Mystic-Scholar writes "(Yawn) My, but it is getting on. Perhaps I should finish my tale another time? (Snort) Old age indeed! Older than you I might be girly, but I am
not that old! . . .
You just pour me another goblet of that
excellent cider and pass me another one of Mrs. Hildegard’s devilishly
delicious muffins – you'd like another one too, hey Slinky – and I’ll
tell you a bit more of my search for . . .
That Infamous Key, Part VII
We found the Green Dragon Inn crowded upon our return, but like any good landlord Ricard saw us the moment we entered. He waved to one of his serving girls and she hurried over to us. She was a buxom lass, a couple of inches shorter than I, with straw colored hair and hazel eyes.
“Good evening magician, my name is Libby. Ricard told me to take good care of you and your friends. Would you like to eat?”
I looked to Wolfsire and Eileen.
“Food first,” Wolfsire said. “Wash later.” Eileen nodded assent.
“Yes,” I replied to Libby. “We would.”
She lead us to the table nearest the stage and therefore nearest to the ‘Lord’s Table,’ where Ricard held court over his inn. We had the table to ourselves and ordered four ales along with our meal.
When Libby returned she was accompanied by another girl, slender, perhaps five feet, three inches tall, with auburn hair and brown eyes and who couldn't possibly weigh more than one hundred pounds. This girl introduced herself as Imogen Gellet. Imogen appeared to be in her twenties, but something about her eyes made me think she was older than that.
The two girls carried between them four tin plates, four leather jacks of ale, a loaf of bread, a bowl of butter, a large platter of steaming vegetables and another one of cheeses and fruit. They set eating utensils before us and then a third girl arrived carrying a large platter laden with succulent variations of meat and fowl. Finished serving, the girls departed and we settled down to enjoy our repast.
“Magician, when speaking with Cyrathas, you allowed him to give more credit to Ricard than was actually warranted,” said Eileen. “Why so?”
“Because Ricard wanted Cyrathas to owe him a favor,” I replied around a mouth full of the green and ivory marbled Wickler cheese. “Now, Cyrathas thinks he does. In return, Ricard owes us a favor, as does Cyrathas.” I swallowed. “Earlier today, you implied that I would be adventuring with you and Wolfsire, yes?”
“This is true,” admitted Eileen. “The Lady of Our Fate tells us; 'Everything is connected to ever other by invisible strands.' And again she says; 'The perceptive can come to understand these strands and watch them to predict the future.' You must accept your destiny, magician!”
“Far be it from me to debate religion with you,” I replied, holding up my hand in surrender. “But if this is so, then we need to establish our own contacts and resources of information and not continually rely upon those of my Master, or of Mortellan,” I continued after sipping some the Furyondy white wine. “We know that Ricard is a good source of information. And you might be surprised by just how much a thief knows, most people would; thieves traffic in information. So, by letting Cyrathas think what he will, we now have two good sources of information, each of them owing us a favor.”
“That’s smart, Magician,” said Wolfsire, wagging a haunch of beef at me. “So, where do we go from here?”
“We relax and enjoy ourselves this evening,” I said. “Here try some of the Wickler. It’s a cheese we make in the Yeomanry, my homeland. You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.” I handed the barbarian a large chunk of it.
“That Imogen girl keeps looking at you,” Bubbagump interrupted.
I casually looked her way and caught her glance, but there was nothing flirtatious about it. “Don't read too much into it,” I told the halfling. “I think she's trying to decide whether or not we're easy 'marks.'”
“Trouble?” asked Wolfsire. He and Eileen looked Imogen's way.
“Not if we watch ourselves,” I answered. “The Thieves' Guild uses serving girls as lookouts in places like this, hunting for dupes, or 'marks.' Just be careful what you say when she's within hearing distance.”
I turned the topic back to our original discussion. “In the morning, we go to the Great Library and then on to the Temple of Boccob. I have an acquaintance there who might possibly have some information we can use.”
“In fact,” I leaned forward and my companions leaned in to hear my words, mindful of Imogen's presence. “He once shared a small secret with me, one that makes me think he’s inadvertently involved in this matter.” I held up my finger, “Not directly, mind you.”
Sitting back again, I continued. “And there was that commotion at the library just last night. You may recall the Watch’s questioning of us?” I shrugged as I reached for one of the roasted squabs. “Of course, it may be that neither inquiry will provide us with any helpful information, but it just might be that they will. We’ll see.”
