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“Yes, sir, I will return the loan and the previous one as soon as possible,” the man dressed in worn out, but clean clothes promised, squeezing his hat in his hands and stepping from one foot to the other. “It’s only to help my family... and the business. The last year wasn’t very good for trade...” 

The Duke listened to the plea, nodding from time to time. A thin smile, not touching his eyes, played across his lips. He was a tall, well-built man with only a hint of silver in his smooth dark hair. He was getting tired of this merchant’s stubbornness and inability to pay back what was owed. Not only was this pauper James unable to pay neither his tax nor his loans, but he dared to come here, in Frostberg fortress at a time when the Duke was supposed to be having his dinner. Still, he kept his voice calm when he spoke. 

“I understand that, James, but this is the third loan you’ve asked of me. I can’t afford to lose anymore gold over unfortunate trade and your business.” There was something he wanted from this man, and he was going to have it. Tonight. “You might consider my offer and sell me your house and land. You’ll have more than enough money to move into a smaller one, and you will be able to push your business forward,” The Duke eyed the man up and down, “and sustain your ever-growing family.” 

“Sir...” James made a pause, taking a deep breath, knowing that saying ‘yes’ meant betraying his ancestors. “... this home was built by my grandfather. I couldn’t possibly... my parents are buried on the property... I’m sorry...” 

The lot in question was near Thuris Road a major road connecting the two biggest cities in the North, and the house itself could be transformed into a very profitable inn. 

“Alright,” Duke Horace had thought about offering this, and he knew how to get what he wanted, if James agreed to the simple deal. “I will offer you a very generous deal. I will give you the loan you ask for, twice as much even. You will return that to me within the year or the next.” 
“Oh, thank you, my lord. Thank you!” The man was so happy, but he had not heard the end of the deal yet. 


The Duke continued. “However, you will list me as the heir in your will. That way, you can keep your house, and in case of your unfortunate and untimely death, I will have back what is mine. You have my promise I will look after your wife and children until the rest of their lives. Is this agreed?” 

The room was silent. The only noise to be heard was the breathing of the two men, and the light rain from outside. The Duke moved his high chair back and stood up. “So, this is it, James. You give me insurance you won’t take your debt to the grave with you, and I will give you the loan. This is my final offer, take it, or be gone.” 

The merchant sighed and also stood up. The Duke knew there was no real choice here. It was either that or the family starved. He wasn’t surprised when the man spoke. 

“It is agreed, my lord. I will call the judge tomorrow.”

“Excellent. It was a pleasure doing business with you, James.” He opened the door for the man and saw him out.