The man wore a hood to disguise his features, not that Canterwright couldn’t tell who it was. The fine clothes, the rings on his fingers. The fact that the new man looked like he wanted to burn the place down and put up a salon.

“Yoric,” Canterwright muttered. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching,” the noble growled. “Not that there was much to watch.”

Canterwright looked around, and nodded. He leaned back, and slipped out of his chair. Yoric followed him through the back behind the bar, and through a passageway hidden behind the liquor bottles.

“You could have waited,” Canterwright said. The passageway led upward, a discrete way into his own apartments above the bar.

Yoric ignored the remark, and pushed ahead of him into the apartments. Unlike the Serpent and Rose, Canterwright’s living quarters were the height of fashion. Gold filigree lined the walls. Deep carpets from around the world rolled out underneath their feet.

Yoric and the other nobles gathered around the chairs that Canterwright had set up in his own living room. Each had taken the finest chairs, leaving him to find one of the wooden chairs in the kitchen reserved for the servants.

Canterwright sighed, and took a seat. About a dozen men, and three or four women, looked at him behind masks or hoods. Each must have thought they were so clandestine and mysterious. As if their clothes and hairstyles didn’t expose each and every one of them, let alone their carriages currently parked in the woods behind his building.

“You could have waited, nobles.” Canterwright stretched out, enjoying the quiet. “It wasn’t exactly easy pulling together the boys downstairs.”

“That rabble,” one of the women remarked. “Can wait.”

“We have concerns, Canterwright.” Yoric said, removing his hood. “We came to you because you had seemed to show some vision.”

Canterwright snorted. He knew why they came to him. He was one of the few nobles that made his own money, and didn’t simply rely on the estate. They considered him beneath their notice, but worthy of helping stage a coup.

“But now you spend your time in that…establishment beneath your house.” One of the men said. “You aren’t speaking with the guard, or coordinating armies…”

“Armies?” Canterwright asked. “Is that what you think we are doing? A civil war?”

The nobles looked back at him.

“We are rebels. Contemplating treason. Any soldier worth a damn will turn on us in a second. Any who won’t, isn’t worth the ground he spits on.”

Canterwright held his hands out. “What we need is the people. The common man. Stupid, malleable, and whose voice is worth gold. Get them on your side, and suddenly the army will beg to join us. And Viola will fall.

“I am trying to foment such feelings. Viola is helping, in her own way, by putting in these treemen, and spending too much time with individuals instead of groups. There is an opportunity. But if I rush it, we shall all swing, or worse freeze.

“In the meantime…” he grit his teeth. “get off my back, and let me work. Or you shall see just what a common-born noble is made of.”

The nobles bristled. How dare a workman noble speak to them so? Yoric held up a hand, and they calmed.

“And the tax collector?” he asked.

Canterwright laughed. The tax collector was already dead.

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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