Chapter Twenty-Nine

Aelon's Chambers, Red Keep


"I am indeed glad to hear that Jon acquitted himself well at Eastwood," said a pleased Walton Errol as he poured Aelon a cup of wine.

"It was my pleasure to have him as my ward, no matter how briefly," replied Aelon accepting the cup from the Justiciar.

"He has always had nothing but good things to say about his time in Eastwood. He misses your sons dearly."

"Aye,' chuckled Aelon, "they were a handful and a half. Those three were inseparable. Always up to some or the other mischief. Drove my wife and I spare."

"I can only imagine," replied Walton, "perhaps your sons may visit him at Haystack Hall from time to time."

"Aethan may be able to. Unfortunately Edwell, my heir, is to begin his fosterage at Storm's End upon my return to Eastwood. He was meant to begin earlier, but with Ser Garon still rebuilding his household in Storm's End and with reconstruction ongoing in Eastwood, I felt it wiser to have him remain for a time in Eastwood to observe and learn."

It had been a tough decision for Aelon, as to whether or not to expose his sons to the horrors of the world. Edwell and Aethan were eight and seven namedays old respectively. Boys even by Westerosi standards. And the modern man within Aelon revolted at the idea of exposing his boys to the harshness of reality. But this was the way of Westeros. Boys became men at a young age. And Aelon would rather they learn of death and destruction in the safety of Eastwood than on some battlefield.

"A wise decision, my Lord. I had heard from my Lord Father of Ser Garon's acceptance of your heir as your ward. To be fostered at Storm's End alongside the future Lord Paramount is no insignificant honour."

Aelon nodded politely at that, offering him no further information. Walton may be Adam's heir, but Aelon could hardly bring himself to trust a man who had spent the past decade in the pit of vipers that was King's Landing. There was no doubt that Walton played a crucial role here, representing the interests of House Errol, and recently House Eastwood and Tarth as well.

"Tell me more of these additional petitions filed by Lord Darklyn," probed Aelon eventually, bringing an end to the small talk and jumping directly into the meat of the matter.

The Heir of Haystack Hall grimaced. Setting down his cup, he took a seat at his desk opposite Aelon, and replied, "As you recall, initially the Darklyns had filed a petition with the Commercial Court of Disputes-"

"Which you preside over?" interrupted Aelon.

"Indeed, Lord Eastwood. They had claimed that by exporting whisky to Braavos without royal sanction, the Eastwood-Tarth Trading Company was in violation of certain royal decrees. You are aware of these I am sure?"

"I was not at the time, but I am now."

"Indeed," replied Walton, "As House Errol and Eastwood are bound through blood and bond, I felt that my judgement may be compromised and hence I referred the petition to the Master of Laws, Lord Rodrik Arryn."

"And at that point Lord Arryn proposed that the Grafton's books were muddied and requested my accounts to tally against so that he could censure them for withholding taxes and give him cause to take over distributorship of Eastwood Whisky," finished Aelon.

"He was not as explicit in his statements," replied Walton, "but yes, that was his intent."

"That still does not explain why there is a fresh petition filed by the Darklyns with the offices of the Master of Coin requesting that Eastwood Whisky be classified as a premium luxury product and taxes accordingly," Aelon asked pointedly.

"That's where matters get more complicated," replied Walton, an almost smug smile tinging his features.

"Colour me curious, Ser Walton."

"I did some investigating after the first petition was filed in my court. Spoke to the barrister who represents the Darklyns. After some convincing, he informed me that the Darklyns never expected the petition to succeed. The objective was twofold. They had hoped that I would dismiss the matter in my own capacity, which they would then appeal to the Master of Laws. An appeal that would have more likely than not been successful," explained Walton, the reason behind his smugness now evident.

"Consequently, with the matter already tainted by my actions, and with the Lord of the Vale having previous dealings with the Darklyns, they expected that although the petition would undoubtedly fail due to the lack of legal substance, they would at least receive interim relief for a period of a few turns of the moon, during which time your ships would not be able to dock in King's Landing and you would be cut off from the Crownlands markets."

