Imager’s Intrigue ip-3, page 49part #3 of Imager's portfolio Series
Finally, at just before ninth glass, Ayma, one of the newest primes, knocked on my study door to inform me that a Factorius Veblynt had arrived.
I hurried out to the reception hall, where he was waiting. Every time I saw Factor Veblynt, I was surprised, because he made an impression in memory larger than his actual height. He was slender, although his carriage was perfect, and he was even a touch shorter than Seliora. He smiled, showing perfect white teeth. This time, the corners of his eyes lifted, as if he were truly glad to see me. Often they didn’t. “Rhenn! I understand that you’re a Maitre D’Esprit.”
“Due to the misfortunes of others,” I demurred.
“Nonsense. You may hold what ever position you do in the Collegium for that reason, but even I know that the ranks of the Maitres are due to ability alone.”
We walked from the reception hall back to my study, where I closed the door.
Veblynt surveyed the chamber, then settled into the chair in front of the desk. “Such surroundings aren’t designed to let you take yourself seriously.”
“No, but whether by design or custom or both, I have no idea.” I added quickly, “You are most kind to come here, and I appreciate it.”
“Anytime the son of a friend travels to my mill to see me, especially when he’s one of the highest imagers, it merits a return call.” He smiled. “Especially when I was already going to be less than a mille away.”
“It was kind, nonetheless, and appreciated.”
“You obviously had something in mind.”
“I did. I’d heard rumors that you sought competing bids for a loan in order to build your new paper mill.”
Veblynt shrugged. “I could have built it with my own capital, but that wouldn’t have left any reserves. Even so, the Banque D’Excelsis didn’t want to offer favorable terms, and I’d have been a fool not to seek other terms. They don’t like it when they can’t make more on their loans than the enterprises they fund make on their operations. Once I did get another commitment, they became more reasonable. By the way, I must congratulate you and Seliora on the training you provide the apprentices at your taudis mill. Some of them will be working at our new facility.”
“Thank you. Facility? It’s not a paper mill?”
“It’s a mill and a printing facility. We’ve been making blank documents for factors, everything from ledger sheets to printed forms for banques, but the demand was more than we could handle at the old facility. The new one will just make document paper, and the rest is for the printing side.”
“And you went with another banque to get the funds?”
He looked sharply at me. “Rhenn…are you after me for something?”
“No. I’m after information. From what I heard, you know some things that might fill in pieces of the puzzle.”
“Given what I’ve done for your father, I’m going to trust you on this.”
“I know. You helped him through a hard time with some Navy contracts. He didn’t tell me, either.”
He smiled wryly. “I might have known you’d figure that out. What are you looking for?”
“I’d heard you used the threat of going to an outland banque. I’m interested in that banque.”
“That’s not much of a secret. It couldn’t be if the threat were to work. It was the Banque D’Ouestan, but you already knew that, or you wouldn’t have asked.”
“They don’t have a branch here, though.”
He nodded slowly. “I dealt with a Vyktor D’Banque D’Ouestan. He has a place of business on the Avenue D’Theatre.”
“How did you find out about him?”
“From one of Glendyl’s clerks.” Veblynt smiled with a certain satisfaction. “Unlike some factors, I talk to more than a few clerks.”
“Do you know if they make many loans or advances here in L’Excelsis?”
“Very few, I suspect. Just enough to provide cover for Vyktor, I would guess. He was happy enough to write out a commitment, as if he knew he wouldn’t necessarily have to make the loan. He could have, but he’s no more a true banque representative than I’m a High Holder. He wasn’t in the slightest interested in buying forms, even at a very reduced price.”
“An interesting comparison,” I observed.
“How widely is that known, do you think?”
“Not all that widely, I would judge. He is knowledgeable enough about finance, and he does make loans and handle other funding transfers through the Banque D’Ouestan’s corresponding arrangements with the Banque D’Rivages and the Banque D’Kherseilles, and doubtless one or two others. He is often gone for periods of time, and I’ve never known a banque that allowed its representatives to be out of touch so much. I’d judge that he’s also a representative of either Ferrum, Jariola, or Stakanar. That’s just a judgment on my part.” He looked directly at me. “I don’t think I’m telling you much you don’t already suspect.”
“Do you know any others with whom he’s had dealings?”
“There are rumors that Broussard received funding through him, and I mentioned Broussard’s name in passing.” Veblynt offered a crooked smile. “Vyktor doesn’t like him. I couldn’t tell why from his reaction.”
“What do you know about Broussard?”
“He’s a freeholder. He’s also extraordinarily wealthy…and he would squeeze the last drop of water from a sponge in the desert and try to sell it to a man dying of thirst. He’d betray his first-born son or an infant daughter for a single gold.”
I found myself fingering my chin. “I haven’t heard anything about him since that explosion at the Place D’Opera.”
