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E206: Back Room Deals

The season finale! Betula receives some unexpected help with her run for town council.

Starring Hugo Jones, Art Carlson and Marisa King
Written by Eli McIlveen
Directed by Sean Howard and Eli McIlveen
Sound design by Eli McIlveen
Produced by Sean Howard
Supporting producers: Kim Bellinger, Ryan Cushman and Kona

Content warning: more politics.

ELI

Hi everyone. Eli here with the final episode in this season of The Axe & Crown. And yes, before you ask, there’s going to be more. We’ve got plans for our next season underway, and a bunch more bonus episodes too, coming out in the weeks ahead: we’re gonna go on a road trip, we’re gonna meet some of Gubbin’s family and we’re gonna find out what he likes to read. That’s all available to our Specialist level patrons at patreon.com/albasalix. Link in the show notes.

All right! Let’s get back to the tavern.

Theme music plays.

ANNOUNCER

The Axe & Crown, Round 2!

Episode 6: Back Room Deals.

INT. BAR—AFTERNOON

A boisterous after-work crowd. Gubbin is frantically filling tankards.

PATRON

Hey Gubbin! What happened to those beers?

GUBBIN

I’m comin’, I’m comin’, cool your jets!

Betula emerges from the back room.

BETULA

Hey Uncle. How’s it going out here?

GUBBIN

I’m moving my tushy off! Gosh. It’s Friday, and folks are thirsty.

BETULA

Yeah, sorry, I had an appointment.

GUBBIN

I saw. So, who’s this new friend of yours?

BETULA

Friend?

GUBBIN

That guy you were chatting with in the back room. Didn’t look like one of your usual contacts.

BETULA

True, Stuart kinda stands out around here, doesn’t he.

GUBBIN

Yeah, wearing a suit like that, I figure he’s either a fancy client, or someone with an interest in your election bid.

BETULA

Good guess. Yeah, we’ve met a couple of times. He’s been giving me some information on our incumbent.

GUBBIN

Oh yeah? Like how that little creep keeps getting elected?

BETULA

Exactly. Funny thing about Duffin Braithwick. A couple of challengers who ran against him ended up, you know…

GUBBIN

Slightly waterlogged, yeah.

SECOND PATRON

Another pint, my good man.

GUBBIN

Yep.

(back to Betula)

But that was years ago.

BETULA

Yeah. I guess the disappearances got a little too much attention from the press and the town guard. So Braithwick’s turned to other methods. These days it’s a lot of intimidation outside polling stations, and a little bit of magical ballot-stuffing.

GUBBIN

Hah! I knew it.

BETULA

Apparently he’s found a way of getting around all the safeguards.

GUBBIN

Here you go.

SECOND PATRON

Excellent.

GUBBIN

Sounds like something the press needs to hear about.

BETULA

Absolutely.

THIRD CUSTOMER

I’ll have another half-pint of the dark ale, please?

BETULA

Coming up!

She fills a tankard.

GUBBIN

You find all this out from your Mister Suit?

BETULA

A lot of it. Stuart’s been very helpful.

GUBBIN

What’s his deal, anyway? Sure didn’t look like Guild.

BETULA

No, he’s a rep for Mysticorp Energy.

GUBBIN

Oh, big new money. Hmm. So Mysticorp want Braithwick out, huh? Interesting. Wonder what he did to tick them off.

BETULA

Yeah, it’s not like he’s a competitor.

(to customer)

Here you go.

She slides the tankard over. Coins clink.

THIRD CUSTOMER

Thanks, Betula!

GUBBIN

So has “Stuart” said what he wants from you?

BETULA

No, I guess it’s just future consideration if I actually get on council.

GUBBIN

You gotta be careful what you promise.

BETULA

I haven’t promised anything.

GUBBIN

Has he promised you anything? Or has it all been just dirt on the opposition?

BETULA

Mostly dirt, but he did say he’s very keen to see Braithwick go down.

The door opens and Stan hurries in.

STAN

Hey! Guys! You’re not gonna believe this. Look!

GUBBIN

What’s this?

STAN

It’s a new pamphlet from Constance. You know Mysticorp, the big magical energy company?

BETULA

I… know of them.

STAN

Well, get this. They’re trying to run a transmission line for magical energy right through our ward!

BETULA

Is that a bad thing?

STAN

“Is that a bad thing?” Big time.

You think the potion dumping was dangerous—this is gonna run straight along the waterfront and under the Lookout Bridge, all the way to downtown. Anywhere they run these transmission lines, there’s earthquakes, there’s freak weather events, cats with opposable thumbs…

BETULA

Geez, that is scary.

STAN

Right? We’ve gotta put a stop to this project! Down with Mysticorp!

GUBBIN

Well, this just got interesting.

STAN

Oh, this is gonna be the issue that decides this election. They’re gonna be trying to influence the candidates to get this project pushed through. We must be vigilant.

BETULA

(awkward)

Sure.

INT BAR—MORNING

STAN

All right, team! Time to get on the old campaign trail.

BETULA

Thanks for doing this, Stan.

STAN

You bet! Brunch can wait. Democracy is way more important than mere peanut butter waffles.

GUBBIN

Yup, enjoy yourselves. Good luck pretending that meeting people is fun and worthwhile.

BETULA

You’re always a help, Uncle.

GUBBIN

I know you’re thinking it.

Stan brings out two bags.

STAN

Look, I got us matching satchels to hold all our brochures.

BETULA

Aw, thanks Stan.

(she tries one)

The strap’s a little short.

STAN

Oh, sorry. Yeah. Troll thing. I guess maybe you can sling it over one arm?

A sudden burst of cheering from outside.

GUBBIN

The hell’s going on out there?

BETULA

Some kind of street festival? They’re putting up a ton of banners.

STAN

They’re what?

He runs to the front door and opens it.

GUBBIN

Street festival?

(squints)

“A Taste of Mud Street”. Ha, of course. Look—sponsored by all the Bucket Pubs.

Stan returns.

STAN

All right, this is really the last straw!

GUBBIN

Yeah, I’m sick of the Badger and Bucket—it’s one public nuisance after another with them.

STAN

They organized this whole amazing festival and they didn’t tell us. Other places up and down the street are setting up tables and music stages.

GUBBIN

Argh! Always with the goddamn musicians!

Stan closes the door.

STAN

That Dorothea, she probably planned this for the weekend before election day because she knew we’d be campaigning. They’re gonna sell food all day and make a killing, and here’s us with nothing!

BETULA

I guess this is payback for those firecrackers we sent them disguised as candles?

GUBBIN

Aaa, let ’em have their stupid festival.

STAN

No no no no no, we can do this, we can do this. Hold on. I’m Head of Innovation. Let me think this through. We’re gonna… okay, we’re gonna move some tables outside, and we’re gonna figure out where to get some food at the last minute, we’re gonna…

Silence.

GUBBIN

Uh huh?

STAN

We’re gonna…

BETULA

Look like chumps.

STAN

Aw, man.

Wagon wheels outside. The front door swings open.

STAN

Hi there. Can I help you?

COURIER

(cheery Australian accent)

Yeah, I’m looking for a Betula Erfydsdottir?

BETULA

Yup, That’s me.

COURIER

Hi, I’m Crane! Where do you want us to set up these tables?

BETULA

Tables?

GUBBIN

Tables?

COURIER

Yeah, for the festival?

STAN

Tables?

BETULA

We didn’t order any tables…

COURIER

Oh, no, yeah, we got an order in to deliver two tents, plus tables, signage, a portable stove and all the groceries.

STAN

(looking out the door)

What the heck? Is this your wagon? Holy cow.

COURIER

Yeah! The rest of the crew should be here soon.

BETULA

What crew? Who sent you?

GUBBIN

How much is all this gonna cost us?

COURIER

Cost you? Nothing. This is already paid for. All sales go straight to you.

GUBBIN

What’s the catch?

COURIER

No catch. It’s all taken care of. Oh, there’s a note for you. Here.

Betula opens the note.

BETULA

“All the best for a successful Taste of Mud Street. Looking forward to working closely with you. Regards… Stuart.”

GUBBIN

Yeah, I had a feeling.

STAN

Sorry, Sutart? Who? Who?

COURIER

So, we’ve got five tables, so I’m thinking two on this side of the door, two on that side and one under the window for prep. We’re gonna be serving a stripped-down version of your existing menu: stew, mock pigeon pie, and two ales on tap. I’m just gonna head out and start setting up. Sound good?

STAN

Look, this is great. This all looks amazing, thank you so much—

COURIER

Yeah, you bet!

He closes the front door behind him.

STAN

Can we get back to the Stuart part? Who the heck is Stuart?

BETULA

Just a guy we’ve been meeting with—I’ve been meeting with. He’s been passing me information about Duffin Braithwick. Like that big scandal in the paper last week about how he was using animate ink to alter ballots. That was a tip from Stuart.

STAN

And now this “Stuart” is just suddenly sending us a ready-made booth for the street fair?

GUBBIN

And a whole team to run it? Betula, what exactly did you agree to?

BETULA

Nothing! I didn’t agree to anything! He didn’t tell me anything like this was happening.

GUBBIN

This is all straight out of some kinda fairy tale. Someone waved a magic wand and kapoof, we got a feast to sell all the visitors at the fair.

BETULA

I didn’t even know there was A Taste of Mud Street going on this weekend. None of us knew!

STAN

But this Stuart guy did, clearly. And made this all appear overnight.

GUBBIN

Like magic.

Wait a second. Stan, what was that plan you were warning us about? Some transmission line being built by Mysticorp?

STAN

Yeah, transmission line, yeah. I mean, what does that have to do with any of this?

GUBBIN

You said they’re running the lines through this neighbourhood?

STAN

Yeah?

GUBBIN

I bet you a whole wagonload of pigeon pies that they want to build something just this side of the bridge. Which is owned by Braithwick Shipping.

STAN

Yeah, but what does that have to do with us suddenly having food tents?

BETULA

The guy I met. Stuart. He’s with Mysticorp.

STAN

He’s what?

Mysticorp Energy paid for all this?

BETULA

Yeah!

GUBBIN

Well, that’s what the signs say.

STAN

The signs?! Wait—

(he looks out the door)

Oh no!

GUBBIN

“Mysticorp Energy wishes you a very happy Taste of Mud Street!”

BETULA

I mean, that’s pretty amazing.

STAN

Amazing? No, no, no, we can’t do this!

BETULA

Stan, they totally saved us! We would have had nothing this weekend. Everyone else on the block would have been making money hand over fist and we would have gotten nothing. Now we’ve got a whole team here to sell food for us.

STAN

No no no. No! Tell them we’re giving it back.

BETULA

The food’s already here. Do you want to waste it?

STAN

We can not promote them. They’re the bad guys.

BETULA

What’s the big deal? It’s not like people are really going to vote based on some stupid sign.

GUBBIN

And it looks like they made you some shiny new campaign buttons too.

BETULA

We’re not actually taking money from them.

STAN

We might as well be! Look, I may be the dumbest guy in town and even I know that Mysticorp is gonna want you to do their bidding. They want your support building this transmission line once you win.

BETULA

(laughs)

If we win. Gods help us if that actually happens.

STAN

What do you mean? That’s the whole point. We’re trying to win.

BETULA

Speak for yourself. I just signed on for the free stuff.

STAN

How can you say that? Is this just a game to you? What happens on council affects everyone in this city. And here’s you guys, laughing about taking money from Mysticorp.

BETULA

Well, what do you want me to do? Drop out of the race?

STAN

No, no, no! That’s handing Braithwick another term. We have a chance to make a difference in this city, guys!

GUBBIN

Kid, what difference are we really gonna make?

STAN

Well, none, if you’re gonna be like that. Listen to you two! Don’t you care about anyone but yourselves?

GUBBIN

Hey. Hey! I care about this place. I care about my regulars and my neighbourhood.

STAN

Really? Doesn’t seem that way to me. You’re always complaining about the neighbours. And your regulars. Because no one is ever good enough for you.

GUBBIN

Ouch.

BETULA

Look, Mysticorp is trying to help us take down a corrupt councillor.

STAN

That doesn’t make them saints.

BETULA

Yeah? Well, Stan, it doesn’t make them evil.

GUBBIN

You know what your problem is, Stan—you care too much.

STAN

Yeah? Maybe I do. But who do you think should run this city? People who care or people who don’t?

GUBBIN

You wanna please everybody, and for everybody to just get along, and that’s not reality.

STAN

Maybe not, but we can try to make it reality. We can try to get along.

GUBBIN

Some people are just wrong, Stan.

STAN

Yeah.

And right now, I think that’s you.

And I can’t be part of this.

He walks to the door.

GUBBIN

Suit yourself.

BETULA

No, Stan, come on. We’re just serving food outside for a weekend.

STAN

You’re not even serving the food.

Look, I can’t be here. I can’t be in the middle of all this. I’m gonna go work for someone who does care.

BETULA

Stan…

Stan closes the door. A moment later, it opens again.

COURIER

Hey, is it okay if we store the casks of ale inside?

(awkward pause)

Bad time. I’ll come back.

He closes the door.

INT. BAR—NIGHT

Music and celebration outside. Gubbin and Betula watch from inside.

BETULA

I gotta hand it to them. It all worked.

GUBBIN

The kids on our “street team” said they were up to four hundred crowns already.

BETULA

Wow. It really was a hell of a party. And they’re back at it again tomorrow.

GUBBIN

Yeah. You hand out a lot of campaign flyers?

BETULA

Hundreds. Had a few people interested in booking events here.

