Darid 16, 1015
Joshua took a deep breath, slow and even. This was the time of day he liked. It was early enough that the bank was technically open, but few customers had bothered to show up. Best of all, the ones that were present were the — to put it bluntly — less-important clients, the ones Humphrey Kennedy and the rest of the clerks could see to without Joshua’s interference. The whole day stretched out before him, and Joshua could delude himself that this would be the day that he finally got everything done he’d planned.
And he was in such a better mood than he’d been in this time yesterday! When he’d married Cressida, he’d seen nothing but advantages to the fact that her birthday, their anniversary, and St. Romeo and St. Juliet’s day were combined. He just needed to find one (very special) present, and he was set for the whole year until Robertmas. Well, unless you counted the weekly bouquet of flowers, but they were routine for Joshua by now, so he didn’t count them.
Unfortunately what he hadn’t realized is that while Darid 14th of every year from now until death they did part would be very, very good, the morning of Darid 15th would be very, very bad. He’d discovered he needed at least five cups of coffee to be passably human, and this year he’d fallen asleep on the couch as soon as dinner was over. Cressida thought it hilarious and had given the kids some of mixture she used to darken her eyelashes and had encouraged them to draw cat-whiskers on his face while he slept.
He was still trying to think of a suitable revenge for that.
But today was the sixteenth, which meant that even if the thrill of the fourteenth was behind him for another year, so was the trudging misery of the fifteenth. He wouldn’t have to worry about coming in to the bank like a living zombie until the day after his birthday at least. And who knows? Maybe he would wise up and take the day after his birthday off.
In the meantime, he’d keep going over these figures, double-checking the interest accrued and the payments due until–
Of course, thought Joshua. “Come in,” he called.
Kennedy opened the door and slipped inside. “Er … Master Wesleyan … your brother-in-law is here to see you?”
Joshua blinked. “Aglovale?” What was Aglovale doing here? Aglovale had that noble stick shoved so far up his arse that Joshua was surprised you couldn’t see it coming out of his nose. Aglovale seemed as likely to darken the doors of a bank as he was …
Wait. Maybe this wasn’t about the bank at all. “Is everything all right?”
“He said it was about business, sir.”
“Aglovale here on business?”
“That’s what Sir Aglovale said, sir.” There was an ever-so-faint emphasis on the first sir.
Except Joshua was having none of it. “Kennedy, he knocked up my baby sister. I think I’m allowed to be on a first-name basis with him now.”
“That’s true enough, sir, but he hasn’t done anything of that nature to my little sister. Or my older sister, for that matter.”
“And he better not, if he knows what’s good for him.” Joshua grumbled.
“And just what would you do about it if he did?” asked Kennedy, eyebrows raised, looking Joshua up and down. Kennedy was very good at computing — interest rates, deposits, withdrawals, odds in a fight — and from the way he was smirking, Joshua guessed that his odds weren’t looking good.
“Rob and I individually are smarter than two of him put together. We’d think of something,” Joshua answered.
“Well said, sir. However, in the interests keeping him away from my sisters and keeping him true to your sister, shall I send him in?”
“You’d better,” Joshua answered. Kennedy withdrew with a smile.
Leaving Joshua alone in his office, scratching his head.
What on earth would Aglovale want with him? On business, even? Joshua knew Freddy was a bit of a miracle-worker when it came to getting nobles to see merchants and tradesmen in new and interesting ways, but he’d always pegged Aglovale as a nut Freddy couldn’t begin to crack. Freddy worked best when dealing with fundamentally decent Sims, and as for Aglovale —
Joshua, said a voice in his head that was more than a little like Isabel’s, be nice. He was raised differently than you. He has honor and even decency, in his way.
And if you can’t be nice, added a voice that sounded like Cressida, at least be interesting!
That second bit of advice would be rather difficult to follow, given that this was Aglovale he was dealing with. But he didn’t have too much time to worry about it, for someone knocked on the door, and barely waiting for Joshua’s permission to enter, in came Aglovale.
