That Infamous Key
Date: Fri, February 14, 2014
Topic: Stories & Fiction

            Well, I never thought the tale would be so long in the telling! Mrs. Hildegard should be in any moment . . . Ooo! Sausages and biscuits! My, but you are a wonder, Mrs. Hildegard! And will you smell that milk gravy! It'll be good to break our fast while I continue my tale of . . .

That Infamous Key

Chapter Ten



            We re-entered the City through the Wharf Gate and passed down Wharf Road and into the High Market. It was necessary for me to herd my friends through this area; as I've mentioned before, the eyes and nose are easily distracted here, especially to those not used to the City's hustle and bustle.

            We proceed onto the Processional, heading southward, and passing through the Garden Gate and over the Millstream, finally turning left onto Craftsman's Way, just before the Petite Bazaar. I believe I may have mentioned that Craftsman's Way forks and curves around to the right, well we stayed left and entered onto Castle Street, heading straight for Eridok's Expeditious Provisions.

            There is an alley next to Eridok's, which leads to his smithy. Anything can be purchased at Eridok's, including tack, though the horses are kept at the Merchants' and Traders' Guild Livery, to the south of the city. For bulkier items, master Eridok keeps a large warehouse in the Wharf District, on Forecastle Lane, near the junction of The Dockway and Riverside Road.

            As we entered the shop, I could see several of Eridok's assistants helping customers, but not Eridok. As I approached the counter, however, he entered through a rear door. An Oeridian of moderate height, standing about an inch shy of six feet and weighing about two hundred pounds, Eridok had brown hair and blue eyes, a scar upon his right cheek, two fingers missing from his left hand and he walked with a slight limp.

            Eridok had been quite the adventurer in his youth. Now of middle age, he had set himself up in this shop, supplying the needs of the next generation of adventurers. He had some excellent connections in both the City Watch and the Mercenaries Guildhall; a word from him could open doors. But he seldom did that sort of thing, as he's a firm believer in the need of young adventurers “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps!” I've heard him say it more than once.

            He waved me over. “Well lad!” he boomed. “Your Master tells me you're off to adventure! Ah, nothing like it lad! Nothing at all! And it's about time too! All that book learnin' ain't going to get it done, lad!” He held up his hands. “Now, I'm not saying that there's anythin' wrong with schoolin'! Not at all! A young man needs to know certain things, 'tis true. But there's nothing like the experience, lad. Nothing at all!”

            “I do not doubt your wisdom, master Eridok,” I replied.

            “Now Maldin has told me something of what you're about,” he confided. “And I've already begun putting together a package for you. It'll be ready tomorrow afternoon. Now, I'm supplying everything you and your friends will need, including the horses. Of course, you can't afford to buy the horses just now, so I'm renting them to you. Decent enough animals, but not the very best . . . just in case I don't get them back, you understand.”

            “We will not fail to return your horses, master Eridok,” Eileen resolutely assured him.

            (Clerics of Istus pride themselves on their honesty and Eileen is not an exception to that rule. She takes affront anytime her honesty is questioned.)

            “Now lass, don't you go making promises you might not be able to keep,” Eridok replied, holding up his hand to forestall a rebuttal. “I do not know you, but I know something of your Order and I know the young Magician. What's more, I know his Master. I'm not talking about 'stealing,' I'm talking about them gettin' eaten, or just plain killed. What do you think, lass? That you're goin' on a picnic?”

            Eridok went over the list of gear with us and explained one or two items we were unfamiliar with. It was an hour before closing time and his staff wouldn't be finished getting everything together until sometime the next day.

            “Shall we return to the Green Dragon?” I asked, as we stepped outside.

            “Let's go check on Brother Nortoi!” said Bubbagump.

            “Yeah,” agreed Wolfsire. “I want to make sure that everything's going okay over there.”

            Eileen agreed and so, in spite of the waning daylight, we headed for Shacktown. By the time we arrived it had grown dark and there was no one about. So we knocked on the door of the little house and Solnia answered.

            “Hey everybody!” she cried. “Come in! Everything's going to be alright! Come in and Brother Nortoi can tell you about it!”

