As Nisila approached the guild camp, she said a silent prayer, hoping she was not too late to save the prince. Her journey to the country of Hattan was the most extended sea voyage she had ever taken, and the farthest she had been from her homeland in the Middle Islands. She was homesick and weary of travel, but the quest took precedence over her body and heart.
If she did not get to the boy in time, all the years she had spent fighting and planning would be for nothing. She had to get the young prince home safely, and she was prepared to do anything to save him. Her life's calling was to make sure Prince Beaumont ascended the throne and became king of the Middle Islands.
She crossed the sea with her raven Shadow-cry. The bird occupied his time eating grain, and also found great sport in diving into the ocean and grabbing fish near the surface. The sailors quickly grew fond of the raven, and the bird kept them entertained during the long journey. Shadow-cry was twice the size of any other raven, and his eyes were bright and intelligent; she was happy for his companionship.
Once she arrived in the country of Hattan, the ship docked in the city of Morris Port. It was a young city that served as the central trading hub of the region. Nisila did not remain in Morris Port long; she took a ferry across the river to Arlem, and after getting directions from the ferryman, she made her way west to the camp of the New Brotherhood. She would need help securing his safety, and the guild of the New Brotherhood was her best chance. The Brotherhood were once allied to the paladin army that freed her country from Deode occupation, and she hoped that would lend some favor to her request for help. She set off through the forest on foot, with hope in her heart and Shadow-cry watching her back.
After nearly two hours of walking, she emerged from the cold shadows of the forest, and before her were the walls of the New Brotherhood camp. Shadow-cry flew ahead to investigate. To her left was a dirt road that left the tree line and meandered toward the main gate. After watching the raven disappear into the distance, she noticed a small group of men running drills a few yards in front of her. The men reminded her of her comrades back home and she longed to see her island again. An old grizzled captain, a tall black man with a thick reddish beard, shouted instructions to the sweating soldiers.
He wore a black gambeson that came down to his knees, similar to the style Nisila purchased from a sailor during her journey across the sea. Her's was light brown, but more form-fitting and buckled at her waist with a black leather belt. In Morris Port she bought boots lined with sheep's wool and the merchant, who was a sweet young woman with a lovely smile, added some linen gloves with her purchase.
She lived her entire life in the warmth of the islands and never felt such cold weather before. The mist that appeared after every breath fascinated her. Everyone looked as if they were smoking, and upon landing in Morris Port when she thought no one was looking, she blew out puffs of air to amuse herself. Real smoking—a popular pastime in the Middle Islands—was a habit she never picked up, along with drinking anything that would dull her senses. Observing the change in other people after they drank was enough to deter her from adopting the vice; she liked keeping her wits alert and sharp at all times.
An immense wall of timber enclosed the camp, built in a semi-circle against the face of a cliff. The cliff reached several feet high, and on the top was a plateau with a building surrounded by many trees. The structure was in the shape of a long hall, well built with high windows that sparkled in the distance like jewels. From where Nisila was standing, she could make out a path that went from left to right across the face of the cliff. A massive green lawn separated her from the main gate. It was a strong defensive position allowing the Brotherhood to see any enemies coming from a long way.
She looked up and spotted Shadow-cry circling above just before he dove over the wall and entered the camp. He would signal her if he found any threats within. He had a keen eye that saved her in the past, and she relied on him. Satisfied, she adjusted her cloak about her shoulders, trying to fend off the cold. The sky was clear and the sun was beaming, yet she could not feel its warmth. It was like the fire of the sun struggled to penetrate the northern air.
When she approached the gate, there were four guards on duty. The guards wore black woolen coats over mail armor and green cloaks, without helms; they leaned lazily on their long spears. One fair-skinned man with brown hair and bright blue eyes addressed her.
"Hello, what brings you to the New Brotherhood guild?" the guard asked.
Nisila quickly sized up each of the men as she spoke, "I would like an audience with your guild master."
"If you come to join our ranks, I can point you in the right direction," the guard said. "You do not meet with the guild master directly."
"I am not here to apply to your guild, though I am sure it would be a great honor," Nisila replied. "I have traveled far and I do not have much time. I mean to speak with the guild master right away. I have an important matter to discuss with him. He would be interested in meeting me."
