Strategic Meeting

Candles burn low on the aged oak table, casting alternating light and shadow on the faces gathered around it. A solid man with long, graying hair braided in a tight rope down to the small of his back leans over a frayed map spread open on the table. Piles of coins hold down ragged corners which curl tighter than a sea serpent preparing to strike.

The man looks up at the slender, cloaked figure standing across from him. “I take it that all has been set in motion?” he queries.
“Aye,” comes the husky reply. “The bait was set and they couldn’t resist it. Even now, they feed obsessively on the decoy. They were quick to reveal themselves, emboldened as they are.”

The man gives a harsh, humorless chuckle. “Good.” He glances about at the four others gathered here in the abandoned barn, his grim expression mirroring theirs. “We must move swiftly, then. Some must leave tonight, the moment this meeting is concluded.” No muttering complaints meet this announcement. They have all been expecting this over the course of the past few months and are prepared to act.

The man leans over the map again. “One is already established in the lands to the north, here.” A blunt finger indicates the port city near the smoldering volcano. “She will be joined by her scholar-in-training to ensure that her disguise and story are compatible and raise no suspicions.”

Next, he indicates a mountainous area in the northwestern part of the map. “Two others are making their way to the land of the Orcs as we speak. They have lodgings ready at one of the strongholds there and will present themselves as apprentices to the new king when he makes his request a fortnight hence.” He glances at the others again. “They will be our eyes and ears there, as we expect new movement from our foes.”

Looking down at the map again, he continues: “Another will set sail to the south from here.” His finger stabs at a port city on the northern tip of a long island. “We expect a great deal of activity there soon, so a coordinator in that strategic location is of utmost importance.”

He gathers up the coins, allowing the map to furl as he distributes the gold to the others in attendance. The amount is not insignificant, as this meeting had been called in haste. The urgency and seriousness of it had been established by the location and sealed with the amount of coin paid.

He puts the map in its special case and re-seals it, tucking it back in the enchanted coffer it normally resides in. Crossing his arms, he meets the gazes of the others again. “The rest of us will set sail from the port to the south and should arrive within a week. With the eyes of our enemies cast elsewhere, we have a short interval to establish our observation posts where we know they will gather next.” He grins, white teeth flashing in the candlelight.

“Staggering our respective arrivals should go unnoticed, but always remain alert. We cannot afford to be as sloppy, lazy, and careless as they.” His expression turns serious again. “Their numbers have rendered them so,” he says softly. “Still, one slip on our part will make this entire operation a worthless cause.”

He casts a meaningful gaze on each face present. “The spies which haunted our guilds were identified and scattered. That important step made this moment possible. Let’s make the most of it, shall we?”

The candles are extinguished as traveling clothes are donned. The guests depart at varying intervals and in different directions. The merging of the three guilds is complete.

The next leg of the journey begins…

Protected: Excerpt: A Good Deed – Conclusion

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Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. II)

*** Author’s Note: Part I of this excerpt can be found here, in case you missed it. I think I will do a ‘Top 5’ of my personal favourite excerpts or posts, soon!

“I’ll be brief, friend Grush. Do you know, or have you heard talk of, an Orc woman calling herself Baghzragh? The coin here will be yours either way, as you have been honest and true in the past.” Grushtakh’s shoulders slump as he bows his head and looks at the floor dejectedly. “Aye – that I do,” he says, a bit sadly. Sepultur’a cocks an eyebrow questioningly, nodding at him to continue. Grushtakh sighs. “She’s my blood-kin, so I know her all too well – and yet, not well enough – else, I wouldn’t be in this predicament! Being here in this…” he raises his head and looks wearily around, running a hand over his bald, horn-stubbled pate. “…in this den of iniquity was not in my plan.” He meets Sepultur’a’s gaze. “To use the vernacular of you humans, she is both my half-sister and my cousin. My mother is sister to her mother, and both of them are wives of the chieftain in the stronghold of Yol Karzhagum. My mother is the forge-wife; hers is the hearth-wife. I had no hopes of being a chieftain there, as the hunt-wife is mother to the first-born male.” He chuckles ruefully. “Truth be told, I admit that being chieftain wasn’t something that I desired. Part of the reason I ended up here, I’d wager.”

Sepultur’a listens intently, making the coin dance across the backs of her fingers. It’s a small trick she learned during her time with the caravan, which relaxes her. “It sounds as if she played a role in it, as well,” she states, which draws a mirthless chuckle from Grushtakh. “Aye…that she did. She always had a high opinion of herself, solely based on her mother’s place in the stronghold hierarchy, but never availed herself of the tutelage or apprenticeships provided by the others in the clan. You humans pay a fair price to learn valuable skills; we Orcs are born and taught them from the moment we can walk, talk, and pick up a hammer!” He chuckles again, this time with genuine good humour.

“One day, not long after her 19th birthday, she decided to hop aboard a Breton trading-vessel which had been in port for a week. Not a word to anyone! Father said that she’d best not return unless it was on the arm of a respected war-chief, as that would be the only one able to pay a worthy dowry!” He chuckles again, remembering the scene in the dining-hall when Baghzragh’s disappearance was discovered. “At any rate, I was surprised to get a letter from her a couple of months ago, as none of us had heard from her for three years, at least.” He rummages around in a battered satchel at his side, pulling out a folded parchment. Carefully unfolding it and smoothing it out, he hands it to Sepultur’a. She takes it, then presses the coin into his palm and folds his fingers around it. “Wait a moment,” she says and then quickly reads the letter. Once she’s digested the contents, she re-folds it and hands it back. “She promised you a lucrative business deal, using a lot of flowery language which gave no details,” Sepultur’a states, folding her arms and leaning back against the wall. Grushtakh hangs his head again. “Aye,” he sighs miserably. “I was a bit in my cups when I got the letter, and didn’t read it as carefully as I should have. I came here believing a lie, and feel quite the fool at being duped. Bad enough to be deceived at all; even worse to have it done by your own kin.” Sepultur’a nods in agreement. She knows all too well the pain caused by deception, especially when done by one who was trusted.

Grushtakh looks glumly at the coin given him by Sepultur’a, brightening a bit at the way it glints in the light of various candles and torches flickering here and there throughout the refuge. “This, at least, will get me a decent meal and a room at the inn! It will be nice to sleep in a cot, at the very least.” Sepultur’a smiles. “Indeed,” she says, glad to be able to offer payment of some sort. She knows that he is too proud to ask for help or take any charitable offer; it is almost an insult to his race to do so, and she doesn’t want to add to his wounded pride. “I think that you’ll find that coin worth quite a bit. Take it up to the banking-house and see what exchange you get, why don’t you?” She moves away from the wall and pulls her cowl over her face again. “Thanks again for your help, my friend. There might be another reward in this for you if all goes well. Even if it doesn’t, you will be able to return home with your head held high and reputation intact and unsullied. If you choose to return, that is!” She clasps his hand briefly and exits the refuge.

Grushtakh inspects the coin closely. On one side is the diamond-shaped emblem of the imperial army, while the other shows an image of the three alliance banners ablaze from the fires of war. He lets out a soft whistle of admiration. What she gave him was part of her earnings from the battlefield, and a generous one at that. He knows enough about currency to see that she gave him a war-chit worth 5,000 pieces of the universal gold coin exchangeable throughout the different lands and provinces. This would be more than enough to get a fresh start, right here in this city, if he so desired…

To Be Continued…

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Protected: ESO Fan Fiction: Scenes From the Battle, Part II

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