For a brief moment, the only sound was the din from the front room, muted through the three thick sets of oak doors. Meihrand wasn’t a secretive man, but the value in having negotiations take place in an obviously secure location could not be understated. He sat behind his very deep hardwood desk (again, a calculated measure), with his bodyguard Lillith close at hand. Meihrand was sizing up the merchant across from him: a plain, tanned man with a narrow face, smiling easily as his young apprentice unrolled the canvas onto his desk.
“Then I think you may find these very much to your liking,” the merchant was saying, flashing another winning smile to Meihrand. For his part, Meihrand did not allow any traces of emotion to betray him: acquiring others’ businesses as a profession didn’t lend itself to expansive gestures.
His fingers were drumming on the tabletop, but with the rhythm of one unaccustomed to doing so.
“Light, flexible, and concealable under most shirts and robes, these are an excellent complement to more… obvious weaponry.” The merchant didn’t have to gesture to Lillith’s keen scimitar for Meihrand to understand. He smirked at the fragile crossbows in front of him; the mutton leg he had for supper was more imposing than these toys! The powerful man whispered to Lillith so quietly that one straining to hear would have doubted he had spoken at all. She responded on his behalf, silencing the merchant.
“They’re cute, but hardly suitable for Lord Meihrand’s needs.” Lillith’s perfectly even tone might have been mistaken for a pleasantry had the scimitar not been so apparent in her belt.
“Well, perhaps Lord Meihrand might want to reconsider the type of threats –”
Again, Lillith spoke with total calm, even if the scimitar did not. “That was not an invitation to debate or haggle. This meeting is at an end.”
A bead of sweat splashes on the table, and he is quick to wipe it away.
“Then I suppose we will have to be on our way,” the merchant replied with a forced smile. There was no mistaking his disappointment. He addressed Meihrand directly: “I trust you will find what you are looking for. Come.” He snapped at his apprentice, who hurried finished rerolling the concealable crossbows back into their canvas bag. They nodded their heads politely as they stood to leave, the merchant watching for any hesitation from Meihrand; there was none to be seen.
His eyes are jumping around like toads: from us to the door to his bodyguard to the dagger under the desk and back.
As the first of the three oak doors closed behind them, the merchant turned to his apprentice. “Well, that hardly went as expected, wouldn’t you say, boy? If you had to name something you learned from dealing with ‘Lord’ Meihrand?” The boy, barely into his teens, pushed back his long dark hair and looked up with a cunning edge in his green eyes.
“You expect me to tell you that I learned not to judge a book by its cover, or to trust in a prepared sales pitch, but what I really learned, Master, was that Meihrand was on edge. His fingers, the sweat, his eyes? He was concerned about that assassination attempt, and just trying to act otherwise.”
The smile in the merchant’s voice had been plain, but faded into shock as the apprentice spoke. “Are you sure?”
Meihrand was surprised by the timid knock on the door. Lillith glided over and opened it to show the lithe apprentice boy, eyes downcast. He had forgotten his quill and parchment, and that wouldn’t do at all. Meihrand motioned for him to come in and retrieve it. As the boy picked up his belongings, the man’s curiosity got the better of him.
“Boy. A simple question. Why work for him? A weapons merchant will only profit during times of war, but a man like me will profit as long as others keep making bad investments… also known as always.” He laughed, dry and raspy.
“Maybe he needed a nice, strong back to carry all of his goods,” Lillith jumped in, her sarcasm dangerously close to giving her an actual tone.
The boy only met their eyes fleetingly when he responded. “Oh no, madam, nothing like that. If I’m being honest, sir, it was for my parents at first. They got into a spot of trouble with… well, it doesn’t matter who with, but we had to flee our home, and then our next one, and the one after that. My master found us and gave us the one thing we could never find by running.” The boy glanced at Meihrand. “Peace of mind.”
And with that, he was back out with the merchant, who only arched his eyebrow, quizzically. As they started towards the second set of doors, the first flung open to reveal a glowering Lillith. She motioned for them to come back, and shrugging, they turned around. The merchant turned his head to cough, and as he did, the boy was sure he heard the words: “Well done, Jorek.”
An exchange from Jorek’s backstory, by Scott Humphrey