By Carl R Cascone
Fooling the World, is the property of the author, Carl R Cascone and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email Carl with any comments and feedback on this story.
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body smashed into the corner of the back wall in the Thirsty Throat Tavern,
narrowly missing Rizzen's head. "Damn these infernal tavern rabble,"
Rizzen said as he slammed his book onto the splintering, ale-moist table surface.
He looked down to the unconscious body lying on the floor next to him and scowled.
Rizzen came to the tavern this evening to study the profit journal of his merchant coster, The Black Mask Trading Priakos, and he was hoping for a little privacy. Usually the other patrons left him alone out of fear, but this evening, the brawl got especially heavy. He was just getting an accurate figure of what Seeragath the caravan leader was skimming when some rude patron, threw an adversary Rizzen's way.
Rizzen closed his book, and tucked it under his arm. He passed by several brawlers who made a point to stay out of his path. Rizzen stopped at the tavern's door. A sign that intrigued him was posted upon it. There was very little light in the tavern, but Rizzen's dark tuned eyes could still read the sign.
BOUNTY FOR THE BODY OF XAUROS
Offering 80,000 gold for the body,
DEAD or ALIVE
of Xauros, the owner of the
BLACK MASK TRADING PRIAKOS
Bring Xauros to Dagger Alley to collect
Rizzen smiled, and reached into his belt pouch. He withdrew a black silk mask; much like the one he wore to hide his face. He had the entire land fooled. The magical silk mask he held allowed him to assume any image he wished as long as that image was humanoid. One of the images he chose was that of Xauros, a gold elf tycoon. Rizzen used that disguise to operate the humongous Black Mask Trading Caravan and fleet, a very respectable business. His true identity of Rizzen was kept separate from Xauros by appointing himself the investigator for the charming tycoon. Rizzen was an outlaw, and as long as the authorities and monarches thought he was working respectably, they would leave him alone.
All of that was about to change, for Rizzen was growing bored with the respectable life, and missed the profession of thief and adventurer. He planned to end the life of the false identity of Xauros, and the sign gave him an idea for the perfect way how.
Rizzen walked out of the tavern onto Slut street. The distorted reflection of the moon on the harbor bathed the street in an eerie glow. The street was empty, so Rizzen sat against the wall of the Thirsty Throat and opened his ledger.He reviewed it over and over to be sure he had all the evidence he needed. The wares of several caravans that paid tariffs to Waterdeep, were never entered into the journal. Therefore the profits and gold never went to Black Mask, and more importantly, never made it to Rizzen. Seeragath did not cover his bases well. He should have bribed some of Waterdeep's authorities to ignore the caravans, that at least would have kept Rizzen's investigation away. Seeragath was using the embezzled money to help fund the noble family of Anteos in their slave trade, and some of Rizzen's agents delivered a document proving this, right into his hands. Yes, he had all the evidence he needed against Seeragath, and now it was time for an audit.
* * * *
Seeragath stared out of the office window facing lamp street. He looked out over the empty marketplace; its only inhabitants were silence and darkness. He puffed on his duskwood pipe and walked back to his desk. The skinny man picked up a silver, bejeweled cup of orange Calimshan Tea lying on it, and took a drink. His hands were shaking. Xauros sent a messenger telling him that Rizzen would be coming to evaluate his work. Seeragath took a couple deep breaths to maintain his wavering composure.
Xauros sent Rizzen to motivate the caravan leaders when business was down, and Waterdeep's business appeared to be way down. He prayed that Xauros did not know of his dealings with the Anteos clan, and Seeragath made sure the books were rigged to make it seem that the caravans sent to him were never received. He shrugged, Rizzen probably would only tell him to reevaluate his strategy and the revenues would increase, like the masked elf always said.
The door to Seeragath's chamber opened and a guard wearing the tabard of the Black Mask Trading Priakos entered the office. "Rizzen is here to see you Lord Seeragath," the guard said.
The leader stared emptily at the guard for several moments before overcoming the lump in his throat. "Send him in," Seeragath said, trying to look stern.
"As you wish my lord," a smirk formed on the guard's face when he noticed Seeragath's discomfort. He left the room and Seeragath swallowed dryly when he heard the guard say, "Lord Seeragath will see you now."
"Thank You," Seeragath heard Rizzen reply in a condescending and contemptuous tone.
The caravan leader stood at his desk watching the shadows from the torches. Within seconds the shadows took on a humanoid appearance, and an eddy of darkness followed. The shadows moved with the figure as if they were under its command. Seeragath's breath became faster as the shadow moved towards him, his eyes became wide with fear.