“It never occurred to me to connect the two events,” Eileen said as she tore apart a small loaf of bread and began slathering it with butter, adding it to her small collection of cheeses and fruits.
“The secret is to never forget,” I replied.
“Never forget what?” Bubbagump managed to mumble around a mouth full of mushrooms.
“Anything,” I replied, looking fondly upon my small, hungry friend. “Never forget anything. ‘Knowledge is power.’ Never forget anything.”
* * * *
The morning dawned clear and fine, not too hot and not too cold. Just what one would expect of the fifteenth day of Patchwall. Last evening I had studied a spell more adequate for the warding of our room and having cast the spell I joined my friends downstairs where we broke our fast.
We soon left the Inn and headed east down Cargo Street towards the Processional. I decided to make the Great Library our first stop. A suspicion had been growing within my mind and I wanted to verify it.
The traffic was moderately heavy, given the lateness of the hour at which we finally got started. But that didn't concern me, 'haste' was the enemy now, careful study and preparation was needed if we were to succeed. The Green Dragon was located in a somewhat residential area and many people were headed to the docks and their jobs at this time of the morning, thus the traffic.
We turned right onto the Processional and found that there were relatively few venders or performers in this particular block. Given that we were passing the large, stately buildings of Grey College, most of the pedestrian traffic along this stretch of road was made up of students, many of whom did not have two nobles to rub together. Of course, much of the city’s commercial traffic regularly passed along the Processional, so it wasn’t completely devoid of those looking to snatch a quick orb.
There was a bard at the corner of the Processional and Horseshoe Road playing a zither while a trained monkey danced to his tune. Amused passersby would give the animal a coin and the creature would place it in the bard’s cap, lying upon the ground. We stopped to observe the show for a few minutes. Eileen was delighted by the little creature and laughingly handed the monkey a noble. Enjoying our new found wealth, we each followed her example enriching the bard with four nobles.
We proceeded on our way, passing by the Silver Dragon and the Old Mill, and finally reaching the Millstream. Along the path we were amused by a juggler, a sword-swallower, a fire-eater, hawkers of all kinds and a troop of acrobats. Bubbagump just had to stop and watch the acrobats. They had erected two platforms – perhaps ten feet off of the ground – and had stretched a rope between them. One of the acrobats was holding a pole in his hands and was walking across this rope – from platform to platform.
“Wow! A trick like that could come in handy!” exclaimed Bubbagump. I smiled as I recalled his considerable thieving abilities.
We continued across the Millstream and turned left onto The Millway, a street which ran along the bank of the Millstream and which eventually forked into University Street. University forms a giant horseshoe through the Clerkburg, looping around the Free City Arena.
A short distance from the intersection of the Processional and the Millway we encountered a woman selling meat-pies from the back of a small push-cart. Having broken our fast not long since, Eileen and I were not hungry, but Wolfsire and Bubbagump decided to give her pies a try. After the initial bite, they both praised her product around mouthfuls of food and both chose to purchase another pie! Eileen and I simply looked at one another with mouths agape and shook our heads in wonder. Perhaps this is what Bubbagump meant by 'second breakfast.'
We continued up the Millway to the point where it intersected with College Road. The Millway passed along the northern side of the pyramid of the University of Magical Arts, while College Road ran southward along the western side of the pyramid and then curved back to the east.
A group of raucous students were standing in the intersection of College Road and Apprentice Walk. We were passing by Gnarleyhouse, the largest and most notorious student fraternity in the Clerkburg. The yard was covered with weeds and piles of broken furniture and the building itself was in serious disrepair, with windows boarded up and tiles missing from the roof. Not all of these young hoodlums were actually attending school however, and those few that did usually attended the lax tutorial schools found in the area.
At first, I thought they would attempt to bar our path, since the 'Gnarleys' – as they call themselves – reveled in harassing small groups of people, but Wolfsire was not unused to such situations and his demeanor clearly showed that he would brook no nonsense from them. His weapons and armor backed-up the look and so the small knot of young men cleared a path and we proceed past them unmolested . . . almost.
One of these young hooligans made a rather ribald remark directed towards Eileen. Quicker than the eye could follow Wolfsire turned and grabbed the young man by his shirt front, hoisting him up over his head and throwing the malefactor into a group of his fellows, knocking them sprawling into the street.
“You had best learn to respect your betters,” Wolfsire warned them. “Otherwise I’ll have to teach you a harder lesson than this one.”
