Authors: Brian Thomsen
Volo thought aloud to himself, “I wonder how the newlyweds are getting along.”
Passepout resumed eating.
In the High Blade’s Study in the Tower of the Wyvern:
He was alone in his private study, a room secret to all but his closest advisors (which did not include his wife, the Tharchioness). His robes of silk and fur already smelled of tobacco and musk.
Selfaril Voumdolphin was in deep thought.
The resemblance was striking. It was almost like looking in a mirror. True he had the bearing and
build of a weakling, as most wizards did, and his whiskers and his mane were more akin to a hermit’s than the well-maintained locks and beard of the High Blade, but in all other respects this young man was the High Blade’s perfect twin.
Damn you, father, he thought to himself, cursing his sire. You were almost the perfect High Blade, always with a secret backup plan to assure your own ascendancy and that of your line. We were alike in many ways. No wonder I had to kill you. Had I not acted fortuitously, you would, no doubt, have discerned my future plans and plotted to replace me with your other son. We are alike in many ways, but I am the better High Blade.
He heard the bookcase that functioned as a secret door move, and assumed that Rickman had returned, as the Hawk commander was the only one other than himself who knew how to work that entrance. He did not bother to turn around. Such things as common courtesy were not required of the High Blade.
“The resemblance was uncanny,” Selfaril muttered.
“Yes, your majesty,” Rickman agreed. “Donal, that chancre, wasn’t lying.”
“Imagine his gall,” Selfaril said, finally turning to face his one-eyed right-hand man. “First, he betrayed the Retreat and offered the young mage to the agents of my dear bride, and then, not satisfied with the price they offered, he came to us for a better deal.”
“For which you were more than willing to comply, sire,” the Hawk assented. “They offered him amnesty, we offered him wealth.”
“And neither of us planned on keeping our word, anyway. Donal was a fool, and a greedy one at that.”
“Agreed, your majesty, but his shortcomings were definitely our advantage.”
“Indeed,” the High Blade agreed, taking a seat in a chair that had been one of his father’s favorites. “Have you taken care of the rest of the loose ends?”
“Yes, sire,” the Hawk captain assured. “A company of my best men have just returned from the Retreat. They gained entrance under the pretence of investigating the apparent Thayan raid of the night before. The elders were ever so grateful for a prompt response to the attack, and offered my men their full cooperation. With their guard down, it was relatively easy for my Hawks to carry out your orders.”
“All slaughtered, then?”
The High Blade tapped his forefinger to his temple as if to force out a single drop of thought. “I hope that there weren’t too many other secret guests like my father’s other heir and rival to my sovereignty. I understand the monastery was also used as an occasional way station for Harper agents, and I have no time to deal with their peskiness at this point.”
The Hawk captain quickly dispelled the High Blade’s concern. “I took the liberty of instructing one of my men to leave behind the crystal wand that had been used on the Thayan turncoat Donal. It’s Thayan design, and the blood of that slug will no doubt focus the possible blame for this little bloodbath on more easterly sources.”
“Well done, Rickman,” the High Blade complimented. “Take a seat. You have been very busy, and very productive.”
The Hawk captain bowed in thanks, and took his place across from the High Blade, adding, “and of course I have seen to the unfortunate demise of our
friend the blind wizard smith whose exceptional handiwork adorns the head of our secret guest.”
“ ’Tis a pity,” Selfaril agreed, “but there is no sense in not being careful.”
“Agreed,” Rickman acknowledged, glad that he was not being perceived as overzealous in his performance of his duties. “So what are your plans for the dispensation of your twin brother, if I might inquire, sire?”
“My twin brother,” Selfaril mused. “It’s funny. Up until just this moment I never thought of him quite that way. I mean, sure, he has to be my brother, my twin, but as far as I am concerned, he is merely my father’s other son, my rival, a challenger to my throne. Tell me Rickman, do you have any brothers?”
“One, your majesty, but he is dead. His name was Jeremy.”
“How sad,” the High Blade replied in an unsentimental monotone.
“Not really, sire,” the Hawk corrected. “As he was the first born, he received all the privileges. That is why I entered the military. It was either there or a monastery.”
“Your loss was Mulmaster’s gain.”
“In more ways than one, sire. When father died, Jeremy inherited it all. In my then capacity as sergeant of the guards, I had him thrown in irons, charged with high treason, and executed a week later. My father’s estate was, of course, seized for the state, and I appointed myself as custodian. I was soon promoted, and it was turned over to me as my fiefdom.”
“You’re not just saying this to earn my favor, are you, Rickman?”
“I wouldn’t think of it, sire,” the Hawk said proudly. “All you have to do is check the civil records.”
“Of course,” the High Blade observed in a jesting manner, “one who has already engaged in fratricide would never stoop to falsifying civil records.”
“Of course not, your majesty,” the Hawk replied, jovially adding, “that would be against the law.”
“But of course.”
The murderers’ conversation was interrupted by the quick sounding of three chimes.
The High Blade cursed.
“It’s the Tharchioness, no doubt,” Selfaril offered. “I left strict orders with Slater—my valet—to ring me if she inquired of my whereabouts. Word has no doubt already reached her about last night’s thwarting of her plans, and she, no doubt, wants to pick my brain about what happened.”
