4/18/1272 09:00 The Pennington Bank & Trust, Milford

Eighteen-year-old Eoin Pennington and his seventeen-year-old brother Manus started a bank in Milford because Lord Pim and his barons complained about having to go to Alsae sixty miles to the south and east to do financing. Last year, before the rebellion against the Duke of Pamhia gained steam, the Earl and all his barons pooled their funds into a bank proposed by a couple of carpet-bagging teenagers from Arklow who managed to marry their younger sister to Sean Kiribhane, the Earl’s second-born behind his hot-blooded older sister Lennabhair. Together, they financed some minor improvements around Milford: a bath house for the city’s unwashed and a leveling of the hill between the Comberton River and the eastern city wall.

Last month, Lord Kiribhane suddenly died, and his seventeen-year-old daughter Lennabhair suddenly became the Earl of Pim. Everything stopped.

So imagine the chagrin of the brothers when Her Highness Tania Alejandra Tsiarkeh, Duchess of Sáerglen and Princess of the Blood stepped into their shoebox of an office near the caravansary and asked for a nine o’ clock appointment with “you, your attornies, and your Earl.”

Manus, newly married to Milford socialite Nola Fletcher, hopelessly fiddles with his tie and collar. “Is this right?” he asks his older brother.

Eoin swats his younger brothers hands out of the way. “No, like THIS,” he says, tying a perfect full Windsor. A knock sounds at the front door. Manus, still fussing with his lapels, answers.

“Good morning, Young Master,” fifty-three-year-old Desmond Patton says with a smile. His suit and tie are immaculate, his mannerisms crisp and business-like.

“Come in, sir, come in!” Eoin says. “Thank you for the early appointment.”

“Never too early,” Desmond replies. On his heels, Lennabhair Kiribhane steps in, almost running into the middle-aged lawyer. The three gentlemen bow. Crimson-haired, stick-thin Lennabhair, unused to her fortnight-old title, curtsies.

The young Earl holds up the morning Milford Times broadsheet. The headline says it all:

Exiled Princess surfaces in Milford

“Where’s our illustrious guest?” Lennabhair, still dressed in her black mourning dress, asks.

“Behind you, pipsqueak,” Tania coldly says. “Why don’t all of you have a seat?”

Lennabhair turns and curtsies to the foreign Princess just a year her senior.Tania’s four ladies-in-waiting, all dressed in their finest gowns, follow. The ladies block the door.

Tania looks around, then down at the two young bankers. “You two are going to need a bigger, better vault,” she sneers.

“We’re doing the best we can, Your Highness,” Manus blurts.

“About that,” Tania says, then trails off. She turns to Desmond. “You must be the lawyer.” She presents her right hand for kissing. “From the Eoisle Tsiarkeh, I am thirdborn Princess of the Blood Tania, Duchess of Sáerglen. Pleased to meet you.”

Desmond kisses Tania’s hand. “You’re taller than I expected.”

Tania’s gaze turns frosty. “You’re off to a bad start, Patton,” she snaps. “Care to try again?”

Desmond snickers. The ladies-in-waiting cover their mouths to hide their giggles. “You’re more attractive than I’d been led to believe, Your Highness.”

“Better!” Tania says. She looks over at Lennabhair. “You’re the Earl?”

“Yeah,” Lennabhair replies. “Problem?”

“Not at all,” Tania says. “Mind if I call you ‘Red,’ Your Ladyship?”

“Yes,” she snaps. “Does that matter to you?”

“No,” Tania says.

“I’m out!” Lennabhair says. “You can all kiss ass to Miss Princess here, but I’m…”

Tania glares and snarls. She places her hand on Lennabhair’s breast bone and shoves her back down in the chair with surprising strength. “You’re done when I say you’re done, Red! Shut up, and you may learn something! Mouth off and I may be the new Earl of Pim!”

“Desmond!” Lennabhair protests.

“I’m not a law enforcement officer, Your Ladyship,” Desmond says. He turns his attention to Tania. “Could I persuade Her Highness to be a bit less brusque?”

“Mel,” Tania says. “Have the boys bring it in.”

“Aye!” Carmella replies. She turns and opens the door just enough to escape.

Tania looks at the irritated Earl. “We’re going to talk today about power, how to raise it and how to farm it. If everyone here follows my instructions, we can all make a very handsome profit.”

Carmella knocks.The ladies squeeze aside.The door opens.Tania’s freshly laundered outriders carry in one of the strongboxes. They place it on the floor in front of Tania with a grunt. Tania touches a charm on her wrist.The chest opens.

