There were at least a dozen carts and carriages rolling in through the gates, and they had an escort of armed soldiers marching alongside.
“You two go get dried off and dressed,” I said to Flossie and Dudley, who were both dripping in the hallway. “As soon as you’ve put your knickers back on, go make sure the dragons are ready to go, we may need to book it. And no messing around. You don’t have time for a quick shag while you’re waiting.”
It might seem an unnecessary thing to instruct people about when a small army is camping on your lawn, but it was the only way to make sure these two didn’t quietly slip away to bang.
“Yo’ don’t have to be like that,” said Flossie, unwrapping and rewrapping the towel around herself without exposing anything but still managing to attract every male’s attention. You know, inadvertently, because women don’t use that sort of thing to their advantage. “We can keep our hands off each other for five minutes.”
“What you can or can’t do is irrelevant,” I said. “I’m only interested in what you will do, which is what I’ve just told you.”
Flossie pursed her lips like she was about to complain about my attitude in a cute baby voice, another thing women do with no intention of trying to get their own way. It just turns out like that sometimes.
“Go on,” I said before she started demanding my respect or whatever, “fuck off, both of you.”
The sound of the carts and horses pulling up outside helped underline my point, and they went to get dressed. I could sense there’d been some kind of change during their time away from me. A little more independent, a greater desire to be seen as able to think for themselves. General developmental advancements that would probably get them both killed, and me with them if I wasn’t careful.
It wasn’t that I resented their need to resist being told what to do, it was just that they were in the dangerous middle ground between wanting to make their own choices and actually being able to make good ones.
Whatever their situation, Flossie was still the Dragonrider and had the only reliable way out of town. Once I got myself away from Gorgoth, she was free to make as many bad decisions as she wanted. I am nothing if not a supporter of self-determination, as long as I’m outside the blast zone.
“Should I go out there and tell them you’re indisposed?” asked Damicar. He sounded nervous, but he was following my orders to stall any visitors by telling them I was busy having sex with my underlings.
“No, you only need to do that when I’m not here. I actually want to know what this lot are up to. Is it normal for the guilds to try and bribe the Lord Protector?”
I was the Lord Protector of Gorgoth, in case you forgot. I realise it might be a hard thing for your brain to connect, me and an official position people relied on for protection. I certainly wouldn’t hire me for the role.
“I’m not sure,” said Damicar. “There’s never been one before you.”
A role specially created to keep yours truly happy. They probably thought I would be so happy to be given the title, it wouldn’t matter what it actually meant.
“You go find the kitchen and see if you can whip something together for our esteemed guests.”
Damicar nodded, looking relieved to be asked to do something he was comfortable with. Apparently, telling people I couldn’t come to the door because I was busy fucking wasn’t inside his comfort zone.
I took a breath and went outside. The first carriage, which was open-topped, had the five guild leaders in it, all men, all in late middle-age, I would guess. Where were the women? Why had they been excluded from positions of authority?
Well, first, it was a medieval society, and they don’t tend to advocate women’s rights (although a lot of the indigenous females didn’t shave under their arms, so they were well on their way to emancipation).
And secondly, I had encountered numerous women in positions of power, each of them a dreadful tyrant as awful a human being as any man. It’s not the good in people that defines them, it’s the shit they can get away with.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?” I tried to make myself sound casual and unintimidated. I probably didn’t succeed, but my time in leadership positions had taught me that if you act like people are bothering you, they find it much harder to ask you for favours. I would much prefer someone feel slighted and talk about me behind my back than ask me to help them move a sofa.
“Lord Protector,” said Malmur, who was both Damicar’s uncle and guardian, and also the head of the Warehouse and Teamster’s Guild. “I thought this would be a good time to introduce the other guild leaders to you. The sooner you know who is responsible for each area of city life, the easier it will be for you to put our services to good use.”
He made it sound like they were eager for me to take the reins of the city and start bossing people around. It all smelled a bit fishy to me, although the fishermen’s union being part of the teamsters guild might have something to do with it.
