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Oh dear! Would you look at that! The fire is dying down again, just throw another log on, would you? Mmmm, at least the cider is still warm. Would you care for another mug? And I think I'll have another one of Mrs. Hildegard's exquisite muffins! They are simply delicious! What? Oh, dear, I must apologize. I allowed myself to get distracted again, didn't I? Hmm? Oh, no, we had only just begun 'the chase' for . . .

 

That Infamous Key
Chapter Four

 

It was just one turn of the hourglass past midday and the river front was alive with a variety of traffic. The hustle and bustle of a multiplicity of diversified workmen – longshoreman, wharf-men, dock workers, sailors and teamsters – were everywhere to be seen and dodged!

An incredible array of odors assaulted our noses, with two more pungent than all the others; the reek of fish entrails and the stink of sweat. We made our way as quickly as we could through all the seemingly choreographed flurry, weaving and dodging in and out of the human maelstrom.

"That was an excellent ploy you used on Irontusk, Magician," Eileen offered. She was presently walking beside me, while Wolfsire was apparently trying to guard Bubbagump against being trampled!

(I remember chuckling at the sight and wondering if it had occurred to Wolfsire that the little halfling had managed to get along quite well long before the big barbarian's arrival in Greyhawk?)

"Thank you," I replied. "But the idea wasn't exactly my own."

Her look indicated that I should enlarge upon my statement.

"There is a group rumored to be operating within the city doing just that very thing," I added. "Snagging the unwary, polymorphing them and selling the body parts to nefarious practitioners of magic."

Her expression showed her disbelief. "Truth?"

"It's true!" Bubbagump exclaimed. "And it's not a rumor either! No one goes out alone at night!"

"Local rumormongers have begun referring to them as the 'Polymorph Squad,'" I continued. "Of course, sensationalism nourishes tittle-tattle, but if rumor and conjecture are true, then its as diabolical a group as you'll ever want to meet."

"Where do these disappearances occur?" asked Wolfsire.

"It's a queer thing actually," I answered. "'Missing people' in the Slum Quarter would go virtually unnoticed and mostly unreported, but most of these unfortunates seem to disappear from the River and Foreign Quarters. In addition, kidnappings seem to be on the rise in the High and Garden Quarters. However, no one yet knows whether or not these mysterious occurrences are related."

"A mystery indeed," said Eileen.

"Someone should look into it," agreed Wolfsire.

"It is being 'looked into,'" I said. "Greyhawk is filled with such 'mysterious' adventures, my friends. Let us therefore concentrate on the 'mystery' at hand, before embarking upon another one."

The Cargo Gate was crammed with people and vehicles of all varieties, all waiting to pass inspection from the City Watch. I signaled to my companions to follow me and we nudged and jostled our way to the front of this mob. Sure enough, my robes and staff attracted the attention of a Watch Commander and he waved me forward.

"And just who might you be, young sir?" the sergeant-at-arms asked.

Magic-users were recognized as 'gentlemen' by the City Watch, a step above commoners and merchants – the fact that two magicians sat on the city's Directing Oligarchy, as did the Patriarch of Boccob, certainly helped matters – and so magicians were accorded a number of small privileges that most others were not.

"I am the apprentice of the Arch-mage, Maldin," I replied.

A man-at-arms was writing the information down as I spoke and both men stood a little straighter at the mention of my Master's name.

"I reside in the Student's Quarters of the Clerkburg," I continued. "These are my associates, Eileen, cleric of Istus, and Wolfsire of the Kingdom of the Cruski. They are presently staying at the Blue Dragon Inn, but today I will be moving them into the Green Dragon Inn."

"Wise choice that, sir," said the sergeant. "The Blue's for suckers and them as don't know no better!" He looked at Bubbagump. "And who have we here?"

"This is Bubbagump Grumblefoot," I replied, placing my hand on the halfling's shoulder. "He is from Narwell and is visiting the city. He's been staying over on High Lane, in the Burrow Heights, but I'll be moving him to the Green as well."

