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Author: Keith Haney

Denton Gallo, a shop keeper of thirty-seven years considered himself without peer in his trade. He had been a student of the merchant trade since his father put him to work at the age of six. Father had not instructed through words and lengthy dissertations. His credo was watch and learn. Denton had done that and found that he had a knack for understanding the courtship of sales. Early on he dismissed it as being lucky or having good timing. Later he would banish that thought knowing that selling was an art of war as marshal as any practiced in the halls of warriors. Most people don't understand how their desires manifest themselves externally. The eyes are truly the key. The eyes alone didn't tell the whole story. Subtle clues were everywhere. The flush of the cheeks; An off-handed gesture; Avoidance and misdirection. It was all a symphony of suggestion. All one had to do was be an appreciative audience and the music would show the way like a pied piper. Denton was now the maestro. Not content to await the players reaching their marks. He would draw them out -- placing his desires above theirs.

Over the years the game had lost some of its luster. He knew the stakes must be raised. The urgency stronger; The risk for himself greater. There was only one place in the whole of the empire that would provide him the necessary challenge. The Chalice. The mountain fortress was home to soldiers and saints. Just the kind of people who lived on the edge or by an unshakable code. These were the worthy adversaries he sought. Whether it was unswerving morality or violent aggression he would find clients worthy of his aptitude.

Time and skillful planning allowed him to position himself in one of the most coveted stone constructs in all the imperium. It had been nearly raised to the ground when he acquired the rights to it. The contract to claim the blackened remains (five years ago) had required skilled negotiations and the expenditure of several favors. The fortress town high in the mountains, only allowed a limited number of civilian occupants, now he numbered among them.



The Chalice sat positioned on the front lines of one of the most contested pieces of land in the imperium. The location was a guarantee of brisk business, though it did have its risks. Eight years ago elements of the grimme had claimed the keep. The attack came with such fury and intensity that the previous shopkeeper had no opportunity for escape. The owner, his wife, and two of their three children perished in the attack.

Now it was Gallo's turn to exploit the embattled store's location. The last five years had seen brisk business. Fortune favors the bold, he told himself. Seemingly as fate's way of rewarding him for his temerity, the pass had been cleared and the early elements of the 5th crusade were already pressing at their snowbound borders.

Behr Falkerin and his mercenary band of drovers had penetrated the impasse and delivered the first resupply since last November. Behr was legendary in his tenacity. He and his crew were harbingers of the return of spring. It would easily be another two weeks before others would be able to make the ascent. Wagon master Behr was of an ilk that seemed to be bread from hardship and forged in the fires of adversity. Other caravaners had attempted the early delivery in order to claim the premium Behr commanded for his goods. Few had the opportunity to attempt it twice. Most were never heard from again.

Denton extended a hand in greeting to the industrious caravan leader.
"Well met traveler" denton said feigning unfamiliarity.
"Its good to see you too." The weathered caravan master barked. His gravelly voice no doubt the result of issuing commands in defiance of natures howls and protestations.
"Earlier arrival this year, than years past." Denton praised with a questioning tone.

Behr pulled a sweat-soaked scarf away from his bristly black beard with a tug. The act made understanding him easier. Seeing the man's lips move allowed for easier interpretation of croaking sounds he used to form words in the common tongue.