Soon the fire crackled cheerfully before him and erased some of Lord Hob’s chill, leaving behind only the cold lump of indecision and worry.

“Very nice, Douglas,” Lord Hob said.

"Thank you, Dread Lord,” the cloyne replied with a smile that put Lord Hob in mind of a shark. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Dread Lord?”

“Some food, Douglas. What have you down in the kitchens?”

“The cook has been slow roasting a side of beef on the spit all day, Dread Lord. It should be done by now.”

“How convenient,” Lord Hob said with mock surprise. “One would almost think you knew I was coming home. But how could that be when I gave no warning?”

“Quite, Dread Lord.”

Hob stared at the little man. The little man stared right back, looking bored.

“Okay, Douglas,” Lord Hob said at last, breaking the silence. “Thank you, that will be all.”

“And the roasted beef, Dread Lord? Would you like me to bring you up a plate?”

“Yes, of course,” Hob said, waving his hand dismissively.

He hated the way Douglas said ‘Dread Lord’. There was an unmistakable hint of sarcasm that he tried to ignore. Instead he chewed on this thumbnail as Douglas left. But, as the cloyne was about to close the door behind him, Lord Hob spoke.

“Oh, Douglas,” he called as if he had just thought of something.

He hadn’t, of course. Anytime he could mess with the cloyne, no matter how petty the jab, Lord Hob would always jump at the chance.

“Yes, Dread Lord?” Douglas had turned, still looking bored.

“I wish to speak with Finn. I need you to find him and send him to me.”

“At once, Dread Lord.” Douglas did not leave however. He remained with an expectant look on his unsettling face.

“That is all, Douglas,” Lord Hob said. “You may go.”

“Yes, Dread Lord. I shall have the food sent up for you at once.”

With that, Douglas left the Dread Lord Hob alone with his thoughts.

The bulk of his army he’d left in the Plains of Rialt to the east of Haven. They were to keep an eye on Haven and wait for further instructions. Upon reflection, he’d probably made a poor choice in leaving his army behind. As it was, alone in the Keep with only the cloyne for company, there wasn’t much for him to do. Which is why he wanted to speak with Finn.

Alistair Finn was Lord Hob’s Master of Information. In other words, he was a spy. Thanks to an intricate network of operatives all over Gund, as well as a deep understanding and knowledge of magical communication, Finn has been able to keep Lord Hob up to date on all that was going on in the world. And frankly, Hob had found himself a bit of a news junkie. He was starved for news. While the journey from Haven had been instantaneous, he’d not had the chance for his usual morning briefing. While at the Keep, the morning update was conducted by Finn. Out in the world, he’d had one of Finn’s operatives with him, which he had left behind. He needed to know what was going on out there, especially now that the One was back.

But for now, he had to wait.

The Dread Lord Hob did not like to wait. It made him twitchy. So he paced, frowning at the armor he’d strewn about. He could pick it up, he supposed. That would give him something to do, but the thought made him angry. Each time he strode the length of the room, he’d pass by the dropped armor and fumed. After his seventh circuit, just as he was about kick at the armor in frustration, Douglas returned.

He bore with him a large tray of food. So large, in fact, that it gave Lord Hob a headache as his brain attempted to work out how a creature as small as Douglas could bear such an unwieldy burden. Douglas, on the other hand, seemed to exert no effort whatsoever as he placed the tray, a feat that should have been too awkward to accomplish, on the stone table next to the high backed chair.

“Thank you, Douglas,” said Lord Hob, sitting.

“It was my pleasure, Dread Lord.”

“And Finn?”

“Mr. Finn is not currently in residence, Dread Lord.”

“Not currently in residence?” Lord Hob rose. “Where in the nine Hells is he?”

“Mr. Finn left not long after you and your army set out, Dread Lord.”

“That was eight months ago.”

“As you say, Dread Lord.”

“Where, in Bose’s name, did he go?”

“He did not say, Dread Lord.”

“Well,” Lord Hob felt like kicking the little man across the room, but he held himself in check. “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

“Earlier, Dread Lord?”

“Earlier,” he said. Holding back the rage was always more difficult with dealing with the cloyne. “Fifteen minutes ago, when I sent you to fetch him.”

“That wasn’t me, Dread Lord. That must have been another."

The Dread Lord Hob directed the full force of his glare down upon the little man before him. Douglas, for what else could he call the nasty little creature when he could not tell one from another, did not blink. He only met Lord Hob’s gaze with those cold, black eyes. Eyes that contained all that was evil in the world.

“Do we have one of the Relays in residence?” Lord Hob asked.

“We do, Dread Lord.”

“In that case, go to him—”

“Her, Dread Lord,” Douglas interrupted.

“Go to her,” Lord Hob said between clenched teeth. “And get me a report on the state of things in the world.”

“The Relays will only speak with Mr. Finn, Dread Lord.”

“I’m sure you are capable enough to convince her.”

“Of course, Dread Lord,” said Douglas. And, as the cloyne turned to the door...

“Leave her alive,” said Lord Hob.

“Of course, Dread Lord.”

“No bloodshed.”

“Yes, Dread Lord.”

“And see if you can find out where Finn is.”

“At once, Dread Lord.” The little man gave a slight bow before leaving Hob alone once again.

To be continued . . .

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