He shrugged irritably, his mood obviously darkening, and Ironhill frowned.


            "I've known you a long time, Ehdwyrd," he said. "Would you like to tell me exactly why you've got a spider rat up your leg tonight?"


            Howsmyn looked at him again, and then, as if against his will, laughed.


            "You have known me a long time, haven't you?"


            "I believe I just made that same observation myself," Ironhill said with a patient air. "And you still haven't answered my question."


            "It's just –"


            Howsmyn broke off for a moment, then sighed heavily.


            "It's just that I'm beginning to find myself in agreement with Bynzhamyn where the Temple Loyalists are concerned."


            "What?" Ironhill didn't quite blink, despite the apparent non sequitur.       "They've burned down the Royal College, they've attempted to murder the Archbishop in his own cathedral, and they're tacking printed broadsides denouncing the 'schismatics' and calling on 'all loyal sons of the true Church' to resist by any means necessary on walls all over the city," Howsmyn replied, his voice harsh. "I understand that the King and the Archbishop are leaning over backwards to avoid outright repression, but I think they may be taking it too far."


            "I don't know that I disagree with you," Ironhill said. "I see the King's point, on the other hand, and I think he's entirely right when he says we can't afford to tar every single person who opposes the schism with the same brush. If we do that, we'll only succeed in driving the law-abiding members of the Temple Loyalists into the arms of the sort of people who like to play with knives, or the ones who burned down the College. None of which gives me a clue as to why you're bringing that up at this particular moment. Did you eat something for supper that disagreed with you, Ehdwyrd?"


            "What?" Howsmyn looked at him sharply, then snorted in amusement. "No, of course not."


            "That's good. I was afraid it might be bellyache talking, and I was considering calling a healer to induce vomiting."


            "You can be a rather crude fellow at such a highbrow gathering, can't you?" Howsmyn chuckled.


            "One of the advantages of being born into the nobility, even if I am only a baron. Now, are you going to explain just what all of these cryptic utterances of yours are about?"


            "I guess it's just the guest list." Howsmyn shrugged. "I know there are rules about who has to be invited to something like this, but, damn it, Ahlvyno, it's time we drew a line and told the Temple Loyalists and their sympathizers that they aren't welcome guests here in the Palace anymore."


            Ironhill felt his eyebrows arching again and turned to consider the crowd around the king and queen more closely. He could see several members of the nobility who'd expressed at least some reservations about the Church of Charis, but none of them had been particularly vociferous about it. For that matter, almost none of the Charisian nobility had opposed King Cayleb's and Archbishop Maikel's decisions. Not openly, at least.


            "Who are you talking about, Ehdwyrd?" he asked quietly after a moment.


            "What?" From Howsmyn's expression, Ironhill's question had taken him completely by surprise.


            "Obviously someone over there near the King has you seriously worried, or at least pissed off. Who is it?"


            "You're joking . . . aren't you?"


            "No, I'm not. Who are you so worried about?"


            "Well, I don't know that I'd say I was worried about him," Howsmyn said a bit more slowly. "Pissed off, now — that would sum it up quite nicely."


            Ironhill gave him an exasperated look, and he shrugged just a bit sheepishly.


            "Sorry. And in answer to your question, the person I'm pissed off at is Traivyr Kairee."


            Understanding dawned in Ironhill's eyes, and he shook his head.


            "Ehdwyrd, I know you and Rhaiyan both hate Kairee. For that matter, I'm not too fond of him myself. But he is one of the dozen or so wealthiest men in the Kingdom. Not up to your weight, perhaps, or to Rhaiyan's, but, then, you two tend to be in a class by yourselves. He's certainly wealthy enough to put him on that 'have-to-invite' list of yours, though. And he's connected by marriage to something like a quarter of the peerage, as well."


            "He's a moneygrubbing bastard," Howsmyn said flatly. "He doesn't give a solitary damn about the men and women working for him, and his idea of trade is to produce his product as cheaply and as poorly as he can get away with and sell it for the most he can squeeze out of his customers. I wouldn't trust him to look after my dog for me while I was out of town for an afternoon."


            Ironhill's eyebrows went up yet again at the cold, bitter loathing in Howsmyn's voice. He'd known about the bad blood between Traivyr Kairee and Ehdwyrd Houseman for years, of course. Everyone in Tellesberg knew about that. But this was a new level of hostility, and it worried him.


            "What's brought this on just now?" he asked, turning to look back at the crowd around the king and queen.


            Kairee seemed to be keeping his distance from the royal pair, the baron noticed. He was part of the crowd clustered around them, but he'd settled for the outer fringes of that crowd, where he stood in conversation with a handful of others. Several other wealthy Tellesberg businessman were clustered around him, and they'd done their best to shanghai several of the more senior Chisholmians who'd accompanied Sharleyan to Charis. From the look of them they were busy trying to impress the visitors with what desirable avenues of investment their businesses represented. One or two of the Chisholmians, including the queen's uncle, looked as if they would vastly have preferred being somewhere else, but good manners precluded them from simply brushing the Charisians off.


            "I suppose most of it's coming from the 'accident' in his manufactory this morning," Howsmyn conceded.


            "What sort of accident?" Ironhill turned back to his friend, and Houseman's lips twisted in disgust.


            "The sort of accident someone like him attracts like a lodestone draws iron filings. He doesn't train his people properly, he doesn't worry about the dangers of the machinery around them, and he prefers 'hiring' children because he can get them so much more cheaply. And he managed to get three of them killed today. A pair of brothers — ten and eleven, if you please — and their fourteen-year-old cousin who tried to get them out of the shafting."


            "I hadn't heard about that," Ironhill said quietly.


            "And the odds are that you wouldn't have, if you and I weren't having this conversation," Howsmyn replied bitterly. "After all, he's scarcely the only one who uses children, now is he? That's exactly why Rhaiyan and I fought so hard to get the laws against hiring children through the Council. And why we were both so unhappy about delaying their effective date to provide an 'adjustment period.'"