“It was the little details that could tell you so much about a man,” his father had told him once as a boy, and for once his uncle had agreed without hesitation. “Always look to the details about your man, you’ll be able to know him the better.”
Derek Arkantos kept that in the forefront of his mind as he stepped through the muddy track of the mercenary camp. His eyes flitted over the men who huddled over cooking fires, while others were polishing armor or sharpening blades. His eyes noticed that the spikes of the palisade were well-hewn and that there was no sign of refuse or dung laying in piles that could attract disease which may lead to plague. But the detail that caught his eye the most was that the soldiers, who were clearly mercenary, all wore a heraldic symbol on their breastplates or shields.
The camp itself was a metaphor for the leader of it. It was not a pristine place by any means, the men looking dirty and somewhat weatherworn; but it was clear that a discipline permeated throughout with the treatment of the gear and essentials. The man who ran this place was one of precision and the ruthless application of control.
As Arkantos approached the central tent he noticed two men flanking the entrance, both of them wearing long cloaks and armed with light spears and daggers. Though their armor and weapons were mismatched they behaved with a symmetry that continued to further his opinion of the leader of this camp.
“I’m Derek Arkantos, I’ve got goods for your chief, he’s expecting me,” he said to one of the men who looked him over quickly then ducked his head under the flap of the tent to announce him.
Arkantos took his time to look over the other man, who had the look of a Sarturian. The man looked to be in his early twenties, strong, healthy, but with an ugly scar over his left cheek. He didn’t have the usual cockiness that many mercenaries had, smug in the power of the numbers of the gang that they inhabited. In fact, he didn’t seem to have any expression at all. He seemed almost bored in his assessment of Arkantos, returning the look with the emotionless eyes of a man who had seen killing and had killed before and was uninterested in petty posturing.
In a moment Arkantos was ushered into the tent and saw a tall table with an iron candelabrum resting on it with tall candles that shown brightly. In their dim light Arkantos made out the leader of the camp who was surrounded by his lieutenants. The men were currently stooped over the table, staring at a large map intently.
“Well, southerner, you’ve returned. Did you bring proof of your success?” the leader asked without raising his gaze, his voice deep and intense.
“Aye. It’s in me kit, if ye want to look it over.”
Alexander Luthoro stood up away from the table and Derek Arkantos could finally see the man, his employer, clearly.
He saw a deeply tanned northerner with a shaved head and muddy brown eyes. He was tall, standing a little over six feet, and well built under the ebon armor with a well-used long sword at his hip. The double runic symbol of ‘L’ stood out in silver on his left shoulder plate, synonymous with the heraldic device throughout the camp. Arkantos recognized the rune as a symbol of force in the arcanic language; the letter was a symbol of fears, the unconscious mind, things hidden and revelation. Doubling the symbol suggested a duality of the force; both the hidden dreams and nightmares undiscovered and revealed.
A man of power and subtlety, Arkantos thought.
“Show me the tokens, southerner,” Luthoro said with a detached voice.
Arkantos shrugged a pack off his shoulder and tossed it onto the table. The other men in the tent flashed their hands to the hilts of their weapons, only Luthoro stood unmoving, a frown gracing his imperious yet handsome features.
“I warn you, bounty hunter, I do not care for brash behavior. Resign yourself, or be prepared to suffer consequences,” he said with a cold tone.
“Sorry, chief, no disrespect,” Arkantos said calmly, sweating inside.
Moving forward slowly he opened the pack and dumped the goods on the table. The guards in the tent moved closely to examine what Arkantos had brought while Luthoro looked down at the contents with grim satisfaction.
The sack had a dagger etched with carvings synonymous with the dark god Nerull, an iron key, and most notably a thick piece of leathery hide with a bronze ring pierced through it. Lothoro picked up the ring, the hide dangling from it.
“Is this… authentic?” he asked tentatively, his eyes narrowing, examining it.
“I don’t bust a deal, chief,” Arkantos said, a touch of anger creeping into his voice. “You wanted proof he was dead, eh? Well, get it augered or divined or whatever ye want, but any cleric or magi’ll tell ye the same; that’s Kythantos’s nose ring. And ain’t no minotaur be given up their decorations to any that ask them. Me an me mate killed him, then I cut the ring off the whoreson’s nose. Ye got a piece of the nose with it, to prove it further, if me word ain’t enough for ye.”
The mercenary captain inhaled slowly and looked up, staring deeply into Arkantos’s eyes for a long minute. Then he nodded once.
“You have done well, southerner. I owe you payment for your service, as I promised. But first, what of your… partner?”
“He didn’t make it,” Arkantos said curtly, the sudden memory of the loss of a friend paining him, though he masked it well.
“Very well,” Luthoro said with a brief nod, gesturing to one of his men. “Skethos… the payment,” he said to one of his lieutenants who nodded once and brought a heavy lead chest and placed it on the table.
Luthoro took a key and placed it into the lock and lifted the lid, his face suddenly lit by an eerie green luminosity.
“You have done me a service, southerner. I read the truth in your eyes; I need no auger to know that what you bring is proof of what I wished.” His voice was hushed, as he reached inside the chest and lifted out a stone glowing with an inner light.
“I offer you this as your payment; for I foresee that you will have need of it.”
“What be that, eh?” Arkantos asked his voice also hushed in the presence of the glowing stone.
“This stone is said to be a gift of the gods,” he said, speaking almost to himself. “Some men say it fell from the heavens, others say it was rent from the outer planes… but however it came to the world of men it has power, and the power I give to you, in payment for the completion of your task.”
Arkantos reached a trembling hand forward and gripped the stone, feeling a ripple of electricity shiver through his skin down his arm and through his very being.
“As long as you hold this stone in your hand it will shield you from the observation of sorcery or the priests of any god. When you walk the shadowed streets and alleys of a city, no man may track you, no magi will observe you, no priest will divine your presence. You have earned this,” he said intently “and I pay my debts.”
“My thanks, chief,” Arkantos said with a nod of his head. He was impressed with the power of the gift, and knew that though this mercenary captain and his men might engage in many… unscrupulous activities, that Luthoro was a man who never broke his word.
“You have any need of me services for anything else chief, let me know, eh?”
Lotharo folded his heavy arms across his chest and stared hard into Arkantos’s eyes and then sighed deeply.
“My men have been hired for a task that will be taking us eastward for a time. On this expedition I do not feel your services will be needed. But,” he said slowly “it is said that I have been gifted with second sight. It may be this is true… if so then I can say truly that you and will indeed meet again. When that occurs it would be best if there was no bond of debt between us.”
Arkantos nodded once.
“Fair enough, chief, no worries then. Well, may the gods go with ye.”
“And you, Derek Arkantos,” Alexander Luthoro said, and dismissed the bounty hunter from his presence.