“Well,” said Meleagans Flaxseed. “I think that went rather well.”
Porone Belltower and Hadrub Brighthand stared at the man. “Meleagans--you more or less confessed that your employees are also your tenants,” noted Porone quietly. “And that you pay them less than you charge them for rent. So that they have to take loans. From you.”
Meleagans nodded, a smile on his face. “Well, naturally. Right clever bit of business that is. Get the bastards hooked good and proper.”
Porone and Hadrub stared at each other, and silently confirmed to themselves that Flaxseed had united the entire Folly, however briefly, in a burning mutual desire to see him thrown into a deep, dank hole. Possibly, several times in succession.
Meleagans seemed quite oblivious to this fact. “Hey, look! His Excellency’s gotten himself a melon somewhere!” he noted. Flaxseed patted his belly. “Reminds me--I haven’t eaten since breakfast! Best go remedy that!”
Porone and Hadrub watched him amble off. “If we’re lucky he’ll be torn limb from limb,” noted Hadrub quietly.
“If you’re lucky, Brighthand,” commented Porone. “Remember, I’m only a sympathetic bystander. And if Flaxseed becomes the face of matchstick factory owners, I will change sides.”
“And wisely so,” agreed Hadrub. He sighed, and gave a ferocious shake of his head. “I told them not to try and set off a riot. The problem with undisciplined violence is, you never know where it’s going to end.”
“So what was your plan?” asked Porone.
“Cut off the snake’s head,” replied Hadrub. “Find these ‘Foxglove’ and ‘Flamefist’ fellows and have them dealt with.” He nodded quietly to himself. “Men can handle suffering themselves if they’re desperate. But seeing men they looked up to crushed--that kills the fight in them. Most times.”
“Or dulls it for awhile,” said Porone. “Still--a better idea than your fellows came up with. Putting everyone on edge only resulted in tipping everything over it. And where it will all fall--the Darksome Lady alone knows.” He glanced away. “I hear Flamefist is coming forward.”
Hadrub gave a bleak laugh. “So they say. Personally, I doubt it. His sort always crawl back under their rocks once the trouble starts…” He smiled. “Besides, things aren’t so bad, really. Flaxseed makes a fool of himself? Well, we make sure he takes the hit, a few nice words are said, and then we get back to business as usual.” Brighthand slapped his hands together. “Just you watch. Nothing will really need to change.”
Porone was considering how to respond to that when a stirring came from the crowd. “Flamefist!” cried someone. “It’s the Flamefist!” shouted another. Porone turned to see this mysterious champion of the commons. And then he found himself grabbing Hadrub by the shoulder.
“Brighthand,” he noted. “You might want…”
Hadrub glanced over. “Wha--?” And then he froze. His son Menadarb was walking among the crowd, clad in simple clothing, head held high. Around him they chanted ‘Flamefist, Flamefist, Flamefist!’
Hadrub darted forward. “Menadarb! Boy! What--what is the meaning of this?”
Menadarb moved on, as if he didn’t hear Hadrub speaking, or even see him. He simply walked up the court steps.
“Menadarb! Menadarb!” shouted his father, as Menadarb disappeared into the building. “What’s going on? What is happening?” Hadrub gave a great sob. “Darksome Lady, lad, don’t you know your own da’!”
Porone rushed to his friend side, as Brighthand tried to hold back his tears. “Hadrub--are you all right?”
“Lady’s Love, Porone!” he cried. “That was my boy! My own sweet boy! And he--now he’s--” He shook his head. “What is happening in this city?”
Porone considered what to say, and decided to simply pretend he didn’t know the answer, while patting Hadrub’s shoulder.