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Previously... <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Raven Fernwood was a bigger man than I had thought. I had expected a meeting with one of the heads of the Trading conglomerates, or perhaps their representative. Instead, tucked in an alley in the town of Gromm, the Governor of the Wastelands was staring past me. We were standing outside of a monastery of some kind, or at least I assumed a monastery. This was it. This was my chance. Refusing to look at me, the Governor cleared his throat. "I understand you know Raven Fernwood." "Perhaps I do." He opened his mouth, then closed it. Struggling, he managed, "So you are the survivor of the civil war inside the Marauders we have to deal with." A fire welled up inside me. All forethought left me. I slammed my helmet on the cobblestone street. "I'm no Marauder. I am Aarinstahrr of the Black Lodge, Raxus Orsen Waythe, warrior of the wastelands. You didn't get a new band of Marauders. The Marauders are dead and gone, in the ash heap of history as far as I'm concerned. And I was the one that broke them." Where disgust had once been, intrigue replaced it. "Why?" And then my speech came to me. "Perhaps you haven't realized, Governor, but a Queen sits on the throne of Historica. For many a year, we have had freedom in our affairs, with no one to rule these lands. And we have flourished. Gromm was once a hut and a well, and now it sits as the crystal in the rocks of the wasteland. But the Queen has acted, taking from one mouth to give to another." "For the good of those starving," he replied, slowly. I smiled. A wolfish smile. I could see it unnerved him. "Sure, of course. For the good of the people. And then, Governor, for the good of the people she will move our troops to borders more important to her. And then for the good of the people, she will take our wealth, which we bleed for, and give it to those who can't pull themselves out of a bottle. She will create charters, without which it will be illegal to trade as we have. And we will be powerless to stop her." "She is a good woman." "So were many, before they felt the power in their hands. I know not her heart, but I have seen the lust of Kings, and I assure you she is not immune from it. None are." "Then we are once again under a..." The Governor looked at me. "Unless we act now. I am no refined gentleman, but I am not a barbarian. Where the Marauders brought chaos, I can bring order. Order necessary to maintain a free Varlyrio. Order necessary to see our fruits continue to mature. You and I, we will check each other. As long as we stand united, Varlyrio shall bow to no grant Queen. But if I am to be an agent of order, I need a seal." "What do you need?" And here came the money part. I was gambling, gambling more than I ever had. What I was asking was not just a risk to myself, but to Varlyrio. But I needed it. "I need to appointed Judge." "The Wastelands haven't had a Judge since Revolwold," The Governor murmured. "Nonetheless it is what I require. Think, Governor. The return of the Judge would mean trade routes would be even safer than they were, more open to commerce. And more to the point, Queen's edicts would be under my purview to enforce. But as the Judge's code states, my duty is to enforce just laws, and just laws only." "I am taking an awful risk, Orsen Waythe. If I am to do this, I must have one question answered. Why did you leave your leader, at a moment your aid would have been indispensable." Unexpected, but bitter all the same. In the end, it was a small price to pay, but I still hated paying it. "I was his son, not his 'adopted son'. He wished me to marry my half-sister, and she wished the same. He told me I would do it, or die. So I left." "Oh that our secrets will remain better hidden," The governor said, with genuine weariness. "You shall have your warrant. I will bring back the position of Judge of the Wastelands."