The ‘Gnarleys’ just lay there, saying nothing. They weren’t used to their intended victims responding in such a manner. So, leaving them in the street, we continued on our way, passing by the Avenue of the Fountains where other students were to be seen moving up and down the street – along with a few teachers – which was to be expected since we were passing by the School of Clerkship.
There was another intersection just a little ways ahead of us, this was a three-way junction of College Road, the Street of Temples and Eastwall Street. It was at this spot that we would find both the Great Library and the Temple of Boccob. The Temple of Boccob sat on the corner of the intersection closest to us, with the Great Library being situated on the opposite corner. As we passed the temple, we could see a group of the City Watch standing outside talking with several members of the clergy.
“What’s going on there?” asked Eileen.
“Veltargo,” I replied. “The false cleric of Boccob.”
“What do you mean?” asked Wolfsire.
“He carried a book on his last visit with Cyrathas,” I said.
“What does that mean?” asked Bubbagump.
“There was a theft at the Great Library,” I replied. “The City Watch asked us about it. We discussed it last night, remember? What would a thief steal from the Library, except a book? Veltargo was dressed as a cleric of Boccob. The City Watch is looking for the cleric that stole the book.”
“Last night, you implied that the two events might be connected,” Eileen said.
“So I did,” I admitted. “But we still have to verify my conjectures. Let’s get to the Library, we’ll start there and avoid the Watch for now.”
The Library building is an imposing structure of massive granite walls and towering columns adorning the front of the building. Three wide stair ways lead up to a pair of magnificent bronze doors, which could easily adorn a castle, or fortress.
The Library is opened to the general public during daylight hours, but it appeared that was not the case today. Two men stood in front of the doors, with arms crossed and stern looks upon their faces. One of them was familiar to me, Geraal Wistroan, a fellow with whom I had a ‘nodding’ acquaintance. My companions and I ascended the steps and approached them.
“The Library is closed until further notice,” intoned Wistroan.
“Good morning, Wistroan,” I replied.
“The Library is closed until further notice,” Wistroan repeated.
“Yes,” I replied. “I heard you the first time.”
“Well, then, bugger off!” Wistroan exclaimed.
“Why is the Library closed?” I asked.
“That’s none of your business!” Wistroan shouted. “Now bugger off!”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.
Wistroan was about to retort when one of the great bronze doors began to open. Gratius Saghast, the head librarian stepped out of the door.
“Geraal, why are you yelling?” he demanded.
“These people won’t leave, sir,” Wistroan answered.
Gratius looked us over and then concentrated upon me. “Why, this is master Maldin’s apprentice!” He turned to Wistroan. “It is very impolite of you to yell at such a distinguished young gentleman, Geraal.” He raised his hand to forestall Wistroan’s response. “Never mind, I’ll speak to the young magician, myself.” He turned back to me.
“Good morning, Master Saghast,” I said, bowing.
“Good morning, magician,” he replied. “How is your master?”
“He is well, sir.”
“I’m sorry to say that we are a bit confounded this morning,” Saghast said. “There has been great mischief here recently.”
“Actually, that's the reason we are here, master Saghast,” I said. “I believe we have come across information concerning a theft that recently occurred here.”
“You know about that?” Saghast asked, astounded.
“Indeed, I do,” I replied. “My friends and I were questioned by the City Watch early yesterday about a ‘theft’ that occurred at the Library,”
“Oh, I see,” said Saghast, now nonplussed.
“We were engaged to investigate a completely different theft, which occurred in the Foreign Quarter,” I continued. “But I have come across information that leads me to believe that the two thefts are connected. During our investigation, we learned that a very odd cleric of Boccob was involved in the Foreign Quarter affair. It seems that this strange cleric was seen with a large, clasped, leather bound book a short time after the ‘commotion’ here took place.”
Saghast was thunderstruck. “Great Delleb! Such a book was stolen from here! And by a cleric of Boccob! It happened just before the Library opened! One of my young scholars – who had been up all night doing research for me – saw a cleric dressed in the vestments of Boccob running through the Library and clutching a book to his chest! The young man cried out and gave pursuit, but the thief dove through an open window and disappeared into the city!”
“I take it the book is valuable?” I asked.
“Unquestionably,” admitted Saghast. “All knowledge is sacred to 'The Scholar.' But an exact price could never be placed upon the book, for none know what subject matter the book may speak on. The clasp is magical you see and has defied all attempts at opening it, so no one has read the book in recent memory. Some of the most powerful magicians in the city have tried, including your master.”
“My master?” It was my turn to be surprised.
“Yes,” Saghast replied. “He has tried to open the book for us as have others, but it has all been to no avail.”
