"This was where I hid something I really should have retrieved years ago," the King of Cormyr murmured, as he did something to the wall.
A large, door-like part of it slowly swung open, smoothly and soundlessly on well-oiled hinges ,to reveal a lamplit chamber nearly filled by a bed.
An occupied bed.
Two faces that had been ardent moments earlier dissolved into open-mouthed astonishment. One belonged to someone Azoun knew rather well -- Eaeridran Toraene, his young and handsome Undermaster of Revels.
Alongside the gulping, trembling courtier lay a noble lady twice his age, Lady Ohrmatha Huntcrown, now smiling ruefully.
"Y-y-y-yuh --" Eaeridran stammered in staring-eyed terror.
"Well met, Undermaster Eaeridran," Azoun said gently, reaching to draw the secret door shut again. "Pray accept my apologies for this untimely intrusion."
"N-no harm done, Your Majesty," the stricken courtier managed to gulp.
Then his eyes widened as he caught sight of Queen Filfaeril. Under her coolly amused gaze he went white, then green -- then his head flopped onto the pillow in a faint.
"Lads these days," Lady Huntcrown said crossly. "No spine and less stomach! Really! Fee, I ask you, is it too much to expect our yeomen to breed stouter stock?"
"Not at all, Ohrma," Filfaeril said soothingly. "Just what Az and I were agreeing upon yestereve. A little wine should revive your young stallion. Don't let him drink it -- pour it down his nose. He'll make a tremendous tumult, hacking and coughing and flailing about -- but then you can comfort him."
"That sounds lovely," Lady Naeryme purred, stretching for the bedside decanter.
Azoun swung the door shut, turned to his queen, and arched one eyebrow. "We agreed upon several things yestereve," he said, "but I don't recall that particular matter being among them."
"Poor Az," Filfaeril said in the same soothing voice. "You're forgetting so many little things these days."
This time, the King of Cormyr let his queen see the rolling of his eyes.
The heady days of hosting the King's Men are well behind The Winking Eye now, but its upper rooms remain busy. Those desiring to rent them who come to the bar of the Eye(1) are directed three doors down the Promenade to the offices of Malagar of Many Marvels (which are above a glittering perfume shop, Antatha's Scents(2). The tapsters will say Malagar has no direct connection to the Eye but "takes care of" renting out its upper rooms.
This is not, strictly speaking, true. Malagar recently became the owner of The Winking Eye, though its previous owner, the colorful, gravel-voiced Maraeda "the Minx" Halfeather, still runs the tavern. She spends most of her time out and about in Suzail buying the drinkables served at the bar but occasionally arrives of an evening to chat with patrons and flirt with her tapsters (who are all scared of her).(3)
Orvarr Malagar is a young, dapper-looking dwarf with raven-black hair and a neatly-trimmed, spade-pointed beard, who wears a gold earring in his left ear, a huge gold ring on the middle finger of his right hand, and stylish, black leather breeches, boots, and tunic. He will present himself as a renter of rooms at the Eye plus cargo space in the holds of many ships based in Suzail and owned by various nobles and wealthy merchants (not himself). The "Many Marvels" are the exotic things these ships sometimes bring back from distant outland ports(4).
Malagar is scrupulously honest in his cargo dealings. The ship owners watch him closely, most of the nobles by using their 'house wizards' (war wizards stationed in their households, largely to watch over them for the Royal Magician). Glib and pleasant, Malagar tries not to make enemies, but if attacked can call on not just his personal magic but several on-duty war wizards (by uttering a specific word) who will teleport directly to him from the Royal Court armed with wands, spells, and attitudes.
Malagar loves to invest adventurers' wealth in legitimate cargoes but more often finds himself making small, daily coin by peddling the services of the Eye -- rooms ranging from 3 gp to 9 gp per day, plus the same again to keep the room through the night until just past dawn. Boldblades (trained bodyguards) to guard its entrances or a specific person or item cost 1 gp/day (or night) extra. Non-magical disguises are also available at rates ranging from 6 gp to 45 gp(5).
Coffins or carry-chests are also for rent, brought to your rented upper room for 6 gp and taken away again to a specific destination in Suzail for another 8 gp. Actresses can also be had, at negotiable rates, to pose as your lover, mother, the noblewoman or princess (!) you're meeting, hired sorceress, would-be client, or angry creditor.
Malagar is very discreet, and so are those who work for him. After all, they learned the rules of their trade from two experts -- Azoun IV and the Royal Magician Vangerdahast.
"Az, tell me," Filfaeril said as her husband deftly undid the half-seen catches of another secret door and swung it open to reveal a room empty of all but dust and a dim, soft glowstone. "What hidden thing were you hoping to retrieve, back in yon passion palace?"
"One of the true crowns of the realm," Azoun replied. "I swiped it for a prank, more years ago than I care to count now. Vangey's been searching for it for years, and from time to time I've frowningly recalled last seeing it on the head of this or that lover of mine from my adventuring days."
Filfaeril decided it was time to roll her eyes. "I'm sure he soon grew tired of that."
"Yes," Azoun agreed, brightly and cheerfully. "But I haven't, yet."
Whatever's next? We're bound to find out in our next column …
- The tapsters who staff the bar of The Winking Eye in shifts of three are a dozen affable but reserved men in their fifth and sixth decades. All are retired Purple Dragons and know Suzail well (and much of Cormyr, too). They are Ftr1s to Ftr4s, mostly LN, and answer to such names as Alth, Bluskur, Cheth, Darve, Kaggur, and Roryn.
- Antatha's Scents is full of mirrors, glowstones, large and exotic potted plants, lounge chairs, and gossiping, wealthy, socially climbing matrons. Antatha's is staffed by unflappable, softly-murmuring, languidly beautiful human and half-elf lasses who sell very overpriced scents and spiced and fortified fruit juices to their dyed and perfumed clientele. Not even Malagar knows that it's run by Harpers who spy on him as energetically as they overhear all the latest catty 'clack' of Suzail.
- Maraeda "the Minx" Halfeather is a CN female Damaran human Rog6, sixty-three summers old and looking every wrinkled day of it, gone to sagging fat and given to dying her hair alarming shades of orange, green and white, or blue tipped with pink. Nothing embarrasses her, and she's as bold and daring as a brash sixteen-year-old. Her voice ranges from husky growl to raw, throat-stripping roar, retaining an unpleasant edge at any volume or pitch.
- Orvarr Malagar is a CN male gold dwarf Ftr4/Rog2. He customarily wears a ring of the ram (his large gold ring), belt of blinking (identical in powers to a ring of blinking), amulet of mighty fists, and boots of spider climbing (identical in powers to slippers of spider climbing).
- Prices for disguises depend on how elaborate or dangerous-in-the-eyes-of-authority the disguise is. Uniforms of Purple Dragon officers or King Azoun-style garments and masks command top coin.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .