For the rest of the day, Hamelin spent his time in bed, napping as much as he could. In the end, Heston had done him a favor with his petty antics. With luck, he might be able to stretch this ‘injury’ for an entire week — providing him all the time he needed to enact his plans.
Around midday, his mother came to see him. With a delicate care, she fed him as he cried a few fake tears for effect. “It’s alright, Dear. Heston did not mean to do it; he’s just…”
“H-He’s always being mean to me,” Hamelin stammered, putting on his most sulky expression, “Always saying stuff like… like, I’m stupid and… and…”
Shushing him, his mother embraced Hamelin, rocking back and forth. “I know he’s harsh, dear, but you know… I think, deep inside, he cares a lot about you.”
“No he don’t”
“He does… In his own way, he’s trying to prepare you for when you get older.”
“Get older…?” Hamelin pushed himself away from his mother and looked up at her with tear-stained eyes.
She smiled gently down at him, patting him on the head. “Yes, dear. You’re still too young, but at some point we will have to present you to our peers in the nobility. Being the son of a minor lord puts you barely above the position of servant to the greater houses, and Heston has learned that the hard way.”
“I don’t understand…?” He said, although he was already imagining the scene. The jostle of position and prestige between noble houses among humans was a lot like the net of intrigue between vexen. Only, these were fought between families, rather than individuals.
As one of minor status, his family would be in the lowest position at any potential gathering of nobles, making them a prime target for anyone who wanted to solidify their position by trampling on others. It was a proven method of establishing yourself, especially among the younger generation.
Hamelin’s mother sighed and brought him back into her embrace. “Heston has had some bad experiences in the meeting of our peers. He’s trying to toughen you up, so you won’t be as affected when the real thing happens. I have to admit I am to blame as well.”
“Yes… You may be too young to understand this, Hamelin, but I come from a family of greater nobles. I married into the Whitter house against the wishes of my father, and that made him very cross with me.”
“Is he still mad?”
“He is. Because of that, the other houses think they can make him happy by bullying us.”
“And… does he?”
“Does he what, dear?”
“Does he get happy when they bully us?”
His mother looked down at him with a deep sadness etched into her eyes. “I don’t know, dear… I haven’t spoken to him in years.”
“That’s sad,” Hamelin said, thinking furiously. Though he had been consumed by regaining his skills in withermancy, his mother had been lenient and caring all this time. Though the old part of him thought it a pathetic display of human weakness, he could not help but feel a nagging sensation tugging at his heart.
Someone had hurt this woman deeply, and that someone was her father. If there was one thing Hamelin understood, it was repaying kindness with kindness, and hatred with hatred. If he ever came across his grandfather, he would be sure to put him in his place on behalf of his mother.
“Don’t worry, Mother,” he said giving her a smile, “I’m tough. I won’t let anyone bully me.”
“Good, Dear… That’s good,” she said smiling. “Rest now… I’ll bring you your dinner. No reason to get up.”
Falling back into bed, Hamelin took another long nap.
That night, he returned to Tremon and the old apothecary shop, where Asten and the old man was waiting for him.
“I did as you asked,” the old man said, showing off the wares he had produced, “And we’re ready to sell our first batch, but I’m still not entirely sure about the purpose of all this…”
Raising a bottle of liquid to his nose, Hamelin took a light sniff. Reassured that all was in order, he turned back on the old man and said, “It’s to make money, of course. I thought that much was obvious.”
“Why, yes, of course I understand that part. It’s the part where this somehow affects the other families that I’m not entirely sure about…”
“You fear them?”
“I—” the old man stopped himself and straightened his back slightly, “They won’t like it that a new power has arrived in town. They will challenge the strength of the Marn family to start, and if they find weakness they will strike with everything they’ve got.”
“Agreed,” Hamelin nodded, raising another bottle up to his nose and smelling its contents, “So, we probe their strength in turn, starting with the Duns.”
“You want to start with the whores? I beg your pardon, master Halifax, but the ladies of the Purple Palace may not be the wealthiest, or physically strongest, but politically they have the strongest position of the three families. I hear even the bloody mayor is among their patrons…”
“Exactly why they need to be taken down first. While information about myself and my abilities are still scarce, we need to strike a blow they cannot recuperate from.”
“But how? I don’t see how a simple water purifier—”
“There is nothing simple about it, old man. That thing will make you rich beyond your wildest dream, as well as provide the cover we need.”
Hamelin turned on the old man scrutinizing him carefully. The apothecary stiffened when faced with the yellow glare of Hamelin’s baleful eyes, hidden within yet another, unfamiliar, face.
“How long have you been participating in the darker side of business, Old Man?”
“Since I was first apprenticed, Master.”
“And in all of those years, what has been most important to your place of business?”
“I suppose it would be reputation and location… And officials willing to be bribed, of course.”
“A two-fold reputation, I would expect,” Hamelin said, circling around the old man, “One for the public, and one for the underground. Your reputation in public does not need to be stellar, as long as you appear reliable, and you can let another shop take the limelight, correct?”
“Well… yes that sounds about right—”
“In a small place like this, though, that is rather suspicious. How can two apothecaries support themselves in a town like Tremon? Your shop is off the main-street, away from prying eyes, but also away from potential costumers. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that you’re relying on less-than-reputable means to survive.”
Hamelin kept up his circle, as the old man looked to grow increasingly dizzy from having to turn his head around constantly.
“Of course, you can bribe the authorities to look away, but that only works up to a certain point. If you try to expand your business to say… drugs, you will find yourself in a weak position. The Duns can play at this game because of their influence, even more so if the mayor is among their costumers. With a light like that at their beck and call, they can comfortably hide in the shadows.”
The old man stopped turning his head, and instead looked to be thinking Hamelin’s words over.
“If we want to match that, we have to create a light of our own; one big enough that not even the mayor can put it out. A light which can cast a deep enough shadow for us to swallow the Dun family.”
The old man looked serious now, nodding along. Finally, he said, “How do propose we do that?”
Grinning, Hamelin turned to Asten, who had been sitting in the corner of the room, listening to their talk. “The easiest way is to create a symbol,” Hamelin said, walking over and grabbing Asten by the arm, “How would you like to become a hero?”