“You have been most helpful, Master Saghast,” I thanked him. “We will take our leave now. I believe that we are on the trail of your stolen book, but we must seek elsewhere for further clues.”
“It sounds as though you have uncovered quite a bit already!” Saghast exclaimed. “Certainly more than our exalted Constabulary has. You must continue your search young man, for 'The Scribe' has surely blessed your efforts. And know that the Library is offering a very large reward for the return of the book; One thousand orbs!”
My associates gasped at the amount, but thanks to my Master's training, I managed to maintain my composure . . . barely.
“That is most generous, Master Saghast,” I responded. “Rest assured that we shall do our very best to recover the book.” My companions and I took our leave and started across the street.
“So, the two thefts are tied to one another!” exclaimed Wolfsire. “A thousand gold pieces! Magician, you were right! This adventure is netting us far more than the twenty orbs Meldorp promised us!”
“How much is that for each of us?” Bubbagump was just as excited.
“Two hundred and fifty gold pieces,” Eileen answered him.
“Calm yourselves, my friends,” I admonished them, though I could feel the excitement building inside me as well. “We must stay focused. We still have to recover the key and the book. Yes, the two thefts are obviously connected and that bodes ill.” The thought was a sobering one. “This is no ordinary book which Veltargo has stolen, and I offer the size of the reward as evidence of this. And we now know with certainty that it is no ordinary key for which we search.”
“Veltargo is hoping that the stolen key will open this book,” observed Eileen. “That means it can only be a magical key of some kind.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I suspected as much from the first. Theldrat Meldorp was willing to pay far too much for its return. Twenty orbs for the return of a simple copper key? I think not.” I stopped and looked each of them in the eye. “But more troubling is the fact that my Master could not open this book.”
“Then it’s a powerful magic book!” exclaimed Bubbagump.
“And a powerful key,” added Wolfsire.
“You may rest assured that a very powerful dweomer has been laid upon that book,” I clarified. “And probably for good reason. A magical key and an ensorcelled book. There’s something sinister in all of this.”
The Temple of Boccob is a stately structure of clean, white marble embossed with simple decorations, the most ostentatious being a faintly glowing eye, enclosed within a pentagram located above the main doors: the All-Seeing Eye of Boccob.
We passed through the throng of City Watchmen without being stopped and approached the doors. A young acolyte was stationed outside and he bowed at our approach.
“How may Boccob serve you, magician?” he asked.
“I wish to speak with Altamaic the Calm,” I replied, giving the young cleric my name. He bowed and ushered us into a waiting room just off the main entrance. Altamaic appeared after a brief period.
“Magician!” he cried. “How very good to see you again.”
“Altamaic, my friend.” We clasped each others forearm and I introduced him to my companions.
“I’m sure you’re not just here to say hello,” said Altamaic. “You wouldn’t have brought your friends with you.” He waved us into seats.
“True enough,” I laughed. “I’ve come to speak with you about the incident you told me of.”
“The mugging,” Altamaic flatly stated. “I told the City Watch about the matter, but they dismissed it.”
“It is tied in with the theft at the Library,” I informed him.
“Blessed Boccob!” Altamaic exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “I suspected as much when I first heard of it! Boccob be praised! No true cleric of the All-Seeing Eye could have ever perpetrated such a crime! You know this magician! We have told the Watch this!”
“Calmly, my friend, calmly,” I exhorted him. “We are on his track.” At my urging Altamaic sat again and retold his story for the benefit of my companions.
Altamaic had been on his way home from the High Quarter, where he had delivered a late night message from his masters to Mathilde Dessenter, the High Priestess of the Temple of Istus. He was lost in his own thoughts as he walked home – ruminating over some things he had heard – when he suddenly became aware that he had walked past the Millway, so he turned left at the Black Dragon Inn onto the Apprentice Walk. It was near the Jewelers’ & Gemcutters’ Guildhall that he was suddenly accosted by a much larger man who quickly overpowered him. This ‘mugger’ then did something very strange, he did not take the young cleric’s coin purse, but instead robbed him of his vestments, robes and holy symbol. Altamaic ended his tale with a plea; “You must find him!”
(Altamaic had been bestowed with his sobriquet, ‘the Calm,’ because of his usually stoic nature. But at that particular moment I could tell he was on the verge of having an apoplexy!)
“Of course,” I agreed. “As I said, we are on the trail of the imposter now.” I then went on to tell him something of our adventure, so far.
