After a swift apology, so swift that the princess had no time to react, Brown dragged Leo by the collar upstairs. He threw Leo into the last room at the end of a narrow corridor where Count D’Amore would sometimes rent to make love with his mistresses.
The room was built with master-grade insulation walls. As the designer of this room, Leo knew all too well no one on the outside would hear him even if he burst his lung screaming.
“Ye don’t like women. Fine! But I want to do business here and ye will not upset my royal patron with that potty mouth of yer. Got it?”
The inventor timidly nodded. This burly bartender would twist his arm and pull his teeth for real if he answered otherwise. After that, Brown put in Leo’s hand ten black iron coins and squeezed Leo’s hand between his oversized palms.
“Here’s ten braum, Leo. Pretend yer a humble servant and they are yer. I locked the door already so no one but I, ye, and she would know,” Brown said with a cunning grin.
When they returned to the counter, Leo was a changed man. He knelt down in front of the princess, bowed his head and addressed her in the most courteous language he could offer.
“Your most gracious and most magnificent Highness, please pardon my rudeness. Your humble servant deserves a hundred deaths but your humble servant needs to live so that he can fulfill your most noble demands…”
“Mr. Brown,” the princess uttered, “Who is this person!?”
“That would be one pris, Yer Highness, and yer most welcome,” the bartender grinned.
Leo threw the man a glare and received a glare worth ten daggers in return. He stiffened and watched in silence as the princess put a single tampered steel coin worth twenty braum on the counter.
The bartender smoothly whisked the coin away, gave her a thankful nod, and retreated to the other end of the counter, where he kept wiping the frying pan in meaningless motions over and over again while throwing death glares at Leo.
In the end, it was the princess who set the tone of the conversation.
“I’ve been thinking, inventor. Have you tried grafting?” she asked.
Leo paused to think about the suggestion and replied:
“That can work. I have never tried grafting before but I’ll look into it.”
The princes nodded. She pushed herself to her feet and concluded:
“That settles it then! If nothing else, I’ll send someone to watch your back while you work for me. Do you still live in that lumber mill in West Rufus?”
“Yes, Your Highness. But, I plan to spend this moon at Steve’s. I have reasons to believe tonight’s meeting will be a long one and I would like to avoid traveling while half-asleep. Of course, if Your Highness so to command, your humble servant would peel his eyes and be there before the moon turned,” he informed.
The princess nodded understandingly.
“There is no need for that. I shall make the necessary arrangements to ensure your utmost safety,” she said.
“Your humble servant is unworthy, o benevolent Highness,” he cheered and bowed his head.
She seemed to enjoy his humble servant persona more than his usual self. He figured it would be wise to continue addressing her as a princess than a fellow councilor until he could sort out the critical matter: the council votes she promised.
“One more thing, Your Highness…May I ascertain your blessing in front of the great council? Can your humble servant expect your full and complete support as the virtuous priestess, the gracious princess, and the wise masters?” he asked.
She addressed him as a peer, which was an upgrade from “a loser who has no woman, pet, or even a horse”, and the expression she made was that of utmost delight.
“Have faith, inventor! I’ll devote all my votes to your motion. Remember, one motion only, no more. Think carefully about it. It can be anything you wish but I give you no guarantee the rest of the council will follow.”
She gave him the most generous terms imaginable with the only check being the other councilors, which practically meant no check at all from the princess.
His curiosity was killing him. He wanted to talk to the count as soon as he could; to ask him what he had done to put her in this desperate situation. But, Leo knew better than to show his hand to the princess. He put on a surprised reaction and gave the princess a nod.
“You are too kind, Your Highness. That’s all your humble servant needs to know for now,” he said.
“Then you’re dismissed,” the princess said.
He stood up and returned to his seat at the counter while the princess smiled and turned her eyes toward the bartender.
Brown responded with a hearty thumb up and a wide grin. He invited her to come again.
“Feel free to hire me if this idiot misbehaves again,” the burly bartender offered while pointing the frying pan at Leo.
The inventor sighed, touched his bag of coins, and ordered a bottle of mead and an omelet; the kind of luxury he could rarely indulge in. He rummaged the trash bin where the princess had sat after the baron left the counter to fulfill his new order. In there he found a silky white and slightly moist handkerchief belonged to the princess.
He smiled to himself and put the cloth in a concealed pocket in his coin bag…