Author’s Note: I don’t know that this is the scene that follows right after the first part I posted, but it’s pretty soon after, and this scene is important to Xylia’s anxiety in part one. 

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Twelve men gather around a circular table in the massive stone castle, their cheers and laughter echoing off the walls. Vintage wine bottles are exchanged and poured, and plates of food are passed around. The men are dressed quite eloquently, with velvet tunics, jewel encrusted belt buckles, and shiny, metal plated boots, contrasting the dreary scenery of the room around them.

Rickensold smiles from the shadows of the doorway, pleased that all the Guild Masters have shown up early as always. Well, he surmises to himself, almost all the Guild Masters. He looks around, searching for a very specific, very female face. She’s his strongest Master, but definitely with a spirit all her own. She cannot be controlled, especially not by her male counterparts, and that’s why Rickensold likes her. She’s an invaluable asset, both on and off the field.

He pushes his shoulder off the wall and dusts his black leather vest, deciding she will show up when she’s ready, and not a moment sooner. The sunlight hits his face as Rickensold enters the room, accentuating the fine dusting of glitter one of his servants has powdered on his face, and the room erupts into applause at the entrance of their Guild King. He crosses the room with confident strides and a radiant smile before settling himself into one of the thirteen identical chairs around the table. The Guild Masters follow suit.

“My brothers!” Rickensold begins as the applause subside. He neglects the sensual, “my sister” he’d normally offer the woman.

The men respond with a chorus of “Your Grace,” “Your Honor,” “Your Excellency,” “Milord,” and other royalty worthy formalities, and Rickensold stifles his snicker. He is no king; he’s got not one drop of royal blood in his muscled body, and yet over the course of seven years, he’s got the Bandit Towns convinced of his reign.

“You’re all looking well,” he coos, folding his hands and baring his brilliant white teeth in an innocent, friendly smile. “I bring tidings- the gift of good news.” The men answer with raised glasses and toasts. “But first!” he cuts them off with a raised hand. “Status report.” He gestures left, indicating the short, stout man with a mop of curly hair.

The man folds his arms gingerly across his chest. “My men in eastern Andermar are seeking out a new hunting grounds as we speak, My Lord,” he begins, his nasally voice filling the room. “The small village by the name of Craigenfare rumored to hide a secret treasure proved to be no more than a cupboard of wooden relics from a few decades past.”

“Not valuable?” Rickensold asks.

“Not enough, My Lord,” he answers.

“Very well.” He nods at the next man in line, a tall, burly man with a shaved head to show off the rippled scar along his skull. “Master Morlond, what news from the Gate?”

Master Morlond gulps a swallow of wine, sighing in satisfaction, before speaking. “We’ve found seventy six more recruits, Your Grace. Given six months for training, they’ll be fine additions to any guild of your choice.”

Rickensold leans back in his seat, setting his hands in his lap. “Tell me,” he asks. “Where did these recruits come from?”

Morlond points across the table at a large man with a sizable black beard, a different colored ring on every finger. “Courtesy of Master Calt, Your Grace. The Black Claw reclaimed Yenden from those tyrant Witch Men; I simply scooped up the stragglers.”

Rickensold considers this for a moment. The Witch Men are powerful, with half of their strength in their numbers. They spread themselves far and wide to ensure that if some of them are discovered, not all of them are captured. Their network is expansive, and they are one of the few groups that Rickensold fears, regardless of their ridiculous outfits. He licks his lips, maintaining an emotionless expression. Master Calt may have done a thorough job with Yenden, but if Master Morlond happened to scoop up any of the wizards, the entire castle- nay, the entire kingdom- was in for a world of hurt.

“I’d like to see these new recruits with my own eyes at the closure of this gathering,” he says smoothly, covering his anxiety with a coy smile.

“As you wish, Your Grace.” Master Morlond acknowledges.

The cycle then continues as each man relays what information they can to each other and their king. A stocky man with a nicely trimmed beard tells of success in negotiations with the Slox Tribe; A lanky, balding man missing two fingers brags victory in a death competition, his prize being a village to add to the vast collection of Bandit Towns. One by one, every man speaks until conversation returns to what Rickensold offers.

Rickensold forces his fear for the Witch Men to the back of his mind and cracks his knuckles, slowly pushing himself to a stand. He paces his band of followers, barely containing his outrageous cockiness as every eye follows him. He may have began his rule with intimidation, taking superiority by striking fear in the hearts of those around him, but he quickly learned that love is a much more dangerous attachment. A man who loves his king will die for his king, and men who will die for him is what he desires.

“My brothers.” He keeps his voice low, serious. “Long have we waited for the day we’d be accepted by other kingdoms. Long have we suffered the enduring pain of expanding our kingdom through mediocre methods, struggling to trade and negotiate because we have been deemed not credible. Long have we had our rivalry,” he pauses, waiting for the suspense to build. “Our rivalry… with The Holy Brotherhood.” The collective stifled gasp that erupts from the small crowd makes Rickensold’s heart glow, his chest expand with anticipation.

“My brothers. I have found them.”

The men roar. They stand and pound on their chests like animals, banging their cups together and screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs. The Holy Brotherhood has stood in the Bandit’s way for years now, preventing their guilds from expanding west, killing their men whenever they get the chance. They’ve waited a long time to find them, and finally, Rickensold has them headed exactly where he wants them. Durmark.

“Today, we rest,” he tells his men. “For tomorrow, we ride west.” He picks up his wine glass, the fine red liquid making his mouth water. He holds his cup high. “To war!”

The men scream gleefully in return, chanting in ecstasy.

“TO WAR!”

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