(123-01-17) The New Rules
The New Rules
Summary: At a session of the Court of Thieves, the Merqueen presents the new rules for the whore trade.
Date: 17 January 2016
Related: Undercity Uprising

The Court of Thieves is not a well-lit place; sunlight does not intrude upon its dark expanse. On this occasion, the only lighting is around the raised dais in the center of the warehouse-space. Tall sconces have been set up around the heavy table. They serve to illuminate the woman who sits behind it. Though there are three chairs, only the one is occupied. The woman's golden hair has been tied in a mass of haphazard braids, long and wild. Off to the side of the desk is a rusting trident. A tar-coated head is impaled atop it. She sits, silently. Waiting for something.

A side-door is thrown open, torchlight hitting the stones. And a pair of men enter. Rather, one man enters, dragging the other by means of a braided leather leash. Cotter, in the lead, is tall and rangy. His silver-blond hair has been slicked back off his forehead, and his angular features are lit up in a sort of grotesque joy. The man behind looks to outweigh him by twenty pounds of solid muscle, but he has been beaten into an unrecognizable pulp, his face purple and swollen with bruises. He stumbles after Cotter, obediently. They come before the dais, and Cotter murmurs a quiet word. The other man squats down on his heels. Like a dog.

"The Merqueen has declared new rules for prostitution in the Underworld," Cotter proclaims to the room at large. He has a surprisingly mellifluous tenor. "There shall be no striking of the women. There shall be no forced prostitution. Whores shall pocket an increased share of the profits. These rules have been put out to every pimp and procurer here in the Undercity."

Cotter turns suddenly and kicks the big man in his face. "This man beat a girl near to death," he explains to the crowd. "He disobeyed the Merqueen." There is a brief pause as he unties something from beneath his belt — a long, silvery, string of wire with two loops on the end. And without further ado, he strings it around the big man's neck and loops it tight. "There's only one penalty for disobeying her," he informs the crowd. Beside him, the man is clawing and gripping, trying to untangle the wire from his neck as his face empurples. After a few moments, he flops to the floor, still strangling. And then his feet drum a brief tattoo. The smell of voided bowels becomes evident.

Audra has gone to stand with her former sisters of the streets, many of them admiring the fine cut of her linen gown and the sparkle of her jewelry. The golden-haired woman carries a covered basket on her arm from which rises the scent of freshly baked goods. There is envy mixed with happiness for a girl gone legit. Mostly legit. As the new rules are declared, she gives a laugh and murmurs, "Gods save the Queen." But she steps back with her nose wrinkling at the smell of shit.

The man known to some as Elyas Seafarer and Dornish pirate lurks in a dark corner with some others of his profession. The group is surprisingly quiet, taking sips of wine from time to time while watching proceedings with an expression of vague amusement, as if it were some sort of entertainment. From time to time, Elyas' eyes scans the audience, as far as it is visible in the murky light and might habe noticed Audra being there.

The Merqueen is dressed, in spite of her moniker, in the garb of a man, rather than a woman. She has none of the softness of the fairer sex written in her expression. It's stony, and doesn't flicker even once as the scene unfolds before her. Her eyes are pale blue and frosty, as chilling as ice as they slide from face to face, gauging the reactions of those assembled in her court to the new edict that Cotter presents. Looking for signs of dissent. Ready to sic her shadowcat on those who would oppose her new rules. Just in case the violent display doesn't quite succeed in convincing anyone still clinging to the old ways.

"Lads? Get rid of him." Cotter does not bother to retrieve his garrote as two guards move forward to drive the corpse away. He, too, is searching the room; his gaze lingers on the fresh faces of Elyas Seafarer and his Dornishmen, dark eyes glinting briefly. And then lingers on Audra as well, perhaps hearing the laughter. It moves on.

