Ververe 10, 1014
“Oh — my!” gasped Rosette as Grady stepped into the bank with her.
Grady nodded in agreement with the sentiment. He still felt that way too, sometimes. White and gold tile floors, green paneling on the walls, the huge lamps, the big paintings Rob Wesleyan had done for his brother — they all combined to give off an impression of richness, but not too much richness. You got the feeling that your money would be safe here, because anybody who could afford this kind of decorating could afford good security. (And Joshua Wesleyan was paying for very good security; Grady knew that much.) But at the same time, the bank wasn’t so opulently decorated that you were afraid that your gold would be turned into a painting or tapestry the second your back was turned.
But Grady could be rational about the bank. He was used to it. He’d been here for Guild meetings, and he had brought Toinette with him a few weeks ago to open up a small account — the “Takemizu fund,” they were calling it. As for Rosette … this was her very first time.
Ye never forget yer first time, Grady thought, chuckling.
Rosette had stopped dead, staring all around her. Grady had to tap her on the shoulder to get her moving again. “Come on — meetin’ room is this way.”
Rosette slowly followed him through the nearly-empty anteroom of the bank, where, Grady suspected, most of the business of the bank got done. He’d been favored enough to have a private meeting with Joshua in his office, but Grady thought that was only because they knew each other as well as they did. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the size of his account.
He watched Rosette looking over her shoulder as they passed through the small door into the corridor that led to the Guild’s meeting room. “It’s just so big …”
“I know,” replied Grady, coaxing her into the hallway. “I think it’s supposed ter be that way. Supposed ter make ye feel small, next ter all that money.”
“Oh,” Rosette murmured. Grady glanced at her.
And he kicked himself. Didn’t he remember how intimidated he had been — how intimidated he often still was — when he went to his first Guild meeting? “But don’t ye worry none about that. Everybody’s happy ter have ye here, an’ they’ll be nice. They’re nice people.”
“Are they?” asked Rosette.
“Rosie! O’ course they’re nice! Wright, ye don’t think I’d–”
“No–no,” Rosette interrupted. “I don’t mean that. I mean — are they happy to have me here?”
Grady winced. He’d been the one to sponsor Rosette, and he hadn’t expected the opposition he’d faced. Pamela Chausseur had been loudest, proclaiming herself shocked that a respectable guild like theirs would allow entry to a woman who was only a shade better than a common whore. Well, she hadn’t said whore, but that was what she had thought. The Wesleyans had all been hesitant, but Grady could understand that. They were connected to the Gwynedds by marriage, and … well. Only the Andavris had been eager or even just willing to go along with the idea.
But the Wesleyans had come around, though Grady could still sense ambivalence from their quarter, and since Blanche Chausseur didn’t share her mother’s scruples, that neutralized the Chausseurs. At least on paper. Pamela could be …
“Ye know what,” Grady muttered as they hesitated outside the door to the meeting room, “let’s jest go in.”
Of course everybody was already there and already seated. Grady had accepted this as his fate, even if he didn’t understand how it always happened this way. He wasn’t even far from the bank! The Andavris and the Chausseurs had much farther to travel! Maybe he just needed to get better estimating distance and the time it would take to cross it.
As soon as they were inside and the greetings were over, Grady sat himself next to Mark Wesleyan. It was a bit presumptuous, maybe, but he wouldn’t put Rosette across from Pamela. And this way, she was across from Blanche, who was inclined to be friendly (and who had been practically walking on air since her betrothal to Captain Andavri was announced), and next to Dannie Wesleyan. Dannie was more Ferreira than Wesleyan, Grady judged — she might not approve of Rosette, but she wouldn’t be unfriendly.
“Well,” said Mark Wesleyan, clearing his throat. “I think we can call the meeting to order now — and I think we’d best start off by bidding a welcome to Mistress Chevaux. It’s good to have you here to join us, madam.”
He meant it. Grady let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Mark wasn’t upset about Rosette joining, and he wasn’t going to get his braises in a knot over what her relationship with Sir Mordred meant for Lady Dindrane. Any hesitation he’d had had just been prudence. Grady couldn’t blame him a bit for that.
