A day later Jarious sat with the rest of his company around one of the worn and beaten tables that sat in the common room of the inn. The men were still touchy regarding Karsh, which reinforced to Jarious how critical it was to have them focus on something, anything, else. Morrow, dressed in his rustic clothing as always, sat to his right. Around the table from there was Fovreh, Torrain, Grawfn, and Arrious. There were no smiles, this was all about business.
“Alright men,” Jarious stood up and unfolded a map that looked like its creases were seconds away from tearing apart like flaky bread. He stood while the others sat, both hands flat on the map. “This is Thra Nar, city of ghosts. I’ve been thinking about it, there is no good reason for any Elvish house to set up shop there. It’s desolate, remote, and for the sharp-ears, its bad news.”
Fovreh spoke up as if on cue. “Thra Nar was the sister city of Trustill Bay. Nar produced the goods, the Bay transported them to the city-states of the old Empire.” Fovreh turned to Grawfn, “Humans are raised on stories about the destruction of Thra Nar. That it was a city of hubris. The Elves were supposedly messing with magical arts they weren’t even ready for, and that it was some kind of arcane mishap went horribly, horribly wrong…”
“*Poof* Bye, bye city.” Torrain made little mock-explosions with his fingers.
Fovreh continued, “Since its destruction, it’s been a magical null zone. A dead land, where both arcane and spirit magics simply don’t work. Elves love their magic. It’s part of what they define themselves by. So, a place where hundreds of their own died coupled with a place that rejects their magic? That’s not a place they willingly go.”
“Right, so if Vilandallaril wants to go there, then so do we.” Jarious looked at his men, each one was looking at him, a clear indication that he had their attention as much as their willingness.
“The problem, as I see it, isn’t so much getting into Thra Nar, it’s what to look for on the way. I’d like to go in with an idea of what to expect and what to look for. The best way to get that information would be to ambush a caravan, not unlike what we did a few weeks back. We should set up shop, wait for a juicy target to come by, and do what we do. We won’t be on our way to Junction or any human settlement for some time, so looting will have to focus on the essentials and the small, valuable stuff.
“I’ve been studying the map and doing some thinking. We know there is one route from the old Dwarf city of Su Tavish…”
Torrain started to stare up at the ceiling.
“Dammit, Torrain. Focus. Give me ten more minutes and you can go run in whatever hole you find most appealing today. Ten. Minutes.”
Torrain smiled like he was in on some secret joke. “Sure thing. Just tell Fovreh to stop using big words. You started to lose me then.”
“Fovreh, use simple words for our simple comrade.”
“Sure.” Neither Fovreh or Jarious but any weight behind their words.
“As I was saying,” Jarious continued, “We know of one route, but I think there is another. Vilandallaril is based, like most of the high Houses, in the Imperial city of Tai Droon Nar. I think it’s a safe bet that Vilandallaril is going to operate a number of caravans from the Imperial city to… whatever they are doing. This is likely a big investment, and they would need to send some of their best Thralls and slaves… especially in a magical void. So, caravans from Tai Droon to Thra make a lot of sense.”
Arrious interjected, “They could even have them follow the normal trade routes around the Thra Nar wasteland and only make the turn into the city when no one else was looking.” Arrious suddenly choked on his words, conscious that he was the center of the conversation, “I mean, if they are trying to hide what they are doing.”
“I think it’s a good bet that whatever they are doing is something they would hide from the rest of the Empire.” Jarious nodded at his older brother in approval. “So, two options. We go for the closer, sure thing of Su Tavish, or the longer, potentially more disruptive option out of Tai Droon Nar.”
“Three minutes left, boss.” Torrain yawned.
Jarious looked at Grawfn. “Since you are the shortest, you get the first vote.”
“Aw, c’mon,” the Dwarf groaned. “I always vote first.”
“You are always the shortest,” Fovreh flashed a wicked smile and a wink at Grawfn.
In truth, Jarious preferred that Grawfn be the first in most votes. Grawfn had his prejudices, especially when it came to his people, but his biases were better hidden than the rest of the unit. His vote set a neutral tone to the vote. Even with only five other wolflings voting, there were myriad calculations and hedged-decisions made in the few seconds between each ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ The interplay was fast and too subtle for Jarious to manipulate, so he liked to stack the deck, as it were, by starting off with a neutral vote. Torrain and Fovreh, with their ambitions and emotions clearly displayed, were usually the last to vote.
Grawfn glanced around the table, not unsure of himself, but trying to get a feel if he would be the odd one out with his vote. “Imperial city. That’s my vote. If the Elves are doing something big, then there should be a caravan from the Imperial city. If not, that still tells us something, no?”
Jarious wanted Arrious to vote before both Fovreh and Torrain voted, so he moved the vote in order to Grawfn’s right. Often, he would be the first to vote, but in this case he didn’t want to appear to be overly influencing the decision. This needed to look like the group’s decision, not his. This way, Arrious’ vote came between Torrain and Fovreh and ensured there would be a counterbalance to their influence on Grawfn and Morrow.
“Torrain?’ Jarrious inquired.
“Su Tavish is my vote. Closer and a sure thing. Simple as that.”
His brother hesitated, clearly undecided. The fact that Torrain and Grawfn split their vote, didn’t help.
“Why?” Jarious asked.
“Why not?” Arrious quipped back, clearly uninterested in giving a reason.
Jarious skipped himself and turned to Morrow, the member that was the most difficult to predict. Morrow spoke up, “I’m with Grawfn. If we hit them, we hit them where it would hurt most. If there is no Vilandallaril caravan, then we can double back and hit the Su Tavish route.”
“Tai Droon Nar route. Better chance to take out a Thrall or four. We may get a shot at an Elf.”
“…and liberate our peoples,” Jarious completed the vote. The result wasn’t in question once Arrious voted, though he still needed to go through the motions.
“Okay. It’s settled. We leave tomorrow. Get yourselves straight by dawn tomorrow. Onto other business.” Jarious nodded to Arrious. Arrious bent over, grabbed a sack, and put it on the table...
TO BE CONTINUED
TO BE CONTINUED