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Authors: Brian Thomsen

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BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
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The master traveler was slightly startled, then amused at the sudden reference to his reputation and
repertoire made by their host. Indeed, he thought, our host is quite cagey and knows much more than he lets on—about a lot of things.

“I agree,” the master traveler concurred aloud, “though I personally prefer the brew from a different part of the south, Luiren.”

“Ah, but too many halflings can spoil the brew,” Honor replied, accepting his second brimming helping.

The masked man’s fear and uncertainty gave way to his own impatience.

“All this talk of halflings and brew is well and good,” Rassendyll said with impertinence, “but I really do wish you would get on with whatever you plan to get on with.”

Honor stiffened, and Passepout feared that the swordsman was about to enter into another rage. His fears were quickly allayed when he saw the wide grin spread across their blind host’s face.

“Told you,” Honor said to McKern. “Even has his father’s lack of patience.”

“Indeed,” the senior Cloak concurred. “More and more, I am inclined to agree with you, and set aside my own misgivings.”

“I knew you would, old friend,” the blind host said, then turned his attention to the rest of the group. “I’m sorry. Please forgive us. Old men are prone to share old times and memories, both the good ones, and the bad, whenever the opportunity arises, no matter how discourteous it happens to be. Still, that is no excuse, and I beg that all of you will accept my apologies on behalf of Mason and myself.”

Honor downed his second tankard of ale, once again emptying it in a single quaff, whispering instructions to send his appreciation to Hotspur for a job well done, as he went about deftly refilling his own mug. Refilling it faster than a Baldur’s Gate
bartender, he strode over to the seated mage in the iron mask who was the focus of all their attentions, and said, “Most of all I beg your forgiveness, and request your indulgence for just a little while longer. You are among friends now. Mason and I will protect you, as we should have protected your father.”

Rassendyll felt the gentle bear paw of the blind swordsman on his shoulder, and looked up into his unseeing eyes. For some reason, he felt a profound sense of security. He believed the words that the generous host spoke.

Honor gave Rassendyll’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, much as a teacher would give a star pupil to signal some private affection, and took what would have been considered a sip in comparison to his earlier draughts from the brimming tankard, only draining it of half its contents. He then returned to the tap to top it off, and took his place back in the circle.

“Mason,” Honor said, “why don’t you fill everyone in on our friend’s background? I’m sure they will find it quite interesting.”

“Agreed,” the old mage replied, then added, to the masked man, “I am sure that you would like to know a little about your parentage, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course,” Rassendyll replied. “Of the many things I learned at the Retreat, that was not one of them.”

“Well, old friend,” Honor encouraged Mason McKern, “get on with it.”

In the Thayan Embassy in Mulmaster:

The worm of an ambassador had not expected to be summoned so soon after receiving the note from
the First Princess. He was even more surprised to be approached in his chamber by the Tharchioness’s sister.

“The Tharchioness instructed me to come to you immediately, as you are her only hope,” Mischa Tam explained in tones of hushed urgency.

“Of course,” the ambassador said, beaming with pride, relieved at Mischa’s message, eyes glued to the curves of her body, which were subtly visible against the silken robe that barely concealed her nakedness. “The First Princess knows that she can call on me at any time, day or night … as I invite you to do also, my dear Mischa.”

Mischa Tam maintained her composure while burying a shudder of revulsion that ran through her inner core at the advances of the wormlike ambassador. She was sure that until her arrival, he had been dreading the next contact with the Tharchioness, anticipating a suicide mission of some type.

Even though he did not realize it, his initial anticipations were more than accurate.

“My dear ambassador,” she cooed, “I wish I could take you up on your generous offer, but my pragmatic nature, I’m afraid, gets the best of me. You know how jealous the First Princess gets. She would have my head or worse if she caught me giving undue attention to one of her favorites.”

One of her favorites, the ambassador thought, I should have known. I never dreamed that she felt that way about me. Obviously she is a woman prone to sadistic affections toward those who strike her fancy. If necessary, he mused, I could get used to that.

“Time is fleeting, and I owe it to the Tharchioness not to dally unnecessarily, even if it does prolong my time with you,” the First Princess’s half sister whispered, her ironic tone lost on the corpulent and soft
civil envoy. “Here is the packet of information that I promised to deliver for her. She so wants you to clear your name, and the successful completion of your mission will do more than that. After all, a Thayan hero would make a perfect First Princess’s consort. Don’t you think?”

The slow-witted ambassador became confused.

“What hero?” he asked. “And what about the High Blade?”

“Why
you
will be the hero, of course,” she cooed, kissing him gently on his doughy, bald pate, and then, with a sigh, adding, “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t control myself.”

“Quite all right,” the blushing, lusting ambassador sputtered.

“And the High Blade,” she concluded. “Well, that is what is probably in the message. I must go now.”

“No,” the ambassador urged, “surely you can stay awhile. The Tharchioness need not know.”

“As much as I would love to,” she countered, “I really can’t. Nothing must deter you from the planning of your mission.”

The ambassador looked at the unopened message that had been handed to him, and said resignedly, “Oh, yes, my mission.”

“And when it is over, no one will deny you anything, not even the Tharchioness.”

