The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.


42. Texts and Pretexts

Doctor Grey was attending the Regent to advise him.

“It’s a difficult situation. The merchants want more political reforms, and if we give in to them, the nobles will be greatly aggrieved. It would move things in the direction we wanted, but I don’t know if we can move so quickly, this soon after disappointing their hopes for a restored monarchy.”

He thought in silence for a few seconds, while Willem waited, having nothing much to contribute himself.

“The nobles are always going to be, or at least feel themselves to be, aggrieved by change. But if they are upset about another matter first, perhaps we can get them to demand that something be done about it. Demanding that something be done is how people who fear change open the door to it. Then we give them what we wanted all along. I regret that you may have to play the villain again, Willem.”

“I am used to it by now.”

“Then we will need to find some pretext to upset the lords. I had nothing prepared for this year, so we may have to improvise. I wish the merchants would stay out of foreign policy in the meantime, and it’s not being made any easier by interference from that terrible child.”

That terrible child being of course Celandine.

“But why would our merchants side with her against their own countrymen?”

“Willem, it’s not such a bad thing if they do. Loyalty to king and country, or in this case just country, is an absolute. It demands complete obedience, and disobedience is treason. Decisions based on such fictional absolutes are liable to go to one extreme or another. Awful things are done for very weak reasons when there is no middle ground, no cautious acceptance or tentative disagreement. Whereas, to the merchants, loyalty is first and last to their own interests. Their decisions are partial, fractional, measured on a sliding scale. They operate on the margins of a copper more here or a copper less there on the price of a sack of grain. They adapt daily. And they are never unanimous. That is their most attractive feature: you can’t make them all do something, but you can always arrange things so that for some of them, it’s worth their while.”

Willem shook his head and shrugged.

“You have explained this to me before. A king would say it was beneath him and just command you to go and make it all work out. As a regent, I must admit it is above me. It flies right over my head and out the window. The end result is the same, except instead of commanding you, I beg that you will go and make it all work out.”

“I probably will, somehow. You know we are working to the same ends, more or less, Celandine and I. We both agree that trade is better than war, that progress is worth risking a little stability and sacrificing a few traditions. But she pushes so hard, and is so satisfied with her own cleverness. She wants to drag a country ten times the size of our own ten times as fast along this path. Well, maybe she of all people can, but I prefer a little more caution.”

He finished his wine.

“I think sometimes I was careless to reply to her first letter without thinking of the consequences. You can generally anticipate what someone will do provided they are not as clever as you. If they are much cleverer, all you know for sure is that one day they’ll do something you didn’t anticipate, and it will be trouble.”

Willem grinned. “So I have observed. But I don’t know what I’d do without you, so I put up with it.”

A servant approached.

“Your pardon, if it please my Lord Regent. Letter for the Regent Counsel.”


“I don’t know. The handwriting on the address is very bad. Childish.”

Doctor Grey looked taken aback.

“Not another child genius I hope. Let me see that; ah no, I see. This appears to be Justin’s hand.”

“Justin?” asked Willem.

“One of the badger survey, as was.” Doctor Grey dismissed the servant and opened the letter. “I must admit I wasn’t expecting to hear from him again. Certainly not in writing. Let’s see what he wants.”

To Doctor Grey

Crown Offis


Last Survey Notes

I have found where the grulus comes from. It is made of slime out of the dirt under pine forests. Bern was having his men dig it. I killed 2 more of Berns men, but you can only hang a man once anyway, so I says if you dont like it you can go fuck yerself.

Justin Brock



“Astonishing.” Doctor Grey read the note a few times more, looking thoughtful.

“Well, what does he want?”

“Dignity, and spelling lessons. I think I know how we may safely antagonise several of the lords and cause them to ask for your powers to be limited. I wonder, my Regent, if we could maybe arrange a royal pardon for this man?”

“What did he do?”

“He killed Lord Bern and I think four, or now possibly six, of his men.”

Willem looked doubtful.

“I don’t like to encourage that kind of behaviour. What did he do to earn a pardon?”

“That, actually. But it would be politically impossible to give him one for it. That would be a step too far. However it seems he may have helped save our civilisation from a monstrous threat to its very existence. Hmm. He also tells me to go fuck myself.”

“Oh, indeed?” Willem chuckled. “Perhaps some kind of medal too, then.”

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