Lancet House. A grand old building, on a grand old street, in the heart of the mercantile district of Axis. Its appearance belied the reality: the Lancets were not exactly nouveau riche, but neither were they old money. There’s a difference between a centuries-old coat of arms and a well-respected trademark. Neverthless, well-respected they were.
Let me set the scene – clerks bustling in and around, queues of well-dressed gentlemen and well-dressed gentlemen’s flunkies waiting to manage their quarterly business: paying off loans, taking them out. Out to the side, a cordon of a dozen armed guards manages today’s transfer of specie between Lancet House and the Empire Reserve bank.
Four floors above, in a very masculine and old-school office (oxblood leather and darkwood furniture, books on the shelf, gold pens on the desk, a world globe on a stand, cognac in the cabinet, two pairs of sound-muffling doors leading in and anti-scrying spells carved into sheet lead tastefully concealed behind handsome wood panelling. You get the idea) in this office, Frances was in the middle of very nearly a full rant:
“… wandering about the wilderness with some army people, I ask you – a halfling and a pair of dwarves by every account. No-one knows where he is. Ducalis managed to find him, thank heaven. He was supposed to be in Chancer’s Hope, instead he’s at Newport – Newport, for God’s sake! – haggling with some provincial duke for travel expenses. A Lancet! A Lancet reduced to going cap-in-hand to some regional noble for money to buy food! And of course Ducalis ordered him to come home as soon as possible, and so he has dutifully hit the road again. He’s somewhere between Newport and Santa Cora now, starving and in rags, on some ploughhorse or on foot I shouldn’t wonder, in all sorts of company, and no-one has a clue how to find him or how he might be, I’ve been worried sick …”
The terrible old man behind the desk raised his hand for silence, and Frances simmered down immediately. The histrionics were mostly an act, of course. But not without real concern beneath them.
“Very well, Frances, very well. You win. I will send him a pouch by courier.” He drew out from a draw a small, unremarkable-looking soft leather pouch. It had a long drawstring, intended to be worn around the neck, and a small seal which bore the Lancet mark of three golden balls.
Frances looked at the old man accusingly. “You planned this!” He shook his head, “Not planned, dear. Merely taking advantage of an opportunity.”
“There are so few I can really count on. Your cousin Phillip is a sot. Your niece Emma gambles. Frederick is simply an idiot. Oh, there’s enough of us that are reliable that I can run the business, but never as many as I would like. Young James seems a sensible sort, not too much of his father’s habit of crashing about. And he can go more-or-less incognito if he’s out in the sticks.”
Frances narrowed her eyes. “You are going to use him for business.”
The old man’s expression brooked no further nonsense. “The lad has other concerns at the moment, and I respect that. But a Lancet always draws a little blood. No more than people can afford. It’s that little draw that allowed us to match you with that fine husband of yours – you are still happy? Yes, I see you are. Splendid fellow. This pouch is one of the covert ones. Your son will keep it concealed and will break the seal rather than surrender or lose it. He will also need to work out how to use it. If he’s a Lancet, he will already know.”
Frances nodded. Even here, in this heavily-warded office, in the heart of their empire, the family secret remained unspoken.
“Well, that’s all sorted, then,” finished the old man. “Let Ducalis know that I am doing what I can to keep a lid on the current political business. “Gold is the sinews of war”, as they say, but our consortium is not the only gold around, and some of us are seeing a possibility of profit in backing the conflict. Nevertheless, I fully support your husband’s faction. I am doing what I can, dear.”
The pair finished up, they made their farewells, and Frances began her journey home. Even for the rich and powerful, Horizon to Axis is a fair way to come. Of course she had not come on her own. Of course her husband had sent her on a mission, too. “Politics, politics,” thought the old man. “Ducalis uses my daughter, and I his son. Well, it’s no more than a little draw. Nothing at all compared to the blood that gets spilled in war.”