The group disembarked from the barge quietly. The prince led the group and exaggerated the feel of solid ground as he stumbled toward Ein. He tumbled to the ground as she stepped back and away.
“Hey you're supposed to catch me.” He called “Hey come here!”
Princess Ruegin ambled off with a leather portfolio and spectacles. She seemed to have aged twenty years over the trip with the glasses on and her hair pulled back. Her Hjordis followed quietly while stifling a yawn.
“Marcos, my little angels and I have needs. We shall need the largest bed possible tonight.” Kaarthen said as they joined.
“There is a common sleeping room. They use a barn and cover the floor with straw, is that what you want?” Marcos quipped.
“Perhaps but many men would die of broken pelvises tonight.” Kaarthen said looking sideways at him.
“So I could save lives doing this?” He mused half-serious.
Kaarthen tugged his hand. “Yes. Marcos, you can replenish yourself with my milk until the battle is won.” She said grabbing his hand and turning as they walked up the town dock. “People shall hear of your struggle tonight near and far. They shall speak of your name and praise you in previously virgin territory tonight.”
He laughed. “That’s pretty impressive. I like making legends”
Behind them, Princess Nossin mimicked them and grabbed her Hjordis’ hand as she watched the two. Rinis and Mara followed looking at the city they were entering at twilight.
They went directly to ‘The Imperial’. A converted manor that was owned by the area’s baron before the canal came along. The property only kept its stable from that era. The land and gardens became farriers, cooperages, and various maritime supply depots. Garden paths became cart paths. The property’s gate and sign became a clever entrance to a bar. The city was owned by the crown and its chief industry was maintenance on the canal.
The interior of the inn was quiet and elegant. It had been restored with necessary changes.
“Hallo! How many are we serving today?” a hostess for the restaurant asked.
“We’ll actually be taking four or five rooms and dinner.” The Princess’ Hjordis stated.
Marcos was left with the bill. Despite having two princesses with him, he had to pay for use of the Crown’s properties. He settled with the innkeeper and presently they were all in a room. They settled into the suites at the end of the hall from everyone. The rooms were all pretty similar. The bed against a wall across from a fireplace. The center area had chairs, lounges, or benches on a large fifteen-foot square plush area rug.
Ein had the unpleasant task of watching the prince. She found he thought that her service included bathing and wardrobe assistance. His hands were squirmy and quick and he tried groping more than once.
“Hey come here get the brush and do my back, that ship was a bother.” He said trying to talk fast. “Well don’t just sit there! Hey.” The prince expected her to swoon at his whiny commands.
Kaarthen was dissuaded from any contact with other men so naturally Ein was reinforced in her urge to gag him as she slept. She moved stiffly around the room as he dressed in the middle of everything.
Ein did just as Rinis down the hall was doing. She sat reverse in the chair with the back under the handle.
Kaarthen that night was demanding but easily satisfied.
“Bathe with me?” Kaarthen said. She pulled her robe up and stripped off her leathers. She could feel his eyes all over her.
“If I remember right this hotel has hot water service. The tub should be… Ahh.” Marcos found a curtained area that hid the bath implements. Shortly Kaarthen was in the bath while Marcos kneeled next to her. He started washing her body while leering at her.
“Enough of that, my breasts will be raw. Go lower and wash me clean.”
“There?” He asked dipping lower into the steaming water.
“No, my stomach was cleaned earlier as you swept around my breasts.”
“There? The water is so hot down here.” He said and scrubbed her with his hand sponge.
“Yess. Good boy! Oh! That is so good.”
“Do we need the sponge for this battle?” Marcos smiled, “I found a way into the gate.”
“Only if you don’t want your name remembered in the legends I’ll sing about”
“Then I’ll get in directly.” He turned. “Mara, come relax your mistress.”
“Oh? You’re going to call in rein... reinforcements?” Kaarthen stuttered as Mara came around her other side and locked in on a nipple with her mouth. Her pussy twanged when Mara’s hungry mouth made contact.
“The warrior may get a song but the general is studied for lifetimes. They retire well in their deep castles,” Marcos said driving two fingers into her.
Kaarthen giggled, “Deep castles huh? Oh! Aah. I guess that was your motivation behind the Citadel hmm?”
In the hot water, she couldnt tell where he stopped and began. The sudden intrusion let her know what he was up to. He fingered her and flicked his fingers, flushing the hot water within her and around her entrance.
“Do they drink wine with their castles?” She asked faintly. Her eyes were hooded and her pupils fluttered as if they misted up. Her head rocked back and forth with the stream of pleasure she was feeling.
“I’m sure the randy old men get young pretty maidens to serve them.” Marcos said bringing a teat out of the water and sucking it. The thick rubbery nipple popped out as Kaarthen shook under him. Her pussy was going crazy on his flicking fingers.
Kaarthen felt like she was burning inside and out. Mara and Marcos had pulled her breasts up out of the water overhead and she felt the hot water on the sensitive under sides of her breasts and chest. The two mouths as usual got her into strings of small orgasms. Marcos’ hand rubbed her clit and played the water within and around her. Her feet and legs twitched and kicked up water as she tried to holdout.
Marcos felt her climax hard around his fingers and make noise through her clenched teeth. Her head flopped back and he realized she blacked out in the hot water.
“Well let’s get her out before she gets withered.” Marcos said calmly.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Mara stayed latched on Kaarthen throughout the night. By morning it looked like Kaarthen had wet the bed. They woke early the next morning and had breakfast in their room.
“Had a good night young prince?” Marcos said in the manor’s front room after preparing to leave. Everyone was waiting on the Princesses.
“Your woman is a problem. She doesn’t serve as a woman should.” Prince Monto observed.
Princess Ruegin had arrived as he finished and looked up at him surprised. The comment turned the head of every woman in the room.
“Yes, they don’t get the special instruction needed.” Marcos remarked sarcastically. “Perhaps it is my fault. If you ordered her to do more than protect you she did not have my leave.” He said baiting him.
“Would you give her leave? I need her close at hand for bathing and rubs. My condition needs attention frequently. Her soft hands could give me the peace I need. I get a burn down around here you know. She should be glad to serve betters in that way.” He was well on his way to becoming a perverted lord who took advantage of his staff.
“Fucking gross Monto.” Princess Ruegin said disgusted.
“I must decline your offer; I would be remiss to over complicate your only bodyguard in such a manner.” Marcos bowed formally to hide his grin. He enjoyed the many entertainments of life.
Princess Nossin was the last to arrive, and wore a modest short leather jacket. Marcos looked at the obviously local find and almost sneered at her Hjordis.
“How unfortunate for you prince. Where you not attended on your journey to these lands?” Princess Ruegin added as they made their way out and down the street.
“I was not well served by even my closest servant in the end.” The prince said quietly. His arrival alone in front of the Marquis of Leethon was inexplicable. The fact that the Marquis’ guard recognized the young boy from recent trade visits to Sellis protecting a diplomat was remarkably lucky.
“Well in Menthino our servants are not bonded second class citizens. They are free wage earning professionals contracted at competitive rates. We frequently lose Palace guards to merchants or even foreign armies.” She continued.
“In Sellis, our history has given us a representative government that hears all people.” The Prince spouted.
“Yes and that idea came from the nobles and rich merchant who pressed men into serving on their galleys. It took a bloody revolt, but eventually the people’s idea of spirited debate and deliberating similar to the bench seats of galleys was reflected in the government formed by your ocean going ancestors.” The princess replied. “Unfortunately, the idea created a hybrid culture where the nobles still press contracts onto the people living on their lands for labor.”
The four boatmen had spent the night guarding the barge. They were met ready to go and one was cooking tea for the morning.
The ride for that day was equally smooth as the last. They were already quite far when the boatmen caught the tide and ceased poling the barge. Marcos found a fishing pole and leaned against the cargo in back. He didn’t catch any thing for hours and eventually put the fishing pole down as the men poled the boat.
He enjoyed a nap with Kaarthen and Mara. Soft hands found their ways into his pants urging a release. His own hands found the women’s breasts. In a well-timed and semi-discreet maneuver, Mara was ready and caught his load as it gushed.
