Tyves 3, 1013
Grady hurried down the hall of the Dragon’s Teeth, counting doors as he went. The barmaid had said that the rest of the Guild was in the Unicorn Room — whatever that meant — and that it was upstairs, the third door on the right. Grady pushed his hair back from his forehead, not surprised to feel trickles of sweat beginning. It was getting warmer every day, the year maturing into a pleasant spring. But that had nothing to do with the sweat in his hair. That was all from nervousness.
There was something of interest — of importance — going on in the Guild, and Grady was late to the meeting.
Ever since he became a merchant, joined the Guild, he had been working to ingratiate himself with these men, to really belong, and now he was sure he had destroyed it all. Why couldn’t they have mentioned last week that something important was going on? At least, Grady hoped it was something important — he couldn’t understand why else they would have asked for a private room. Normally when he came to the Guild meetings, all the men were at the bar, drinking, talking, and joking about nothing in particular.
He came to the third door on the left, took a deep breath, and pushed it open, ready to make his apologies. His breath caught in his throat as soon as he surveyed the group around the table.
The first thing he noticed was that the Ferreiras, father and son, were missing. The second thing he noticed was that the Andavris, father and son, were there.
Shit! This had to be important!
“Sorry I’m late,” Grady rushed to apologize as he took the one remaining seat, the one between the Wesleyan brothers. “Things got a bit — er …”
The truth was that he had no excuse. He had not thought that they were doing anything tonight other than drinking and shooting the breeze, like every other Wednesday. If that was all that they were doing, what would it matter if he was twenty minutes or half an hour “late”?
“Not a problem, Grady,” replied Joshua. “We hadn’t started on anything. So, how’s the family?”
Grady barely avoided letting out a whoosh of relief. “Family’s well. Very well. An’ yers?”
Joshua smiled the smile of a very satisfied man. “Very well.” So marriage was still agreeing with him. Well, as wonderful as it was to see Joshua unabashedly happy, especially after last year, that was hardly news.
Thinking of Joshua’s year led to natural thoughts of Rob Wesleyan’s, and of Mark Wesleyan’s. Grady glanced at both of them, and found that they both looked much the same. Mark Wesleyan still wore the tired look that had descended upon him when news of his wife’s illness came out, and Rob still looked like a young man in the peak of health and condition — except, Grady noticed, he seemed unduly nervous. What could that be about?
Grady looked across the table, to the Andavris, and found that they, too, looked much the same as usual. Bart Andavri still smiled that same somewhat shy and diffident smile; Jessiah Andavri’s eyes still gleamed with what Grady could only call mischief, even in a man of Jessiah’s years.
It was Jessiah who was the first to speak after all the greetings and polite inquiries had been exchanged. “All right, young Robert, out with it. You wanted us all here at this meetin’ — what’d you want to talk about?”
Rob? It was Rob Wesleyan who had something to say that was important? Grady thought Rob was somewhere on his level in terms of Guild politics — namely, near the bottom!
But that was a foolish thought, wasn’t it? Rob was the son of one of the Guild founders. Even if most of the time he preferred to sit back and listen, to observe, if he chose to move to center stage and speak, he would have a willing audience.
… Although that audience did not necessarily consist of his brother, Grady realized, noting Joshua’s pursed lips, torn between amusement, exasperation, and perhaps a bit of uncertainty.
“Aye. Well … I’m not much for speeches,” Rob began. “So I suppose I had best speak plainly and briefly.” That would be interesting; Rob had a slow, measured way of speaking that gave the listener the impression that each word was carefully chosen from a score of others. On the other hand, when Rob spoke, it usually was brief and to the point.
“The Guild is …” Rob paused. “We’re only half as strong as we could be. And we’ve only ourselves to blame for that. We’ve restricted our membership to half of what it — it ought to be. Namely … there’s not a woman in this room. I think we ought to allow women into the Guild.”
Grady blinked. This … was not what he had been expecting to hear.
“And I agree,” replied Joshua.
Grady gaped. That was not what he had been expecting to hear, especially given the way Joshua had been looking at Rob! And the way Rob was glaring at Joshua, too …
“You’re absolutely right, Rob. It’s ridiculous that we don’t allow women in, as a matter of course. I don’t think there’s a single Sim around this table who would argue that a woman has the same potential to be successful in business and in the Guild as a man. We’ve all known examples,” Joshua pointed out.
