Raizel sat down. She wasn’t sure she had another option. The Diamond Raven stood behind her, his hands on her chair. She wondered at that, but she could ask him later.
“I have to get to the capital,” she told the Judge. “That has to be what I have to do first. If I miss the census-”
“Yes, yes, they have impressed on everyone how awful it would be to miss the census, I understand. And yes, you must pay taxes. Where would we be without taxes? I’d be out of a job, for one.” He flapped his hand in her direction. “No, no. This, I want you to do while you go. People are starting to hear about you, you see. People listen to you. I’m not sure why, but it’s not mine to reason why. It’s just mine to assign the tasks as they come to me.”
“…All right?” She raised her eyebrows at him and hoped he’d be making sense soon.
“I need you to create someone.”
“I’m sorry? I’m not a wizard nor a god-touched.”
“No, merely touched by everything that comes along-” he held up his hands quickly. “I mean, gods and pixies and specters-”
“Does everyone know everything about me?”
“There have been some rumors, and I pay people very well to bring me all those rumors. I have heard many things about you, but what I want you to do is not to create a real person. More, I want you and your travelling companion here to mention someone.”
“Who?” She leaned forward. This was getting stranger and stranger. “And why?”
“What I want you to create is a mysterious figure. Say… the Jade Knave. You don’t know his family-name, but that wouldn’t surprise you, you’re travelling with a man who calls himself the Diamond Raven. You don’t know much about him, but people you’ve passed have mentioned him. He seems to be moving the same direction you are. And maybe you’ve heard that he has ill-will against the rich and possibly the famous. Not against the poor.”
“He’s Llewddur Llam!” The Raven laughed. “You want us to make up a modern Llewddur Llam! Why not just tell stories of the original?”
“Well, certainly, if you want, work in the connection.” The judge huffed. “But he is an original creation – or she – this Jade Knave. Nobody has seen them. But they are known to sometimes hit the more expensive coach lines.”
“What, exactly, are you going for?” Raizel frowned at the judge, even though she thought that was probably a bad idea. “You want me to wander around the country telling lies-”
“Stories. I want you to tell stories. Stories about a Jade Knave.”
“Who steals from the rich, but not the poor. Who – what? What does he do for you?”
“He makes the rich nervous. He makes the poor happy.” The Raven frowned. “He gives you an excuse to increase the money spent on the guard, or to raise taxes, or to-”
“Indeed,” the Judge cut in. “He makes the poor happy, which is harder than it sounds and far harder than feeding them. Feeding the poor is just a matter of spending some money. Making them content with their lot, now. That’s where you come in.”
“…You want me to placate ‘the poor.’” She frowned at him. “Who is – who are ‘the poor?’ Aren’t I ‘the poor?’”
“And would your family be happier if someone was out there, bringing the rich and the famous down a peg or two?”
“My family would be happier with a new roof on the second building and a lower Census tax.”
“And can your mayor or your judge make those happen?”
“You’ve thought this through too well,” Raizel complained. “I can’t go against that.”
“That is part of my job, after all. Once it was all of my job, but positions change, desires change, and it is rare that I get to have a good argument anymore. That being said, if you make up this Jade Knave for me, I believe I can do something about making the specific poor happy as well as the more abstract poor.”
“What do you mean?” She didn’t like the way he said the poor, but she wasn’t going to argue that her family was short on money and long on mouths to feed.
“You said your family wanted a new roof. I can’t lower the Census tax, but I can send roofers. And I will. Just agree to this deal, to talk about the Jade Knave.”
She didn’t want to turn to look at the Raven. It wasn’t his decision. On the other hand, he was older than her and seemed to understand people pretty well.
“You’ll tell my family why?”
“I’ll tell your family that you were passing by and agreed to do a favor, and so I am doing you a favor in return.”
That made sense. “And you’ll do it just for me agreeing? By the time I get home, the bad rains will have passed.”
“I have a feeling, Miss Raizel, that you keep your word. So yes. Do as I asked. And in the meantime, I will have your family’s roof repaired.”