Well, it’s back to school time here in America’s heartland. My wife handles all the back to school shopping but this is the first year I’ve looked at the receipts. When did this get so expensive? When I went back to school I would get a new pair of shoes (the cheap ones) 2 pairs of Tough-Skin jeans from Sears and maybe 2 new shirts. For school I needed pens, pencils, crayons, pencil crayons and erasers. My backpack, pencil case and so on would just carry on from the year before. I have 2 teen aged daughters. 1 is in 8th grade and the other is starting college. Just for school supplies we spent over $200 and didn’t even get everything on the list! That was for 1 child. Talk about Christmas is July. (We started buying in July) And these were all on sale. Next we moved on to clothes. Fortunately they wear uniforms at her school so there isn’t as much to buy. That doesn’t mean I dodged that bullet. First she needed shoes. After shopping around my wife finally found an acceptable pair of shoes. (No, they weren’t cheap!) Then there was the gym outfit. Shouldn’t that we like shorts and a tee shirt and cost about $15 total. Apparently that’s not how it works anymore. You need the Under Armor outfit of just the right size for a maturing girl. That cost more than the shoes…for a gym outfit. Then came the stop at Victoria’s Secret. You know what her secret is? She’s going to take all your money and make you want to come back once you have more. That store is evil I tell you, evil. The oldest daughter had to get in on that trip. To get you in there they offer all these exciting gifts with purchase. If you don’t make it there the first day of the sale, though, no gift for you except a receipt. Casinos should take notes from them. Now I don’t know what happens in that store. Maybe the air circulation system sprays endorphins in the air or they have hypnotic music. All I know is perfectly rational women enter there and lose all self-control of their buying impulses. It’s back to school. Who cares about how “cute” your bras and panties are? Apparently someone does because they spent the most money there and said, “We didn’t even really get anything.” I’m telling you, that store has some sort of mind control that makes women want to spend and men want to wait outside. So what’s the point of all this? Back to school has become a huge industry to which parents are simply slaves. When did it get so out of control?
Linvin finished his tea and poured another cup. “That all sounds
fine. Now tell me the bad news.”
Gradon leaned on one arm and nodded. “Increased growth,
especially in a short span, opens opportunities for corruption and
theft throughout the company. The count has found many
perpetrators like a predator chasing down his prey. He can fill in
the stories for you. The problem I see is that there may be
members of our organization dealing in a dishonest way without
“Even though the new stores are not run directly by us, they
still reflect the company and expansion makes monitoring that
much more difficult. I am pleased with the direction we are
heading. It was just so much easier in the old days when Dirk and I
ran this store and only had to worry about this building.”
Linvin placed his cup and saucer on the desk and lit his pipe.
After a drag, he turned to look out the window. He saw a carriage
of great stature rolling toward the store and knew it to belong to
Count Venicci. Linvin then turned his attention back to Gradon.
“I understand your lament, old friend. Those were golden days
when the store was young. As I recall, I had less hair, and you had
more. Perhaps the expansion was too quick and too broad. Time
will answer that, I suppose. The decisions I made may be radical
even to a visionary like my father. Nevertheless, the economic
climate is changing so rapidly that standing by and doing business
as it has always been done would have left us behind and soon
without a company at all. It is a better thing to kill the rats in your
cellar than to let your house be destroyed.
“If you need more staff to oversee matters, hire them. Root out
those who would tarnish my name. For it is that name the people
trust. There is a great demand for our goods in the markets of the
world. If we do not fill that need, another entity not interested in
fair dealings likely will. This is not simply about money. It is a
responsibility to spread our values of fair play and honest business
to the market.”
The sound of the metal knob of a walking stick was heard
knocking at the door. “Come in, good count,” Linvin called. The
door flew open. Stepping into the room was a tall, lean gentleman
dressed impeccably in white with gold threading and a tailored
midnight-blue cape. He pulled his matching top hat from his head,
revealing his nearly bald scalp and bowed in a most distinguished
What little hair he had, and his wrinkled skin betrayed the fact
that his years far exceeded that of Gradon. Even so, he displayed a
spring in has stride and zest in his movements scarcely seen in any
man, let alone one of his advanced age.