They continued up the canal well after dark that night. The pole men hung lamps over their heads and leaning out to the rails. They reached the giant stone docks of Cardin in the early morning hours in the dead of night. Marcos and the Princess Ruegin with her Hjordis went forward to secure rooms for the group and see to the events of the next day. The rest turned back and anchored on an outlying wood pole that trade ships used when waiting in queue and slept out the night.
That morning they awoke in the center of the sprawling city of Cardin. As a large trade and agriculture hub, the waters were full of canal barges and ocean going vessels. The city had many buildings of long high roofed warehouses in rows along the canal. Behind a three-meter seawall, they towered around on all sides. The wide stone dock ran along the sides with ramps for the various moving goods. In front of them, the city had many wide arching stone bridges. They seemed ridiculously arched but even their barge barely cleared the ones they passed under to approach. The ocean going vessels had removed their sails to clear the undersides of the scratched bridges.
The group got off the boat into the busy fast moving swarm of trade schedules. A tall slender customs dock officer in blue and gray barely lifted his eyes off his manifest to point them up to a nearby bridge. They were met by Cardin’s customs liaison official in orange as they walked up the ramp from the dock. Quickly after introducing himself, he had them board a waiting open carriage.
They arrived at a warehouse after going through the wide flat streets of the warehouse district. At the front of a warehouse, Marcos sat drinking tea in an open top carriage with a table across the center. Princess Ruegin sat pouring over documents as her Hjordis sat watching from next to her. The carriage was unhorsed and had blocks to keep it in place.
“Why are we here? I need food! The only thing they served was tea for the morning!” the prince shouted as he spryly jumped from the stopped carriage. Kaarthen, Princess Ruegin, and Ein watched him hoping for the worst. Ein sulked and followed him out once the chance of an unfortunate accident passed.
“Certainly young prince, why I had a hearty breakfast earlier. You all certainly shouldn’t be kept hungry because you stayed behind.” Marcos looked past him to the driver and liaison officer. “Drive on to the Cardin’s royal quarters. We’ll join in the evening. Make sure they are well fed.” Marcos said with a dismissive wave.
“What is this? Stop! Return and let me on!” The prince shouted as the carriage quickly moved off.
Princess Ruegin finally looked up at the disturbance. She had been taught that nobles don’t run, show loss of control, make displays of emotion, or proclaim their base needs. The prince was working hard to set forth a new model. But then, he wasn’t two heartbeats from the ‘Eternal Throne’. In fact, he was not likely to rule a region or major city at the very least. Unlike Princess Nossin, she had made plans. If she married him, he would be dead the night of the wedding. She had already decided on burying him as a virgin.
She sighed. “Monto I need you to help us. I’ll have you fed if you calm down.” She said staring over her reading spectacles.
“This is unfair! I have a condition!” He said stomping over to the carriage. The carriage’s doors had been closed, locked, and the steps retracted. No one moved to open it for him.
“It is not proper as a noble to speak of your weaknesses,” Princess Ruegin stated. “You will be fed I assure you.” She said and stood. “The crop of yam is good this year. This row of warehouses will be taking it.” She gestured. “Since orders are filled by weight, we need to know how many on average, and how much they’ll weigh in the full box. Thirty boxes will need to be filled and weighed for the averages. For historical data, we need to know the average color, shape, and size of this year’s crop. Those pieces of information are all collected together as you can imagine.” She said and cocked her head hoping he realized his part.
He stayed silent for a moment and blankly looked up at her.
“So when do I eat?” He asked slowly.
She couldn’t help but shake her head. “You can eat while you work and have all the yams you want.” She said sitting.
“A yam? A yam?” He shouted and kicked the carriage. Ein pulled him back a step. “That is commoner food!”
“Hardly Monto, you ate yam on several occasions in Mavvus. It is a good food that fuels health. That silly mindset you have will weaken you further.” Princess Ruegin noted. “Now, several other crops are coming in. You got yourself here by constantly making foolish statements. You’ll be done before supper and if you are in good form, someone may even assist you.” She finished waving her papers. “I have two weeks of this.”
“I don’t care! don’t you have clerks for this?”
“A majority of the field customs that takes in material will be at the markets and gates.” They will tag and weigh so that farmer can be timely paid. Liaisons officers are working to house the people and get them out of the streets and commercial thoroughfares.” A team of four horses came around the corner led by a mounted army non-com in uniform as she spoke.
“Menthino must be hurting for people. Why don’t you turn out the rest of the army?” He said snidely.
“Listen, this is important work that is recorded and used in decisions all year around. Just the act of being near this stuff, is good, healthy, and should be cherished. This is a small but important piece of what needs to happen and having a noble handle it directly means you can look on it later and know that dependable, close, hands made the information and it can be trusted for judgments that effect many lives.” As she spoke, the army officer quickly dismounted and competently turned and backed the horses for the carriage.
“This is ridiculous. I am still hungry! You’re just being mean!” The prince shouted petulantly. He tried to jump up and climb in. Ein stepped forward trying to get him down.
“Monto don’t be childish, it’s unbecoming.” Princess Ruegin said quietly. Marcos stood and disembarked from the other side. Below, the officer finished hooking the team and waited.
“How is this even important?” He said sulking and gave up as Ein pulled him down. She was slightly shorter then him, but he found her remarkably strong.
“If things are short or overabundant in the counts this year, it could mess up what we pay farmers for next harvest. Farmers are buying seed now in relation to the set prices for next year. The prices depend on what we need and are likely to have this time next year. The numbers cannot be off. If that happens, we will have shortages or excessive surpluses of crops because farmers will return with too much or too little for the markets.” The princess said turning to him. ”You should be proud to contribute. In a hundred years, people will be looking back on this Monto. I must go now for the city’s granaries. We have responsibilities to store food for famine and drought. We also use these numbers to find how much we can store. Before the markets buy all this and it’s distributed we have a short time to count and prepare. There is much to do Monto. If you cannot do this, I’m sure lord Panthi and the King can find a job retrieving arrows on the front for you.” She sat and Marcos waved the officer on.
The princess and her Hjordis were pulled off to the next engagement. Marcos shooed the boy in. He tutored the boy in finding the volume of thirty boxed bushels of yams. He had him weigh them, restock the boxes, and count them in the boxes. It was simple and mundane work but necessary for large populations living and eating.
The work could have taken until mid morning but the boy dragged it well after lunch. Ein reclined on unsorted and inspected piles of yams.
Eventually Marcos left them to return with an open carriage and took them in for the afternoon.
“I never wanna do that again.” The prince said tiredly
“Young prince what would you do?” Marcos asked genuinely curious for a simple answer.
“Well what do you do?” The prince turned the question.
“Protect and provide stability to the Immortal Crown and Eternal throne of Menthino. I serve as the First Knight. I am also a high priest of Mavvus and high advisor to Queen Mensillin.” Marcos answered quickly. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to do that again.”
“There must be something. In fact, I think you want to go home.” Marcos ventured.
The prince seemed to reflect that for a moment. ”I... Yes. But I’d want it be how it was when…I want to be welcomed back.”
”We want that also. Not to have a claim on the throne. We want to have stability in that young country. Sellis has gotten boisterous of late” Marcos recalled.
“It’s the ‘Treaty of Passive Powers’. When we signed it, we thought it would protect us from you. Now it keeps us from incorporating cities along our borders. The generals grow restless because we speak of nothing else but surly towns and unruly cities on our border. They will not send a representative to our senate and join the commonwealth. Their diplomats come and tell us endlessly of the same problems that they debate in our senate.” The young prince explained.
Marcos realized this boy who was only a few months ago a direct spectator into what they were doing.
“Like what?” asked Marcos. He had heard vaguely the same thing. His information came from the border towns, and from Sellisian nobles. It pointed to Sellis building an empire. He didn’t have too much information from their nobles. He collected a fair amount of gossip and he tried to focus on the moods of things. If the royals didn’t realize they had become something else at this point. They were headed into regional wars of conquest. It’s hard for a people even the leaders to not know what effect their actions are having. Someone must have noticed, since things were still rolling.
