“It’s good to see you, Peter,” Arthur smiled warmly. Peter leaned forward, his hands gripping the top of his cane like eagle’s talons.
“So, old friend, tell me a story!”
“Come now,” Arthur shook his head. “Is it come to this? All business and no camaraderie? Even in the Brass Helmet is there no time left for pleasantries?”
“Ha!” Peter’s head snapped back as he laughed. “Look around you Arthur! Have you not heard? The King has just opened trade to the Colonies again, along with a promise to make arrangements between the merchants of the Empire and the Russian Czar. There are even rumors of a royal marriage with France! The world is spinning faster than ever before, and I don’t have much longer to enjoy it. Spare an old man the monotony of manners and tell me one of your tales!”
Peter wasn’t one for books, but he loved Arthur’s stories. Any restauranteur knew such things were the lifeblood of their profession. Especially Arthur’s tales; they could be quite lucrative. He breathed deeply, and leaned back in his chair as his eyes flicked behind Peter. Smiling slowly, he gestured out into the street.
“Do you see that man there? The one with the silk hat who is talking to the sailor? I shall tell you his story. Once upon a time, there was a lowly lord who wanted to be loved by all the kingdom. He was loved by his servants, of course, and his few peers, but he wanted the peasantry of the kingdom to love him too. So he walked among them and gave them fruit and wine, and told them how lucky he was to have such wonderful neighbors.”
“But it was not enough. Day after day his fellow lords laughed at him, and called him foolish. ‘They will not respect you, and they will demand things of you. You demand things of your friends, and hate them if they decline. You beg things of your lords, and think them wise if they deliver.’ But the lord would not listen, and tried again and again to make his new friends happy. But they never were, and demanded more and more from him.”
“Then one day he decided to buy their love once and for all, and so he planned a long journey to the Maharaja of Goa, thinking he could buy his peasant’s favor with an exclusive trade route to the east. And with him, he brought a small scrap of paper as payment. Almost nothing, really, but on this paper, in the King’s own hand, was a full account of a very secret affair between the King and the President of France.”
Peter glanced back at the man in the silk hat, stroking his leathery chin.
“A foolish man indeed… and how does this story end?”
“The way every story ends when the King is displeased.”
With a quick nod of farewell, Arthur stood, sticking his book in his pocket. In three quick strides, he had circumvented his old friend, and was halfway to the door. As he followed the man in the silk hat down the streets of Cliffside, he twisted his wrist just so, and a long thin dagger snapped out of his sleeve between his fingers.