One caravan, however, came much later in the day - far after the usual traffic had dispersed and the many stables had filled, the marketplaces nearly empty. Three small carriages escorted by a dozen massive men on equally massive mounts ambled through the gates, keeping to the shadows of buildings and striking straight and true for the centre of the town, veering off on the bakers' roads, making for the Rifleman.
Auss and his staff were ready. The orders had been set, excess patrons shuffled out, and only those necessary for trade had been invited to a private dinner in the major court of the Rifleman. Auss himself was lounging in the court, at a table nearest the door, when the caravan creaked to a halt before the public house.
"About time," the one-handed innkeeper rumbled as the lead rider slipped from his squat, broad packbeast and strode toward him across the court.
"We were attacked," the man mused in soft, sibilant tones heavily accented and denoting a gutteral mother tongue. "Dar'gool took two of my riders." He smiled, wryly. "I now have a brace of Shavak aurochs for sale," he added.
"You're a cold man, Porphigaul," Auss grumbled, kicking out a seat for the warrior tradesman.
Porphigaul nodded in acceptance, the russet hair that made up his aggressive crest falling to shade his bright green eyes. He had changed little in the months since Auss had last seen him. Still the heavy leggings, knee-high boots ribbed with bronze; deep hunter's greens for tunic and coat which, Auss noted, had been extended again, the hemline now rippling about Porphigaul's knees.
"This," the plainsman said gently, raising a gloved hand toward the van, "is Cassael. He is Jaunryn's replacement among the Soren."
Auss scowled as he picked among the crew of the van for this new banker, his temper still high. Jaunryn had aided him for years - the two men had been friends until his sudden recall to the bank's root in Blackmoar. He did not like to think the bank had so quickly replaced the man who had been liaison to this province for more than thirty years, and he did not think that others in the town who associated with the Soren would, either. How could he be sure he would be able to deal with this one? A stranger, handling the better portion of the Rifleman's money, protecting it against fraud and harm.
And then he found the man, this Cassael. And he knew. No trust would be accorded him.
Smallish, for a banker - perhaps only Maran's own height, and just as wide, Cassael of the Soren stood brushing the flanks of his stout Shavakti mount, paying little attention to the world around him. He was wrapped wholly in black - or some colour deep enough in shade to look black in the failing light. Leather, silks and charred wood were the major facets of his wardrobe. And bronze. Shoulders, arms, hands and shins were all hidden underneath burnished Tai'char steel, the red-gold bronze peddled on the edges of the larger cities. He was affluent, this one, a fanatic for public show to bear such oppulence so cassually. No, Auss decided tightly. He and this new pup would not get along at all.
"I am told," Porphigaul took up with little pause, reaching for the steaming mug of tea Maran had ready for him, "that there is a pair here who wish passage into the Kajir. This is correct?"
How Gaul knew this was beyond Maran, but in his stupor of frustration he simply nodded assent.
"I will take them."
At that, Auss' eyebrows rose. "Truly?" he said with no false amusement.
"Yes," Porphigaul nodded. "Cassael and I are headed there, once we have unburdened ourselves of trade goods and taken on a few guards. My brother will be one of them," he added then, a thing placed as an afterthought, but meant to be the heart of his words.
Auss nodded slowly. Kintere would go, if he could be sobered before the journey. Anything to get the blasted boy away from the ale. He looked back toward the van, his heat rising once more to see Cassael, bronze vambraces crossed over his broad chest. Arrogant.
"I'll have word brought to them, then. Tere's inside, if you want to see him."
Now it was Porphigaul's turn to nod dumbly. The two sat quietly for a moment, sipping their tea, before the plainsman stood, made a gesture to his caravan's quartermaster, and spun away to slip through the main door and into the common room of the public house.
Auss, for his part, simply sat, refilling his tea mug from the small pot on the table.
"Looks to be an interesting few days," he muttered to himself as the majority of the van, the banker included, began to pour themselves into the stables at the side of the inn's complex.