[[miranda|Sofya|Sofya]] had been on the island with [[miranda|Nikolaos|Lord Nikolaos]] and his co-conspirators for several weeks planning their initial work. Plotting the fall of a monarchy was not an easy task if everyone wanted to live. Lord Nikolaos himself did not want the royal family killed, only weakened enough so that they would sue for peace and bring the [[miranda|Dakar|Dakarian]]-[[miranda|Irill|Irillian]] war to a conclusion. Sofya herself wanted much the same; although she did not care much about returning Lord Nikolaos’ lands to their rightful owners, but knew that the Dakarian nobles had bled the peasantry through tax and fighting. Many had committed atrocities against their own people when they could squeeze no more money from them. Others in the group could dream of driving the monarchy out of power, she only wanted the nobles to return dignity to those who had suffered so much.
Outwardly Lord Nikolaos was simply a man representing a large trading company who hoped to expand its reach into Dakar, only his inner circle knew the truth of what they were hoping to accomplish. He had hired guards and travelers to go with each of them to provide them with protection as well as an extra set of eyes. He would provide the money and they would do the work. If necessary they could be disposed of, but Lord Nikolaos never approved of those methods in dealing with people. He would do what he could to see that not only where his goals met, but that those who worked for him were richly rewarded. Over a year planning and in just a few days a ship would arrive with those workers.
It was three days since [[miranda|Brizanthimus|Brizanthimus]] and [[miranda|Xarth|Xarth]] first boarded this wretched vessel and Briz had spent most of it leaned over the side emptying whatever was left in his stomach. Xarth felt that the food was bad, but not enough to make someone sick, still he helped his traveling companion into the hold where they were staying. They could now see the island they were sailing towards so it would only be an hour more until they reached shore. He usually relied on Briz to assist him in these matters, but with Briz sick the entire journey he knew little about his fellow passengers.
The ship docked at the small quay and [[miranda|Ludwig|Ludwig]] was already ready to get off this rocking tub. As they neared the island his practiced eye could make out the solid defense of the manor on this island. The manor itself seems built from stone, which made sense given the ample local supply, and was little more than a stock two-story square block surrounded by a small wall. There was no need for a larger wall since the terrain around the wall was steep and clear of vegetation meaning any attackers would be advancing up sharp rocks. Rising up from near the center of the manor was a large and sturdy town. Once the gangplank was lowered Ludwig grabbed his pack and disembarked as quickly as he could. Him, and his fellow passengers, were met Iosif the steward for Lord Nikolaos. He led them to a small village outside of the wall, it was little more than a tavern and several longhouses. Iosif told them to find a place to put their belongings and they were free until summoned to dinner by the bell.
As the sun began to set the bell was rung, the doors to the wall were opened, and footmen bearing lanterns arrived to light the path. Once inside the great all everyone got their first glimpse of their benefactor. He was a tall man with striking Irillian features dressed in a fine toga trimmed with purple. Several rings and a very ornate necklace complemented his outfit and made him less a peacock than simply a very wealthy man. He was surrounded by several people, clearly his inner circle, but within a few minutes of the travelers arrival he sent them into the crowd to make initial introductions. Several of the travelers approached Lord Nikolaos, but with Briz still feeling queasy from the ship and Xarth refusing to let go of a bit of meat their introduction was less than smooth.
During dinner Briz, Xarth, and Ludwig were at the same table along with Garen, a tinker from the Free Cities, and Polena, a young woman from the Three Kingdoms who clearly suffered from too many tutors. Lord Nikolaos gave an opening speech before the servants brought several platters of food to each table. He then made a toast to a fruitful endeavor for these “trade missions” and the great wealth that everyone who helped would enjoy. After dinner Lord Nikolaos, watched by two bodyguard, went around to each of those that had arrived with the ship and spoke a few words to them. Ludwig was well into his cups and eyeing Sofya because he kept thinking that he remembered her from somewhere, but he escaped him each time.
