Fendy Brill was not at all what I was expecting, I thought as she ushered me into the house, and down a hall to the sitting room. Brill had become Secretary of Dahlon about ten years ago, when I was a girl of about twelve. Having served as councilwoman on the city council for nearly twenty years, she was the senior member and thus it fell to her to take up the mantle of secretary when Hector Messala decided he no longer felt like running the city.
Dahlon politics were simple: nobody wanted the jobs, so whoever could be persuaded, connived, or bullied into taking the job was forced into it. We Dahlonese are a fractuous lot, and we will be damned if anybody is going to tell us what to do, and that includes other Dahlonese. The city itself is divided into seven sections called departments, each forces a resident to serve on the city council which maintains the barest minimum of security necessary to stave of pure anarchy within the confines of the city. The secretary was called upon to arbitrate disputes and arguments and ratify the council's decisions, but otherwise had little real power. As it was, even the ombudsmen on the streets had more power than the secretary, if only because they had more freedom.
The main thing that bothered me about Fendy Brill was that she was a whole lot older than she appeared. Although she looked to be in her mid to late forties, with graying hair and crow's feet around her eyes, the truth was that she was nearer to seventy years old. To say that she was aging gracefully was an understatement, and some citizens had joked aloud about where she kept her phylactery. It may have been in bad taste, but it was still kind of amusing... until, or course, one was sitting in her parlor.
As I eased myself into the chair across from the secretary I had to remind myself of why I was here. There was really no alternative, and I did not relish the idea of more piracy on the high seas. Of course, there was the distinct probability that the secretary was going to have me do something even worse, but there was no way to stop that. I was looking at my only way out, so I started to speak.
"Skip it, I already know the high points. You signed on with the Polinoy clan three years ago and have not enjoyed their leisurely life of larceny, so now you are here begging for protection and a job. I got the story from the Tyrennhian already, he warned me that you would be along and why. Oh, don't worry, there is nothing you could have done. After all, the weaselly little turd can read minds," growled Brill acidly.
In spite of her brusque manner and growling voice, I found myself liking the assertive old woman seated before me. Before I knew it a shy grin was creeping across my face as the alleged leader of Dahlon continued.
"Unfortunately we need the little scumbag to figure out what in the seventeen shades of the deep is going on here. You will make a good addition to our little sewing circle, assuming the Tyrennhian is not as full of drekh as he normally seems. Given what he knows, and what I know, it is fair to say that your role will be crucial in figuring out what the hells is happening here. Now, since I am pretty sure our Tyrennhian friend told you next to nothing about what's going on, I will fill you in.
"About a year ago I started noticing a strange pattern of shipments going from our fair city to the city of Miryor in the west. One ship, the Wandering Lover, seemed to be making regular runs with barely profitable cargoes. Now this is not too unusual, but the thing that stunk like a slillikul in heat was that the crew had an awful lot of spending cash for folks who were barely making ends meet...
"Piracy?" I asked with a hollow feeling.
"Nah, somebody would have caught them in the nets long before were that the case. Besides, that scow can barely float let alone menace a merchant ship into submission. I figured they were smuggling goods to Miryor, but I could not figure what or why. Then this Tyrennhian shows up, claiming to be an honest sailor with some information. I may not be old enough to remember the worst of the occupation, but I remember one thing really well: Imperial Lictors."
The hollow feeling had grown like mold in a damp cellar. There was no way in the world this story was going to end well. Suddenly I was beginning to wish I had stayed with the Polinoys, at least there the motivations were less murky.
"Anyway, this 'simple seaman' shows up with information on shipments of weapons that are being smuggled from Vrendisium, in the Tyrennhian Imperium, to Dahlon. His problem was that he could not keep track of the shipments once they left the holds here in Dahlon. All he knew is that they were not destined for this city. The two of us have been watching the trade lanes from Vrendisium to Dahlon for months waiting for a break, and I am guessing that is where he caught you in his little web."
I was a bit overwhelmed and confused by the brutal honesty of the secretary, but one thing was obvious about the entire episode: I had leverage here. They needed me for something, and I now that I understood the mechanics of the situation I would see to it that my services were well compensated. Apparently some of Savago's piratical cunning had rubbed off on me.
"I don't see what any of this has to do with me. If your Lictor friend read my mind, then he must know that the Wavestrider was a pirate, not a smuggler. I cannot give you information that I do not have, so I have to wonder: what is it I can do for you?" I hedged cautiously.
Secretary Brill looked me over a moment, then nodded curtly to herself, "Come off it, you aren't stupid, so don't pretend to be. I may be old, but I know enough to recognize when somebody is trying to get over on me. You know that we need you to run tracking and interference to trace the shipments, and we know that you need us to get away from the Polinoy clan. It would be too dangerous for us to send you out right now, too many eyes on the docks, so I am going to offer you a berth on my privateering vessel, the March Harrier. You can learn a lot from Captain Haute, and you should be able to build yourself one hell of a reputation away from the Polinoy unless I miss my guess. So, what do you say?"