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A Gift of Folly

Started by Johan, February 23, 2016, 01:18:25 PM

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Sherina Silkenvox – her stage name – was an actress in the Guilded Theater in Rhohannus. She was supremely gifted at her trade, and was strikingly lovely in her waning youth, and while she yet remained single she had many a gentleman caller who vied for her attention at the end of every show, and whose arms she adorned at all the social engagements of that City-State's most affluent district.

The reason, it was widely known, for her continued status as a single woman – so late into her mature years as she was – was because she was, beneath her unparalleled talents as an actress and beside her incomparable soprano tones (not to mention her obvious though fading beauty), utterly vapid.

The intellectual patrons of the Guilded Theater – the well-heeled social elite of Rhohannus – were accustomed to the flighty, capricious persona that was the hallmark of actors and actresses, but Sherina was another level of vacuous altogether.

Except...she wasn't. Not even remotely. In fact, as soon as Cameran had come to the Guilded Theater, he recognized that Sherina was not only not stupid, she was probably one of the smartest people he would ever come to know. The fact that for so many years – over two decades, in fact – she had led the entire elite of the City-State of Rhohannus to believe that she was an empty-headed ninny was testament as much to her acting talents as to her towering mental facilities.

Sherina recognized in Cameran a kindred spirit, apparently, and she spent years teaching him one powerful lesson after another, and the most powerful of them all was that it is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish. (~ Aeschylus).

And profit she did. And she brought Cameran along the way, teaching him the ways of the true actor...the performance, the schemes, the plots, the ploys, the twists and intricacies, and how to protect oneself in the company of what were often little more than human monsters. How to remain essentially anonymous in a City-State teeming with people who prided themselves on assessing and exploiting...owning, if one must state it factually...other people.

Be wiser than other people, if you can, but do not tell them so (~ Lord Chesterfield). This was the boiled-down essence of Sherina's most oft-iterated cautions to Cameran. It was this lesson above all others that Cameran took to heart, as he had taken Sherina's friendship and maternal love.

It was this lesson that Cameran took with him when his father had informed him that Cameran would be journeying to Kurr, to live there with one of Cameran's father's long-time business acquaintances (they weren't truly friends, like them didn't typically have friends, just business acquaintances that one might leverage for the betterment of their own positions), one Friedrick Fitzsimmons.
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Friedrick Fitzsimmons was the Master of Scribes in Kurr, though he referred to himself as the "Headmaster". Cameran's initial assessment of Fitzsimmons was that the Headmaster was disingenuous, to say the least. With all due elegance and grace he welcomed Cameran into his home, but his eyes belied his wide smile. It was immediately clear to Cameran that he was an inconvenience to Fitzsimmons, to say the least.

In the way of getting to know Cameran, Fitzsimmons entertained his houseguest a bit over-lavishly during Cameran's first month or so in Kurr. Cameran became a focal point for many a pointed conversation – fishing expeditions, actually – among Fitzsimmons and his associates. At dinner parties, lunches, and other social engagements (all attended by Fitzsimmons' business associates) the questions were routinely the same: 'What does your father do?' 'Is that old money, or is he a self-made man?' 'Whatever will Prince Ravenwood do with those insubordinate, treasonous Barons turning their backs to him and allying with the savages?' Spearson, they reckoned almost to a one, was the primary thorn in the Prince's side, and to deal with him would be to deal with Jalgraxa and K'Aviak. Then, they supposed, the savages would be a non-issue and come to heel to the civilized nation.

Cameran, for his part, played Sherina's part. 'Oh, Father buys and sells...I don't pay overmuch attention to his business...I haven't the head for it.' 'He's had his money longer than he's had me!' 'Can you imagine the sorts of theater there must be in the savage lands?' 'That Prince Ravenwood must be a busy man you know that he never once has stepped foot into the Rhohannus' Theater! Imagine!' 'Gads, man! Your cravat is impeccable! However do you tie that so perfectly?!?!' 'Oh, a reel! I love a reel! Might I borrow your niece for this dance?' 'Remind me: Spearson is an Earl, is he not?'

Within a month, it seemed clear that Fitzsimmons and his associates had decided that Cameran was completely useless to them. Gone were the interviews, the prodding conversations, the smiles that were at odds with the glares and leers. Now, though they still showed their teeth, their eyes were condescending and their invitations were for Cameran to entertain their daughters and nieces – sometimes their wives – and keep them distracted so that the men could conduct their business.

Cameran engaged himself during the days with the Northguild Theater, where he was surprised to hear that he was expected...Sherina had sent word to them that Cameran would be in the city, and that he would doubtless end up there. He therefore had work immediately.

