Gavin tried to ignore the screams and shouts of his family. They were beyond discontent with events, and were vocal in their displeasure. He focused on the papers on the desk. He had burned through considerable numbers of candles over the days while he compiled the list. Fortunately he still had a cadre of loyal retainers to deal with the captives and subdue any attempts at escape. The documents were completed, but it was prudent to double check the figures.
A knock at the study door drug his attention away from the work.
“Yes,” he called.
“Master Gavin, they have arrived, sir.” It was Timmons, the head butler. Much of the staff had already resigned or dismissed, walking away with more pay than they were due. Everyone was shocked that a family in distress would be so generous, but Master Gavin did have a reputation for generosity.
Gavin nodded, gathered up the papers, and exited the room. He squeezed Timmons shoulder companionably before heading to the stairs.
“Have you let them in yet, Timmons?”
“Yes, sir. I dispatched one of the boys to admit them.”
The susurrus of voices grew as they walked down the grand staircase. The collection committee were well-dressed, but their somber attire gave the notion of men in mourning. The city watch stood ready, although they seemed uncomfortable in the surroundings. Sir Balen was the head of the deputation and walked forward to shake Gavin’s hand.
“I apologize for this unhappy meeting,” he said.
“Fortunes can change quickly, Sir.” He produced the papers with line after line of neat script. The baronet took the sheaf in hand and read through the figures.
“You have been exact in these figures?”
Gavin nodded. “There are appraisals and the bottom of the stack with the values and minimum sale price. I erred on the side of caution to ensure there will be enough to cover the debts.”
There was a fresh round of screams and shouts from the upper floors. They must have realized that the collection men were in the house.
Gavin waved his arm and a number of servants, flanked with armed men approached. One set down a small table and, one by one, the others set down small chests for inspection. Several members of the committee approached with the tools of appraisers to examine the valuables in one chest after another. They were satisfied with every item presented.
Once the men had finished their work, Gavin gestured again and the chests were turned over to servants who had accompanied the committee. Balen had carefully checked items off the list he had been given. He had paused at one point to summon more watchmen and porters to cart off the larger items. Now they busied themselves with collecting tapestries, paintings, and other objects of art.
It took some time to pack everything away. When the last parcel was carried out, quite a few people sighed in resignation. None of them had been eager to fulfill this obligation. They had trouble meeting Gavin’s gaze. He felt better that they were despondent over stripping him of nearly everything of value belonging to his family.
“Gentlemen, this is distasteful business, but I thank all of you for your assistance in settling the debts. It warms my heart that we could arrive at sensible and orderly solutions.” He said this through the commotion that continued above their heads. “Well, some of us a re pleased with your assistance,” he added dryly.
There were nervous chuckles at this comment. Things may have gone differently had the rest of the family been involved. Gavin walked the group outside, saying his farewells and thanks to each in turn. After the last carriage rolled away, he deflated a bit, his shoulders sagging. Timmons stepped up and put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders, leading back inside.
“Now that it is over, let the family out of their rooms.”
Timmons nodded to the guards, and they proceeded up the stairs. Pandemonium exploded on the upper floors and a sudden rush of people down the stairs. Whereas the committee entered quietly and whispered as though attending a funeral, Gavin’s family rushed in like a tempest. They were all shouting together, completely ignorant of the growing number of guards that surrounded them.
Gavin stood calm in the face of their antics, patiently waiting for them to run out of air. When their hysterics dissolved into gasping rage, Gavin spoke calmly in the face of their wrath.
“All debts have been met, both the lost expedition and the price of your excess. Had you been less lavish we would not have been in these circumstances. As it is, the only thing left is to sell the mansion. That will give enough money for us all to start over. Assuming that none of you squander the money.”
The group collectively sucked in breath to start a new tirade, but Gavin made a gesture to his guards who hefted their spears and began to herd the mass towards the door. When they began to struggle, the spears were leveled and began to prod at them until all were ushered outside. More watchmen had arrived to maintain the peace and they began to collect the mob, ushering them into caged wagons.
The guards returned and locked the door behind them. They removed their helmets and the strain of dealing with the family for days showed on their faces.
“There is food and drink waiting for you in the banquet hall. Thank you for your efforts and get some rest.” The guards nodded in deference to their employer and shifted off to relax over dinner. Gavin turned and made his way back to the study. He felt the exhaustion of days of late nights bear down on him. He walked to the sideboard and poured a drink. One drink led to another until Gavin drifted off to uncomfortable sleep.
Persistent knocking eventually roused him, and he could hear Timmons calling out to his master. Gavin stood on trembling legs and stumbled to the door.
“Timmons,” he said, “you have a key. Why did you not simply enter?”
The older man visibly recoiled.
“Sir, the door was locked for your solitude. I wouldn’t make such an invasive intrusion!”
Gavin smiled. He knew the old man was not above listening at doors and bringing information to him and willing to bang on the door to avoid disturbing him. He didn’t know what he would do without the servant.
“I apologize if you were alarmed. I had too much to drink.” Gavin noticed that some of the guards had accompanied Timmons. He stepped aside and gestured for all of them to enter.
“Gentleman, I’m not certain how long I can continue to pay you. You will, of course, receive good references.”
One of the guards seemed to be the spokesman for the others. Hamath by name, he maintained a reputation for being a hard-drinking womanizer, but Gavin suspected there was something deeply worthy of the man and always came to his aid during legal troubles.
“Milord, we all have faith that you will rise again and we stand ready to support you.” The rest of the apparent deputation nodded their agreement.
Continuing, Hamath said, “We may take the odd job for coin, but we will be ready for your call.”
Gavin looked to Timmons, who nodded as well. “I will not forsake you, sir.”
Sighing, Gavin walked over to the side board and poured drinks for everyone. Timmons leapt up to distribute the drinks. The room was silent while they sipped their drinks, reflecting on the lost caravan. Everyone blamed themselves for the deaths and the financial damage. Finally, Gavin spoke.
“I’m not sure that there will be another venture. You surely know that these were not random attacks. Someone set out to break us and further ventures could meet the same end. I am not willing to rush forward and risk your lives cavalierly.”
“Then what will we do, Milord?” This came from Gran, named so because he is said to worry like an old woman.
“I have some plans, but we must wait for now. We must learn the truth and reclaim our reputation for steadfast behavior and success.”
“It was Rosskeen, was it not?” Hamath spoke softly as if he were afraid someone would fly off to reveal the accusation.
Gavin hesitated. “I am not inclined to make challenges without proof. I understand that there were survivors of the attack. We need to hear their stories. It is rumored that Oggy lives. If so, we desperately need him.” All heads nodded. Oggy may not be the most popular man among the company, but is known for reliability.
“In the meantime, I will live up to the part of the disgraced man and seek employment.”
Timmons snorted. “Sir, allow me to do that. You should not sully your hands.”
Laughing, Gavin held out his scarred and calloused hands.
“You forget, old friend, that I have never shied away from work. This is needed and it will be good for me to gain a greater sense of humility.”
They spoke until the sun rose and the drink ran out. Plans were made and loyalty endured.