The man was dirty and tired. Still in his riding clothes. If he came here without changing to his robes first it had to be important. Cardinal Zaarbach waved for him to come forward.
"Your excellency, there has been violence in Friedhafen." He didn't even stop before gasping out his message.
"Friedhafen? Cardinal Garnhalt is assembling the fleet there. What kind of violence?"
The young man, barely an acolyte, bowed, trying to hide his eyes. "Violence, your excellence. Godless traders hurt some of the sailors."
"Don't be stupid! They may be godless, but they are still traders."
"They refused taxes for the Reunion Fleet. There were casualties."
And now they try to drop the problem in my lap. "You mean they refused to fund the fleet we would use to conquer their lands?" He sighed, but leaned forward for the youngster to kiss the ring on his hand anyway. "How many casualties?" he asked after receiving his due.
The boy, he wasn't old enough to be called a man Zaarbach saw, rose and backed away. "Trader's quarter is mostly burned to the ground, almost all the way to the harbour"
The cardinal shrugged. The killing was bad, but men killed and died whether he approved of it or not. Age had made him numb, but there was more to it than that. "Keen will demand an apology," he said. Five years ago Keen would have sent ships, but I would have been screaming this boy's face off long before that. "I doubt they value the outpost that much any longer." Five years ago the raiders hadn't come in strength yet, and he'd been unable to even comprehend how the count of Friedhafen would survive without the trade. He had, to the surprise of most.
"Mich... count Friedhafen is most unhappy with the recent events." The boy had the decency to blush.
Son? No, younger brother I think. No land for him and off they sent him to university. He smiled at the boy. The lapse hadn't been a grave one. Had they hoped for a bishopric? Maybe, but that's out of reach for you now.
Survived, yes, but not unscathed. It had taken a man of great bravery and imagination however to come up with the idea of bribing the raiding dragonlings. Zaarbach leaned back in his chair, more like a throne and as uncomfortable. We were quick to catch up on that idea. I hope you enjoyed it in Keen.
"The count would do well to be more careful with his opinions," he said. You would do as well to keep a secret when you hear one. "There are those who think he shouldn't concert with unbelievers from Keen. Some even say he loves money better than God."
The youngster had listened. His eyes flared with anger but he stayed his voice.
It was true though. With the raider fleet on the bottom of the sea money had found its way into Friedhafen again, and of course some resented that. The crown, such as it was, couldn't afford its loyal subjects to become too powerful, as the years had shown. The crowns, the thought was distasteful, three of them, or isn't there a fourth claimant now?
It was the lack of De Vhatic galleys after the raiders were gone that gave birth to Cardinal Garnhalt's plan to move the papal fleet north. It was to escort ships from Chach, but the escort far outnumbered any ships Chach could scrape together.
"You may tell him that I disapprove of the killing, but that anyone refusing our right to claim God's due should think twice before resorting to armed resistance." Killing traders was stupid, but Garnhalt had always been more a paladin than a man of the cloth. Too much in love with the sword as far as Zaarbach was concerned. "Tell him that God's ordained must bring back the godless to His embrace. The fleet sails with our blessing." He bent forward, fist outstretched, to announce that the audience was at an end.
Young Friedhafen, he was sure it was a younger brother now, kissed the ring and withdrew.
Zaarbach waited for him to almost reach the great doors before coughing loud enough for him to stop. "Before you leave there are a few letter for His Grace Garnhalt I would have you carry." Better keep the youngster reminded where his loyalties lay now.
Alone again Zaarbach rose and struggled down the stairs. Old, so old and feeble, but he wasn't old enough to die before making certain that Garnhalt never sat the holy chair. A man of the cloth should not gird himself so eagerly with the sword. The day they elected a paladin they were no better than the heathens in Kordar.
No, Garnhalt was not for the chair. He was proud and too sure of himself. Zaarbach doubted he would be satisfied with taking the ports from the godless. No, more probably march north, possibly even to the magic roads along which Keen ruled supreme. In the best of worlds the chair would make certain to have him canonized for his services to holy mother church.