The Problem with Untrustworthy People Is That You Can Never Trust Them
“The miners in your lands are complaining,” Boey told Franz.
Franz blinked. “Isn’t that their parents’ problem?”
“Yes, you’re very funny.”
“I know. The ones in the south of the mountains, right?”
“Yes, the ones you were gifted as part of the contract.”
Franz regretted that he’d never been there, but they’d visit during the honeymoon. “Okay. What are they mad about?”
“They’re not mad, they’re just complaining. You haven’t done enough to raise the selling price of tin in the capital in the last two years.”
“Okay well I’ve only been in the capital for a year and a half, first of all,” Franz pointed out. “And really I don’t have that much control over the economy, actually?”
“Yes.” Boey nodded, but only once. “I know. Anyway, they’re complaining because their profits have remained static.”
“But not fallen.”
“But not risen.”
“Yes, I know what static means. Okay, what’s the mine foreman’s name?”
“The letter was signed by Colton son of Catherine.”
Franz sighed. He leaned back. “Silas?”
“Write this down.” He watched Silas grab a pen and some paper. “To Master Colton of the South Kell Mine, I am deeply sorry to hear of your plight, and ashamed that I have not been adequately representing your interests. Please assure your workers that henceforth I will do all I can to increase the sale of authentic Amaran tin across the kingdom and beyond. I am working to reduce the export tax on tin, and also to start selling to Yavhore, which will increase demand and therefore the price of your product. I appreciate how hard you have been working for me and wish to work just as hard to make sure you and yours are paid the fair value of your work. I look forward to seeing you when I visit the mine in the summer. Yours in faith, Franz ven Sancte, don’t add the titles.”
Silas was quiet for a second as he wrote the rest of it out. “How’d you do that?” he asked, still looking down. “You can’t spell your own name when you need me to write to the High Presbyter.”
“Writing to vassals is a specific art form,” Franz told him. “They want to feel like I see and appreciate their work, which I do, and they want to know that their problems aren’t their fault.”
“Do they really care about export taxes and trade routes?” Silas asked.
“No. Which isn’t to say they don’t understand them, because maybe they do. But they care about the fact that they’ll make more money selling tin. Colton is probably writing because his workers are complaining that they haven’t gotten a raise this year. He’s bothering me because they’re bothering him, and now he can tell them to shut up and wait until the summer, which is what he wanted to be able to do. Nobody will go on strike and I’ll start paying them more so they’ll all be happy. Why are you looking at me like I’m crazy?”
Silas shook his head. “Nothing. Sometimes I just forget that you’re actually good at your job.”
“Me too.” Franz smiled at him. “But I never forget you’re good at yours. Write that again but in nicer letters, please, and then send it in the morning.”
“Sure.” Silas pulled out a nice sheet of paper and handed it to Franz. “You want to sign it now? I need to get a new quill so the letters are sharp, so I’ll write it upstairs and send it not.”
“It’s pretty late.”
“Birds can fly in the dark.”
There was a blizzard outside, so that seemed unlikely, but Franz wasn’t going to tell Silas how to do his job. “Okay.” Franz nodded and wrote his signature with a medium amount of flourish, giving Silas his sigil ring so he could seal it. “When’s Frederick coming back today?” Franz asked.
“In an hour or so. He has Donny in class with him.”
Franz nodded. It was Jacob’s night off, so that was nice. “He really didn’t need to do that to himself, but okay. I don’t need him for anything, I was just curious.” Frederick was often at the academy late with Ronaldo, except for on the days when he was here in the castle late with Ronaldo.
“Yeah. Between you and me, I don’t think Donny’s going to be that good at wizard lessons.”
“Neither do I,” Franz muttered, letting Silas leave. “Why do they all act surprised when I’m good at my job?”
“Because your job isn’t a real job,” Boey reminded him. “So it’s weird for them that someone can be good at a fake thing. Everyone thinks they could be the king.”
“To be fair, most of them could be.” Franz lay back on the couch. “I’m going to be selfish for a second.”
“It’s not selfish to say you miss Frederick.”
“Yes it is, and I do. I know he’s still here a lot and I know he’s happy but I wish he were here more. Why couldn’t someone else have been a wizard for him?”
“Yeah. You’re doing a good job not making him feel bad.”