“In the senate, they are always obsessed about trade and land. Land is needed for raising horses without fences. You don’t do that here and it stunts the horse.” Lectured the Prince. “Trade is needed to sell the horses but if we had the right amount of cities we could sell to ourselves. Everyone needs horses, dye, fine woven silk, wine, and whisky.” He said looking out at the market as they passed. People with hard tans looked around lost in the huge open market.
“So what do the diplomats say?” Marcos just realized a key thought. Unsaid, the prince just asserted that Sellis’ goal was to control trade everywhere in the region. Likely by the centralized control of the markets. The area was fertile so they shouldn’t starve despite how bad it would likely turn out.
“They complain when we stop trading with them. We get a new city and they stop trading with the people they used too because we offer cheaper.” He said. “With our navy we trade everywhere. They got ships in Cardin right now.”
“Why does Sellis need to expand Prince Carthin?” Marcos asked plainly. He hoped the prince had this discussion around the dinner table once before.
The carriage turned out of the busier parts and got to the more quiet wide streets of the municipal district. Around them were Cardin’s municipal complexes the Council Chamber, the Customs house, Academies, Hospitals, and the Guard barracks towering behind matching iron fences. Students, guards, officials, and other citizens worked behind the fences doing the small things those complexes needed to do so things outside could run smoothly.
Cardin employs a relatively large portion of its workforce for this season until spring. Nevertheless, this is the critical time, when the population more than quadruples as the masses come pouring in. Many never know Cardin is a marvel of civil engineering.
“So that we’re all together. We can fight together without worries of the other cities army. This first started as Sellis grew from a city. We said ‘we won’t charge tax for people who join with us and they get a say in the senate what we do’.” The prince explained. “Cities took the chance to be able to have access to trade and we flourished. We offer aid to cities in time of suffering. We got an army trained together and it may not have Menthino’s numbers but our cavalry is larger.” He said looking toward the passing city guards’ barracks. The only horses they used were for drafting carriages and parades.
“So who picks what’s sold?” Asked Marcos.
“Our guilds that are dedicated to different services. The more cities we get the more they come together. So for instance, Sellis sells horse. We can help transport goods and provide a cavalry. We have a guild for all that, and all the horse related stuff from husbandry to making carts and tack. That’s what our city does. We need grain, and a guild does that, handling the farm stuff. The guild of storehouses and warehouses sets up and maintains granaries and warehouses. There are many more and it’s a great system. The young go and apprentice in these groups. Cities that join the common wealth pick what they want to be dedicated to. Cities still do stuff like grow their own food and repair saddles on their own. But not like the guild, they are the ones who really sell rare, exotic, expensive, or surplus mundane stuff, and set the prices for evrything. They have market similar to the senate where they talk about the projects and work together.”
“Why do they want more markets to sell to?”
“They want more people to buy their stuff. When you’re in the commonwealth, the guild becomes the main supplier of many things. Kind of like Menthino I mean how do you get rid of all those yams?”
“The Crown buys the product and distributes it to other locations. Major cities like Mavvus, Leethon, Lafaust, and the army consume a lot of it. They all have buyers come in. The king’s army is paid by the taxing account setup from customs. Because of the tax, we are able to provide for an army and safe cities without the need to expand to fund it. The crown also owns a majority of Mavvus, and several other towns like Tilin. The rent is necessary in those places, but it is low. The sales tax on trade is our real revenue producer. We also receive some money from new charters of businesses started and new trade ships.” Marcos said. “I will add that, for large projects such as stonework or shipbuilding we do use guilds, but not as freely. They can help and harm an economy.”
They pulled through a city manor in the municipal area. The mansion had a fenced yard only big enough for the carriage to bring them around to the door. Around this trip, Ein had been quiet as usual.
“How are things?” He asked her as the prince scooted to stand.
“He is unreasonable, and seems to take pleasure in being useless and problematic. He thought to bully me but we are well past that now.” She said looking at him shyly.
They stood to step down and the door was opened inward by a stout grey maid. Stepping in to the open foyer, they were taken to rooms to relax. The prince declined loudly and he went directly to await supper in the dinning room.
Marcos was seated in the upper level library with Princess Nossin who was asleep in a high backed armchair. Kaarthen was on the settee with Rinis but she seemed distant staring of into space. Mara was playing a board game of Queen’s crux against Jilleta. She seemed to be beating her.
He watched and it was an interesting game. More so than other games Queen’s crux is strategic game where pieces are lost and regained quiet easily. In Menthino, it is the national game. Both seemed to be masters, and they chased each other around the board in a mutual attack strategy. Marcos was quite impressed; he’d seen old men play the game for hours with only half a dozen moves between them. These two played in quick turns and altered styles frequently.
They were summoned for supper before either player gained any kind of advantage.
Marcos looked up shocked. “Wow, that was amazing you two did that for a whole hour and I didn’t even notice as I stood here.” Marcos said genuinely impressed. He had been genuinely sucked into the drama and actions of the board game and felt a buzz from it.
“Well she learned earlier with Princess Nossin. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck.” Said Kaarthen coming awake.
They moved to the dining room as Ein and the prince departed. No one said anything to the other party.
They were seated with Princess Nossin at the head with Marcos and Kaarthen at her right and left. Mara sat next to Marcos and Rinis was seated next to Kaarthen. Jilleta, Princess Nossin’s Hjordis stood behind as she ate.
“How was the day?” Kaarthen asked. They had just finished a soup course. It was obvious the kitchen was in disarray after the prince was allowed to compress and collapse their schedule.
“Boring enough to need a distraction. Speaking of which, we’ll be heading for Sellis when we return. We may be fighting our way out or bringing peace to the region so be prepared.”
“Will my angels be alright?” Kaarthen asked reaching for Rinis.
“Why wouldn’t they be?” Marcos replied confused. He realized that they did not have immortal eyes. They were no longer vampire nor succubae but it didn’t say what or any limitations they may have. They had gotten stronger, but Marcos thought perhaps that was from the milk Kaarthen pushed on everyone. “Would they be?”
“They will not have trouble.” Princess Nossin said looking down the middle of the table and out the window.
Marcos ignored the comment and Kaarthen stared at her before looking back.
Marcos looked at Kaarthen blankly. “See? The Princess always knows.”
Kaarthen considered the question further of what could hurt the girls, but the Goddess occupying a corner of her mind seemed deliberately vague with answering. Kaarthen understood that nothing they were likely to face could hurt them but that didn’t answer what actually could.
The meal was excellent. They were served veal over rice and a tangy gravy. The group went upstairs to the parlor and met with the appeased Prince Carthin. He tried to show graciousness and attempted repeatedly to speak with his peer Princess Nossin. She let his conversations drop and left inane questions unanswered, as she watched Marcos and Kaarthen stand at the edge of the room. The prince persisted and she finally turned to him and missed when her subject disappeared with Kaarthen into their room.
“You’ll go crazy if you don’t get better prince. Kaarthen will come for your head then.” She said with uncharacteristic cruelty, and immediately stood and walked off to her room.
Marcos and Kaarthen went to be alone privately in their room. As he closed and locked the door, he turned and found her nearly naked already. She climbed sinuously onto the bed. Her ass raised and her wet hairless holes peaked out invitingly. She slid flat on her stomach and looked over her shoulder at him from the soft mattress. The bed had a canopy and seemed an elegant backdrop for the beauty of her divinely feminine frame. The tower’s training and rich food helped her keep her curves and muscles but softened her arms and shoulders of her back with a pleasant soft layer. She looked at the moment not as a barbarian Amazon but like a six and a half foot tall seductress. Her silvery white hair rolled over a shoulder and her catty pupils danced merrily in their carnal voids. Her curved ass and thick muscled thighs contrasted well with her narrow waist and wide hips. Marcos undressed in a trance staring at her. She radiated sexuality and he stepped out of his pants finally unclothed and walked to the bed.
