Closing a deal, part two

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A few others! Damn Karia! It had to be the entire city council in the room. Of course Karia himself wasn't anywhere to be seen. Well, it was too late for second thoughts now.

Arthur took a deep breath in preparation for a speech to replace the promised conversation. The cunning bastard! Karia must have known all along. Hell, he probably planned it this way from the beginning. Arthur let out his breath in a long sigh. He almost wished Gring hadn't been there. Without her he could have used his speaking no Brakish to force a smaller meeting with those who understood De Vhatic, but there would be no such escape now.

He glared at his audience to be. All men, all old. At least they looked old, but in a place as harsh as this he couldn't be certain. A few might even be older than himself. All of them though, that much was clear to him from reading their expressions, were far more experienced than he in matters of everyday reality of ruler ship. They led a city, or possibly an entire nation, dependent on the decisions they made whereas his experience was that of making dreams, legends and history come true to listeners wanting to escape that very reality if only for a short while.

Arthur sighed again and waited for the noise of conversations to subside into a low murmur. He had accepted a responsibility he wasn't certain he could shoulder, and he'd only get one chance.

"Gentlemen," he began. "I've been asked to describe for you how roads and other means of transport could make your lives easier and maybe even a little less dangerous."

Arthur watched for signs of interest or scorn in the men facing him. It was more difficult than he thought. Most of them preferred full beards hiding their expressions. Maybe deliberately, he thought.

"Karia Graig, a scout of yours," Arthur searched for the face until he remembered that Karia wasn't present. "came to me earlier with this request."

"Truly his father's son," one bearded face spat. At least one who didn't hide his scorn, beard or not.

"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.

"Lord Graig has tried to convince us for decades. That he would stoop as low as to involve a foreigner I didn't expect."

Another face reddened visibly. Arthur could see enough of Karia in it to recognize the father.

"I don't understand," Arthur said, hoping to defuse the situation before it got too tense.

"Graig estate begins two days on horseback north from here. Of course he'd want a road to further his business."

Arthur groaned silently. So there were personal politics involved as well.

"All would gain," Arthur tried.

"Says you. How much have you been paid to deliver this message, errand boy?"

Arthur didn't pay any heed to the insult. As such went it didn't carry much weight to one used to the far more skillful barbs thrown by rich tourists deciding that offending their guide was part of what they had paid for. He did need to counter it of course, but how? Arthur thought frantically while the smile grew wider on the man who'd proposed he'd been bribed. The answer came, and with it an opportunity to pay back the insult in a way that would benefit them all.

"I'm not aware I'd need your money. In fact I'm certain that with the money I brought for this trip I could buy the Graig estate and yours." He had them listening now.

"That's ridiculous. I'm a city count of Belgera. Half the rural duchies are poorer than my fiefdom," the man shot back.

"Ah, of course," Arthur said smiling evilly. "Belgera is a different matter. To buy Belgera I would need to dig a little deeper in my pockets."

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