Beckett’s Inn was already in a revelous fervor by nine o’clock that evening. The place wasn’t full, but there was a healthy crowd clustered in the tap room of the inn. Glasses clinked, flagons clunked, and hearty laughs bellowed over the three-piece band playing onstage. The fiddler drew his bow across his strings like a man possessed while the flute player swayed her sinewy frame back and forth as if in a trance. The drummer…drummed.
For all the raucous merriment occurring downstairs, there was a tense silence in the main suite two floors above the tap room. A handsome, middle-aged man dressed in a silver silk cape draped over blindingly shiny silver armor with gold filigree laced his fingers together and leaned with both elbows on the small circular table. Across the table was a similarly aged woman with long dark hair highlighted with light blonde and silver streaks dressed in a simple green velvet dress. Both figures were flanked on either side by silent bodyguards.
“I presume you have a reason for this clandestine rendezvous, Serena,” the man says. His intense blue eyes locked firmly on Serena’s.
“Have I ever wasted your time, Ollie?” Serena replied, a sly smile creeping across her slim face.
“Olenar, please,” Olenar corrected. “You don’t get the privilege of calling me Ollie any longer.”
“Oh? Still sore? I didn’t take you for one to hold romantic grudges.”
“What do you want Serena?”
Serena sat up a little straighter and the smirk melted from her face, replaced with an expression of concern. “I asked you here to inquire if the Freefolk are as detrimental to your nation as they are mine.”
It was Olenar’s turn to smirk. “You must really be desperate.”
“Not desperate. More concerned for the overall stability of Ebrium. I’m sure that is also part of your agenda.”
“You seem to be the one with the agenda.” Olenar sat back and relaxed. “Have those pesky pirates sunk one too many of your ships, love?”
Serena narrowed her eyes for a moment before responding. “Seventeen ships in the last year. Not to mention the countless trade caravans that have been looted and the innocent merchants and travelers slaughtered. The AFT is far too dangerous for the sake of Gildelance and I feel that they are a long term problem for both of us.”
Olenar chuckled and rapped his knuckles on the table. “The AFT’s only threat to Serenshore is that terrible black powder. Have you seen what they do with that stuff?”
“Yes. Nine of my ships were destroyed using it.” Serena’s body stiffened at the thought and her expression turned melancholy for a moment. “It is horrendous stuff. But it is useful and effective.”
“Barbaric, more like it,” Olenar replied. “Nothing is as trustworthy as a blade and a shield.” He lovingly patted the hilt of his longsword sheathed on his waist.
“True, but it could be the end of us all. I’d much rather have control of it and never use it than allow those heathens to continue decimating my fleet and possibly waging war on us with it.”
“Do you think the AFT is organized enough to wage war? They can barely keep their citizens fed much less united against us.” Olenar’s gaze narrowed and he leaned forward. “You’re not planning an invasion are you, Serena?”
Serena’s expression didn’t change as she replied, “Not overtly. I feel some finesse and discretion are in order.”
Olenar laughed and sat back again. “You never cease to amaze and surprise me, Serena. So what’s in it for me?”
Serena’s smirk returned. “Once my spies are finished collecting intelligence, we’ll give it to you and aid you in your ostentatious display of aggression of which you will get all the acclaim for its success.”
Olenar shook his head and smiled. “You are such a tease.”
Serena only gave him a coy smile.
“So when does this begin?”
“It already has.”