Authors: Brian Thomsen
In the Office of the Captain of the Hawks
in Southroad Keep:
After two hours of unsuccessful tossing and turning, Captain Rickman returned to his office to do some paperwork, considering that to be a more productive alternative to lying sleepless in his bed. The halls were empty, and the chill of the Moonsea winds brought a coolness to his chambers that necessitated his drawing a blanket around his shoulders to keep warm. The single candelabrum that provided enough light to work by could not possibly also adequately heat the room.
“Brrr,” the Hawk captain said aloud as he settled into the chair behind his desk, his mind not really on the paperwork that lay before him.
For months now, Rickman had been growing progressively more worried about Mulmaster’s stability. The rebuilding of the navy was proceeding at a slower pace than even he had anticipated, and there was talk of civil unrest among the common folk, who still had not accepted the desirability of their alliance with Eltabbar.
For many, the diplomatic incentive of this alliance was overshadowed by the misalliance that was construed as the High Blade’s marriage.
Initially, Rickman had every confidence that Selfaril knew what he was doing. The plot for the annexation of Eltabbar, and the subjugation of the Tharchioness, had seemed both sound and desirable, but now the captain of the Hawks was beginning to feel uneasy.
Rickman did not like the game of cat and mouse that the High Blade seemed to enjoy playing with his bride. Everything would have been much easier had he just confronted her with his knowledge of her treasonous plans, forcing her to abdicate to him the
throne of Eltabbar … just before her execution for treason; but the High Blade had decided against this pragmatic course of action, and as a result that which had been a winning endgame was left as a fool’s stalemate with both sides at the same point they were when the game started.
Eventually, Rickman realized, Selfaril would come to his senses and look for a scapegoat, and no minor functionary like Wattrous or Jembahb would do. The captain of the Hawks knew that his days as the High Blade’s right-hand man were numbered, and, therefore, his days among the living were equally numbered. He only hoped that a plan for his own salvation would present itself.
His prayers (perhaps to Cyric, perhaps to Bane) were answered with an unexpected knock on his chamber door.
“Come in,” he responded, his voice gravelly with night congestion.
The door opened and a spineless informant that Rickman recognized as his man in the Thayan embassy entered.
“Sir,” said the man, whose name was Lendel, “I came by to drop off some recently acquired intelligence of great importance. I was going to drop it off at our usual place, the Warrior’s Arena, but decided it couldn’t wait. I had hopes of leaving it under your door so that you would see it the first thing tomorrow morn, but when I saw the light flickering under your door. I felt that it was best to deliver it to you personally.”
“What is it?” the captain demanded. “Even though it is late, I hope you took precautions to avoid being followed. It would serve Mulmaster naught if we were to lose our ear within the enemy’s embassy.”
“I took every precaution I could,” Lendel said obsequiously,
“but I felt that this was worth the possibility of blowing my cover. Even so, I am fairly sure that I have managed to arrive here unobserved.”
The captain of the Hawks stood up and said, “Then what is it?” at the same time noting to himself that perhaps the security around his own office should be increased.
“Here,” Lendel said, taking a step forward and proffering his hand, which held a crumpled up note. “I found it in one of the ambassadors’ trash.”
Rickman read the note with great interest. “Do you believe it to be authentic?” he demanded.
“Yes, captain,” Lendel answered. “This particular ambassador is not what anyone would call very bright. His carelessness is Mulmaster’s gain.”
“Agreed,” said Rickman, tapping his forehead with the note as a plan began to present itself. “Remind me, Lendel,” he asked, “who is your contact within the Hawks?”
“Lieutenant Wattrous, sir,” Lendel replied.
Rickman walked around the desk and put his arm around the spy’s shoulder. “And other than him,” the captain inquired, “who in Mulmaster knows your true affiliation?”
“Just yourself, sir,” Lendel replied officiously. “I have been very careful about that.”
“Good,” the captain of the Hawks replied, patting the spy on the back. “You have done well, and in doing so have made things much easier on me.”
With another pat on the spy’s back, Rickman silently withdrew his dagger, and quickly slashed the throat of the surprised and shocked Lendel, who tried to gurgle a protest, a question, then a scream, but to no avail. His throat was already clotted with blood.
“Sorry about that,” the calm captain apologized. “In another time and in another place you would
have gotten a commendation. Unfortunately at this time, and in this place, you are a liability. Rest assured, however, that the new High Blade will look upon your memory fondly … as I take the throne.”
The slain spy slid to the ground, as the captain of the Hawks returned to his desk. Quickly, Rickman took the crumpled note and set it next to one of the candelabrum’s flames. When it was aflame, he carefully set it in a dish where it safely converted itself to smoke and ash.
Rickman began to talk to himself out loud as he practiced his explanation. “Imagine my surprise,” he said. “When I returned to my office, I found this Thayan lying in wait for me. It was only through sheer luck that I was able to dispatch him before he me. I’m afraid that I have many enemies in the Thayan camp, unlike our High Blade … the High Blade … oh, I see no reason to alarm him. It’s not as if
life were in any danger.”
The Thayan bastards would carry out their assassination, and Rickman would be ready with a few trusted men, to seize the throne in the name of Mulmaster, ending this eastern affair once and for all. The First Princess and her lot would be executed for treason, and he would ascend the throne.
“Mulmaster needs a High Blade who will think with his head, the way you used to, Selfaril,” Rickman declared to the empty room. “Mulmaster needs me, and I will graciously serve.”
Blowing the ashes out the window, Rickman took several short, fast breaths, disheveled his robes, and set off down the hall to alert the night watch about the altercation that had just occurred in his office.