"If you have not sent word of your coming, doubt that he would," the guard said, sounding bored. "He rarely meets guests on short notice, but I will take your message."
Nisila thought carefully before giving the message, hoping to pick the right words that would grant her the meeting. "Inform him I have arrived from the Middle Islands, and that I am a messenger from an old alliance. Let him know I require his help with a matter that could benefit him greatly."
The guard looked at one of his companions and shrugged, "If that is all, I shall have my man send word to the guild master. What name should I give?"
"He will not know me," Nisila said. "I am only a humble messenger, but if you must give a name, tell him Nisila of the Middle Islands."
"Wait here at the gate for his response, but make yourself as comfortable as you can. As I said, he rarely meets anyone without prior notice and he may not see you this day, but maybe on another day."
"I cannot wait another day," Nisila said. "I have already come late, and my quest is of great importance. I suggest you tell your messenger to express this to the guild master."
"We cannot be so bold," the guard replied, with a raised brow. "But we will see what comes of your request. Wait here." The guard briefly spoke to one of the men at the gate, a tall fellow with light skin and long dirty blonde hair. The man nodded and was off to deliver the message. Nisila watched the man walk away and his lack of urgency irritated her, but she had done all she could do for the moment. She pulled her cloak tightly around her shoulders and stood to the side of the gate.
Several wagons appeared from the forest, slowly approaching along the dirt road that led directly to where Nisila was standing. Many men dressed in the fashion of the guild sat upon it. They wore warm clothes and long green cloaks, and some were fair skin and others darker in complexion like Nisila, with sandy brown skin. The wagons were laden with crates, barrels, and bags. As the men rode past her, she caught a strong smell of fish and soil. She counted four wagons, all filled to the brim with goods. The last travelers were hauling an assortment of arms, mainly spears and throwing javelins.
As she watched them enter the gate, they continued along the dirt road that led directly through the middle of the camp. It was wide enough to fit four horses side by side, with smaller paths leading off to other sections of the base. Small makeshift tents lined the inside of the wall and adjacent to those, larger structures constructed of wood were built toward the center of the camp. The men and women living within the camp went about their daily business with much vigor, and they greeted each other warmly. The breadth of the camp reminded her of a small town. It was strange seeing such a large community of people at ease. Her homeland was suffering through a violent civil war, and she had forgotten how calming security and peace of mind could be. It was a positive reminder of why she was fighting. She yearned for peace.
Nisila waited impatiently for the messenger to return, and the guards refused to send another runner to find him even though it had been over an hour since he left. Just as she was crouching to eat a few bites from her pouch, she spotted the messenger riding toward the gate, leading a horse behind him.
"Greetings," the guard said. "The guild master can briefly meet with you. He asked that you take the horse up the hill to his hall. It will be much quicker. I will ride along with you." Nisila put her food away and slipped on her linen gloves. She mounted the black mare, and the guard led her down the main road toward the guildhall; He was riding a lovely horse with a gray coat and black spots. Getting an audience with the guild master was a big win. Now she had to make sure she made a positive impression on him.
Nisila was impressed with the camp as they rode through, and she wanted to learn more about the guild. "How long has your New Brotherhood occupied this land?" She asked the young man riding beside her.
"I only joined them a year ago," the guard said. "But they arrived twenty years past. It was all forest before they came, but the guild master at the time ordered the trees cut down and cleared from the cliff, as far back as you see it today. They used the wood to build the first barracks and stables, which we ride past now if you look over your shoulder to the left. Upon settling here they were harried by raiders from southern Hattan, so they fortified this position. Once the raids stopped and they pushed the clans out of northern Hattan, which today we call Arlem, they continued to build and prosper."
A group of men went past them carrying arrows. With the training and incoming goods, it looked like they were preparing for war.
"So much preparation and training," Nisila said. "Do you still fight these southern raiders?"
"At times we do," the guard said. "There are many princes who own land in Hattan, and unlucky for them the best soil is near the southern border. The New Brotherhood helps to protect their interest by hiring out our men to defend against the southern raiders. Once I finish my training, I can join the fighting. They pay men well to defend the borders." An army of mercenaries was the thing that the Middle Islands needed. However, such men did not come cheap, and her people hardly had enough to contest Rancine's army. Her priority was securing the safety of her prince; she would have to leave the rest to others with more exceptional minds than her own. Her current quest was overwhelming enough, without the added burden of politics and financing armies.