“Aglovale!” replied Joshua in the voice he reserved for the people he wanted to think were his best customers. He got up and hurried around the desk to shake Aglovale’s hand. “What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to these dim halls on such a fine morning, eh?”
Aglovale had come in looking like he always did, which was like he woke up on the wrong side of his bed of nails this morning. But when Joshua gave him that greeting, he smiled — really smiled. Joshua didn’t think he was that good a salesmen, at least not with people who he knew or who ought to know him …
This was just sad.
“Have a seat, my friend,” Joshua added, clapping Aglovale on the back in the familiar way of friends and brothers-in-law. (One out of the three — familiar, friends, and brothers-in-law — wasn’t bad, was it?) “And then you tell me what I can do for you.” Joshua hurried back to his own chair even as Aglovale slowly and carefully sat.
Aglovale didn’t answer him — directly — right away. He was took busy looking around the room. “This … this is a very fine office you have …”
“Well, you know how it goes,” Joshua shrugged. “When you spend more of your waking hours than you care to contemplate between the same four walls, it pays to make them look nice.”
“That’s … true …”
“I mean, given how much time you spend on patrol, I’m sure you’re careful to select a horse with very nice ears, eh? Since you have to keep staring between ’em …”
Aglovale knit his brows together. “Are you jesting with me?”
Good Lord in Heaven. If Aglovale had to ask, that just showed he didn’t know Joshua nearly as well as he thought he did. “Me? Jest? Aglovale, whatever makes you think that?”
And if you don’t catch the sarcasm dripping from that, Aglovale, I’ll get you a saucepan to help you out.
“Ah.” Aglovale swallowed and looked around the office again. Then he took a deep breath and turned back to Joshua. “I need your help, Joshua. In a … business sense.”
“Oh?” asked Joshua. And what might Aglovale need his business help for? Joshua had heard that Aglovale was another young man on the lookout for an estate — could he be seeking the same “help” Joshua had given Milo? If that was all Aglovale wanted … well, that would be easy enough, even if Joshua figured he’d probably have to shave his profits in half as a kind of family discount.
But that wasn’t what Aglovale said at all. “As I’m sure you know, I am, with my sister-in-law Lady Garnet, co-trustee of the Dyfedshire estate.”
Joshua did know that. If the whole kingdom hadn’t known that, Babette would have been sure to tell him — heck, she had told him, several times, preening like a peacock (peahen?) each time. Knowing that still didn’t explain what Aglovale was doing in his office. “I am aware of that,” answered Joshua.
“Do–do you know very much about Lady Garnet?” asked Aglovale.
Only what he’d heard from Babette, and slantwise from Rob and Dannie. On the whole, he was more inclined to trust the picture that Rob and Dannie painted, but now was not the time to bring that up. “I know a bit about her, but, Aglovale, why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind? We’re both grown men; we don’t need to play these guessing games.”
Aglovale gaped and blinked. “Oh–oh.” He bit his lip. “I … er … well, I suppose the best way to put it is this — she has no business sense. But–but the steward always agrees with her, and, well, this gives her a misplaced confidence. And that makes her very difficult to work with, I’m sure you can imagine.”
“My sympathies,” replied Joshua. That was the best way to extend them without having to mention just who he was sympathizing with.
“Thank you. But–but I need your help, Joshua. You see–I need to have someone who can … who understands business, and how money is made, and how it is lost. I know that you know nothing of running estates, but I am sure that you would understand how to make one profitable, and how to turn one into a ruin.”
“Your confidence is quite touching,” replied Joshua, somehow keeping a straight face.
Aglovale grinned — at least Joshua thought that was a grin — but it faltered and faded almost as soon as it appeared. “Er–quite. Thank–I mean, you’re most welcome. So, I thought, having the opinion of another man of business, of sense … I thought it would be very helpful to me, to help me help Lady Garnet to understand what she is doing, and how she is going wrong.”
