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<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Leifric’s Hollow was only three days ride from my stronghold, so I had elected to make a quick trip there before continuing to where my ‘fate awaited me’. It had always seemed to me such talk of fate was for mealy mouthed weak kneed poets, and had absolutely no bearing on the real world. I said as much to my partner. “Listen Waythe, people believe what they like, why bother showing up at all?” I tossed a satchel with the documents I’d been riding with. I couldnt very well tell him the real reason. “Well if nothing else it will expand our network reach, right?” The Goblin considered, a grin snaking across his face. “Of course, master.” And just like that, I was back on the road, having traded mounts. I reached the hollow at midday on the second day, and looked out on the borough to see the same man who had so haughtily treated me before. “And who might you be, stanger?” A soldier called out. I glanced up, seeing for the first time in many months a soldier as well equipped as my own. He held my eyes. A rare trait indeed. “He’s a marauder” called out the man who had spoken with me before. “Stay your crossbow” he continued quickly on seeing the soldier’s reaction. “I am not” I answered harshly. “I am Raxus Waythe, Judge of the Wastelands.” “You should start doing that,” chuckled the rogue. I no longer considered him a soldier. He was far to insolant, like my men. “Judge of the Wastelands is a nickname, not a title. You’re a marauder with a slightly better than average relationship with local authorities, a merchant.” That rogue was beginning to get on my nerves. “I come honestly to Leifric’s hollow and this borough, from invitation. Who are you, rogue?” I asked the blond haired man I had spoken with before. He was studying me, just as he had before, and just as unnerving. “I am no rogue,” he answered plainly. “I am Adam Devereux, Squire to the Lord Baiamonte. My lord Baiamonte’s son, the Lord Cenric Baiamonte wishes to speak with you.” I knew the Baiamontes, or at least I knew of them. Rufus Baiamonte still allowed men to run around whispering of his madness, yet his rule of both clan and lands remained utterly unchallenged. If his reputation was anything to go on he was not a man to trifle with. “Then what are you waiting for? Open the gates, I will speak with Lord Cenric.” I had expected to be led into a hall of some sort, but instead I was led out by a regally dressed man with a lady on his arm, a little ways beyond the fortress onto the high road, near the woods. “You are Lord Cenric” I said, keeping my eyes on him even as the girl who had joined us began to stroke an owl. Her eyes were sharp. Not that I was trying to notice. I saw him smirk, noting how my eyes had darted. “And you are Judge Waythe.” It was noticeable how he gave a credence to my title others had not. “It seems you have brought me here, to what end?” “You may be familiar with my uncle, Rufus Baiamonte.” “I am,” I said neutrally. “Well,” the Lord Cenric Baiamonte replied amiably. “I love my uncle, he’s a good man, or at least was. Nonetheless I have my own kin to concern myself with, and furthermore I swore to my father I would help my uncle as I could.” He stopped, but as I offered no response, he shrugged and continued, “As such, I’ve been trying my hand at building my own network of men I can call upon should the unrest which so frequently engulfs historica come to our doorstep.” “How can I be of service?” I found myself liking him against my better judgement. “Exactly that. Service. I would like you to swear an oath, to me, as your Lord.” I felt something hot creeping up my neck. “I am a free Varlyrian, Lord. I have my own title.” “I’m not asking for your life, Judge. Your dominion is yours. But should the time come I need your sword, I shall need it. In return,” he had seen me open my mouth but beat me to it, “You shall be given royal contracts, and more importantly, reputation and honor for serving as soldiers, not marauders.” “He’s not a marauder.” The girl’s voice surprised me, as she had as of yet said nothing. I nodded my head. “My sword is as good as your oath,” I offered. “Good.” He smiled. “I think it marks the beginning of your fate turning.” “Turning towards what?” “Greatness, Master Waythe.”