Joined: Apr 26, 2002
Send private message
Mon Oct 10, 2022 8:25 pm
A Matter Of Respect
NOTE: I hope this is alright to post here. I would have posted it directly to Facebook, but for some reason its spam filters considered this spam. Please delete if this doesn't fit here.
"You sure you're not a highway bandit in your spare time?" Scotticus said, aghast as he read over the bill. "To charge us all this after everything we've been through!" The dwarf ran his fingers through his beard, glaring at Felipe Namharz, owner and proprietor of the inn Scotticus and his party were staying at.
Like his inn, the Blue Dragon, Felipe Namharz had seen better days. His eyes were bloodshot and his nose was permanently bent out of joint, the result of one break too many. His face, neck and arms were marked with scratches, scar tissue and sores, the results of years of hard living and a mostly unsuccessful mercenary career. His clothes were yellowed and stained, usually worn three or four days at a time. He held his left arm in an awkward way, the result of a dislocated shoulder that never healed properly, and he walked with a noticeable limp, the result of having broken his leg in three places at once during a particularly violent brawl. His teeth were permanently stained, the results of years of pipeweed and hard drinking.
"I posted me prices for all to see," Felipe said, gesturing to the menu above the bar. "I didn't force ye to come in here. If ye're that dead set on denying an 'onest tradesman of his payment, mayhaps ye'll take it up with the Watch?"
Scotticus only looked around the premises in disgust. There was a litany of complaints he wanted to make. Felipe's servers took between twenty minutes to an hour past what one would consider reasonable wait times for food and drink, and when it came that food was undercooked and the ale watered swill. The furniture and crockery looked as if they’d passed through at least half a dozen owners before Felipe got them, and the cracks and wear made them look every bit their age. The Inn’s beds were bent, uncomfortable racks filled with poking, uncomfortable straw. The Inn itself was no better off, badly weatherbeaten and in dire need of a fresh coat of paint and new windows. Despite their misgivings, Scotticus and his party had stayed at the Blue Dragon Inn instead of the much better-looking Silver Dragon Inn next door because they were short on cash. Unfortunately, they hadn’t paid as much attention to Felipe’s prices as they should have. They were facing a bill well above what they thought the quality of their experience deserved.
Scotticus looked back at his friends, who were just as unhappy as him. He wanted to demand a discount or some sort of restitution, but he knew Felipe would never give it. Worse, more than one of his friends had very good reason to avoid dealing with the Greyhawk City Watch. Scowling in disgust, Scotticus tossed some coins and low-value gems on the bar between him and Felipe before he stormed out, his friends close behind him.
Felipe snorted in amusement, before he blew his nose on his sleeve. Most of his customers had similar experiences to Scotticus, but he hardly cared. Any money he made from owning the Blue Dragon Inn was a simple bonus. If Scotticus hadn’t been so angry, Felipe could have told him how conspicuously clean and pest-free the floors of the Inn were. Felipe prided himself on keeping his building free of lice, fleas, rats or any other undesirables.
Keeping the Inn pest-free was critically important given its true purpose.
It didn’t do to offend the boss.
That evening, Felipe’s chef prepared diligently in the Inn’s second kitchen. This kitchen was much grander than the one Felipe used to cook meals for his regular customers, fit for the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk himself. Delicious smells filled the kitchen and wafted out into the common area, making Felipe’s mouth water. The roast pheasant under glass and caviar, worthy of a noble’s dinner table, were no less than Felipe would have expected.
Felipe, now washed and dressed in his cleanest and most refined clothing, waited eagerly as the coach approached the Blue Dragon Inn. Its emblems were covered to conceal any hint of who the owner might be, but the fine stallions that pulled it suggested a man of means. The man who emerged from the coach was completely cloaked, impossible to recognize. Felipe escorted him down the steps of his coach and into the Inn, leading him to a back room that any aristocrat would respect. A fine dinner was laid out for the cloaked man, who nodded in approval as he removed his cloak.
Felipe eagerly took the boss’s cloak and bowed respectfully to the man who’d worn it. The contrast between the man’s surroundings and his appearance was striking. His clothes were those of a highborn noble, worthy of a count or a duke, but they were tattered and worn, the image of second-hand grandeur gone to seed. The man himself was weatherbeaten and scarred, the mark of a life just as hard and brutal as Felipe’s. He wore an eyepatch that did nothing to conceal the wicked scar running down the left side of his face, his beard was perpetually unshaven stubble, and his outfit strained to hold in his hulking frame and its fearsome strength.
Duke Garand, the boss, gazed over Felipe and the table spread before him, and nodded in cold approval. To Felipe’s relief, the Duke dismissed him, and Felipe withdrew, closing the door behind him.
Felipe made haste, knowing that the rest of the Duke’s men would be arriving soon. The meal he’d prepare for them obviously wouldn’t be as fine as the Duke’s, but it would be a worthy spread and a fine prelude to the Blue Dragon Inn’s true business.
