Thursday, April 02, 2009

A...Bard's Tale

Trudging dolefully across a field of grain, careful not to make too great a disturbance should anyone be looking across the stalks at a distance, Claustrum Errant again cursed his ill luck. Just a week ago he had been close to being a rich, rich man…so close! And now here he was, robbed of his warm room and comfortable bed, his fine clothes ruined, his fortune…meager compared to what he was on the verge of acquiring but substantial nonetheless…all gone, abandoned when he took flight. Pausing for a moment to indulge in bout of self pity, the half-elven man continues his march through ankle deep mud and fertilizer, snorting in irritation at the necessity of ruining such fine boots.
Hours and miles later, Claustrum wearily climbs a broad limbed elm tree deep in the patch of woodlands he was slipping through, preferring not to be lying helpless in the dirt should any pursuer somehow have managed to follow him this far. Settling back against the bole of the large tree to try and find a somewhat comfortable position to sleep, he once again considers the events that brought him to this juncture in his life.

Born In the Absalom, the city at the center of the world, he was the son of a couple of well meaning, if self centered government employees. For a time in his childhood his father had even managed to rise to one of the low seats on The Council. True, it had been the sanitation commission, but it was still a moderately high position for a commoner. Thus, it was perhaps natural that Claustrum picked up a thing or two about manipulation and chicanery, lessons that were only enhanced and polished when he enrolled at the Absalom Hothouse, a school for bards where he specialized in acting and mimicry, beyond the requisite study of music and culture.
Upon graduation, he had found that the prevalence of performers within Absalom was so great, that the stiff competition made eking out a living in the city a daunting task unless one had a unique draw. Lacking a talent to readily distinguish himself from the others in his field, he set sail for the mainland to ply his trade there, expanding his act and hopefully sharpening it enough that he could return home and take a place of note in the Performer’s Guild.
He quickly realized however, that scrounging for coins and trying to win the favor of a crowd just to have money for food and shelter was not exactly what he had pictured when he had chosen his path in life. A responsive crowd was a great thing, and performing for one was rewarding, both in coin and in adulation, but all too often the same act that had made the crowd at one inn cheer and toss money on the stage would be greeted with bored stares, catcalls, or worse. So it was that when chance found him wandering the streets disguised as a local noble to gauge crowd reactions, that a merchant called him into his shop. The merchant began talking, oblivious to the fact that Claustrum was not the noble. He prattled on about some trade agreement that he and the noble were engaged in, and Claustrum quickly got the impression that this deal wasn’t exactly above the table. Quickly improving, Claustrum fabricated a story about how customs officials were starting to look more closely at their operations and that expenses to keep this deal going were going to be higher than anticipated. The merchant appeared distressed, but ultimately nodded his head and before he knew it, Claustrum was walking out of the merchant’s establishment with a heavy pouch of money at his side. Trying to appear casual, Claustrum slipped into an abandoned building to change back into his regular clothes and count the money in the pouch. A small fortune in gold and silver glittered in his hands…more money than he would make in 3 months of performances! Plans started to materialize themselves then, and in order to keep suspicions down, Claustrum acted as though he wasn’t suddenly far wealthier than he had been the day before, and did shows in local inns for another 3 days to middling acclaim before moving on as any other bard would do.
However, when he entered the next city, it was not as a wandering bard, but instead apparently a man of means, who represented a distant trading syndicate here to open trade channels within the city. So began his career as a con artist, convincing merchants and nobles of this or that, most often that he represented outside trade interests seeking to establish new trade routes and collecting money in the form of bribes necessary to bring more product into the cities he was currently staying in. He had built quite a system of it, and was living quite comfortably as he travelled from country to country, having access to small samples of many highly desirable trade items to serve as props in his acts of deception, and was quickly establishing how many of the countries on the mainland were connected through trade, quite often illicitly.
All of this knowledge he turned to his advantage, and it was all going quite well, until came to the city of Cassomir, a key port city on the northern coast of the Inner Sea along the Sellen River. Given the amount of trade that came through the city from the corrupt River Kingdoms to the north, Claustrum thought it easy pickings for his scheming.
With a practiced ear he soon had followed the gossip and rumors in the town and located his likely mark; a businessman named William who ostensibly operated several mills in the city and a sometimes trader in the shipping consortiums that controlled the flow of grain throughout the Inner Sea. Posing as the owner of a textile company from Sevenarches, he claimed to have recently rediscovered the lost Nystran secret of growing silkworms and was looking for partners to invest in the operation and to aid him in distributing the bolts of silk. Given the prodigious appetite for silk of the Talderian nobility, Claustrum quickly hooked his mark.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Claustrum revisited William to offer him samples of the silk, and even showing evidence of authenticity by producing a few silkworm eggs, which he had obtained at tremendous cost from a disgraced Zho weaver he had encountered months before. After that it was a simple matter to convince William to invest tens of thousands of gold in Claustrum’s nonexistent silk making business. He just had to return at the end of the week after contracts had been drawn up and the gold would be delivered, and Claustrum could waltz out of the city a very rich man, and then just disappear back into the world.
Unfortunately, that’s when it all fell apart. Walking back through the warehouse district to William’s offices to sign the paperwork, Claustrum heard a cry of pain, and being the inquisitive type, slipped into the shadows and went to investigate. Entering a dark warehouse, he crept softly behind a row of crates and peered around the edge to see what was occurring within. Two men held a third between them, likely a dockworker to guess by his clothing, his face as an almost indistinguishable mash of bruises and cuts. Before them was a burly half-orc who questioned the man about the loss of some goods, drugs from the sound of things. When the man failed to give a satisfactory answer the half-orc lifted the man’s head up and slammed his fist into his nose, crushing it with an audible pop of broken cartilage. From the shadows near the half-orc a voice spoke, and in that moment Claustrum’s blood turned to ice in his veins. The voice of William the Miller spoke harshly from just out of sight, “The fool knows nothing. I think this betrayal goes higher in the organization. Kill him, and throw his body in the sea, I have an appointment with a silk trader to keep.” “Yes sir, Mister Butcher, I’ll take care of him and find the real traitor,” replied the brute to the departing shadow, “see that you do Karl, I would hate for you to join him.”
No one had been in Cassomir didn’t know the name of Butcher Bill, one of the most notorious crime lords in the city, but he was very careful to never let his real identity be known so authorities were never able to catch him. His legendary brutality and cold-bloodedness ensured that betraying ones loyalty to him was an almost certain, if painful, trip to an early grave. And here Claustrum was, not only betraying him, but if word of this scam leaked out, making a fool of him as well! Remaining hidden until William’s thugs departed with the doomed man to give him time to calm his nerves somewhat, he slipped back out into the fading daylight and made straight for the edge of town. He wished he could return to his room to collect his things, but every moment he gave himself to get further ahead of the inevitable pursuit, the better. He had made a serious miscalculation on his choice of mark, and unless he got very far away, and disappeared even faster, it was likely to be a fatal mistake.

