1 1. Disowned

It was a beautiful summer day when Bruno found himself in an utterly impossible situation. He couldn't wrap his mind around how things could take such a path. He was standing on the paved square, at the bottom of the stairs, decorated with pots containing bushes, and large flowers, leading to his father's summer mansion, located on the outskirts of Ra'meh. A city, on the border with Ard Al'ibil empire. Desert nation, famous because of its large deposits of gold.

Surrounded by his belongings, with a head full of thoughts, and questions blooming like spring vegetation, one after another. There was a large fountain behind, and the vast gardens, located at the front of the estate, with a gate, barely visible at this distance.

- I'm very sorry, but it's your father's direct order - said older gentlemen, standing in the open door, a bit above.

He was wearing a black and white butler's attire. The baldness of his head was covered by gray hair combed to the side. His mustache was, as always, perfectly trimmed.

Bruno fixed his deep blue frock coat and shook the dust from black, elegant pants.

- I'm well aware Ernesto. It's just... Unexpected? I've never thought he would disinherit me. Isn't it obvious it's not my fault? Somebody has been pulling strings to make this happened. I've never in my life forged any false reports. I always triple-check everything to make sure I'm not making any mistakes in the books. You know me.

- I do, young master. It has to be a conspiracy of your father's enemies.

- Obviously, Ernesto! But explain to me what I'm doing here then?

- I'm very sorry young master, but I'm afraid I can't disobey your father's order - his facial expression was full of worry.

It was plainly obvious that the old man is sad because of what he had to do. He was basically fighting his tears.

- If they would only investigate this, I'm sure they would find out, that I had nothing to do with forgery of those documents and the smuggling! I would never endanger our business! I've been doing this since I was fourteen, and there has never been a single problem!

- Your father had to spend a fortune, to bury this incident. There is no possibility of any investigation.

- It was an unnecessary and rushed decision. Is he blind? Why didn't he informed me of anything?! Why did nobody inform me?! They all just went straight to him! I would deal with this myself! Instead, he keeps it all from me, makes a rushed decision, and now this?!

- He is afraid of your uncle finding out what happened. He could attempt to take over the business. You have to understand his position. Master Vernon has gained a lot of influence in the family over the past two years.

- It's nothing compared to my achievements. I multiplied our income in trade with Manjam Aldhahab. I fixed all Vernon's mistakes while still being underaged. He practically ruined our opinion out there with his lavish lifestyle. It was impossible, and yet I managed to make it happen! Doesn't that mean anything to the family?

- I'm very well aware young master. Your father is in a state of panic, and he made the decision in a state of anger. He is going to regret it very soon and will ask you to come back. I'm sure of that.

- What is he even planing? He should have at least spoken to me! Does he want to make Jonatan the successor? I'm sure stepmother has been whispering to his ears.

- Give your father few days. I'm sure he will calm down, and rethink his decision. He is a wise man.

- Not wise enough, apparently.

- You have to forgive him - begged Ernesto. - He has been under tremendous amounts of stress. The business north isn't going well.

- That's why I was insisting to take over the north. He could relax here, trading gold.

- You have to understand that he was afraid of losing his face.

- There is no shame in letting those better suitable for the job take over. I've been studying for this since I was two years old! Can't he see all the effort I've put into this?

- You are angry, young master. Please calm down.

Bruno sighed.

- Oh Ernesto, Ernesto... You are such a good man, but you are a fool when it comes to my father. You are too good for this family. They don't deserve you.

- Thank you for your kind words, young master.

- Can you call me a carriage? - Bruno asked while sitting down on the coffer.

One of many lying all around, containing all his possessions. Mainly books.

- I already did, young master.

- Thank you.

- I shall keep you company until they arrive.

- No. You may go.

The old man bowed and left, closing the door behind.

- I know you are standing behind the door, Ernesto! I will be just fine. You might leave!

The door wings shuddered when a person leaning on them left. This brought a smile to Bruno's face, as he waited a couple of long minutes for the carriage to arrive.

It was black and roofed, harnessed by two black stallions, rather simple. John, the carman, drove it, sitting on the coach box, with a whip in one hand, and rains in the other. He was wearing his regular black coat and a top hat of the same color.

- Good morning master Bruno! - he said, stopping the vehicle close by.

- Good morning John.

- Where should I take you, master?

- Take me to 'Golden Pillows'. Then bring my stuff.

- Very well, master - he said, and jumped down, to open the door.

Bruno got inside and sat on the comfortable red couch, closing the door, while the carman took care of packing at least some of his luggage on the carriage. Through the rectangle-shaped hole, the young merchant could look at the magnificent building, that just yesterday he called home.

It was a big estate, with many windows. Elevation got renovated just two years ago, thanks to the business going extremely well. Everything thanks to him, and the deals he managed to sign. Those same deals brought fame to his family. Even the king knew of him. And now what? He got kicked out by his own father!

- Ridiculous - he mumbled to himself, as the vehicle departed, heading through the gate, and further to reach the city.

It took around half an hour to make it past the walls of Ra'meh. The guards didn't even try to stop the carriage clearly belonging to the Larmanie family.

Bruno looked through the hole, at the streets, and people going on with their lives, but he was seeing neither them nor the buildings in the background. He was trying to crack who was behind this farce. The obvious choice, uncle Vernon, wasn't smart enough, or brave.