"Very good, sir," said the sergeant. "I thank you for your patience sir and may you and your friends have a very good day."

We passed through the immense portal, but had not proceeded very far when a group of four men moved towards us. All were dressed in leather armor; three carried knives in belt sheaths, while the evident leader wore a short sword and carried a leather bound book. If Wolfsire had not been standing between myself and these men, I seriously doubt they would have approached us. I heard Bubbagump groan and, looking down, I smiled when I saw him reaching for his small purse.

"Here!" the leader cried. "What is it that you think you're doing?"

"Huh?" Wolfsire grunted.

"We'll have none of that!" the leader continued. "Its illegal to help a halfling across the street in this city! That'll cost you a lucky in fines! Now pay up!"

I stepped around Wolfsire and slammed the butt of my staff onto the pavement. There was a loud 'crack' and the ruby atop the staff burst into brilliant red light, bathing all around me with its glow. Anxious murmurings arose from the crowd and frightened astonishment sprang onto the faces of the four men. I leaned forward until my face was only inches from that of the group's leader.

"You should leave . . . now," I whispered harshly.

The light from my staff also attracted the attention of the Watch Commander.

"Here! What's this about?" The sergeant-at-arms strolled up with two of his men. "Are you accosting this gentleman?" He demanded of the leader. "You know better than that! Go on with yourselves!" He shouted, shooing the little group of men away. As the four scurried off, the light from my staff faded.

The sergeant turned to me, "Sorry about that sir. I don't know what came over those clods."

"I don't think they saw me standing behind my large friend here," I replied, hitching my thumb at Wolfsire.

"Ah! Well that would explain it, wouldn't it sir?" returned the sergeant.

"No harm was done, sergeant," I said, surreptitiously slipping him a noble. "And I do thank you for your assistance in this matter."

"My pleasure, sir," he replied, furtively pocketing the coin. "Well, I must return to me duties. Once again, I wish you a good day, sir."

"Same to you and your men, sergeant," I replied and they were gone.

"Magician, what in the nine hells just happened?" asked Wolfsire.

"Those men are known as 'People's Constables,'" I pointed to the little knot of men now standing down the street. "I have no doubt that Bubbagump is quite familiar with them." The halfling nodded. "They are empowered by the Directing Oligarchy to enforce minor laws and collect fines for trivial offenses. They prey upon those who they view as 'easy pickings,' such as foreigners and halflings. However, they do not harass the 'upper classes,' of which I am considered to be a member. Most people who are accosted by them find it more convenient to simply pay the Constable's small fines and continue on about their business."

"They recognized Wolfsire and I as foreigners and so thought we would be 'easy pickings,'" said Eileen, as we started walking.

"Something like that," I said; then added a warning. "But don't dismiss them too quickly. They are very good at finding some rather obscure laws to enforce, using them to harass the poor and disenfranchised. That law he cited is probably real. Greyhawk's legendary Lord Mayor, Zagig Yragerne, enacted many such idiotic laws during the final years of his administration."

At the River Quarter's guild-station of the Nightwatchmen the avenue forked. The road veering off to our right was called 'The Strip,' home to every kind of peccadillo, or vice that could be found in taverns, gambling houses, brothels and worse. Day or night it teemed with all manner of people; well-heeled dandies, beggars, toughs, Rhennee, river-men, drunks, 'ladies of the evening' and the always present thieves. Most foreign visitors to Greyhawk sought this place out. They were usually adventurers; of all kinds and from all places. Food, drink and lodging – for man or beast – was cheap and news of the outside world was abundant.

The road veering left was Cargo Street, 'home' to the Green Dragon Inn and two of the finer establishments of the River Quarter, namely, the Wizard Hat Inn and the Lows Seas Tavern. According to our information and map, the Green Dagger guild-house could be accessed from a little dead-end side street – located between the Green Dragon Inn and the River Quarter City Watch Station – lying in the shadow of the Noble's Wall, near the Garden Gate. Unknowingly, we had actually passed quite close to it earlier this morning.

