A Seat at the Table

As busy as Bozageest was this time of year almost nothing would have surprised Gilla. She had set up a nifty little stall near to one of the major city squares in order to peddle her herbal remedies and small shamanic trinkets. This wasn’t why she had chosen this particular location, however, despite it being ideal for catching a majority of the foot traffic in the upcoming Oktoberfest that Bozageest was becoming more and more famous for. This was the grandest holiday of all in the entire Archduchy of Renatus, and everyone who possibly could attend the weeklong celebration from this and all neighboring countries would be there. Gilla had chosen a location that afforded her the best vantage point to note almost every single traveler, pilgrim, and wandering merchant in the festival.

So while it wasn’t surprising that Gilla spotted one of the members of the Slothjemian Royal family meandering down the boulevard towards her, it wasn’t exactly who she was hoping to see. Prince Bortimer had been almost completely unknown in these parts prior to his sister marrying the Archduke of Renatus. Now, though, he was altogether too prominent and rising quickly on Gilla’s internal sense of alarm. He had managed to befriend the King of Vlaanderen and it was rumored that Bortimar had even gone so far as to arrange for the halfling monarch to meet and fall in love with a halfling maiden named Vika simply to redirect the King’s attention away from another halfling lady, Duchess Seraphina of Maelonbourg. Gilla had held these stories with a measure of skepticism, thinking that Prince Bortimer had some trick up his sleeve. What exactly it was all about began to be more obvious when Bortimer had begun to pay far more attention to Duchess Seraphina than a mere acquaintance or friend would be prone to do. There had been several exchanges of expensive gifts between the two, and since both were rogues of some reputation a fair amount of these gifts were likely stolen.

Now as a leading figure in the loose confederation of shadowy figures known as the Fellowship of Fiends, Gilla was close to Duchess Seraphina as a source of information for the Archduchy. Seraphina had been entrusted by the Archduke to be the equivalent to the Grand Inquisitor, responsible for keeping tabs on those inside and out of Renatus that might be troublesome for the realm. The Fellowship of Fiends had suffered some setbacks since this arrangement was made. A number of their members had been killed by unknown forces that had left Gilla searching harder for answers than she cared to. They were still a potent force worth reckoning with, make no mistake about it, but Gilla was now one of the few in the group that possessed any real gift for leadership. Bortimer being in the realm was not going to make her job any easier because his mere presence tended to distract everyone from their responsibilities as he sashayed about causing all manner of chaos.

Gilla kept a wary eye on Prince Bortimer as he casually strolled down the busy street towards her. In the crook of his right arm he cradled a small black puppy that Gilla instantly recognized as being a hellhound. Beside and slightly behind the Prince walked his bodyguard and almost constant companion, a hulking swamp orc named Grogdahl. The jor looked to be as unhappy as Gilla was. But Bortimer was all smiles and pleasant conversation with the people he encountered on his walk. It looked to Gilla as though the Prince was actively stealing from some of the people he encountered, but the deftness of his movements made it nearly impossible for even her probing eyes to confirm. Gilla placed her own hand over her purse and made sure it was well tucked into her robe.

Prince Bortimer smiled broadly at Gilla as he approached her stall. “Ah, Tragallia! Good day to you! I see you got a jump on the competition and have settled in early for the festival.” The Prince petted the puppy on his other arm. Behind him the swamp orc cast practiced glances about the crowd milling about for any signs of trouble.

Gilla smiled and said in a low, warm voice befitting her polymorphed guise as a shapely human woman, “Most people call me Gilla, your lordship. Tragallia is not a name I am accustomed to hearing in this plane.” She kept the smile and narrowed her eyes a bit as she said, “I always plan ahead when I know the risks to my business.”

Bortimer stood with his puppy and dropped his other arm to his side. “Gilla then. Excellent. You may call me Bortimer, if you like. I’ve no claim to title in this land.”

“At least not yet.” said Grogdahl snarkily.

Gilla noted the comment, but kept her gaze on Bortimer and his suspicious fingers. “Was there something I could do for you today?” she asked.

Bortimer chuckled and replied, “Yes, actually. I’m in the market for a new network of, shall we say, allies. I am going to be moving to Renatus soon, and will need people of a certain skillset that I can do business with.”

Gilla was taken aback but did her best to not give away her concern. She giggled and asked, “Why Bortimer! What sort of request is that to make of a mere herbalist? Whatever might you be referring to?”

Bortimer continued smiling, but the tone of his voice changed dramatically to a more serious one as he said, “You are no more an herbalist than I am an antique collector. The fact that we have the trappings for such things doesn’t make them our profession. The Fellowship of Fiends needs my help and I in turn need theirs. I believe that is the setup, is it not? We humble miscreants working together to benefit one another while avoiding any of the consequences such activities would normally entail?” He chuckled again and said in a low voice, “I have a great deal of experience with these sorts of things, even a night hag would be wise to consider an alliance with me simply because I scheme better than your average deamon.”

Gilla allowed herself a cackle and she replied, “I won’t play games with you, Bortimer. Tell me what it is that you want.”

Petting the puppy once again, Bortimer said in a sinister tone, “I am only looking for a seat at the table.”