Aelon was impressed. It seemed that Walton knew how to play the game.

"But with the Borys's attempt at usurpation, and with the King's own intervention, no court in King's Landing would behove you for your inability to travel to King's Landing and make your representation. And granting any order, interim or not, against a noble house, without offering representation, and that too under such circumstances, is not something even the Master of Laws would risk," finished the Justiciar with a satisfied smile on his face.

"That explains a lot," replied Aelon, but one particular statement stood out to him, "and I have a few questions if you do not mind."

Walton nodded at him.

Aelon continued, "You said that the source of the Darklyns' confidence was that they had previous dealings with Lord Arryn. What exactly are these dealings that you refer to?"

Walton paused for a bit, his brow furrowed as he considered his response, "To be honest Lord Aelon, that one had me puzzled as well. I had no idea about any dealings the Darklyns have with House Arryn prior to this incident. So I did some digging myself."

"And what did you find?"

"There exists almost no trade between Duskendale and House Arryn personally. The Darklyns do trade with Gulltown, but nothing so spectacular as to attract the Lord of the Vale's attention. What did catch my eye though was that a couple of turns of the moon prior to the petition being filed in my court, Lords Darklyn and Arryn had several meetings at the former's manse in the city."

"In Lord Darklyn's manse? Not the offices of the Master of Laws?" asked a concerned Aelon.

"Indeed," affirmed the Errol.

"That is concerning. And you are certain of this information?" asked Aelon.

Walton smirked, "The information broker who procured the information is one of the best in the city."

In a city where secrecy and lies were the greatest of trades, information was the currency. Aelon knew that information brokers like the one Walton had used were some of the best spies Westeros had to offer.

"I should like to meet with this broker. Tomorrow, if possible."

"I shall see it arranged."

"Good. Now moving on. I am assuming that since the petition with Lord Arryn did not yield the fruit they had hoped for, the new petition to have Eastwood Whisky classified as a premium luxury good is Darklyn's newest ploy?" asked Aelon, his expression of disdain mirroring the tone of his voice.

"Indeed. And it's a smart one at that. Due to your own efforts, whisky is classified as a semi luxury good in the Stormlands. But in the Crownlands, it is still a grey area. As no one cared earlier, I had seen it classified the same here as well. The Darklyns are trying to change that."

"And since the tax is only levied on imports, it won't affect the Darklyn's swill of a whisky as it is produced within the Crownlands," replied Aelon, realisation dawning on him.

The older man nodded, "That is correct. And there is merit in classifying Eastwood Whisky as a luxury product. Not the red or silver label, but perhaps the Gold Label."

"That's not good. And do the Darklyns possess influence in the offices of the Master of Coin?" asked Aelon.

Walton's expression was grim, "The Darklyns have influence everywhere in King's Landing."

"Surely you exaggerate?"

"I assure you, I do not. House Darklyn is the richest and most powerful house in the Crownlands after the Crown itself. They have deep roots in the kingdom, going back hundreds of years. The Darklyns may have supported Maegor, and that did hurt their influence, and that is perhaps the only reason that your whisky became as popular in the Crownlands all those years ago. If you had begun your venture even a few years later, when Maegor was no longer as fresh in the nobility's mind and Lord Rogar was not Hand, I doubt that you would have had the same success."

Aelon leaned back in his chair at that, groaning in frustration. First it was Buckler, then a devastating winter, the damned Shivers and then Borys (along with Buckler and his bloc). And now finally the fucking Darklyns. It was like he was jumping from one crisis to another.

"Fuck my life. It seems that there is much to be accomplished in King's Landing."

"Indeed, Lord Eastwood," replied a grim Walton Errol, "and that's not even taking into account your presentation of concrete to the King."

"Very well, first things first," said Aelon, as he rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, "I want to meet that information broker of yours."

The planning begins.

A few days later

Master of Laws Solar, Red Keep

The sound of a throat being cleared startled me. Turning my gaze towards the sound I was met with the piercing gaze of one who appeared far too young to wield it. As much as that may seem rich coming from me, who had been running a lordship since the age of twelve, there were extenuating circumstances surrounding me that I assume weren't present within the other.