“I don’t want him to feel bad. I want him to be so happy about this that he wants to explode. I want it to be the coolest thing he’s ever done. I want him to have his choice of everything in the world and then, you know, still choose to come back here and live with us.” Franz was pouting now.
“And he will do that,” Boey promised. “How do you think our parents felt when we left home?”
“I know.” Franz sighed. “That’s why it’s selfish. Frederick hasn’t even left home. He still lives here, he still comes home every night. He’s doing his training down the road and sometimes down the hall. It just feels like…”
There was a knock at the door and Franz looked up. The door opened, and it wasn’t his guards who opened it.
It was Dominic.
“Well,” said Franz, swinging his legs around so his feet were on the floor again. Thank God Dominic had waited until Silas was gone. But on the other hand, that probably meant he’d waited until Silas was gone. “This is less dramatic than your usual entrances.”
“Not once you consider that I had to sneak past a considerable number of people, your guards included, to get here, my prince,” Dominic said, bowing slightly. “Please don’t fear. I haven’t harmed the ones outside your door, merely encouraged them to nap for a few minutes.”
He shut the door behind him and came over. Franz gestured for him to sit on the sofa opposite him. “Okay.” Franz pretended that didn’t mean Dominic could have harmed some other guards. “When I got your note I thought you’d be coming to see me in, you know, a timely manner.”
“I had planned to, but not everything is in my control, alas,” said Dominic, smiling thinly. He looked thin in general, more than usual. He’d lost some weight and his hair didn’t look as shiny as usual.
“That must be frustrating for you.”
“I admit it is. But such is life. We’ve important issues to discuss.”
“Yes,” said Franz, nodding. “The king’s life is in danger. And Gloria tells me you’ve got some details about the end of the world that I may find interesting.”
“I doubt you’ll find them interesting, but I do. I should also like to corroborate Gloria’s confession to you; most of the scheming and manoeuvring behind the scenes was my doing, not hers. The more pressing matter, however, is this. The king is going to be assassinated next week.”
“Okay,” Franz said, looking at Boey. “Let’s skip all the dialogue about how I don’t trust you and think you’re just using this as a way to get back into court and whatever whatever, and also skip all the parts where you act obsequious and promise you’ve only ever wanted what’s best for the kingdom and blah blah.”
“Very well,” Dominic said, folding his hands. “If you insist.”
“We’ll cut right to the part where I say I believe you so that you’ll give me the details.”
“Very well. Then I shall presume that you in fact do believe me and give you those details.” Dominic leaned forward. “Using a proxy here in Dolovai, the Empire has contracted the Empty Moon to assassinate the king on the sixteenth of Remin.”
“Who’s the proxy?” Franz asked.
“Why the sixteenth of Remin specifically?” Boey added. Franz nodded. Today was the eighth.
“I believe but cannot fully confirm that the proxy was originally Emma Skyhan, and that the Lady Elle has continued the correspondence.” Dominic looked uncertain, which was unlike him. “My agent in Merket was only able to confirm that she has been speaking with Empire officials, but not, as yet, determine the nature of those discussions. As for why that particular date, on the seventeenth of Remin, Gerard intends to formally announce his intention to hold a diplomatic summit between himself and Empress Ekaterina, and to invite Queen Dahlia and any Yavhorel royalty who wish to attend. He will also be extending invitations to Enjoni leaders, as I understand it, and even to King Sam in the Fury Plateau.”
“World peace,” Boey muttered.
“They’re going to kill him the day before he announces a plan to instigate world fucking peace,” Franz said, running his hands through his hair. He reined his anger in, though. The Imperials were a bunch of assholes, but after the last year he knew better than to get angry and assume that the thing that had made him angry was completely true. “Okay. First of all, Gerard is holding off announcing the summit because of mine and Gabrielle’s wedding. Gabrielle will agree with me when I say fuck that. He should announce it tomorrow. But that aside, Empty Moon assassins are pretty serious, so giving him more bodyguards isn’t going to help.”
“No,” Dominic agreed. “I attempted to interfere with their plans at some length and got nowhere, which was why I ultimately contacted you.”
“And then proceeded not to come see me for two and a half months,” Franz pointed out.
“Yes, I apologize for that. I stumbled upon a new means of potentially protecting the king, but from our past experiences, I knew how you would respond if I came to you with only half a suggestion.” He smiled with half his mouth, and not the half he was speaking out of.