As a guest in Fitzsimmons' home, though, we was expected to accompany the Headmaster to the social engagements at Vallensun Keep or at other well-appointed estates in the city. Of late, though, Cameran was left more or less to the attention of the ladies of the society. He had been gaining a name for the few parts in the plays that he had taken, and at such social engagements he had become known for his command of the dance floor and his telling of tales from his native Rhohannus.

Such as it was, Cameran was all but invisible to the leadership of Kurr, while yet being in their frequent company. Simultaneously, his growing social circle was in similar circumstances, being largely the daughters of that leadership, each of them hearing a snippet here or there. These snippets, taken singly or even doubly, didn't mean much of anything. But taken in their aggregate, knitted together over time, they told Cameran that Fitzsimons was very much other than what he seemed: a devoted and loyal member of Arch-Duke Corwynn Vallensun's royal staff.
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The Northguild Theather was nearly as much a home to Cameran as the Guilded Theather in Rhohannus was. But like many other things in life: your first is always your fondest. Still, in Kurr Cameran had made a great friend out of the Northguild Theather's owner, one Perith Corrina.

Perith was a dear friend of Sherina, and she took over Cameran's education as a favor to Sherina. And both Cameran and Perith delighted in it. Two years of working in the Northguild Theater with Perith – and occasionally Sherina when she visited – had taught Cameran much about the art of acting. About leading people to believe what they might or might not want to believe and about understanding which was which, even if your audience didn't themselves know.

Two years of entertaining noble daughters, nieces, and wives (in one way or another) had enabled him to piece together many schemes that permeated the upper crust of Kurr, some benign and merry, some foolish, and some nefarious, if not outright treasonous.

Most of these schemes he simply watched. Some he manipulated through to realization and others he manipulated to failure, but carefully: always in such a way that he could not be implicated in the final results.

Two years of living as a member of Friedrick Fitzsimmons' household fairly turned Cameran's stomach. It had taken rather a long time to piece together Fitzsimmons' persona, but the Headmaster's schemes were more often than not outright treasonous. In a few cases Cameran took measures to ensure those schemes failed, but he needed to do so judiciously, lest Fitzsimmons or his associates deduce that the empty-headed thespian was connected with those failures.

At the beginning of Venric, Valley Year 237 Cameran became aware of Fitzsimmons' most bone-chilling plot yet.

This plot included kidnapping, blackmail, possible murder, and agents from Xanthakos. Black tidings indeed. Good thing for Cameran that he was so stupid...
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Duthash Gyth Arkus (May 28) VY 237

One of Cameran's favorite people in Kurr was a beautiful honey-blonde brown-eyed Herald of Vallensun Keep. Cameran never considered Sabine a source of information, though every now and then a seemingly meaningless tidbit of information escaped from her that Cameran found interesting indeed.

Over a post-rendezvous breakfast just a few days before Qwydeon, just such an interesting tidbit made itself known: after a brief absence, a longtime member of Vallensun's court and personal friend of Sabine's – Sayer – had returned to Kurr the previous night and had brought with him a small contingent of comrades.

Sayer was one person in Kurr that Cameran avoided whenever possible. It was Camerans' belief that the odd, enigmatic, silken advisor to the Arch-Duke saw through people as an owl sees through the night, and Cameran fretted that his otherwise  formidable façade would not survive even the most casual encounters with the advisor. Sayer was altogether too shrewd, too intelligent for Cameran to be comfortable around.

But Sayer was also loyal to the Arch-Duke, and utterly trustworthy, according to Sabine, and Cameran had come to similarly trust Sabine and her loyalty to Corwynn Vallensun and his sister, the Duchess Nicola.

Despite Cameran's acquired aversion to Sayer, his coming just then was  fortuitous timing indeed. With a little finesse, Cameran thought he must be able to get Sayer to unravel Fitzsimmons'      black scheme.

Only how...
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Duthash Gyth Aryor VY. 237 (May 30)

After a night of pacing his rooms, Camaran set out for Vallensun Keep, hopeful that he might be able to spot Sayre and his companions when they might emerge from that keep on their investigation.

He still hadn't figured out how to help without actually interacting with the counselor, but he was optimistic that an opportunity would present.

Sayre emerged from the keep soon enough, with an odd and rough-looking outlander in tow, and Camaran followed the pair to the Courier's Post.

Although it was yet early in the day, there were always a number of youths near the Courier's Post...youths with no home, for the most part, looking for a running task from the Courier Master that might earn them a breakfast. By way of camouflage Camaran set himself to telling the children a story which, combined with a little slight-of-hand to make a stone disappear from a hand and reappear behind an ear, allowed the actor to hide in plain sight while watching the interactions between Sayre and the Courier Master.