            We entered the little dining area and found Brother Nortoi there with Irontusk as they were about to eat. The smell of food reminded me of how hungry I was.

            “Will you join us?” asked Brother Nortoi.

            I held up my hand. “No, thank you.” I didn't want to be walking the streets in the early hours of the morning. “Our meals come with our room, so we won't trouble you. We just stopped by – briefly – to see how things went.”

            “Everything went well,” Brother Nortoi informed us. “Constable Fanshen handled matters herself and Mortellan was a lot of help. Solnia knew Bimbo – as did some others – and could testify as to his death. We also had John Materon give testimony. He had heard about the disturbance and came down. John's an herbalist with the Guild of Apothecaries and Herbalists and had been supplying Bimbo with his remedies. So Constable Fanshen was convinced that Bimbo is dead and had died of natural causes. Milt Skyler was informed that the property was not abandoned and therefore he could not present any claim. Needless to say, he was not happy about that, not one little bit.”

            “That's very good,” I said. “What about Selczek Gobayuik?”

            “Constable Fanshen set him straight too,” Brother Nortoi replied. “She had the sergeant give me the Incident Report, Form I-9a, which she also showed to Gobayuik.” He handed it to me. “Gobayuik says you can stop by his shop in the morning to pick up the Death Certificate. Mortellan had to sign off on the Will. It seems that the Lawyers' and Scribes' Guild must also sign the Will, or else issue a Form EW222-3b stating that there is no Will. Mortellan 'postdated' his signature – whatever that means – so that the Will can be registered and the title changed over.”

            “That means that he's pretending to have witnessed Bimbo Towhead's signing of the Will,” I explained, keeping it simple. “That makes everything legal.”

            “Anyway,” Brother Nortoi continued. “Now all you have to do is go and register the Will and Deed in the morning!”

            “Brother Nortoi, we have pressing business in the Cairn Hills and need to be moving on.” I looked around at my friends, who were returning my look with unhappy faces. “Well, our gear won't be ready until the afternoon,” I conceded. “I suppose I can take care of this for you . . . first thing in the morning.” My companions were suddenly smiling. “But then we must be off.” To which they all nodded affirmation.

            With that matter decided, we said our good-nights and headed for the Green Dragon. I couldn't remember the last time I had done so much walking; I was ready for some food and a bed. Fortunately, despite the hour, our passage to the Green Dragon was uneventful.


* * * *


            The next morning – after breaking our fast – the four of us returned to Gobayuik's Undertakers to pick-up the Death Certificate.

            “There!” said a surly Selczek, tossing a piece of paper onto the counter-top. “Form E71-c. Of course, as Constable Fanshen probably pointed out to you, there's a fine for not having handled this matter in the proper manner!”

            “She did mention something about that,” I admitted. “Though she never told me how much.”

            “The standard fee and the fine come to fifty orbs,” Selczek replied, chin thrust forward, waiting for me to argue the amount.

            I disappointed him by counting out the coins onto the counter. Gobayuik let out a satisfied grunt. “There you are,” I said. “Fifty gold orbs. Now, since you seem to know of such things, can you tell me where we need to go to register the deed?”

            “The Courts of Justice, in the Garden Quarter,” Gobayuik replied.

            Thanking the half-orc, we took our leave of him. We headed north on Water Street, which then curved to the east and turned right onto The Strip, then we turned left onto Horseshoe Road and followed it to the Processional. We headed north on the Processional, through the Garden Gate – the guards were now so familiar with me they just waved us on – through the High Market, then right on High Street to the doors of the Courts of Justice.

            There was a guard stationed just outside the door. He stopped us. “State your business.”

            “We're here to register the change of ownership of a piece of property in Shacktown,” I replied. “For the Church of St. Cuthbert.”

            He pointed to Eileen. “I can see she's a cleric, but she's no Cuthbertine.”

            “I serve the 'Lady of Our Fate,'” Eileen replied. “And I can speak for myself . . . when I'm spoken to.”

            “The lady of . . . what?” asked the now perplexed guard.