Strolling down Cargo Street and passing the Green Dragon Inn, we paused at the intersection indicated on the map. The street was a little longer than I had imagined and the rear of the guild-house was just discernible at the opposite end, to our right, against the base of the wall. Its weather beaten exterior blended well with the stone wall, so that only its red tiled roof was plainly visible. The building was run down and appeared derelict.

"That's it," I said, indicating the two story house.

"There seems to be a wide alley leading to the back of it," observed Wolfsire.

"It's the River Quarter," said Bubbagump. "All manner of merchants live here. That alley probably leads to a stables, or pen of some type."

"Shall we move closer?" asked Eileen.

"Not yet," I replied. "Let's head for the Blue Dragon, you can pack-up your things while I have a talk with my friend, Mortellan."

"What of Bubbagump?" asked Eileen, as we started off. "You mentioned moving him to the Green Dragon also."

"Yeah, why am I moving?" asked the halfling.

"We'll all be staying at the Green Dragon," I replied. "There's no telling where our adventure will lead us, or what hours of the day or night we might be keeping. We're dealing with some very dissolute people in this 'key' business. And let us not forget that people have been disappearing from this part of the city. So we all stay together, no one travels alone, we travel in pairs."

"A good idea," agreed Eileen.

We headed east on Cargo Street and soon turned right onto a short side street which connected Cargo with Horseshoe Road.

"Sounds good to me!" said Bubbagump. "Burrow Heights is just a little ways behind the Blue Dragon. I'll cut through the Street of Songs and across Roanwood Road and get my things, then meet you all in front of the Sage's Guildhall."

We turned right onto Horseshoe Road.

"If I may ask, Magician, who is this 'Mortellan' you speak of?" asked Eileen.

"Mortellan is a friend and one time adventuring companion of my Master, Maldin," I replied. "And he has proven himself both a friend and mentor to me. He is a high-elf from Highfolk, a 'free-town' located on the Velverdyva river, just west of the Kingdom of Furyondy. Mortellan is a Guild Mage. He's also a Guild Sage and a Guild Lawyer, which is saying something."

We passed The Strip and rounded the curve which turned the east/west running Horseshoe Road to a southerly direction.

"Being a Guild Lawyer is special?" asked Wolfsire.

"To be a Guild Lawyer you must first be able to speak ancient Suloise," I explained. "Mostly, however, both the Sage's Guild and the Lawyer's Guild number very few non-humans among their members. Guild lawyers are mainly human citizens of Greyhawk's upper classes."

We turned left into Cairn Court.

"And you think he can help us in our search?" asked Eileen.

"He is a high-elf," I repeated. "Irontusk said that one of the people he met with was an elf; another high-elf in all probability. Elves within the city often frequent the same taverns and restaurants for a repast. I'm hoping that Mortellan has run across him at some time."

And then we stopped in front of the Blue Dragon.

"And the second person you must speak with?" asked Eileen.

I smiled at her. "Mortellan hasn't told me . . . yet."

Wolfsire and Eileen went off to take care of the necessary business of moving, while Bubbagump and I proceeded to the Street of Songs. There we split up, I went to the Sage's Guildhall – next to the Silver Dragon Inn on Hardcobbles Way – while the halfling headed for the underground warren called the 'Burrow Heights' – the home of gnomes, dwarves and halflings living within the city's walls.

Two groundskeepers were hard at work on the Guildhall's lawn as I proceeded up the walkway and the door was opened by one of the establishment's porters as I stepped upon the porch.

How shall I describe the Sage's Guildhall? It's part library and part gentleman's club. There is a large, high-ceilinged room just beyond the foyer, which takes up most of the ground floor. The room is located in the center of the building, however, so there are no windows in its walls; there is only the double door off the foyer, with a standard door located in the back wall. The room is lined with shelves – stretching from floor to ceiling and accessed with ladders – which are filled with books, scrolls, manuscripts and tomes of all sizes and types, though all are non-magical. Several bookcases are also scattered throughout.

A large, multi-candled, crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the center of the room. This light source is augmented by lanterns which line the walls and by the candles found on every table.