The road leading to the guildhall was narrow and paved with stones. Any enemy looking to assault the plateau would have a difficult task ahead of them. There was only room for two horses to walk abreast and the path became more narrow the closer they got to the top, allowing for only one horse at a time once they reached the halfway point. Upon reaching the top, Nisila looked back to see an open view of green forest and white peaked mountains in the distance. The wind was strong and cold, sending a shiver through her body. She did not think it was something she would ever get used too. She spotted Shadow-cry descending toward her. The raven landed upon her shoulder with a noisy flutter, and she dismounted the horse.
Two men standing at the entrance of the hall approached her and the guard. The man that addressed her was dark skinned with a bald head. He wore a black wool coat and black trousers, "I hope you do not intend to walk into our hall with that eagle upon your shoulder."
Nisila fed the bird a small morsel from her pocket before addressing the man, "This is a raven, though I am sure you have never seen one this large. The bird is well trained and will be no bother, that I can assure you."
"As I am closer to the bird, I can see my error now," the man said in awe. "It is a raven. I was unaware that the beast could grow so large. This one must be half drake. Even if your bird is trained, these are the rules, and the raven must remain outside."
"You might find it difficult keeping Shadow-cry outside while I am in your guildhall," Nisila replied with a sly smile. "He is swift and agile; he will easily find his way within your hall."
"Very well," the guard replied. "I do not mean to make an issue out of it and to tell you the truth I do not relish the idea of chasing a bird around. He has an unsettling way about him. He looks at me as if he were listening to every word and understanding what I was saying. Very strange, indeed. I will make note that the request was made to relinquish your pet, but you refused. We will see what Master Eric says on the matter."
"That is a fair decision," Nisila replied. "And I thank you for being so understanding. Please take me to Eric. I am eager to meet him." The guard bowed curtly and turned about in a flurry, his cloak snapping behind him. Shadow-cry screeched loudly, and the man glanced back with a raised eyebrow. Nisila held back a laugh and patted Shadow-cry.
"Do not be so mean," She whispered. "The guard is only doing his duty. Also, be mindful of your manners with Eric, we cannot afford any mistakes."
The guildhall was warm and inviting. It looked larger from the outside, but the first room they entered was cozy. The ceiling was vaulted, fitted with cross beams and windows were built high near the ceiling, letting in plenty of sunlight. Torches burnt dimly from scions, making the room comfortably warm and a black rug led to a set of double doors. The guard opened the door and motioned for Nisila to enter.
"Greetings, guild master," the guard announced. "I present to you Nisila of the Middle Islands." The room was large, with the floors laid with gray and white flagstones. To the left was a warm hearth and to the right a large wooden table with several maps and documents laid open upon it. Before her, sitting in a high backed chair covered in furs, was guild master Eric.
Eric was a middle-aged man with short black hair and a clean-shaven face, black skin and bright, welcoming eyes. He wore a sleeveless linen shirt, showing powerful arms and a broad chest, with fitted black pants and tan traveling boots. Upon his neck was a necklace with a golden medallion, but Nisila could not make out the design etched into it. On both his forearms he wore golden armguards, and he had a ring upon his right index finger with a small green jewel in it. He clasped his hands before him, with his index fingers pressed against his lips, contemplating some deep thought.
"Fetch Samus and leave us," Eric said to the guard, as he nodded toward a stool at his feet. As Nisila sat, he remained silent, staring directly at her. She smiled and nodded, wondering if she should address him first, or stay silent. She was Unclear if there was a custom she was supposed to follow before the guild master and chastised herself for not asking before meeting him.
"I apologize," Eric said finally. "I should have called on Samus earlier. He is my second in command, and he must be present at all my meetings." His voice was cheerful, and Nisila felt a little more at ease. She noticed him eyeing Shadow-cry.
"This is my raven, Shadow-cry," Nisila said. "He is well trained. I understand you do not allow animals in your hall, and I am sorry, but he is impossible to keep away. He watches over me constantly."
"I do not mind," Eric replied. "He has been quiet since you entered and has hardly moved. How did you come by him?"
