The Savior – Snippet 24
Mahaut took a long ride down to the lake and did not return until well after dark. She’d ridden past the family graveyard, but hadn’t felt the slightest interest in going to see Edgar’s grave. The next day she got up and went in to work. Benjamin would have to be confronted one way or another. But she sent word ahead that she was coming.
Benjamin looked at her without betraying an emotion when she entered the office. Solon found something that needed doing outside. They went to the corner desk where Benjamin liked to work. As usual, it was piled with scrolls. Benjamin’s absolute control of his surroundings did not extend to the desk. Mahaut took the visitor chair. Benjamin pushed a scroll aside and leaned on his desk, looking down at her. He gazed at her a long time, then allowed himself the faintest of smiles.
“We’ve missed you here,” he said.
Mahaut nodded, but said nothing.
A sob rose in Benjamin’s throat. Mahaut could see him choke it back. “You killed my son.”
“He was coming at me with a knife, Pater.”
Benjamin held her gaze for a moment, then said, “I know.”
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt Edgar. I did love him once. Briefly.”
“We have that in common, don’t we? Only I find that I love him still, despite what he became.”
Again, Mahaut did not reply.
“But it hurts me to see you,” Benjamin said. “I think it will for a long time.”
Mahaut let out a nervous breath close to a whimper. She’d been expecting this moment, but still it was a like a pain shooting through her heart.
So this was it. She was being thrown out of the family. Benjamin wouldn’t put it that way, but that’s what it would be. Where would she go? To her parents, she supposed. Or maybe her brother, Xavier, and his wife would take her in. She would still have the Treville Women’s Auxiliary to keep her busy. But after the heady days of working with a trading house that stretched up and down the Land, this option seemed to her…smaller. Or was it that her world had gotten larger?
No, maybe going back to the auxiliary was not a good idea. She’d put new leadership in place herself. To demote them would do a lot of damage to morale she’d spent years to build. So she’d have nothing. Maybe when Xavier’s children came along, she’d at least be able to help Helga raise them.
“I’ll leave in the morning for Hestinga, Pater,” she said.
Benjamin shook his head. “No. I have another idea in mind, if you’ll hear me out.”
“Yes, of course.”
“It occurs to me that we have an opening in Lindron.”
Benjamin scooted himself up on his desk and sat with his elbow on a knee and his hand on his chin. A wave of nostalgia washed over her for a moment. She’d seen him in this posture so often when he was working out a problem or thinking through a possibility.
So, she was to be shipped off to clerk somewhere far away. It wasn’t the worst thing.
“Are you sure whoever you’ve put in Abram Karas’s spot will want to work with a woman? The men who don’t mind are rare. You know that.”
Benjamin smiled slyly. “Daughter, I want to put you in charge in Lindron.”
“In charge? You mean factor?” She could hardly believe this.
“We can’t call you the factor. We’d call it chief consort to the House. We’ll send someone along, someone who will know his place, to take on the factor title. But he’ll answer to you. I’ll make that clear. Dillard might suit.”
For a moment, Mahaut allowed her heart to leap. But the feeling was quickly replaced by uncertainty. Could she do the job? So far, she’d been a second to Benjamin and Solon, a manager, certainly. But not in charge. Not ultimately responsible. Not like the factor of a large trading house in the biggest city in the world.
“Dillard would be fine.”
“So you accept?”
“I would have conditions.”
Benjamin took his hand from his knee, sat back on the desk. “Oh?”
“Freedom to invest fluid assets where I see fit.”
“Of course. That’s part of the job description.”
“Perhaps not for a woman, though?”
“I said you’d be in charge. You will.”
Mahaut nodded. “Good.”
“What else?” asked Benjamin.
Mahaut took a deep breath, let it out. “I want freedom to avenge Abram Karas. In my own time, and how I see fit. I want to use the full resources of the House to do this if I have to.”
Benjamin smiled. “A license to kill, eh?”
“Assassination would be easy enough. But maybe I can arrange something worse.”
Now Benjamin did allow himself a full smile.
“You are free to do as you want in this matter, and the House resources will be at your disposal in Lindron and at all Jacobson Houses,” he said. “But there is something else. I want your advice.”
“Loreilei and this boy,” he said. “Edgar was right in a way. It probably isn’t a good idea. A land-heiress’s place is to serve her house. In return, she has the house’s protection, its wealth and power. Of course, Loreilei will not be poor when she marries. We’ll always see to that. But she’ll miss out on her chance to make a mark. A son is like chits that can be spent a little at a time. A daughter –”
“– can only be sold once, and had better bring a good price?” Mahaut said. “And the price is alliance.”
“Or a truce. Or a spy. You get something.”
“She was a slave to the Blaskoye. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t ever want anybody telling her what to do again.”
“But she trusts you,” said Benjamin. “She loves you.”
“I love her. Most of all, I feel responsible for what happened to her. You know that.”
“Then take her to Lindron with you.” He said it as if Mahaut had already accepted the position, as if he had heard it in her voice. Maybe he had. “Take her for a year or so. I won’t forbid her attachment to the boy. I know where that would get me.”
“But you think a year apart would break it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But she’s very young, and we owe it to her to test it, don’t you think?”
“I agree with that.”
“I’ll talk to the boy to make sure they don’t try something idiotic, like running away together. I’ll put it to him as a way of proving himself. In a way it will be.”
Mahaut nodded. “I think that’s a good plan, Pater. I believe I can convince her. I’ll try, at least.”
“So it’s decided? You’ll do this?”
She took a moment, looked down, rubbed her forehead. “And what will I call myself? Not the position, I mean. What will be my name now?” she asked in a low voice.
Benjamin smiled crookedly. She recognized that smile. He wore it when a deal of his had gone particularly well.
“Why, Her Gracious Excellency, Land-heiress, the widow Jacobson, of course.”
This will be my life for years to come. To say good-bye to the family here. To say good-bye to my parents and brother. No more rest day trips to Hestinga to see Mamma and Pappa. To be really, truly, for the first time, my own woman.
Then she realized that this is what she’d been waiting for all along.
“Thank you for the opportunity, Pater,” she said. “Yes, I’ll take Lindron.”