The Dragon’s Clause first appeared in the Ricasso Press Anthology: Black Dragon White Dragon. It’s now available as a single on Amazon’s Kindle.
Refi thrust out his chin, accusing. “Do you have proof you come from the dragon?” he asked.
“I knew it would come to that,” Salga said. “I have already shown you my seal, but you will also be interested in this.” He reached into his tunic and brought out the red silk bag, laying it on Della Baldi’s desk.
Refi stood, pushing his chair back with such force that it tumbled over. “Where did you get that?” he hissed.
Salga turned his head toward Refi, “From the dragon, of course…capasci?”
“No, I don’t understand,” Della Baldi said. “Is the dragon rejecting our tribute this year?”
“Si, in a way,” Salga said. He pushed the bag forward on the desk. “Open it.”
Della Baldi looked at Refi, who shrugged. It was slight, but Salga had had six hundred years to learn to read humans. He did not mistake the gesture. Clearly, the two had united against him. It was a shame, because he had hoped to use their opposing political viewpoints to his advantage. He knew the missing money would make things worse between him and the city…and Della Baldi and Refi were the city.
Della Baldi untied the ribbon and dumped the contents of the bag on his desk.
“Dio!” he said. “Where has the money gone? San Marino gave two hundred soldi to the dragon this year.”
“No, Reggente, they did not. They gave him two hundred sasso. And someone went through a great deal of trouble to make sure each stone was similar in shape and size. This smacks of fraud, and the dragon is very unhappy.” He offered the two of them a grim smile.
“You are the fraud,” Refi said, pointing a finger at Salga. “San Marino has paid tribute and you have come in here to steal from us again.”
“Again?” Salga asked.
“Yes, again,” Refi said. “You obviously took the first two hundred soldi, and now you expect us to give you another two hundred by telling us you are the dragon’s agent. Be gone.” He turned to Della Baldi, who nodded. “Leave, before we throw you in jail for the imposter you are.”
“Your grandfathers’ grandfathers’ grandfathers and the dragon created a binding contract.” Salga said. “If you fail to act on it, San Marino will fall.”
“San Marino will never fall,” said Refi.
“You place a great deal of faith in your balesrieri, Reggente Refi. They may be able to hold the walls against an invading army from below, but can they seal this city from the air? I guarantee you San Marino’s legendary crossbowmen cannot keep a dragon from your ramparts.”
Della Baldi stood. “Please leave, sir. It is better for you to go now, then for us to take you away.”
Salga nodded. Della Baldi looked sad, as though he regretted asking him to leave. It was Refi who thought him insane, or worse, truly believed him to be a thief. Della Baldi put on a united front. Salga turned to him.
“There are a great many visitors still in San Marino for the festival,” he said. “Are you sure you want to risk their lives?”
A long moment passed. Della Baldi nodded. “Please go now.”
“I am instructed to tell you, as the dragon’s agent,” Salga said, “that the dragon himself will visit San Marino. You will not like the outcome.”