Kaarthen felt his hard cock slid between her feet as he climbed over her. It jumped and pulsed as it slid up her calves. It wetly slid up her thighs and when it reached her pubic gap it thrust in. She felt how his drooling cock prodding for entrance into her vault. The combined moisture accelerated the process as they slipped along each other. Kaarthen’s whole world was on the small patch of their touching skin. She closed her eyes and smiled inwardly as her hips rose and writhed slowly helping his quest.
He found the center of her heat and wetness and shoved in. His cock did the talking as he told her of the irritation and stresses of his day. She turned her head instinctively and opened her eyes. She reached a hand up and over from under her and guided him for a kiss. His cock jumped within her and hardened as their lips met. She kept him from pulling away as she continued and he gasped into her mouth as he thrust in hard gushing into her.
The goddess perked up suddenly from its corner with a small celebration of feminine fertility. Sex with Marcos for Kaarthen, was always mind bending and an reaffirmation of the goddess within her. She immensely enjoyed her worship sessions in this manner.
Marcos reveled in being close to her and separated from those outside, and didn’t seem interested in leaving despite the fact it was still quite early. Kaarthen understood the sentiments he tried to share during sex. She was surprised at the level of dark cold energies of death the prince inspired in those who surrounded him. Marcos, despite his irritation, was only a sliver of that attention. Ein had an order of magnitude more of antipathy towards her charge. Ein’s feelings however, were dwarfed by Princess Ruegin’s cold calculating hate.
She spoke into the pillow as he lay atop her. “The Goddess is greatly pleased with us Marcos. We must settle the business in the west quickly for my child to be born by spring.” She kissed him and patted him.
“If we can make an easy pass that would be the ideal. Sellis may or may not be aware of the beast they are creating. If someone in the guild is actively planning to usurp control, or if in their arrogance the nobles and royalty don’t believe us then we may have troubles.” Said Marcos, as they looked void to void for a moment. “I will have cavalry and several of our heavy infantry units in Leethon. It will take them two weeks to follow. Sellis is known for cavalry and they fight mounted similar styled armies in that region. I won’t be able to win with just a cavalry detachment. I may likely have to ship the heavy assault infantry corps from Pessilberg around the west and up to make landing.” Marcos said and finally rolled off her onto his back.
“You would do all that?” She asked rolling over and lying back onto him
“Yes, similar plans are put forth if the Queen ever visits other capitals on rare occasions. I do believe however that we’ll be quite capable of defending ourselves and our intentions while we’re there.” He side idly running his hands over her body.
A soft tap roused them and Marcos cursed and rolled for the door. He opened it enough to show his state of undress and an unmoved grey maid handed him a note.
Grumbling he dressed. “I must be present at the courts, several of today’s swindlers and cheats have a hearing”
Kaarthen turned to him. “I see. Will you take the prince?”
“Yes why?” Marcos said shuffling on pants, blouse, weapons, and robe.
“Perhaps Rinis should take a turn watching him.” Marcos raised a brow. “Ein seems to think violence against him is not worth deterrence. Perhaps some time for her to cool would be best.”
“Sounds fair. Not professional, but Ein isn’t trained to be a wet nurse.” Marcos said chuckled ruefully.
Outside, Marcos told Ein of the changes and collected Rinis and the prince. The municipal complexes they bordered were easy walking distance. The prince however still balked when the Manor’s door opened revealing the street and not a carriage.
“We can’t walk! What is this? Menthino had a carriage for us earlier!” He said looking around for the tardy carriage. “We are forgetting our…my station as prince, walking separates us from them.” He said pointing at the same impassive grey maid who stood at the door.
Marcos tugged him through the door and Rinis followed with perhaps a tiny grin. The walk was not worth Marcos’ two minutes of unabridged lectures, pleas, and curses. He wondered how a sickly boy could talk for two minutes straight till he was red in the face about his health and the injustices of the day. He resolved to get a trust worthy physician to make a look.
The tirade sputtered as they walked into the door of the Customs House Court. The city had its own court but offenses like bilking the Crown were served by the Crown. They got directions, turned after consulting the reception clerk, and walked down a hallway to the right. They stepped into an office that held an older officer, Princess Ruegin, and her Hjordis who stood off to the side. They both rose as he entered, not for propriety, but to make entreaties of opinion.
The princess started first. “Four men were caught today. One had some small stones in his bag of pears. Two others had large obvious rocks in their sacks of poms and the bags were tied so they had to be cut open to be weighed. Another man tried to repeatedly pass several sacks of rocks onto different check stands. In my opinion all are subject to punishment under equal law.” She said waving signed and sealed papers for him. “The court officer is respectfully proposing to release the family man and his pebbles, or give him a lighter sentence.”
Marcos smiled inwardly and turned to the pouting prince behind him. “Did you catch all that?”
“Thieves and liars, send them to hang.” The prince said thoughtlessly. He was as predictable as rain Marcos thought.
“This is highly irregular, he is not within means or title for passing judgment.” The princess protested.
“Well its advice I count highly, and I can judge freely upon his statements.” Marcos said dismissively turning to the boy.
The princess blinked at him. She knew him to well to take situations at face value. She knew if Marcos got the prince involved then Prince Monto was the target. Quickly she understood what she needed to do, the prince himself had said it. “The law states in capital punishment the executor is chosen by the agent or office that has jurisdiction.” She said turning to the presiding officer who paled. “Would you pick the noble who can execute under clear conscience please?”
The Officer stiffened for a moment, and Princess Ruegin’s hand twitched slightly. They stared at each other and unspoken words were passed.
“I will freely choose the nominated executor as the duties of my office are entitled.” He stated clearly with flat formality.
Princess Ruegin relaxed slightly and turned to the prince with a faint grin. “Prince Carthin,” she said exaggerating the name. “The facts are as previously stated. Will you state, for the required annotation, the judgment for the four?”
“Hang them, what’s with all this?” He said, not even vaguely understanding his error. With two words, he dug himself deeper into an embarrassment.
“In Cardin they don’t use rope for execution. You will have to execute by blade at the end of ceremonies at the Harvest festival.” Marcos said quietly as the princess and officer looked at the floor. “Be happy, in some places execution is by assisted drowning.” However, not in Menthino he didn’t add. Any executor who did it once quickly retired.
The prince paled slightly and straightened. He mentally distanced himself from the truth and used the distance of time to take some comfort.
Marcos pressed him further. “This is the first day. Why wait two weeks? I feel that we may need to start the process now. Bring the prisoners out to the wall.” Marcos said airily. Shattering the prince’s illusions.
The ‘wall’ was an old execution site used for the other times of the year. Nameless smugglers and traffickers of all things died on the grounds. They walked out quickly to it and stood silently as the four men were escorted in. They had been shackled by the wrist and were all connected. They all wore homespun or linen shirts and pants of various shades of brown.
The one in front was tan and rounded from living the farmers’ lifestyle. The other three were noticeably less tan and were stringy. The middle two seemed related, but the one in back had a hard cold look about him. He was steely-eyed and knew what the place was before the men were made to kneel.
After they kneeled, the prisoner escort locked the ends of the chain to the wall. Rings on the wall connected to both sides of the chain. It created an illusion of strapping them down. The effect was psychological for the prisoners. Like prison bars, they were restrained and held back from freedom by the metal they could see past but not cross. Like jailed prisoners, the middle two tried to push the chain and extend their world. The prisoners already felt the separation from the living.
The farmer sniveled and cried on his knees. Marcos hoped he would be the sacrifice to make a prince who could save thousands. The others were criminals and Marcos wanted Prince Carthin to see the difference before he killed them.
He drew his straight sword. The prisoners all flinched. He smiled inwardly, turned, and elaborately offered the blade to Prince Carthin who reluctantly took it. Everyone watched him for his expression, posture, actions, or words.
His lack of training showed, and he almost dropped the blade before using two hands. He stood aghast staring at it like a phallus of death extending from him.
“Have the prisoners been questioned?” Princess Ruegin asked stepping forward. She still had more moves to make. The prince was left the furthest back as everyone stepped forward.
“You,” She said indicating the obvious farmer. “What were you caught with?”
No one who stood moved or spoke further, as the despondent man simply wept. The other three prisoners shuffled on their knees to look at him. They thought if he had a chance maybe they had a chance out of their predicament.
