Stepping carefully over his senseless double, King Azoun extended a hand over the obstacle with an elegant flourish to his queen, bringing a grin to her face. Then he led the way along the hallway to where it turned, closed doors on every wall.
Azoun stepped around that corner and stopped, looking down -- and looking grim.
In a dark pool of blood, a woman clad in revealing leathers lay sprawled on the passage floor, her throat laid open so deeply that her head was almost severed. There was dust on her forever-staring eyes, and the face below it was a frozen mask of terror.
On her motionless, black-clad breast lay a single red rose.
"Left by whom?" the Queen of Cormyr asked calmly.
"A lover, or a Scarlet Mummer -- or someone who wants us to think this was the work of a Scarlet Mummer," Azoun replied.
Then he stiffened, and Filfaeril watched him go pale.
She lifted a hand to pluck him back, away from the corpse and whatever magic was afflicting him, but he caught hold of her fingers, drew in a deep breath, and told her heavily, "The goddess Lliira has just told me the slayer was a Mummer. And why."
He gave the body a disgusted kick and turned away, seeking a door that would open.
Formed to avenge the murder of Lliira's High Revelmistress in Selgaunt, the Scarlet Mummers are a militant order within the Church of Joy.
Few in number and highly secretive, the Mummers hide among both clergy and the (purportedly) lay worshippers of Lliira. "Fierce Joy" is the phrase they use to reveal themselves to Lliiran priests, who both fear and revere them (and aid and obey them unhesitatingly). Some Mummers use red roses as 'calling cards' at the sites of their slayings and work and within temples and shrines of Lliira. Holding a single, cut rose has become a wordless signal of membership in the Mummers or a call for Mummers to rally to the holder of the rose and provide aid.
Founded to punish the clergy of Loviatar, the Mummers have swiftly expanded their role to protecting the faithful of Lliira at revel and more solemn worship. They defend Her holy places and kill those who slaughter and oppress Lliirans. From tyrannical officials and rival clergy who seek to stamp out revelry to Loviatans who have been instructed by higher clergy (or inspired by dreams sent by Loviatar herself) to work against the Church of Joy all have cause to fear the Mummers.
The Scarlet Mummers won't hesitate to hire adventurers and other mercenaries to aid them in guarding Lliiran temples, clergy, and worshippers and in attacking or withstanding strong enemy forces. They prefer to act personally and stealthily whenever possible, except when they reach an altar of Loviatar. There they like to dance (protected by the strongest magic they can raise), using their blade-boots (daggers that snap forth out of the soles, projecting beyond the toes) against all Loviatans who come against them.
Scarlet Mummers aren't grim killers. They love to sing, dance, revel, dally, play games, and entertain children -- but unlike most Lliirans, they are always alert for danger and ready to explode into action to deal with it.
The Scarlet Mummers got their name from the disguise used by the first Mummers to descend on Loviatans in Selgaunt. They posed as a traveling troupe of singing, dancing actors and performed right outside the gates of the Loviatan temple, attacking clergy of Loviatar who emerged with whips in hand to "see them off."
Mummers do not wear distinctive uniforms or cleave to formal titles or a specific hierarchy. Among Mummers, there's an informal hierarchy -- overriden by Lliira whenever she sees operational need -- based on merit (past performance as a Mummer).Most hold ranks within the church of the Joybringer, but their roles as Mummers supercede these ranks. When they "step into action" out of their usual duties, or go on missions, they may give orders to any Lliiran cleric, even High Revelmistresses, and expect to be obeyed. They almost always will be.
There are no false Scarlet Mummers. The goddess Lliira pays close personal attention to every Mummer and empowers those who meet other Mummers to be instantly aware and absolutely certain they're dealing with a Mummer operating with Lliira's full approval. By the same token, Lliira keeps close control over Mummers through dream-visions and voiced-in-their-heads answers to prayers and spontaneous warnings or words of guidance. She won't tolerate self-interest or Mummers who straying from her service. Anyone who impersonates a Mummer will swiftly be plunged into quivering, helpless unconsciousness, mentally overwhelmed by rapturous joy sent by the goddess. They remain that way until they die of malnutrition, are imprisoned, hauled away for punishment, or ejected by Lliirans, their impersonation discovered.
Scarlet Mummers value precise work -- slaying, maiming, or wounding only those who have offended against Lliira or intend a threat against Lliirans, not everyone accompanying said sinners. Veteran Mummers recruit good-in-action Lliiran clergy or devout worshippers (that is, individuals who strongly revere Lliira, venerating her before all other deities) to become Mummers. They act as mentors and tutors to those recruits.
Most Mummers are lithe and athletic, even acrobatic, but Mummers can be of any class capable of devoutly worshipping Lliira.
Will Azoun find a door that will open? If he does, who -- or what -- waits behind it? It's beginning to look as if using the ring again might be wiser. See you next column . . .
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 . . .