It was late when Iosif finally came by to thank each of them and gently prod them towards the doors out. He told them the tavern would be open and that they were free to wander the island as long as the returned for the bell announcing the noonday meal. Inside Lord Nikolaos called his trusted retainers together to get each of their impressions about those they had hired. He was glad to hear that for the most part his agents had done well . While there were a few reservations, some strongly voiced, about some of them they all agreed that the mission would be well served by those gathered.
During the morning Ludwig nursed a hangover with the “hair of the dog that bit him” in the tavern with some of the others who were gambling. Briz, now more steady on dry land, drug Xarth around to meet everyone he could in the time given. It was not long before the noon bell rang and they all met for lunch. Lord Nikolaos was not in attendance, but his assistants were there and once again they went from table to table to talk to everyone. Each was told that when the dinner bell rang Lord Nikolaos would welcome them and assign each of them to a trade mission as their skills best suited. After lunch Sofya confronts Ludwig about a matter several years ago. Ludwig beat her father while he was in garrison. Ludwig remembers her now and in very colorful language fills in those around him with the incident. It seems that Sofya was stealing grain from the lord, and wearing some rather unlady-like breeches at the time. While he did beat her father for the theft of grain he explains that it was simply the law and he was carrying out the order of his rightful lord. He bears her no ill will over the matter; although the same could not be said in reverse.
After dinner Lord Nikolaos has Iosif call forward each of his retainers, the steward then names off those who will be given the job of protecting them and helping to set up profitable trade routes into Dakar. When Sofya is called forward she is assigned Brizanthimus, Xarth, and much to her displeasure Ludwig. While she goes over to meet each of her companions she is seething inside. Once all the selections are made Lord Nikolaos tells them that the ship will leave on the morrow and they should be dockside when the morning bell rings, until they see each other again he raises his glass in a toast to those who will work to expand his trading connections into Dakar and bring great wealth to themselves in the process.
While the others are boarding this ship in the morning, Lord Nikolaos is meeting with his retainers individually to give them individual instructions. Sofya is told to seek out Theodoros in the great city of [[miranda|Valparia|Valparia]], he will be the one directing her actions. A brief, thankfully for Briz, travel by ship followed by a week on the road brings them to Valapria, one of the largest cities in the Western Realms. Sofya pays for two rooms at the Twin Swans Inn and tells them to meet her back at the inn by nightfall.
Sofya goes to meet Theodoros at the Silver Cup Tavern. He is a man well into his mature years with a tall build and a grandfatherly face. He tells her that she is to go to [[miranda|Ulrichstein|Ulrichstein]] and seek an audience with the local lord. Her goal is to set up a trading post in the town that will then act as a center for much of the information that is gathered in that area. He gives her a magic scroll that will send her words his its twin, which he holds; in this manner they can communicate with each other. He has arranged a cart and two mules that is stabled at a small town north of Valparia, along with a selection of high quality trade goods. This should be enough to see that she can gain an audience with the lord and then secure his writ for a trading post. Once that has been done she will be given future instructions.
Meanwhile, Briz drags Ludwig and Xarth into a crafter’s district so that he can visit the markets and catch the local gossip. Between the three of them Ludwig finds the local defenses to be less and impressive, Xarth finds the entire site of so many people pressed together disconcerting, and Briz finds everything just perfect. They are about to leave when they are approached by a young woman carrying a tray of breads. She offers them some for a fair price, but when they get close she whispers that she needs their help. She tells them that her father borrowed money from Eliskinder, a money changer, and although they have to money to repay him he refuses it and will only accept her slavery as repayment. When her father refused he was kidnapped by two men working Eliskinder and she has not seen him since. She described Eliskinder as a tall elf with red and golden hair with eyes as black as night. He works at a tavern called the Black Shark by the wharfs.
They agree to help the lass in exchange for payment. On their way to inform Sofya of their side employment they walk by the tavern. It is a rundown warehouse that has been converted into an even worse looking tavern. Unconscious men lie outside its door even this early into the evening. It is definitely not a place where gentlemen can order a fine wine or ale. When they reach the Swan Inn they find Sofya already waiting, but less that happy about the news of their “good fortune”. Still when she hears the tale of the daughter she agrees to help as long as it will not jeopardize their true business. Thus plans are made.
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