            “'Our Fate!'” Eileen raised her voice.

            “She means Istus,” I interjected.

            “Then why didn't she say so!” demanded the guard.

            “I did!” Eileen retorted.

            “Look, you . . .” the guard began.

            “Excuse me!” I raised my voice. “When I spoke with constable Fanshen yesterday, she assured me that I wouldn't have any problems here. Was she wrong?”

            “Constable Fanshen?” he stammered.

            “Yes,” I replied. “We have stated our business and now we'll be about it.”

            “My apologies, young sir,” he offered. “There was another kidnapping last night and my sergeant has us tightening security around here. But if the Constable sent you, it must be alright. Please, go right in!”

            I started forward, and then paused to look at him again. “The Polymorph Squad?”

            “Looks like it, anyways,” he replied.

            I nodded thoughtfully as I opened the door.

            The guard looked in and pointed. “You'll be wantin' those windows right there, sir. But he ain't here yet, so you'll have to wait.”

            I nodded my thanks.

            Above one of the windows we could see a sign that read, 'Estate Dispensations' 9:00 – 11:00. The sign above the other one read; 'Property Registry' 1:00 – 3:00. It was about half an hour before Estate Dispensations opened for business and we decided to wait – as the guard had suggested – to ensure that we were the first in line.

            It wasn't long before a bookish looking gnome walked in the building and headed straight for the door that led to the area behind the two windows. Wolfsire stood, but I waved him back into his seat.

            “What?” he asked.

            “If I learned anything yesterday, it's that bureaucrats are nothing, if not prompt,” I said. “And to make matters worse, it's a gnome bureaucrat. Trust me, he's not going to open that window for business one minute before he has to. We'll wait.”

            Sure enough, it was another quarter of an hour before he moved into position and opened his window. I approached him with Forms I-9a, E71-c and the Will in my hands.

            “Can I help you?” he asked.

            “Yes,” I replied. “We have a Will here, transferring a piece of property in Shacktown from one Bimbo Towhead to the Church of St. Cuthbert. I also have an Incident Report I-9a and . . .”

            “I won't need those,” he interrupted. “Those are for 'Property Registry' to see. I just need to ascertain that the Will is legal and proper. Let me see it.”

            He took it from me and read it over carefully. He pulled out a book, from under his counter and I could tell that he was checking Louis Jerlane's seal. He then pulled out a second book which, according the cover, contained the signatures of Guild Lawyers; no doubt checking Mortellan's signature.

            “Well, everything seems to be in order,” he concluded. “I judge the Will to be a legal and proper instrument and . . .” He stamped it. “. . . registered. You can take this to 'Property Registry,' along with your Forms I-9a and E71-c when that window opens.”

            I knew it was a stupid thing to do, but I just couldn't help myself. “Can I ask when that will be?”

            “Sign above the window,” he curtly replied.

            I walked away from the window and indicated that my friends should follow me.

            “There's obviously nothing we can do until this afternoon,” I said.

            “But we have to leave this afternoon,” said Eileen.

            “I'm growing to hate these bureaucrats,” Wolfsire said.

            “Join the club,” I replied.

            “So, what do we do until then?” asked Eileen.

            “Let's show them the sights!” Bubbagump cried.

            “Well, we do have some hours to wait,” I replied. “We'll show them the Garden and High Quarters.” And that's what we did.

            We started with the Garden Quarter. I pointed out the Wizards' Guildhall and the Lord Mayor's Palace. Eileen had not yet been to the Temple of Istus – only having arrived the day before we met – so we stopped by there. The Temple was located on The Path of the Sun, near to Pelor's Temple. We had passed it the day before, but had not had time to stop.

            The Temple of Istus is a relatively large building constructed of gray marble, with silver veins running through it, conjuring up images of the Web of Fate. Inside billowing gauze hangs from the ceiling, clouds of incense float about the room and woodwind music fills the air, along with soft, indiscernible voices gently chanting.

