The plain looking middle-aged man passed his coat off to the waiting servant. It was a well made jacket of the finest quality but you wouldn’t have noticed that at first glance. It was tailored in a subdued style and had a simple design.
As the servant stepped away, the man calmly adjusted the collar of his shirt and walked down the mansion’s hallway. He didn’t bother to say anything to the servant or even acknowledge his presence more than necessary.
The severe looking man ignored his surroundings as he moved, even though the inside of the building was lavishly decorated. His face remained absolutely expressionless.
A long red carpet muted the sound of his footsteps as he walked. Night had fallen hours ago and it was pitch black outside, but an abundance of bright oil lamps lit the man’s way. The light from them glinted off the expensive silver and bronze items that were on display around the room.
He reached the end of the hallway and unhurriedly pulled the door open. There was a lavish but cozy room on the other side and it had three occupants. They were all seated around a small intimate table in the center of the room. All three of them looked up as the newest arrival entered and closed the door firmly behind himself. It clicked shut as the mechanism within sealed the room.
The man gave each of his compatriots a quick look over, but his thin face revealed nothing of his thoughts. There were two other men and one woman at the table.
One of the men was older than him and had a neatly trimmed beard, graying hair, and a smug twinkle in his eye. The other was younger, clean shaven, and didn’t look to be in good shape. He had a pudgy cast to his features and looked like he was carrying extra weight.
“Thank you for joining us, Ressarus,” the grey haired gentleman said as the man pulled out a chair and took a seat.
“Thank you for hosting this meeting, sir” Ressarus replied politely but emotionlessly.
“I hope your journey here was less eventful than mine,” the matronly looking woman remarked.
She was wearing a long plain dress that gave her a frumpy look and her long blonde hair was carefully braided. Altogether, it made her seem older than she actually was.
“I ran into no surprises, and I’m glad to see that you’re fine and still capable of continuing to fulfill your responsibilities for this company,” Ressarus told her.
“Your concern touches my heart,” the woman told him dryly as she tinkered with a wine glass.
“None of us are responsible for your travel plans, or how spectacularly they went wrong. Maybe next time you won’t skimp out on hiring the necessary protection. We don’t control the North yet,” the younger man told her scornfully.
“I never said you were,” the woman replied coldly.
There were no servants in the room, and only a single bottle of wine on the table. Nor were there any windows in the walls. All the light came from a silver chandelier hanging overhead.
“Wonderful, now that the formalities are done with, let’s get down to business. I have ventures of my own to get back to and a throng of lesser nobles that need to be kept in line,” the bulky man suggested impatiently as he reached for the wine bottle and poured himself a cup.
He then set the bottle back down and took a sip from his glass. His comment earned him scowls of disapproval from the woman and Ressarus. The older grey haired man simply smirked as he folded his hands in front of himself on the table.
“Oh, what’s with that stupid look on your face, Ressarus. You’re even less of a stickler for formalities than me,” the youngest member of the group remarked irritably.
“Perhaps, but impatience is not something I approve of either, especially in business partners. I believe that the fact we went rushing in without proper preparation is the reason our plans have been recently delayed,” Ressarus explained.
“Ah, you’re talking about that mess in Daggerpoint. That was unfortunate, but I would hardly even call it a real setback,” the older man replied.
“Yes, you’re probably right that our impatience is to blame for our failure there. We saw an opportunity to expedite our plans and took it. However, Zelena’s failure simply means we are back to our old schedule, and all it cost us was a small chest of silver,” the woman added as she shrugged without apparent concern.
“Ha, even we don’t have unlimited funds. We shouldn’t get in the habit of accepting such losses. Investing so much money in that fool Zelena was a mistake on our part. We should have waited until Werrick could take things in hand personally,” the bulky man remarked.
“Now now, we all knew this would be a complicated endeavor and that we would face setbacks. Let us simply move forward from here,” the older man interjected calmly.
“Agreed,” Ressarus commented.
There were mutters of agreement from the other people at the table as well.
“So, we underestimated both Herad’s pride and her competence, but that won’t happen again. Based on what Persus told us we assumed she wouldn’t make a good… employee, so we chose to ignore her until it came time for Werrick to eliminate her. However, these latest events have shown that we must deal with her directly,” the older man added.
“Yes, the next time we move we must leave nothing to chance. For Werrick to control the North for us the Black Snake must be eliminated. I propose we spare no expense when we move against her; she must be crushed with overwhelming strength!” the younger man told his partners.
“Winter is almost here so we can’t do anything until spring. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a proper northern winter, but it shuts almost all travel down,” the woman remarked.
“That works both ways. Herad’s movements will be restricted as well. She will be stuck in Daggerpoint all winter. Come spring, she will assuredly then move South to reunite with the rest of her band. We simply have to get ready to strike once that happens,” Ressarus explained.
“Won’t that kind of manpower draw attention to ourselves?” the woman asked.
“From who? The nearby lords are the next best thing to destitute. Hulgaron is kingless and Eloria preoccupied by myriad other concerns. We also have agents in place that can make sure anyone looking is distracted if necessary. A group of merchants paying to exterminate some bandits is hardly suspicious, anyway. Anyone who even notices will probably applaud us!” the younger man explained.
“Indeed, it would even set a useful precedent. Since no one else is willing to stand up to all the nefarious bandits in the North, why should we not protect ourselves? When Warrick pushes South none of the powerful lords will care if we raise a small army of mercenaries to protect our interests, and once that happens…” Ressarus drawled on suggestively.
The older man laughed and smiled cheerfully at his companions and poured himself a glass of wine. He then raised his glass up into the air in front of himself. He looked like nothing more than someone’s favorite elderly uncle.
“Then it’s official; I don’t see any need for a formal vote. When the snows start to melt this spring the Broken Wheel Company will destroy The Black Snake and her band. Cheers!” he happily announced.
The others all raised their glasses, even Ressarus’ empty one, and a chorus of cheers and the sound of chinking glass filled the room. None of the participants had any doubt in their minds that they would succeed. The resources they controlled were simply far too great for a mere bandit chief to stand against.
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