Caer intercepted him as he was crossing the Great Hall, his face wry. Durban treated the new Castellan to a cheerful smile.
“So what is the bad smell in your nostrils?” he asked blithely, although it was not that hard to guess the likely cause.
“That whoreson, slave-begotten, bastard Keshalgis,” Caer snarled. “He has given me rooms beside the midden.”
Durban suppressed the desire to laugh and schooled his reluctant features into something that was almost outrage. He stepped forward and took the other man’s arm in a reassuring way and walked with him towards the stairs that led to his own assigned rooms.
“Caer, my friend,” he said confidingly, “I promise you that you will be moved to fitting quarters before the day’s end and you will have Keshalgis grovelling at your feet.”
Caer looked at him sharply.
“You know something? You have something on him?”
“I know enough about Vavasor Keshalgis to destroy him completely with the Warlord if you wish. Enough that you could sheath your sword in his guts with no come back should you want, but you might find it of more value to have him trained to walk to your heel.”
Caer was now looking at him speculatively.
“You can do this? You will do this, for me?”
Durban dazzled him with his sunniest smile.
“It is as good as done, my friend. Meanwhile, have your things taken to my rooms. I need to work.”
Durban sought out the Vavasor Keshalgis and found him in the stable yard considering the purchase of a new pony. It was, indeed, a magnificent beast. Even in full coat, the powerful lines of its musculature gave it a shape and grace most ponies could never aspire to. The Castellan’s nephew greeted Durban cheerfully enough and asked his opinion.
“I think it is a worthy mount for a Castellan,” Durban answered him, promptly. There was something in his tone that made Keshalgis look at him sharply.
“And for a Vavasor also,” he insisted.
“A Vavasor may do better to present gifts to their more fit setting and the more fit setting for a pony of this kind would be the stable of a Castellan.”
Keshalgis frowned now.
“My uncle is an old man who does not ride much and when he does it is on the most placid of ponies. Why should I purchase such a fine mount for him?”
“I was not thinking of your uncle,” Durban told him. Keshalgis stepped away from the pony then, his attention now totally upon Durban. But then Keshalgis was an intelligent man.
“What are you trying to say?” he asked almost angrily, but his tone pitched low enough only to reach Durban’s ears.
Durban smiled at him benignly.
“I was just thinking where the wealth to purchase such a fine mount came from,” he said smoothly and the Castellan’s nephew paled. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am all for private enterprise and taking the initiative in such matters, but not everyone is so appreciative. I think, for example, that should the Warlord find your family had withheld part of the purchase price Bazath paid you for the Kashlihk, he might not be so understanding. After all, it was supposed to be part of the indemnity you gave to keep Tabruth, was it not?”
The chill of realisation froze on the other man’s face, Durban let the intelligent mind unfreeze and start thinking again before he spoke further.
“This pony would be an excellent gift for the Castellan of Cressida,” he said cheerfully, “and I was thinking you could offer him your own suite of rooms in the castle as long as he is resident here. It would also be a good idea if you were to ensure that the Honoured One is well attended by you in whatever he might require.”
Keshalgis looked as though he was going to choke.
“You are a bastard, Chola,” he hissed coldly. “You should watch your back. Tabruth is not going to be a safe place for you after this.”
Durban met the venom with his sunniest smile.
“I am sure the streets of Tabruth will be well patrolled by the Warlord’s men,” he said, “if the men of Tabruth can’t keep their own streets safe.”