Bowing my head I spoke, "Lord Arryn, it's a pleasure to finally meet you."

He ushered me into his solar. The walk to this particular room had been interesting and almost certainly a small power play on Rodrik's part. It was a particularly prestigious area; decorated with all manner of riches. Vast tapestries and expensive rugs left you certain that whomever was at the end of the walk was important.

"Please be seated Lord Aelon. Might I interest you in some wine?" The young Master of Laws waved aloft a half-full pitcher of wine with a grin.

Considering the time, the sun long since passed its zenith, I answer affirmatively, "Yes please, my lord. That would be most appreciated."

Walking forwards, I slid into the chair opposite him. The comfortable oak and leather chair was soothing after so long standing up. As it happens, if one wished to meet with the small council member they were in for a rather long wait. Aelon had only suffered perhaps half an hour of such before being called into the chamber.

The Warden of the East was a very young man. At eight and ten namedays, was the youngest man to ever take a seat on the Small Council. And he had taken office three years ago. It was a testament to his skill that he had not only held his position since then, but in fact thrived in it. In the short time since he had replaced Albin Massey, he had firmly established himself as a major player in King's Landing's circles of intrigue.

And even aside from that, while Albin Massey had been the one to codify the various laws and practices of the Seven Kingdoms into a single book of laws, it was Rodrik Arryn who was the one who was seeing to the execution of the same across the realm. It was not an easy task, getting old, cantankerous lords from across the realm to agree to a new set of laws. And yet from what Aelon could surmise, Rodrik Arryn was doing an excellent job.

With his sandy blonde hair and sharp blue eyes, Rodrik had the typical Arryn look. But with a blunt jaw, a rather large nose and heavy set chin, he was no Prince Charming. Oh he was not ugly. But his features were just average.

He seemed like a charming man, but Aelon was no fool, he knew that below the exterior, lay a sharp and dangerous mind. The past few days had made that abundantly clear.

"I must say Lord Eastwood. I have been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time now," started the young Lord.

"And I you, Lord Arryn. It is not everyday after all that a minor lordling from the Stormlands is called upon by the Master of Laws," replied Aelon humbly.

"You are many things, Aelon Eastwood. But a minor lordling you are most definitely not. I have been keeping my eye on Eastwood since I took my first sip of your whisky a few years ago, and I must say, your rise his been nothing short of meteoric," praised the Lord of the Vale.

"Lady Luck has shown me her favour and the Gods have been kind," replied Aelon cautiously. While Rodrik seemed friendly and jovial, Aelon himself remained pleasantly cordial and humble, as he hoped the Master of Coin would expect from a lord most definitely not his equal.

"You are too humble for your own good Lord Aelon. You might find that in King's Landing, that may not be the best thing," Rodrik's voice was still jovial and friendly, but the cautionary undertone was not lost on Aelon.

"I shall take your advice to heart then Lord Arryn. I am of course very new to the politics of King's Landing," the Lord of Eastwood finished with a bow of his head.

The Master of Laws assessed him sharply at that, for an instant, Aelon detected a glint of something in his eyes, but then his demeanour flipped and he was boisterous again, "Regardless of circumstances, I am indeed glad to have you here finally. I heard tales of the conflict over succession in the Stormlands, and that your lands were the most affected. But the tales whispered in the halls of court would undoubtedly pale before the truth from your own lips. I'd like to hear more, Lord Eastwood."

And so Aelon sang his tale, his tone pleasant and warm and yet subservient and humble. He spoke of Garon's arrival, the threats of Borys and Buckler, the rapine of his lands, the burning of his keep and the siege of Eastwood.

Through the tale, Rodrik sat silent, aside from a few questions here and there, his gaze assessing and then eventually when Aelon was done he sat back and took a sip of wine, "An impressive accounting Lord Eastwood. I am most impressed."

Aelon allowed himself to smile, "You honour me, my Lord."

