House of Qwentyn,
City of Siddar,
Republic of Siddarmark

“It seems we’re all present, gentlemen. Please, be seated.”
The half-dozen men in the private dining room looked up as one when their host stepped through the expensive, paneled door and smiled at them. Answering smiles were notable for their absence.

If the immaculately groomed, silver-haired man was perturbed by the taut expressions of his guests, he allowed no sign of it to cross his own face. He simply stepped forward, with the assurance that went with both his age and his stature within the Siddarmarkian business community.
His name was Tymahn Qwentyn, and he was probably the wealthiest private citizen in the entire Republic of Siddarmark. At seventy-three years of age (sixty-six in the years of Old Earth, although no one in Siddarmark was even aware that a place called “Old Earth” had ever existed) he remained vigorous and actively engaged. It was said, not without reason, that there was not a business transaction in all of Siddarmark which didn’t have a Qwentyn involved in it somewhere, and Tymahn was the acknowledged patriarch of the world-spanning family business. He was one of the Lord Protector’s intimates and a financial adviser to dukes, princes, kings, and vicars. He knew everyone, everywhere, and he had built a lifetime reputation as a man who’s word could be trusted and whose enmity was to be feared.
When Tymahn Qwentyn issued a dinner invitation, it was accepted. Even if some of the individuals on the guest list were more than a little anxious about just what he might have in mind. This evening’s invitees strongly suspected the reason they’d been called together, and there was a general air of nervousness as they waited to find out if their suspicions were accurate.
“Thank you all for coming,” Qwentyn said, exactly as if there’d been any probability that they might not have. “I’m sure that in these times of uncertainty, all of us can appreciate the necessity for men of goodwill to extend the hand of friendship to one another,” he continued. “Especially when the well-being of so many other people depends upon the decisions those men of goodwill make.”
The tension ratcheted slightly higher, and he smiled as if he both sensed their increased anxiety and was amused by it.
“I’m quite confident that all of us know one another,” he said, seating himself at the head of the table. “That being the case, I see no particular need for introductions.”
One or two heads nodded in agreement. Most of them did, in fact, know one another, but there were definitely times when official anonymity was greatly to be desired.
“I’ll come directly to the point, gentlemen,” Clyntahn continued. “I invited you here not simply in my private capacity as a senior stockholder in the House of Qwentyn, but also as a concerned citizen of the Republic. I have concerns of my own, obviously, but I have also been the recipient of certain statements of anxiety from other citizens, both within and without the government. Obviously, those anxieties have been expressed as one private individual speaking to another private individual, so please do not make the mistake of assuming that this meeting bears any particular official . . . stamp of approval, as it were.”
No one bothered to nod this time. Despite any qualifications he might voice for the record, Tymahn Qwentyn did not mention contacts with anyone “within and without the government” unless he was, in fact, speaking for that government. Or, at least, for those with very powerful interests within it. And given his close personal relationship with the Lord Protector, the chance that he would even consider acting against Greyghor Stohnar’s expressed desires was effectively nonexistent.
The only question in the minds of his guests was not whether or not he was being used as a sub rosa conduit by the Lord Protector, but rather exactly what it was that Stohnar wanted to tell them.
“Recent events both here in the Republic and elsewhere,” Qwentyn continued after a moment, “have resulted in extraordinary dislocations of business and finance. I’m certain all of you have experienced some of the dislocations to which I refer. And, as myself, I feel certain, you’re deeply distressed by the open schism between the Kingdom of Charis — excuse me, the Empire of Charis — and the Knights of the Temple Lands. In a time rife with so much uncertainty, it becomes inevitable that markets will be depressed, that trade will be dislocated and businesses will falter, and that some of those businesses will fail, with disastrous consequences not simply for their owners and shareholders, but also for those who depend upon them as a means to earn their own livelihood.
“While I feel confident none of us would dispute the Knights of the Temple Lands’ right to formulate their own foreign policy as they see best, or contest the will of the Grand Inquisitor when he acts to protect all of us from potential heresy and spiritual contamination, we may, perhaps, be aware of certain consequences of those decisions which have not occurred to those charged with making them. In particular, the decision to ban all Charisian-flag merchant vessels from the ports of the Republic — and, for that matter, of every other mainland port — is already producing business failures. At the moment, that’s largely due to the panic effect, but the consequences — the ultimate consequences — will be only too real. To be blunt, the collapse of more than a few trading houses would appear to be imminent, and if and when those houses fail, their collapse will be like stones dropped into pools of water. Ripples of additional failure will sweep outward from them, crossing and crisscrossing with potentially disastrous effects which will know no limitations of flag or border.”
He paused, and four of his guests very carefully did not look at the remaining two. Silence lingered for several minutes, and then one of the men no one else was looking at cleared his throat.
“No doubt your analysis is as accurate and pertinent as always, Master Qwentyn,” he said with a pronounced Charisian accent. “And I trust you’ll forgive me if I might seem to be getting ahead of events, or perhaps even appear to be putting words into your mouth. But may we assume that one of the reasons for your invitation this evening is to discuss ways in which those unfortunate repercussions could be . . . ameliorated?”
“In a manner of speaking, certainly,” Qwentyn replied. Then he leaned back in his chair, folding his hands before him on the tabletop, and smiled almost whimsically. “Obviously, the spiritual well-being of the Church’s flock must be the first responsibility and concern of the Grand Inquisitor. No one could possibly dispute that fact. Nonetheless, there have been occasions in the history of the . . . Knights of the Temple Lands when their policies have required the interpolation of those outside the Temple Lands if their true objectives were to be accomplished. Several people I’ve spoken to over the last few five-days are of the opinion that it’s at least possible this may be another of those occasions.”