"He was a gift from a friend," Nisila said, hoping Eric would not inquire any further. Shadow-cry belonged to her lover, Denali and upon his death a month ago, the raven had followed her ever since. It was a grief that was still near to her heart and the reason she found herself in this desperate quest to find the Prince. "Shadow-cry, the mantle," Nisila commanded, and the bird leaped off her shoulder and landed neatly above the hearth.
"The raven knows what a mantle is?" Eric smiled.
"He is brilliant," Nisila said. "He impresses me every day." The door behind her creaked open, and another man entered the room. He was fair of skin and tall, with a clean-shaven face and blue eyes. His hair was brown and came down to his shoulders. He was much younger than Eric, maybe similar to her age, at about twenty-five. He wore a light brown woolen sweater, that buttoned up along the left side of his torso, with black boots and trousers. Nodding to Nisila, he stopped short when he saw the large raven sitting upon the mantle.
The man nodded at Eric with a smile, "What is this eagle doing in here? By the gods, I have never seen one so large!"
"The raven belongs to Nisila," Eric said. "Nisila, this is Samus my second in command. As I said, he is to be present at all my meetings. He is to know my mind on all matters because he oversees the guild business when I am away." Samus leaned forward and offered his arm to Nisila in greeting. She did not like the way he looked at her. His face was pleasant and handsome, but there was lust in his eyes. He quickly glanced at her from head to toe, before walking to stand at Eric's shoulder. Nisila slicked her black hair back and adjusted her ponytail, feeling suddenly uncomfortable with Samus in the room.
"Tell me, Nisila of the Middle Islands, what brings you to Arlem?" Eric asked.
Nisila took a breath to clear her mind and bring her thoughts in line. There was so much that had happened, that she was suddenly unsure where to begin. She decided to get straight to the point. "I come seeking your help because you were once an ally of the Middle Islands. Twenty-five years ago, you brave men of the New Brotherhood rode side by side with the paladins of Gordon, and you freed us from the Deode Empire. You gave us a King to rule our new country, and we are forever in your debt."
Eric exchanged an approving glance with Samus, "I thank you for the kind words, Nisila, those were truly the best years of my life, and I look back on them proudly."
"As you should," Nisila replied. "Yet, we call on you again for aid."
At this, Eric sighed, "The war is behind me now, Nisila, I cannot imagine what more I could do for the Middle Islands."
"There is much you can do," Nisila said. "We have been in a civil war for nearly ten years now. After the murder of King Bohemond, the islands fell into turmoil. Old grudges between the wealthy clans erupted anew, and we remain fractured."
"That is truly sad to hear," Eric replied. "The Middle Isles are beautiful and rich, and I remember the coronation of Bohemond, it was a great victory for all involved. I felt he would make a good leader."
Nisila nodded solemnly at the memory of her past King. "He was a good King, and he brought the clans together. Our only hope is to have peace returned."
"Are you looking to hire our men in your civil war?" Samus asked.
"Hire you? No, I am afraid that would not be possible," Nisila said. "We do not have the means to hire men to fight for us."
Samus laughed incredulously. "Then why are you here if not to hire us for our military assistance?" Nisila looked at Eric, and he seemed to be waiting for an answer to the question posed to her. Samus irked her with his carefree laugh, and she suddenly wished he was not in the room.
"I am here because it is time for the true King of the Middle Islands to return to the throne," Nisila said. "Rancine murdered Bohemond and then assassinated Queen Reena. He also meant to murder their newborn son, Beaumont…but he failed." Eric raised an eyebrow and looked at Samus. Whatever thought they shared went unspoken before Nisila.
"Bohemond had a son?" Eric said. "There is a living heir? Why is this coming out now? How old is the child?"
"He would be in his tenth or eleventh year," Nisila said. "My people and I knew of his existence, and he has been kept safe all these years, waiting until he was a grown man to make his claim. Unfortunately, Rancine has learned that he lives and is determined to have him murdered, like his father and mother."
"How did Rancine discover the boy is alive?" Samus asked.
"His warriors captured a high ranking member of my faction," Nisila said, grief-stricken at the thought of Denali. "His name was Denali, but he is dead now, executed by Rancine's men. Once King Bohemond passed, Denali helped lead the resistance and was one of the few who knew of Beaumont's existence and whereabouts. We know the warlocks who serve Rancine, and there is no chance Denali could have kept his secrets from them long. He suffered greatly at their hands." Nisila's voice broke, and she felt her emotions rising.