“Hurry I have a harvest to administrate.” She said trying to urge him.
“I …was….I didn’t know…the...rocks were in the bottom, Highness I didn’t know.”
“The rules say nothing extra for just this type of reason,” Princess Ruegin said coldly. She turned to the next prisoner.
“You two had bags tied and sewn shut. They were full of fist-sized stones. You tried to sell half a cart of dirt to the Crown.” She said equally coldly. “There is no question of your intentions. What would you say on your own behalf?”
“We don’t deserve this highness. We are just trying to get along. The war forced us out here. We are no farmers.”
“I don’t doubt it, rock farmers don’t live too long” She turned and looked at the next scruffy fellow.
Normally her Hjordis would keep men of his sort back. Here in the gallows, she could walk right up, look down, and examine him as close as she wanted.
“You tried to sell your ‘goods’ repeatedly to make money and it was found you were passing off nothing but rocks,” She said and square up to him. ”I don’t know what to call you.”
She turned on her heel. She motioned to the officer who brought a signing board up and handed it to her. The board had writing and title implements. Provided were a old fashioned quill, ink well, a blue stick of wax, a roller to dry signatures, and four unsigned execution orders.
“Prince Carthin,” She said formally with a small smile as she looked upon his blank tormented eyes and pale face. “These are the orders for the men before you. If you would be so kind as to check their names and sign, we’ll get on to the execution.”
He looked at her in silent disbelief. He looked at the sword in his hands and back at the quill. Marcos had to laugh at his realization of one of the oldest adages in the world.
“Yes Prince, the pen is mightier,” Marcos commented. “They aren’t dead till you sign for their lives.”
“Don’t tarry,” The princess said holding out the board. “Read out their names and sign after confirmation.” She used one hand to flip the pages.
“Nnoel Sangarnis.” He said shakily.
“I am here, but this…” The third man said before a guard stepped up and raised his headthumper.
“Garen Sangarnis.” The prince said only a little easier.
“Aye.” The second man said numbly.
“Bassul Maggon.” The prince called out.
The forth man only nodded.
“Young prince it would be merciful to allow a man freedom. This is the typical custom during festival executions.” Marcos said now. The prince turned to him hollowed eyed.
“Perhaps that farmer, he has been productive for us.” Princess Ruegin said moving up and standing to block his sight of all but the farmer. “What is his name?”
“Rath Noggill.” He said numbly.
“Sounds perfect, give me his paper Monto.” She said expectantly. The prince moved slowly as he did as she said. Lifting with one hand the paper and giving it to her.
Marcos noted he seemed only capable of following orders at the moment. “Rinis, have the prince sign the papers.” Marcos ordered.
Silently, she moved forward prepared the quill, folded it into his hand, and moved it onto the execution order. Almost unconsciously, his hand moved and signed. Halfway through, his bowels released. Everyone was surprised at what they were seeing. Rinis took the signing board as Princess Ruegin backed away. Rinis as usual, was untouched by her surroundings. Back in the Manor, Ein was on the floor laughing with Mara. Rinis continued as if nothing smelled and moved onto the next page.
“Wait, wait, stop.” Prince Carthin protested. His hand continued and dotted the ‘I’s and crossed the ‘t’s.
Rinis moved onto the next one, but he balked freezing in place.
“Prince Monto will sign.” Rinis said in flat voice, her face showed no emotion as she plainly commanded him. She grabbed his hand again and they struggled to place his hand onto the board.
“Prince Monto will sign.” Rinis said again. They all watched as he stared stuck at her and complied.
She released him and returned the board to the officer who smiled gratuitously and quickly stepped back to where Princess Ruegin stood along the wall by the door.
“Well, that was dramatic.” Marcos said. He motioned for the guards to move in. “Bring farmer Noggill to a liaison officer who can take him back to his family.”
The three criminals sat back in repose. The prince was in a trance. Rinis had come to the prince’s side mimicking the princess’ Hjordis.
“Is their any information you all have that could perhaps spare your lives and get you out of the country?” Marcos asked. He stepped forward to them for the first time.
A cacophony of voices rang up as they spouted some of the worst conspiracies he’d heard.
“Interesting. Please take a moment to quiet yourselves and meditate.” Marcos said bored of the noise.
After a moment, he turned slightly. “Rinis have the prince execute the three. Beheadings are the most humane.” He said and stepped back.
Rinis touched the prince forward he was catatonic and drooling slightly. His wet pants squished as he took three steps forward. She stepped to his right and with fingertips she raised his arm, bent his elbow, and turned his wrist. The sword was raised and the razor edge was dropped. Marcos and even Kaarthen were surprised at the results.
She had pushed and pulled the prince’s body like a rag doll but could only sever Garen’s neck partially. The cut was clean and definitely mortal. The blood from his neck splattered the other two men and painted the wall. After a moment, the body keeled over and sagged in the ropes oozing blood.
Marcos snickered from behind them. “That won’t do Prince. Guards, have these men present themselves face down, this is too complicated.” Marcos ordered. The guards stepped in daintily around the soiled prince and used the head thumper on the other two men to get them to go with the flow for the last time.
Rinis corrected and two cuts later, the two had slaughtered the whole lot. Rinis it seemed was an excellent puppetmaster.
“Excellent. Rinis take the prince out the side gate we will meet you out in front of the complex.”
Marcos ordered. He joined the Princess in giving wondering looks at the retreating Prince but was happy for the silence whether Prince Carthin’s mind was broken or not.
“Officer, I have messages to send to Mavvus.” Marcos said turning to the shaken officer.
“Yes, of course. You can write it with this.” He replied pulling the execution papers out from the board and sliding in fresh sheets from a slit in the bottom.
He scribbled orders for an audit of all information on Sellis. The audit would alert Leethon of his intent and get the military into gear. The King is old and at sixty he wouldn’t do more than ride out to the border. He would be required to lead any action, but for now, they had to begin the planning and make recon.
He wrote another note to Augussi for a quick hunt on any knowledge or rumor coming out of the west in regards to Sellis, the ‘Guilds’, any kind information on leadership, the activity of their Royals, and a standby order for safe houses from Leethon to Sellis. He was glad the girls didn’t need too much extra consideration. He wouldn’t go to all the safe houses but his gear wasn’t always as durable as he was. He would find out over the next two weeks if the prince could come along.
The princess made a request for a carriage to come to the Manor to pick her up. Despite her happiness it was early in the day. Several stocks would be in that day and at least one needed to be completed. Menthino needed much to be done for a proper harvest.
Marcos left the office and joined the others outside. The princess was staring at the prince with an ear to ear grin. With simple orders, the prince was moved back to the mansion and brought to the door. The gray maid stopped the little troupe when she saw the dirty prince at the door and mentioned a fountain for dirty things.
“Rinis take the prince around to the right of the building to the fountain. Strip him of anything dirty and have him washed. If the clothes do not come clean, hang them. Bring in the prince once he is clean.” Marcos said and stepped in past the maid. Princess Ruegin followed with her Hjordis and they went up to find the rest of the party.
In the lounge, Princess Ruegin stepped in with her relation of events.
She chattered quick and excitedly. “That idiot lost his marbles. He was all pissy when he came in and made his orders like the fucking Emperor himself. Lord Panthi showed him. He had the boy communicate the execution and carry it out. Monto shit himself signing the order. His bodyguard had to swing his hand like a puppet-master. He’s out there being washed in the fountain like an invalid vagrant. Look!” She said opening a window and holding the curtain for them to see. “He hasn’t spoken since. The idiot’s mind broke.” she laughed. “I hope it stays broken. The law says an incapacitated noble can’t get married.” She continued jovially.
She was likely at that moment the happiest person in Cardin. “It’s still early but I’ll return and want to celebrate tonight.” She said clutching her hands to her breast and looking around the room at them. Tears watered her eyes as she smiled at each of them in turn. Her eyes finally stopped on Marcos. “Oh thank you lord Panthi! Even if this doesn’t stay, I have witnesses that say he may have nerves that would be a liability. If stress turns out to be a cause I’ll never get married I just know it.” She said burying her face in his chest.