Awaking a few hours later, not rested, but at least refreshed enough to continue travel; Claustrum climbed down from the tree and set off deeper into the Verduran forest figuring the River Kingdoms would be a good place to lie low for a while. Even though his story to William had identified him as coming from Sevenarches, he had never been there before in his life and had used a fake name, so with a change of his clothing and hair, he should be able to disappear completely without much trouble. As for his lost riches, he pragmatically accepted their loss and decided that perhaps it was a sign from the gods that he abandon his schemes and go back to basics and see the world through his own eyes rather than through some character whose only purpose was to swindle money from those less clever than himself. Yes, that would be just the thing, to gather material again for his act so he could return home some day, because certainly his actions over the past several years could never be aired publicly, or privately for that matter. Butcher Bill likely was quite angry with him, and it would be impossible to say for absolute certain who might carry word back to him some day, the man reputedly was not one to let go of a grudge. Perhaps he would cut his hair short, and grow a short beard; few half elves could manage much facial hair but he was perhaps blessed with more human blood in that aspect, and nothing changed a face more readily than a beard. And different clothes, less flashy, perhaps earth tones that wouldn’t show dirt from travel, ah and a pendant to Fharlanghn around his neck would really show that he was just another adventuring bard travelling with a group of adventurers, even more distance from the persona he had adopted in Cassomir! With a renewed spring in his step, Claustrum Errant began to hum one of the old tunes he had learned in school as he made his way northward.

7 comments:

Degolar said...

What the fuck is this?!? A bard's tale? The bard's tale has been told. The epitome of bard-dom has been living on this site for years, and due to the perfection of his tale there can be no other. The class has been retired. So you can just suck it.

Aerin said...

No, the bard-sorcerer-prestige class has been retired, straight bard is still kosher!

Lummox said...

So... Claustrum's not gay?

Lummox said...

And he's Jewish?

Degolar said...

:-) Nice story. Sounds like a fun character to adventure with.

Hadrian said...

Very Han Solo/Jabba the Hutty.

Aerin said...

Huh, never really thought about it that way, I suddenly can't remember much about my inspirations, hmm...what were they...well, the tone is sort of Feist, as that's what I've been reading lately, though as far as his current appearance when he joins the party, I was sort of thinking a young Obi-Wan Kenobi.