"Ah, Sorenan," the fat man sitting at the table said, clapping his hands with a smile, "the bold warrior beloved of Julara's witch." Sorenan frowned at the merchant. He ran his greasy hands over his bloated belly and waved a slave off as they moved to take away the platter of quail bones sitting before him. "You grace my hall with your presence too often of late, my friend," the merchant said, reaching for a cup of spiced wine.
Sorenan rested his hands lightly on the hilts of the daggers at his hips. He loathed Abraxas but the piggish man was the only truly reliable source of information he had on the movements of Althar's men. Abraxas, a blading man who stood roughly shoulder height to the weather hardened, blond haired man, decided to forgo all pretense of civility or the ritualized customs of welcome. He sat at his table and gorged himself on food and drink even as his newly arrived guest had come in from a fierce storm and at the end of an obviously long journey. No, Abraxas scorned Sorenan as much as the mercenary loathed him. Theirs was an arrangement that was strictly business, though it didn't stop Abraxas from making cutting remarks.
Abraxas had heard the rumors that Sorenan had entered the service of the high priestess of Julara. Sorenan's former companions spoke of how he had abandoned their company to spend time at the temple of the order of the Silent Sisters. As men who had little other to do during the relative peace of the season, they speculated as to what he was doing there. One had seen him in the slender, dark haired woman's company once. That was all it took for the rumors of his being her lover to arise.
Abraxas noted the subtle tension that passed through Sorenan's face, as though he gritted his teeth for a moment in irritation at his greeting. Deciding that he would goad him further later, Abraxas set aside his cup after he had taken a long pull off of it. "What do you come for this time? Spices, silks? Stones, perhaps?" Abraxas said in his nasally voice, turning his gaze to the sugared dates. He picked one up and popped it into his mouth, knowing that it would irritate the brooding man that he did not set to discussing Althar immediately.
"Where is he?" Sorenan said, deciding he didn't have time for Abraxas's usual games. Abraxas noted the coldness in the mercenary's voice and arched an eyebrow. "I have a message," he continued. Abraxas coughed suddenly as he began to choke on the date as he gasped in surprise. One of the slaves moved towards him as Sorenan stepped forward.
Sorenan gripped Abraxas's tunic and pulled him forward. He slapped him hard three times between the shoulder blades. With the third blow, the half eaten glob of fruit was ejected and landed in Abraxas's lap. Sorenan pushed Abraxas back into his seat and leaned down, putting his lean face into the big man's own. "Where is your damned brother?" he demanded. Abraxas's eyes widened as the blood drained out of his face.
Suddenly, Abraxas remembered why Sorenan was known as the Lion of the North. It was not for his sandy blond hair that resembled the great cat's pelt. It was not for his strange, amber hued eyes. It was for his cold, ruthless capacity for violence. Abraxas opened his mouth to yell for one of his men and Sorenan gave him a warning look. His left hand closed about the hilt of his left dagger, clearly in view of the merchant. "You'll breathe through a second mouth before they get to the door. The slaves won't lift a finger for your fat ass," Sorenan growled, "By killing you, I set them free and have a chorus of voices that will say that you sought to have me killed by poison."
"They can't," Abraxas gasped, looking over at the silent figures hovering in the shadows of the room.
"Try me, fat man," Sorenan said, sliding the knife partially out of the sheath.
"He's in Selath," Abraxas said in a panicked rush, "He's seeking to raise the sons of Omurath to his cause."
Sorenan slid the knife back into the sheath and straightened as Abraxas put a shaking hand on his chest and attempted to will his heart to a slower pace. "Then they have turned against Dacia," Sorenan said quietly, taking a step back.
"What matter is it to you?" Abraxas demanded, "You get paid good coin at either side."
Sorenan turned his gaze back to Abraxas. He thought about how far Selath was from the city of Asser. Abraxas could send a rider and in close to a fortnight, if the weather held, get word to Althar of his inquiries. Sorenan had known that it was risky to attempt to learn the movements of the warlord from his lesser brother. Now, he questioned if the brother would attempt to buy favor in selling information to him.
"Dacian coffers are full," Sorenan said, "Your brother runs at the edge of the wind and takes the jackal road for his provisions." Abraxas waved a dismissive hand.
"Althar's fame feeds him," Abraxas said, "What good is it to me? His star rises and I still scrape for coin. Look at this place. It is a pauper's hovel compared to what is my due." Sorenan looked about the room and then back to Abraxas. "The question is, my friend, what good does Dacia do for poor men like me." Sorenan frowned.
"A silk merchant could make quite a bit of coin if he were to provide the Silent Sisters with their veils," Sorenan said. Abraxas's eyes brightened and his tongue briefly flashed to touch his upper lip in a nervous gesture. "I have heard that they are looking for supply for the winter feasts," Sorenan said. Abraxas's hands fidgeted with the edges of the hems of his sleeves. "It may even be that the High Priestess herself would be interested in your wares," Sorenan continued.
Greed overtook Abraxas's caution. "I could bring the finest web for her Ladyship," he said. Sorenan nodded slowly.
"I'll take a token of your good faith," Sorenan said. He made a show of looking about the room before his gaze alighted upon the elaborately inscribed amulet resting on Abraxas's chest. He leaned forward and gave the gilded bronze a hard pull. The cord that it was upon snapped and Abraxas's eyes widened in horror. "This comes with me," Sorenan said, "Betray me and it goes into the fires. I'll destroy it as surely as I will kill you."
Abraxas's expression was pained as he watched the tall man put the amulet into the pouch he carried on his right side. It was all that Abraxas had left of his tribe. When he had been cast out, his mother had thrown the amulet to him in a desperate gesture. Abraxas caught it and ran for his life. He was certain that it not only carried what good luck had brought him to becoming a successful merchant but his mother's blessing. For all that his warlike brother had done to bring renown to their tribe's name, Abraxas knew that he was barred from returning.
He tried to live through his brother's fame. But the prospect of losing his last physical link to his mother shattered all thought he had of riding his brother's coat tails to prosperity. Abraxas watched as Sorenan walked out into the windstorm and then dropped his face down into his hands and wept.