"As much as I would love to sit for the next few hours and hear more of Eastwood, unfortunately, I am Master of Laws and have many matters to attend to today. Let us discuss the petition filed by Lord Darklyn," said the Warden of the East, finally getting to the meat of the matter.

"Of course, my Lord," replied Aelon, "I am given to understand that the petition has been held in abeyance due to the conflict in the Stormlands and my consequent inability to represent House Eastwood in King's Landing."

The Warden nodded, "Indeed it has. The Darklyns have been quite insistent that the matter be taken up forthwith and that your attendance was but a mere formality as the law was clear in its regard. However, I made it clear to them that the law is far from clear and that passing judgement, even for interim relief, is not possible whilst absent."

Aelon carefully sipped at his wine, "And for that I am grateful, my lord. I have come prepared and look forward to meeting them in court to end this farce at the earliest."

"You wish to meet them in court then?" and if Aelon knew no better and had been less prepared for this meeting, the question would have seemed almost nonchalant.

"Of course, my lord."

"I was under the impression that you intended to take a different route to settle this dispute," replied Rodrik.

It was a delicate game that was being played. Each man had been assessing the other for the past few minutes. And Aelon felt that Rodrik had a pretty good measure of him thus far. And while Aelon couldn't be sure, he was fairly certain that he had a decent read on Rodrik Arryn.

"You refer to the issue with the Graftons of course," said Aelon, his voice losing some of its softness. This time his words were meant to cut through the bullshit.

"Indeed I do. Walton had communicated to me that you may be amenable to aiding me with that issue in lieu of my aid in dealing with the Darklyns."

"And yet the petition within your offices holds little substance to it. My primary concern lies within the Master of Coin's remit."

"If you believe that my influence ends within mine own offices, then I have clearly overestimated you, Lord Eastwood," replied the Master of Laws, his tone decidedly less jovial but still somehow amused.

Aelon stood straighter in his seat. Looks like the gloves were coming off. At last, he was seeing hints of the man who had been named Master of Laws at five and ten namedays.

"I do not doubt that," countered Aelon, "undoubtedly, House Arryn would be an excellent ally in the Vale, and even here in King's Landing, but the Graftons have been trusted partners for almost a decade now. And they would be most offended when they find out that I was the one who provided the rope for you to hang them with. My other partners may wonder if they will be the next to be replaced in favour of other Houses."

"And you would choose the Graftons of Gulltown over the Vale of Arryn as allies. Is that truly the wisest decision?"

"To be honest, Lord Arryn, I had come to King's Landing with every intention of accepting your offer. Without doubt, it is the prudent course of action, but then certain information came to light that has caused me to reconsider."

"Information? What sort of information would merit a relatively nascent Lord to spur an offer of friendship from the Lord Paramount of the East and Master of Coin," the man stared intently at Aelon.

Aelon stood from his seat and gestured at the jar of wine. Rodrik Arryn smiled lightly at that, obviously enjoying the game as much as he was. The Lord of the Vale shook his head and reached below his desk. He shuffled for a bit before eventually pulling out an obviously expensive decanter and poured the two of them some whisky.

Accepting the glass, Aelon took a light sniff and then looked up and said, "Silver Label?"

"It is good whisky."

They sat across from each other, sipping the whisky, both men's minds running a mile a minute, before eventually Aelon spoke up, "Let us speak plainly then, my Lord."

"I would very much like that Lord Eastwood," replied Rodrik, the jovial and boisterous demeanour now replaced with a sly smirk, cool wit and sharp intelligence.

"The Darklyns never intended for their petition against me to succeed. It was just a tactic to have my sales in the Crownlands cease temporarily so that they could fill the void and capitalise in that time period."

"That was plainly obvious," replied the Arryn, rolling his eyes.

"But it got me thinking. The Darklyns are not stupid. In fact, from what I understand Steffon Darklyn, while a boor at times, is not entirely unintelligent. He, or at least his advisors would know that his case was weak and that you would never grant him interim relief without granting me a chance to represent myself. It makes little sense for him to pursue such action when he had a much more viable remedy in the Master of Coin's offices" continued Aelon, his eyes unwavering.