Grady looked around the table. The Andavris, both men, were nodding eagerly. Mark Wesleyan was nodding too, but more slowly and cautiously. And Rob was … glaring at his brother?
“So I move that the Guild formally amend its charter to allow women to join, provided that they meet the same criteria a man would have to meet. Shall we put it to a vote?” Joshua asked.
Instead of instantly seconding the motion, as Grady assumed Rob would — it was his idea, wasn’t it? — Rob replied, “Josh, you know that wasn’t what I meant.”
“Aye, indeed, I do,” Joshua answered, rolling his eyes. “What I’m suggesting is something we should have done years ago. What you’re suggesting is …”
“Is what, Josh?”
Joshua threw his hands into the air. “Is insane! And unfair! You wouldn’t let a man into the Guild on those terms. And let’s not even get into part two of the plan.”
Part two? Grady wondered, looking around the table. The Andavris looked as confused as he felt. Mark Wesleyan, however, had his lips pursed together, and it seemed like nothing would escape them for a long time — until the meeting was over, perhaps, if he could possibly manage it.
“We wouldn’t need to let a man into the Guild on those terms,” Rob retorted.
“You never know. Someday–”
“Let’s worry about someday, someday. And today, let’s worry about today.”
“There’s nothing to worry about today!” Joshua groaned.
“Wait,” Bart interrupted. “Wait — just a moment. What terms? What — what are you proposing, Rob, and how is it different than what Joshua suggested?”
That — that was the question worth asking. It was the question that had been on Grady’s mind ever since this argument, since it did seem to be an argument, had started!
“I think we should allow our wives to join the Guild,” Rob replied. “Even if they don’t own their own shops, I’m sure they have as many skills — and good ideas — as we do.” He glared at his brother with every word.
“Oh, no,” replied Joshua. “You’re not getting off with that. Tell them the whole plan. Tell them why you want to allow wives in.”
“Now hold on just a minute,” broke in Jessiah. “Somebody explain to me why wives — and women in general, for that matter — aren’t allowed in already. And for that matter, somebody explain to me just what a woman would have to do to get in under what Josh is proposin’, because as far as I can recall, the minute Bart and Sorcha and the kiddies and me moved in, y’all were bangin’ down the door and beggin’ us to join. Ain’t that right, Mark?”
Mark finally smiled. “That was in Richard Ferreira’s day.”
“And what was that, a decade ago? No! Barely two years, by my count. So, somebody — tell me, what were Bart and I supposed to do to join up, and why aren’t women allowed in, and all the rest?” Jessiah’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze, sharp as a pirate’s cutlass, cut into each of the men around the table.
Well, not Grady, not so much. Mostly just the Wesleyan men. But Grady wondered if they felt it quite as intensely as he did.
Rob sighed. “Josh is proposing that we only allow women into the Guild if they own a shop in their own name, or else are the child of a man who does.”
“Or a woman,” Joshua added. “Or, let’s say, Guild member.”
“And that all applies to men, too?” asked Jessiah.
“Of course!” Joshua answered.
Jessiah’s eyes narrowed, only this time in confusion. His gaze once more swept around the table. It landed on Joshua. “Then what the hell am I doin’ here?”
Joshua only blinked.
“‘Cause I don’t own a shop.” Jessiah jerked his thumb at his thumb. “It’s all in his name.”
“Then — then what …” Joshua started, and stopped, cringing in embarrassment.
“Do I do?” finished Jessiah without a hint of that embarrassment. “Oh, I corrupt the kiddies, lounge about the shop, get drunk as a lord –”
“Don’t you mean a sailor?” interrupted Bart.
“Of course not, that’s what I spent my youth and middle-age doing; I want to do something different now that I’m old. Where was I? Ah, yes! Get drunk as a lord, get into all kinds of trouble, and otherwise enjoy my old age, that’s what I do. What else is an agéd patriarch to do, eh, Mark?”
Mark Wesleyan did not answer that, which Grady thought might well be a good thing for all of them.
“You don’t own the shop?” Joshua gaped. He looked at his father. “Then … why …?”
Mark flushed and shrugged. “It … well, Richard didn’t much care about Jessiah not owning the shop. And I didn’t, either. It would have been … rude not to issue an invitation to him.”
Rude. They were allowing men into the Guild on the basis of what would be polite. If that was the only criterion — why not allow women in? Wasn’t it just as rude to exclude them?