“My dear Linvin Grithinshield,” the count said as he rose. “On
behalf of myself and the entire Venicci Banking clan, I celebrate
your return to our fair city.”
Linvin stepped out from behind the desk and shook the count’s
hand with both of his. “It is good to see you again, my friend,”
Linvin said with a smile. “I understand you and Gradon have been
The count turned and shook Gradon’s hand, “Once again, a
pleasure to work by your side Gradon.” Gradon returned the
sentiment while Linvin closed the door.
Linvin resumed his seat and pulled a ledger from the pile. “We
have a limited time before Mr. Gredly arrives, and we have much
Venicci took a seat by Gradon and produced his own ledgers.
“Even the mentioning of that man’s name feeds my contempt,” the
count remarked with disdain.
“That is precisely why you are my accountant,” Linvin noted.
“Now show me the irregularities.”
As morning turned to afternoon, the three dealt with corruption
in the outlying stores, merchandise procurement, potential
opportunities, financing and the overall health of the company.
Linvin was satisfied with the decisions made and the courses being
pursued. As if on cue, there was a half-hearted knock at the door.
Linvin nodded to Gradon who opened it for their new guest.
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Meanwhile, in Missandor, the six stealthy individuals had invaded Linvin’s tree with the fall of night. The once pristine amenities were soon strewn around and destroyed. One climbed from floor to floor watching his minions searching in vain. “Leave nothing unchecked,” he ordered. “We must be thorough if we are to find the prize or move on in confidence.”
When the destruction was complete, the group reunited on the main floor. “Now where do we go?” Two asked.
One paced within a circle formed by his brethren. “They are aware of our pursuit, that is clear. Anvar Greenlith and Linvin Grithinshield have either left to search for the ultimate prize or left to hide what they possess. Regardless of the reason, our next best chance to find them will be with their only close family in the area. That takes us to Varns.”
It was then that Four entered the house holding a young boy by the arm. “This lad has some information of interest,” Four announced.
One knelt before the child and told him, “Fear not, boy. You will be rewarded for helping us track down a criminal.” The boy looked around at the destruction around him, afraid and silent. Seeing his face, One produced a small sack of gold and handed it to the boy. “Now,” One began, “tell us what you know.”
Quivering, the boy began to speak. “I delivered a message here, from an old elf in Fraylic, a few days ago. The man or elf that lived here paid me so much for getting it here, that I wanted to thank him the next day. I got up early to do that but saw them leaving town.”
“Them?” asked Four.
“Aye,” the Boy said. “The old elf that sent me was with him.”
“Which way did they go?” Three asked.
“S…south, it was,” the boy said with increasing apprehension.
One drew his face very close to the boy’s face. “Did the half elf have a staff with him?”
The boy looked away. “It was dark. It was hard to see. I…”
One lost patience. “Yes or no! Did he have a staff with him?”
“No,” the boy said at first. “Wait…he might have. There was something long hanging beside his horse. It could have been a staff.”
One nodded and resumed his pacing. “You have seen much, young boy.” One walked over and removed the sack from the boy’s hand. “Too much, I’m afraid. Four, do be certain he never has the opportunity to tell anyone else what he has seen.”
The boy tried to scream, but Four covered his mouth and dragged him up the stairs to meet his end.
“Crime has become so ruthless,” One commented. “Take that boy. He comes back with his unruly friends to rob the benevolent man who paid him so well only a few days before. He destroys the house, only to be killed by his two-timing friends and left for the authorities. I tell you, my friends, the world has become a sad place. Let us leave this den of sin and be on our way.
Four rejoined them as they neared the door. He was wiping blood from his hands with one of Linvin’s kitchen towels. “So do we head south?” he asked One.
