The Silent Partner
Note: Image associated is from Ironage.media, specifically their prompt, 'The Mechanic'
Today was the day. The day when Gregory Aethelred would be remembered forever. He only hoped it was for what he hoped to be remembered for, that he would be known as the father of what had come to be called industry. He swallowed as his throat tightened at the thought. He looked himself over in the mirror again, his collar feeling too tight and hot about his neck, his tie a noose willingly applied upon it. He straightened both.
'What are we doing?' He wondered as his mind raced along with his anxiety peaking as he checked the trim of his moustache and worked the wax into it. 'We are daring to succeed, Gregory. To achieve what no one else has, because they could not imagine the way.' The thought came upon him like a gentle wave on the shore, lifting him away from his panic as it shifted through every crevice of his mind. He finished styling his hair correctly and dressed himself in his best clothing, a finely tailored morning suit, the uniform of all serious businessmen across the Empire.
His doubts fell away as he donned it, feeling himself stand straighter, as he imagined the Knights of old must have when they wore their plate. That gentlemen had once been expected to risk life and limb had always fascinated Gregory, as it did most peasants these days. Peace had become the norm of late, and the grandson's grandsons, who comprised the nobility, were a far cry from their forebears where courage was concerned. He wondered if that was why the merchants had become the daring class, though if that were so, why did they not command the same respect?
The late winter chill shocked the train of thought rattling from his head, pulling his coat closer to himself. 'It seems the tailor was wise to suggest a double-breasted design,' Gregory thought, regretting that he had not taken the extra expense as the cold wind fought its way into his coat. He hurried along to warm himself up as he went to his factory, knowing that the air would be a mite warmer, courtesy of his business partner. Smiling, he thought of the deal he had made to get this far. He only hoped the men he was meeting would see things his way, or else all he would be remembered for was treason.
As Gregory turned onto the lane his factory faced, he saw three men waiting at his door. Checking his pocket watch, he noted they were 10 minutes early, at least. He wondered if he should wait for the other two he had invited or simply accept that only three were interested in his idea. Pushing the doubts from his mind as he drew close to the three noblemen, he spoke loudly over the wind, "Good Morning, Sirs! I hope I haven't kept you long." Gregory put his best smile on, keys finding the lock with practiced ease, ushering in his guests from the cold.
"Gentlemen, I thank you for coming. Please, take a few moments to warm up, and perhaps I can make some coffee or tea?" He said, shaking the cold from his calf-length coat, hoping to encourage the reception area's heat into it.
"No, thank you, Mr. Aethelred. We'd prefer to see quickly why we should fund your ideas over the other merchantmen's." Unexpectedly, the smallest of the three noblemen had spoken, his face obscured under the widest brim Gregory had seen on a top hat. The man's clothing looked much the same as Gregory's own, but each aspect was far more expensive. Where Gregory had dyed wool felt, this man had beaver or mink; solid-coloured wools were replaced with subtle patterns, blacks and greys woven together. Gregory couldn't place the weave but knew it was nearly the Imperial court's design.
"Of course, Sirs. Follow me." Gregory spoke, recovering himself from his surprise. He had been hoping to ease the topic of his partner in, but there was nothing to be gained in denying his guest's request. "This is my factory."
Walking down the stairs into the belly of the factory, Gregory continued, "As you can see, I have very few employees. In fact, I have just one, who is key to what we've achieved here. But I must ask, Gentlemen, that you reserve judgment until you see what we can do. Kethelrax, you're here, yes?" He shouted into the factory's hall, the only answer coming as the factory floor came to life, gears turning and chains softly groaning as life came into them again.
"Your employee has a strange name, Mr. Aethelred. One that I believe I've heard before, have I not?" The tallest man spoke, his coat something between Gregory's baseline and the shortest man's exquisite luxury, all maroon and navy blue in its details.
"You may have, Sir. And while I know you're of Klethenwell house, I can't say whose son you are." Gregory answered, politely prodding for the gentleman's name, knowing the law prevented him from directly asking.
"Alaric." The man said, revealing his identity as Baron Klethenwell himself. He would have left Gregory dumbstruck had he not posed another question, pointing his cane at the gears as they passed, "How did you make such strong chains? I've never seen so many links without flaws."
Collecting himself and squashing his panic, Gregory answered, "Most steel mills run the forges on the cool side, trying to save on fuel. I don't share that restriction, thanks to Kethelrax. And if I may, Sir, thank you for coming. I didn't expect interest from a Baron." He steadied himself as they rounded a corner on the factory floor, expecting, even hoping, that one of their minds would wonder who his partner was.
"You owe much to this partner, Mr. Aethelred." The last lord spoke with a hint of accusation, "Who is he? From what I have gathered, you owe him everything in this building. Including the building."
"I do, Sir. And you will see him soon, Sirs. He is just ahead, at the controls of all the machines within this factory." As they turned the corner, Gregory drew on every bit of charisma, hoping to quell any fear these nobles might have. "May I present Sirs, my friend and business partner, the dragon Kethelrax?"
None of the lords could pick which to stare at, the insane man to their right or the dragon patiently running a gear that seemed to work the entire factory.