Working with People You’d Rather Not Is a Hallmark of Problem Solving
“Cassiopeia, I’m sorry to interrupt.”
“Not a problem, James. Do you have a question?”
“No one can answer it until you ask it.”
“I know. I was stalling for time because I’m not sure how it will be received.”
“There’s no need to be nervous, I know this is pretty complicated.”
“Right,” said James, nodding. “This question isn’t about the spellwork you’re describing, though I do also have a question about that. I had hoped not to distract from that, but I need to know why you attempted to poison me yesterday.”
The silence that fell at the table was swept away by the river, but Ron felt its oppressive weight anyway as every eye on the table came to rest on James, before moving to Cassiopeia, who was impassive.
She was still for just a few seconds, only her eyes flicking to James, the table, back to James, and Ron could feel her deciding what to say. The certainty with which James had asked the question made it clear that he knew. It would be stupid for her to try and deny it. Now she’d paused too long for any denial to be plausible anyway. Maybe she should just attack him. Even with the rest of the Coven here, maybe she could kill him before anyone could react. Maybe she should open a portal.
Or maybe that wasn’t what she was thinking at all. Ron couldn’t read Cassiopeia’s thoughts like he could James’s. Maybe she was just freaking out internally.
Finally, she sighed, a weight seeming to lift from her shoulders. “The same reason why anyone poisons someone, of course. Because I’d hoped it would work.”
James nodded, quiet. “You were very kind to me,” he said softly. “After my parents left.”
“I never liked Jocelyn,” Cassiopeia said, shaking her head as Red Clan members moved to surround her from behind. “I didn’t realize she was also working for Solomon until Solomon was dead.”
“When you realized you were both working for his son, and continued not to tell me?”
Cassiopeia looked at James. “What she did to your family was horrible.”
“But not so horrible as to earn the survivors a reprieve from further violence,” Ron accused. His hand was near his sword hilt, but he didn’t think he’d need it. At least he hoped not.
“Seize her,” Obadiah ordered. “Don’t let her do any magic.”
“She’s not dangerous,” Cameron said, and James nodded.
“The Purple Clan is also a noble house,” Cassiopeia said. “House Titlehorn. Very minor nobility, we have very little influence. The leystone could have changed that for us.”
“You betrayed the Coven for a title bump?” Jezebel asked, sounding disgusted.
“No. I betrayed the Coven so I could destroy House Skyhan and have House Titlehorn take over as the dominant house in northern Dolovai. Did you know that at least twenty-five thousand slaves are sold up there every year?”
“That’s terrible,” Ron agreed. He’d known intellectually that slavery existed, but he’d never had to think much about it. And so many people, too.
“No, it’s disgusting. And it’s only getting worse. So yes, I allied with some terrible people. Because I believe that no matter how terrible the Sorcerer King is, if I can end slavery with his help, it will be worth it. And if any of you would like to tell me that the ends don’t justify the means, I challenge you to live somewhere where everyone you know treats human beings like property.” Her tone was hard.
“The ends most certainly do not justify the means,” Obadiah said, the pearls in his collar clinking as he shook his head. “Take her away.”
“The Green Clan lives in a region where the Kyainese government still allows the practice of slavery,” said Jocasta, who Ron had expected to mostly hang back since he didn’t really know any of them. But of course, he’d probably known this was coming. Behind him, Jed was scowling. “They pretend that it’s more human than Dolovin slavery, and maybe that’s true.”
“Kyainese slavery is a financial instrument, it exists on paper only,” Obadiah said. He waved his hand, not looking at Jocasta. “It’s an outdated notion that hasn’t been practiced in decades.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you to say,” said Jocasta. “I do wish someone had told that to the people who enslaved me as a child.” That got all eyes on him, none wider than Obadiah’s. He seemed to retreat a little in his chair. “I was owned by a forester who had me cutting the Source down one swing of an axe at a time. It was like cutting my own limbs off. If it’s true that being a slave in Dolovai is even worse than being one here, then I can understand taking any steps necessary to stop it. No offence, James.”
“It’s fine,” said James, though it absolutely was not. “Cassiopeia, is Sam going to hurt you?”
Cassiopeia looked at the table. “I don’t know. Maybe. But he’s changed recently. He’s calmer than he used to be. Which doesn’t mean he won’t be angry, but it might mean he’ll think about what to do to me instead of just reacting to failure.”
“Okay. The Coven will protect you from him.”
“We most certainly will not,” said Timothy, red in the face again. “Why should we protect an attempted murderer from a mass murderer? Let them have each other.”
James shut Timothy up with a look. “We don’t get to consign people to death just because we don’t like them any more than Sam does.”
“You don’t get to make that decision on your own,” said Jezebel. “This is a Coven, not a monarchy.”
“Fine. Cassiopeia, if the Coven votes not to protect you from Sam, the Black Clan will offer you sanctuary.”
