As silently as idle ghosts, the King and Queen of Cormyr stole past the faintly-overheard dwarf until they could hear that rough voice no more.
Then they were at the far wall of the empty room, and Azoun cautiously eased it open to peer into a well-lit hallway beyond.
He blinked …
… at his own double -- another King Azoun IV, clad in one of the ensembles of rich tunic, hose, and boots he often wore in court. Even familiar rings glittered on his fingers.
This Azoun stared back at him with growing anger clear on his face. "Who are you?" he demanded. "I paid top coin for this guise, and Malagar guaranteed that they'd rent no other 'Crowned Purple Dragon of Cormyr' costume to anyone else! Took me forever to get the beard glued on right, too! So get yours off, this instant!"
Azoun blinked again, and then smirked and meekly lifted his hands to his collar to begin unfastening. That was when Filfaeril drifted up behind her lord husband, laid an arm along his shoulder, and rested her chin on it to regard the angry, false Azoun.
Who reddened in greater fury. "Oh, I see their game! The two costumes together are a different package, hey? Malagar's played me for a fool! Or do the two of you work here, modeling all the guises?"
"Well, dearest?" Azoun asked. "Do we tell him?"
"You'd blasted well better!" the false king snarled before Filfaeril could say a word.
"You," Azoun told him mildly, "are not my dearest."
"Well, that's a relief," his queen murmured. "I'd hate to think I'd placed second to this, all these years." She met the false Azoun's angry glare and said sympathetically, "That beard must itch terribly."
"It does, tluin it. But who are you? I can't go into the clubs pretending to be rutting Azoun himself and plucking all the lasses to my side if there's someone else right behind me pretending the same thing! I'd look right silly!"
"We tell him," Filfaeril commanded her husband calmly.
Much has been made, over the years, of what one scribe of Suzail called "the wayward wife-conquerings" of King Azoun IV of Cormyr. "A womanizer among the oh-so-willing," another writer termed the monarch's romantic career. There's a general belief in the kingdom (that's not far beyond the truth) that almost every major noble family -- to say nothing of many lesser nobility, and commoners, too -- has at least some of Azoun's blood among its progeny.
One much-retold tale concerns an annual spring "promenade" at court, wherein young noble lordlings and ladies are presented to the King for the first time. This is their "coming out" in Suzail society after they've passed puberty, been trained in etiquette and whatever interests they show aptitude for. Their families desire them to have a higher profile so they can gain social connections and influence in the realm. It's customary during such promenades for the younglings to be announced by heralds (in the order of their birth, eldest first) and paraded one-by-one in their finest garb through the throne chamber before the enthroned king and all who desire to attend. It's also been customary for Vangerdahast to stand behind the throne, staring steadily at each of them (and, so the rumors run -- correctly -- mentally co-ordinating War Wizards who are scrying, prying, and spell-recording the images of every young noble). It's usual for many of the young nobles to resemble Azoun in some way, but on this particular promenade, almost all of them looked very much like the king. In the silence that followed the last presentation, ere the King rose to invite the assembled into adjacent state chambers for revelry, to meet "the bright new blood and hope of the realm," Vangerdahast was clearly heard to remark to Azoun, in carefully neutral tones -- "Moderation, my liege?"
Given these "royal habits," Azoun had many offspring (sometimes called "the Dragon's bastards," or more politely, "the Brood" by Cormyreans). Only a few, however, have been openly and publicly acknowledged as such. They include --
- Malaglan Spurbright (male LG Chondathan human Ftr9/Ari2/Cav2; noble): A proud, hot-tempered, handsome, avid hunter and lady-chaser, loyal and diligently learning how to some day head his noble house. He has no head for finances and diplomatic half-lies, being impatient to "buy what I want right now" and "speak plainly."
- Vorndren Longlance (male CG Chondathan human Ftr6, Str 17; not noble): A respected-by-his-fellows swordcaptain of the Purple Dragons of Immersea -- easy-going, loyal, and apparently content to just be a good warrior, popular with local citizens because he is kindly and understanding. Vorndren is large, handsome, and looks just like Azoun IV did when young and clean-shaven.
- Wyndghallow "Wyn"Scatterstars (male NG Chondathan human Ftr6/Ari4; noble): A homely, sarcastic-tongued cynic who's loyal to the Obarskyrs but bitter about his heritage and how it made the elder Scatterstars -- his aunts and uncles, now dead -- treat him. He has had several awkward meetings with King Azoun IV, who liked him, and has recently been recruited by Laspeera to be a secret agent of the Crown and future Highknight. Wyn is hopelessly in love with both Laspeera and Dowager Queen Filfaeril and is now devoting himself to enriching the Scatterstars through investments.
- Tavantra Indimber (female CG Chondathan human Sor4/Ari6, Int 18, Wis 17; noble): A plain but keen-witted young woman possessed of long, dark hair, plain, dark gowns, and bookish interests. She is seldom seen at Court or in society. Tavantra is both staunchly loyal and a Harper agent. She is watched so closely by the War Wizards (and she knows it) that she does very little beyond observe and report to agents who visit her. Tavantra is restless to "go out into the country" far from watching eyes and practice and perfect her magic. If she pulls her hair back, she looks eerily like a young, clean-shaven Azoun IV.
"Everyone knows" the nobles Beliard Cormaeril, the brothers Dauntryn and Delce Dauntinghorn, Brace Skatterhawk, and Ondryn Thundersword are Azoun's sons, but the Crown (probably to avoid potential trouble among the most powerful noble families) has never confirmed their lineage.
The Obarskyrs watched all the color drain slowly out of the false Azoun's face. He stared at them in mounting, wide-eyed terror ... and then gracefully toppled over face-first onto the floor.
Or he would have if the True King of Cormyr hadn't kindly reached out a strong arm, caught the man across the chest, and lowered him gently to the floorboards.
"I'd give a lot to know just what you did for Holy Sune and Sharess, in your cradle," the Dragon Queen remarked tartly. "Now even the men are falling for you."
Will Azoun and Filfaeril ever get out of the tavern? Perusing our next column is the only way you'll find out.
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 . . .