Aurelia led her warband back through the maze of ruins back to the outskirts of Felstad. All except for herself and Birgit were weighed down carrying the chests that they made off with, apart from the two archers, Eeva and Grete, who were carrying the still unconscious form of the third archer, Helmi between them. Guido the war hound limped along behind them, occasionally stopping to sniff and mark his territory.
Snow was starting to fall heavily again. A storm was rolling in over the plains.
“We’ll hole up here for the night,” Aurelia said nodding in the direction of a cottage that still had most of its roof intact. “We should be far enough away from the other warbands for them not to find us here as the snow will quickly cover our tracks.”
As Jaana and Katlin started a fire, Aurelia and Birgit sat down and, with all of the others looking on excitedly, they started to open up the five chests that they had recovered.
“Not too bad a start,” Aurelia said once everything had been tallied up. “Not quite as much gold as I would have hoped for, but we did pretty well for magic items.”
“Great!” said Dagmar excitedly, thrusting her hand into the pile of gold. “So how much do we each get?”
Aurelia slapped her hand away.
“That’s not how it works,” Aurelia said. “No, think of our band as a ‘start up’. We are ‘boot strapping’ at the moment. If we were simply to each divide up the gold and go out and spend it ourselves, then our rivals would quickly become much stronger than us. So no. You are all ‘shareholders’ and we are ‘reinvesting’ our ‘seed capital’.”
Dagmar looked confused and dejected.
“So no treasure for any of us?”
“Not yet,” Aurelia said. “But these few coins are but a mere pittance compared to what we will be making later. Just be patient and, after a few more adventures, you will leave this place rich beyond your wildest dreams.”
“Unless, of course, you die in the process,” Brita muttered under her breath.
Dagmar still looked a little confused.
Aurelia saw that Dagmar was still not convinced. She reached into the pile and took the ring.
“You did well. You can borrow this,” she said handing over the ring. “It will allow you to teleport once. Use it wisely.”
Dagmar’s eyes opened wide as she took the ring and admired it. “It’s pretty!” she smiled.
Aurelia and Brita exchanged knowing glances. Stupid sword wavers – they were all going to die sooner or later. And if they didn’t, then the two Illusionists would just run off with all of the loot and leave them one day. Brita grinned. Now she realized what had drawn her to becoming an Illusionist rather than one of the other Schools of Magic. Fucking with people’s heads was just so much more fun than throwing balls of fire around.
“OK, then,” Aurelia continued. “Time for a celebration. Let’s break out the rations. Where are they?”
“They are in the backpack next to where Guido is sleeping,” Brita said.
Aurelia looked around to see the tattered remains of a backpack next to where the dog was sleeping.
‘FUCKING DOG!” Aurelia screamed. “ATE ALL OUR FUCKING RATIONS WHILE WE WERE OCCUPIED WITH THE TREASURE!”
She ran over to the dog and gave him an almighty kick.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, YOU GREEDY, FUCKING USELESS LUMP!”
Guido quickly got to his feet and scampered away.
“AND DON’T YOU FUCKING COME BACK EITHER!” she screamed.
The other members of the warband looked on shocked.
“Let that be a lesson to all of you. I will NOT accept selfishness in our warband. You are all dispensable.”
Things calmed down after that. But the cull was not over yet.
“Inga, I would like a little word with you in private, if you have five minutes,” Aurelia said sweetly.
“Yes, Miss Aurelia,”
“So what exactly did you contribute to the exercise this afternoon?” Aurelia asked.
“I was bodyguarding you and Miss Birgit, like you told me to do,” she replied meekly.
“Seems more to me that you were standing around doing absolutely nothing while the rest of us did all of the work – running and grabbing treasure, casting spells or giving covering fire with bows.”
“But Miss Aurelia, I protected you from the savage dogs that were trying to outflank us.”
“Dogs? They were more like fluffy rats. Birgit and myself were more than capable of handling them ourselves.”
“Sorry, Inga, but we all have to pull our weight in this warband. You are dismissed. Goodbye.”
Inga slunk off into the storm, never to be seen again.
The remainder of the warband eventually fell off to sleep, waking up early, feeling grumpy due to the cold and lack of breakfast.
Aurelia had a quiet word with Birgit.
“It seems as if the rumours were true about Felstad. There are easy pickings here. We are definitely staying. But we need to find a better place than this – it’s fucking freezing and the girls will be moaning constantly. So your task for the day is to find us a permanent base. Somewhere nice with a roof and at least four walls.
“Will do,” Birgit agreed. “I’ll be back as soon as I find somewhere suitable.”
While Birgit was away, Aurelia spent the morning writing out notices on pieces of parchment.
SUCCESSFUL NEW WARBAND SEEKS EXPERIENCED AND MOTIVATED ADVENTURERS
MUST BE FAST. AND FEMALE.
GOOD SIGNING ON FEES, GENEROUS SHARE OPTION SCHEME AND USE OF SELECTED POTIONS AND MAGIC ITEMS POSSIBLE
Birgit returned mid-afternoon.
“I think I found somewhere good,” he reported with a smile. “It’s an Inn. Let me take you all there.”
“The Fat Cock,” Aurelia read from the faded, frost-glazed sign dangling from its signpost. “A fixer upper for sure, but it looks like it has potential. Well done. I think it will suit our purposes fine.”
The Illusionist spent the rest of the day adding maps showing the location of The Fat Cock to her posters and then wandering around the taverns posting them up.
The following day Aurelia and Birgit spent interviewing a small but steady stream of applicants while the rest of the party continued to tidy up the Inn.
By the next evening, The Fat Cock was looking a lot more homely. Aurelia gathered together all of the members.
“Girls, I would like to introduce you to your three new team members,” she said, presenting the newcomers to them.
“Please welcome Laine and Maarika – a couple of new Treasure Hunters.”
Dagmar’s eyes glow green with jealousy as she realizes that she is not so special any more.
“And finally, we have a lone ranger.”
“Can she lend me five gold until next Tuesday?” asks Jaana.
“Not a loan arranger,” Aurelia snaps angrily. “ A lone ranger. And her name is …”
‘SHUT UP JAANA! Idiot. No, her name is Nele.”
“Please make the new girls welcome. Remember that our lives depend upon us all working well with one another.”