They were meeting in the fourth-cheapest tavern in Marsilion’s Folly. This was because they had to meet somewhere, and a taverns was the only place they could think of. They were in the Black Sign because it had to be affordable, and the three cheaper ones had reputations for knife-fights and assorted mayhem that was not very conductive to meetings.
Especially the sort of meeting they were holding.
“--down with Flaxseed! Down with Staghorn! And down with Brighthand!” shouted Cole Foxglove at the top of his lungs. The gathered workers applauded, while allowing Cole to refresh himself with a drink. As soon as he’d wetted his throat, he began speaking again. “We work, and they get rich! We wreck ourselves, and they build mansions. We die, and they flourish! Well, I’m sick of it! The Hands hold the City Thing! Now’s the time to act! NOW!”
The assembled men and women applauded, as Foxglove had said what they were all thinking. Now was definitely the time to do something. Exactly what that something should be was harder to figure out, but it clearly had to be some sort of something. After all, they’d been trying nothing for years, and it really wasn’t working out.
Cole gave a satisfied nod as the applause continued. Cole was not a handsome man, or a strong man. He was a lean, wiry man who’d aged before his time working at the flax looms, and then the matchstick factories. But something had taken root in him--a burning conviction that things were wrong, and that folk like him needed to do something about it.
The applause lasted for several minutes before ending. Indeed, one man kept applauding long after everyone else had stopped. “Excellent! Capital! Well put!” he shouted. “How do you intend to do it?”
Cole blinked and looked through the crowd. His questioner was standing on the edge of it, as if trying to keep out of sight. “We’ll make the bastards listen to us. The Thing’s on our side.”
“I don’t think you appreciate how bad your situation is,” said the questioner softly. “These men see you as bricks, and mortar. Material, to be bought and replaced as needed.” Cole saw him then--a young gentleman, in fine clothing, so conspicuously out of place here. “You cannot reason with these men, for they do not see you as having reason. You are things to them. A commodity.”
Cole stared at the young man for awhile. He had started to recognize this wealthy stranger as he spoke, and now Cole was sure. “Young Brighthand,” he said calmly. “Go crawl back to your father, and tell him we are not intimidated.”
Menadarb winced, especially as the crowd began to surround him, but remained standing. “I am not here on his behalf. I’m here on my own.” Menadarb bowed his unadorned head. “I’d like to help you.”
Cole glared at the young Erl. “We do not need help from the likes of you, Brighthand.”
Menadarb stepped forward, his expression almost eager. “I think you do.” He gulped, rubbed his hands together, then looked over the crowd. “They have weak spots. You just have to know what they are, and how to strike them. And I have some--ideas on that…”
The crowd looked to Cole for leadership. Menadarb’s comments were… confusing. They had a natural distrust for the people they worked for, one that was based on experience. Still, Menadarb sounded horribly sincere, and this could be very good for them. But if he wasn’t sincere, then it would be very bad for them. Worse then now, actually.
As he often did, Cole demonstrated why he was unofficially in charge by coming up with a good way to sum all these conflicting ideas. “Tell us why we should trust you?”
“You need me,” said Menadarb. “And I need you. If I ever want to have a good’s night sleep again. If I ever want to look in the mirror and not see something horrible. Then I have to help you.”
Cole nodded. “Don’t know if that’s the best answer,” he said. “But it’s a start.”