"Right. The ugly business is out of the way. The Merqueen has asked me to say a few words as we settle down to the matters at hand. Look, Phelan Harte is dead. The old ways..are dead." He pauses, looking around and spreading his hands. "But that means there's opportunity like never before, for us who remain. A chance to get..filthy…fuckin'…rich!"

He lets the words sink in. "Alright. So now's your chance, you filth, you whores, you cutpurses and pirates. I'm going to shut up. And I want to hear from you lot on how you're going to make me richer." He gestures to the pool of torchlight. "One at a time. Come up and tell the Queen what bloody use you are, and what you need from us."

Audra slaps the hand of one of the girl trying to get a peek into her basket. It's a good natured reprimand, met with a smile and a chiding wag of a finger. She's not first; she waits for a few of the braver men with bravado and swagger present themselves before she takes her turn. Skirts swing as she walks, the poise of one of the girls of substance; or what passes for substance in Oldtown anyhow. "Audra, an' it please the Merqueen." She sketches a curtsy. "I used to work the Bard and sometimes the docks, but I've found a nice pudgy nervous john t' marry me." She pulls away the cloth and showcases fresh pastries, meat pies, a loaf of bread, and a few rich lemoncakes. "Terris owns the biggest bakery in the Shambles. Respectful enough for folk of means t' visit, shoddy enough for out kind to get their trenchers at. I'm happy to pass messages along from one side to the next."

She pauses and licks her lips anxiously before offering the next. "Occasional Whore. Baker. Message runner and drop-girl. Ah, seven hells… I can brew moon tea and other nasty surprises." She seems reluctant to part with that information but the icy blue eyes on her drag it out.

The pirates remain in their corner, listening to others' presentations. There's a murmur among them when the shapely young baker steps forward. And perhaps Elyas' eyes light up when she explains her various professions? But it's hard to tell in the darkness of that particular corner.

The Merqueen watches, unfeeling, as the corpse is dragged out of the room. She doesn't go so far as saying let this be a reminder to you…, but her stare would certainly seem to imply it, when it fixes on certain men presently paying witness from the sidelines.

But then it's time for new business, and her attitude shifts. She deals with those who come before her judiciously, granting resolute sentences to those who have brought forth matters for adjudication.

When Audra presents herself, the Merqueen proves herself to be capable of smiling. "You've done well for yourself, Audra," she tells the baker's wife, sounding genuine rather than severe, taking care to address the woman by name. Something the old Prince of Thieves, it's whispered among the observers, never could be bothered to do, as if his subjects didn't warrant that respect. "May women still in your former circumstances find hope and comfort in your example. The days of their being chattel are over." She takes due note of each of Audra's professed skills, nodding as they are listed out, pausing to make an inscription in the ledger of activity she keeps throughout the proceedings.'

Audra seems pleasantly surprised by the reception she's given. "I can give your majesty a full account as needed, but th' breads are a gift. I can taste for substances just as well as I can make 'em," she adds. "I'd be willing to take a nibble out of these, as show of good faith."

Once Merqueen finishes speaking to Audra, Cotter steps forward again from where he has loitered nearby. He holds a small pouch in his hand. From the sound of it, there's gold within. "This is an investment, from the Queen." He smiles lopsidedly. "We shall be calling on you here shortly."

No change among the Dornish pirates. They just stand and watch and murmur among themselves, waiting their turn.

Audra makes another curtsey. "You'll have no trouble finding the shop, and I often come down to give the day-olds to the girls an' the children." There's a murmur of agreement from the whores to vouchsafe. "So a respectable baker's wife down this side of town doin' charity work isn't too out of place." She slips the gold into her bodice with a small smile.

"Unnecessary," the Merqueen assures Audra, when the baker's wife offers to prove her own wares by tasting them first for all to see. She nods at Cotter, who presents the pouch to the woman, and then she says, "Thank you for your service," releasing Audra to distribute the baked goods as she will.

Audra motions to the basket, offering Cotter and the Merqueen first pick. The rest is distributed to the court with the whores and dock-girls getting first pick. A few biscuts and sweet rolls are left by the time she reaches the Dornish sailors.

