Lenona 4, 1013
“All righty, Robby my boy-o …” Dannie grinned. “What’s the game plan?”
Rob sighed. “Dannie …”
“I know, I know. You’re regretting fighting to get me in already. Imagine how Cressida must feel!” She clapped her hand on Rob’s shoulder. “She’s stuck watching our kids and her own!”
“I don’t regret trying to get you into the Guild, I just …” He sighed and looked forlornly at the empty bar. They were meeting in the Unicorn Room tonight, as they had tended to do once the women were officially allowed into the Guild. Somehow the feminine presence seemed to discourage informal meetings around the bar. Dannie couldn’t begin to imagine why.
Rob sighed again and turned back to Dannie. “I just want to do this and remain on speaking terms with my brother. I’ve only got the one, you know.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. If you and Josh got into a tiff, you know Cressida and I would nag you until you made it up.”
Dannie grinned lopsidedly, taking pity on him. “Relax. I won’t start anything with Josh that you’ll have to finish — I promise. But you started this, Rob. You told me you thought I was the leader the Guild needed. You shouldn’t be surprised that the praise went right to my head.” She winked. “So tell me — what is it you think we need?”
Rob shrugged, but he managed a smile to go with it. “If you’re really the leader we need, then you should be able to figure it out, shouldn’t you?”
Touché, Dannie thought, more than a bit impressed, even though she ought to know her own husband by now and should have guessed that would be coming. “Well, on that note …” She stuck her arm out to him. “Shall we go up, husband mine?”
“If you insist, dear.” He took her arm — it was hard to tell who was supposed to be escorting whom — and together they walked to the stairs and up them, then down the corridor to the Unicorn Room.
The first thing Dannie thought upon entering was relief — she and Rob weren’t the last to arrive; they were still waiting on the Andavris. The second thing was the recurring notion that they need to start asking the inn to let them have a bigger room.
The room would only hold a six-chair table. They had asked the inn for a longer table last time, and the result had been that Joshua’s chair was scraping the wall and Mark was practically in the fireplace. The poor saps on the far side of the room were stuck there unless Joshua or Mark wanted to get up to let them out.
And the worst part? The Guild had nine regular members now: Mark and Joshua, Rob and Dannie, Grady Brogan, Pamela and Blanche, and Sorcha and (usually) Bart Andavri. With the eight-chair table, they were crowded and crammed, and somebody was still hanging awkwardly on one of the table corners. Dannie slipped into a chair next to Grady Brogan; Rob took the chair between her and Joshua.
“Are we sure we can’t have meetings in a bigger room?” Dannie asked, looking around the table.
“Unfortunately, all the rooms are the same size,” Joshua sighed.
“You’re kidding. This place doesn’t have a Royal Suite twice the size of the other rooms?”
“They don’t even have a common dormitory we could commandeer,” Mark answered.
Good Lord. Well, there was a problem they needed to get to solving–
The door flew open, and Sorcha charged in, followed by her husband. “Sorry for being late,” Sorcha said, hurrying around the table. Bart waved her into the seat next to Blanche, and he himself took the last one, which was also next to Joshua. “Things …” She shook her head. “Things!”
“Is everything all right?” Blanche asked. There was no hiding the alarm in her voice — or the disappointment that Jessiah hadn’t come with them. But those were the new rules. Every person with a shop in his (or her) own name was allowed to bring only one other person as a partner. Those were the rules that Joshua and Mark had insisted upon, and Dannie found it hard to argue when they were meeting in such cramped quarters.
“Oh, we were just arguing with Jack,” laughed Bart. “It’s nothing to worry about. Kids!”
“Specifically, he had a hard time understanding that yes, he needed to stay home tonight, because Banana and Benji need adult supervision, and he and the Cap’n together count as one adult. And nothing from you,” Sorcha went on, pointing at Pamela. She turned back to her husband. “Why did we let Cherry leave again?”
“Well, I distinctly recall you having a lifelong dream for your children to get the Camford education you never got …”
“We should have moved to Camford,” Sorcha sighed.
