21st of Demiber 1884
A man was seated at a small table, reading a newspaper. The front page headline stated ‘New Wave of Reforms to Aid the Lower Class’. He read the article intently, taking in every word. He sighed.
“What’s wrong, Phin?” asked a tall, pale man sitting across the table.
“Oh… I don't know, Boric”. It is all of these reforms. The papers seem to be trying to convince people that good things will come of the revolution, but they're talking in circles and not really saying anything.”
“Isn't that the nature of politics? They never say what they mean.”
“I know, but some of these seem to be outright lies. I mean, here, it says that the new leaders will be instituting a program that will give everyone access to clean water. Where is the water coming from?” Phinneus threw the paper on the table in frustration. “I am going out for some air.”
Phinneus stood up, grabbed his coat and hat, and walked out the door.
Demitrius was beating down. Phinneus was used to the heat, having been raised in Antiford. However, he had spent the past year in Titania with the Yeti. When the revolution started, he decided to return.
While in Titania, he constructed a few condensers based off of a new technology being researched at the University in Hjem. The condensers could generate drinkable water by extracting it from the air. These condensers, he brought with him to Gearford. Shortly after he arrived, the government passed a law making the possession of water generators and lab equipment illegal. Phinneus worked quickly to hide his devices aboard his ship, The Northstar.
That was nearly six months ago. Most of his time was spent aboard the ship making cargo and personnel runs between ports. It was a meager living, though it afforded him a small house in the Barrett District. Though now, he was also illegally selling water to the lower class. This allowed him to amass a small fortune. He took to selling his water to the upper class as well. They had no reason to question where it came from since he spent so much time at sea.
This day was particularly hot. He knew that many of the mill workers would be using up their reserves. Grabbing a small cart, Phinneus unloaded several large containers of water and made his way to one of the alleys behind a mill. A loud bell rang signaling a break in the workday. Dozens of people poured out of the doors and flooded onto the street.
A young boy, no more than eight years old, saw Phinneus standing with his cart and walked over to him with an empty mug in one hand, and his lunch pail in the other. Phinneus grabbed the cup from the boy before he could say anything and half filled it with water from one of the containers.
“Thank you, mister. But I cannot afford this,” the boy said.
“That is fine. It is free today.”
The boy’s eyes widened as he looked at the cup. A few other mill workers approached Phinneus and were handed mugs of water. They called some of their friends, and soon a crowd formed. Nearly seventy people stood around the cart laughing and cheering and telling stories. Phinneus felt good about himself. He knew that he was doing a good thing. He had the water and money to spare.
The sharp sound of a whistle pierced the air. The crowd parted and two constables approached Phinneus.
“What do you think you are doing,” asked one of them.
“I am…” Phinneus paused. He knew that the constables would not believe that the water was his, and he had forgotten his papers. “I am just getting to know these fine people,” he said with a big smile.
“Where did you get the water,” the other asked.
“It is mine,” he replied.
“Where did you get it,” the first asked.
“I found it. I am a merchant who sells water. I seem to have forgotten my papers back at the office.”
“Don’t you know that it is illegal to sell water without a permit? Sir, we are placing you under arrest.”
The crowd booed and cursed at the bobbies. When their faces were turned towards the mill workers, Phinneus took off running. The constables shouted and ran after him. “Fool! Why did you run,” Phinneus asked himself. He was weaving in and out of the crowds and carriages. Then a man appeared in front of him, stopping him dead in his tracks.
“In here,” said the man as he shoved Phinneus inside a shop and down into the shops storage cellar, the door slamming behind him.
Phinneus could hear the men looking for him enter the shop. They began to interrogate the man and shop owner. Not finding Phinneus, they soon left. The door opened, and footsteps came down the stairs.
“Why did you do to have so many constables chasing you,” asked the man.
Phinneus looked at the man. He was tall and well dressed.
“If you must know, I was caught handing out water.”
“And did you steal the water,” asked the man.
“Absolutely not! It was my own private stock.”
“That is not very convincing.”
“I am a water merchant. I felt that it would increase my business if I gained the loyalty of some of the mill workers. Besides, I was doing a good thing by giving out water,” said Phinneus defensively.
“It was a good thing, Phinneus.”
“How do you know my name?”
“That will have to wait. Go to this address tonight at nine. I will see you then.”
“But you have not answered my…” Phinneus began before he was interrupted by the man turning and walking up the stairs.
Phinneus followed the man up the stairs to finish the conversation. But, when he walked into the shop, the man was gone. He glanced at the note in his hand. All that was on it was an address and a time.
That night, Phinneus went to the address on the note. At the address was a small building with a sign on the front that read ‘The Black Leaf and Earl’.
“A new business. At least some people are not as bad off as others,” Phinneus said quietly to himself.
He walked up to the door and hesitated. He was not certain what he was doing there. Opening the door, he saw a short woman busily running around cleaning up tables and carrying out tea and sandwiches.
“Have a seat wherever you like dear. I will be right with you,” she said with a stack of tea cups carefully balanced in her hands.
Phinneus sat down. But, no sooner than he had, he saw the mysterious man from earlier approaching him.
“Please follow me Mr. Cromwell”
Phinneus stood and followed the man into a back room. In the room there was a table with three chairs. Sitting in one of the chairs was an older man.
“Welcome Mr. Cromwell. First things first, I believe introductions are in ORDER...” the old man said as he was standing up, wheezing quietly with laughter. The other man sighed and rolled his eyes. “My name is Lars Attridge.”
“And I am Hector White,” said the other man extending his hand.
“It…is a pleasure to meet you both. Why am I here?”
“How do you feel about the new government,” asked Hector.
“Why… do you two work for them?”
“Not quite. We're trying to keep an eye on them,” stated Lars.
“We have also had an eye on you since you came back. There aren't too many water merchants,” said Hector.
“And those that are licensed typically have dozens of employees and considerable land. How is it that you are successful,” asked Lars.
“Look, you aren’t the government, and I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“You misunderstand us. We are not trying to trap you.”
“We would like to offer you a position within our organization,” stated Hector.
“We've looked into your past. You're in good company; Hector is quite a skilled chemist and I have been pursuing the creation of automatons.”
“What is it that you would want me to do?”
“Go about your daily business. Keep an eye on the government’s involvement. You are in a unique position, when compared with us,” said Hector.
“You have business dealing with the government. We do not. But, there is more to being in this organization than just spying,” replied Hector.
“That's why we asked about your feelings on the government,” said Lars.
“Well…to tell the truth, I am not too keen on the new government. I feel that they are making promises that cannot be carried through. Besides, several of them were the reason for my arrest a few years ago.” Phinneus thought for a moment. “Count me in.”
“Very good, Mr. Cromwell,” said Lars.
“Welcome to the Order of the Badger.”