"An interesting premise. Perhaps he was not aware of the potential remedies with the Master of Coin at the time?"

"Perhaps. But it is unlikely," answered Aelon, "but bear with me a moment, for you see I did some investigating and came upon the information that you had several meetings with Lord Darklyn in the moons leading up to him filing the petition."

The Arryn gave a short laugh, "And that leads you to believe that I colluded with Darklyn in some form? Why would I do so when I wish to partner with you?"

Aelon did not relent, "That did stump me for a bit. But then the pieces fell into place. You wanted to be in the whisky business. The Darklyns have whisky."

"And so I engineered a petition in my court so that I could grant them the interim relief that they needed to muscle you out of the Crownlands? Is that what you are implying Aelon? I may call you Aelon, I hope," said Rodrik.

The man was almost smiling.

"Of course you may, my lord," replied Aelon, "But we are digressing. Allying with the Darklyns and engineering the petition makes sense for you. And perhaps the Darklyns actually believe that. It makes all the sense in the world. Why else would the Darklyns file the petition in Ser Walton's court and not elsewhere. It was so that he would be duty bound to refer the matter up to you."

Rodrik hummed, "That is interesting indeed. But I get the feeling that you're not done yet."

Aelon dutifully continued, "But then I thought of the offer you made to me with regards to the Graftons. Initially I thought it was a trap you see. Have me hand over the records you need to shaft them and simultaneously ruin the relationship I share with them, which would undoubtedly rob me of a distributor in the Vale, allowing you to step in and fill the vacuum with Dark Whisky."

"At this point," continued Aelon, "I am not even sure if there is actually anything wrong with their books for you to suspect wrongdoing. But even if the records tallied with their taxes and showed no wrongdoing whatsoever, just the fact that I handed them over, when I had no obligation to do so, would be enough to poison that well."

"There may be some errors here or there. I am not all that sure to be honest, Aelon. It would have been a pleasant bonus if I found something to hang them with," admitted the Lord of the Vale. His smirk was practically a wide grin now.

And despite the situation Aelon couldn't help but grin himself. He'd always loved intrigue and mystery. And solving this one had been thrilling.

"But the fact is, and I realised this almost too late, a man who is intelligent enough to devise a plan so thorough is also far too intelligent to back Dark Whisky over mine. You know my whisky is far superior and you would never bet on a lame horse. Your offer to distribute my whisky in the Vale was genuine."

"Indeed it was, Lord Eastwood. I will admit that I have grossly underestimated you. Few would have unravelled what you have. I am pleasantly surprised," Rodrik leaned back in his chair, looking genuinely impressed.

Aelon sat back in his seat at that. The past few minutes had him practically shitting bricks. It had been a risk to converse with the Master of Coin as freely as he had. But his gamble had paid off. He had faced off with perhaps the one man in Westeros who embodied his own approach to business.

Methodical. Future forward. Ruthless.

And more importantly, a man who knew how to segregate the personal and professional. Rodrik Arryn took no offence at being called out. In fact he appreciated it. For it meant that he would have the opportunity to learn and not make the same mistakes the next time. He'd have to work harder to win.

Arryn looked up and spoke, "I am most impressed, Aelon, the Darklyns are reasonably intelligent and have a well of influence in King's Landing, and even they haven't caught on to my plan yet. They still believe that they will receive interim relief at the hearing tomorrow. The poor fools. And as far as the Graftons go, they have been thorns in my side for some time now, in part due to the profits from your whisky and soap trade. It made sense to humble the Graftons, muzzle the Darklyns and gain you as any ally. Three birds with one stone."

And damn if that wasn't impressive. If he were honest, Aelon could not help but admire the man's cunning. If it hadn't been for Walton's offhand comment about the Darklyns past association with the Master of Laws, he would never have figured it out.

"It is rare to find kindred spirits here in King's Landing. Oh don't get me wrong, there are plenty here who are ruthless, and some who are intelligent as well. But the methodical intelligence coupled with cold pragmatism that you and I possess is rare. I believe that our partnership will be most fruitful."

