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The rain was nearly horizontal, the wind was so fierce. It drove into Davon's eyes as he squinted down the road in the evening light. He really hated sentry duty in winter.

The small group of travellers coming up the road didn't see the sentry post until they were almost on top of it. Davon didn't see them until they were almost on top of him, either. He jerked into action, stepping forward and moving his glaive out to bar the way. "Halt! State your business!"

The travellers stopped, the ones at the back of the group bumping into the ones ahead. "Who - who's there?" asked one in a weak voice.

Davon peered at them through the rain. They didn't seem to be dangerous - he relaxed his posture. "This is the Moratian Royal Toll Road, you're at a toll point."

"Toll Road?" the leader of the group asked. "I don't recall the village crier telling us this was a toll road."

"Newly made so, to raise money for the war effort. The fee for passage is fifty pence a head."

"War? Please sir, we thought Prince Cadell was a benevolent ruler?"

"He is. The war is against Ras Natara, who want to kill us all because we're not M'hushtlamites. They're preparing to invade as we speak. Now - fifty pence per head, or you don't pass this point."

"What rank are you, to demand such money from us?"

Davon turned his head towards the toll house door, where someone would be stationed to answer a call for backup. "Captain!"

There was a shuffling amongst the travellers, and a minute or so later the toll house's commanding officer appeared. "What's the trouble?" he asked.

"Traveller's don't seem to think I have the rank to ask for the toll money, sir," Davon replied.

"Really?" The Captain drew his sword. "And why might that be?"

The leader of the travellers looked up at him. "My apologies, Captain. We were unsure if you were merely bandits posing as soldiers of the Crown."

"We're not, old one. What is your business?"

"I am a ... merchant, travelling with my ... merchandise, to Junku in order to ... make a profit."

"Merchandise? Where?"

The leader snapped his fingers, and the other figures in the group straightened up and pulled their hoods back, revealing five stunningly beautiful women. There was just long enough for Davon and the Captain to take this in, when the leader gestured with his still-raised hand, and they huddled back down under their hoods.

"So, a travelling pimp and a handful of whores," the Captain mused. "I'm sure you're aware, old one, that whoring is still illegal in Morat?"

"Only under certain circumstances," the leader replied. "For instance, if you and your men were to sample my ... merchandise, I'm sure you'd find it in your hearts to overlook this whole matter."

"Attempting to bribe a state official is a serious offence," the Captain told him. He turned to the guard house and yelled, "muster!" Moments later another half-dozen men were standing in the road, weapons levelled at the group. "You are all under arrest," the Captain said. "You will be taken into custody here, and as soon as the mage contacts us for our regular report, we will arrange for your transfer to more suitable facilities."

"Thank you, Captain," the leader's voice had changed. It was no longer old and weak, it was young, confident, and powerful. "Now that all your men are present, I can do what I came here to do." He waved his hand, and the Illusions of his companions disappeared. Another wave of his hand transformed the driving rain into spears, which hit the men so forcefully they pierced their armour. A third gesture knocked them all to the floor."

"Wha..?" Davon croaked as he felt the spear in his gut settle against his spine.

"Don't worry about it," the mage told him, as he appeared to be only one still conscious. "After all, the Sword Bearers have been preparing to invade for much longer that we were speaking. I was sent to weaken potential enemies months ago." He knelt by Davon's head and looked into his eyes. Davon's vision was fading, and he saw the deep brown of his skin but little else. "Relax, soldier. You served your country well, but your ability was far outstripped by that of your enemies. There is no shame in."

His words were cut off by the thump! of a volley of crossbow bolts hitting home. Davon remained conscious only long enough to realise the now dead enemy mage was collapsing on top of him.

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