“James,” said Ron. He didn’t want Cassiopeia in the forest, and he knew the forest would agree with him the second it found out about this.
“You threaten to put her in proximity to you and the stone, and therefore put the whole world in danger, if we don’t agree to risk ourselves to protect her. This attempt at manipulation is not going unnoticed,” growled Obadiah.
“Good, because I’ve never once been subtle.”
“The Green Clan offers you our protection as well,” Jocasta said, while Jed and their other member glared at him. “Not our support, understand. But a haven from this Sorcerer King. The Source is a deep wood and it’s easy to get lost in.”
“I don’t want or need any of your protection,” said Cassiopeia, standing up. “I chose this for myself. Nobody else in my clan knows. Nobody else was involved. Just me.”
“Good. You tell them to appoint a proxy to represent your clan on the Coven from now on,” James told her. “For now, sit down.”
Cassiopeia shook her head. “That would make it awfully hard for Obadiah to have me seized, wouldn’t it?”
“Obadiah isn’t the only one whose hospitality has been abused.” Marlena was practically growling.
“Our egos aren’t the most important things on the agenda today.” James looked at Jocasta and then Jezebel. “Your perspective on the issue the Green Clan has brought to the Coven is valuable.” He turned back to Cassiopeia, who was still looking down. “And there’s no point in freeing slaves if a continental monster is going to appear and destroy Dolovai.”
“Or if a god wakes up in a forest and does the same,” Jezebel said, pointedly.
“That won’t be a problem,” James assured her, doing a very good job at being patient. “As I’ve explained six times now.”
“Nonetheless, you’ve used up your dictatorial moments for this meeting,” Obadiah. “So now you must suffer being dictated to. The rest of us spoke last night and we’ve decided that as much as we’re certain you are capable of dealing with this creature in your forest, we are not certain that you’ll keep us apprised of any trouble it causes. We’ll be sending someone to study it alongside you—someone who will report back to us when you don’t.”
James leaned back, gesturing to Ron. Ron leaned down. “Please convince me not to turn him into something edible.”
“He’d give us all indigestion,” Ron assured James. “He’s not wrong, and our egos aren’t the most important things on the agenda today. We’re not very communicative and this is important. It’s only fair for them to want to send an ambassador, especially since they have no chance of marrying someone into our clan.” He didn’t like being spied on, but the whole point of everything that was happening here was that they needed to be better at working together, in his opinion. He wished Cassiopeia had asked the Coven for help, but she’d probably thought they wouldn’t agree to help her. It didn’t make anything she’d done okay and it didn’t mean Ron liked her, but he understood not trusting these people. And it wasn’t just Timothy and Obadiah being assholes. James avoided the Coven whenever he could as well.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t say that,” James sighed, coming just short of pouting. He sat straight. “Fine, send whoever you want, but I don’t have room in my house for them, so they’re sleeping in the garden.”
For now, Ron thought. If Jay and Tanner liked their new home, he was going to ask the centaurs to build an extension onto their house in the spring.
“My son Micha will go,” said Obadiah, gesturing at him. Micha stood straighter but looked at his feet. “He’s volunteered, and he’s very knowledgeable about parasites.”
“Fine,” James repeated, looking at Micha.
Jocasta was also looking at him even more severely than he usually did, which Micha stood up to firmly, though his expression shifted between determined and scowling every second. “In any case,” he said. “If these caves to which the Yellow Clan have access are as deep as purported, the monitoring spell Cassiopeia has suggested might work. But we may have to do more than monitor this, and we don’t yet have an idea for how to do anything substantive about it.”
“We can’t make any plans,” said Cassiopeia, who was quiet now, drawn in, “until we know what it is. The possibility also exists that this thing is just rolling over in its sleep. There haven’t been any unfavourable omens or readings of late to suggest something cataclysmic on this scale.”
“And we’re to believe you on that, are we?” Cameron asked calmly.
“If you didn’t want my opinion, you should have spoken up when James asked for it.”
They really were only together, Ron thought, because they had common goals. At the end of the meeting they were going to go their separate ways and talk to each other as little as possible until the next time, and he didn’t really know what to do about that when he and James were just as complicit as anyone else.
Ron glanced at Micha as the meeting went on. His scowl had mellowed into a look of excitement. They’d repaired the rift in the forest, he reminded himself. Maybe having Micha with them could repair one of the rifts in the Grand Coven.
Maybe it would at least be a start.
6 thoughts on “Witch, 105”
Check your privilege, Obadiah.
Yeah, being rich and living in the part of the country where slavery isn’t a thing and talking about how it’s not an actual problem? Not a great look for you.
Of Obadiah’s many bad looks, this is probably the worst, tbh.
There’s never really a good reason for poisoning one of your friends, but “I was trying to abolish slavery and got in too deep with the wrong crowd” is as close as it gets.
Yeah, I would place it up there in the “understandable if still not allowed” tier as far as reasons go.
aka “cool motive, still murder”
Yes, that exactly!