This brief observation made another thing clear to Camaran: Sayre's companion was a wary fellow, indeed. By the looks of his dress, the outlander was a trailmaster, and by the looks of his bulbous eyes this trailmaster was very uncomfortable.

The two investigators weren't at the Courier's Post long, but they were there long enough for Camaran to see that they were being watched by one of the older youths in the square.

When Sayre and the outlander left the square, apparently headed back to the Keep, this youth slithered off, eyeing the pair with a look of disgust and pride in his young eyes. What he did not notice was that Sayre's odd outlander companion had made note of the youth, much as Camaran had.

Camaran hurried his story along to the children, trying to keep an eye on both Sayre and the suspicious youth. The youth disappeared around a corner in short order, and Camaran headed to the Keep, hoping to arrive there to see Sayre and his companion arrive there such that Camaran might not appear to be following them.

Although he still didn't have a plan, and that bothered him.

The only thing that bothered him more than not having a plan was that a half of a hand later, as he neared Vallensun Keep, Camaran spotted Sayre and his companion in a carriage that rattled past and rolled down the broad avenue towards the city gates.

This sort of frustration would only be assuaged by a breakfast with Sabine...Camaran plodded on towards the keep.
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This is fun seeing the story from a different angle!

One should never underestimate the stimulation of eccentricity


Camaran was not able to get a lot out of Sabine, but there was a little.

Sayre and Jarmok - that was Sayre's odd companion - were only to be gone a day or so. The pair had spent the previous evening and a bit of this morning in collecting an understanding of the nuances of how the Arch Duke Vallensun communicated with other folks around the realm.

How did Vallensun's messages get to paper? How did the paper get to the mail? How did the mail make its way from Kurr to where-ever?

But not just to where-ever. Although the subtlety appeared to be lost on Sabine, it appeared to Camaran it was to Threshold in particular. Sabine suggested that the route to Threshold was being scrutinized only because that's where Sayre and Jarmok were from of late, but Camaran's instinct told him that Threshold was a bit of a key here.

Bits of half-memories surfaced of Fitzsimmons entertaining his associates. Camaran had known for some time that these men spoke in some code, emphasizing words here or there at odd times. One of the oft-over-emphasized words was "Threshold".

"Well, my dear Fitzsimmons, it seems that we are on a THRESHOLD of an agreement then." Rubious might say.

"Be careful of my THRESHOLD, Mr. Burgant." Camaran had heard Fitzsimmons say. "It's a bit SHADOWY these days and hazardous to the LOCALS. Let me bring a lantern to ensure that you do not trip as you leave."

So the investigation, then, was in regards to messages being sent at least TO, and possibly FROM Threshold, and specifically TO and FROM Vallensun himself, very likely.

Well, Fitzsimmons, in his role as Master of Scribes could well have affected such transitions to his wishes. It also explained the morning at the Courier Masters and could possibly explain the youth who eyed Sayre and Jarmok in the square.

Camaran took his leave of Sabine, making a date with her for later in the week, after his performance at the Northguild Theater. As he wandered slightly aimlessly through Kurr, he began writing his play.

Given the mischief afoot, how would he write the play from this point forward? He walked and wrote.

Fitzsimmons would be was too confident for nervous, but he would be setting things in motion at any rate. Moving his pieces on the game board, as it were.

But he would not move against Sayre and Jarmok...that would be too suspicious, unless it happened on the road. Given that they had seemed to be headed south, they could only be going to Kelvin's Bridge, which was but a day away. Not enough time to move to ambush them (such a plan took longer than an hour to affect).

So what would he do? Well, he would hold a luncheon, no doubt! He would convene with his conspirators to update his network and ensure that all tracks were covered.

And speaking of tracks, he would also ensure that the people to whom Sayre and Jarmok spoke this day were reminded of their allegiances.

Camaran stopped abruptly and looked around to see where he was. He needed to get back to the Courier Master to see who might pay him a visit next.
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Cameran recognized Sargent Farkus immediately. The borderline slovenly Sargent of Kurr's guard was a man that Cameran had encountered once or twice and though they had never spoken, Cameran knew the Sargent's reputation well.

Capable, but untrustworthy...stupid, by and large, and mean: a bad combination indeed.

Cameran hadn't previously been aware that Farkus was in Fitzsimmon's pocket, but by the way that the self-important Sargent was bullying the Courier Master the relationship was clear.

Farkus left the encounter smirking in what appeared to Cameran to be gross self-satisfaction and the youth from earlier had an arrogant gleam in his eye even as he tried to seem like he wasn't paying attention.

The Courier Master was shaken somewhere between furious and deathly frightened.

And while Cameran had a little more information, he still had no plan whatever.
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For some time now Cameran had been feigning the writing of a play: The story of Mad Dog McGee was based on story he had heard in Rhohannus and he used the writing of the work from time to time when he wanted to be in places that might be inconvenient to Fitzsimmons.