GUBBIN

Oh yeah?

BETULA

I overheard a woman raving about the stew, and I’m pretty sure she was a food writer for the Gazette.

GUBBIN

Well, her readers are in for a shock when they come and taste our regular food.

BETULA

Where did all those people come from today?

GUBBIN

With all their money.

BETULA

Yeah.

I mean, I’m not complaining.

GUBBIN

No, no, me neither.

Glum silence.

BETULA

I hope Stan’s doing okay.

GUBBIN

Yeah.

INT. CAFE—DAY

A busy cafe. The door opens with a jingle, and Stan walks up to where Betula is sitting.

STAN

(polite)

Hello, Betula.

BETULA

Stan! Hi. Uh, have a seat? Or I guess you order up there first.

STAN

No, I’m good for now.

BETULA

Yeah. Heh. Feel a little out of place here. But thanks for meeting me.

STAN

Yeah.

BETULA

So… congrats.

STAN

Yeah. You too. You won, that’s…

BETULA

I’m really glad Constance got in.

STAN

Thanks.

BETULA

Did you have a good party after the results came in?

STAN

Oh yeah. Constance gave a really great speech. It was very moving.

BETULA

Aw, that’s great. And you’re gonna be working at her office now, huh?

STAN

Yup. I get my own desk, business cards… it’s pretty sweet.

BETULA

Nice. Heh.

Look, I know we made some bad decisions in this campaign. You were right. We were flying high and didn’t realize what we were doing. I didn’t realize.

We made almost a thousand crowns over the weekend, but… I thought it should go to something more important. I want to donate it to… what’s the organization Constance runs? River Grand Grandmas?

STAN

Grandmas for the Grand. Yeah, that’s it.

That’s a thoughtful gesture, but no. Thank you.

BETULA

What? Think what you could do with that money!

STAN

Money from Mysticorp.

BETULA

It’s money from our weekend selling food at the Axe and Crown.

STAN

Which was all run and managed by Mysticorp. They were handing out buttons. There were sponsorship signs all over your tent. This is Mysticorp money. Betula, we can’t take it.

BETULA

But what am I supposed to do with it?

STAN

Fix the floors, buy new bar stools—why are you asking me?

BETULA

Stan. I’m out of my depth. I never thought I’d actually win.

STAN

Seems like you’re better at this than you thought, huh?

BETULA

Yeah. But… I’m lost.

STAN

Betula, I cut you a lot of slack, you know? All this time, I’ve been looking the other way when people come to you to fence whatever thing they stole—

BETULA

Stan! Shh! Geez.

STAN

Actually, no, I’m not gonna “shh”.

Look, maybe underneath all the stealing and the lying and the sabotaging your competition, maybe underneath that there’s still a good troll with a heart of gold. Or maybe not. I honestly can’t tell any more.

But I want to believe that you can stand up for all those people who voted for you. And you’re not just gonna line your own pockets, or shill for a huge energy company.

BETULA

I won’t. I never signed anything, I never promised them anything. I don’t have to do what they say.

STAN

Yeah. I guess we’ll see.

BETULA

I want to make this right.

STAN

I want to believe you, Betula. I really—I honestly do. I don’t know if I can yet.

BETULA

That’s fair.

STAN

So.

I’m gonna see you at town hall.

BETULA

Yeah, see you there.

STAN

See you there.

Stan walks slowly out.

CREDITS

Theme music plays.

ANNOUNCER

The Axe and Crown!

Starring Hugo Jones, Art Carlson and Marisa King.

Script and sound design by Eli McIlveen.

Directed by Sean Howard and Eli McIlveen.

Produced by Sean Howard.

Supporting producers: Kim Bellinger, Ryan Cushman and Kona.

If you enjoy the show, check out our Patreon. You can get early access to episodes, plus all-new bonus stories and an invite to our wonderful fan community on Discord. Look for the Patreon link at AlbaSalix.com.

OUTTAKE: SCARED

HUGO JONES

I’m getting scared. I don’t know what’s happening at the end of this.

MARISA KING

I know. Stan’s gonna leave us.

HUGO JONES

(petulant)

And I’m getting scared. And I don’t like it!

MARISA KING

(laughs)

ART CARLSON

I’m sure it’ll be fine!

MARISA KING

It’ll be fine!

ART CARLSON

(laughs)

HUGO JONES

It’ll all be fine. It’ll all work out in the end.

ART CARLSON

You know why I know it’ll be fine? ‘Cause it means there’s gonna be a Season Three!

Laughter.

MARISA KING

That’s right. That’s right.

Music sting.

ANNOUNCER

A Fable and Folly Production.