A number of other small applicants appear and are dealt with in their turn. In one instance, a pair of thieves argue over which deserves an ebonwood box from a particular job. Cotter solves this particular argument rather permanently. "May I see it?" He examines the box, turns it over and over, sets it down on the dais, and splits it asunder with his axe. Point made. After this, the supplicants tend to be more businesslike. But Cotter's gaze keeps going to Elyas Seafarer, and as he munches on a sweet-bun, the Shadowcat jerks his chin at the Dornishman, nodding over to the torchlight.

Elyas lets the other sailors have their pick. "That was some amazing pie, Mistress.", he just tells Audra softly, "I may come back for another one soon enough…" His eyes catch Cotter's motion and he frowns. "What does he think he's doing? Commanding a dog to jump through a hoop?", he mutters at Audra but pushes away from the group of pirates to take center stage - which he does with his usual swagger, eyeing up the Queen on her throne. "Well, you know the deal, don't you?", he just tells her, "Goods from Dorne, the Westerlands, whatever passes through the Redwyne Straits… needs a good new home here for decent prices. The fat blob who occupied that throne of yours before tried to cheat us, so we cut him out. Which left more money in our pockets, but was a damn headache. Can't raid at sea and flog your stuff on dry land at the same time after all. So… offer us a good deal, no cheating and we're in business.", he offers.

The Merqueen leans back in her seat when Elyas approaches, her stare traveling from his head to his toe and back again while he speaks. And speaks. And speaks. She gives the appearance of being utterly unimpressed with his presentation. Her stare slides to Cotter. Her head tilts, a fraction. A signal, of sorts.

Audra's eyebrows raise at the bravado but she's only mildly surprised. Dornishmen are what they are. The remaining breads are distributed and she returns back to her sisters, with arms folded over her breasts in amusement.

Cotter steps forward, into the torchlight, at the nod from the Merqueen. He, too, wears a rather disinterested expression, despite his urging the man to speak. He begins in bored tones. "Firstly, mate, you address her respectfully. I know you know how. This's her house, not yours." He pauses to let that sink in; despite his tone, the man's hands rest on his belt, near his pair of weapons.

"Next. We're happy to take and fence your goods. We'll make it a sixty-forty split, our way." He locks eyes with Elyas steadily, head canting. "You may feel free to pursue other avenues, of course. But as you pointed out, that was hard before. Now I'll see to it that it's impossible without giving us our cut."

He smiles faintly, lazily, his brow quirking upward. "We might be willing to renegotiate if you come to us with a better offer and proper respect."

"Yes, your Highnesses.", Elyas replies with a slight grin, the tone carefully balanced to show genuine respect with a hint of amusement. "Sixty-forty, huh. Above table. Not giving me some shit on how you could sell a cask of Arbor Gold for two stags only, when I know exactly that they sell for three each at the pubs that don't ask too many questions. Yes, I could purse other avenues, but can you? You know the business well enough to know that we stand for quality. That we KNOW quality when we go on a raid…"

Cotter smiles slightly, tucking his fingers through his belt, relaxing now that the bluster has worn down to a business discussion. "We've other options, aye." He doesn't elaborate. "As for the split, that's fair enough. I'll make certain you're not cheated — you've my personal word on that." He pauses, measuring the room for a moment, then delivers, deadpan, "After all. The Queen is a criminal, but she's not a thief."

Audra smirks. Her head shakes in wry amusement as she plays with a strand of her hair. She leans in to one of her friends and whispers, mentioning something about a pie.

But before Elyas is dismissed entirely, the Merqueen offers an additional term beyond the scope of those put to the Dornishman by Cotter. "And you will pay restitution," she says, sounding very much like this is a matter upon which there will be no room for negotiation, "for having operated outside the sanctions of my predecessor." She tilts her chin, challenge written in the gesture, even in spite of the icy indifference of her words.