“If I may, this is Guildmaster Geffen, of the War Guild.” He indicated a stocky man with very short hair. He bowed stiffly.
“You have a war guild? Does that mean there’s an army in Gorgoth?”
“I am responsible for members of the town guard and civil defence,” said Geffen. He had a smooth voice that would probably be good for crooning Sinatra tunes and ordering people to their deaths. I could easily see him setting a bunch of soldiers on me if he thought he could get away with it, the slimy little shit.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. Diplomacy, that’s where my strength lies.
He bowed again. “We are at your disposal. We don’t have the manpower for large-scale conflicts, but we will maintain order within the city and prevent anarchy from taking hold when all hope is lost and the end is unavoidable.” He was a cheery sort.
Basically, he was in charge of the city cops. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the police, or the kind of people who join. Rarely is it those looking to make society safer. The ability to hurt people legally is a temptation few arseholes can resist, and lucky for them, recruitment officers are willing to turn a blind eye to minor infractions like a history of domestic violence or being a member of the local chapter of the KKK.
Hurry, join now and get our new combo taser and pepper spray with absolutely no ethical training. For an unlimited time only!
“This is Guildmaster Smigel of the Wealth Guild.” Malmur indicated the next man, who didn’t seem particularly wealthy. He was solidly built, slightly balding with a white trim.
“What is a wealth guild? The treasury?”
“I represent the city’s commerce workers,” Smigel said in a gruff voice. “Banking, taxes, financial matters of any sort. We arrange licensing for all commercial enterprises and our inspectors ensure fair and honest trading whenever possible.”
He sounded like a fun guy.
“Okay. Money guy.” It didn’t seem like he controlled the actual money, just helped regulate who got to make any.
“This is Guildmaster Toniono,” said Malmur, indicating a large man carrying a few extra pounds. “He is head of the Waste and Sewage Guild.”
“I guess that’s self-explanatory,” I said. His guild was probably quite important if you didn’t want to walk around knee-deep in shit, although you do get used to it. I’m something of an expert.
“And this is Guildmaster Ratchet, representing the Welfare Guild.”
“Hi. What does the welfare guild do?”
“We are responsible for keeping the city healthy. The ill, the injured, those who are suffering, they are our main concern. We also keep an eye on the other guilds to make sure they are maintaining a high standard of hygiene and sanitation. Prevention is better than cure.”
I couldn’t recall seeing any hospitals. No doctors or nurses. Who exactly were his members?
“And what’s all this?” I asked, pointing to the carts loaded with gold piled up in the back for everyone to see, and what I assumed were items of value to someone. Seemed like they’d got this stuff here in a bit of a hurry. I’m not sure I had much use for oil paintings of naked women posing like they didn’t know someone was painting them for several hours. In fact, all the paintings were of naked women. They were bribing me with money and porn?
“Ah, this is for you,” said Malmur. “Since you have decided to take up residence here, we thought it best to bring your budget here.”
“This is my budget?”
“Of your office,” said Malmur. “To use as you see fit. The Lord Protector has many expenses.”
It was a bribe, but that was okay. They were hardly going to get me to do them any favours. I had always been short of funds, this was finally a chance for me to fill my pockets with enough cash to be able to buy a sandwich next time I got peckish. Maybe even one of those packs with three halves instead of two, each with a different filling. I know, decadence and debauchery lay ahead.
“Okay, thanks. Just leave it there and I’ll put it away later.”
“You want to leave it out in the open?” said Malmur. They all looked a bit shocked I would do something so irresponsible.
“It’ll be fine. I’m sure any thieves will think twice before trying to get this gold away from these dragons.”
The dragons were busy trimming the bushes and didn’t give a shit about the gold, but I was quite pleased I’d finally created a dragon-guarded treasure hoard in this poor excuse for a fantasy world. Did fictional traditions mean nothing to these ignorant bastards?
“I see your point,” said Malmur. “Yes, that probably will do the trick.” The guild leaders seemed to accept my security measures as adequate. “There are also some matters we should bring to your attention.”