“We’d have been run out of town the first time you ran–” Bart stopped without warning. “Er. Never mind.”
“Right,” Mark jumped in. “And on that note — I call this meeting of the Mercer’s Guild of Albion to order. Secretary–” He hesitated. “Have we picked a secretary yet?”
Dannie bit her lip. She had managed to get a secretary for the Young Mother’s Club–but she wouldn’t bring that up. Not tonight. Besides, a quick look around the table confirmed that nobody had any parchment or a quill with them. The question of a secretary would have to wait until another night.
Mark sighed and rubbed his forehead. “We–we do need to figure this out.” He glared at his sons. “If we’re going to be having a more formal Guild …”
Joshua transferred the glare to Rob. Rob looked expectantly at Dannie.
Dannie took that as her cue to jump in. “Well, one step at a time, right?” she asked. “Reme wasn’t built in a day, Mark. We just spent the last three meetings wrangling over family representatives and how many votes each family would get. Why don’t we at least begin with something that’s not likely to cause a shouting match?”
Joshua snorted, and Mark rubbed his temple. Poor man. Haggling over family representatives and who got to vote and all that nonsense had caused its share of shouting matches. But at least they had managed to work out some reasonable compromises.
First of all, on the subject of family — or really, household — representatives: if a household got a single business, it got two voting representatives. If it owned a dozen businesses in one person’s name, it got two representatives. If, however, different businesses were owned by different members of the household, each business entitled the household to send one more representative to Guild meetings. Representatives had to be of age; if for some reason a family needed an exception to that rule, the Guild would vote on whether to allow the exception. Families could bring children fifteen years and older to meetings at will (with the unspoken caveat, as long as they behave themselves), but they couldn’t vote on anything. For that matter, households could bring more than two people to meetings, as long as only two of them were allowed to vote.
When it came to voting, on minor matters — procedural issues, smaller problems, that sort of thing — every person sitting around the table got one vote. On major issues, each business owner got one vote, with a maximum of three votes per household. If household representatives couldn’t agree on how to vote, then that household was to abstain. New business owners would have to be on the Guild for six months before they were allowed to vote on major issues.
It wasn’t, perhaps, a perfect system. Dannie was sure they would find dozens of problems as time went on. But it was the best they could come up with and agree on. They could solve the problems as they arose.
“Well, Dannie,” asked Sorcha, “if we’re searching for things that aren’t likely to cause shouting matches — where were you thinking we should start?”
Dannie looked around the crowded room. “Well–what about a new meeting place? And before anybody argues,” she added, “I’m talking about a new meeting place for our fortnightly meetings — not the weekly by-meetings.”
That was another source of contention. Pamela and Blanche had seen no reason not to have a full meeting every week. But Mark, Joshua, Rob, even Grady and Bart, had balked at that. And Dannie knew why. They still wanted their pub and pool nights. They’d been able to hash out a compromise for real meetings every fortnight, and on the off weeks, there was an “informal” meeting for socializing. So the men got their pub nights, and Pamela and Blanche at least had the option of meeting once a week, even if they wisely skipped the pub nights.
“A new meeting place?” Pamela squawked. “Why?”
She would argue; the Dragon’s Teeth was just across the lane from her house. Dannie supposed she couldn’t blame Pamela for that. Blanche looked worried, too. It was Geoff who watched the younger ones, doubtless she felt better knowing the children were so close and could get her in five minutes if something happened.
But Blanche and Pamela weren’t the only ones with young children and potential inconveniences to worry about. Dannie cleared her throat. “Aunt Pamela … look at us. We barely fit into this room! And do we really want to meet downstairs, where everybody can see and hear us?”
“But where else would we meet?” Mark asked, rubbing his chin. “Most of the other places don’t have private rooms … or else aren’t places where I would take ladies …”
“Or anyone who wanted to be able to sit down on a chair without getting a splinter or five up his a–bum,” Joshua corrected himself, looking sheepishly at his new mother-in-law. Poor Joshua. He’d escaped having one of those the first time he’d been married. And then he got stuck with Pamela.