"Who was this Denali to you?" Samus asked, sounding concerned.
"A great friend," Nisila said, taking a deep breath and composing herself. "The best man I ever knew and the only man who had my heart."
"You are young, give yourself time to heal," Samus said softly, as a strange look flashed in his eyes. Nisila steeled herself beneath his piercing gaze. She would have time to mourn Denali, but she would not do it before a man who had no respect for his memory.
"I know the Prince's location," Nisila continued. "He is being held in a place called Mount Hope. I know this place is in Hattan, but I need your help getting there because I do not know the way, and I cannot keep the boy safe alone." Eric nodded slowly, pondering her words. After a moment, he sighed and stood up, his arms behind his back as he paced toward his large desk.
"Tell me, Nisila," Eric said. "Why come to us for help?"
"I do not know this country," Nisila replied. "Rancine has a long reach and more resources than we do, so I cannot easily trust anyone with this information. I come to you because you were once our ally. It was because of you and the paladins that Bohemond was king; you are the only one who would understand. You were there for us once, and I ask that you help us again. We have read the signs, and the Prince is the key to winning back what was once ours. We know Rancine has seen it too, his warlocks would have shown him. If the boy lives, he will be king."
"You speak of magical foretelling?" Samus said, laughing. "Does Rancine truly believe in such things that he is willing to kill a child over it? What threat could a boy of ten possibly pose to a man of stature and power?"
"You know nothing of the powers that exist in this world," Eric snapped. "There are signs hidden from men's eyes. I have witnessed such things myself. If Rancine had his warlocks explore his destiny, and the boy is his bane, then that is a threat he cannot ignore."
"This is why I came to you, you understand," Nisila quickly said, seizing the opportunity. "Rancine will do everything he can to kill the Prince. That is why I need your help. I do not ask for much, only a guide and some good men to help me return him safely to the Middle Islands."
"How do you expect to pay us for our help?" Samus asked.
Nisila was hoping to avoid the question of money. Her people had none to give, not enough to pay for hired men. She spent everything on her journey across the sea. "What I have to offer is a debt. You believed in us once, enough to risk fighting a war to free us. King Bohemond was murdered before his time, cheated from life by lies and deceit. There was still so much good he could have done. Now, his son has a chance to right these wrongs, do you not see the good in that? Please, help me."
Samus shook his head and sighed, looking at Eric. The guild leader stood silent for a moment, and Nisila hoped her words had given him some pause to consider her request. He was a warrior from the age of honor, where men fought for the rights of the weak. After the death of Amost the High Priest, and his bride Latree of the Amazon's, the paladins retreated to Gordon, never to be seen in the world again. She could not turn to them for help in this matter. The New Brotherhood was her only choice, the only warriors with ties to the old alliance that she could trust. She anxiously waited for his response.
"There is much to be done in Arlem, and these matters need my attention," Eric said. "The attacks on the southern border are becoming bolder, and it looks like there will be an all-out war soon. My guild grows larger and larger as the months pass and I must spend more time away from camp, trying to convince these young lords to band together. Even with all these great responsibilities, I find I cannot ignore this thing you ask."
"What?" Samus said, surprised. "Eric, you cannot be seriously considering helping this woman?"
"Must there always be a reward, Samus?" Eric replied. "Must we only do a thing for profit and personal gain? We are discussing a friendship that is beyond your understanding. You did not fight in the war between the paladins and the Deode Empire. I do not expect you to understand, but you will respect my decision. Nisila, I will find some men to help you."
"Eric, before you—"Samus pleaded.
"I have made my decision, Samus," Eric snapped before the young man could finish. "You will see to it right away. Gather five men to guide and escort her to Mount Hope. They are to secure the Prince and return them safely to Morris Port. Go now." Samus looked as if there was more he would say, but he held his tongue. Nisila could see his jaw grinding in frustration, and when he looked at her, his animosity toward her was clear. He walked out of the room and slammed the door behind him.
"Forgive him, he does not truly understand the history between our guild and the Middle Islands," Eric said. Nisila looked up at the old veteran, and he smiled, a look of satisfaction coming over him. Her guess was right, and she had secured the best chance of saving the Prince. She knew Denali would be proud of her. Shadow-cry flapped his wings and cawed in approval.