“That’s true. I hadn’t thought about that. It’s certainly not like him to be so quiet.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if Broussard had taken funds from Vyktor and double-crossed him in the process. I’d always worried about why a High Holder would use explosives against a factor. That simply didn’t follow the High Holder traditions of dealing with their enemies, as I’d discovered; but if Vykor happened to be representing Ferran interests…
I was also beginning to worry about Geuffryt. I’d heard nothing from Valeun, nor from any other source, and it would have been a grave mistake to have mentioned his name at Juniae D’Shendael’s reception. I’d never managed to arrange it so that I was alone with either Caellynd or Juniae, in the latter case certainly because she wanted to avoid any hint of personal closeness.
“Rhenn…” Veblynt interrupted my musing. “You have the strangest look.”
“I was wondering about Broussard,” I evaded, “and how he escaped being killed in the explosion.”
“He was looking for a way to do in Estyelle, anyway.” Veblynt shrugged. “You’re thinking that Vyktor had something to do with that?”
“I have suspicions.”
“Vyktor’s capable of it, I’d judge, but, if he did, Broussard outwitted him and turned matters his own way.”
“If Broussard did,” I asked, “then why has he been so silent?”
“You think he’s afraid of what’s behind Vyktor?”
“Broussard can’t be stupid.” I pointed out the obvious to see what Veblynt would say.
“He’s anything but stupid. He’s likely waiting for someone to act against Vyktor.”
“That would mean he either knows someone will or has a way to push someone into doing so. I haven’t seen either.”
“You’re looking,” Veblynt said with a faint smile.
“Looking doesn’t mean acting. Neither the Collegium nor the Civic Patrol is inclined to act if there isn’t some sort of evidence of wrongdoing. Suspicion isn’t enough. Nor is knowing. We have nothing to tie Vyktor to the Place D’Opera explosion or anything else, or even to Glendyl.”
Veblynt nodded. “That is often the problem with pure knowledge. You’ve gotten around that in the past, Rhenn. I’m certain you will this time.”
“It’s harder when everyone is watching you.” My words came out sardonically.
I couldn’t help but laugh myself, as I realized that he’d given me an idea for a solution. It was just too bad that it was for a different problem. “I will take your words to heart, and I thank you for coming.”
“If I find anything of value to you,” he said as he rose, “I’ll send it.”
“Thank you.” I stood as well.
“And keep on distrusting Cydarth. He’s tied up in it all somehow as well. I don’t know how, but…” He shrugged, then smiled. “It is a pleasure to see how well you’ve done after so much adversity has come to your family.”
“True friends help,” he replied.
I couldn’t disagree with that.
After I walked Veblynt to the main doors of the administration building and made my way back to my study, I thought about his last words. I’d always distrusted Cydarth, and Veblynt had always been right, if often veiled, in his assessments. Yet Geuffryt had tried to get me to attack Cydarth. Why? If…if Geuffryt happened to feel himself a “patriot” who was out to destroy the influence of the Collegium, was the idea to show that Cydarth had been spitefully wronged by Artois’s allies, such as the Collegium? That seemed rather frail. Yet…if Cydarth did happen to be getting Ferran funds through the Banque D’Ouestan, and Geuffryt had discovered that through Kearyk, was there any connection at all between Geuffryt and Vyktor? Or was Geuffryt trying to expose Cydarth as a Ferran plaque through me, because he couldn’t reveal how he’d found out about the transfers? Much as I disliked and distrusted Geuffryt, that appeared the most likely possibility…and that bothered me greatly.
For the remainder of Mardi, I did my best to concentrate on duties that would not lead to greater consternation with the Council and the Collegium. That meant, among other things, that I read a number of reports, said little at the midday meal in the dining hall, and ended up going home through an ice fog more than a little dissatisfied.
Exercise on Meredi morning helped…somewhat.
I was still stewing and trying to determine what else I could do when Beleart knocked on my study door at a quint past eighth glass and carried in a large envelope, marked in the stripe that indicated urgent private delivery. He slipped away, closing the door.
I opened the envelope. Inside were a single sheet of paper, printed on both sides, and a folded note card. The document was also signed and sealed at the bottom. I read through it twice. It was a loan and a secondary lien on Glendyl’s engine works, executed by Viktor D’Banque D’Ouestan on behalf of the bank for 25,000 golds, and it was dated almost a year earlier, the thirty-second of Fevier. The provision that interested me most was the one allowing unannounced inspections of the subject property by designated agents of the lender.
I opened the note card and read the two lines written there.
“Obtaining this last year was far too easy. Be most careful.”
Under the words was an ornate “V.”
The package raised yet another question. How had Veblynt obtained it? For what purpose? And why had he sent it? What role was he playing in the swirl of intrigue? The warning suggested he’d been “allowed” to take or steal the document, but he’d obtained it before I’d left the Civic Patrol, and that suggested a different agenda. What that was, I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to do anything with the document until I knew why.
Instead of straining to figure out items about which I hadn’t enough information, I decided to try to tie up another loose end and go find Maitre Jhulian. He was in his study and welcomed me in.
“What can I do for you, Rhenn?”