“Do you think she suspects that we are behind what happened?”
“No more than I would suspect her of wanting to depose me,” the High Blade replied with a grin, coming to his feet. “Come with me. Let us seek out my still blushing bride, and let the game of cat and mouse begin!”
In the Tharchioness’s Boudoir in the Tower of the Wyvern:
The Tharchioness was not amused.
It was bad enough that she had to endure the damp and smoky gloominess of Mulmaster for yet another one of her thrice-yearly connubial stays, but now to be surrounded by such incompetence was definitely not to her liking, and she had no intention of tolerating it.
She had purposely cut short her stay back in
Eltabbar overseeing the rebuilding of her beloved city after the devastating earthquake of a few months back because of the so-called opportunity that had been presented to her ambassador by that traitor to the Thayan cause and the sovereignty of Zulkir Szass Tam, Donal Loomis.
Her just recently executed ambassador with whom the traitor had made contact had been overly optimistic, and had presented his plan as an antidote to the oppressive yoke of matrimony that she had endured for diplomatic reasons with the slimy High Blade of the city to the west.
Szass Tam had explained the necessity of her courtship and marriage to the foul westerner as the first step toward an active Thayan presence in the Moonsea area. The powerful lich lord would then be able to extend his influence farther southward to the Dalelands, while exerting further pressures on the other tharches toward an ultimate goal of the unification of all of Thay under his eternal rule. She had been more than willing to assist him in this ultimate goal, even if it meant subjecting herself to the bondage of matrimony.
Unfortunately, both of them had underestimated the equally acquisitive ambitions of the High Blade, who saw Mulmaster’s Tower of the Wyvern as the jumping-off point for his own expansion of power and authority both south and eastward, power which he had no intention of sharing with his bride, or the real power behind her throne.
The now deceased ambassador had presented such a simple plan. A double for the High Blade existed. Why not abduct him, and persuade him that it would be more advantageous for him to follow orders from them than to die an excruciatingly torturous death at their hands? They would then secretly substitute
their puppet for Selfaril; placing him on the throne while the real High Blade was secretly spirited away to the east.
According to Ambassador Vitriole, the traitor who had presented this opportunity was mortally in fear of his life, and as a result, could be trusted to follow their exact orders in exchange for their lifting the sentence of death from his misshapen shoulders (which was immediately agreed to with the full knowledge that a new plan would be carried out on the spot once his usefulness had come to an end).
Donal might have been a traitorous, cowardly fool, the Tharchioness thought to herself, but Vitriole was a fool as well for underestimating his traitorous ways. They deserved each other’s company in death. Had I had a competent ambassador in place, I wouldn’t be in this delicate position. But no, I had to come to Mulmaster early to face my beloved husband when I displaced him as the ruling power of Mulmaster. Now what am I going to do?
The First Princess of Thay gently applied a bit of perfume behind her ears, knowing that the westerner who was her husband would find it distracting. For a similar reason, she had also chosen to wear her silken robe with the plunging neckline that flattered her ample breasts and drew further attention to her eye-catching cleavage.
I must use everything at my disposal, she thought in agitated resignation, once again cursing the incompetence of her minions that necessitated her sensual theatricality.
Her moments of silent reflection on her current predicament were interrupted by the cautious arrival of her new ambassador to Mulmaster.
“First Princess,” the new and fearful ambassador said tentatively, “you requested my presence?”
“No,” the Tharchioness replied acidly, “I said that I wanted you at my disposal, here and now. You
know what happened to your predecessor, don’t you?”
“Yes, your highness,” the ambassador acknowledged, trying not to show that he had just soiled himself out of sheer terror and fear.
The Tharchioness, born Dmitra Flass and now also known as the First Princess of Thay, was legendary in her cruelty, and the execution of Vitriole was only the most recent of her acts of intolerance toward what she considered to be traitorous incompetence. Anything that hindered Szass Tam’s ultimate plans was considered to be treasonous within the tharch of Eltabbar, and treason was always punishable by death.
The Tharchioness gave the ambassador a quick once-over. His Mulan lineage was apparent. Rumors of non-Mulan spies in Thay were rampant, and precautions had to be taken. His hairless pate was adorned by the long-since faded tattoos of what once must have been magically-empowered images of phoenixes in flight. Now they were just inked drawings on a wrinkled and pale skull.
Great, she thought to herself, another spineless political appointee who has long since passed his age of usefulness. Why don’t they ever send me someone who is young and vibrant rather than another impotent husk of a boot licker?
The Tharchioness looked him in the eyes, dead on.
He dropped to the floor, cringing in an absurd amalgam of abasement and terror.
The Tharchioness rolled her eyes, her contempt turning to cruel amusement, and said, “Well, it doesn’t look like you are long for this job, and you know what that means?”
“Yes, your Tharchioness,” he managed to get out through trembling lips and chattering teeth.
“Find my husband, corpse maggot, and do it fast,” she ordered, revelling in the sheer terror her latest ambassador felt toward her. “I haven’t laid eyes on him since I arrived yesterday.”
“Perhaps he is avoiding …” the quivering mass offered.
“I don’t recall giving you permission to speak, corpse maggot!”
“No, your Tharchioness.”