The Duke’s first client came about an hour later. He was a tradesman by his dress, but his demeanor was that of a hunted man. He carried a large pouch in his hand, and he glanced around nervously as he knocked on the Blue Dragon Inn’s door.
Felipe invited him in, nodding a welcome to the man.
“Here to see the Duke, are ye?” Felipe said, as the man nodded nervously. “Right then, follow me.”
Felipe led the tradesman to the Duke’s dining room, where the Duke was waiting. The Duke’s supper dishes had all been cleared, and his table now held a series of ledgers, writing materials, a jeweler’s kit and scales. Several very large, brutal-looking men, all dressed in scale mail and brigandine and carrying nasty-looking swords and clubs, stood around the room to remind the Duke’s clients where they stood. The Duke himself glared at the nervous tradesman, who swallowed hard, with the air of a king contemplating a lowly insect.
“Barduff, was it?” the Duke said, glancing down briefly at one of his ledgers.
“Aye sir, with payment in full,” Barduff the tradesman said, beads of sweat pouring down his forehead.
At a gesture from the Duke, one of the large men in the room took the pouch from Barduff and carried it over to the Duke. The Duke glanced through it, examined several of the gems it contained with his magnifying glass, and nodded in approval.
“Dismissed,” he said, gesturing to the door.
“My thanks, sir,” Barduff said, nearly falling over with his fearful bowing until one of the Duke’s men pushed him out.
The next two clients Felipe brought to the Duke, a dwarven lad struggling to help his father pay the City of Greyhawk’s property taxes on their smithy and a young human woman deep in debt, had similar interactions with the Duke. The fourth was a visibly nervous older man who made all the Duke’s other clients look calm and peaceful. As Felipe escorted the older man to the Duke’s presence, he noted how ashen the older man’s face was and realized what would likely happen.
“Horace Hogan,” the Duke said, his eyes narrowing at the older man once Felipe brought him into the Duke’s office. “I hope, for your sake, you are not wasting my time. I don’t appreciate having my time wasted!” The Duke stood up to his full height, causing Horace to nearly faint from terror.
“It’s all I could gather together,” Horace said, holding up the pouch in his hand. “The main tannery I deal with went out of business-“
“I don’t tolerate having my time wasted, and I don’t tolerate excuses!” the Duke shouted, his eyes flashing with rage. “You’d best pray to whatever gods you believe in, Hogan.”
Horace did just that, as one of the Duke’s men brought him the pouch.
The Duke poured the pouch’s contents onto his table, and scowled at the pile of silver coins and the two pieces of hematite in front of him.
“You wasted my time,” the Duke said. “You wasted my time!” he repeated himself, his voice rising to an angry shout.
Horace would have collapsed from fright except that one of the Duke’s men ran to catch him. He was joined by another of the Duke’s men, and together they carried Horace out of the Duke’s presence.
The Duke’s last client of the night was a diminutive street child, clad in a tattered, mud-splattered cloak and a pair of boots too large for his feet. The boy’s face was shadowed by the hood of his cloak, which otherwise covered almost his entire body, but the reedy despair in his voice led Felipe to bring him to the Duke anyway.
The Duke allowed a rare smile to cross his face as he stared down at the young child. The boy couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years old, thin and sickly. He quaked in fear, utterly helpless in his surroundings. There was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent the Duke from having him murdered on the spot if he so chose.
In situations like this, the Duke often wondered if this was what a cat felt like as it looked at a particularly plump, juicy mouse.
“Well, boy?” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“It’s time,” the boy said, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“What do you mean?” the Duke asked, leaning forward as he strained to hear the boy’s voice.
“It’s time to pay,” the boy said.
“Pay?” the Duke said in confusion. “You’ve borrowed nothing from me, boy. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“Oh, but I’m not the one paying,” the boy said, looking up at the Duke. “I’m the one collecting.”
For one of the few times in his life, Duke Garand was utterly at a loss.
“What?” he said.
The boy burst out laughing as he threw his cloak off with a flourish and kicked off his oversized boots. Duke Garand was briefly stunned until he saw the boy’s feet and recognized the hair covering them. Halflings in disguise could frequently pass for human children, particularly when they disguised themselves with appropriately-sized clothing. This particular halfling was skilled enough to only need a ratty cloak to cover his entire frame. It allowed him to wear his trademark yellow and purple checkered clothing, famous as much for its fine craftsmanship as for its gaudy, overdressed appearance. His smooth light-brown hair and his sinuous, rodent-like features and smirk, reminded those who saw him of a weasel, and indeed that was his street name.
Simpkin “the Weasel” Furzear, the Greyhawk Thieves Guild’s Master of the Foreign Quarter, smiled winningly at Duke Garand.
The Duke only stared in shock at the Weasel’s presence. The Weasel was the terror of Greyhawk’s Foreign Quarter, such that even his fellow thieves loathed having to deal with him. Duke Garand wasn’t sure what horrified him more, the Weasel’s presence or the notion of having to have him killed for knowing too much.
