Mansemat smacked his lips and wondered when they'd feel normal again. He gave himself another mental kick. He'd known the tea was much too hot, but had gulped it down anyway, and then managed to spill it on his mouth as he jerked the cup away.
Viviane glanced at him. "Do you want me to...?"
"I'll be fine," said Mansemat. "Just fine. It's really not worth bothering."
"Yeah, well, I don't want you doing that all through the meeting," she said. "It's really annoying. And it makes you look kind of like an idiot."
Mansemat considered noting that he never talked about her tapping her fingers on tables during meetings, but realized that was a self-nullifying statement, and said nothing. Instead, he allowed himself to scowl, something that continued as Mayor Corin Latheawl entered. As the big bluff face was also scowling, Mansemat immediately tried to put on a more pleasant face.
He disliked making bad situations worse. It brought back bad memories from his youth. "Mayor Latheawl," began Mansemat. "It is good to see..."
The man continued to frown as he took his seat. "If that is your opinion, it will soon change," he said. He stared at the Dark Lords flatly. "Marsilion's Folly cannot pay for this war indefinitely, Your Magnificences. We are forced to refuse your request for an increase on the salt tax."
Viviane blinked. "Wow. You don't pull punches."
"That's why I was elected mayor of the Folly. Twice," replied Latheawl. "As the Black Caps will tell you, I'm not a man to be trifled with."
"And we will not do this," said Mansemat trying hard to smile. "We respect you, Mayor, respect you greatly and..."
Corin glanced around. "Where is Lord Nisrioch?"
"Elsewhere," said Viviane quietly.
Latheawl sighed. "A pity. He is well-versed in local matters."
Mansemat considered pointing out that he regularly appeared in his chains of office to discuss just that, but decided against it. Instead he fidgeted nervously, and glanced at the door, hoping for a knock.
When it came, he had a sinking feeling he shouldn't have made the wish.