The room is dotted with small cubicles for study and there are several tables, with chairs, scattered about. A couch is placed in front of a rather large fireplace and is flanked by two overly stuffed chairs. Decanters of liqueurs and spirits are generously spread about the room, all to enhance the members' studious relaxation.

I stated my business to the porter and was escorted to a small, well lit cubicle where I found Mortellan pouring over an ancient, yellowed manuscript. Mortellan looked up and smiled when he saw me. He stood to take my hand.

"Always a pleasure to see you," he said, then turned to the porter, "Thank you, Rupert. Please bring us some of the Furyondian red, if you would be so kind."

And so Mortellan stood before me, all eighty-seven pounds of him. He stood five feet, one inch tall and wore a soft blue shirt, with brown pants and black, calf-high leather boots. His forest green cloak lay on a chair beside him. His apparel was of the finest quality, as always, but a bit unkempt and wrinkled, all testifying to his chosen profession. He had cream colored skin, with a head of straight, blonde hair combed back behind his pointed ears and tied in a ponytail, which reached down past his shoulders. His deep, blue eyes twinkled with elven mischievousness. He was one hundred, thirty years of age – young for an elf.

"Greetings, Master Mortellan. Thank you for seeing me."

"Not at all, not at all," he said. "Take a seat and tell me what brings you back so soon; another missive from Maldin?" He waved me into the cubicle and we sat.

"No, nothing from my Master. I've come to you with a matter of my own. I seem to have become caught up in a little escapade and need some advice."

"Ah, now this will be interesting," he smiled. "Start at the beginning and tell me absolutely everything!"

Rupert arrived with two glasses of the Furyondian red and some select cheeses and quickly departed again.

"It's not feywine, of course, but it will have to do," Mortellan sighed, as he lifted his glass.

I started my tale with the disturbance caused by Marek and Flegon earlier that morning. I detailed everything that had happened thus far, leaving nothing out, to omit anything would only hinder Mortellan's ability to advise me.

Mortellan was what elven-kind sometimes called a 'Collector,' an elven archaeologist if you will. He searches out mysterious and dangerous places looking for old books and ancient objects of power. He also collected rumors.

"I had heard there was a hubbub this morning," Mortellan said. "But I thought the matter involved the Great Library. Well, that's quite a little adventure you have going for yourself. Does Maldin know?"

"No. My Master is not . . . 'present,' just now."

"Ah, off on another of his mysterious planar jaunts, eh?" Mortellan asked. "Well, from what you've told me, you have handled yourself admirably thus far. Your actions have been well thought out. The key is certainly not a ordinary one, but I won't speculate on its nature just now. I need to research a few things first. As to your elf, I may have seen him, perhaps even have spoken with him – at the Green Dragon, to be more precise. He was dressed much as you describe, down to the dark cloak and little green pin in the shape of a dagger. As I recall, he names himself Cyrathas."

"'Cyrathas,'" I repeated. "That's good to know. If one of his men is sick, it may be that others are. If so, he may stay 'close to home,' remaining within his guild-house."

"You are no doubt correct," Mortellan agreed. "But knowing that isn't much help in itself and its not why you came to me. Let's go to my rooms."

We stood and I followed him back out to the foyer where two sets of stairs lead to the second floor. Located to either side of the door, each lead to a landing and then turned at right angles to a large balcony which overlooked the foyer. This upper hallway lead off to the left and right and was, itself, lined with bookshelves. We turned left down this hallway, which quickly turned right again. Following this path, we stopped at the third door on the left. Mortellan had two rooms, a sitting room, for receiving guest, and a bedroom. The Sage's Guildhall maintained such living quarters for their bachelor members.

"Have a seat, I'll be right back," he told me, as he entered the bedroom.

There was a small couch set before a metal wood stove, as well as a table and chairs. I sat at the table. Mortellan joined me a few moments later.

"I have here a couple of things," Mortellan said. "But wait one." He had set parchment, quill and ink pot before him. He scribbled a short note, signed it and handed it over to me. I read it; it directed a fellow named Ricard to assist me in any way he could, saying that Mortellan would be grateful if he should do so.

