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Mairild de Felder, member of the Council of Twelve, Minister of Arts and as such, by tradition, Spy Master of Keen, turned to the two men waiting for her to continue.

"Glarien de Verd, we appreciate that you've decided to give this piece of information to us. We appreciate it even if you've allowed most of a season to pass before coming to your senses."

The Master of Merchants cringed visibly under her icy stare.

"However, fortunately not all need as much time as you to receive the gift of understanding, and we've been quite aware of the problem since just after the failed attempt to murder an official guest of the state."

Glarien rose from his chair and started to protest but sat down immediately again.

"Olvar de Saiden, by happenstance the namesake of one of your most valued houses, has been able to act upon the information we've gathered."

"Madame." Olvar de Saiden, another member of the Council of Twelve and Minister of War, stood. He was a giant among men, but only a fool mistook his size for that of an idiot's. In fact his knowledge of matters military far outweighed his massive body. "Master de Verd, the actual reason you're here is to receive information, not to gift us with any. You're to act upon the information with the utmost discretion and yet use it to help both the new house de Garak as well as the outworlder Arthur Wallman in any way you can. This is a direct order from the Council of Twelve. Have I made myself clear?"

Glarien squirmed. "Yes, absolutely clear."


"Thank you, Olvar." Mairild smiled warmly at her colleague. "The outworlders have landed an armored group here. They left the restricted area immediately. Consider each of them wearing your choice of legendary High Kordic Armour from the ancient wars with Gaz."

"They use magic, in Keen?"

"Not magic, but with their engineering knowledge it could as well be. Now, they also carry weapons of great destruction. As a group they could easily take on any ship raiding our coasts, from a range out of reach of their cannons. They are searching for this Arthur Wallman of theirs. You are to make sure they search the coast for as long as it takes them to be attacked by a raiding group. With some luck they should be able to sink every ship in it." This plan was, as usual, Olvar's, but she doubted Glarien cared.

"I don't like this dangerous politics of yours," Glarien protested.

"Your dislike has been noted. However, you're not here to approve of the decisions of your superiors, but to carry out our orders." Once again Mairild's voice cooled. "To ease your conscience I have decided to tell you that the mercenaries Harbend de Garak hired should be more than able to protect his caravan."

"How would you know?"

"The escort captain is Trindai de Laiden. A colonel originally from the assault cavalry."


"Minister Saiden had him transferred to our joint forces. Colonel de Laiden is in charge of our two escort squadrons. We made certain that Harbend de Garak only hired men from those squadrons. All of them to be more precise. He just doesn't know it yet, but he'll get additional troops when he reaches the Roadhouse."

"I'm afraid the units are unfamiliar to me," Glarien responded.

Mairild decided an explanation couldn't hurt. The expedition was for upholding the trust in Keen's ability to keep up trade after all. "We move a few men from our regular forces each year. Those who are better suited to irregular operations are transferred to special units. This is one."

This time she saw understanding in Glarien's face. An improvement, but she guessed he hadn't reached his position by being stupid. She wasn't going to try bullying him in a situation where items of great value changed owner. Especially not as he was the most likely replacement to the rapidly aging Minister of Commerce, not that she would ever tell Glarien of the council's preparations in advance.

"So, you're making de Garak's caravan a military operation without telling him?"

"Yes, for your benefit as well. We need that source of metal. What the outworlders bring here is simply not enough now that the sea lanes are cut off. We intend to make this caravan route permanent even if the westerners cease harassing us."

"Ah, that would be excellent!" Glarien exclaimed in a voice telling her exactly how much, or rather how little, he valued the prospect of slow caravans between Braka and Keen.

But you're diplomatic enough when you need. Yes, definitely the strongest candidate to become one of us. I can see why you'd like the independent traders caught up in the middle of nowhere where they don't compete with you. "I'm happy you approve of this part of our plans at least," she said instead. "You may leave us now."

She watched the doors close behind Glarien de Verd and waited another few moments. A narrow door opened behind her.

"Duke Garak, you are welcome."

"You honor me Madame. The correct title is Clan master Garak, Ramdar of Traders, if you absolutely have to be formal." The old man grinned at her.

"No need." She smiled. "We were worried when the outworlders tried to have you assassinated, even if it was Arthur Wallman who was their target. I never saw that coming."

"Do not lie to me. We both knew this could happen sooner or later, even if it may have taken me a few days longer to reach that conclusion." He glared at her. "I have hidden from my own nephew in this very city for more than half a year without him ever suspecting it for a moment. You underestimate me."

"I never would."

"At least you never should." Ramdar changed his tone to a more businesslike one. "Our contacts in Khanati and Rhuin are ready to move, but you have to give the order. It is your territory after all."

"I know, but I never expected it to come to this so soon," she sighed.

"That may be true, but now you have outworlders interfering here. You shall never get this chance again."

Mairild groaned silently. She was playing a dangerous game, but the situation had become far too desperate. Another two years of naval blockade and Keen would see riots and worse for the first time in a century.

"So be it. You may tell Rhuin they can use the Amonrasuk on our territory. I'll invite the Hand of Wrath from Khanati."

"Thank you for that decision. I honor your courage."

"There is no honor, only need. I have set Glarien de Verd on a mission to keep the outworlder unit running along our coast. Don't use that route."

Ramdar laughed. "Now, that was a dirty trick! Thank you!"

"Don't laugh too much. The sky ship that brought your assassins didn't carry many real outworlder traders. They tried to sneak in another four spies as well. I had them well received and sent them on their way south."

"South, but the highway south ends at the Narrow Sea?"

"Oh dear, how clumsy of me. With a bit of luck they'll take up swimming lessons in a couple of eightdays or so."

"That was particularly nasty," Ramdar acknowledged. "Remind me to warn you before I send an informer here who is not already well acquainted with the land."

Mairild took no note of his comment. "You should be able to destroy the raider fleet in the Narrow Sea while the rest of their ships are busy handling outworlder weapons between Dagd and Hasselden. Olvar will have you informed when you can move your joint forces there." Mairild bowed as if finished, but on an impulse she changed her mind. "Send in your magehealers as well. There's going to be more mages in Keen than we've seen here for six hundred years, and a lot of people will be hurt. I'm not going to compromise our promise to the gods without at least having some of the benefits of the forbidden magic here as well."

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