“Yes, that would be great, I’m looking forward to us all sitting down and thrashing out some good, clean city ordinances. But first, I’ll need all of your help to get this place back to its former glory.” I stepped to the side and turned to allow them a better view of the house. “As you can see, it’s in need of a lot of love and attention.”
“You wish for Arta Aski’s home to be renovated?” asked Malmur.
“Yes. Not just the house, but the round, the walls, the gate… all of it needs a lick of paint. Clean it up, fix the windows, polish the silverware, put up some curtains, a few rugs here and there. Then, I need a tailor, a team of them, really. Can’t be Lord Protector and walk around looking like a tramp. A horse and carriage, too. Actually, some stables over there would be great.” I rambled on with my list of demands. It would keep them busy, “After that, I look forward to addressing your concerns.”
I wasn’t really bothered about the living conditions — I didn’t plan on being a long-term resident — but the best way to stop people coming up with things for you to do for them, was to give them plenty of things to do for you.
“Starting tomorrow, please send the appropriate number of workers from your organisations to get this place back to looking how it did when Arthur, I mean Arta was living here. He’s the one who founded your guilds, after all, right? It’s only right that you help maintain what he created.”
They seemed a bit reluctant to do my bidding, even though they’d just said they’d be more than happy to.
“As you wish, Lord Protector,” said Malmur. “But there are some pressing—”
“Yes, and as soon as you get this place fixed up, they will be my top priority. In the meantime, I have some matters of my own to attend to. I need some time to access my network of informants and establish a pattern of movements for the other parties involved in the coming battle.”
What network of informants? No idea, but it sounded good.
“Yes, of course, Lord Protector,” said Malmur. He gave the others a look that seemed to say whatyagonnado? “We will leave you to it. Workers will be sent first thing tomorrow.”
They turned to get back in their carriage. As they did, a horse and rider came in through the gates. It was Grayson, decked out in new togs, white and spotless, with frilly epaulettes and a triangular hat that would have made a lovely lampshade.
“Grayson,” said the guy from the War Guild. “Congratulations on your promotion.” His tone sounded more sour than congratulatory.
“Thank you, Guildmaster,” said Grayson. “ I look forward to discussing the future with you.”
The Guildmaster didn’t seem to appreciate the offer and got into the carriage harrumphing.
“Nice uniform,” I said to Grayson as he got down from his horse. “Trappings of power appeal to you, do they?”
“It came with the office, Lord Protector.” He said my title without sarcasm, but with a heavy implication that it didn’t suit me. “I am here for your orders.”
“Do what you like,” I said. “I don’t care.”
He sighed. “At least pretend you’re going to do the job. They’ll start getting worried and put their own plans into action if you don’t.”
I waved as the carriage left, along with its escort, leaving a couple of carts of gold behind.
“You think I intend running away?” I said to Grayson.
“I’m surprised to find you still here,” he said.
“Because I’m a coward?”
“Because you don’t think this fight has anything to do with you, and you don’t really care who wins.”
He had a clear understanding of the situation.
“And what if I did care who wins?”
“Then you would run away because you are a coward.”
A very clear understanding. “Come inside, I want to ask you a few questions. It would help me a lot if you answered a few of them.”
“Gladly, Lord Protector. I am here to serve at your pleasure.” Now he was being sarcastic.
I stopped in the doorway. “Are you going to give me straight answers?”
“I work for you, Lord Protector, even if only temporarily. I will follow whatever orders you give me, to the best of my ability.”
“Do you think of me as temporary because I’ll run away or because I’ll wind up dead?”
“Yes, Lord Protector.” For once, I actually believed he’d tell me the truth, as much as he knew of it.
I had a momentary image of him picking me up in a princess carry and taking me away to safety. I would add #nohomo, but at this point, saying that after something clearly more gay than a Vatican gangbang is like saying, “No offence,” after calling someone’s mother a whore. It’s also insulting to gay people, but it really isn’t about the sexual side of it. Wouldn’t we all like someone to rescue us for once and not have to struggle through our problems alone? The rescuer being dressed like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman is just a bonus (#nohamster).
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Afterword from Mooderino