“Indeed,” he replied, his greed overcoming any fear about the prospective contents of the packet.

“It is the will of Szass Tam,” she said, as she slinked out the door of the ambassador’s suite.

“Indeed,” he repeated to himself, trying to savor the image of Mischa and combining it with that of a similarly compliant First Princess. “Indeed.”

Had the ambassador escorted the Tharchioness’s half sister to the door, he might have been able to
hear her derisive laughter once she turned the corner down the hall.

Looking down at the packet in his hand, and with a gradual return of the anxiety that churned in the bottom of his stomach, he began to open the seal so that he could learn of the fate that awaited him.

The pervasive terror returned as he finished the missive which burst into smokeless flames no sooner than he had fully digested its contents, incinerating the instruction on the spot.

The despair that he felt more than distracted him from the painful searing of his fingertips.

At the Villa of Honor Fullstaff
,

Swordmaster, retired:

Drinks refilled, the blind swordmaster sat back in his chair, and began to tell a tale.

“Everyone hereabouts,” he began, with a quick nod to Volo, “and thereabouts, who might have done their research, knows that I was the captain of the Hawks under the former High Blade. You might all have by this time made the correct assumption that it was during that tour of duty that I first became acquainted with my good friend Mason McKern, now senior Cloak, then just a plain old mage who lived with his brother, known throughout the inner circles of the Moonsea region as mage smiths of inordinate skill and mastery.”

“Once again my good friend is overly generous in his praise,” McKern interrupted. “It has always been my brother who possessed the mastery of forged metals. I am, and have always been, but a simple caster of spells.”

Honor directed an unseeing glare toward the senior Cloak.

“I am the one relating the pertinent history at this time, and it is only my opinion that matters. I would greatly appreciate it, old friend, if you would maintain a courteous conduct of silence, for I would experience no pleasure in physically encouraging you to do so by giving you a fat lip, if you get my drift.”

McKern was about to reply, thought the better of it, and instead embraced the silence that was requested.

“Now, as I was saying,” Honor continued, “these things are easily known by many, as is the heinous fact that Selfaril killed his father in order to succeed him on the throne with the same amoral, opportunistic glee with which he entered into matrimony with that sorceress bitch from the east, the First Princess of Thay.”

Passepout leaned in close to Volo and whispered, “I guess there is no question about our host’s feelings toward Mulmaster’s incumbent administration.”

“I might add at this point that I would have no trouble dealing with new friends in the exact same manner as I would old friends,” Honor said pointedly, but without changing his storyteller tone, pausing just a moment to take an uncharacteristically small sip of his ale.

Even the sometimes dull Passepout, for whom matters of subtlety were usually matters of mystery, understood his meaning and joined the others in the reverential silence of attentive listening.

“But what of Selfaril’s father?” Honor continued. “From whence did he come, and where are the tales of his heroics? It is almost as if all trace of the glory that was Merch Voumdolphin has been expunged from public record. And what of his wife, the mother
of Selfaril? Whatever became of her?”

Volo felt that he was sitting in on a hard-sell session by his publisher to some unenthusiastic bookseller. He wished that he could take out his handy notebook, but thought better of it. Though it sounded as if the makings of a bestseller were about to be laid out before him, he realized that this was neither the time nor the place for such whimsical maneuvers of ambition, and a quick glance at the iron-masked man reminded him that this was indeed a matter of life and death. What good would a bestseller be if the author never lived to see its completion, submission, or publication.

Honor took a more ample drink of ale, and wiped his jowls with his sleeve in a somewhat vulgar manner that at once conveyed his appreciation of the drink and affirmed to the crowd at hand that this was indeed his home and thus he could do as he well pleased.

“Now that I have your attention, and I thank you for your indulgence of a blind old man, I will answer the aforementioned questions.”

“Merch and I shared our early years of formative education, for he too was a graduate of the Hillsfar gladiatorial arena. Though I led the revolt, he planned it, preferring to leave me the glory and gusto of leadership. Once we had escaped, I founded our mercenary band while he took advantage of his less notorious persona to insinuate himself into merchant society by romancing a certain Mulman aristocrat’s daughter. In no time they were married, and Merch had safely slept his way up the ladder of Mulman high society.

“There was only one small problem: unbeknownst to him, he had already fathered two sons from a slave girl he had lain with during off hours at the
arena, and these offspring were still imprisoned back in Hillsfar.”

“It was I who first found out about these two infants that had just been born on the wrong side of the blanket, and I hastened to Mulmaster to alert Merch. Needless to say, he was horrified, torn by his duty to his newly-acquired wife—who was already pregnant—and the illegitimate spawn of his loins.”

Mason McKern lightly tapped his friend on the arm, and politely asked, “May I fill in for a few moments?”

Honor smiled.

“Of course, old friend,” the genial host replied, “you’ve more than earned that right.”

McKern cleared his voice and continued the tale.

“At that time,” the senior Cloak said, “there was a pair of very young mages-in-training in the employ of the household into which Merch had married. They had pledged their services to the head of the household in return for certain financial endowments that had been bestowed upon their other brother, a high-level mage by the name of Loyola who wished to start a private refuge and place of study.”

BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
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