Dear readers, tonight we bring you an interview with a priest more interested in his various businesses, from taverns and gaming houses. He’s a man who came back from fighting one war to find another at his doorstep, living in a grim and dark city.

The Royal Steward Samuel Lan Dekanov to one Mr Tomas Piety, of Ellinburg:

 You’re obviously not a Dannsburg man, Mr Piety. Tell us a little about yourself. Where you grew up, perhaps, and what it was like there?

My name is Tomas Piety. I was born in Ellinburg, and I lived my whole life there save for the war years. My father was a bricklayer, and I grew up in the alleys of the Stink with my little brother Jochan at my side. The Stink’s a poor place, down by the tanneries and the river, and working folk stick together there. Da was a working man, when he was sober enough to work, and Ma died when I had barely six years to me. I’d like to say “times were hard but we were happy”, but that would be a lie. We weren’t happy, Jochan and me, not with what went on in that house of a night.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

We had no money for toys when I was a lad, but I’ve got a cherished memory alright. That one night, that night I made it right between Da and me for what he had done to me, and what he had started to do to little Jochan. That was the night my cold devil woke, and spoke to me. That was the night I became The Devil Tomas Piety and no mistake. If I were you, my friend, I’d change the fucking subject. Right now.

Right, well. Ahem. Moving on – what do you do now?

I’m a businessman, and I’m a priest. The army made me that, but I’m not exactly what you might call godly. I own a number of businesses in Ellinburg. Various interests that bring in a substantial income. I own inns and taverns and gaming houses, and I have an interest in a number of…  vassal businesses, as you might say, such as factories and tanneries and forges. Those I don’t own, as such, but they pay me a consideration for protection and respect

Mr Piety, that makes you sound like some sort of gangster!

I’m a fucking businessman. You listen to me now. There’s a way that respect works in Ellinburg, and I don’t think that you understand what that is. I’m a prince on my streets. I collect taxes, aye, and I see that they’re paid, but in return for that I look after my people. No one goes hungry on Pious Men streets, not anymore they don’t, and no one robs or steals from my people either. Not more than once, anyway. Anyone tries it, me and my brother go and show them how unwise that was, and they don’t do it again. There was a time a woman couldn’t walk down those streets alone at night, and I put a stop to that too. Those who are sick and can’t afford a doctor are treated at my expense. It’s a closed system, to be sure, and participation isn’t optional, but once everyone understands that it works well enough. It’s just business, do you understand me?

And yet, when the Crown first approached you… ?

Approached? Blackmailed is the word you’re looking for. You want to talk to me about the Crown? You, a Royal Steward? You of all people… no, no that’s not fair, and I apologise for it. I am a fair man, to my mind, and I accept that you have no fucking idea what you serve. You call me a gangster? The Queen’s Men… no. No, you’ve no idea at all, have you? Pray that you never find out what lies behind the heraldry and pageantry of your precious Crown, my friend. Those who enter the House of Law usually don’t come out again, and you can mark me on that.

So, you… um, you mentioned the army. Were you on campaign?

Aye, I was, and I had no choice in the matter. I was conscripted, like every other man who had less than forty years to him and could hold a spear and stand upright at the same time. I fought at Messia, and at Abingon. Aye, you’ll have heard tell of Abingon, and what happened there. I was a part of that. I was at war for three long years, and I came home to tell of it. I saw things in that war, things that have never left me. Things I will never be able to forget as long as I live. I left part of my mind in Abingon, me and so many other soldiers who went through living Hell. What we saw, and what we did… We’ll never get that part of our humanity back, you mark me.

But I made friends there, too. Bloody Anne, she was my sergeant. She’s my second and my best friend now, and she always will be. The Bloody Sergeant they called her, back in the war, and that was a name well earned and no mistake. She always did prefer the close work did Anne, that was how she earned her name in the first place. Fat Luka, too. We were at school together back in Ellinburg but we were never really friends as lads, not until we were packed off to war together. It forges bonds between people, does war. Perhaps not always good ones, but bonds nonetheless. Folk who’ve been to Hell together tend to stay together afterwards, if they can.

That was before, of course. Back when I didn’t really believe the Queen’s Men even existed, same as most people don’t. They’re like the Boggart with his long twisted fingers, aren’t they? Scary stories to frighten little children with. “Do what your father says or the Queen’s Men will come and take you away”. It’s not real, is it?

And is it?

Oh it’s real alright. Here comes the Boggart to snip off your head, here come the Queen’s Men and you’re better off dead. There’s no way out, once you’re in. No way at all, save at the end of a rope. You know what they say about the Queen’s Warrant? An order given under the Queen’s Warrant is the same as one given in person by Her Majesty herself, and only a traitor to the realm would refuse a direct order from the queen, wouldn’t they? And traitors can be killed on sight, everyone knows that. So a Queen’s Man can show the Warrant and give an order, and it’s obey or die. They are untouchable, utterly above the law, with the power of life and death in their hands. We fought a war in the name of freedom, and what did that buy us?

Famine and plague, aye, wars always bring that, but law and order too. Law and order at the hands of the Crown and the Queen’s Men. Do you feel safe now, my dear Lan Dekanov, now the war is done?

In Dannsburg we live in the safety of the queen’s grace. We show our love for the queen, publicly and loudly and often!

Aye you do, and that’s only wise. In Dannsburg the city guard are everywhere, and everyone informs on everyone else. And the Queen’s Men are always watching. Always someone watching, and always someone to watch the watcher. That reminds me, I have something for you.

You… you have?

Aye. This is a warrant for your arrest. Come with me. Right now. 

Peter McLean is the author of the fantasy gangster thrillers Priest of Bones, released in October 2018 from Ace and Jo Fletcher Books, and Priest of Lies released July 2019. His first novels, the Burned Man series, are noir urban fantasy. He has also worked on game tie-in short fiction for various franchises including Warhammer. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife Diane.

You can find Thomas on the pages of the War for the Rose Throne series, starting with Priest of Bones.

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