Battered, beaten, bruised. You leave the Owlbear’s lair victorious. The greatest threat your nation has ever faced has been removed from this realm. And while you leave with bounties of treasure and a new kingdom pet in tow, you can’t help but feel your accomplishment is tainted by the nagging sense that something larger is amiss.
The map in the troll lair was bad enough. How did they manage to know about your Kingdom without someone catching a glimpse of them? And what kind of an attack were they planning? Isn’t something like that beyond the organizational level of a band of trolls? But you put aside that worry when you told yourself that Hargulka was special. He seemed to possess some level of intellect, tactics and enough leadership to organize the trolls.
But now, now things don’t add up again. There was no way in Erastil’s name that that monstrosity of an Owlbear had enough wits about him to know what a map was, let alone draw one out. And what about that dimension door set up in its lair? It was too perfect that an enormous animal beast like that just stumbled upon a lair with such a perfect and safe hiding spot. Someone had to have done that. It was intentional. And the barding the animal was wearing? Owlbears don’t just put on their own clothes. Someone put that on him.
Speaking of someone, who was the corpse in the Owlbear’s lair? His armor, weapons and gear suggested someone of importance. But more importantly, the ring he wore matched the Owlbear’s. Why? What was the plan? His intent? Questions left unanswered. That uneasy feeling still lingers.
- * * * * * * * * *
“I’m sure its obvious that this meeting was called for several reasons.” Sigfried’s voice rang out through the castle’s main meeting chambers with an authority deceptive of his young age. “We have dealt with a grave threat to our kingdom. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury to celebrate. Many more problems, albeit more mundane ones, plague us. Primarily, two entire blocks of our city lie in ruins. Oleg?”
Sigfried cast a hand across the meeting table. Almost a dozen surrounded the table but he looked to the gruff blonde checking and rechecking numbers on a glowing abacus in front of him. “Hmpf.” Oleg acknowledge the baron, but did not look up immediately, still double checking and re-referencing information on the paper before him. “I think we can rebuild it. We’ve been doing pretty well with the market within our own economy. I mean, its going to take some time and of course some resources, but it shouldn’t cripple us. We got lucky.”
“Lucky?” The single word was partially under Roman’s breath but its intent to be heard was obvious. Lily at his side gave a stern look to the burly half-elf at her side, hoping to end any hostiles before they begin. The word’s most obvious effect took place opposite Roman, on the tongue of Kesten Garress.
“I did everything I could Roman!”
“Which continues to be not enough!” While most weapons were left at the door and the ones remaining peace knotted, the Surtova descendant’s eyes pierced just as deeply as his arrows.
“Roman.” This time Lily verbalized her displeasure, as did Sigfried.
“Enough! Quarrel on your own time.” Both men dropped the subject, readjusting in their seats. “Before the interruption Oleg, you said our self contained economy was do well. What about our outward trade?”
“Unfortunately, its been relatively poor. We haven’t generated near enough income from outside trade.”
“That’s unfortunate. I have purposefully shifted intent of my rule to benefit our economy. What is the problem?”
A pleasant but meek voice spoke up for the first time. “Sigfried, if I may,” the baron nodded to diplomat Flora’s request. “From what I can tell from speaking with the other surrounding kingdoms, we are not seen as credible. Many Kingdom’s have tried and failed to gain a foothold in the Stolen Lands. And while we have done as well or better than anyone for hundreds of years, our holdings are still small.”
“How do you mean? Astrum thrives and grows by the hundreds monthly.”
The response Sigfried received was not from the soft spoken girl as he had expected. Instead the low, guttural tones of an amphibious creature answered back. “Let me show you.” Hopalong bounced from his seat at the table and took a bag from Morven’s seat. From it he pulled an easel that seemingly should not have fit. Furthermore, the easel seemed to have no display on it. “Morven and I have been working on this. Morven?” With a wave of his hand and few choice words Morven projected a map upon the easel. “You see – ribbit – while our capital city is an impressive feat, we hold little more than 100 square miles. The Varnhold Kingdom to our west has a small central city but its land holds are easily our equal. I imagine our information is slightly out of date. They are probably larger than this by now. And Varnhold is far newer a kingdom than us. We are significantly behind.”
“Hopalong, Flora. Are you suggesting expansion?”
“If you are concerned about our legitimacy as a trading partner to other kingdoms, then absolutely,” Flora stated with confidence. Hopalong concurred with a croak.
“Then that is something we will have to consider.”
Almost as if on cue on the doors to meeting room entered and Jarrett, a young assistant around the castle emerged. “Baron, I have a man who insists on speaking with you.”
“Who is he? What is his business?”
“He says his name is Loy Rezbin. He seems quite interested in setting up a new village under your flag.”
The coincidence of such an opportunity is not wasted on the royal court surrounding the table. Chatter begins immediately amongst the kingdom leaders.
“Iomadae’s will,” Sigfried utters to no one in particular. "Send him in Jarrett.
To be continued…