The war machines were dismantled immediately. The soldiers were relieved of their duties. But the camp remained. It had been agreed to by both the imperial princess and her new general that the camp would remain until she’d had time to call a meeting of all the guilds that ran Yndarr. Only one group in Yndarr society had no guild, and that was the lotus smugglers.
Even to the Guilds, the lotus smugglers were the least liked. Had the previous nobilis’ choice of a governor been wise enough to ban the smugglers, he and his family would have remained alive. But he had made an unholy pact with the smugglers. They had gained control of the city and had become the group who’d passed all the laws.
Nolius, Master of the Assassins’ Guild, stood in the antechamber of the Guild hall. A mysterious foreigner had called a meeting with him and the other Guild Masters. No explanation had been given, yet he and the others had been assured that there was no reason to fear making an appearance.
Magnus, the Master of the Mages’ Guild, joined him as did Arne, Master of the Thieves’ Guild. The Master Merchant appeared as well as did the Master Blacksmith and the Master of Trades. Soon, the Guild Council had assembled in the meeting chamber and had seated themselves in their usual seats. The seat at the head, though, being reserved for whoever called the meeting, remained empty. From the shadows, a lone figure emerged. Hooded, none could tell whether it was a man or a woman.
It sat in the Master chair and removed its hood to reveal the Imperial Princess, Niobe. Her diadem glistened alluringly as she raised her head and smiled kindly at those gathered. She glanced about the room and noticed that the bard had also come. She nodded in acknowledgement toward him.
“I have called you all together,” she began, “to let you know that you have a new governor. I have come to govern Yndarr, but I want you to know that I will not involve myself in your affairs unless requested. My main concern is to remove the lotus smugglers from the city.”
“How,” Nolius began, “do you propose to do that?”
“I will ask you to help me with that,” she stated, her eyes sparkling and full of sincerity, “any smuggler who refuses to leave the city is to be targeted by the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds. Any gold or silver taken is to be divided between the Guilds.” She watched as smiles appeared on the Guild Masters’ faces. “Merchants need only to be concerned with being honest and fair. Any who becomes careless and corrupt will be subject to law.
“I would also like to meet later to discuss fair laws and bylaws for the Guilds. We need, as a city, to have standards, even for the Thieves’ and Assassins’ Guilds. I do not want to impede your doings, I just want to work with you to come up with standards that will determine who can be allowed into your Guilds and what assignments you will accept. Are we in agreement?”
“I am with you, milady,” Nolius replied.
“As am I,” Arne added.
“We see no problem with what you propose, milady,” Magnus averred.
“I only request one more thing, my dear Masters,” she admitted.
“And that is?” Nolius inquired.
“I would like to become a member of all the Guilds,” she requested.
The Masters took time to discuss the request among themselves privately, then turned back to her.
“We see nothing wrong with that,” Magnus answered for the group.
“Good,” she replied, “I am an eager student and a willing servant.” She rose, signaling an end to the meeting. “Let’s clean up this city.” She looked at the bard. “Bezreddyn, may I speak to you privately?”
“Yes, milady,” he responded, stunned.
“Good,” she smiled gently, “you have nothing to fear from me. Long have I wanted to meet you, but was not allowed to by your son. He wanted nothing to do with you.”
“You were Hadrax’ wife?” He asked, surprised.
“Sadly, yes,” she nodded, “but no more.”
“Does he know that you are here?” Bez inquired.
“No,” she shook her head, “and I prefer that he doesn’t ever find out. If my brother kept his word, Hadrax believes me to be dead by my own hand.”
“I won’t say anything,” Bez promised, trying not to smile.
“I wanted to ask how my son is,” she continued, “and if you would like me to nurse him. he needs not know that I am his mother if you do not wish. If you wish, he will only know me as his nurse maid. It is your choice. Whatever you decide, he must never know that he has imperial blood in his veins.”
“Do you have any preference as to how I should speak of you?” He pressed.
“Call me Niobe,” she answered, no titles except whatever is commonly heard on the streets. Concerning midwives and nursemaids.”
“Then it shall be so,” he agreed, “and know that I hold no ill against you. But I need to go to the governor’s palace with you and…rid it of the spell I had been asked to cast against the last governor.” He changed the subject quickly. “What about the forces outside the city?”
“They are now your protectors,” she responded, “General Khardym has accepted my offer to be general over Yndarr’s new army.”
“I see,” he mused, “and the Guilds?”
“I hope they agree to help train the army,” came the answer, “at least the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds. I would love a mage-army, but am not sure how Khardym would welcome the idea. My ultimate plan is to unite Sudia and solidify the region. Someone has to end the madness. I only hope that I can start the process.”
Solon suddenly found himself under attack. There had been a shift in power and a new regiment of soldiers had entered the city. It was a small attachment, not much of a threat that he could tell, but there was definitely a change in atmosphere. People like him were now no longer as welcomed as they had been before the last governor died.
He sneered. People like him. He was the master of the lotus smugglers. He demanded respect.
A figure of a woman came out on the veranda of the governor’s palace. Beside her stood the bard. Behind her, the Guild Masters formed a sign of solidarity. Solon knew his days were numbered.
“People of Yndarr,” the woman began, “I am Niobe, your new governor. From now on, there will be no need to fear. The old laws, those passed by your previous governor, are now expunged from all record. Fair citizens, I will be asking your input where law is concerned.
“Be assured that from this point on, all lotus smugglers are hereby banned from the city. Any caught by the city guard will be thrown in the donjons to await trial and shall be convicted of high treason and crimes against this fair city. Those smugglers among us have until sundown to leave the city. After sundown, you take your lives in your own hands and the city is no longer responsible for whatever happens.”
He frowned. Damn his luck. Yndarr was suddenly no longer friendly to him or his kind. The new governor had spoken and he had less than six hours to leave the city.
No matter. He would move his operations to the north. There was bound to be a port north of Yndarr, beyond the borders of Sudia, that would welcome him and his confederates. The new governor didn’t realize the money and trade she was losing by expelling him from her city. She was losing a lot.
Niobe knew well the loss she was taking by banning the lotus smugglers from her city. She knew the taxable profits the trade brought in. but she also knew that lotus was deadly. It destroyed lives.
She could live without its presence in her city. She could live without its prospective profits to the tax house. It was unnecessary. And unwanted.
She saw a handful of men leaving the plaza. Smugglers, no doubt. She smiled. Soon, her city would be lotus-free.