The MeetingMature

Her Ladyship was not what most people would call beautiful. Not in the classical sense, anyway. She was, in fact, rather plain - though the Captain thought she was attractive in her own way. Especially when she got excited about something, as she was now.

"The technology festival is an important step forward for the city," she was reiterating. "And not just for Marsten, but for the whole world! Technology is the future, Captain. If we don't see to it, someone else will."

The Captain nodded and smiled politely. This was why he avoided actual meetings with Her Ladyship. She could be very... enthusiastic, if you gave her half a chance. And, for some reason, she seemed to assume everybody's default position was that of disagreement. "Please, my lady," the Captain said by way of smoothing feathers that had no particular reason for being ruffled. "You're preaching to the converted." It was mostly true.

They sat in the Captain's office, windows open wide to let the sunlight in. He had forgone the formality of sitting behind his desk, and instead they each occupied well worn but comfortable chairs on either side of a low table. Tea had been set out, accompanied by a tray of cookies and biscuits. He was steadily but politely devouring them, having missed the opportunity for breakfast.

"Forgive me," Her Ladyship said, taking a sip from her cup of tea. "Of course, I know you understand. I just want to be certain you know how important it is that this festival goes smoothly. I've personally invited a number of inventors and visionaries from across the continent. If something were to go wrong... well, we wouldn't get a second chance."

"I've been fiddling with the numbers," the Captain revealed. "To provide security for something this large we'll either have to pull watchmen from other areas of the city - which I'd rather not do - or have a lot of the men do double shifts. That won't go over well, and we can't do it for long. A week might be stretching it." He rubbed a hand over his chin in thought, dislodging errant biscuit crumbs from his stubble. "Even then I'm not comfortable with our level of coverage."

Her Ladyship's technology fair was supposed to take up the largest public square in her district, which meant the largest public square in the city. What's more, if she was to be believed, it could spill over into other smaller squares in the surrounding area. And then there were all the non participants who were expected to show up. She'd sent proclamations and invitations across the continent, inviting any and all to come to Marsten and marvel at the wonders of modern technology that would be on display. Nobles from other city states had already responded, and they would need their own special consideration.

Frankly, for the first time in it's history, the Watch would not have the manpower to do what it needed to do. He said as much. "Which," he added, "Is why I'll want to temporarily fold in members of the regular military. That, or members of your House Guard." He watched her reaction carefully.

"How many men are we talking about?" She kept her expression neutral, but it was easy to tell she was weighing the potential dangers against the potential gains. The Watch had always been just big enough to patrol the city and provide a counterweight to any Prince with ambitions of kingship. And though they were seen as staunchly loyal protectors of Marsten, there was always the lurking danger that a captain, and not a prince, would be the one with ambitions.

Control over regular troops would give the Watch more heft than it had ever enjoyed in the past. And there was not just the force of arms to consider, but the potential influence amongst the military or guard ranks as well. Normally no crossover was allowed, insuring that the Watch was loyal only unto itself and it's city and the military the same. The Captain, of course, had no such ambitions. He just wanted to be able to do his job - but that didn't mean Her Ladyship wouldn't be worried about the possibility.

"At least a hundred," he told her.

"That's... a lot of men, captain. Are you certain you need that many?"

"Truth be told, my lady, I've been meaning to ask the princes to increase the size of the Watch anyway. The city is growing," he shrugged. "If this fair of yours is a success it will grow even more, and faster. Fifty of those hundred I'd like to replace with dedicated watchmen, the other fifty are a temporary manpower boost for your fair."

She thought about that as she sipped more of her tea. He eyed the tray of cookies, decided he'd had enough already. "Captain, have you ever thought about the way Marsten is run?"

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure what you mean..."

She smiled. It was a small thing, showing no teeth and producing two tiny dimples. Yet for some inexplicable reason it made her seem suddenly dangerous. And then he remembered that he was having this polite conversation over tea with the woman who had, somehow, convinced four other princes to let her take her brother's place with not so much as a single public comment. "Come now. As Captain of the Watch, you have to be at least passingly intelligent. Do me a favor, and don't pretend otherwise."

The Captain grunted and chewed briefly on his lower lip. Well then, if that was how she wanted it. "Five princes," he said. "Each with their own district in the city, each prospering from trade and industry. Each balanced against the others, and all balanced against the Watch... what about it?"

"Haven't you ever thought there might be a... better way?" Her eyes were watching him closely, now. Before they'd flitted about the room, glancing out the window or taking in the knickknacks and bric-a-brac he'd accumulated during his time in the Watch. Some of it had been here during the reign of previous captains, like the suit of antiquated armor that stood collecting dust in one corner. She'd seemed particularly interested in that. But now her eyes were locked on him like a bird of prey eying a tasty field mouse.

"Define better," he challenged. As a rule, he didn't like political games. Captains didn't engage in them - it was traditional. If you got into games you could get turned into a pawn, and if the Captain was a pawn so was the Watch. And that was unacceptable.

"Better," she said, adopting a tone of voice that made it clear she was reciting. "Of superior suitability." Her smile grew with the definition, and he knew she'd done it just to agitate him. Maybe it was just the product of an inner puckishness, an urge she couldn't resist. She relented the second she'd finished speaking, giving him a small shrug. "The city is doing well, I admit. But the constant competition between us... the Princes, I mean. The constant subterfuge and behind the scenes dabbling. Don't you think it might be holding Marsten back? Have you ever wondered if there was a better way?"

"No." He let the word linger between them. He didn't know why she's steered the conversation in this direction. It was a far cry from talking about security for her technology fair. And, in his opinion, it was far more blatant than it should have been.

"That's it?" she asked, looking serious. "Just... no?"

"That's right," he said. "No. Call me old fashioned, but the system has worked as-is for hundreds of years. Who am I to change it? All I know is my job, and my job is to keep the city safe and stable. That doesn't include me getting ideas of what's 'better' for anybody." He leaned forward in his chair, finally feeling riled enough to let it influence a response. "I know you think technology is the future for us all, my lady. But this fair of yours? I'll be watching it to keep the city safe from your technology and inventors as much as the other way around. There's a right way to progress, and there's a wrong one." He settled back in his chair, wondering if he'd crossed a line somewhere. He didn't technically work for any of the princes... but it was tradition to defer to them unless they were causing trouble.

Her Ladyship made a chirping noise, which the Captain assumed  was supposed to be a "humph" sort of thing. She looked like she'd decided something. "Fifty men from my House Guard," she said. "Fifty from the military unit my district recruits to." Her long and many-pleated skirts rustled loudly as she crossed her legs and leaned on one arm of the chair. "That's a third of my Guard, dear Captain. I expect you to use them gently and return them undamaged." She smiled that small smile again, only this time he knew she was playing. It was her eyes, he decided. The eyes were what made that smile dangerous or playful. They were green.


The End

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