“Perhaps,” Blanche asked, “perhaps we could meet at each other’s homes? Rotate from fortnight to fortnight?”
Sorcha’s lips twitched. “That … well, if you enjoy hosting, that would be fine, but if not … having …” Sorcha counted around the table. “Seven or eight extra people over for dinner? That’s a lot to ask of someone.”
Grady gulped. “Me table–” He stopped, flushing as he looked around the table.
“Don’t worry, Grady, our table won’t hold us all, either,” Bart shrugged. “And I can’t imagine that Mistress Brogan would be happy to hear that she’d have to cook for eight extra people after she decided that she didn’t want to come to Guild meetings.”
“Well, we wouldn’t have to cook, would we?” Blanche asked. “Everybody here usually eats supper before we go to the meeting, right? Maybe just make some … snacks … oh, dear,” Blanche murmured, looking around the table and clearly doing the mental arithmetic.
“That could be a stopgap measure, though, while we think of something else,” Dannie mused. “Those of us who have tables that are big enough –”
“Which you don’t,” Joshua pointed out.
Dannie rolled her eyes at him. “Please! We could bring in an extra table from Rob’s shop if we had to.”
“With all the paint and clay on it?” Rob yelped.
“Why not? We’ve got enough plates. As long as nobody puts their food on the table, we should be fine. The point is, the people who have the room can do it — and maybe be compensated by the Guild? — until we figure out something else.”
“And what might that something else be?”
Dannie frowned. She looked around the table. It was a thought that had occurred to her before, but …
Well, why not? If she was going to lead the Guild, eventually, she might as well start building her credibility now. “What about a guild hall? Aunt Pamela — doesn’t every guild back in Glasonland have their own guild hall?”
Silence. Dannie could almost seen the thoughts racing behind the eyes of everyone else at the table.
Well, let them think. If they thought about it long enough … well, they wanted the Guild to be something, didn’t they? A player in the game that was Albion, not just an onlooker. A good way to show they were ready to take that step would be to put a physical stamp on the very landscape.
But there were bound to be objections. Mark voiced the first. “That … would be expensive. We’d have to build one …”
“Or rent one,” Dannie pointed out.
“From whom?” asked Joshua.
Mark glared at the both of them. “And there’s the matter to consider — would the nobles let us buy land to build one? They’ve been open enough to letting us own our own shops, but to have the Guild buy land to put up a hall …”
“We could rent the land,” Blanche murmured, “and get permission to build the hall. That’s how things are sometimes done in Port Graal — aye, Mother?”
“Oh, aye,” Pamela sighed, “but when whoever owns the land decides he doesn’t want us there anymore, what do we do then — eh? Take the hall apart and build it somewhere else?”
“Stranger things have happened,” replied Bart. When Pamela glared at him, he smiled brilliantly at her before turning to Dannie. “I think it’s a good idea. Most of the guilds in other big cities — in Reme, too, not just Glasonland — have their own guild halls. It seems like common sense to me for us to get our own.”
“But can we afford to?” Joshua asked. “And more importantly — is it really worth it to have meetings once a fortnight? I agree that we’re likely to outgrow this space soon, if we haven’t already,” Joshua added to Dannie, “but a whole hall? That’s a big investment.”
Yes, Joshua would think of it that way. After the scare with the robbery, he had already decided that he would be building a separate building for his bank. Dannie wasn’t sure what that would accomplish — wouldn’t that just be telling every thief in the area just where all the money was? — but it surely beat sleeping with the money under the bed, as Joshua was doing now.
(He had wanted to sleep with the money in the mattress, but that was where Cressida had put her foot down — or so Dannie had heard from Cressida.)
Except … now that Dannie thought of it … “Oh, Joshie?” She batted her eyelashes at him and smiled her sweetest and most ironic smile.
Joshua blinked at her. “Oh, hell.”
Bart burst out laughing, and even though he was the loudest, he was hardly the only one amused. Dannie batted her lashes at Joshua again. Rob rolled his eyes. “You know … that big bank you’re building …”
“Oh, hell,” Joshua muttered again, with more feeling this time.