“That would seem logical,” One commented, “however, south is not much of a destination, but Varns is. Grithinshield is known as a great strategist and Anvar Greenlith has proven to be more wise than we gave him credit for. The heading, the boy thief observed, could have been a ruse to throw us off the trail. In fact, I am quite sure it was. If that were the case, then they would have gone in the opposite direction that the boy said. That would be north and north leads us back to Varns. Now let us go. Our quarry is slipping away.”
Far away in the palace, there was another rather emotional
person. Necromancer was in the midst of a fit of rage in his study.
He upended his worktable and scattered the papers everywhere.
A goblet of wine spilled on the floor. Picking up a chair with
surprising ease, he smashed it to the ground. His horrified
assistant, Mordane, stood in a corner and watched the tantrum with
the look of one who has seen the play before and still did not enjoy
“I am so sick of this miserable existence—that I must serve that
ignorant slob of an emperor. He orders me around like a common
soldier. Fate must be teasing me. Otherwise, he would realize the
powers he is dealing with and beware.”
“To have but one day of freedom… I would take the stars in my
bare hands and smash his useless skull like a grape. With just a
moment’s reprieve, I’d turn his body inside out until only his
bones showed. Then I would slowly squeeze his heart in my hands
until it crushed under the weight of my fingers. Do you hear me?
Can no one grant me the vengeance I so rightly deserve?” His fist
slammed against the wall.
“What a joke this is! Somewhere someone must be laughing at
me. They must think this is a clever ruse indeed—that I could be
yoked like oxen and driven to do the most menial of tasks all these
years. And though the oxen hate the farmer, they must serve or
die.” He kicked at the papers on the floor.
Mordane stepped out of the corner and bowed before
Necromancer. “Master, there is no one laughing, and the only joke
is how foolish the Mandreans have been all these years in their
treatment of you. You will do the laughing, Eminence. You will
laugh when you are free again.”
Necromancer threw his head back. “Oh, to be free once again.
How marvelous it would be to go where I please, not to sit in this
vile dungeon and wait to be called to play court jester by a man not
even worthy of being one.”
His assistant tried to calm his master. “My lord, you are the
“That is a slave name.” Necromancer screeched in a higher,
more sinister voice.
“Forgive me, my lord. Still, no being in the world could
compare to you. Your powers cannot be matched. As you always
say, your day will come and then all will shudder in fear of your
power. That day is not far off. You have waited so many years. A
few more will pass before you know it and…”
“But how long until that day comes, Mordane?” he said in
frustration. “I have been patient. I have waited and waited and still
I wait! I will not wait another year or another day. Mandrean must
die! I must free myself of this torture.”
Mordane knew his master was furious but also knew that there
was no way for him to change his circumstance any time soon. He
had heard the speeches before. In spite of the fact that each
instance sounded more desperate, he expected little more than for
Necromancer to eventually settle down with a cask of wine for the
“You know the consequences you would face if you dealt with
Lord Mandrean yourself,” Mordane said while kneeling at
Necromancer’s feet. “Calm yourself or Mandrean wins!”
Here’s my new book trailer for Mandrean Revenge. I hope you enjoy it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZL_knO95Tk
Mandrean sipped his wine and looked out the window. Without looking at Fendri, he spoke to the man. “We are alone now. Speak your mind.”
Fendri resumed cleaning the mess on the floor. “I have no opinion fit to give, My Master.”
Mandrean walked over and held out his hand. Helping Fendri to his feet he said, “I believe that about as much as I believe the rubbish Betrimpia was spewing.”
Fendri let out a slight laugh and set down the tray. Then he sat on an accent chair and nibbled at some bacon from breakfast. “I have known you my entire life. We were childhood friends. Our fathers were friends. We were schooled together. In the army I served as your Weapon’s Bearer and guarded your back on many campaigns. Now I run your personal affairs and your household with the utmost discretion.”
“These things I know, Old Friend,” Mandrean concurred. “What point are you making?”
Fendri threw the bacon aside and walked briskly to the emperor. “My point is I know you better than anyone. Yet even I cannot understand why you allow that woman to continue to waste the air other people could be breathing. She is a devious, manipulative shrew.”