On Marcos’ other side Princess Nossin mimicked her sister. After a moment, she looked up at him and an odd blank grin came to her face.
The grey maid came along and hustled Princess Ruegin out for her carriage. Princess Nossin stayed locked onto him as he moved and sat.
Despite her Hjordis’ sudden coughing fit, Princess Nossin sat in his lap. Marcos didn’t do anything improper, he simply hugged Princess Nossin and rubbed her back paternally. They sat just like that for quite a while.
Prince Carthin came in led by Rinis who was led by Kaarthen. They found the prince’s room and put him to bed.
The gray maid came in again and Kaarthen had her bring soup for the cracked up prince when dinner was served.
“I think Rinis should stay with him.” Kaarthen said finally.
“I think Ein should help her do the thinking. It would be bad to have something happen because they weren’t looking around.” Marcos said.
Kaarthen though about it. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Oh, before I forget. I will be taking him out with me tomorrow.” Marcos said quickly looking out to the prince’s door.
“That also sounds like a good idea.” Kaarthen said, thinking nearly the same thing. The prince won’t be messed up all day. Perhaps Princess Ruegin will chase him back into his shell but Marcos will use him just the same and enjoy the silence.
Kaarthen, Jilleta, Marcos, Mara, Princess Nossin all went and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. They retreated to the parlor after dinner and Mara and Jilleta had a very exciting game. Princess Nossin rediscovered intimacy with Marcos sitting in his lap. His hands slid up and down her still body as she lay against him.
Princess Ruegin finally came in smelling like citrus fruit. She loudly exclaimed her happiness again. It seemed she would be happy the rest of the trip. She called up a tall somber butler.
“Bring in the champagne let’s mark the day!” She called and plopped down on the sofa. She seemed like she just avoided a disastrous marriage.
“Is he up yet?” She asked with only the slightest concern.
“No.” Kaarthen said quietly.
The princess hugged herself and rolled around on the sofa.
“This is much better than I could have hoped. I only wish we were in Mavvus. The Queen would have him shelved. His title will be waived, precluded, discontinued. He’d be that curious guy with a nurse everyone sees by the fountain in the morning. How perfect.” She said sagging back, her eye’s were glittery and unseeing as she looked up into the heavens.
When the champagne arrived, Princess Ruegin stirred up the party making sure everyone drank. After champagne, they tasted the strong whiskey imported from Dar Delis. The women were quite drunk within a few hours. Kaarthen and Mara slept off the drink in their chairs. Princess Nossin also slept in the parlor with Princess Ruegin and her Hjordis.
Marcos was as drunk as anyone. He pulled Jilleta into a room with himself. He almost destroyed the curtains jerking a tie from the drapes.
“Come, Come ear pretty.” He said. Marcos was that energetic type of drunk that bar owners feared. He stood on wobbly legs, shoulders hunched, head drooping, with spittle decorating a cheek.
Jilleta stupidly thought she had a chance since she was sober. She kept an eye on him but once he got a solid grip on her, she was appalled at his speed.
He jumped upon her and tied her hands. The professional bodyguard was quite stunned as to how tightly and quickly she was subdued. He had somehow tied her hands behind her back as she faced him. His hands then dropped to her pants. With amazing dexterity he dropped her pants, and pulled them off her feet with her boots. Several knives that had been stashed fell out on the floor.
“On your feet, on your feet then.” He said standing over her before falling to sit on the footbench at the end of the bed.
“Back up, come here.” Marcos said before sliding his hands up either side of her right thigh. She jumped as his hands touched her. The warmth of his hands was unnerving with the cool air on her bare skin. She felt so naked despite all the armor and weapons she had above her waist. The knives she carried might as well have been out of the room.
“Look at yourselves,” Marcos slurred. “Getting all wet.”
She squeaked and tried to turn and he slapped her ass. The surprise shocked her and made her gasp. Her pussy and ass instinctively flexed.
“Yep one of those just likes Augussi huh?” He said and stood. “Don’t worry I’m good at this.”
He pushed her forward a few steps to the paneled wall. She almost panicked as to what those words could mean. She tried a final time to wriggle a hand up or around. Marcos pushed her head forward and pulled her hips back.
“You’re dripping girlie, the maid will find out.” He said and brought something velvety up to her pussy. Looking down she could see the braided coils of the other curtain tie. It was a rope of silky golden threads braided with a tasseled end.
“You got anything to say?” He said leaning bodily against her. His hip dug between her cheeks he seemed to be pushing against her and testing her to move.
“Please be gentle, Milord.” She had more to say but her mouth couldn’t catch the right words.
He harrumphed and moved off her. The swish of moving air caught her by surprise and she knew something was happening. The loud slap was only equaled by her surprise by the very leather like feel of a strap.
Marcos stood behind her and watched her. She jiggled around for a moment. He knew what not to do until she was ready, but everyone is sick in their own special way. He swatted her again on the side of the cheek. He gave her more strikes across the sides of her thighs and top of her ass. The bottom of her cheeks and inside her thighs he left alone.
“Look at yourselves.” Marcos repeated. He by now had stripped his off robe and leather blouse. “I should fuck you shouldn’t I? Have you had enough?” He breathed and pulled his pants open. “Well speak!”
“Milord, whatever you wish.” Was her resigned reply.
Marcos backed up and stroked himself harder. His cock was ready. He popped her one last time with a stroke up between her legs and across her puss then shot forward. He penetrated her as she dropped down in the middle of her shout. Without any pause, he launched into a full stroke shafting that bounced her helplessly off his cock along the wall.
“This will teach you won’t it pretty? Shaking all over my cock and dragging your face all over the wall. Your nasty aren’t you? Cumming all over my cock. I bet you got hot standing with your naughty bits out. That little session earlier let you feel really naughty huh?” Marcos paused as she screamed a release.
“Off to bed with you. You feel comfortable on my cock? You should, I still haven’t come yet. Let’s go to bed. I’ll let you get some rest.” Marcos said keeping her up on his cock and they turned and walked like a two headed animal towards the bed.
“Lay on your stomach that’s a good girl. You might enjoy this eh?” Marcos moved into her in a relentless rut for what felt like hours. The drinking had kept him hard for longer than Jilleta could stand. Her pussy swelled shut and Marcos was pushed out unrelieved. She came more than a few times, and had fallen asleep under him exhausted.
The morning came early for the group.
Princess Ruegin was awakened by the grey stone-faced maid. She found the sun had come up and the day was already moving. “Argh, Lady Kaarthen where is Lord Panthi I must be off soon. Please give him my compliments and pass that as the hour moves to ten I want to be off to the east warehouses.”
“Yes highness I can do that.” Kaarthen replied.
Mara got up and like a hound tracked Marcos down to their messy bedroom.
“Master the hour is late. Princess Ruegin gives her compliments and wishes to be off to the east warehouses at the end of the next hour.” She said waking him.
“Find Ein and have them prepare the prince. Then return and help me with the bath.” Marcos grumbled rolling over exposing Jilleta.
Under him, Jilleta groaned. “Milord, could I perhaps be released? Milady will also need to be freshened for the day.”
Marcos looked down at her shocked and wordlessly unbound her.
“Do you remember last night? Was I too rough?” He asked as she worked her arms to get the blood flowing.
“Yes Milord, I did not drink. Your hands were expert and very pleasing. I do like how we have the privacy for these things. You were pleasantly rough. Nothing a proper stretch won’t fix I enjoyed the night Milord.” She blushed and bowed before departing.
“Everything is prepared Master I shall attend to your bath.” Mara said coming in. She bathed him quickly and efficiently. He stood bathed, dressed, and ready to go back to sleep in the foyer at ten. Ein, Rinis, and Prince Carthin also stood ready.
“Good morning prince. You look truly haggard didn’t you sleep last night?” Marcos quipped.
The prince shivered. “The faces and the blood. I tried to stop it but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.”
“Prince Monto will stand straight and dignified.” Rinis quietly stated from behind him. “Prince Monto learned well last night what is needed to be better.”
“Yes you did Monto.” Princess Ruegin said gliding into the room. She had changed into a purple and white riding dress with a leather tabard. The tabard bore the sigil of the enthroned crown in purple, white and gold thread.
