Charles looked up from his records at the sound of the knock. “Yes?”
Pensley stuck his narrow face into the office. “Sir. A man who claims to be your son is here.”
Charles wrinkled his nose. “Nickolas? Unless he’s found a new heat field, I’m not interested.”
“Sir, I believe you may be interested in this,” Pensley stuttered.
Charles sighed. “Fine. Bring him in.”
Pensley shut the door.
Charles reached for a cigar. Only people of power had these. Only people who were in charge. He had to demonstrate to his son how men act. Men don’t run away to the wilderness when they fail.
The door opened again, and the scent of unwashed man wafted to Charles. He resisted wrinkling his nose, though he noted that his own son disrespected him so much to appear before him without even a snowrub.
Nick entered in tattered hunting clothes. His scruffy, unkempt beard obscured his face, but Charles could still tell it was gaunt. The boy wasn’t eating enough.
Two more people followed. They wore skins and fur like most hunters, though the style was different. Charles couldn’t put his finger on it; dressing in skins was so alien he had a hard time telling the difference.
And then he noticed the strangers’ faces. Charles refrained from gasping. Dark skin surrounded almond eyes. These strangers were not from the Pits.
He glanced at Nick. They boy was studying his face. Of course he was. He still hungered for approval.
Charles nodded as he stood. “I am Charles Graston. You obviously know my son Nickolas. I, however, do not know you. Can I get you anything? Something warm to drink, perhaps?”
Charles noted that one was a man, the other a woman. Both had white hair and wrinkles on their dark faces. The man spoke, “We ask the guest’s privilege of a warm drink, yes.”
Charles nodded and pulled a cord near the wall. A bell sounded in the next room, and Pensley appeared. “Get them some tea.”
“Yes, sir.” The thin man vanished.
The strange man glanced to his wife, clearly disapproving of something. He turned back to Charles. “I am Djellian. This is my wife, Ffenyi. We have come from far away to see the Pits. We found Friend Nick as he hunted, and he has brought us here to meet you. He claims you are an important man who might introduce us to the people here in a way that will not cause a muddying of the waters.”
Charles nodded. “I see. Yes, I am an important man, and it was good for Nickolas to bring you here.”
Djellian raised a hand. “Pardon me, but why do you add to his name? Is it customary to lengthen the name of your own son to indicate your love?”
Charles didn’t answer for a moment. “It is customary to use a formal name when meeting strangers.”
“Ah. Then Nickolas has done us a great honor, for he introduced himself to us as Nick.” Djellian gave a slight bow to Charles’ son.
Pensley knocked and appeared with a tray. It carried a silver kettle and several porcelain cups. “Would you like me to serve the tea, sir?”
“No, that’s fine. Thank you, Pensley.”
“I said thank you.”
“Of course, sir.”
Before Pensley could exit the room, Charles asked the visitors, “You must be tired from your long journey?”
The man and his wife both nodded.
“Pensley, why don’t you take this tea and show my guests to a good room. Let them get some sleep. We can all talk in the morning when you’re rested.”
Djellian again looked to his wife. After a moment, he assented. “Rest would allow us to view this new place with fresh eyes.”
“Well, good night, then. I hope you sleep well. It has been a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thank you, Charles Graston.”
They followed Pensley out of the room, leaving Charles with his son.
“Nickolas. Who are these two?”
“People from the outside. People that aren’t from the Pits.”
“They aren’t some exiles or children of plaguers, are they?”
“I saw their village. They fish, father. Fish! We thought they were all gone!”
“Hm.” Charles turned away and paced the room. “You brought them here for what reason?”
“Think about it, father. You and McGrevich are always trying to get control of the Pits. Every little thing you can get to one-up the other, you do it. I heard at the Hunters’ Pit that you paid a fortune to make sure McGrevich didn’t get two bear skins when you only had one! And now, here are people from outside. Truly new people! Think about how much attention you’ll get. You play this right, you could own the Pits, not just half of them! On top of that, imagine what people would pay for fish! And you have the only two people who have ever come to the Pits that know how to catch them.”
“Yes.” Charles nodded. “Nickolas, you have been a disappointment to me from the day your mother first informed me she was pregnant. You run when you should fight. You fight when you should run. You look for today but never for tomorrow.” He paused, plucking up his cigar. “But today, you have brought me something useful. You have recognized its significance. You have made a connection for me.” He nodded. “And this new opportunity… it’s like the feeling I got when I first struck heat. The knowledge that I had something that no one else had, and that I could use it to get more. Except this isn’t heat. This isn’t more of something everyone else already has. No, this is a new heat, a new resource.”
He opened the cigar box and offered one to Nick. “Well done. Tonight, we shall decide how to use this resource. Tomorrow, we shall begin leveraging it. Here. Take the cigar. My son, today I am proud of you.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Like Mouths that Devour the Sky, here.
Read the next story, Like a ‘Shovel with no Smoke, here.