“Thank you, sir,” Rosette replied, her voice as tiny as a schoolgirl’s.
“Do you know everybody?” Mark next asked. And, when Rosette hesitantly shook her head, he went around the table and introduced everybody. Grady leaned back with a relieved sigh. Everything was going to be just fine.
“So,” asked Joshua as soon as the introductions were over, “what’s our first order of business? Dad?”
Mark leaned back, tapping on the table. “Richard Ferr–er, Baron Ferreira–”
“Mark,” interrupted Dannie. “Half the people at this table are related to my dad by blood or marriage–”
“Mostly marriage,” chuckled Blanche.
“Aye, true — but let’s face it, we’re almost all family one way or another. We don’t need to be so formal.”
Grady glanced sidelong at Rosette. He felt too big for his britches whenever he referred to Richard Ferreira as just Richard — even when he did it to his face, as Richard had insisted he do! How would Rosette take this?
Her eyes were wide and she licked her lips nervously, but she didn’t lodge a protest. Grady didn’t blame her.
“True,” murmured Mark. “All right, we’ll ignore formality. So–Richard is trying to line up some loans for Port Graal, now that shipping and communication with them has opened up again. Josh and Richard are working together on the hard financial angle, but I was wondering, might the Guild want to send some aid? On a charity basis?”
“Oh, yes!” replied Blanche. “Er …” She glanced first at Grady and Rosette, then to the Andavris. “I don’t know if the Cap’n mentioned — but our family is from Port Graal …”
Grady glanced at Pamela, but she didn’t seem ready to jump into anything. Her eyes were even closed. She was probably praying for the daughters and the grandchildren she had had to leave behind when she and her family cut and run for Albion.
“That’s only natural,” replied Bart Andavri. He looked at his wife, who nodded. “We wouldn’t object to a little something to — to help the widows and orphans of Port Graal.”
“Me neither,” Grady replied, and Rosette was nodding in agreement.
“And you know there won’t be an argument from this quarter,” added Dannie, her husband nodding along. “So. Should we bother seconding the motion and voting, or …?”
“Eh, why don’t we save the voting and all that for when we’ve got something a bit more concrete on the table,” replied Joshua. “Just how do we want to do this? And what do we want to send? And how much?”
“What are the conditions like in Port Graal?” asked Rob Wesleyan, looking down the table to his father. “Did Richard say?”
Mark sighed and shook his head. “He doesn’t know as much yet as he’d like to. Food was something that was a large problem, but by the time we organized something and it got there …”
“Easier to send cash,” filled in Dannie Wesleyan. “By the time we got all of our ducks in a row, nobody’s going to be worried about the food supply. They’ll be worrying about how to afford the food they’ve got.”
“Aye,” agreed Mark. “Richard said that he’s heard that getting the farms to produce again was the first thing King Constantine did, once the rebellion was put down. So there ought to be plenty of food around … but … the fighting was hard on the able-bodied men of the city. Plenty were killed — you’ve had a lot who were badly injured … having lots of food around it isn’t much good if you don’t have anyone who can work so you can afford it.”
“So, cash then?” asked Dannie. Mark looked to his son, who was nodding — at least until Sorcha Andavri spoke.
“Are you sure about that, Dannie — Mark?”
Grady blinked at her. So did Mark. But Sorcha’s husband was nodding with his wife, so Grady sat back to listen to her piece.
“Any gold you send is going to be a magnet for pirates,” replied Sorcha with a shrug. Grady’s jaw almost fell — he hadn’t even thought of that! But the Andavris were from Bledavik. “At least if you send it by sea. I don’t know how you’re planning to advance your loans, Joshua …”
Joshua rubbed his temple, the kind of gesture a man made when he was trying to ward off a headache. “I keep waiting for Richard to tell me how we’re going to get around that. Usually we’d use letters of credit, but what Port Graal needs is gold.”
“Well, the Church manages to get money all over Wrightendom without too much trouble,” Dannie pointed out. “If we’re doing something purely charitable, maybe we could talk to Father Hugh and Mother Julian about getting our money into the Church network?”
