Chapter 1 – Death and Taxes

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“You got it from who?!”


“They were going to torch the house, Vuldt!”


“So you borrow money from the Merchants’ Guild? That was your first idea?”


“What would you rather I do? Live on the street? Force Erik to work to death in some sweatshop?”


“Finding some actual work yourself would be a good start.”


“You know damn well they don’t let women work on the Zeppelins, and what the hell else is there to do around here that doesn’t pay a slave’s wage?”


“Then just what the hell will you do, Taniss? Sit and wait until the Guild comes for their money too?”


She shrugged in defeat; It wasn’t as though I had a solution in mind, however. Whether she realized it or not, she was deflecting my arguments as fast as I could deliver them. I disappeared from the dining room into the pantry and took inventory to deduce how long she had on a full stomach. She couldn’t have had more than two months, even on a frugal diet.


My sister was never renowned for her decision making skills, however I was dumbfounded at the fact that she’d already found herself in debt after her husband’s death, leaving her a pile of cash that should have lasted her at least until Erik could reach the workforce. I doubt that a coin of it was made through legal means, but most people didn’t ask these days. I remembered about four years ago when she ran off with a gang of bandits, only to come back to New Munich about half a year later with one of them, rings on their fingers. I rarely came around at the time; Didn’t have a good feeling about the husband, nor a good word to utter about him.


I had to feign surprise when she came to my doorstep, bawling over her husband being murdered in their own home by some old members of his “family”. While she bathed his blood off of a newborn Erik, I flagged down a town watchman to see if we couldn’t at least bring the perpetrators to justice. After refusing his attempt to extort me for more money than my own home was worth, he shouldered the mangled corpse, neither of them to ever be seen again by my own eyes. If her husband was even given a proper burial, her nor I could ever find a grave.


I stomped back into the kitchen, ancient floorboards under me groaning in protest.


“Why not see if that trade caravan needs extra hands?” I asked half-hopelessly.


“Left a week ago.” Taniss flatly replied.


I threw my arms up in clueless defeat again. “How much money, again?”I asked, fearful of whatever answer awaited.


“800 stahls.” My fear was well justified.


“When are they coming for it?” I asked again, standing up and avoiding comment on the amount owed that I knew would be nearly insurmountable by herself. Any layman could tell that the house was worth far less than that, but the Merchants’ Guild was never renowned for its friendly business practices.


“Two, three months maybe? I don’t know, Vuldt… I don’t know…” She smeared her hands down her face, dragging along what were probably tears with her palms. I was already halfway out the door.