            We were met at the door and explained our purpose. Being a Cleric of Istus from far off Ekbir, Eileen was granted an audience with Mathilde Dessenter, High Priestess of the Greyhawk Temple. The rest of us were shown into a small side room and given some refreshments while we waited.

            Some twenty minutes later, Eileen returned and we were once again on our way. We headed into the High Market to look around. We still had golden orbs and a will to spend some of them. Like the Low Market, there were performers of various types that we enjoyed minstrels who wooed and serenaded Eileen – which seemed to annoy me – and the ever present food vendors whose wares Wolfsire and Bubbagump simply could not pass up sampling.

            After about an hour of this, Eileen and I decided to partake of some food ourselves, before heading back to deal with the city bureaucracy. Eileen expressed an interest in trying the food at the Gold Dragon Inn.

            “I don't think that would work,” I said. “You and I might be able to get in, maybe. But Wolfsire and Bubbagump would never get in the door.”

            “Why not?” asked Wolfsire, indignantly.

            “Your dress,” I replied. “The Gold Dragon is the most pretentious social club in the Free City. Almost all of the city's 'snobs' can be found there. Also, they charge exorbitant prices for their plain fare and it isn't even the best food to be had. Then there's the dress code I alluded to; Eileen and I are barely presentable – as far as that crowd is concerned – but you and Bubbagump aren't anywhere near dressed nicely enough to gain entry.”

            “I suppose that this could be considered 'that part of town,'” Eileen said.

            “What do you mean 'considered'?” I laughed. “This is 'that part of town!'”

            My friends laughed at that as well.

            “Let's just look for a vendor,” I suggested.

            And that's what we did, eating as we continued to shop. Soon though, it was time to for us to return to the Courts. There was a clerk sitting behind the 'Property Registry' window now and, yes, it was the same gnome. I approached the window.

            “We're back,” I said.

            “Back?” the gnome replied. “What do you mean 'back?' Can I help you in some fashion?”

            “We're here to get a Deed registered,” I said. “Remember?”

            “Remember what?” asked the gnome. “How can I remember something that hasn't happened?”

            “You notarized a Will for us just this morning,” I reminded him.

            “Notarization of Wills takes place at the 'Estate Dispensation' window,” he replied. “This is the 'Property Registry' window. Do you wish to register a property?”

            “Yes, I do,” I answered. I was beginning to get a headache.

            “Where is this property?” he inquired.

            “It's in Shacktown,” I replied.

            “Do you have an address?” he asked.

            “It's written on the Will,” I replied, handing him the Will and Forms I-9a and E71-c.

            He looked at the Will and shoved the forms back at me. “I did not ask for those.” Then walked off to what could only be rows of filing cabinets. I picked the forums back up, grumbling under my breath. Wolfsire swore and Eileen sighed heavily, while Bubbagump was busy trying to see over the counter.

            The gnome searched among the filing cabinets, found what he was looking for and opened a draw. After rummaging around for a bit, he pulled out a file and returned to the counter.

            “Our records show that the property in question belongs to one 'Bimbo Towhead,' a Halfling citizen,” he intoned. “What is your claim to the property?”

            “The former owner is deceased and has left the property to the Church of St. Cuthbert,” I replied.

            “And what is your proof of this?” he arched an eyebrow.

            “You are holding the Will,” I replied.

            “So I am,” he replied. “And the Will is duly notarized by the Estate Dispensation department, but where is the proof of Mr. Towhead's death? I need a Form E71-c bearing the Embalmers' and Gravediggers' Guild seal.”

            I handed Form E71-c back to him and he looked it over. My headache was growing.

            “Very well,” he said. “The Embalmers' and Gravediggers' Guild has declared Mr. Towhead legally dead. But how did he die? How do we know you didn't murder Mr. Towhead in order to seize his property? Did the City Watch conduct an investigation? Where is your Form I-9a?”

            I handed him Form I-9a, restraining the urge to turn him into a radish. I could hear Wolfsire growling behind me.

            He looked over the form. “Well, everything seems to be in order. Mr. Towhead is indeed dead and the property is now available for re-registration. What is the name of the party to whom the property will now be registered?”

