Dawn finally broke over Barter Town. The huddled mass of people had long since dispersed, returning to their hovels to try to sleep off the tragedies of the night before. Yet Pete still sat aside the long burned out pyre. A normal man would have already died from exposure, but the fires of rage kept Pete seemingly comfortable through the long winter night. As the citizens of Barter Town began to stir and head out to begin their chores for the day a few of them stopped to pay condolences to Pete. He knew their words were only niceties and not backed by action and were largely ignored. Finally, a man named Brethus came and sat down beside him.

Brethus was something resembling a leader of the people of Barter Town. As the guildmaster of the Minoccian miner’s guild, he handled price and logistics negotiations for the lumber and ingots that were hauled out of Minoc daily. He was born in Barter Town and continued to live there even though the guild had a large stone building with forges that kept it warm at all times. He had an office in the back where he and his family could have stayed, but he refused. He wanted to remain closer to the miners and lumberjacks so that he could better understand their daily struggles. I’m certain his family resented him for it but they stayed with him regardless.

The two men sat silently staring at the ashes of the pyre for a long while before Brethus finally spoke. “It’s much too early for it to be this cold,” he said. Pete rolled his eyes slightly, expecting only more pointless condolences to pour from the old man’s mouth. He had been exposed to too much drivel already that morning and was not in the mood for more.“Your house is falling apart.” Brethus said, pointing in the direction of the tiny shack that Pete only now realized he had just inherited.

“I suppose it is.” Pete replied.

“I would offer to send a carpenter to fix it up for you, but honestly I believe it to be a lost cause.”

“I suppose it would.” Pete said while slightly raising his left eyebrow. 

“Listen.” Brethus commanded. “I got an office in the guildhouse. It’s yours if you want it, but I need your help.”

“I’m listening.” Pete remarked.

“I knew your father well. He was the most virtuous man I ever met. I’m certain that some of that had to have rubbed off on you so I’m willing to take a chance. I’ve grown tired of dealing with these traders. Contracts. Negotiations. It’s killing me. I sit around all day in a chair pouring over orders and drawing up contracts. I’d prefer to be out in the field, smelting ingots and hauling timber. When you get to be my age you start to realize that if you slow down, you’ll eventually just come to a stop, if you know what I mean. Orders slow down in the winter so I have time to teach you.”

“You’re too kind, Brethus.” Pete said. “I really don’t know the first thing about this kind of thing.”

“You will learn. It’s really just stealing with your mouth instead of your hands. Though I’m sure you wouldn’t know the first thing about that either,” Brethus exclaimed with a wink. “Come with me.”

A faint smile crossed Pete’s face for the first time in several hours as he and Brethus made their way to the large stone guildhouse within the Minoccian village. It was the oldest building in Minoc. It had existed there long before Barter Town, the governor’s villa, or the inn. The stone exterior had been eroded by the harsh Minoccian weather but it still stood solid. Piles upon piles of logs and coal were stacked against the east side of the building, some awaiting sale, and some would be used to keep the forges going. The forges within mide a slight rumbling sound that could be heard even from outside.

Inside of the building people came and went, smelting ore, awaiting deliveries, loading, unloading, it was a busy place. In the main room men yelled their stories to one another so that they could be heard over the sounds emitted by the clanging hammers and rumbling forges. The small office in the back offered some refuge from the noisy business of the main room. You could speak at a normal volume in the office which was nice. In the office, behind the desk that was to be Pete’s, was a simple wooden hatch which led to the basement. Pete had no idea that such a room existed. It was as big as the guildhouse itself and contained the clockwork machinery that controlled the bellows that kept the forges roaring. Pete was told that he would be in charge of keeping this machinery going as well.

Pete was a quick study. He could swindle almost every trader that came through the massive double doors of the guildhouse. His office was his dojo. He would often trade the lumber and ingots that came from the local mines and forests for other goods and sell them later at a higher price. The guildhouse storerooms would soon become full of things that one would never expect a mining guild to contain. Alchemical reagents, preserved foods, liquors and spirits of all kinds. If it could be sold, it could be found there. The miners and lumberjacks were easily talked out of immediate payment for the promise of higher payment at a later time.

He used the extra gold generated by his trade deals to purchase horses and carts that he would let miners and lumberjacks use without charge. He never took a single gold coin for himself. To the residents of Barter Town he was seen as a business mastermind. A true leader who worked solely for them. The governor, the same one who ordered his father’s death, frequently mentioned how impressed he was with the young man. His foul stench seemed all but forgiven as he became the shining star of his community. As the long Minoccian winter began giving way to spring, while on his deathbed, Brethus declared that hiring Pete was the greatest business achievement in his life and all that he could ever ask for in a replacement. Brethus’ body hadn’t even had time to grow cold before Pete’s sinister plans began to take shape.

Behind his desk, Pete hung a scribe’s copy of the original blueprints for Barter Town. The ones drawn up by Chad Sexington himself. On the map he had circled a long dilapidated building once called “the forgery.” Local carpenters, blacksmiths, and engineers were brought in to his office to discuss the rebuilding of the forgery. The building sat at the base of Mount Kendall. It would contain a huge public forge, perhaps the largest in all of Britannia, along with a small basement to house the machinery for the bellows. The purpose, Pete said, was not only to provide a large area for smelting but also so that the miners would have a place closer to the mountains to warm up during the freezing cold winters. Construction on the forgery was to begin immediately. Pete also pulled a carpenter aside and asked him to reinforce the hatch that led to the guildhouse basement claiming that he almost fell through one time.

Not long after construction began, Pete hired two bodyguards claiming that if something were to happen to him the guild and all of his progress would be in danger of being lost. The community agreed with him that such protections were needed and did not think twice when he hired a pair of the largest and most brutal men the Minoccian militia had to offer. The men were incredibly loyal and not very smart. Neither had a family and were both well-known for unspeakable acts performed on the battlefield. Their orders were to remain silent, and they were paid very well.

“Your first mission,” he said to his men, “is to go to Ter Mur and bring me back five of these gargoyle refugees I have been hearing so much about. I want young able bodied ones though. Lure them in with the promise of good paying work and lock them in the basement. I’ve provided the shackles to chain them up from my father’s estate. Use whatever means necessary, you can rough them up a bit but make sure they can work the bellows. Wood has gotten too expensive. And make sure nobody sees this, I wouldn’t want that kind of publicity so soon.”

The men looked a bit surprised at first, thinking Pete was but a good hearted merchant who they were merely hired to protect. A sinister smile came across their faces as they turned to each other, nodded, and responded with a resounding “Yes! Sir!”


To be continued…