Obviously, the family had many rivals outside, but this had to be a job from within. There was a slim possibility of somebody gaining an access point to the reports and books through some stupid relative. Not to mention people on the inside of those rival businesses, monitoring the actions for him. Right now, though, an inside job seemed more likely.

The stepmother had a motive. Putting her, and father's son, his stepbrother, as family head. Right now their branch was in such a strong position, that even an eight-year-old boy would be a promising favorite, especially a smart one as young Jonatan. The problem was, she never displayed any interest in that.

- Do I have to travel all the way to the capital to find out? - he asked himself. - No. Talking with jury Cooper will be enough.

He bit on his fingernail, thinking how to approach the situation, to not alert the hiding enemy. The carriage stopped soon after, and John opened the door for him.

- Young master, we have arrived.

- Thank you John - Bruno picked a silver coin from his pocket, and gave it to the servant.

- You are very generous, young master.

- I know. I nag myself for it every time I give somebody money. Please bring my belongings here. I'll be renting a room for a couple of nights in this fine establishment.

Bruno left the carriage and went inside the rather elegant, two-story building, connected with another one. The main one contained a large hall, with a mezzanine, the other was filled with rooms for guests. Over the door, with gold paint, somebody wrote "Golden Pillows".

The inn was filled with people on both floors. Just as he entered everybody got silent, and all the eyes rested on his person.

- Young master Bruno! - yelled a chubby, half-bald man, with a majestic mustache, standing behind the counter.

The bartender, and the owner.

- Mister Aguacen - he stopped for a moment to slightly bow, showing his respect.

- How can I serve you, master Bruno? Did you come for breakfast?

- No. I'll be staying in the city for a couple of days. I need a room. Your finest.

- But of course!

Bruno walked past the tables, and finally got to the counter, to immediately put few gold coins on top of it. Enough to rent the room for an entire year.

Aguacen's eyes got glued to the shiny objects as soon as they appeared.

- My belongings will arrive soon. I want them brought to my room. I also want a light breakfast and a bottle of your finest wine.

- But of course!

- I will also need a pen, inkwell, and paper. Some sealing wax and an errand boy. Send it all, please, to my room - finishing his sentence, he let go of the coins.

Those instantly got grabbed by Aguacen. He then picked up a key from under the counter.

- I will show you the room, master Bruno.

- No need. I'll find it myself, but thank you.

The key got handed over, and Bruno went to the staircase, to climb it, still followed by everybody's gaze. On the second floor was a short corridor, directly connected with the other building. He crossed it and found the right number.

The room was nice and cozy. Large window with view on the street, big four-poster bed, like especially made just for wealthy men to bang young girls, multiple ones. Wardrobe for clothes, and a desk with a single padded chair. Two more were next to a small table, standing close to the window. There was a single potted flower on the windowsill.

Bruno unbuttoned his coat frock coat, and took it down, just to throw it over the chair. Then slowly walked to the window, and pushed the curtain to the side, to look at the street.

There was so much to be done to solve the mystery. Few letters should bring more light to the story. Whoever was behind it, was gonna get punished, severely.

The rest of the day went Bruno on writing the letters. One to the captain of the guards, one to the local judge, one to the city steward, lord Fegedio. Those were handed over to a boy-runner provided by Aguacen.

With his belongings brought to the room, he finally found some time to catch a breather and separate his mind from the problems by reading a book, and eating cold food, while drinking a bit of wine.

Then he went for a stroll around the city, visiting the market, and spending there few hours, checking the local goods. Everybody knew him there, so many people wanted to chat, and show what they had for trade.

Overall he wasn't too worried about his situation, knowing that the family for sure is gonna press his father to make him return. Bruno was simply too successful in handling a very profitable branch of the family's empire. For him, it was more of a temporary inconvenience.

He also knew that even if his father will beg him to return, he won't until he gets to the bottom of this nonsensical situation.

On his way back he visited a small shrine of Udaanah, the goddess of luck, and trade. It was simple. A faceless woman holding a large jug, from which water was pouring down to the tank below. Multiple coins were lying on the bottom, all copper. Each one represented a prayer. Nothing out of the ordinary if not counting the presence of another altar next to that one. Sarnae, goddess of poor, sick, and those who suffer. Godded of mercy.

It was a peculiar thing, since not very often you could see two places of worship so close to one another. On the other hand, Sarnae shrines used to be present everywhere in the city just a few years ago, before he brought prosperity to this land.

Bruno pulled a gold coin, and focused for a moment, formulating his own prayer, then threw it in the water. After, he returned to the rented room.

The night slowly approached, and he went to bed, expecting the next day to be very busy. He couldn't fall asleep though. Normally he would be still working, checking the numbers, writing letters and reports. Planing his travels, to establish new markets for his father's trading empire.

Now he had nothing to do, which was annoying.

Suddenly there was some gentle rustle coming from behind the door. He got out of the bed and using the starlight, getting inside through the window, lighted up the olive lamp.

- Who's there?

- It's me, Aguacen - the owner whispered.

Bruno opened the door for the owner.

- Did something happened?

- Yes, and I'm very sorry for that - explained Aguacen.

Bruno rose a single eyebrow, as a cold blade sunk into his neck. He didn't notice the assassin, who entered his room through the window. The world slowly faded away, as he was gently put down by the strong arms of his killer.

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