            “The Church of St. Cuthbert,” I repeated.

            “Very well,” the gnome said. “I just need to see your Form LC207-a.”

            My headache was now pounding behind my right eye. “Form what?” I asked.

            “Form LC207-a,” he replied. “Your 'Certificate of Legal Claim' from 'Estate Dispensation,' of course. You do have your Form LC207-a, do you not?”

            “You never said anything about that, this morning,” I informed him.

            “Why would I have said anything about that this morning?” he asked. “You are confused, young man, this is the 'Property Registry' desk, you need to speak with the 'Estate Dispensation' desk clerk about Form LC207-a.”

            “You are the 'Estate Dispensation' clerk!” I insisted. “I spoke with you this morning!”

            “Nonsense!” he declared. “From 1:00 until 3:00 I am the 'Property Registry' clerk! And you never spoke to me about Form LC207-a!”

            “Apparently, you're both!” I cried. “And I spoke to you about this Will! Look, could you kindly just step over to the other window – for a moment – and get me a Form 'whatever'?”

            “Form  LC207-a,” he repeated. “And I certainly cannot 'step over to the other window!' 'Estate Dispensation' is only open from 9:00 until 11:00. You'll have to get your 'Certificate of Legal Claim' tomorrow, between 9:00 and 11:00 and not before!”

            “But you are both clerks!” I insisted. “Would it kill you to move four feet to get a piece of paper?”

            “That would be highly improper!” he was aghast. “We have rules, young man! Everything must be done in its proper order. Do you know what would happen if we bent the rules for everybody? Chaos! That's what would happen! Complete and utter chaos! The system functions only because we have Order! An orderly, systematic procedure that allows for the smooth flow of legal claims and transactions! And it is not a 'piece of paper'! It is Form LC207-a, a 'Certificate of Legal Claim'! Without which you cannot lay claim to the property in question!”

            (I had never really contemplated murder before that time, but I was developing a seriously murderous attitude towards that damnable gnome. The fact that Eileen was starting to laugh wasn't helping matters any.)

            “So, we need to return tomorrow morning?” I asked, exasperated.

            “That is when 'Estate Dispensation' will be open,” he replied, nonchalantly. “Obtain your Form LC207-a in the morning and return here with it in the afternoon.”

            Another day wasted, but there was nothing else to do, so we departed. I was really beginning to hate that gnome and I was growing less fond of Brother Nortoi too and said so.

            “What did Brother Nortoi do?” demanded Bubbagump.

            “Nothing, little one,” Eileen assured him. “The Magician is just venting his frustration with Greyhawk's bureaucrats.”

            “I'd like to murder that little bastard, myself!” Wolfsire cried. “It wouldn't have taken ten minutes for that little . . . !”

            “True,” I interjected. “But he wasn't going to do it. Mortellan tried to prepare me for this, but I still wasn't ready for the reality of it. They require everything to be 'just so' and Bimbo Towhead and Nicholi Nortoi messed it up, leaving us to deal with the situation.”

            “Leaving you to deal with the situation,” Eileen said. “I'm unfamiliar with Greyhawk and wouldn't have any idea what to do.”

            “Neither would I and I live here . . . at least, sometimes,” Bubbagump shrugged. “So don't go lookin' at me!”

            “I have enough trouble trying to keep track of Cruski laws, so don't look at me either,” Wolfsire offered.

            “The Magician will take care of it.” Eileen chuckled, patting my shoulder.

            “Yes, I'll take care of it,” I breathed. “Don't worry about it. The gnome's lack of cooperation is very aggravating and causing a delay in our own schedule and that is what's frustrating me, more than anything.”

            “So, what now?” asked Wolfsire.

            I spread my arms, palms upwards and then allowed them to drop to my sides. “Find something to do, I suppose.” I started walking down the Processional. “First, we'll let Eridok know what's up, that way he can hold our gear until tomorrow.”


* * * *


            Eridok laughed heartily at the day's events. “Well, lad, be glad that you're not in business for yourself! You just described something that I experience at least once a week! Your Master too, except that he has old Elbrak to handle these matters for him. And never fear, you're gear will be here when you're ready for it.”