Well … thought Joshua. Who to believe here, who to trust? In all the thumbnail sketches of Lady Garnet he’d gotten via Rob and Dannie, they’d never said anything about her sense of business and management. Though Dannie had said that Lady Garnet had been the brains managing most of the masque that the Crown Princess had put on last Robertmas but one, and that had gone very well … still, running a masque was not at all the same thing as running an estate. It was entirely possible that Lady Garnet truly didn’t know what she was doing, that the steward was toadying up to her, and that Aglovale needed some help to get her to see sense and keep the estate on an even keel.
It was also entirely possible that Aglovale had a tendency to act like a spoiled child when he didn’t get his way, a tendency which was most unfortunately combined with a young nobleman’s assumption that his way was always the best way.
“I’m sure I would love to help you, Aglovale, but I’m afraid I’m going to need more to go on than that.”
Aglovale blinked. “I–I beg your pardon?”
“Well, I know you can’t possibly be asking me to consider every possible scheme that Lady Garnet might come up with and how it might turn out, accounting for all reasonable probabilities, foreseeable circumstances, and acts of Wright to boot,” Joshua replied, just in case Aglovale was asking him to do that. “Plus, of course, I don’t have to tell a bright man like you about the drawback of free advice.”
“It tends to be worth exactly what you pay for it,” Joshua replied drily. “I mean, you could tell me what Lady Garnet is thinking, and I could tell you whether I think that it’s a good idea or not, but at the end of the day all I’m giving you is my opinion. And you know what they say about opinions.”
“Er–I do believe I do, yes,” Aglovale answered.
Oh, good. As much as part of Joshua would love to see how many shades of red and purple Aglovale turned when Joshua pointed out that opinions were like arseholes (everybody’s got one, and they’re usually full of dung), he had a feeling that was a conversation he’d regret in due time. Such as when he got to the next part of what he wanted to say.
“However, that being said, well, I could easily have my clerks run the numbers on a couple of scenarios, if you tell me what Lady Garnet is planning, and give a few projections and estimates about how things are likely to go … but unfortunately, I’m a businessman, and, well, the long and the short of it is that I can’t be asking my clerks to work for free. I’m sure you understand how it is,” Joshua went on. “Though if you were willing to compensate me and my clerks for our time … well, that would be another story entirely.”
“But …” Aglovale bit his lip. “How would I pay for that? I–you must understand, I have a family of my own, and I am trying to obtain my own estate, and–well–I doubt Lady Garnet would approve expenditures of this kind …”
“Well, there’s more than one way to compensate a man for his time and effort,” Joshua shrugged. “I mean, for an account the size of the Gwynedd estate, this kind of business advice would be complimentary.”
Aglovale blinked. “Come–come again?”
Joshua tried not to grin. After all, if Aglovale wanted advice from him, for Joshua to interpose himself in between two warring nobles … why shouldn’t Joshua profit from the matter? Becoming the bank of the Dyfedshire estate would be a hefty profit indeed. And not just for the money, either. They would be the first noble estate to start placing most of their cash into a bank, Joshua’s bank. Richard Ferreira invested so much of his cash back into his business and into his estate that the deposits he made into the bank weren’t very much; the du Lacs were still a little too leery of his bank to jump that way, and as for the Orkneys and the de Ganises — forget it! But if the Gwynedds started … then the du Lacs would surely follow, and maybe the de Ganises and the Orkneys would as well.
All they needed was a push …
“I–I couldn’t possibly make that kind of decision unilaterally,” Aglovale hedged.
“No, no, certainly not. You’d have to get Lady Garnet’s approval –”
“But don’t you see?” Aglovale groaned. “Lady Garnet’s approval is exactly what I can’t get! On anything!”
“Well, yes, that would be the sticking point,” Josh agreed. “However …”
He leaned back, head behind his hands, trying his best not to smirk. “I’ll tell you what. Since you are family – why don’t I give you and Lady Garnet a workup of a single scenario as a gesture of goodwill? And surely, once Lady Garnet sees it, she’ll see the value in getting this kind of clear, practical, neutral advice, with any luck, she’ll agree to make a suitably large deposit, and we can be in business.”
Aglovale bit his lip. “That … does sound reasonable …”
“Excellent. So, tell me, brother – I hope you don’t mind me calling you that – what scenario would you like me to run?”