"Good evening 'lord' Seeragath. I see you have had no aversion exercising your authority," the wraith-like figure said in a voice holding naught but contempt. "Xauros will be pleased to hear that you are taking your role as leader to heart."
Seeragath focused on the sound of Rizzen's voice and momentarily regained his composure. He saw a lithe man, about as tall as himself dressed in utter black, with a dark cloak flowing behind. The black mask stretched over the angular contours of the face allowed purple eyes to reflect from behind it. Seeragath shuddered at the sight. "Is there something wrong?" Rizzen asked. His voice rang with amusement.
"No. Nothing here is wrong, I mean nothing's wrong at all. Anywhere. The wind it made me cold," Seeragath fumbled over the words like a child tripping through mud.
Rizzen stared at him with sharp purple eyes for a moment, which to Seeragath, seemed like an eternity. "Please. Have a seat. After all this is your office," Rizzen said.
"Yes... Yes I will. Please be seated," Seeragath said.
"Why Thank You."
"What can I do to help you Lord Rizzen?"
"Lord Rizzen? I like the sound of that. Xauros would not be pleased to hear you calling other people lord. It might lead him to believe your allegiance is...wavering." The contours of the mask formed a malicious smile.
"No no, not at all Lord, um I mean Rizzen. I only meant it as a manner of respect to one of your-,"
"Yes, Yes I've been told it all before," Rizzen said. "Anyway, as you probably know, Xauros sent me here because business is not where it should be for a city of this value. Are you able to handle this job? I could always send you out as a caravan master on route if you think this to much."
"Not at all. Its just that its the first of the month, and the middle of winter. It is difficult to get caravans through this time of year, and many caravans get lost on route."
"But Scornubel seems to have no problem releasing caravans," Rizzen drew a dagger out of a hidden sheath and caressed its point. Seeragath stared at the dagger. "Well?" Rizzen asked, "Why have they released caravans?"
"They must not be concerned about the welfare of their workers. Perhaps none of the Scornubel caravans made it here," Seeragath said confidently. The leader opened up a book on the desk and slid it towards Rizzen. "Here, see for yourself."
Rizzen stuck the dagger blade into the desk top near the book. Seeragath's eyes strained to watch the blade, making sure that is where it stayed. "Ah. I see you did not receive several caravans sent from Scornubel. That would explain why the coffers have been low. Perhaps you have been doing your job."
Seeragath smiled and said, "Yes Yes. I keep accurate accounts of everything."
"Perhaps Seeragath. However, something puzzles me," Rizzen said. "Inspection of the city's tariff ledgers show that the cargo from some of these missing caravans have been taxed."
"What ever do you mean?" Seeragath's face flushed.
"Look." Rizzen took a book from... somewhere Seeragath could not see. He opened it up nearly to the tomes middle and placed it on the desk. "You see, some of these, no all but five of these caravans have paid tariffs on their wagon loads. They made it to Waterdeep. Ah! I know, they just did not make it to the paddocks."
"Yes that must be it!" Seeragath said. "The guards of the city are corrupt! We must do something about them!" Seeragath was desperate and was hoping he could pass the blame to the guards. "We should confront the lords of the city and get Xauros' money back!"
"Lords like yourself?" Rizzen asked sarcastically. "Is that Calimshan tea your drinking?" He nodded towards the silver bejeweled cup on the desk.
"Yes Rizzen. The finest. Would you like some?"
"You can get this tea even in the middle of winter?" Rizzen let the question hang, and pulled the cup towards him. "Let me smell it first. I love the smell of Calimshan tea." Rizzen passed his hand over the cup's top in a gesture that looked as though he was waving the steam towards his mask.
"No thank you," he replied and pushed the cup back to the leader. "Yes we should get Xauros' money back. I have here also...," Rizzen reached somewhere near him for several moments, and drew from someplace another book, "The Scornubel register."
"Well it seems to show that several caravan masters that never made it to your paddocks, like masters Lucas, Shiel, and Wellpert, returned to Scornubel with full cargos sent from here. See, Leader Tarnock signed them in himself," Rizzen said.
"It must... It must be some mistake!" Seeragath yelled when he noticed the lithe elf pull the dagger out of the desk and cock it ready to throw. "Rizzen we know Tarnock is incompetent," he said pleading.
"Really, I didn't know this. But you are starting to prove like him."