Today was just such a day. Cameran returned to Fitzsimmon's home with the goal of being slightly inconvenient. He might not be able to hear anything, but he would certainly better learn the players.

Cameran's guess had been good: Fitzsimmons was home when the bard arrived. Cameran decided to enter the viper's den glibly. "My dear Frederick," he drawled. "I wonder if you could listen to the next piece of my play. You see..." but it was Cameran who could see: Frederick Fitzsimmons was in no mood to listen to the thespian's childish pursuits.

Fitzsimmons was in his office with two of his frequent accomplices: Mr. Rubious, whose wife was nearly as heinous as he himself was, and Mr. Channing, whose rather homely daughter was more interested in creature comforts than anyone Cameran had ever known.

Cameran stopped rather short in the entrance to the office. "Ah, I see that you are busy though. My abject apologies." He quieted and backed out. "I will retire to the gardens to think on my developments...we can discuss it as we sup tonight." He said. Fitzsimmons and his guests only glared at him.

Cameran went to walk the gardens and see if anyone else showed up, and when who left. It would be a long evening, it seemed.
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Rubious. Channing. Burgant. Escath. Farling. Barrrun. Wrasthill.

They arrived one by one and departed in much the same way while Cameran paced the gardens waving his arms ludicrously and mumbling to himself nonsensically. Anything that would make the meeting-goers think that Cameran was quite distant. No one brought wives, daughters, or nieces from whom Cameran might otherwise glean a clue.

As Kossuth dipped low in the sky they all left in a group, somber and dark. Cameran made a few inarticulate shouts in mock frustration as he stomped about the gardens. Fitzsimmons eyed him, seeming to try to decide whether to approach or not. Ultimately the Headmaster climbed into his hansom and swept out of the estate gate.

Whatever should happen, these were names that the Archduke Vallensun should know a thing or two about.

Cameran went into the house after the clatter of Fitzsimmon's horse could be heard no more. All was quiet.
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Cameran made a slight meal for himself and ate of it absently as he considered the game.

Fitzsimmons was greatly troubled...tonight's meeting was evidence of that: the worst of the worst in attendance, no escorts, all clearly put out.

These iron men was shaken because of Sayer's inquiries into the mail delivery. The Arch Duke's mail delivery to be specific. And to Threshold, to be more specific still. It seemed clear to Cameran that the mechanisms that these men had in place were in clear danger by virtue of Sayer's investigation. Else, why the long faces?

By now, Cameran was sure, Sayer must be at Kelvin's Bridge; he would return no sooner than tomorrow evening.

Sayer would no doubt figure out what was going on, and no doubt soon. How would he prove it?

The story would unfold from here with the questioning of Farkus as well as the Courier Master and the suspicious youth. This would yield the ultimate manner in which the mail was being tampered with, and possibly implicate Fitzsimmons.

There was no way that Cameran could help with the actual questioning, but it was clear to him that the weak link in these suspects was the youth. The Courier Master would admit nothing initially...Fitzsimmons and Farkus had something on him. What, exactly, Cameran couldn't tell. Possibly just the promise of a Xanthakain death, but possibly more. Family, past indiscretions...who knew? Something physical though, from the looks of how Farkus handled the matter.

Farkus would never admit anything, as he was too stupid and confident in his shield - Fitzsimmons. Cameran wondered for a moment whether Farkus understood that Fitzsimmons would abandon Farkus when it was convenient. Not likely; the sergeant didn't have that sort of forethought in his skill set.

Back to the youth. Cameran thought that if he could rattle the lad's mind a little, without being obvious, then when it came time for Sayer to question the lad, he would be primed. Cameran could do that. There were many old stories about what happens to expendables when they at last become uncovered. Cameran would go to the Courier's Post in the morning to tell such tales to the children. The boy was always there, and Cameran would make sure that he heard.

Then there would be the eventual search of Fitzsimmons' estate. It would be easy enough for Cameran to leave evidence of the Headmaster's schemes. Fitzsimmons kept most of his secrets stashed away under the floor in his study, the panel covered under an expensive carpet. Cameran could easily make it obvious that the carpet had been moved recently and leave it to Sayer's Trailmaster to spot.

Thirdly, a note to reach Sabine about a day or two after Fitzsimmons was finally unmasked. Cameran determined to write the names of Fitzsimmons' allies - easy enough to disguise the handwriting - and have a lame old woman deliver it to the mail in timely fashion. There was plenty of time, and with the Northguild Theater's makeup and wardrobe producing such an old woman would be easy.

Finally, there would be leaving Kurr.

THIS story would continue in Threshold, he was sure.
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