Episode 15: Casting call

Arthur moved to the front of the room. "First let's get an idea of how many people are here for what purpose. Could everyone interested in going adventuring move to my right and everyone here to offer advice move to my left? We can't plan anything if we don't know what we've got."

There was a brief shuffling of bodies, and when it was over there were a dozen or more people to Arthur's right. They included, Isabelle was startled to note, the three traders in charge of her caravan. The figure in black was now in the rafters over that group, although he or she was apparently still asleep. To Arthur's left was an equally large group with several of its members hidden in preternaturally dark shadows. There were also a number of people scattered about the room who hadn't moved to either side.

Arthur looked around and made a few notes on his slate. "Well, then. I'll be going out, as will Max and his boys here. Those are our mobile forces; who's got a plan?"

A dwarf sitting on the right shrugged. "Let's just charge Black Jong and kill him."

Arthur glared at the dwarf. "It's not that easy."

From the shadows on the left came an old, dry voice: "What's the immediate threat?"

Another voice in the shadows answered, "They know we're here. They're going to come after us."

Max nodded. "The south-east corner of the forest has been occupied by the rebel forces. We're in their way, and they know that we've got some powerful people here. They're not going to go easy on us."

"Then let's take out the local forces," the dry voice replied. "I'm sure some of us can delay them long enough for the others to knock down their command structure."

Arthur took a seat on one of the barstools. "The local forces are a supply division harvesting wood. It's a good group to hit."

"Hah!" The largest of the three caravan traders looked amused. "We all know how valuable supplies are, don't we?"

A man on the left, dressed in a plain black tabard over soft brown leather, asked "And are you going to be supplying us for free this time?"

"Of course not. We'll be charging you our normal rates, plus a wartime surcharge, plus interest. But we have a very convenient payment plan, plus our valued customer discount, plus we'll be making available some of our class-A stock."

"Hooray. So who's going to defend the town while you're all out doing this?"

An old man in faded scholar's robes spoke up from the left. "You and I are, of course. Along with everyone else who's remaining behind. I think that we can arrange some interesting . . . surprises for anyone who decides to show up here. I'd just prefer that we not have to deal with the entire army at once."

There were a few murmurs of agreement.

Arthur turned to the group that was to go adventuring. "So who's doing what?"

Max stepped closer to the bar. "You and I are the military experts here; we should do the main assault." He glanced over at Isabelle. "Want to come along, Miss Ming?"

Isabelle started. "I'm still under contract, remember?"

"Yes," said one of the traders, "you are. Arthur, Maximilian, I hereby appoint you honorary members of our caravan for the duration of hostilities. Isabelle, I'm assigning you to their protection. Any questions?"

"This wasn't in my contract."

"No, it wasn't. How's an extra five-thousand sound?"

"Uh . . . OK."

"Done. Gentlemen, you may continue."

Arthur nodded. "Can we get your other guy as well?"

"I don't see why not."

"Will he agree to it?"

"If we pay him he will."

Arthur laughed. "Good enough for me. Anyone else want to come?"

The first trader shook his head. "We'll do our usual job of traveling around, gathering information, getting supplies, rallying the people, and assassinating random antagonists."

The bard with the steel mandolin spoke up. "We'll wander around and find out what's going on. I can let some bards know to cover this."

"Thanks," said Max.

A teenage boy sitting with the right-hand group tilted his head to the side. "And what do you want me to do?"

"I think that it's time to teach you the family trade, kid," drawled Arthur. "You've been sitting here in this town for too long."

A girl, perhaps a year or two younger than the boy, leaned forwards. "I'd like to come, too."

Arthur blinked. "Well, I guess that would work." He looked past her to a pair of adults. "Is that OK with you two?"

The parents nodded.

"Well then. That makes quite a party; are the rest of you going to volunteer as well?"

The dwarf shook his head. "I think that the rest of us will be content just to harry them a little. You can have the fun of sneaking into the middle of the opposing army."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're welcome," the dwarf said solemnly.

That being settled, the meeting adjourned.