“I have something that might aid you,” Altamaic told me. He withdrew a small object from his robes. “I tore this from the neck of my assailant during our struggle. He was just such a thin, bald and foul creature as you describe. Take it.”
I accepted the pendant and held it up by the string it hung upon, turning it in the light, it was in the shape of a clenched fist, but I did not recognize it. My companions showed no obvious signs of recognition either.
“You must recover the book, magician!” Altamaic insisted. “You revere Boccob as I do. This disgrace must be excised! The stigma which blemishes the honor of the God we both venerate must be expunged!”
“And so it shall, my friend,” I assured him. “The book shall be found, the record set straight, the honor of Boccob restored.”
“Then take the medallion and go.” Altamaic rose and so did we. “You have already uncovered much, far more than the Watch! Search out the rest of this sordid tale – the All-Seeing Eye shall guide you – and bring the true culprit to justice! Cleanse the name of our beloved God! There is no more time to waste speaking with me. I have told you all I know. Go!”
Bidding my friend farewell, my companions and I departed. Stepping outside the temple we moved off to a small triangular patch of grass inside the three way intersection to discuss what we had heard.
“This cannot be countenanced, magician!” cried Eileen.
I was prepared for it. I saw her reaction when Altamaic had mentioned the temple of Istus.
“This cleric was on a mission to the temple of the 'Lady of Our Fate,'” Eileen said. “This is why Istus has brought us together! It is our destiny to bring this transgressor to an accounting!”
“So it would seem,” I replied. “In the past two days we have had bestowed upon us the blessings of Istus, the blessings of Saint Cuthbert, the blessings of Delleb and now, the blessings of Boccob. We can hardly fail.” I was being just a bit facetious.
“This is true,” she nodded emphatically and taking me seriously. “But what have you learned here?”
“It is as I came to suspect,” I continued. “This Veltargo is obviously a person of some power and is possessed of knowledge. But just who, or what, he is we do not know.”
I considered my next words. “He accosted my friend, Altamaic, so that he might procure his vestments and pose as a cleric of Boccob. This was designed to throw the Watch off his track. The Watch would no doubt think the guilt of a cleric of Boccob somehow 'logical.' They would assume that only a cleric of Boccob – or possibly a magician – would want to possess a book of magic.” I looked thoughtfully at Eileen. “But you and I both know that arcane magic is not the only magic.”
Eileen also grew thoughtful and her eyes widened. “No! There is clerical magic as well.” She toyed with her holy symbol. “Could this Veltargo be a cleric?”
“Quite possibly,” I confirmed. “Gratius Saghast is a very knowledgeable scholar. He admitted to us that he and several powerful magicians within the city are uncertain as to exactly what information is to be found within the stolen book. All the evidence we’ve gathered thus far shows us that Veltargo did not steal this particular book at random.”
“Veltargo waylaid Altamaic weeks before stealing the book, thus putting enough time between the two events that the City Watch would never think to connect them,” I spoke thoughtfully, looking at the pendant Altamaic had given me. “Veltargo also knew the truth of Theldrat Meldorp’s key and arranged for the Green Daggers to steal it before he, himself, stole the book. All of this smacks of Divination and magicians are not the only ones who practice such arts.”
“We must assume, therefore, that Veltargo knows the book’s subject matter and that he stole this particular book for a specific purpose,” I continued. “This is knowledge that he could only have Divined, since no magician or cleric within the city has that information. In point of fact, none of them have even been able to Divine the information, obviously. So Veltargo possesses a source of information not available to any of the magicians in the city. A truly dangerous man indeed. The whole thing was all very well thought out and very well planned and all of it done surreptitiously, under the very noses of all involved with the book.”
“But what’s the purpose, magician?” asked Wolfsire. “What does he plan to do?”
I shook my head. “I cannot even begin to guess as to that, not without knowing who and what Veltargo truly is. A magician?” I shrugged. “Possibly and yet we cannot discount the possibility of the use of clerical magic.”
“You describe a person of great cunning, magician,” said Eileen. She looked thoughtful again. “Or perhaps more than one person is involved.”
I looked at her and smiled broadly. “Eileen, I would not be at all surprised to discover that to be the very case.”
“So what do we do now?” asked Bubbagump.
I held up the pendent by its string, so that it dangled in front of them. “We find out exactly what this is. It’s our only connection to Veltargo and our only lead. When we know what this is, we will know something more of Veltargo.”
“So, where to now?” asked Eileen.
“To my Master’s shop,” I answered. “I think that he can identify this for us. We’ll go and see.”