Elyas listens to Cotter and nods along, apparently ready to depart, then the Merqueen decides to chip in and his own features harden. Challenge accepted. "Your predecessor cheated us. Whatever restitution -", he spits the word out like something iffy, "you might demand, you can get from him. I'm not being cheated doubly." He also looks pretty firm on this.

Audra joins the crowd in murmuring. She shakes her head slowly and starts to toy with the beads of her necklace. It isn't a good murmur either.

The Merqueen speaks, and suddenly Cotter is braced, not looking very lazy at all. The guards at the back door perk up, as do certain men throughout the Court. The lean man's features are smooth, blank, close to unreadable. But his frame is coiled and tense.

"We took his head," Cotter says quietly, nodding to the trident. "He's paid his share. For the first ten loads of goods you bring us, we're going to keep an additional… ten percent?" This last is a question, asked over his shoulder to the woman at her table. "And we won't meet again like this. You go to the Bakery," a nod to Audra, "When you have something. We'll arrange for the drop."

The Shadowcat sighs and clears his throat, looking around at the gathering. "Listen," he tells Elyas, his voice still smooth, pitched a little higher over the murmurs, "We have the markets. We have the buyers. We can move your goods faster and safer than you. And you know it." A brief pause. "But you left us. You went elsewhere. If you want to buy back in, that's fine. But there's always a cost."

Audra's got no problem with that. She gives a quick nod, perhaps a touch fearful along with the wiser heads in the company. "He's been there before, knows where to find me," she offers.

Elyas listens and his mouth twists into a rather amused grin. "You know… with that deal, I could just make my first ten loads of goods rather small. So you take your additional ten percent off a bunch of small fry and I'll save the good stuff for the eleventh load. But I understand that your precedssors' crap isn't your fault. And you cleaned up, which I appreciate. So… first five loads, ten percent. Or first ten loads, five percent.", he offers.

Rumors still abound throughout the Undercity about the emergence of the Merqueen from the Deepwater Manse with Phelan Harte's head demonstrated on a mighty trident. That was the night her moniker was born.

Now she sits presiding over the Court of Thieves in the same place the man who once bore the tarred head on his shoulders once sat. She nods at Cotter, when he seeks her approval. But the Dornishman presses further still. When she intervenes a second time, there's a sudden finality in the edge of her tone. "You have our terms. We will know whether you have accepted them by the contact you make, or don't, at the bake shop. That is all."

"I'll discuss it with the lads.", Elyas replies to that, "We'll deliver ten baskets of Dornish fruit in the next weeks then. Probably. Come on, lads!", he calls out to his men who have followed the discussion with interest and unless someone tries to stop them, the Dornish pirates troop out of the murky court.

Cotter seems to take some cue from the Merqueen's tone; he looks past Elyas, to the doors, and nods his head. Guards haul them open. The other thugs close in as Elyas leaves, a sort of pack of sheepdogs, to make sure no one loses their way. The lean man nods again, and the doors slam shut.

Audra lets out a sigh as the tension slowly starts to fade. "Bloody idiot," she mutters to herself.

The Merqueen's reign is a nascent one, but there are still plenty of observers in the crowd who can anticipate what the reaction might be to a worthless delivery from the Dornishman; the whispers that ripple through the crowd in the wake of Elyas's departure are only an indication.

She watches from the dais as the pirates go, her stare ice cold. There may be others still anticipating an audience, but she seems disinclined to hear anything further. She rises, suddenly, and descends the dais, disappearing through a set of doors that no one else has come in or out of since the session began.

"Court is over," announces Cotter, entirely unnecessarily. The shadowcat does not seem particularly fussed over the implications of what has occured, though he does take a moment to speak to a slight, subfusc, little man who quickly disappears. And then he, too, turns and walks through those private doors. He doesn't rush. But his men begin ushering people out of the Hall rather quickly.

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