“You’re the expert on law and water rights, and I’m hoping that you can clarify exactly what’s going on between the eastern High Holders and the freeholders around Piedryn.”
“The law is clear. Nothing else is.” His smile was wintry. “Precedence in water rights is based on seniority. The oldest right rights come first, regardless of where they are exercised on the watercourse. This creates a practical problem when a junior rights-holder is located upstream of a senior rights-holder and there is insufficient flow to satisfy both rights. The historic manner of resolving the claim has been through the courts, but courts do not move so fast as water does. So the justicers in the area have taken to issuing preemptive allocations based on flow levels.”
“And since the senior rights-holders are mainly High Holders, the allocations are considered as favoring them?”
“Exactly. There’s one complication. In peak flow years, or at times when water can’t be used, some can be diverted under ancillary rights. Broussard bought a single hectare-foot of absolute water-rights on the Piedra River, at a point just before it flows into the Chela, and then applied for ancillary rights. He was using those ancillary rights to fill a storage lake, and in dry years, he was irrigating crops from it.”
“At a time when others couldn’t and crop prices were high, I presume.”
Jhulian nodded. “So Haebyn applied for ancillary rights, which he’d never needed before, and Broussard brought the matter up to the Justiciary, pointing out that his ancillary rights preceded Haebyn’s, and, since excess water couldn’t be diverted near the headwaters without prejudicing other rights-holders, Haebyn shouldn’t be allowed to divert until Broussard had exercised his rights. The justicer upheld Broussard, pointing out that the law was clear on precedence and that precedence applied to ancillary rights as well.”
“That was probably the reason why Broussard’s impoundment dam ‘failed,’ then?”
“That was effective for this year, but Broussard still holds the rights and will doubtless have the dam repaired before the spring run-off.”
“What’s the situation before the Council? Will Haebyn attempt to change the law?”
“He’s been working hard to persuade Councilors. It’s a very bad idea, especially now, because what it would do is send the message that the law is only immutable when it benefits High Holders and will be changed if its precedents can be used against them.”
When I left Maitre Jhulian, I understood the political and legal implications of the water issues. To me, the question was whether the Ferrans had gotten involved there as well. Had Broussard borrowed from Vyktor to rebuild the dam and impoundment? Or to build grain ware houses? Or had he steered other freeholders to Vyktor? Would I ever know?
I was beginning to doubt that I’d ever find out everything about anything, and I still had nothing truly linking Cydarth to Vyktor or the Banque D’Ouestan-except Geuffryt’s note written by Juniae D’Shendael. Perhaps I would pay a courtesy call on Subcommander Cydarth. It might provoke a reaction of some sort. Then, too, I realized, it might make me more of a target. Yet, I probably was anyway…or, more properly, I still was.
As I was about to step into my study, Kahlasa came down the corridor. “Rhenn…do you have a moment?”
“For you, always.” That was true, because Kahlasa never wasted my time or anyone else’s, and she was always effective. I held the door for her, then followed her in and closed it.
She set a folder on the desk and sat down.
So did I. “What is it?”
“Most of the explosions in Solidar over the past months have been on piers or near water. Your questions about the tugs and the barges got me thinking. I’ve made more inquiries, and the regionals have helped. I’d like you to look at the charts there and tell me what you think.”
It didn’t take long to figure out what she’d determined. In more than half the cases, two transport factors were involved. One was Cholan Freight and Transport, and the other was Mahrun Barge and Cartage. “Did you find out anything about these two?”
“There aren’t any records of any contracts older than four years. They always paid in advance, and their funds were always transferred from the Banque D’Ouestan through another banque. They also never defaulted, and always returned leased equipment in good condition
“How did she find that out?”
“From the very upset widow of the clerk.”
“He died in an accident, of course?” My tone was sardonic.
“Did she find out where this Vyktor D’Cleris was located?”
“Only that he was in L’Excelsis. No address, nothing more.”
I nodded. “The address would have been useful.” I suspected I already had it. “What was the name of the Cholan clerk?”
I wrote that down. “What else?”
“From the weights and packing, it’s likely that some of the explosives were sent by ironway under the name of Mahrun Barge and Cartage, but we haven’t yet located any actual address for Mahrun, except at the Mahrun Ironway Station. They’ve never leased space there, but at times, someone would pick up messages or packages there. Not often.”
“So they basically got accepted by sending or handling small shipments, always paid in advance, before they leased heavier equipment. That’s how they moved the Poudre B…” I looked to Kahlasa. “You’ve put together an outstanding report here.”
She actually smiled.
By the time we had finished going over the details, it was time to eat, and the two of us walked over to the dining hall. Maitre Dyana was there, sitting with Chassendri and Quaelyn, with Ferlyn peering past the older pattern-master, as if trying to make out Quaelyn’s words and Maitre Dyana’s responses.
After the meal, I went straight to the duty coach stand, and asked Desalyt to take me to Patrol headquarters. Once I arrived, the duty patroller-Cassan-just nodded as I walked past him and up the steps to the second level.
L. E. MODESITT SERIES:
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