It was agreed. A bribe of only 25 gold pieces per season was enough to buy the silence of the militia boys. Arbiddance had made it abundantly clear, after money had changed hands, what the penalty for double-crossing him would be, and there was no argument.
The land in question belonged to Falang, the local baron, who often used it to graze his cattle and for occasional pheasant hunting. His place of residence was not far away.
"You can tell a lot about a person based on his choice in art," Qova said as she stared at the tapestry. The art in question depicted peasants being hanged while their families looked on in sorrow. An odd little chubby person occupied the lower right corner of the tapestry and looked at the viewer with a grin of sadistic glee. "This piece, for example, suggests that there's a reasonable chance we may have to fight our way out of the house if the Baron is in a foul mood today."
"Now, be nice," Arbiddance chuckled from his comfortable chair. "His art may speak volumes, but the state of things in this manor suggests that the Baron may be slightly strapped for cash. That's a good thing."
Hern gazed out the window across the fields and said nothing while he watched the cattle grazing. Having the best hearing, he heard the footsteps coming down the hall before the others did, and turned to face the doorway as it opened.
Arwick, the 7th Baron Falang, quietly slipped through the doorway and closed the door behind him. He was a slight man with the manners of a rabbit, and men such as that made Hern uneasy. The Baron stepped foward to Hern with his hand out.
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," the noble said. Introductions were made, and he added "I understand there's a question of some property you wish to purchase." He spoke with the quiet voice of the lectern, as if speaking to human anatomy students with morning hangovers. Or a gravedigger, Hern thought.
Arbiddance was slightly shocked that the nub of the matter was reached so quickly... perhaps his suspicions were correct. "Yes, M'Lord. This small area here surrounding the Breakharrow Hill." He produced a map he had drawn complete with measurements. "We simply love the place and want to build a house there."
Qova stifled a giggle at that line, but remained silent.
"I see, I see," the Baron murmured. He poured over the map from several angles, as if the decision would affect the outcome of future generations. "Well, the land itself is used for cattle and game... nothing major there... except for the underground entrance, of course."
The three adventurers froze for a second. Arbiddance broke the silence with a clearing of his voice. "You know of that?"
The Baron looked at the wizard with a frustrated expression. "Please. I grew up here. So, if you want that particular area, it will cost you."
"If M'Lord knew of the place, why has he not sacked it," Hern asked.
"One of my ancestors was slaughtered down there," the Baron quietly replied. " Body never found.We've made a point of avoiding the place... sleeping dogs and all that. Who do you think had bushes planted over the entrance. Besides, it's an open secret."
He sat down in a chair and smiled. "Let me guess: you thought to buy the land, build a house there with a secret entrance, and sack the place as you please. Am I right?"
The three looked around. Qova nodded her head.
"And not a bad plan it is. Except that I own it, and whatever comes out of it belongs to me," he leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs.
"Ahhh... begging the Baron's pardon," Arbiddance interjected. "That's technically not true. Technically, whatever is under there belongs to the Duke... your liege lord. If it's an open secret, as you say, then why is the place not guarded by soldiers of the Naej? Every entrance to Doomwatch is jealously guarded."
"Well, technically, no one's sure if it leads to Doomwatch," the Baron countered. "And technically, the Duke knows nothing of it. The locals know that who ever talks will be turned out to fend for themselves. I run a nice little barony here... no problems and no attention from Talos other than the usual patrols."
"Perhaps," Hern broke in. "we can strike a bargain here that's good for everyone involved." The Baron shifted in his chair to better hear the fighter. "Go on."
"Here's a proposal: suppose you allow me to build a house there on that spot. I swear allegiance to you and help serve in defense of your barony. My friends do the same. We quietly go about our business, and guarantee to pay you a seasonal tax of... say... 250 gold. That's guaranteed, or you boot us off the land legally. That's an income for you of one thousand gold per year, off the books, and incentive for us to delve to our hearts' desire. And occasionally, we throw you a bone."
"In any case," Qova spoke up, "we've brought a couple of pieces we found in our last expedition... as gifts for M'Lord," she lifted a bag and produced two art pieces from the hall of gargoyles. "We're sure the Baron knows more about art and who would want it more than we would know."
The Baron stood and walked over to the window. He pondered Hern's offer for a few minutes, turned, and simply said "done."
With a fresh charter in hand, the three left the manor and mounted their horses. Arbiddance muttered "like taking candy from a baby" as they started back toward Breakharrow Hill.