"And that was where you erred, my Lord," answered Aelon, "you planned to stab the Darklyns in the back and piss all over the Graftons. How long will it be before your ambition necessitates my own removal from the board. How long before you deem my utility fulfilled and see to step over me for your gain. "

"You see my Lord," continued Aelon, "to me business relies on trust. And I will not shit all over a trusted partner like the Graftons and replace them with one who I cannot trust. Because, if I am honest, I will never be able to trust you, Lord Arryn."

The man's lips quirked in response, "And therein lies your mistake, Lord Eastwood. In the belief that you have a choice. If you do not agree to my terms, I will grant the Darklyns interim relief at the hearing. Sure, I will eventually have to rule in your favour, but by then you will have been cut off from the Crownlander markets for far too long. As you and your war torn holdings struggle to raise capital and maintain healthy cashflows, I will invest heavily in Dark Whisky and use all my power and influence to destroy your hold in the Crownlands market. And then, I will do the same in the Vale. Your business interests will be setback by a decade. You want me as your friend, Aelon. Not as an enemy."

"I thought you might say that," replied Aelon, "and initially, I will admit I was fearful of this, but you got sloppy Lord Arryn. You see, you visited the Darklyn manse to conduct your negotiations, two days prior to the filing of the petition in fact, and while that would be impossible to prove as you would undoubtedly deny it, it is the very rope that I will use to hang you."

The younger man huffed, "So I visited the Darklyns. Even if you can substantiate it, it still proves nothing."

"The visit and timing itself are suspicious, but not damning. What is damning is that upon your return, you had several barrels of Dark Whisky placed in the Red's Keep storage. And the Lord Steward keeps meticulous records of everything that is stored in the Red Keep. Records that I now possess."

Arryn's face was expressionless.

Aelon smirked, "Furthermore, a week later, at your direction, the Lord Steward had the same barrels transported by ship from King's Landing to Gulltown, where Lord Grafton, who was very eager to investigate, was outraged to find out that the same barrels were received in the private Arryn docks and stored in one of your warehouses there."

"Unfortunately for you, Lord Grafton is an extremely paranoid man. And a diligent one. He dug deeper and it seems that regular shipments of Dark Whisky have been made from King's Landing under your personal banner to the same docks in Gulltown. And as ships that fly your own banner are not inspected by customs inspectors at Gulltown, six shipments of Dark Whisky amounting to almost four hundred barrels, are now safely ensconced in your warehouse in Gulltown."

Rodrik Arryn, Lord Paramount of the Vale, Warden of the East and Master of Laws was shocked. He couldn't hide it. I'd finally gotten one over him.

Begrudgingly, the man leaned back in his chair and spoke, "The first few barrels that I purchased were just to compare tastes. And then, news came in of Borys's actions. Eastwood was likely to be sacked and your stores of whisky with it. Darklyn seemed like the better horse then."

It was Aelon's turned to lean back, "I suspected as much. The first couple of shipments from the Red Keep went out just as news would have been received about the conflict in the Stormlands. But the next few shipments had me puzzled. Why continue after it was clear that I had won?"

Rodrik stood up, leaning on his desk, "You burnt down your own keep, Aelon. Your own keep. That alone informed me of two things, that you were ruthlessly pragmatic and that you cared. Cared about your people and your allies. Other reports informed me of your honourable actions. And I suspected then, that you would reject my offer. So I took precautions."

"You intended to stockpile Dark Whisky in the Vale to blitz the markets. With my ships denied port at King's Landing, I would have to identify an alternate dock en route to Gulltown. That would take time. You meant to capitalise on that by flooding the market with Dark Whisky."

Rodrik sighed and closed his eyes, the conversation had clearly not gone his way, "It was simplicity itself. With the backing of myself, the Lord Paramount, and with lack of supply from Eastwood, I'd make more inroads in the Vale in a moon than I would in a year. On the flip side, if you accepted my offer, I would have quietly shipped my stock off to a contact in Pentos who would have bought it at a profit. I would win either way."