“Opening up a tavern on the estate,” replied Aglovale. “Particularly, an indentured family opening up that tavern – in a separate commercial property – and then buying their freedom. I’m sure you can see what a disaster that would be.”
Disaster? thought Joshua. No, he didn’t see how that would be a disaster … “I think I’m going to need more information to understand what you’re driving at.”
“They’re the largest family on the estate!” Aglovale huffed. “Four children already! Granted, three of them are daughters – but there is every hope for more! And what’s worse, the eldest brother of that original family already bought his freedom, and he moved to the capital shortly thereafter. There’s no reason to assume that his younger brother won’t follow suit if and when he gets his freedom.”
Grady Brogan? Is that who he’s talking about? If it was … well, there were plenty of holes Joshua could start poking into Aglovale’s assumptions, starting with the fact that he knew why Grady Brogan had left Dyfedshire, and his reasons had nothing to do with anything the Gwynedds had done. In fact, as far as Joshua was aware, Grady Brogan’s reasons were currently lying in the churchyard. “I’ll admit that worst-case scenario like that could be harmful to the estate,” Joshua agreed, “but I’m not sure a scenario like that would come to pass.”
“What? Isn’t it obvious that a freeman won’t want to stay where he was once a serf?”
“Not really. Not if he’s got a tavern to hold him where he is,” Joshua shrugged. “You see, a business like a tavern – that’s very dependent on location. You can’t just take all your business skills and know-how, move halfway across the kingdom, and blithely expect it to work out exactly as it did before. Now, I’ll grant you, he might want a new house and maybe a new plot of land to build it on, but if he decides to stay in your territory, you still get his taxes and everything, so I’d not call that a bad thing. Secondly – well, there are businesses that reliably make money hand over fist, and there are every other kind of business. Taverns generally fall squarely into the latter camp. As far as I’m aware, you can mark up drinks by good amount, but there’s only so high you can go before you drive your custom away. And servers, ingredients, wear and tear from barfights – those all cost money. Your man might just break even, or be able to keep his family supported in relative comfort,” Joshua pointed out.
“But …” Aglovale whispered.
“But?” asked Joshua.
“But if that is the case …” Aglovale’s eyes narrowed. “Then why should I ask you to be my man of business? If you are only going to agree with Lady Garnet?”
All right, first of all, you little ingrate, I’m not your man of business. But Joshua plastered a smile on his face. “Easy. Even a broken sundial is right twice a day. And even a normally astute and clever man can make lapses in judgment, particularly when dealing with an area he’s not familiar with – and though I know you’re a quite capable estate manager in your own right, Aglovale, we both know you don’t have my experience in trade and business, and you certainly wouldn’t know much about running a tavern.”
Aglovale blinked. “That’s … true …”
“And if this first scenario comes out more in favor of Lady Garnet’s position – especially when you’ve come out against it – then Lady Garnet will know that I’m a neutral party. And don’t,” Joshua raised a hand as Aglovale opened his mouth to protest, “say that I’m not. I have to be, Aglovale. I have to give the best, most responsible advice I can give, no matter whose ‘side’ it happens to favor. Because I can’t have my biggest depositor going bankrupt.”
“I … see …”
“I knew you would,” Joshua replied. “Of course, since you are an astute estate manager, we’ll probably be in agreement much of the time – so you get what you want from this arrangement, and I get what I want. To me, that sounds like the best of possible business arrangements.”
And if we don’t often agree, Aglovale, then that just shows me that you need my advice even more than you think you do.
“That … that is also true,” Aglovale slowly agreed.
“Perfect!” Joshua leaped to his feet, hand already extended. “So—do we have an agreement?”
Aglovale swallowed, staring at the hand. He slowly stood. “Yes—yes, Joshua.” He took the hand and shook it. “I believe we do.”
Perfect, thought Joshua, pulling his brother-in-law in for an embrace. You’re happy, I’m happy …
And with any luck, as soon as you get Lady Garnet on board, I’ll be in cream!