            Thanking Eridok, we took our leave.

            “Where to now?” asked Eileen.

            “Mortellan,” was all I said.


* * * *


            “Brother Nortoi does appear to be the helpless type, doesn't he?” asked Mortellan.

            "He is a kindly old man that does all he can for his parishioners,” Eileen offered in the priest's defense.

            “I'm sure he does,” admitted Mortellan. “What does that have to do with helplessness? And aren't you just a little too, I don't know, compassionate, for a cleric of Istus? Mathilde Dessenter always impressed me as being a bit, cynical.”

            “I would say that the High Priestess is stoic, not cynical,” insisted Eileen. “And stoicism is not the same as indifference.”

            “So, all that talk about 'what will be, will be' . . .” Mortellan began.

            “Excuse me,” I interrupted them. “Do we really have to do this now?”

            Mortellan laughed. “No, I suppose we don't.” He sipped from his wine cup. “I'll take care of things in the morning. You four need to get to the Cairn Hills. And now, I'd like a private word with the Magician . . . if you don't mind, dear lady?”

            My companions departed, to wait for me outside and I was alone with Mortellan.

            “You still have mind wand, don't you?” He asked, unnecessarily.

            “Of course,” I answered.

            “Good, that will help with Veltargo and any other living things you mind find,” he said.

            “'Living things?'” I asked.

            Mortellan looked at me. “You're going into a tomb, boy. What do you think you're going to find in there?”

            Images passed through my mind in rapid sequence. “Apparently, more than I first expected.”

            “Do not under estimate Veltargo,” Mortellan warned. “I still do not know who he is, but I sense that he serves Dark Powers. Trust to your staff, its powers are fire based and will prove useful . . . should you run into Undead.” He looked hard at me. “And you just might.”


* * * *


            We sat in the common room of the Green Dragon having a slightly early dinner.

            “Finally!” exclaimed Wolfsire. “We're leaving the city behind us! I'm much more comfortable in the open spaces, myself.”

            “Me too!” agreed Bubbagump. “I like travelling!”

            With that declaration, they hoisted their tankards and toasted the journey and talked about the things they would do once on the road.

            “You seem distracted, Magician,” Eileen said to me. “Is there something wrong?”

            “Wrong?” I replied. “No, nothing's wrong. Just thinking . . . planning. Giving thought to what spells I should prepare. That sort of thing.”

            “Ah, yes,” she breathed. “Magicians need to do such things, but I did not think it required such serious fore-thought on your part. We clerics prepare also, of course, though not to the same degree. We pray for our spells.”

            “Yes, I know.” I leaned towards her and lowered my voice. “There is something that you and I need to discuss, but not in front of the others. It's not something they need to know . . . yet.”

            She looked at our companions – boisterously discussing our future travels – then back at me.

            “Of course,” she agreed. “Whenever you like.”

            “Now.” I stood. Bubbagump and Wolfsire looked up, I held up my hand. “Stay and enjoy yourselves, my friends. It will be sometime before we return to such comforts. Eileen and I merely seek a quitter atmosphere in which we can discuss magical things.”

            “Of course!” Wolfsire bellowed, raising his tankard to toast us and giving me a large wink.

            Shaking my head at his obvious implication, Eileen and I departed.


* * * *


            “Undead?” Eileen breathed. “Are you certain?” In her unease, she reached for my hand.

            “Nothing is certain,” I replied. “But it is a tomb, after all, and those who know such things are convinced that Veltargo serves a Dark Power, so we should prepare.”

            “In all my travels I have never faced the Undead before,” Eileen voiced her concern. “You?”

            “Me?” I asked. “Oh! Yes . . . yes I have.”


            (That was a lie, of course. Oh, I had faced the Undead before, certainly . . . but with my Master, never alone. Still, Eileen needed to be reassured. Since I couldn't be sure how Wolfsire and Bubbagump would take it, the last thing I need was for Eileen to be visibly uneasy as well. Yes, things were about to get interesting.)

This article comes from Canonfire!

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