A hundred years later, Lucy Sasparilla was in her bedroom at Riverbend Castle, wondering how she would get even.
Poisoning, she considered, would be rather too pedestrian, and did not fit the offense one bit. Torture, now; that was getting warmer. It only lacked a certain irony, a certain.. deliciousness of character to set the spark to the whole thing. She would have to deny him something. Something very precious.. She cast her eyes about the room for some kind of inspiration as to what the Baron of Riverbend might find precious.
She found nothing. The whole estate was as bare as a church. She had had to beg and wheedle with the man for days to get what little decoration there was in her own room. Finding a single object that the man admired, let alone treasured, would be an impossible task.
What was there that the Baron took pleasure in? Lucy wracked her brains, trying desperately to come up with a single instance of her foster father ever smiling as he described something – anything at all. There were the books in the library, but she could never get at them. And besides, thought Lucy, who could get excited about books?
A soft knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. She knew that knock.
“Go away,” shouted Lucy. “I'm plotting your demise!”
“That sounds interesting. May I come in and watch?”
“It has to be a secret so you don't know it's coming.”
“Then you had better let me in, so you can feed me false information. Otherwise I'll be likely to grow suspicious.”
Lucy opened the door.
“I'm still angry at you,” she said.
“That's only to be expected,” said the Baron.
The two of them stood across the doorway. Lucy did her very very best to stare defiantly up into baro Riverbend's soulful, compassionate blue eyes. He looked embarrassed. Perhaps even apologetic. She couldn't stand to see him this way. Those bright flashes of nobility were buried under a thousand layers of piety and self-punishment. She could see the toll that the drought had taken on him. And to think that she had contributed..
“I'm sorry!” Lucy threw her arms around the baron and wept. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll be good, just please don't be sad anymore. Please?” She looked up at the baron, and he laughed.
“I don't see how anyone could be sad with you around to cheer them up,” the baron said.
“But you are,” said Lucy.
“Yes,” admitted Riverbend. “I suppose I am.”
“So I'm not good enough.”
“You are as skilled an up-cheerer as any young woman could be. My malaise has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with my people. I fear I may have led them to ruin.”
“You're not in charge of the weather,” said Lucy.
“No, but I am in charge of the workers, and their families. I should have saved more. Prepared more. I should have been ready for this.”
“You couldn't have known.”
“Precisely,” said the Baron. “I should have been ready for the unknown.”
Baron Riverbend broke free of his foster daughter's embrace.
“If you are truly no longer upset, he said, “I should return to my business. One of the messages I sent to Bradhurst has returned. It would behoove me not to keep her waiting.”
“I'm sorry I got so angry. You're just so serious all the time! And you don't listen to me. And you treat me like a child. And -”
“Slow down,” the baron smiled. “I will answer for my sins tonight at dinner.”
And for Lucy, that would have to do.
The Agon River sprang from the high mountains in the northern part of the West, cut a swath through the heartland of the South, and emptied into Biscuit Bay, a hundred miles east of Bradhurst. Riverbend Castle had begun its existence as a tax-collection fortress, back when the South was truly a collection of independent baronies. Nowadays its purpose was not to stop trade along the Agon, but simply to provide a central, local government to the people of the area – and, of course, send tribute back to the West.
The village of Riverbend, where Lucy Sasparilla had spent her formative years, playing in the shadow of the imposing, monolithic Castle Keep, had grown quite prosperous since the Final War. A century of peace had successfully converted a massive, sustained weapons production machine into an equally massive engine of Progress. Every day, thousands of steamboats travelled up and down the river, delivering ores of iron, copper, and zinc to the great foundries of Bradhurst, then taking the metals back upriver to be worked into usable goods.
Most of these goods stayed in the West, never to be seen again. It therefore fell to local craftsmen to provide the South with most of the more sophisticated tools and machinery that modern life required. Such men were required to be brilliant, resourceful, and ingenious, masters of finding novel uses for the simplest of scavenged opponents. The best of them could take one careful glance at a new machine, assembled carefully in a Western shop by a small army of assistants, and duplicate it, himself, in his workshop, using improvised tools, and for a fraction of the cost.
The best of them had a name. It was Robert Sasparilla.