"Not a bad plan. But instead, now I have evidence of the Master of Laws actively colluding with another Lord to manufacture petitions within his own court against a competitor. That alone would be a scandal. Furthermore, you didn't pay any import taxes to customs at Gulltown on those shipments to the Vale. The Lord Paramount of the Vale, evading taxes in his own kingdom. Oh, that alone would see you stripped of your office."

Aelon leaned forward, his lips stretched into a wide smile and his eyes gleamed, "You see Lord Arryn. I hold all the cards here."

"I will admit Aelon, that you do have my back against the wall. Undoubtedly, you could present the evidence to the King and he would take action against me. I may even lose my position as Master of Coin. But even then, you would place yourself at odds against the Lord Paramount of the Vale. Do you truly wish that?"

"Oh, that I do not," he paused, the tension in the room unmistakable, "You see Lord Arryn, I hold no grudge against you. Yes, you tried to manipulate me. But I do not mind that truly. You harmed neither me nor mine. And as far as being at odds goes, let us be honest, I will not work with you so you will work with the Darklyns as you are an ambitious man. So am I. And so we will be at odds. But I hold the cards so I will see the odds weighed in my favour before the game begins."

Air hissed from between Rodrik's teeth, "So there is a deal to be made."

"Indeed, but my terms are non negotiable."

Arryn rolled his eyes, a childish action that seemed out of place on such an otherwise mature figure, "Well go on then. Don't keep me waiting."

"I will ask Lord Grafton to forget about the dark whisky in your warehouse. I will hand over the records that I obtained from the Lord Steward and I will even keep the Darklyns in the dark regarding your admittedly brilliant plan. In return, you will comply with the following demands."

Aelon paused to take a breath, marshaling his nerve ready to set his demands, he raised a finger as he spoke, "Firstly, you will not only rule against the Darklyns tomorrow, but you will dismiss the petition entirely. Furthermore, you will fine them for wasting the Master of Laws's time in such a frivolous suit. The amount matters not, I just wish to see them humbled."

Upon finishing, Aelon raised a second finger.

"Secondly, you will as Lord Paramount of the Vale see to it that Eastwood Whisky is classified as a semi luxury good and the import duty on that will be lowered accordingly. Sure you may change that later once you have managed to dispose of the evidence that incriminates you, but knowing you, you will just modify it to include Dark Whisky as well once you manage to smooth things over with the Darklyns."

A third finger joined the others.

"Thirdly, The Lord Hand will be raising the matter of usage of my concrete for the King's road building plans at the Small Council meeting the day after tomorrow. You will express your most vociferous support for the same. Your support will be so vocal and fervent that it would look highly suspicious for you to even appear neutral on a later date. If it is not, I will know."

"And finally, you will make a grand show of purchasing a hundred barrels of Eastwood Silver Label from myself. You will drink it openly in front of everyone in Court for the immediate future and express your preference for it over Dark Whisky."

"I likely would have expressed some support for your concrete anyways. But the rest, you mean to ruin my relationship with the Darklyns. And with it my ability to enter the whisky trade."

Aelon smirked, finding the action was becoming enjoyable, "Well that's just good business, my Lord. No doubt your relationship with the Darklyns will be strained, but you underestimate their greed. I have little doubt that you will be able to smoothen over these issues within a couple of years at the latest."

Rodrik sighed, hands rubbing tired eyes, "I will admit Aelon. It has been some time since someone has held my balls in a vice as tightly as you have," he paused, as if the following words would hurt him, "I will agree to your terms. But do not believe for even a second that our little game is over. Whisky has the potential to be the next Arbor Gold. Even greater perhaps. And while you may have set me back some, I will return to it. And unlike you, I am the Lord Paramount of the Vale. The Master of Laws on the Small Council. And you, for all your talents and intelligence are merely a recently ennobled lord of a relatively small house. While I may enter the business late, I will catch up and excede you soon enough."

"I am a young Lord of a nascent house. And you are indeed a Lord Paramount and member of the Small Council. But remember my Lord, that you are not the only Lord Paramount in the Seven Kingdoms who sits on the Small Council who is interested in whisky and sees its potential."

And with that parting shot, Aelon turned and left.