.

“No,” Merrin said. “As weapons built from an untested material there’s no simple method of setting a price on them aside from an open auction.”

“And you intend to bid as a proxy for our interests at that auction?” Haldri asked.

“Of course not,” Merrin said. “With the news of the tests results having leaked out, that gear will go for a very high bid. Everyone will want to be able to say that their troops are equipped with the most fearsome weapons and the most durable armor the world has ever scene.”

“If you are not going to bid on them, then why does any of this matter to us?” Haldri asked.

“For two reasons,” Merrin said. “First because this represents an additional source of weapons and armor that wasn’t in play up until now, and second because I don’t need to bid on them to deliver them to you.”

“You plan to steal them?” Haldri asked.

“Bidding on them would require charging you a rate above and beyond the already high bids the weapons are likely to draw in. When you do business with me, I look out for your bottom line,” Merrin said. “Some guilds want to squeeze you dry on the spot. That’s good for them in the short term but not so much for a long term partnership.”

“And what does looking out for our bottom line get you?” Haldri asked. Despite her draconic heritage, Haldri was familiar with the concept of cooperative business arrangements. Because of her draconic heritage though she knew that cooperation was often a most effective veil at hiding someone’s true ambitions.

Merrin Quick seemed so delightfully uncomplicated on the surface. A pure streak of mercenary greed ran through her from top to bottom and side to side. She was the perfect tool for Haldri’s arsenal and that raised the Queen of Paxmer’s suspicions more than anything else. No one was as singularly focused on wealth acquisition as Merrin Quick seemed to be, and Haldri was used to judging that impulse against the standard of the dragons she knew.

Despite Haldri’s misgivings though, Merrin offered no resistance to any of the tests Haldri put before her. Merrin’s only criteria were that her workers were paid whatever she considered a fair rate for the requested task, and that the payment be made directly in gold.

“We’ll need to expand to fulfill the order you wish to place,” Merrin said. “I want to make sure that once this contract is complete, we’ve fulfilled it to the most exacting letter possible. If we can prove that no one else can offer service as good, or as cheap, as we do then you’ll be that much more likely to contract with us again, and having a royal client on our resume is a victory all on its own.”

“So how are you going to steal these weapons for us?” Haldri asked.

“Well, I’m not going to tell you that,” Merrin said. “Our methods of procurement rely on a high level of discretion, so I can’t give you the exact details. What I can tell you though is how we are not going to obtain them, and how, hypothetically, one might go about liberating the materials from the possession of House Scor.”

“We are more interested in how much you plan to charge us for these enhanced weapons and armor?” Haldri asked. Her own gold reserves were far deeper than Alari Gallagrin’s were, but Haldri had to fight the draconic compulsion against ever spending even a single coin she owned.

“These are items that are above and beyond the quantities which we agreed on the last time we spoke,” Merrin said. “They also carry an unusually high risk. I spoke with my ledger keepers and their suggestion was to charge double for these. I told them we needed to do better than that though. One does not try to profiteer off the Queen of Paxmer. According to the correspondence they sent today, with a ten percent surcharge we can cover the added risk for the weapons and still see a slight return on our time and investment.”

“And if we do not agree to pay the surcharge you speak of?” Haldri asked. She calculated what an extra ten percent charge on the weapons would do to her personal accounts and found that the sum was trivial. Irritating but trivial.

“That’s entirely up to you,” Merrin said. “We’ll be happy to supply the arms you requested at the original rates we agreed upon, without these additional items. All we need is a commitment from you and the down payment of gold as we’d talked about. If I can leave here with that today then we can get the delivery process started.”

“And if we delay the initial payment?” Haldri asked.

“Then you’re delaying reception of the goods, and incurring the risk that the inventory will be unavailable when you request it,” Merrin said.

“These blades will be used to spill the blood of your countrymen. That truly doesn’t trouble you though does it?” Haldri asked.

Merrin shrugged.

“No, why should it?” she asked. “A sword is created to cut and stab. I don’t see the point in caring about whose hand holds it. If it’s Paxmer troops killing Gallagrin soldiers or Gallagrin citizens killing each other with the blades you still wind up with a pile of corpses at the end of the day.”

“Then speaking of that, perhaps there is something else your guild can provide for us,” Haldri said.

“If the price is reasonable, we can get you just about anything you can imagine,” Merrin said.

“Excellent,” Haldri said. “And what would the price be on the pile of corpses that you mentioned? A large one.”

“That all depends on how many you need, who they need to be, and how freshly dead you want them at the time of delivery,” Merrin said. “Don’t worry though, we have a variety of options to offer in that regards. In fact we even have a price sheet made up for it.”

“You do?” Haldri asked.

“It’s primarily used by schools for chirurgeons,” Merrin said. “But we’re willing to be flexible.”

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