The Duke barely opened his mouth before the Weasel beat him to it.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” the Weasel said, smirking insolently.
“You dare…” the Duke said, livid at the Weasel’s smile. “Seize him!” he ordered, gesturing to his men.
The Duke’s men didn’t move. He looked from side to side in horror, before turning back to Weasel.
“Told you,” the Weasel said, his smirk growing wider.
“I’ll split you in half myself-“ Duke Garand said, reaching for his heavy sword. As he stood up, the Weasel snapped his fingers.
“Seize him!” the Weasel shouted, as the Duke’s men moved to do just that. Even with all his strength, Duke Garand couldn’t stand against all his former henchmen. They seized him tightly by the arms before pinning them behind his back in a double hammerlock.
“That’s how you order someone to seize him,” the Weasel said with a chuckle.
“What did you-“ Duke Garand said, half in amazement and half in terror.
“I have my charms, and I mean that literally,” the Weasel said, holding up his hand and the ring he wore, jeweled with sapphire and serpentine. “I’ve been out and about the last week or two, getting to know these fine gentlemen better. I, shall we say, ‘persuaded’ them that working for you could be hazardous to their health.”
Duke Garand knew what he meant by that. Magical charms could last for weeks even on people of ordinary intelligence, and he suspected that the Weasel’s ring allowed him to use such charms. Indeed, even the Duke himself noted how powerful the Weasel’s presence was.
What the Duke wouldn’t have given for such a ring.
What the Duke wouldn’t give right now just for his life.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he said, hoping against hope the Weasel didn’t know the truth. “Why is the Guild harassing-“
“Why do you think?” the Weasel said. “Your little bookmaking operation at the Pit, for one,” he said, referring to Greyhawk’s infamous gladiator arena. “We might’ve overlooked it if you actually paid us our cut, but your insult in thinking we wouldn’t find out was unforgivable.”
The Duke tried to lunge at the Weasel, livid at being told what was forgivable, but his charmed henchmen held him firmly in place.
“And then there was your little ‘loan service’,” the Weasel said. “You forgot the most important thing, Garand. This is my quarter, and these are my people. You acted like our ruler, treating us like your subjects, your property, your slaves. You looked down on all of us, the way humans so often do.”
“…Humans?” the Duke said in confusion.
“Looking down on us,” the Weasel said. “That’s what made this personal, Garand-more than you know. If it was just about your intruding on the Guild’s territory, I would have just had your throat cut. Then you made it personal.”
“How’d you find me out?” Duke Garand asked, his breath quick and shallow.
“Matthew Shinybrook,” the Weasel said. “You remember Matthew, don’t you?”
Duke Garand stared back at the Weasel, baffled as to what he meant.
“Matthew couldn’t pay, so…” Duke Garand said, before he went deathly pale.
“Gaylene was left alone with their three little ones,” the Weasel said. “Do you know why halflings do what we do, Garand? We don’t have the kind of strength so many of you humans respect, the strength of steel, of life and death. That’s why you can look down on us. But we have our own strength. We remember, and we learn. We make allies, we forgive those who cross us but try and make things right. We often can’t strike back directly at people who look down on us, but we don’t have to.”
“And I take things a step further than most of my kin, Garand. I never forget someone who makes it personal,” the Weasel finished, the smile vanished from his face.
Duke Garand’s blood ran cold at the look in the Weasel’s eyes.
“But I’ve talked your ear off,” the Weasel said, his smile returning. “Shall we take a walk, you and I?”
Duke Garand wanted to refuse, but he saw the gems on the Weasel’s ring sparkle. He suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to join the Weasel, who held out his hand. He couldn’t explain the sensation, but he knew it couldn’t be denied.
The Duke’s former henchmen released him as Felipe returned to escort the Duke and the Weasel out of the inn.
“Perhaps I was too hard on you,” the Weasel said, smiling winningly. “Let me make it up to you. I’ve always found playing with dogs to be a fine way to unwind…”
Lord Henway was an eccentric Greyhawk nobleman who’d converted his mansion into a zoo for both mundane animals and exotic monsters. He often enjoyed feeding the inhabitants of his zoo personally, and many of them became accustomed to his presence.
Few things caught Lord Henway by surprise, but even he was shocked by what he found when he came to feed his hell hounds. The hell hounds had already eaten much of the corpse and burned more of it, but there was enough for the Watch to identify it as belonging to the late “Duke” Garand.
No one could fathom how Garand got into Henway’s mansion late at night, much less why he would even go there. People wondered, though, especially when residents of the Foreign Quarter started talking about what the Duke put them through.
The Weasel made very sure that the Duke’s henchmen, who he recruited as enforcers for his part of the Thieves’ Guild, never told a soul what they’d seen or heard.
He also made sure they never, ever looked down on him.