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Rated: E · Novella · Fantasy · #2272499
Now aware of his mission, our hero learns some realities of living in Merimeeting.
A carriage graciously provided by Master Hercuin brought me to a warehouse district happily located between the wharfs and the market squares that formed the heart of Merrimeeting. The building that housed Vintage Redcliffe was of the same cheerful red brick of half the city, though some enterprising person in the past had caused a mural of a vineyard to be painted on the long side of the warehouse that faced a side street. The work must have been done some years ago, as the paint was flaking off the wall in many places, dappling the orderly vines with red flecks.

I alighted and a nervous seeming man, sweating and grinning without smiling, came out of the building to take my baggage. “Master Decorix, welcome! We’ve been awaiting you with bated breath,” he cried as he received my duffle from the coachman and passed a tip to him.

“It’s good to be here!” I replied cheerfully, content to let whatever crisis he was concealing make itself evident. “I don’t have the pleasure of your name,” I prompted him.

“Oh! Sorry. It’s been a, er, challenging morning,” he stammered, “I’m Keagan Guthry, the floor manager.”
I gestured for him to lead me into my new business. “And by the sounds of it, we’re going to be having a very interesting conversation,” I guessed as I followed him.

The poor human shuddered. “Just a bump in the road to be smoothed over,” he temporized.

He held the door for me and I walked in to find an exodus waiting for me. “Alright, he’s here!” A woman’s voice called out and one of the large, green double doors of the loading bay was thrown open. My workers—perhaps twenty of them and mostly human—began walking out.

“Oh come on! At least give a chance to mismanage you first!” I whined at them and got the desired laughs in return.

“Sorry sir, can’t happen!” One of the men—the lone dwarf—leading the way called over his shoulder.
“What?” I called back in confusion.

Half the little group was gone by then. One of the men in the midde explained quickly, “New manager, new contract. That’s how it is.” Keagan groaned and rocked from one foot to the other under my heavy bag.

“Contract with who? When?” I asked the laggards.

“Not our problem, we just work!” The woman who’d announced me said with an enormous, smug grin on her face as she walked away.

The echoes of my staff’s feet died away a second later, leaving me alone with Keagan and an embarrassed looking woman who stood mutely a few feet away.

I looked between her and the open bay. “Well, what are you waiting for?” I prompted her.

She shook her head ruefully. “I’m one of your two direct employees. I don’t contract with Longshore Workers’ Collective. I’m Emberlyne, your personal secretary,” she explained herself.

This was a bit much for an elf just off the boat. I shook my bewildered head. “Can’t we just hire twenty more directly?” I asked.

Keagan shuddered at the thought and Emberlyne had the audacity to snort. “Not if you want product to move.”

I looked around at the interior of my family’s warehouse. It was full to the rafters with barrels filled with family product. Crates of our distinct colored glass bottles waited among them for breakdown and filling for local retail.

“By the looks of it, our product isn’t moving much anyway,” I said, and received awkward glances in response.

“Master Redcliffe, was um,” Keagan looked uncertainly at me.

“I know incompetence when I see it. You don’t have to criticize the last boss,” I finished for him.

“I was going to suggest he was always holding out for a better deal,” Keagan said quietly.

I rubbed my suddenly tired eyes. I’d been awake since dawn, learned of my secret mission, and now I was dealing with a staff walkout. All before the tenth bell of the morning. “So who do I contract with?” I asked resignedly.

“With him,” Emberlyne said and pointed with her chin behind me.

I turned about and discovered a lean human man. He was older looking, his clothes immaculate and trimmed in gold, and carrying a cane tucked under his left armpit. His bow was a mere extension of one foot before the other the slightest nod. “Henry Longshore, director of Longshore Workers’ Collective. At your service,” he introduced himself.

“At everyone’s service I gather! Decroix, House Flamesea,” I said while marching over to him with my left hand extended to take his. He struggled a little bit, eventually propping his cane with his right hand while extending his left hand to meet mine for the unfamiliar ritual. Bowing might have been the norm in Langain, but business associates in Aran press hands. His grip was nearly flacid in mine, and I suppressed the desire to conclude it was weakness on his part. I worried about me instead, squeezing his hand just enough to not crush his. He was fairly tall but lean, but I nearly six and a half feet tall and my early decades as a farmer and warrior still made me deceptively strong.

Longshore was willing to play the game however, and forced himself not to grimace as I tried to jostle his cane loose. “I make a point to visit with newcomers starting operations in Merrimeeting. Let me show you around for a few minutes,” he proposed.

I glanced at my workerless business and uncomfortable-looking aides. “I would like nothing more than to make time for your insight. Let’s go,” I said.

Was I released his hand Longshore turned and started walking to the sidewalk without waiting for me to follow. We came to the corner, and he directed our steps to the docks. “You see, Master Decroix,” he tried to begin but I interrupted him.

“Just Decroix please, no need for honorifics between us,” I said while looking out at the forest of masts lined up on the breakwater and piers of the city. Most of the ships were teeming with activity, especially the ones with the white dove on a blue pennant hanging from one of the yard arms.

“Is that your fleet?” I asked genuinely impressed by the number of blue triangle flags I saw in the harbor.
“Oh lands no. Those tubs belong to Lady Clavet. I own something much more valuable,” he said puffing up his chest. “The people.”

“You own people?” I asked, unable to conceal my sudden horror.

Longshore looked confused for a beat and followed my thoughts. “Oh, no no no: their labor. Bondage has no place in Langain. I own their labor. Every teamster ferrying goods, every dock worker loading and unloading the ships, every hand filling and emptying the warehouses, every face that walks into the workhouses and factories.” Longshore paused for a moment in our walk and looked around. We were surrounded by a throng of laborers, all of whom had begun following us as I listened to Longshore. “Any serious concern in the city contracts its staff though my labor halls. As sure as your goods will be carried on Lady Clavet’s fleet. As sure as Count Adellin’s tax collectors will come by at the end of the year. One of my representatives will be by at the beginning of next week to negotiate rates for your staff. Ta!”

Longshore’s demonstration broke up as the people returned to their work. I blinked and unclenched my jaw before walking back to my warehouse in silence. Emberlyne and Keagan were sitting in a corner set aside as a break room when I came in and sat with them.

“Who in the Abyss was that, and how do I make sure parts of him are found in an alley next week?” I asked them. My alimony negotiation hadn’t made me this angry.
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