J. King: The Diamond

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J. King The Diamond
  • Название:
    The Diamond
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J. Robert King, Ed Greenwood

The Diamond


Rumination and Ruination

What a nuisance, death. No one's polite to a dead man… even if the departed is the Open Lord of Waterdeep.

A few manservants'd get the boot if Holy Tyr's justice had aught to say about it. They hoist me like a grainsack, drop me into coffins to check the fit, knock my head against any cornice or filigree that presents itself, leave me lying however I land, and never deign to straighten garments gathered at my knees or wadded up at my back.

On the second day of my demise, I was hung in the meat cellar with the rest of the perishables. Simon the stablehand happened along to pilfer some cheese, and took the opportunity to pose me provocatively with a three-foot-long Sembian sausage. If I hadn't once been a mischievous lad myself, I'd have him hanged like High Forest venison. If I'd not been mischievous… and weren't now as dead as Bane the Accursed.

I must be dead. Even Khelben thinks so. No breath. No pulse. Yet I can sense everything going on around me. I'm haunting my own corpse! Once it decays, perhaps my ghost will be able to move, haunting the entire Palace of Waterdeep. That would be considerably more interesting.

That is, if my body decays. I'm no mage, but I suspect the spell Khelben cast a tenday ago, bursts of brimstone and blue wildfire crawling all over my skin, somehow preserved me. That'd be just my luck. There's little fun in haunting a casket; no wonder ghosts get peevish.

Ah, here's proof of my suspicions: a dwarven smith. Hello, goodsir! Not that you can hear me. Your name, fellow? Hornbeak Goldglimmer? Hammerhead Nailwhacker? Dullasrocks Stinkbreath? And what have you there? A set of measuring rods, a pair of fat-nibbed quills, and a rolled-up set of plans for… for a glass-covered coffin? Lovely.

Get your thumb away from my eyes! Ge-aughh, darkness again!

That's the most frustrating thing about being dead. Whenever one of my eyelids shrinks back enough to let me see what's going on, somebody slides them closed. They'll probably sew them shut one of these days.

What good'll a glass-topped coffin be then?

Chapter 1

Death Comes for the Open Lord

Four young acolytes solemnly lit their tapers.

Piergeiron is dead. Khelben Blackstaff Arunsun, the Lord Mage of Waterdeep, sighed in defeat as the trumpets, glauren, longhorns, and drums began their solemn dirge. It was chilly where he sat, on a bench of polished marble in the balcony of the palace chapel. The stone was cold and hard after the dark-stained wooden pews. The whole chapel had turned cold and hard. It had died along with its lord.

I can scarce believe, after all these years, that he's truly gone.

Yet there he lay, in a gleaming casket of gold and glass, master-work by the best crafters in all the Sword Coast. Cold and beautiful and dead. Sages said beauty and truth were the same thing. If that was so, the Open Lord, arrayed in silks and wools, gold and gems, was beautifully and truly dead.

Interesting, thought Khelben, watching four acolytes and four candles drift in stately procession up the chapel aisle, that beauty and truth are so coldly meaningless without life.

Shaleen, so long dead and long mourned, lay in her own coffin beside her husband. The Lord Mage himself had exhumed and restored her body to beauty. Khelben Arunsun could make her whole and beautiful again, but without the aid and approval of Holy Mystra, he could not give her life. And with Shaleen, as with so many others, Mystra had given him only her holy silence. In the days and years to come, Piergeiron and his bride would lie side by side in the center of the chapel.

Khelben sighed again. His breath ghosted in the chill air, rising past fresh-painted plaster to disappear among polished ribs of white marble. Yes, the chapel was beautiful in its gold, silver, and limestone, aglow with bejeweled chandeliers. Its aisles lay like brushed snow under white carpets from Shou Lung, stretching past ranks of bleached oak panels, reaching up between each pillar to round windows of gem-studded stained glass. Once more, the Eye of Ao stared out in radiant perfection from the greatest window above the gathered throng. The artisans had done well. Damnably well.

Khelben had ordered the chapel refurbished to delay this funeral, the official proclamation of Piergeiron's death. It would take months, he'd thought, to haul away the cracked and fire-blackened pews, the sword-scarred panels of mahogany, the shards of shattered stained glass, bloodstained rugs and twisted, ruined lanterns. It would take longer still to replace them all. Until the chapel stood bright and complete once more, the Lord Mage could hold off the hordes of glint-toothed nobles and finger-cracking guildmasters hoping to personally replace their dead Open Lord.

But here it was, a month hence, and the work was finished.

The nobles and guildmasters had done well… aye, damnably well.

They sat below, crowding the pews: nobles, guild-masters, magistrates, diplomats, secret lords and not-so-secret lords, senior guards: the best and brightest of Waterdeep. A gleaming, glittering forest of ermined shoulders, diamond necklines, high-coiffed hair, waxed mustaches, peacock feathers, whalebone stays, and features held just so by toning salves, minor magics, and even tiny clips and hidden strands of silk. The best and brightest.

Khelben had spent more than enough time among them to glimpse the monsters behind these masks.

Lasker Nesher was here, lord of an illicit logging empire. He was one of the most vocal contenders for the Open Lord's seat, stirring the rabble of Waterdeep with speeches that were half truth and all theater. Lasker had personally provided the bleached oak panels, rails, and bosses for the chapel "and other important palace rooms, out of love for the great Piergeiron." It was strange, indeed, that all the milled, polished wood came bearing inexpert spells of clairvoyance and clairaudience. Khelben hadn't removed the clumsy enchantments, but instead had overlaid them with spells that twisted all images and sounds into things menacing. Perhaps that's why the loving Lasker Nesher sat blinking between two new bodyguards, starched collar wilting against his clammy neck.

Then there were the Brothers Boarskyr. Loudly devastated by the disappearance of their kin Eidola of Neverwinter, the pair of oafs had used the misfortune as an excuse to move more or less permanently into the palace. While they awaited news of their cousin, they ravaged the palace stores of beef, sweetmeats, pork, and venison, and drank aisle after aisle of Piergeiron's private wine cellar. Both gained another pound each day they remained. The Lord Mage had grudgingly provided enchanted saddles so the Boarskyrs wouldn't break the backs of any more palace horses. Khelben wished he could send the two back to their rickety bridge and let it collapse beneath their combined enormity.

Plenty of other monsters sat in those pews, men and women as duplicitous and murderous as Eidola herself. Khelben was glad she hadn't returned and hoped she never would.

Not all the mourners here were monsters, the Lord Mage reminded himself. He watched a young boy light a candle flanking the raised dais where the caskets stood. Beside the boy hulked the man-giant Madieron Sunderstone, hair drooping in sorrow around his lowered face. Madieron had taken his master's death worse than most. As cheerful, powerful, and loyal as a sheepdog, Madieron had guarded Piergeiron from swords and shafts aplenty. But this last attack had been nothing he could fight, or, it seemed, even understand. The man had sat beside the gold and glass casket from the moment the Open Lord was interred there. Khelben wondered if, like a faithful guard dog, Sunderstone would sit beside it until he died of a broken heart. If there was such a thing as a true heart, Madieron had one.

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