A servant appeared in the doorway. "They are assembled, your Grace," announced he.
Newel surveyed his servant with a dissatisfied air. Pomplin was his name. He seemed faithful enough, but the man was an absolute bore with no warmth about him. Newel wanted a plain servant with no fuss about him, but he hadn't counted on such a morose dimwit. Serving was all the man was good for. He had no imagination and a complete inability to think outside of Newel's orders (or so it seemed to Newel).
"No matter," Newel thought to himself, curling his lip into a scornful grin. "That's all I need him for." Newel pushed himself away from the window with sudden alacrity and strode through the halls of his very own mansion.
In the midst of the mansion, Newel uncovered a secret door. Disappearing into its recesses, he lit a light and followed a set of stone steps deep into the heart of the mansion.
At last he emerged in a small meeting room, well-lit with candles. Several men were gathered there. Newel's eyes went from face to face. They were an ugly set of faces, hardened with the lives they lived. Burly men who had developed the habit of lurking in shadows and checking over their shoulders; brainy men who had traded the look of lofty intelligence for one of cunning treachery; these were the sort that gathered in the secret room.
Newel's eyes stopped on the one unfamiliar face in the room. "Who is this?" he demanded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"Webb, your Grace," the stranger answered quickly. "Tracker, swordsman, and so forth."
Newel's eyes issued a challenge and were met calmly by those of the stranger. Slowly Newel weighed the stranger in his mind. It bothered Newel that the stranger returned his gaze so coolly, and he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being appraised at the same time. A man like that could be dangerous to Newel some day.
Newel averted his eyes from the stranger and shrugged. Were not all of his men potentially dangerous if not handled correctly? Did he not value a Rat with a calculating and quick mind? This Webb would be like the rest of his Rats, completely under his thumb. Newel shot a sideways glance at the stranger, only to see the stranger was still watching him. Curse him for his boldness, but he would doubtless be able to make Newel's enemies quake with fear. Newel gave a quick nod, granting his permission for the stranger to join them.
"W'at's the plan," asked an impatient Rat, dragging a blade along his teeth in a pretense of dental hygiene.
"I am going to own Darenheim," Newel answered, lifting an eyebrow haughtily.
Exclamations spun around the room.
"It will be easy enough if we take our time," Newel went on. "As you know, my brother is on his way out of the country as we speak, taking an army with him to fight some fool war. With the army gone, the estate, town, and surrounding country of Darenheim will be unprotected."
The Rats shifted eagerly, their eyes lighting up as they began to understand the plan.
"Bandits will plague the city," Newel said with a smile and a suggestive nod at his men. "Soon, the city will suffer from loss of goods and the reluctance of any tradesman to do business with them. And who can blame the poor traveling tradesmen -- they get robbed coming and going from the city!"
The Rats winked at each other.
"Such bandits, you understand, would be permitted to keep their plunder with no complaint from me. Make yourselves rich, men," Newel added.
The Rats were positively gleaming with pleasure.
"With all the losses they have sustained, city leaders will jump at the chance to put themselves under my protection. I will buy from them the estate, the city, and all the surrounding lands. Whichever of you distinguishes yourself in my service will have the honor of ruling Darenheim for me," Newel announced.
"We can make this plan work," promised one of the Rats.
"Good," Newel said, shortly. He turned to a flickering candle, toying with the flame in his fingers. "This is a good war my brother has rushed into. Like a dark cloak, it provides the perfect covering for our plans." He pinched the wick in his fingers and the flame was extinguished.
"Here's to the cloak of war, then," murmured a Rat as each of the men turned to the candles nearest them and pinched their flames.
And the room was suddenly pitch black with only the sound of breathing to reveal its inhabitants.