“Today you will be annotating the quality of rice and grain at the granary. I will be inspecting the various collection points on the edges and outside the city. Work hard and we may have an early day Monto.” Princess Ruegin and her ubiquitous Hjordis stepped out the door.
Arriving moments later the carriage took them slowly through the city. Even on just the second day of harvest, the city in some places was noticeably more crowded.
The day was quick just as Princess Ruegin noted. Unlike her previous plan, they were prepared and accounted for after only a week and a half. The quiet prince had worked his tasks by Ein’s direction and Rinis’ ceaseless cajoling. They worked well together and were shuffled by Marcos throughout the city.
“Well, almost four days early. We’ll be able to get back in time see my sister head off for her speech during the festival.” Princess Ruegin noted over her brandy. They all sat in the parlor. Marcos felt quietly satisfied watching Mara again play Jilleta. Kaarthen relaxed on a sofa next to Mara. Ein and Rinis quietly had taken the prince to his room.
“What will you do first when you get back Lord Panthi?” The princess asked.
Marcos shrugged and stretched. “Highness, I will likely leave for Sellis. The prince perhaps may join. His family has begun to create a monster. I must make sure it never comes out of its cage.”
Princess Ruegin snorted. “What has the stupid prince’s horse-fucking family done?”
“They are centralizing their economy, which never goes well. They are allowing ‘Guilds’ economic powers absent the authority of the crown or senate. The ‘Guilds’ control prices but they make the largest profits from their foreign competitors. They sell as much as they can and try to annex them when the sales stop. The royals and nobles are also transferring their wealth into the ‘Guild’ with every purchase. Eventually, they may have a revolt as their ‘Guilds’ realize the power imbalance. Perhaps I am wrong, I want to see it for my self.” Marcos summarized.
Princess Ruegin nodded and tried to remember. “That’s been done before I remember stories of…”
“Gyptheria, the trade empire. Eventually, it led to a local then regional war. Gyptheria’s enemies including Menthino drained its currency reserves like a cyst. The ‘Guilds’ of Sellis have another problem. Since they don’t profit by taxes on trade eventually they’ll have to raise taxes somewhere. If they have war this will only speed up their problems, as royals can’t pay for the army, perhaps they’ll allow the guild to create an army, guild trade ceases, profits fall, without revenue coming from without, or nobles spending from within, their economy crashes.”
“But not before the guild’s army steps in to throw off the nobles once and for all.” The shrewd princess noted
Marcos nodded. “At the very least.”
“Master, Misses, the carriage for the journey back is prepared.” The grey maid said appearing.
The group headed down to the carriage. It was the largest carriage they rode in so far. All ten fit very comfortably. They saw for the last time of the visit the swelling city nearly full of people. The Harvest festival’s preparations were already started.
“We should be glad of the rumors of a cold winter, the farmers came in way ahead of schedule.” Princess Ruegin noted absently looking out.
“Sister Saliss will harvest the souls this year.” Princess Nossin added looking out.
Princess Ruegin snapped over to look at her. “Is there anything else you see?” Princess Ruegin asked quickly.
“No, we will be fine while they take the boy away.” Princess Nossin said turning to the quiet prince. “He will return and be a problem as a man.” She got up and sat in Marcos’ lap and closed her eyes leaning into him.
“Damn.” Princess Ruegin said pulling out her spectacles.
The ride back was quiet. Marcos cuddled harmlessly with Princess Nossin. Jilleta watched with trepidation. The ride was easier since the current took them back with only slight interruption as the tide came in. The boatmen kept them on the opposite side of the canal. They allowed the barge to cruise silently.
The group pulled past Tilin in the early morning. They arrived finally in Mavvus in the late afternoon.
They said their good-byes, and Marcos, Kaarthen, and her girls moved back towards the north tower. They were greeted by Sune, Aliss, and Salenne.
“How was the journey Master? We are surprised you returned so soon.” Aliss asked.
“Did I interrupt anything?” Marcos chuckled.
“Of course not Master, nothing could be more important than news of your arrival. Augussi is preparing a report of some significance in the library for you. She has reports coming in from all over the west.” Salenne noted tilting her head.
“Then I will go to her. You women all look lovely perhaps Ein can tell you of our trip. I will unfortunately be leaving again soon. But I cannot have too many disturbances, we will have dinner and I would love to see you all again.” Marcos said quickly
“Yes, Master.” They said together with a small curtsie.
Marcos and Kaarthen entered the tower and went to the back of the library and found Augussi in the map room looking down on the world.
“What news have you received?” Marcos asked.
“Master, it is as insidious as you have noticed.” Augussi replied.
Marcos moved over to a seat. “Oh? Well let’s start with the ‘Guilds’ first.”
Augussi nodded. “Yes, Master. Here in Menthino we use guilds for large complicated tasks involving many skills. Shipbuilding for instance needs carpenters, architects, rope handlers, navigators, and experienced sailors to make a worthy vessel.” She described “Our guilds work together so that someone can simply contract for a ship and it can then be designed and created in the guild’s dry-dock. That is the limit. Our guilds don’t control industries just products. A man with time, materials, and fair amount of luck can build his own boat. Lots of fishermen actually do.” She paused.
“Sellis has a similar system. Their shipbuilder’s guilds are quite large from when they were an island up until sometime in the last cycle. They allowed them to control the industry. When the waters pulled back Sellis went from a fortified island city-state in a shallow bay to being surrounded by semi-arid flat sandy soil that doesn’t grow anything but grass very well.” Augussi moved the map showing a compressed city in waving emerald fields. From above they could see the old coastline that curved around the city on one side. Dots of horse herds grazed peacefully in the midday sun. Few yellow dirt roads streaked around. Most carried tiny carriages and carts moving along slowly. “They adapted and raised horses with imported grains. It was sheer coincidence they made horses their new focus industry. The king at the time happened to like them.”
She zoomed in on a narrow crowded road. Along it, a strip of tall four and five story buildings stood clumped tightly together.
“Because their society started on an island, the city uses oddly converted nautical units of measure. On land, the units of measure they use are miniscule. The building codes where also not converted or changed. So, they primarily build in tall stone and plaster buildings. This created another large guild that dominated the industry. People can’t build a home with just their family or a couple men with a cart like in rural areas in most places. Their specialized code requires a cadre of stonemasons, laborers, plaster mixers, and again architects. Because horses are a main industry the lands are mostly for their use.” Augussi finished.
“So that brings us to what their doing now?”
“Yes. The ‘Treaty of Passive Powers’ was signed because they felt Menthino was a threat. You likely engineered that consensus so they would sign it, despite, knowing they would be boxed in by their own hand. The treaty was a strategic one for peace. It reads they can expand with their population but they couldn’t invade the towns or cities of their neighbors.” Augussi said pulling a long roll of copy paper and holding it up. “The treaty goes on to state that they can include others by confederation only if done voluntarily.”
“That was also intentional.” Marcos remarked. “They would have had to make major social changes to become attractive to their neighbors.”
“Sellis sits in a great location with high naval walls and is surrounded by open easy terrain that won’t feed invaders for dozens of miles in every direction. The guilds were the ones that noticed they could help the neighbors. They helped build taller better granaries, walls, docks, and all the other things they specialize in.”
“Then someone got the idea to incorporate their neighbors.” Marcos finished.
“Yes, Master, it was an economic seduction. The Guilds were for a time over worked and they could charge handsome prices. They announced that for those who joined with Sellis and sent a representative to the senate they wouldn’t charge taxes to the crown.”
“So the Crown gets less money but appears to gain power.”
“Yes, Master. I wanted to see if the crown had any control or possession of the guilds but nothing until recently.”
“Their Crown bought a fifth of the property of all guilds. But they did it with the stroke of a pen revoking their charter making them wards of the crown.” Augussi noted moving over to a map table on wheels. “They did it around the time the prince left.”
“Who is the heir now?”
“No one, it would go to a cousin around the king’s age. However, the royals are very young, thirty-six years old. No problems starting again, but no announcement.” Augussi noted.