"Give that note to Ricard Damaris, he is the owner of the Green Dragon Inn," Mortellan explained. "You can't miss him, giant of a fellow. Stands over six feet tall, shoulder length black hair, brown eyes and a triangular scar on the left side of his chin. Oh, and the fourth finger is missing from his left hand. There is little that goes on in the River Quarter that Ricard is unaware of and he owes me a favor."

"You think he'll be able to tell me something more about Cyrathas."

"If anyone knows anything, it'll be Ricard," Mortellan stated. "Now, you mentioned that at least one of these thieves appeared to be sick?"

"That's what we were told."

"I have here, three vials," he pushed them across the table. "Take them. They contain potions which cure disease. I've had them for some time, but have never had cause to use them. We elves are immune to many of the illnesses that befall you humans. I suggest you purchase a few others."

"Do you think we may catch whatever it is that this thief has?"

"Not necessarily," said Mortellan. "But I'm betting that your guess is correct and that the man you were told of is not the only gang member to have fallen ill. Do you remember what Maldin is so fond of saying?"

"Hmm. I'm not sure of your meaning, my Master has so many sayings."

Mortellan slapped the table and laughed loudly. "As old Elenderi always says, that's because he's so fond of the sound of his own voice!" I burst out laughing with him. When our mirth passed, he continued, "This saying involves 'flies.'"

"Flies? Flies . . . oh, yes! I recall, he says; 'You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar!"

"That's the one!" Mortellan agreed. "I've no doubt that you and your companions – as you describe them anyway – would have no trouble 'kicking in the door,' as they say, but that's the 'vinegar.' You'll get more cooperation out of Cyrathas with 'honey;' these vials here. The Green Daggers are obviously not members of the Guild of Thieves, which means that they are playing a very dangerous game. But it also means that they don't have a lot of people they can turn to for help." He pointed at the vials. "Certainly not help of this kind. And that's your honey."

"I see; go to them with an offer of help and I may get the answers I seek all the more readily."

"Precisely!" said Mortellan. "However, that doesn't mean you can just walk up and knock on the door! You're still going to have to break into the place. And I'd be very cautious about that. It's a thieves hideout, after all. There will be traps and snares aplenty, don't you doubt that." He held up a wand. "And that brings us to this. This wand shoots forth a thin, bluish colored ray. The ray paralyzes any creature it touches."

"Master Mortellan, I could not accept such a gift!"

"Of course you can," he said. "Besides, it's not really a gift, it's a loan. I expect to get it back. Moreover, it's not fully charged, so I'm not being all that generous. Bring it back after you've finished your little adventure."

"Thank you." I took the wand.

"Furthermore, I don't need you getting into trouble, of any kind" Mortellan continued. "I know the powers of the staff you carry; that's too much 'weapon' for the city. You'll end up in the Citadel, Maldin's staff would be forfeit and I'd get blamed for not keeping an eye on you!" He started laughing again and I joined in.

"But, still, if I'm to use 'honey' with Cyrathas, why the wand?"

"'Honey' works best when backed up by 'vinegar,'" Mortellan smiled. "But not the kind of vinegar that kills people. You won't get any answers that way. Now, go talk to Ricard."

My companions were waiting for me in the street when I emerged.

"So, Magician, was your friend able to offer any help?" asked Eileen.

"Indeed he did," I replied. "Help of a material nature and help with sage advice." The vials of cure disease were in my bag of holding and the wand was tucked inside the left sleeve of my robe.

"Now we head for the Green Dragon Inn," said Wolfsire. "I want to get all this stuff put away, so we can get on over to the thieves' guild-house and complete our business with them."

"Yes, but we have a stop to make along the way," I replied, as I stated walking. "We head up 'The Strip' to Water Street and thence on to the Temple of Pholtus."

"Those fanatics!?" cried Wolfsire.

 

Next... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 5

To the beginning... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 1


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This page last modified on February 20, 2013