“I know you’re enamoured with your own cleverness, but could you perhaps get to the point?” Franz asked. “We do eventually still have to do the part where I decide whether to have you arrested.”
“That would be ill advised. Are you familiar with the concept of a homunculus?”
“It’s a sort of living doll,” Boey said immediately. “It moves on its own by magic. They’re myths.”
“And as with most myths, there are certain truths to be had,” Dominic said. “I know someone who can make them, and indeed has successfully made two. He is willing to construct us a third one in order to fool the coming assassins—to replace the king for one evening only, after which it will be destroyed. Lest anyone fear I am attempting to stage a homunculus-based coup.”
Which he’d said because he wanted them to know that was something he could do. “Can a homunculus actually pass as human?”
“No,” said Dominic. “Or at least this one will not be able to for more than the few hours necessary to fool the assassin.”
“And after the assassin realizes that Gerard isn’t dead the next day?” Boey asked. He shook his head. “This isn’t a viable plan.”
“It is,” said Dominic. “I am also working at this problem from within the Empire. Once the peace summit is announced on the seventeenth, the Empire will not be able to assassinate Gerard, as it would disrupt the image they wish to project of being a peaceful force. They will be obligated to attend the summit. I realize this sounds like nonsense, but…”
“But this kind of posturing is important for royalty, I know,” said Franz. He leaned back on the sofa, thinking.
Not seeming to realize Franz was thinking, Dominic nodded. “Indeed. Since my alleged disappearance, I have put considerable resources towards my intelligence within the Empire.”
“Yes, you’re going to marry Gloria to one of the princes, I know,” Franz said, waving a hand. “And so does Gerard, because you’ve been in contact with him since you left.”
“Ah, well,” said Dominic, spreading his hands. “I did tell him he should not try to keep this from you, but alas. The king continues to find me useful, I fear.”
“So do I,” muttered Franz. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Your plan doesn’t work if too many people know about it. So we don’t tell anyone except for Gabrielle and Helena. We have a week, and we can’t make this happen tonight. You’ve already told your friend to start making the homunculus, so tomorrow you can come back to the castle and bring him with you, and the five of us will sit down with Gerard and Georgina to talk about how this is going to work. Sound good?”
“Allowing you time to confront the king and queen about speaking to me without telling you,” said Dominic, nodding. “And speak to Lady Quate about whether or not my information is accurate.”
“Yes, you don’t get to be untrustworthy and then just show up and have people trust you.”
“Very well. In that case, I shall see you tomorrow for dinner. Thank you for speaking with me. I know you do not trust me and I have given you little reason to, but I do not have an angle on this, my prince. I am trying to save the king’s life.”
Dominic sounded serious. Franz still didn’t trust him. “So am I,” said Franz. “So let’s do that and maybe then we can trust each other or something. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I shall look forward to it.” Dominic stood up, and Franz watched him leave.
He slumped, leaning on Boey. “Fuck this,” he muttered. “Why are the people I want not here because they’re out having cool lives, but the people I hate are here because they have nothing better to do than invent problems to fuck with my head?”
“Because you’re a politician,” Boey muttered, putting an arm around Franz. “Want me to go get Helena?”
“Please. Gabrielle was with her mom anyway, so I’ll go ruin their night and we’ll all stay up way too late together, but for shitty reasons.”
“Do you think Gerard is really in danger?”
Franz wasn’t sure how to answer that. He thought about it for a minute, then another minute. “Yes,” he decided, standing up. “I do. Dominic is the worst, but I don’t think he’d make something like this up. But we’re not going with his plan, it’s stupid. I’ll talk Gerard into making the announcement early and we’ll get Ronaldo or a mage from the academy to cast an illusion on a body double if we have to. But let’s go, I want to have most of this in place before Dominic comes back tomorrow.”
Boey nodded, and they both got up.
For something that wasn’t a real job, it sure was demanding at all hours of the day. Maybe Franz should write to someone and complain.
2 thoughts on “Prince, 103”
Hm. So depending on when this chapter takes place in relation to the others, Gerard might not actually be dead…
Just a homunculus made by Klaus. One of Nicholas’ siblings, effectively.
Say it with me now: Fuck you, Klaus.
Fuck Klaus indeed!
I’ll leave it to you to determine when this chapter happens with regards to the others, since conveniently no other chapter in this set included a calendar date like this one. There will also be some clarity in future chapters, though!