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Business Since the death of the last Aarinstahrr, the Black Lodge Trading Company had suffered. We operated out of the wastelands of Varlyrio, and as such needed a firm grip to keep the trade routes open. But even with my return, funds were simply insufficient. When this happens, options start to shrink. I was told that I needed to sell the company. I had no intention of doing so. Instead, I started a protection business. If we could morph the company from a mere shipping enterprise into the true muscle of the region, our power would only grow. And it was this that had me on the one road through the rocky narrows, a pathway through what had become barren country, unfit for travel, or residence. I needed to make clear why protection from the Company was necessary. Three travelers, unwary of a road they should have been wary of, proved an opportune beginning. They looked shocked when my lancers surrounded them. "What is the meaning of this?" The Goblin looked furious. "You carry much, travelers. But you carry it with little protection." The human girl, from Kaliphlin by the look of it, appeared stricken. She looked back at the lone soldier, carrying nothing more than a crossbow. It would do little against the spears and shields of my troops. "Do you have any idea how much I paid to have safe passage through these parts? Any idea, human?" "Your folly. But I'm not here for your money, goblin. My name is Orsen Waythe, and I take it you intend to see your goods to a city. I need you to carry a message with them. You see deep into the trees?" "I see bodies, strung up like cattle." "Marauders. They've ruled the wastelands for as long as I can remember. And I want you to tell everyone you meet that I and my men killed them, and are willing to offer safe passage to anyone and anything through these lands....for much less than the marauders demand. For far too long, the Marauders have been a thorn in the side of the Black Lodge Trading Company and the good citizens of Varlyrio. No longer." "That's it?" The goblin looked shocked. "Tell them you just butchered the biggest bullies in the business?" "Oh, it's my business now, Goblin. Make sure they know the mark of the Dragon means death to any Marauder who interferes with my shipping routes again. And let the people know they need not fear these masked terrorists any longer." "So be it, Orsen Waythe. I will take your message."
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> The Gauntlet had been thrown down. Never in my wildest dreams had I entertained the idea that the Marauders would fall for my trap so perfectly. They were the old guard, furious at an affront to their 'honor'. All it required was an easy sale of some Black Lodge Dragon armor to the Queen's troops. Just as I foresaw, instead of making their presence felt, after a raid and nothing more than a few broken bones, the Queen's troops left in a huff, ready to tell their monarch of the barbarians in western Varlyrio. Then I struck. The information on their camp had not come cheap, but it had come so easy I feared the worse. So instead of a march, I led shock troops, my lancers into the Marauder camp. In one swoop, I broke the reigning power over these wastelands for 20 years. But the treacherous line I would have to walk was only getting harder. The Company's forces were holed up in Fort Defiance. Thanks to the last Aarinstahrr, Fort Defiance was well supplied and had the geographical advantage of covering the only water for many miles. And while the last remnants of the Marauders were destroyed, here I plotted. I summoned the only two other stake members in the company, neither of which were particularly thrilled with the turn of events. "I suppose I needn't ask which part of you did the thinking about this particular decision." Corcoran played a soldier, a politician, a businessman, but none of them as well as he played a cynic. "My thoughts exactly." Raven Fernwood was a man of means and had taken a risk investing in Black Lodge given that the Company had just been taken over by an illegitimate son who had not been seen in years. But while he was a bigger liability than Corcoran, he was also more amiable to my ideas. "Read the dispatches coming from the Queen's court. We just bought ourselves the Queen's blessing for a business we just eliminated our main rival in." I smiled. "Perhaps you don't realize the-" "I damn well know what the Queen's hand means," Fernwood interjected. "I never swore fealty to some grant monarch. It's the last thing we need." "You think I'm putting all my eggs in a sovereign hundreds of miles from here? Think bigger. This is PR. I would never have taken down the marauders this easy if not for the fact that people hate them. We cannot let that happen." "Which is why I opposed expanding into protection in the first place," Corcoran complained. "No, stop and listen," I snapped. "The Wastelands bow to no king. But some law and order is required. And if we want a free Varlyrio, we need to be the thing keeping it free. The Queen's protectionism won't stop after she gets a taste of the money, let alone the power it holds. If we become the order around here, no Queen's edict will be enforced without our say-so." Raven Fernwood started to smile. "This could work." "Not only work, but this is a solution to more than one of our problems," I said. "All that we need is something, even the tiniest shred of legitimacy. Which is why you two are here. I need to know who to approach." Corcoran looked interested for the first time. "I may have an idea on that front. There are larger Trading Companies that pay for their own private armies, but don't particularly like maintaining them. If you can put on the face of a gentleman, they may just bite. I can get you the locations of their offices, but that may be the best you get." "Give me a few days, and I will have a proposal that they will tell their wives they came up with," I said. My partners shook hands and nodded. I had won the war. It was time to win the peace.