Eliana had a zero tolerance policy. Either she got her payment in money when she was supposed to or someone else would pay through other means.
Kole snapped the shopkeeper’s fingers one by one, his face impassive as the shopkeeper screamed.
Eliana sipped her wine glass as the deed was done, grimacing at the bitter taste. She wouldn’t get that kind of bottle from Ramsey again. Once the shopkeeper’s screaming had subsided, she asked, “I’m certain our point has been made. Don’t be late with the payment again.”
Kole released the blubbering shopkeeper and returned to Eliana’s side. The shopkeeper – Joseph or Jorge or something of that sort – whimpered as he held his hand close to his chest. “Please,” he said, “how am I supposed to cut and set the meat with a broken hand?”
Eliana smiled. “You have your cute little apprentice, don’t you? I’m sure he’ll love the experience. Your meat will be delivered as scheduled, considering that I always honor my side of the agreements, but I expect your payment in full next week. If not…” Kole cracked his knuckles and neck. “Well, I believe you get the point.”
The hunter waved the butcher out of her sight and Kole graciously helped the man hasten his leave. Eliana sighed and turned to inspect her knives until Kole returned. “Any news regarding the king’s search for a new heir? No long lost bastard children popping up, are there?”
“Nothing new,” Kole said with a grunt, “aside from the noble families scrambling to ready potential heirs for the late prince’s remembrance ball.”
“Who is the Griffin family preparing?”
“Both of the eldest children,” Kole reported. “Rupert and Alicia. Rupert is the oldest male, but I suppose they wanted to prepare a female candidate as well for future heir purposes, I imagine.”
“Not taking any chances, are they?” Eliana murmured. “I would have preferred they prepped Colton. With his youth, he would have been impressionable. He would have melted in the hands of us merchants. Did Ramsey’s men report?”
Kole nodded and clasped his large hands behind his back. “The Prescot family is grooming Norton. Master Ramsey is not worried about them. His men claim that Norton doesn’t know a stallion from an ass.”
Eliana snorted, but waved Kole on to continue.
“Master Ramsey’s men did mention that their master was concerned about Avery from the Hachet family,” Kole said. “She’s of age, intelligent, and follows politics well, both of the kingdom and of the elves. Considering that King Oswald has a tentative treaty with the elves, Avery seems to be one of the favorite candidates of the court.”
Eliana pursed her lips. “I’m afraid I don’t know that family well enough,” she admitted. “All I know is that they do not seem to be the most favorable family for the merchant guild. We’ve had the king’s family in our pockets for generations. Our world would have continued smoothly if the dithering prince hadn’t gotten himself killed.”
“Indeed,” Kole agreed.
“Who knows of the other merchants as well,” Eliana said. “For all I know, Jasmyn may know of a couple of contenders as well. The Griffin family doesn’t worry me too much. Rupert is more interested in the sea and Alicia was always a clumsy wench. It’s doubtful that King Oswald will pick either of them.”
“It would be wise not to let down our guard, if I may say so,” Kole said. “Perhaps they clean up nicely and the king will give them a second look.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Eliana downed the rest of her wine with a grimace before grabbing her favorite bow. “I’m going with the next hunting group. Take care of things while I’m gone.”
Kole bowed his head. “Always.”
Eliana reached up to gently pat his face, earning a small smile from the otherwise stoic man, and disappeared, itching to vent her frustration on the heir scramble on some unfortunate buck.