“Since you’re already making that big investment …”
“And perhaps we could pay rent for when we use the meeting room …”
Joshua perked up. “Rent?”
“Do you have a one-track mind?” Rob asked, rolling his eyes.
“For the record–yes. Anyway. You mentioned rent, Dannie?”
Dannie spread her hands. “We rent this room, don’t we? You could include a …” She looked around the table, “much bigger room that we can use for meetings for the meantime — at least until we grow big enough for us to need our own guild hall.”
“The rent would have to be a bit larger …”
“We’re not paying for your bank, Josh,” Rob interrupted.
“Rob!” whined Joshua and Dannie at once.
“I was getting him to do what we wanted!” Dannie protested.
“And I was getting her to pay for it!” Joshua added.
“Might I point out,” Mark interjected, “that the whole Guild hasn’t exactly voted on this yet?” He gestured around the table. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our members had objections.”
The Andavris exchanged glances. Sorcha spoke for both. “We don’t see a problem with this idea — provided that the rent is reasonable.” She glared at Joshua. Joshua tried to smile. “It seems like a good compromise to me.”
“A true guild hall would be better …” Pamela sighed.
“But a meeting room in Joshua’s bank would be perfect for now. At least, that’s what I think,” Blanche interrupted, shooting a glare at her mother.
“But …” Grady murmured. He looked around the table and twitched at his collar. “Well — Joshua, yer bank, it ain’t gonna be built fer a while, will it? What are we gonna do until then?”
Joshua leaned back, stroking his chin just as Mark had. “Well … Dannie, I know you think this room is too small — but do you think we could perhaps manage to make due for a few more months?”
Dannie frowned. “If we expand at all …”
Mark shook his head. “Dannie, you haven’t seen this man with the builders. I don’t think it’s possible for us to expand faster than this bank will be built.”
Dannie steepled her fingers together. “Truly? Even though we’ve got families coming in from Glasonland every day?”
“And how many of them have asked to join the Guild?” Joshua pointed out.
That was a point. Most of the new citizens had lost everything in Glasonland and had no choice but to indenture themselves to lords in order to get enough to start over. They wouldn’t be joining the Guild for years — decades, maybe. If ever. Those who weren’t tended to be like the family of Vanessa, Lynn’s maid — skilled servants, civil and otherwise, who weren’t interested in commerce and thus had no interest in the Guild.
“So,” Joshua asked, looking around the table, but taking care to put the question to his father, “shall we hold a vote?”
Mark nodded. “Aye. Chausseurs? Shall we use Josh’s bank for a meeting room, once it’s built? Negotiating the precise rent at that time?”
“Nay,” said Pamela.
“Aye,” said Blanche, at the same time.
Mother and daughter glared. Blanche sighed. “We abstain.”
“Andavris?” asked Mark.
Sorcha and Bart both nodded. “Aye,” said Sorcha for formality’s sake.
Mark glanced across the table and sighed at Joshua, Dannie, and Rob. “Do I even need to ask?”
“Aye,” Joshua grinned cheekily.
“Aye!” Dannie added.
Mark turned to Grady. “That leaves you, my friend.”
Grady looked around the table, gulped, and turned to Joshua. “I hope ye’re not gonna take advantage o’ us, sir. We ain’t all got yer resources.”
“Are you kidding?” Joshua laughed. “With Rob and Dannie on the case? They’re more likely to fleece me!”
Grady cracked a smile. “Then, aye, sir.”
“Well, it appears the ayes have it,” said Mark. Dannie wondered if she was the only one to notice that he hadn’t voted, even though he had a right to. “And I hereby appoint Dannie to negotiate the deal with Joshua. You’ve got a fortnight, you two, to come to an agreement that isn’t fleecing either of us.”
He sighed, but there was a smile at the corner of his lips. “And for the rest of you — pray for us. I doubt there will be any peace in the Wesleyan household, either of them, until the two of them finish butting heads.”