“She was my first concubine,” Mandrean said firmly.
“She brings nothing but distress to your house. You have never been a sentimental person so your argument carries no weight. Why do you not have her killed? You are the Emperor. No one would give the murder a moment’s pause. Eliminate her before she eliminates you.”
Mandrean laughed. “You give her too much credit.”
“You don’t give her enough,” snapped Fendri. “Look at her rein of intimidation in the lower halls. The other girls are terrified of her. They see her treacherous nature. I see it. Why is it that you do not?”
“She has been with me nearly twenty years,” Mandrean stated. “I cannot throw that away so easily. She has an attachment to me.”
Fendri’s agitation increased. “I have just witnessed that attachment. Do you know what I saw? What just played out here was a puppet master with her favorite marionette putting on a show. The so-called ‘attachment’ you felt were the strings she pulled to bend you to her will.”
Mandrean’s short temper rose at an alarming rate as he heard Fendri’s description. “Your joke is not funny.”
“Then it is a good thing I was not joking,” Fendri stated firmly. “You have always trusted me and I have never given you cause to doubt my sincerity. Believe me when I say she is playing you like an instrument. Look at what she does objectively and you will see she gets what she wants from you. I tell you no good will come of this. She has a plan. Once it is put into effect, it will not end well for you. Kill her now, while you still can.”
Mandrean’s anger was tempered by the genuine display of concern from his closest friend. He set down his goblet and paced with his hands behind his back. The conversation with Betrimpia played through his mind. “I know you believe all those things to be true,” he began. “I am no one’s puppet. Look at all the things she asked for and did not receive. She holds no control over me.”
By the time Linvin had finished his last dance, he was wishing he had chosen the other sandals. The time had come for the remainder of the party to move to the roof deck. A simple bar attended by servants quenched the thirsts of the patrons. It was the part of the evening in which guests could shed their responsibilities in society and relax. There was an unwritten rule that one’s actions on the balcony were not to be held against them. In fact, the lunacy that sometimes occurred was never to be spoken of again. They ordered whatever beverage made them happy and a buffet was arranged in case it had seemed too long since dinner.
Jelena was noticeably absent. She was working the door again, saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you so much for attending.’ Jelena also thought her son would feel more comfortable with the young ladies if his mother were not within sight.
Linvin had already consumed his share of wine and decided to switch to brandy in an effort to slow his consumption. Like his uncle, it was not a favorite drink of his but the glass gave him something to do with his hands so he did not seem so anxious.
Linvin took his seat and the women flocked around him, like pigeons to breadcrumbs. The young ladies sat tall in a proper pose. Coaching the girls from behind were their mothers. Linvin could not help but wonder if the supervision was for their daughter’s benefit or his. The males of the respective families were busy smoking and drinking themselves into embarrassment.
It suddenly occurred to Linvin as the ladies formed a circle about him that he could think of nothing to say. The entire group waited for him to speak. In his nervousness he fell back on flattery.
“You are all simply marvelous dancers,” he commented, “Your grace and poise made my clumsiness so much less noticeable. I thank you.”
“Oh you danced divinely,” one admirer said. A chorus of agreement followed.
“I have taken dance lessons since I was five,” one interjected.
“Well I have taken them since I could walk!” blurted out another. Credentials began to fly around like bids at an auction.
Linvin raised his hands to silence the competition. “I was hoping to learn a little more about you ladies. Perhaps if we just went around and you told me your names and a few things about yourselves.” It seemed to Linvin that he had come up with an orderly plan. He did not realize that it would be the last opportunity for him to speak for some time.
Each young lady took full advantage of the center stage and told him the lengthy details of her life and ambitions. Some statements were intriguing, others were revealing and a few were ones he was thankful his mother did not hear. Still, the vast majority of the statements sounded exactly like the woman who had just spoken. Linvin felt himself caring less and less about what he was beginning to view as predators looking for a kill.
Fantasy fiction is my passion. This series embodies my love for a good story and action. You will find it to be many things, but not boring! Read what you love and love what you read...