“The stream isn’t deep enough for fishing and besides, it’s getting dark. Just dig out the hardtack and some dried meat; it’ll do.” said Amadeo, rubbing his hands and warming them by the campfire.
“Oh, and some beer as well I suppose? How long before we eat some real food?” asked Maya.
“Soon enough, we’ll find an inn on the way to the foothills and then…”
“That’s all very well, but we don’t have a lot of money to throw around and since we’re going to a new place it’ll take you a while to build up some trade connections; you’ll be starting from scratch…”
“Not entirely from scratch, I have some contacts out there…”
“Practically from scratch then, what about when we get through the portal?”
“Are you kidding? The Shrouded City is the centre of the empire, there’ll be lots of opportunities, and the Guild will look after me; don’t forget that I’m a Master Tradesman.”
Suddenly, they both became aware of a hooded figure standing in the shadows at the edge of their camp, face hidden beneath a cowl. Amadeo stood up, brushing down his clothes and calculating how far the wagon was from where he was standing; the weapons they’d bought before leaving town were in there, not so convenient if there was going to be trouble. He made a mental note to keep one of the weapons close at hand next time. Amadeo put his business smile on and addressed the stranger.
“Hello there. Can we help you?”
“You are a tradesman.” the figure said, in a whispered rasp.
“Why, yes; I suppose you heard me talking with my wife…”
“You are Amadeo Cherestegiu, and you are a Master Tradesman of the Imperial Guild of Merchants.”
“Well, yes…” Amadeo stuttered, glancing at his wife with a raised eyebrow.
“I understand that you have acquired some weapons.”
“Yes, nothing special…”
“You have acquired a sword.”
“It is forged of an exotic metal, it is quite rare.”
“Now listen friend, I don’t know how you came by that information, but since you have and since you obviously know what you want, why waste time? I can get the sword for you now and sell it to you for a very good price…”
“You are on the way to the foothills, yes? The hills which lie at the edge of the Valley of the Fallen Kings? No doubt you wish to cross the portal there and flee the Abatement.”
“Doesn’t everybody round here? You must have seen other wagons…”
“Go to Zenith as you have planned. There you will find the Old Hawk Inn. There will be a man staying there, a mercenary; you will sell him the sword.”
“You’re clearly affiliated with this man, why don’t you take it to him?”
“When you arrive at the inn, you will receive further instructions.” The figure produced a small drawstring pouch from within the folds of its robe, tossed it to Amadeo who caught it easily with both hands. “For your trouble.”
Amadeo looked at the pouch and fumbled at the strings to look inside. He saw silver glinting in the light of the sunset. “What is it?” Maya asked, peering over at the pouch as she walked closer to where her husband was standing.
He handed her the pouch and turned back to where the figure had been standing, but it was gone.