“Oh, that’s a brilliant idea!” said Pamela Chausseur. Grady blinked. Dannie blinked. Grady was almost certain that everyone except Rosette blinked — and maybe Pamela. He also hoped (but doubted) that he was the only one who noticed Dannie worm a couple of fingers underneath her sleeve and pinch herself. “We can donate the money right to the Church — Blanche and Cressida and I could draw up a list of parishes — and then they can worry about distributing to the people most in need. They would know, after all.”
“Donate it to the Church? Aunt Pamela, that’s not what I was suggesting –” started Dannie.
“But I don’t think that the Church would offer to take our money into their network if we weren’t donating it to them,” mused Rob. Dannie turned to her husband with a raised eyebrow. “Otherwise we would just be footing them with the bill to transport our money.”
“Bother,” muttered Dannie.
“I don’t see why it’s such a bother,” Pamela replied. “The Church has a better hand on charity than we do. We’d just be — hiring an expert to do the work we want done, that’s all. Don’t you agree, Mark?”
Poor Mark! Grady didn’t envy him — especially since he felt waves of skepticism emanating from the far side of the table, where the man’s family was located. But why? Didn’t it make more sense to give the money to the Church? Pamela was right; they would be better at charity than any mere guild, particularly a guild a country away. And surely the Church wouldn’t misspend the money when there were so many people in need. With that many needy people, could the Church possibly misspend the money? No matter where they put the coppers, they’d be relieving someone’s poverty, maybe even saving a life.
Grady watched the younger Wesleyans exchange a series of glances. Dannie was the first to speak. “According to my father, the King wants it to be known that Albion is helping Port Graal get back on its feet. If we just donate the money to the Church, you know they’ll take all the credit for it, Aunt Pamela.”
Pamela opened her mouth and closed it again. Then she whispered, “The King wants it known? Truly?”
She said just what Grady had been thinking. Why did this matter so much to the King?
But Dannie was nodding, and Grady supposed he would have to go with that. It was almost too bad that —
“Who’s ter say we can’t axe the Church fer help on this anyway?” he asked. “We could axe Father Hugh an’ Mother Julian ter be takin’ up collections fer Port Graal. Then we could say that it were the Church in Albion givin’ all this money — ’cause Father Hugh an’ Mother Julian are good souls, but they’d want the credit, too.”
There was a stir around the table as people looked to their neighbors and family members. Grady almost leaned back with a smile. There — that would do it, wouldn’t it? They could probably raise a lot more money this way if they worked with the Church and got Father Hugh and Mother Julian to help out. The nobles would all contribute, for one thing. It might even make a bigger splash for the King, if he wanted a splash made!
“Except …” said Rob slowly, and Grady’s heart sank.
Rob was stroking his chin slowly with one hand. “The money would have to go through Camford, if it was sent through the Church. The Pascalians’ contacts all go to Camford, and the Coralites’ go to Reme. And even if the embargo is technically over … the Robertians are still not happy with the King …”
“Not according to Heloise,” Joshua agreed.
“Aye,” Rob murmured. “So … they’d probably let it go on to Port Graal … but it wouldn’t be from the Church in Albion anymore.”
“An’ … they’d really be that petty?” Grady asked slowly. More to the point, they would be that petty?
… But maybe it wasn’t pettiness, if the King wanted it known that Albion was helping Port Graal. He probably had a good reason for it, for all that Grady couldn’t guess what it was.
“Oh, yes,” replied Joshua, nodding. “At least, according to Heloise they would.”
Rob had leaned back, tapping his fingers against the table. “The Robertians lost to the King,” he finally said. “They didn’t win — they didn’t force the King into obedience — therefore, they lost.” He glanced at Dannie. “Remember what Princess Jessie and Will were saying about King Constantine’s coronation …”
“Aye,” Dannie muttered. “I remember.”
Grady felt his stomach start to sink too. Whatever it was — he didn’t want to know.
“Well, Joshua, since you and Richard are setting up the loans and Albion will be getting credit for that, do we need to get credit for the charity too?” asked Pamela. “Is that what the King wants?”
