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Authors: Brian Thomsen

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BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
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As expected, Tallwand was unavailable, at least according to his secretary.

“I am sorry,” said the officious wizard who acted as Tallwand’s secretary. “The Senior Cloak is very busy, and can not see you today.”

“That’s too bad,” Volo, the ever courteous traveler, replied, “but I really did want to say hello.”

“I am afraid that is not possible,” the secretary replied, and returned to the work that was on his desk.

Volo stood for a moment and fingered his beard, the wheels of thought whirring in his head. He suspected that Tallwand was indeed eavesdropping on his conversation with his wizardly lackey. He just wanted to see him for a moment. He decided it was time to fight dirty.

In the few moments that Volo took for contemplation and cogitation, an older wizard had entered the Senior Cloak’s antechamber. He was a sour old coot who seemed very impressed with himself. No doubt he was older and stonier than the Tower of Arcane Might itself.

“Ah, Mage McKern, you are here for your appointment,” the lackey recognized. “Let me just check with the Senior Cloak. I am sure he will be with you momentarily.”

Volo sighed loudly and said aloud, “I guess I will have to have the article published without giving Thurndan a chance to review it.” The master traveler sighed again, and started to head to the door.

The Senior Cloak, who was indeed eavesdropping on the goings-on, immediately burst through the door. His face was a mask of enthusiasm and surprise desperately trying to hide a look of embarrassment and fear over what he had just heard.

“Volo!”
he hailed. “What a surprise! Come right in.”

The master traveler reversed his steps and said, “I didn’t want to disturb you. I am sure you are very busy, and …”

“Not at all,” Thurndan replied, putting his arm
around the shoulders of the mischievous author and ushering him into his office, pausing quickly to turn to his secretary and whisper, “Reschedule whatever you have to.”

As he crossed the threshold the master traveler heard the secretary saying, “I am sorry Mage McKern, perhaps we can reschedule for next month.…”

Volo’s meeting with Tallwand was quite short. The master traveler made up an article that he hoped the Senior Cloak might take a look at. The Senior Cloak quickly assented, relieved that it had nothing to do with his earlier transgression that had made its way into the notorious
All Things Magical
, and then set about getting rid of the master traveler as fast as possible.

Volo, satisfied that no one would now be able to dispute that he had indeed checked in at the Tower of Arcane Might and equally eager to be on his way, verbally recognized the Senior Cloak’s busy schedule and agreed to hurry along, promising to return at some later date when they would both have some time to swap stories and spells.

The master traveler was quite full of himself as he passed the secretary who had tried to bar his way. Volo chuckled, realizing that the lackey was probably staring daggers at him. That will teach him to try to get in the way of the master traveler of all Toril, Volo thought proudly.

Still preoccupied with his own elan and facility, Volo didn’t even notice accidentally bumping into the sour old mage whose appointment he had usurped. Had he done so he probably would have apologized. Instead he continued on his oblivious path, not even
hearing the vitriolic curses that were being spewed behind his back.

Upon returning to the Traveler’s Cloak Inn, he was immediately greeted in the dining hall by the now refreshed Passepout, whose pleasant afternoon nap had added fuel to his already voracious appetite.

“Volo!” Passepout yelled. “Over here!”

I must remember to go alone on my visitations that require a low profile, the master traveler reminded himself, and then joined his friend at the opulently laid table.

“Dela darling,” the portly thespian called to the barmaid, “Please set a place for my friend here, and bring more food. He might be hungry.” Turning his attention to the recently seated Volo, he whispered, “I think she likes me. I have a way with barmaids.”

“I remember,” the master traveler replied. “You were always quite the ladies’ man.”

Dela quickly set a place for Volo, and was about to return to the bar when Passepout gave her a friendly pat on the rump, and said, “Very nice, my sweet. Play your cards right, and I’ll put in a good word for you with the management.”

Dela gave Volo a long-suffering look, and said, “You sure he’s a friend of yours, Mr. Geddarm?”

“Afraid so,” the master traveler replied.

“Well, please advise him to keep his hands to himself,” she instructed, and regained her place at the bar.

Volo looked to his friend, and said admonishingly, “Well, you heard her.”

Passepout was affronted. “Imagine her nerve!” the indignant thespian boomed. “I have a good mind to
have a word with the owner about her.”

“She is the owner,” Volo instructed.

“Oh,” said the chubby thespian warily. “Do you think I should leave? Or maybe apologize? A few well chosen compliments might go a long way, her being female and all.”

“Just let it pass,” the master traveler instructed. “Dela is a good sort, with a keen business sense, and no desire to alienate any potential paying customers. You can’t ask for more in an innkeeper in these parts.”

Passepout nodded, and continued the inhalation of his meal. Volo put his napkin in place, and joined in the dining experience. After a few more mouthfuls, Passepout once again struck up a conversation.

“I only arrived here yesterday,” the chubby thespian confessed. “Is there anything I should know about these here parts?”

“Plenty,” the master traveler replied. “But first a question: why did you come to Mulmaster to begin with?”

After a swallow and another quaff of ale, the portly thespian explained.

“Somebody around Westgate told me that there was plenty of room for my sort of trade in the Moonsea area.”

“You mean acting, of course,” the master traveler clarified.

“Of course,” Passepout replied. “I learned my lesson after that little stay in Baldur’s Gate, when you last came to my rescue.”