"I did not send them there Rizzen!" Seeragath pleaded, visibly sweating.
"Yes! Perhaps Delbrawn Anteos sent those caravans!" Rizzen snarled.
Seeragath was speechless, and surveyed the room for an exit. Rizzen had Seeragath right in his maw.
"Don't worry Seeragath, Xauros applauds your efforts of building our reputation up with the Waterdeep nobility," Rizzen said, sheathing his dagger.
Seeragath smiled and relaxed. He had fooled the frightening investigator after all.
"Relax Seeragath, take a drink," Rizzen said compassionately.
"Yes. I suppose I should," Seeragath said. He was calmer now and raised the bejeweled cup to his lips for a drink.
"Well you have sufficiently proven that you are doing your job well, and I will let Xauros know of the bookkeeping mistakes in Scornubel," Rizzen said.
Seeragath took a long sip of the tea. He smiled and with
more composure, he spoke. "Thank you Rizzen. I was confidant that. . ."
were the only words Seeragath could say before his throat seized and gagged.
Suddenly his body washed over with a burning sensation, as he felt Rizzen's
poisoned tea take effect.
"You fool! Did you think for a second I would fall for any of your excuses! You did not cover all of your angles, you were just not meant to be a thief."
Seeragath dropped the silver cup when his hands succumbed to the deadly poison, and Rizzen's nimble hand caught it before it hit the desk top. "We can't damage such a splendid cup, now can we," Rizzen said as he gently placed the cup on the desk. "You should watch more carefully when people are merely sniffing your drink."
Seeragath's eyes pleaded with Rizzen until they rolled back. Several gasps later, Seeragath hit the floor, his last breath fleeing into the darkness.
Rizzen scowled at Seeragath's cooling body. He again withdrew the magical silk mask from his beltpouch. "You will fetch me quite a bounty Seeragath. You mark the end of my sweet little business," Rizzen said and he placed the silk mask over Seeragath's dead horrified expression. The magic worked in minutes, and soon Seeragath's form matched that of a dead gold elf; he looked just like Xauros. Rizzen laughed beneath his mask. "You look better dead Seeragath."
* * * *
Ralith watched the guard come into his office, wearing a bored expression. "Another bounty hunter is here, claiming to have Xauros' body. Do you wish to see him."
"Is it for real this time?" Ralith asked.
The guard was about to speak, but a sudden strike at his back dropped him to the floor. Rizzen stood behind the guard with the body of Xauros lying next to him.
"Yes I am for real!" Rizzen snapped.
Ralith's eyes widened, "Guards! Intruder!" he yelled and drew out a long rapier. Rizzen was obviously sent by Xauros to assassinate him, and the guards fell right into the ploy.
"Relax Ralith!" Rizzen snapped, and he slid the Xauros disguised body of Seeragath to the merchant lord. "Your bounty was far to tempting. Eighty thousand gold is more than Xauros pays me in a year. The betrayal was worth the money. I trust you'll come through."
Ralith inspected the body. "You really did kill Xauros," he said. "I wouldn't want you working for me." Rizzen laughed at the comment and smiled beneath his mask.
"Get the gold allotted for the bounty," Ralith yelled to the guards in the hall. "We must go outside," Ralith motioned for Rizzen to follow him.
Rizzen followed the merchant outside where a huge cart filled with gold was waiting. "Of course you must provide your own transportation."
"Of course," Rizzen said. He withdrew a folded black cloth from a pocket. When he unfolded it, a ten foot wideblack circle formed. He placed it next to the cart.
"Would you mind getting some guards to help me tip the wagon?" Rizzen asked the merchant.
Ralith looked at him like he was mad, then shook his head. "What are you going to do, pour the gold on your cloth, wrap it up, tie it to a stick and walk home?"
Rizzen's eyes changed from purple to red. "Just do it," he said threateningly. Ralith was not going to argue.
"Do as he said," Ralith ordered, and the guards helped tip the wagon. The contents of the wagon dumped onto the black circle, but instead of piling on it, the gold fell through it, as if it was a big hole. When the wagon was empty, Rizzen folded up the black circle. "A solution always exists if you are willing to cheat," Rizzen said, dangling the cloth in front of Ralith. "Until swords part," he said and waved a farewell.
Rizzen left the merchant smiling. He was truly proud. Rizzen recollected a saying he once heard; someone he tricked told it to him once, but Rizzen liked to alter it. You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but if your good, that's when you can fool all of the people, all of the time.
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