Jessiah seemed to be thinking the same thing, for he asked, “Well, while we’re on the subject of rudeness, isn’t downright rude not to let women in in the first place? I know, for one, that Sorcha would be a hell of a lot better in this chair than I would. She knows a lot more about the business than I do, seein’ as it’s hard to run a shop and raise hell at the same time.”
“The Cap’n has a point,” Bart agreed. “Sorcha would be a fine addition. Seems a bit wrong to keep her, and any other wives who would be good at this, out.”
“Wait,” Joshua replied. “Wait just a moment. Wait until you hear what Rob really wants. If this was just about letting in women who have the same qualifications as a man, then we’re in complete agreement, but it’s not.”
“If Dannie and I scraped together enough money and bought a shop for her and put it in her name,” Rob challenged, “would you let her in without a fight?”
“Would you?” Rob asked again. “Or wouldn’t you?”
Joshua furrowed his brows at his brother — then, without warning, he laughed. “You know what? You’re right, Rob. Let’s fight about what we’re really fighting about! I’m willing to let married couples into the Guild if they’re both involved in the business! But before we get that far, let’s have that fight, shall we?”
“I think we should,” Rob replied.
“You go first.” Joshua leaned back and waved his hand at his brother. “Tell them. Tell them what you’re thinking. Then see how far they agree with you.”
Rob gulped. He took a deep breath and turned to the rest of the men around the table. “The Guild is … foundering,” he said starkly. “All it is, nowadays, is an excuse for all of us to go have a night at the pub. We’ve lost our vision. We’ve — we’ve had the wind taken out of our sails, now that Richard is a baron. Father –” Rob turned to his father with a guilty glance. “Father, you’re not interested in leading the Guild. Isn’t that true?”
Mark replied with a wan smile. “I suppose there’s no point in denying it.”
“And Joshua, you don’t want to –”
“Now, hold on–”
“Not the way it needs to be lead!” Rob banged his fist on the table, then looked as surprised as all the rest of them when it hit. He gulped and went on. “We — the Guild used to be something. A force to be reckoned with! It isn’t, not anymore. Not since Richard left. We need another leader, somebody with the vision to help the Guild make something of itself, and with the connections to get things done. And — and I think that person is Dannie. My wife.”
“And I think, that while Dannie is absolutely the person to do what you’re suggesting, that’s not the direction we need to or ought to go in,” Joshua replied.
Rob rolled his eyes. “You don’t think we should be going in any direction.”
“That is not what I think. Look — what Rob wants is for this to become an old-style Guild, like in the old country … er, Glasonland,” he added, glancing at Jessiah and Bart. “Guilds there control all the trade. They run the cities and the towns. But Albion isn’t Glasonland! What town are we going to run, Rob? Port Finessa was the best bet, and now it’s Richard’s. What trade are we going to control, Rob? We already do control most of the trade! The most the Guild needs to do is protect us from the nobles, if we need protecting–”
“If men like Sir Bors ever get more say in the running of this kingdom, you know damn well they’re going to want to tax us into the poorhouse.”
“They won’t get more say! You’re the great friend of the Crown Prince, aren’t you? You’re the one who goes on about how he can’t stand his father-in-law! And you were at Richard’s investiture as baron, weren’t you? You said that the King understood how important unfettered trade is to the country!”
Rob paled, and he gulped, but he said his next words anyway. “King Arthur will not be king forever.”
“But Crown Prince Thomas will be king after him, Lord willing, and he’s your friend. He won’t jump on us unless he’s got no other choice — and at that point, we’ll probably be in such desperate straits we might not mind being jumped on.”
“We could have a place at the table,” Rob said quietly. “Instead of sitting off to the side and being fed scraps.”
“Can — can I ask a question?” Bart interjected.
“Of course!” Mark answered, sounding relieved as anybody for the interruption.
Bart smiled, nodded, and turned to Rob. “Rob — why don’t you try to be our leader, then? We could hold an election, and …”
Rob had gone pale and looked horrified.
“… Never mind,” Bart murmured.
“I couldn’t be that kind of leader,” Rob answered anyway. He glanced at his hands. “I’m … I’m not much for people. But Dannie would be good at it. She would — she would love it.”
She might, she might, Grady agreed. But … was that necessarily what was best for the Guild? Rob had a certain vision, and the vision had a certain appeal. But Joshua had a great point, too. Did the Guild need to become big and power-hungry? Did it need a place at the table? Weren’t they all getting fat enough off table scraps?
