51: Turn of the tables
"You do not know how to enjoy life Arvil Bren," Ahnassi purred as she deliberately shredded the blankets with her claws. "You have vast wealth and authority, well earned, and the household staff are all wondering why you do not tell them what to do. Their Redoran honor was impugned every time you hauled a crate off of your teleport mark yesterday. If you start opening crates today they will all have to kill themselves in shame."
I peered out through the widening rents in the bedding. "Okay," seemed like all there was to say.
"This one will supervise them, and make sure your things are pleasantly arranged. Do you want all your armors and weapons scattered haphazardly about the hallway as you had them at home?" She continued to slowly slice the blankets into long strips, and I opted not to call her on her sarcasm. There are lessons one learns when their mate has three inch retractable claws.
Her devious mind is as sharp as her claws, and she was happy to help me work out my plans. It distracted her somewhat from the seemingly random rearrangements of our furniture that were keeping the staff and newly hired guards busy. I started out cringing at the seemingly wasted efforts, but by the end of the day I was awed. As she had suggested, their strenuous efforts made the staff feel useful, and by the end of the day her generous nature and a liberal supply of food, drink and gold had developed a clannish loyalty in them that will serve us well.
The sitting room area was her first priority, and it was ready well before our guest arrived. Frelene Acques looked around with an appraising eye as she was led in by a red jacketed servant. "Do not grow too interested, operative," Ahnassi hissed. "You are not here to case the house." I laughed to myself. Ahnassi had bristled at me saying that the Breton was a thief yesterday, but today she herself was addressing her by a guild rank and guarding our possessions against her. Kajiiti, in general, have a hard time acknowledging that anyone else is even capable of truly being a thief, at least in title.
"I wouldn't think of it," the Breton said smoothly, "and I apologize for any other... infringements... I have made in pursuit of my assignment." She turned a demure look my way, and I feared for her life, or at least her eyesight. Ahnassi's claws were peeking through the fur on her fingertips.
I decided to get right to business before things got out of hand. While she may or may not be a skilled thief, it was obvious why the Breton agent had been chosen for the task of infiltrating the fighter's guild. Her bubbling flirtatious nature would turn any man's head, and most would never notice the flickering calculation in the depths of her eyes. I'm sure Mercius never had a chance.
"Your assignment is why you are here today," I said. "You seem to think that a House war between the Redorans and the Hlaalu would serve your purpose."
"Yes," she said. "The Redorans have superior warriors, well respected. Many guild members who are employed by Hlaalu nobles would refuse to side against the Redorans. Not out of fear, but out of respect. They may turn a blind eye to the wrongs of the Hlaalu, but a direct confrontation with the Redorans would illuminate the right and wrong of things too brightly too ignore."
"Good theory, but I doubt it. The fighter's guild operates on loyalty and order. There might be a few who would take the high road, but every time one did it would add greater opportunity for advancement for any other who took the low road. That's how Mercius lost control of the guild in the first place, isn't it?"
"Yes," she agreed with obvious reluctance. "The Nord, Hard-Hart, appealed to the guildmasters on the mainland. He said that Mercius was too selective about assignments and was costing them money. The first thing Hard-Hart did when they stripped Percius of his rank and promoted the Nord to his place was to dispatch Percius to Ald-ruhn, the worst possible posting. Now, since the Ald-ruhn chapter brings in so little income, Percius is effectively silenced."
"So your war wouldn't work," I said.
"Yes it would. Even if you are right, and most of the guild sticks with their Hlaalu masters, the Redorans would win, so the guild would be broken."
I sighed. "So that would be an acceptable result?"
"My job is to break the fighter's guild away from the Cammona Tong. If they are completely broken in the process, that is not my problem."
"But it is mine. Those mercenaries will be needed, as will Redoran's warriors, and even the Hlaalu."
"So you are not going to cooperate?" she said, and turned an appealing look to Ahnassi. Clearly she expected that the needs of the thieves guild would provide her an ally who could influence me as effectively as she herself influenced Mercius.
"I'll get your job done," I said, "but the cooperation needs to come from you." Ahnassi's slitted eyes indicated to the Breton agent that she really had no choice.
I don't know if Ahnassi doubted the operative's word, or her skills, but she accompanied her back to Ald-ruhn. Most likely, she herself acquired whatever materials were needed, and the Breton did the forging. In any event, she returned with the documents I need. Tomorrow I will report to Dren plantation. Not as Arvil Bren, Archmage, but as Demeter Boyle, fighter's guild protector and warrior for hire.