Iden the Auric was deep in review of his ledgers when Haraldr-Grimnir answered the Satrap’s summons. Much of the Ceraphate thought Iden’s folky simply stingy in their hoarding of material wealth, but the Runefather knew better. War is an expensive endeavour, Haraldr’s father had told him, and often the depth of a lord’s coffers mattered more than the bravery of their warriors.
The ledgers, written in a cipher only Iden and his Ministers of Finance could read, were the only full accounting of the Aurannar’s impenetrable vaults. It was Haraldr’s understanding that the Ministers themselves did not know the full extent of the vault’s contents, as each presided over a single one, and were themselves disguised as common folk and unknown even to each other. In this way, no single traitor would risk compromising the Aurannar’s holdings.
“How was your journey, Runefather?” Iden called out as the Fyreslayer approached him, refreshing his quill and writing another line without looking up.
“Ye dangled me lodge’s scrotes a’front o’ th’ bald woman like bloody meat b’fore a Rocktusk,” the Runefather replied, referring to the Idrelec’s Satrap, Atressa Redhand. “I don’t fancy me lads dyin’ before I’ve even met th’ man payin’ fer their funerals.”
“It was my understanding that your folk burned their dead?”
“Aye, but it’s their wives you’ll owe, an’ if you knew our women, that’d strike proper fear into ye.”
Iden returned his quill to its pot and, with an almost imperceptible nod of satisfaction, closed the heavy book he’d been poring over. “My apologies,” he said, steepling his fingers and turning his full attention to the Runefather. “There are few stable routes through Haixiah, and fewer still the Idrelec do not patrol. You are my guest, and had the Redhand attacked you, I would have retaliated immediately. That she tolerated your trespass simply gives weight to the argument that she is unfit, and perhaps even unable, to defend the Ceraphate.”
So, Haraldr thought, they were already speaking strategy. Good! The Runefather had little patience for idle pleasantries. “Reckon them warmongers would’ve spilled no small amount o’ blood, no matter how hard ye swung back at ‘em,” the old duardin responded, running a calloused finger along the thin gold seam that served as embellishment on the Satrap’s table. “Yes,” Iden responded, nodding, “But not ours. The Idrelec are skilled warriors, yet ill suited to siege craft. If they do not breach our vaults quickly- and they will not- Atressa’s armies will be forced to live off the land. They will resort to pillaging the Ruyalar and the Teclandec even as the scales tip further in our favor.”
Haraldr regarded the Satrap thoughtfully. The lodges had employed similar tactics with great success for centuries. Yet, if Iden meant to seize the title of Ceraph, he could not hide behind the safety of his walls forever. So, the Runefather said as much.
“You mistake my intention, master duardin,” Iden spoke softly, brow furrowing as he gathered his thoughts. “I have done what my adversaries have not. The Aurannar have long prepared for this war. Where victory has defeated them in these centuries of prosperity, my folk- and my folk alone- have made ready. Once the Ceraphate is ours, we will lead the Iscarneth in preparing for the greater wars yet to come.”
Haraldr nodded approvingly, but after a moment’s thought, spoke again with concern in his voice. “An’ what of th’ Dornayar? They’ll know what yer ilk ‘ave been up to.”
“They fought us once before, you know,” a sharp note crept into Iden’s tone, and his disfiguring scars pulled tighter across his features as he frowned. “Thought us defeated, for indeed, how does one battle a foe who knows what you will do before you even think to do it?” His frown twisted into a sneer. “Then let them know what we intend, I say. Let them try to stop us. It will make no difference.”
“With our vaults to support us, and warriors like yours fighting beside us, I believe victory is well in hand.”
“Th’ deal’s a deal, then?” Haraldr raised an eyebrow. “Ye’ll let my Runemasters into yer vaults an’ hand over all yer Ur-Gold t’me an’ mine, jus’ like that?”
Iden gave a wry smile, and pushed the ledger he’d been writing in across the table to the Runefather. “These are all the Grimnic assets my Ministers have been able to identify thus far. It is my understanding it was never ours to begin with, and it is our hope the thirty percent additional evaluation in mundane coinage shall be enough to address your women’s losses?”
Now was Haraldr’s turn to grin. “You know, yer not such a bad sort, fer an elgi,” the Runefather spoke as he spat in his hand before offering it to the Satrap. “Jus’ don’t let on to me cousin I said that, fer I’ll nay hear the end of it!” the old duardin winked.
This short story was written by Peter C. with editing by Alex P. and others