“Go on,” Volo urged, not wanting to experience another exuberant outbreak of undying gratitude from the chubby actor, nor relive his last jailbreak experience.

“So I said to myself, ‘Self, where should we go?’
Zhentil Keep was obviously out of the question. I mean, who is willing to pay good money for drama when your city is in ruins.”

“Agreed.”

“And Hillsfar didn’t exactly seem to fit the bill.”

“For sure,” the master traveler replied, wondering if there was still a price on their heads for impersonating Red Plumes, the city watch, the last time they were there.

“And Phlan already has a resident thespian, Ward T. James.”

“Ward T. James?” Volo repeated inquisitively. “Never heard of him.”

“He’s a big guy, like me,” Passepout explained, patting his expansive tummy in illustration. “He tours with a group called the S.S.I.—Stupendous Stagecraft Incorporated. They are most famous for their Pools series of plays that set the great classics of Faerûn in a mud pit.”

“Great,” the master traveler said, quickly taking out a pad and jotting down a few notes. “High drama and mud wrestling all rolled into one.”

“So that ruled out Phlan,” the actor finished heaping another pile of food onto his plate, to further usher it into his never-filling gullet, “which basically just left Mulmaster as the major metropolis at hand.”

Volo swallowed, picked a crumb out of his neatly trimmed beard, took a napkin and wiped his mouth, refilled his mug with ale in case any parchness beset him during his lecture, and began to fill his boon companion in on Mulmaster minutiae.

“I can understand your reasons for choosing Mulmaster, now that you have explained it to me,” the master traveler offered, “but I would still recommend that you pick another place to ply your trade.
As far as I’m aware no one ever tells anyone to go to these here parts unless they really never want to see them again.”

“I’m sure that’s not the case,” Passepout protested. “Olive, who recommended this area, was quite fond of me.”

“I’m sure,” said the master traveler, not wanting to start an argument, “but Mulmaster is known as the City of Danger for a very good reason. If you thought the Red Plumes of Hillsfar were bad, wait ’til you get a load of the Hawks.”

“Well, I did last night,” the thespian countered. “They weren’t too bad as far as a city watch goes.”

“No, my friend,” Volo corrected. “You were probably taken in by regular soldiers. The Hawks are the High Blade’s own storm troopers. Rumor has it that he regularly dispatches them to do his dirty work throughout the Realms. Let me give you a little history.

“Mulmaster was founded—by various influential merchant groups—in the Year of Fell Wizardry, as a trading fortress way station between the Moonsea, the River Lis, and the Dragon Reach. It managed to not only survive, but thrive during the years of unrest, and eventually, in the Year of Thunder, made a bid for complete domination of the Moonsea, only to be put back in its place by the combined forces of Sembia, Hillsfar, Phlan, Melvaunt, and Zhentil Keep.”

“Scrappy little place,” the thespian commented between mouthfuls.

Volo continued in his recitation of exposition text that he no doubt had already composed for the guidebook in progress.

“There was much finger pointing after their failed attempt at expansionism, and out of the anarchy
arose the formation of a single seat of power, to rule over the others. This leader was to be called the High Blade, who was to work in conjunction with the other ranking nobles who from that time on were known as the Blades. The first High Blade took power in the Year of the Wandering Wyrm, and quickly assassinated any of the Blades who didn’t agree with his way of doing things. From that point on the Blades were nothing more than a puppet ruling council.”

“Wonderful,” the thespian observed, “so that’s why he needs those shock troopers around to protect him.”

“No, my friend,” Volo corrected. “That’s the job of the Brotherhood of the Cloak. Any mage in the city of fourth level or higher is immediately recruited to their ranks, or else.”

“Or else what?”

Volo made a motion as if he was slitting his throat with the bread knife.

“Oh,” said the chubby thespian, beginning to think that maybe leaving town would be a good idea.

“The current High Blade is a fellow by the name of Selfaril Voumdolphin, who succeeded his father into the job after assassinating him. That was back in the Year of the Spear.”

“Did he then marry his mother? I seem to recall a play about something like that.”

“I’m afraid not,” the gazetteer replied. “This is one case where life does not mirror drama. He did recently marry though, to an equally powerful young lady by the name of Dmitra Flas.”

“Never heard of her.”

“She’s also known as the First Princess of Thay, and the Tharchioness of Eltabbar, or just the Tharchioness for short. It was a major diplomatic coup for
both Mulmaster and Thay.”

“Wonderful.”


She
spends most of her time back in Eltabbar, and
he’s
been known to continue to play the rogue with the wandering eye despite their matrimonial vows. She visits here three times a year. I believe she just arrived yesterday for her most recent visit. Both sides claim that they were wedded due to their mutual respect and love for each other, but I wonder.”

“The problem with you, Volo,” Passepout said sagely, “is that you are no longer a romantic. If she just arrived back in town yesterday, I bet we won’t see hide nor hair of either of them for a while. This is obviously a case of true love winning out despite personal differences in upbringing and breeding. I’ll bet they can’t wait to see each other.”

Volo chuckled at his friend’s naivete.

“If you say so, my friend,” the gazetteer replied.

“True love conquers all,” the thespian spouted.

The master traveler took another quaff of ale, and was instantly reminded of the message he had once read from a Kara Turan fate biscuit that was capable of more believable profundity than his corpulent companion’s observation.

BOOK: The Mage in the Iron Mask
9.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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