“So let me see then, these guilds do most of the work, organize and build the cities, control prices, they don’t pay the crown, and they receive money from everyone and everything.”
“Yes, Master. they also don’t spend money among themselves. They issue credits to their workers. Apparently, few land owning nobles charge and receive rent from them. They also have a shadow government that parallels the Senate.” Augussi added.
Marcos leaned back. “Take in all this money as they obey the crown, force cities to fall in by sucking them dry and replacing their currency. But they don’t spend the money even on themselves so then the only resources are abroad.”
“That’s it Master, a trade empire gobbling up the western region up and down the coast.”
Arcos looked down on the city thoughtfully. “Someone is hording money and subjugating everyone in the pursuit. Who’s in charge?” He said looking up.
“Guild leaders are hard to find. There are chiefs in their fields. No real leaders are visible. Apparently, they are run similar to a senate, but break apart when needed and have smaller councils too. The Guild house they all meet in is extremely private. Our network doesn’t have a house in the city or palace of Sellis. Dar Delis admits they have Sister’s in the city. I got the feeling our inquiry caught them unawares.”
Marcos shrugged. “Then I’ll have to look for the expensively dressed person with a lot of imported stuff. Are there any nobles or visible people against them?”
Augussi shook her head. “No faction is organizing, or visibly against them. Politics and rumors about them are nonexistent, it’s actually very quiet.”
Marcos leaned in. “Dangers?”
Augussi could only shrug. “For you none, I alerted the safe houses. I can only assume you will go semi undercover?” She said looking at the glittering gauntlet on his left arm.
“Yes, is it worth taking the prince?” Marcos asked quietly.
Augussi shrugged again. “I can look into it. Honestly, the appearance of their Crown’s status matches your earlier deion. They are likely being subverted and are barely holding on or are being distracted. Perhaps you can get him there, but all bets are off on the way out.”
“Bad news.” Marcos turned to leave. “I will meet with the Queen now then.”
Kaarthen followed but Mara, Ein, and Rinis demurred and stayed in the tower. The winding halls and staircases were familiar and still confusing as they walked through. They waited a moment outside the prestigious apartments.
In the study, they were received. When they were brought in, the three princesses sat in the Queen’s company. The four women sat arrayed in the sofas and couches of deep purple. The curtains were almost completely shut and a naked fire roared creating an intimate darkness of light, dark, and orange fire.
Historians thought decisions were made in the light of the day in court, or perhaps the candle light of a weary workday at a cluttered desk in a library’s study. The Queen likely knew what he was going to say and what she was going to say. That meant she knew they were about to make one of the more important decisions of her reign.
“Greetings Lord Panthi, and to your Companion. Your moving fast today, what do I owe the pleasure of your audience?” The Queen said lying back in the shadows of the lounge. The royals all wore very casual forms of dress. Light colored ankle length linen dresses, and very little makeup.
“Sellis.” Marcos said simply. His information audit would have already passed through her hands. Despite controlling ‘domestic affairs’, Queen Mensillin is notoriously sharp and shrewd.
“The horse traders who are selling their city to their empire to create a country? Yes, I agree it looks convoluted at best and unsustainable. I don’t even really understand what the hell their doing so it’s a guarantee it won’t work.” The Queen mused. “Why does Menthino concern itself with a country hundreds of miles from our borders?” The Queen asked facetiously.
“An excellent question, I wish to return their Prince. After the recent medical challenges he has faced he may have little time. They also are too close to Dar Delis for any kind of instability.” Marcos answered. They were playing a farce. She couldn’t question him, nor deny anything he told her to sign. The astute Sisters of Dar Delis would have already cease trade with them if it turned one sided. The Guilds likely couldn’t ‘help’ a country where men aren’t allowed. And no one cared about the prince.
“I see, you are requesting support from the Crown?” She continued.
“Only within the borders. The heavy assault in Pessilberg should be alerted and two brigades of heavy infantry and two cavalry battalions should move to Leethon.”
“Why so little cavalry?” The Queen said leaning forward and breaking character.
“I don’t want us to try and sweep the field and get our asses kicked. They use heavy and light cavalry in large formation with very little infantry. Our cavalry are light scouts and we don’t train that much in large formation, or to fire from horse back. They spend allot of time on horseback out there, but rarely fight infantry. Likely, they may not understand how to fight heavy infantry with pikes and spears. Historically, it’s never happened for them. Battles of that style have strict learning curves. They’ll break themselves on our lines.” He finished.
“Will you pass through Pyressel?” The Queen asked sweetly, making Marcos raise a brow. “Apparently they have quiet deals with Sellis but it’s all unconfirmed. Pyressel would bring their border within less then a week’s march of Leethon. It would also likely bother our friends in Osmuun. Since we like to keep Osmuun’s enemies separated, finding the underlying cause of Sellis would be prudent. If you find out they’re just land-stealing money-grubbing horse traders, then a new treaty will have to be signed. I think an embargo would be better. Between ourselves, Munklin, and Dar Delis the fools will starve if they fuck up.”
The princesses shared a chuckle while Princess Nossin looked on bored.
Marcos bowed in exaggeration. “Yes, Highness.”
“I will notify the King and prepare him to repost in Leethon.” The Queen said smiling.
Marcos bowed again. “Thank you, Highness.”
“Perhaps your plans may not be firmed up enough but will the prince be returning?” Quietly everyone was leaning around to hear the response.
“He’ll be back and it will be much worse. We should kill him now. I don’t want him on me.” Princess Nossin said in a dark voice surprising everyone. Her fists balled her dress and her serene face broke in an emotional and furious look. The Queen regarded her for a moment.
“If his family doesn’t want him then we won’t either.” She said to Marcos with finality.
Marcos nodded but kept an eye on Princess Nossin. “Yes Highness.”
Princess Nossin continued. “If he comes back after the death of his parents, his insanity will grow. Kaarthen will have to take his head once he turns this place upside down.” Princess Nossin, said with a wild look in her eyes. She crossed over to Marcos and took his hand in both of hers. “You’re the only one. Minun will follow him here if he returns.” She finished in a whisper.
Kaarthen perked at the name. Her eyes flipped into seeing the god’s language everywhere. There it was, a trickle like steam that puffed from around Princess Nossin’s forehead. The words were tiny and huge. The unaffected record of all thoughts past, present, and future by everyone in the world slipped through this girl’s mind.
Not many words were moving now, the flow was slowing because Princess Nossin was becoming exhausted. Kaarthen leaned forward closer though to see them twisting and floating away. Words like corrections and variables flowed out. The technical grace of the language of the gods was preserved in elegance as it told of the world in an all encompassing narrative.
“Partez Rocert, Nobleman. That’s who we want.” Kaarthen said finding the piece. The Queen looked at her with quietly appraising interest. She wore a look most women who find a sudden attraction to her wear. The Queen seemed to find power sexy.
“The man in the purple robe.” Princess Nossin said weakly.
“Yes, but more importantly the man from Sellis is in Pyressel now.” Kaarthen corrected.
“Yes.” Princess Nossin confirmed.
“Who wears a purple robe and leads the guild activities in horse trading representing Sellis.” Kaarthen added.
“Yes.” Princess Nossin repeated.
“That is the one. Partez Rocert, a noble from Sellis who was a cavalry officer, and uncle to the King. He doesn’t care he’s not helping anyone but himself, he thinks he can do it better. He wishes to make himself an emperor.” Kaarthen added. “Minun isn’t there. But he knows, his scent is all over Sellis as he passed through.”
“Yes.” The princess mumbled.
Marcos was staring pretty hard at her now too. “You’re sure?”
“The Goddess knows now.” Princess Nossin said before laying her head down onto Marcos’ lap quietly.
Marcos’ head snapped back to her. “Then it is my duty to consume their plans.”
Kaarthen looked at him quizzically while the Queen responded. “Collapse his plot, there will be more.”
“Yes, Highness I shall move quickly with this news. If you will make the arrangements, the five of us will move to change the course of this imminent disaster.” Marcos said turning and standing.
The Queen nodded sitting up. “I see no problems, go with haste.”