There was no answer from the far end of the table, just a great deal of Wesleyan looking back and forth. Finally Dannie sighed. “This just proves what I was saying.”
“Oh, no,” groaned Joshua. “Can we please have this argument later?”
“Why does it have to be an argument?” Dannie retorted. “At least among ourselves? If we want to help the King do what he wants to do — and I think we do — then we need to have some kind of official understanding of what’s going on and what he wants, and that means some kind of seat on the Council, or — or something!”
There were gasps from all around the table. And no wonder. A bunch of commoners? Asking for a seat on the Council? Had Dannie gone mad?
Joshua just groaned, and even Rob looked uncomfortable.
Finally Pamela spoke for them all. “Danielle, do you hear yourself? For shame! I think we all know our place better than to meddle in affairs that are none of our concern!”
“I’m not saying we should meddle, Aunt Pamela, I’m just saying that if the King wants our help, we could give it more efficiently if we were allowed to know exactly what he wanted.”
“She has a point, Mother,” Blanche interjected. “It’s awfully inefficient, having Uncle Richard go to the Council meetings and then talk to the Wesleyans about what the King wants, and then the Wesleyans have to report it to us. If we had some way of knowing directly what he wanted …”
“Don’t you even start, Blanche!” Pamela shook her finger at her daughter. “I won’t–” She visibly bit her tongue, casting a sideways glance at the Andavris — Bart who was trying not to look like he wanted the floor to open up and swallow him whole, and Sorcha who was grinning in a way that made her teeth look awfully sharp. “You’ve gotten enough strange ideas since coming here,” Pamela finally replied, “but this is too far above us! You know very well that back in Glasonland –”
“A King would never ask for help from mercers and factors, Mother,” Blanche pointed out. “But King Arthur is. All I’m saying is that it would be sensible for him to have some way to ask directly.”
“Well, I never–” Pamela started, but she didn’t finish. Apparently whatever it was she “never” was too much for her to force out.
And it was into the silence that Rosette spoke for the first time. “Maybe … maybe we’re looking at this wrong. If — if sending money is too risky unless we get the help of the Church … and if that won’t work for whatever the K-King has planned — maybe we ought to send something else.”
“Like what?” asked Mark in the eager tone of a man who saw a way out of an argument he had no wish to have.
“W-well …” Rosette shifted from side to side and looked around the table. “It–it would depend on what they — the people of Port Graal — needed, and what wasn’t likely to be stolen. Maybe — maybe cloth? Summer is almost half gone, when autumn comes, the people will probably need new, warm clothes … cloth would be helpful …” Rosette swallowed. “And — and it probably wouldn’t be as likely to be stolen?”
“Well, it depends on what kind of cloth you’re shipping,” replied Bart. “High-grade silks and velvet? Pirates would take that in a second. But your average wool or linen … they might take a bit for themselves, but then you’d–they’d have to sell it, which might be more trouble than it was worth, depending on how good the cloth was.”
“A desperate crew would take what they could get,” added Sorcha. “But once it got out that a ship full of gold was leaving Port Finessa, bound for Port Graal, you’d have pirates tailing it every last league. You’ve still got a risk with a ship carrying trade goods, but not as much as a ship full of gold.”
“Great,” Joshua muttered, probably thinking of his promised loans. But everyone else was nodding to each other. Maybe they had their solution?
Joshua took a deep breath. “Shall we put it to a vote, Dad? Raise some money for trade goods and supplies — common stuff that Port Graal might need — rather than cash?”
“That would be wise,” replied Mark.
So they voted. The measure carried unanimously — no surprise there. Everybody wanted to help, and nobody wanted to watch the help they were trying to give be used to get a bunch of pirates roaring drunk — or whatever it was that pirates did with their booty. This would be good.
As soon as the vote was taken, though, Mark sighed. “Now … now we get to start the real argument,” he chuckled. “Masters and mistresses of the Guild, I fear I have no choice but to ask …” He took a deep breath.
“Just how much do we want to raise?”