Inside the box are two-hundred Symphony Suite coins. In the worldwide currency of Turalynn, the Symphony Suite is the highest denomination that exists.It’s worth ten thousand Song. Tania has just opened a box with 2 million Song inside. It gets the attention of her audience.

“Red, do you think that hill is going to get leveled and built on by the time your great granddaughter is the Earl?” Tania says.

Lennabhair blushes. “I haven’t even thought about it.I haven’t even checked with the Penningtons to see how much I have in the bank.”

“From what the innkeeper told me, your late father returned to the Well last month,” Tania says. “This little settlement is on a war footing.Who are you fighting, and when do you anticipate they could get here?”

Lennabhair hides her face behind her hands. “Papa was one of the organizers of the rebellion against our Duke with Cailte Shryhane, the Earl of Raghaill next door.”

“If by next door you mean one hundred and forty miles away at the closest,” Tania says. “The entire duchy of Sáerglen is only two hundred and sixteen thousand square miles, primarily made up of plantations and ranches. I made enough with that and with some canny investing to have twenty more of those boxes in my wagon, and another thousand of them in a warehouse in Alsae with some priceless antiques of which I’m quite fond. I looked at a local map, and it looks like your county is about thirty-nine thousand square miles. So why are your eyes bugging? You ought to be worth about forty-three million.”

“I don’t know what our assets are,” Lennabhair whines. “I don’t know what our liabilities are. My father was supposed to train me on that stuff, but he got busy with the rebellion and then dropped dead of heart failure last month. Since I know these gentlemen, I think I can safely tell Her Highness I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“At least you’re honest,” Tania grins. “What would that chest do for you?”

“Are you kidding? I’d make payroll for a year on that, probably more! What’s the catch?” Lennabhair says.

“You pay it back, with a mere fifteen percent interest,” Tania says.

Lennabhair’s face becomes thoughtful. Manus interrupts the conversation. “Excuse me, Your Highness, but the Pennington finances at five percent.”

Tania turns to Manus. “Then you’re a fool,” Tania says. “Because the Pan-Imperial finances at twenty percent for our BEST clients. For a teenage Earl with no training, fifteen percent is about half of what she’d get quoted at the Pan-Imperial if they were feeling kindly disposed towards her. They’d demand her holdings as collateral, so if she defaults, bye bye to anything not held by a baron.”

Eoin whistles. Manus looks incredulously at Tania, then at Desmond. “Is that true, Master Patton?”

“Those are the terms,” Desmond says. “The actual rate someone like the Earl would pay is probably closer to forty percent. The Pan-Imperial specializes in putting distressed nobles in hock.”

“Precisely,” Tania says. “So how’s the other side handling the escalation?”

“I don’t know,” Lennabhair says.

“Do you think those barons and earls would beat down the door of this institution for a twenty percent rate if they could finance their entire escalation?” Tania asks.

Eoin and Manus look at each other, simultaneously coming to the same conclusion. Tania interrupts their smiling exchange.

“Here’s the rub,” Tania smugly says. “I’m willing to put almost all my holdings, two billion Song into this enterprise, but I want at least fifteen percent annual returns on it. And I have no stake in your revolt. I’ll loan to both sides.”

“What?” Lennabhair says.

“You heard me,” Tania says. “This is what my mother calls ‘economic warfare.’ When your side has to borrow, you want your opponent to have to borrow to match or exceed what his neighbor is building. And these two gentlemen,” she says, turning her gaze to Eoin and Manus, “working on a charter from this young lady,” she says, looking at Lennabhair, “will own those two borrowers. Why fight when you can ask the other side to sit out the war in exchange for a little longer term on their debt service? A service that they’ll be paying on for a lot longer than the useful life of those fortifications they’re building.”

“Is that even legal?” Eoin says.

“Legal?” Desmond says with a smile. “That’s what the Royals do: get you in debt, and then sideline you when your neighbor calls for help. I don’t suppose Her Highness needs a lawyer.”

“Always,” Tania says. “But you need to to work with these two gentlemen to create iron-clad loan contracts, ones that will stand up to your nation’s highest court.”

“I can do that in an afternoon,” Desmond says. “I have the Pan-Imperial contract from my townhouse in Alsae.”

“Red, there’s so much more you need to learn,” Tania says, shaking her head.

Lennabhair grimaces then bites her lower lip. “Would you… I mean…” she reaches towards Tania, but just as rapidly slaps her hand down. Her brow furrows. “Are you available to teach?”

A wicked grin slowly spreads across Tania’s face.Her eyes narrow. She asks the same question her late majordomo asked her when her lessons started. “Are you willing to work your butt off?”

“What if I say ‘no’?” Lennabhair says with a smirk.

“Then you’ve already failed,” Tania says.

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