"Shadow-cry agrees as well," Nisila laughed. She stood up and shook Eric's arm, "Thank you, Eric. I will be sure to remind the Prince of what you did here today."
"I have to do the right thing," Eric replied. "I am glad that you came to me with this. Have you spoken to anyone else about your quest?"
"No, I have not," Nisila said. "You are the only one since leaving the Middle Islands. A select few know that I left on this quest, but we did as much as we could in secret. Rancine has many spies, and I suspect they were watching our movements. I only hope I was not too late in arriving here."
"We will see," Eric sighed, and patted her hand like a loving father before releasing her. "Let us continue to keep this secret, just between us here. Speak of it to no one, and I will have Samus also express that to our men. It is like you said, one cannot be too careful. In the meantime, I suggest you rest up before your journey. I will have my man find you a room and a hot meal in my hall." The idea of a bed was appealing, and Nisila suddenly realized how hungry she was.
"Thank you for everything, Eric." He escorted her to the door and gave instructions to the guard who she first met at the entrance. She bid farewell to Eric and followed the man out of the hall to another entry on the far right end of the building. Inside he led her to her room. It was cozy with a small fire already going. There was a single window that faced out toward the forest, and she could see some of the fields between the trees. There were more men outside training. Shadow-cry landed on the window sill, nodded his head to her, and then flew off. She supposed he would want to try and scavenge for food, leaving her to eat in peace.
"I will have a hot meal brought to you right away," The guard said.
"I thank you," Nisila said. "Please send word to me as soon as Samus has assembled the men who will escort me. I want to meet with them." The guard nodded and left, closing the door behind him. Nisila sat down on the small bed and removed her cloak. She undid her ponytail and shook her hair out. She shuddered as the anxiety and stress of the past few days left her shoulders.
Here she was, in the distant country of Hattan all by herself, and she had already completed the first step in her quest to save the Prince. She was currently writing history, and the idea of that made her smile. She did not do any of it for glory or fame, but to cherish the memory of the one she loved, and to do right by her country. Upon meeting the king, she would make sure to let him know the sacrifice Denali made for him. He will be remembered as a hero for all time, even if he could not be there with her. Nisila closed her eyes, and she could see his face, as clear as if he was standing in front of her. She felt tears well up and run down her cheek, but she did not wipe them away.
* * *
Eric leaned against the hearth, idly poking the flames, waiting for Samus to return. He knew Samus was upset, but the boy had to learn to see beyond what was in front of him.
From her first words, Eric understood Nisila. She was a pretty girl, who cared nothing for womanly charm or looks because she lived the warriors' life; A mindless soldier like the men and women he knew in his youth. They were all dead or living frugally in the muck of the world. None of them had grown to anything more significant than sheep, following a false belief in honor, an idea created by more powerful men to control them. Eric had learned the truth many years ago, and his ambition had taken him far.
He started as a lowly squire and was now the leader of the most powerful guild in the north-west; with so much more he wanted to accomplish. He played a methodical game with the little lords of Arlem. While they squabble for scraps against the southern hordes, he slowly expanded his military force across all of their lands, in the guise of security. He had recently convinced another wealthy lord to build him a third stronghold along the border, manned by his New Brotherhood soldiers. Soon he would control the forts that protected all of them, and when the time was right, he would strike.
Despite his work in Hattan, he kept his ear open to all rumors of unrest throughout the greater world of Dayconis. At the end of the day, war was a plague on people, but it was how he made his living. As reports came in over the years regarding the civil war in the Middle Islands he knew it was only a matter of time before one of the factions began seeking assistance. He did not care who he fought for, as long as they paid the price for his men, he was open for business. Learning today how hard pressed Nisila and the rebels were, helped clarify his goals. He would get the most opportunity working with Rancince. He would have to make contact with them soon. The information he received from Nisila would be of value to Rancine, and it would be an impressive introduction to the king.
The door swung open, and Samus walked in with a peeved look on his face. "I carried out your orders as you requested. Five men and a guide will lead the woman to Mount Hope. I request permission to speak freely." Eric nodded and walked over to his table, shuffling some papers.
"I believe we have missed an obvious opportunity here," Samus said. "This woman knows the location of a child with royal blood, a bloody King's ransom and you help her, freely? Out of some long-forgotten alliance. Why, Eric?"