Grady looked down at the table, at his hands, the chipped and worn fingernails, the calluses. He thought he could smell from here the faint stench of fish, the stench he couldn’t quite wash away, no matter how hard he scrubbed. He never minded the fish smell. If he smelled of fish, that meant he was taking good care of his family — better care than his father had ever taken of his family, for certain. Was there any shame in that? Was there dishonor in climbing the highest mountain on your horizon and stopping there, even if, once you got to the top, you saw a bigger mountain on the horizon?
“What do you think, Grady?” asked Joshua suddenly, breaking into Grady’s thoughts.
“Eh?” asked Grady.
“What do you think? You’ve barely said a word since you got here. I know what my father thinks, and Bart’s been asking the intelligent questions, so we can guess what he thinks — but what do you think?”
Grady did not speak at first. He only stared at his hands.
He didn’t want to start another climb. He was thirty-six years old, and sometimes he had thought it would take him twice that time to climb as high as he had managed. He didn’t think he could survive another long trek upwards. He wanted — what did he want?
Grady wanted a plateau, or at best, a gentle, rising slope. He wanted to save enough money to take Toinette to Takemizu, which was a plenty lofty goal, in his mind. He wanted to make the shop a success, so his sons and his daughters would want for nothing …
His daughters …
Grady blinked. The design on the table seemed to morph and change under his gaze. Or was it merely that his thoughts were changing shape?
“We’re — we’re really arguin’ two different things, ain’t we?” Grady asked, looking up.
“Aye,” Mark agreed. “I think we are.”
“An’ … an’ what ye’re sayin’ about the one, Joshua … I think I might agree. We’re all gettin’ mighty well-fed off the table scraps, ter me mind.”
Across the table, Grady heard a snort — was it from Jessiah or Bart? He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he cared to know. “But on the other hand … about the women … why not let ’em in? Look, Joshua, it’s one thing fer ye ter say that we shouldn’t let women in unless they’ve got a shop. Ye — don’t be offended none, but ye’ve got money. If yer wife wanted in, or yer daughter, ye could buy her a shop and let her in that way. But not all men have yer deep pockets, sir.” Joshua blinked rapidly at the sir, but Grady went on. “I’ve … I’ve got daughters, sir. Ain’t no way I can buy ’em a shop. But me Katie, she’s only twelve, an’ she’s takin’ ter the shop like a duck ter water. She’d be great in the Guild, once she gets old enough. But if ye don’t let women join unless they got a shop o’ their own … I don’t see no way she’d ever be able ter join.
“An’ …” Grady looked around the table. “I don’t think that’s fair. D’ye? Seems even more unfair, ter me, if we wouldn’t let me Katie in jest ’cause we want ter keep someone else out.”
Joshua stared at the table, blinking, as if he hadn’t quite considered the matter in that light.
Then Bart spoke. “I agree with Grady. Let’s deal with the matter of women first. Then — if we decide to let them into the Guild — we can decide whether we want to follow Rob and Dannie’s model of leadership, or if we want to follow Joshua’s. Does that make sense?”
“Of course it makes sense, Bart. You’re the designated voice of reason in our family, you always make sense,” Jessiah replied. “So I motion or notion or whatever the word is, I think we ought to vote on whether to allow women — both wives and shopkeepers in their own right — into the Guild. Savvy?”
“I second the motion,” Rob replied. “We vote on the proposition: should we let women, both wives and shopkeepers in their own right, into the Guild? Father? Aye or nay?”
Mark hesitated. He looked from Rob to Joshua and back again. Then he nodded. “Aye.”
“Bart?” asked Rob.
“Aye,” put in Jessiah, before he could be asked. He turned to Mark. “You let my leathery old hide in. Let some women in, they might raise the standards in this place.”
The table erupted in a low, dry chuckle. But not for very long, for next came Joshua.
He did not speak for a long moment. He seemed to be thinking. Finally, though, he pursed his lips together, and he nodded. “Aye.”
The rest of the vote was a formality at that point. They already had their majority. But Grady said his, “Aye,” as proudly as he could muster, for Katie, and for Katie’s daughters — and for Paddy’s and Nora’s and Sean’s daughters, too.
That left only Rob, who grinned quite openly. “Aye,” he said. “And,” he went on, “since we’ve unanimously voted to expand our membership, I vote we table any further motions until we can spread the word around the kingdom and welcome any new members who care to take us up on our offer.”
“Hear, hear!” called Jessiah. “And I motion we all go down to the pub and wet our throats some, like I was promised! I’m parched!”
That was the second and final motion unanimously approved by the Guild that night.