In the Villa of Sir Honor Fullstaff,
Eventually exhaustion had been sated, and the sleeping draught began to wear off. Rassendyll drifted into a lighter mode of sleep that was disturbed every time a movement would upset the center of balance of the heavy mask that encased his head. Despite the fact that he could not recall having
ever slept in a more comfortable bed (for his quarters at the Retreat had always been in keeping with the ascetic ways of the older contemplative mages), he was unable to find a position that would allow him to return to the arms of Morpheus.
Realizing that he had received about as much rest as he was going to, he sat up in the bed and waited ’til he heard footsteps in the halls outside, before leaving the room that he had shared with the world-traveling Volo and the snoring Passepout. Making as little noise as possible, he opened the door and made his way down the corridor to the main hall in which dinner had been served.
The hall was empty, though he could hear the clatter of pots and pans in the nearby kitchen, where Hotspur the dwarf was undoubtedly making preparations for breakfast. Most of the torches from the night before had almost burnt down to their holders, which common sense told the masked man meant that sunrise would be upon them at any moment. Having nothing better to do, and not wishing to disturb his slumbering companions, Rassendyll retraced his steps to the foyer where he and Passepout had first entered the villa and stepped outside to watch the golden dawn.
As he walked out to the gate, a blanket held firmly around his shoulders to protect him from the dawn’s early chill, he looked off to the horizon where he saw the beginnings of a new day. Odd, he thought to himself, less than two days ago I despaired of ever seeing another sunrise … now here I am, and it is beautiful.
So engaged in the rising of the sun was Rassendyll, that he did not even hear the telltale approach of footsteps coming up behind him. The senior Cloak McKern, aware of the seemingly oblivious state of
concentration of the iron-masked man, decided to announce his presence more forcibly.
“Young fellow,” McKern hailed before he had reached the subject of his and Fullstaff’s private conversation the night before, “mind if I join you in your enjoyment of one of Toril’s early morning attractions?”
“Not at all,” Rassendyll replied. “Isn’t it picturesque?”
McKern recognized the tone the young man had adopted in his admiration for the sun’s wonder—the same tone taken by his own brother when he reminisced about his sighted days.
“Indeed,” the mage replied, putting his arm around the young mage’s shoulders to try to set him at ease. So entranced was Rassendyll with the morning sun, that extra becalming efforts by the mage were completely unnecessary.
“So you were a mage-in-training at the Retreat?” McKern asked.
“More than in training,” Rassendyll corrected. “I was more than qualified to leave the Retreat as a full mage, had I so desired.”
“Or if such an opportunity had been offered to you?”
Rassendyll closed his eyes in realization. His teachers had never presented him with the option of leaving. Had the events of the past few days not come to pass, he would probably have spent the rest of his days engaged in study at the Retreat.
“Even if it hadn’t been,” Rassendyll said haughtily, “I was more than a match for other mages of my age.”
The iron-masked man immediately became deflated when he realized what he had said. “I was,” not “I am.” All of his years of study had come to naught, unless.…
“Good and gracious sir,” Rassendyll beseeched of the senior Cloak, “can you help me to retrieve the spells and powers that I seem to have lost? I studied for so long, and so hard. All I was ever taught was to be a mage, and I would no longer have a reason for living if I have to consider a life as anything else.”
McKern chuckled. “No longer have a reason for living?” the senior Cloak repeated. “What about the sunrise and her sister the sunset? Are they not reason enough? The world has much to offer even the simplest of men, let alone someone with your lineage.”
Rassendyll did not have a reply for that common sense wisdom.
The senior Cloak put his arm around the masked man and said, “I am afraid that no one can undo what the mask has already done to you. Everything that you have learned through your studies, the proficiencies that you acquired, the spells you learned to cast, the incantations that you had memorized, have all been leeched out of you by the magical conductivity of the iron mask.”
“Then all is lost,” Rassendyll said in despair and resignation. “I am now useless. I would be better off dead.”
Mason McKern gave the young man an encouraging squeeze as one might do with a discouraged brother. “Yes, that which was there before is now lost,” the mage conceded, “but look at it this way. Think of a bottle of fine wine, properly aged, and cared for. Imagine that the seal on the cork breaks, and slowly, because of the angle the bottle is stored at of course, the contents of the bottle, the finest wine in the land, is allowed to leak out, and evaporate.”
Rassendyll turned his head so that he could look into the mage’s eyes through the narrow eye-slits of
the mask, as he did not see how this story was supposed to be encouraging.
“Now, the wine steward discovers what has happened,” Mason continued. “The wine is gone, the bottle is empty.”
“So?” Rassendyll asked still failing to see the point that the mage was trying to make.
“What about the bottle?” the mage asked. “Is it not still a bottle?”
“Well yes, but …”
“Can it be refilled and resealed?”
“Well, yes, but …”
“True, it would take time, more wine of course, and a desire to maintain the usefulness of the bottle, but would it not be possible?”
Rassendyll tilted his head down and looked at the ground, and conceded the mage’s point with a slight nod.
“It’s your choice,” Mason acknowledged. “There is nothing to prevent you from starting again provided you want to, and I advise you to think about that. You never really chose to become a mage; the Retreat made that decision for you. For the first time in your life, the choice will be yours.”
Rassendyll kept staring down at the ground, and asked woefully, “But what about the mask?”
“We will see that it is removed,” Mason replied. “I recognize the mark that designates it as being the handiwork of my brother. He will remove it quite easily.”