"Who did you assign?" Eric asked.
"I beg your pardon?" Samus replied, confused, his temper beginning to rise.
"To assist, Nisila, who did you assign?"
"No one of importance," Samus sighed. "A raggedy outfit of misfits, most of them on probation for minor infractions. Drunkenness, brawling, and tardiness. Will you answer me? I only ask so I understand you better." Eric knew that was a lie. Samus thought highly of himself, sometimes too much so. Eric respected his loyalty, but he began to feel the young man was reaching too far as he gained more and more responsibility. Eric had decided to slow his progression to remind him where he stood in the greater scheme of things. Never equal to the guild master, always beneath him.
"How much do you think we could have gotten from her?" Eric asked. "For ensuring the safety of the Prince?"
"We will never know," Samus said bemused. "We never had a chance to gauge her willingness to negotiate. I can imagine it was a great number indeed." Samus approached the table and leaned forward, trying to catch Eric's eyes.
"How much do you think Rancine would pay for the boy?" Eric asked.
"Rancine? I don't know maybe—"
"The boy is a threat to his power," Eric said, raising his voice and cutting off the young man. "He has the might of an entire nation behind him, and a child threatens that. Even if your small mind cannot fathom anything beyond what you can touch, men greater than you can. He believes in the signs. He is afraid, Samus. In turn, powerful families, powerful enough to wage a civil war against a king, support Nisila. How much is the Prince worth to them? How much is Nisila worth to them?" Samus stood with his mouth open, and Eric could see the wheels turning within the man's eyes as he finally began to see Eric's mind.
"That is your problem, Samus," Eric said. "You think too small. You truly thought I was flattered by that woman's words? You are just as stupid as her if you believed that. She came here, appealing to old alliances that have longed dissolved and no longer serve any purpose. Tell me, Samus, how far does honor get a man in this world?"
Samus sighed with his head down and his hands on his hips. "As far as his master will allow it to take him."
"To hell with that war," Eric spat. "After the paladins left the only thing I had to show for my effort was a bloody copper badge, the spear in my hand, and the shield on my back. I had to make my way in the world. I made a promise to myself that I would never be insignificant. I swore to make myself invaluable and I stand before you as the leader of the most powerful guild in Hattan. Day after day, more men flock to my banner and swell my ranks."
Eric picked up a stack of papers and shook them in Samus's face. "You see these? Calculations of everything that I own, everything that moves in and out of my camp. It is the count of every single soldier under my command, and all the forts I man, along with the stretch of borders I patrol and control. Within these papers are the numbers, the numbers that it will take for me to accomplish my goal of conquering this continent. The cost to feed every man and beast of the New Brotherhood."
Eric slammed the papers back down on the table and stood at his full height. The young man looked directly at him, and Eric could see the resentment in his eyes. The youth wanted so bad to be the guild master, but Eric would never allow that to happen. Samus was a tool, that was all he was good at. Like all tools, he would use him to the best of his abilities.
"You will have men waiting for Nisila to return to Morris Port," Eric said. "I want her returned to me alive, along with the boy. I will then contact Aiti and negotiate their release myself." Samus nodded, and Eric saw that the boy was sufficiently cowed, he could see it in his shoulders. He would string him along as he always did with a little encouragement; he needed the boy hopeful and purposeful to complete his duties.
Eric placed a hand firmly on Samus's shoulder. "Look at me, Samus. I know I am hard on you, but understand, if you want to lead one day, you must learn these lessons. Keep your head and pay attention." Eric waved his hand over his table of papers. "You see this ten-year plan I have devised? With the exiled prince, I could cut that timeline by half with the resources I may get from Rancine." Eric smiled at Samus and slapped him playfully on his cheek. He would get some more use out of the boy yet.
However, Eric made up his mind. He would have him killed at the end of this particular drama, no matter the outcome.
"I will make my way to Morris Port and begin preparations for their return," Samus said, his voice renewed with confidence. “When Nisila returns with the prince, I will be waiting for her.” Eric was pleased with his demeanor because it ensured his obedience. Samus was an excellent soldier, and Eric required a loyal man to carry out his orders.
"Good, and don't worry," Eric said, smiling. "Rancine has deep pockets, and I intend to see the bottom.”