Portrait Network of Anatoli Bridgewrecker
A small side-escapade by our fun-loving gnome
Sometime in the recent past…
Anatoli was in Greyhawk for the day. The Roughriders had rented out a small inn, the Whispering Willow, for their monthly festivus of drinking, and it was Anatoli’s time to bring the food (which was safely stacked in his Bag at the moment. Turning the corner, he sees the City Watch stacking the inn’s proprietor’s belongings on a wagon. Sarah, the kindly old matron who runs the inn is sitting on the buckboard of the wagon crying into a kerchief.
While Sarah is inconsolable, Anatoli is able to learn from the Watchmen that she’s been evicted per the parchment now posted on the inn front door on authority of the Debtor’s court. He’s able to get her and her wagon taken to a nearby inn who agrees to put her up. After a bit of warm food and tea, Sarah has calmed down. She explains that things have quickly run out of control lately. A bad element started appearing in the neighborhood a few months ago. The thugs scared away most of her business, and soon she fell into debt with the mead maker. Then just a few weeks ago, the mead maker came to tell her that her debt had been bought out by a merchant from the High Quarter. Soon this merchant’s representative came for a visit and demanded she repay the loan in full, but of course she couldn’t with business so bad. The Roughrider’s party was her last hope to pay off the loan, but all of a sudden yesterday she found out that the merchant had taken the loan to the debtor’s court. They said they notified her, but no notice appeared. So just yesterday afternoon the court declared the inn to be handed over the merchant.
This sounds extremely fishy to Anatoli, and he tells Sarah not to worry. He’ll look into it, and the Roughriders will to…after all, where were they going to party?
Anatoli’s able to learn through the court records clerk that the merchant who now owns the Whispering Willow is a relative new-comer, one Charles Ferdinand the IV of Hardby. Asking around with his contacts through the Merchant’s Guild, not much is known about Charles except that he is young, well-funded, and extremely ambitious. He’s already bought up several properties around town, and after just a few months has been making comments about running to be on the merchant’s council.
A short while later a richly dressed gnome merchant wanders into the coffee house which serves as the unofficial trading center of the Merchant’s Guild and sits down across the table from one Charles Ferdinand the IV. After the introductions are made, the conversation goes like this: the gnome says he has heard many promising things about Charles as a new merchant in town; Charles says everyone should plan to hear a lot more; the gnome offers to re-purchase the Whispering Willow because the owner is an old friend; the young piss-ant of a merchant laughs at him, refuses, and sneers that the old lady should have been more careful with her money. The gnome leaves without drinking the coffee he ordered.
While he sends a note to Sven to find a new party venue, Anatoli sits on a sunny park bench and thinks about the situation. He smells a rat. Soon he’s off for the Whispering Willow. Cut to an alleyway near the inn. A couple of unsavory types are relaxing drinking over a crate and rolling the bones. A shadow falls over the table as the dice get rolled. Where did the sun go? For that matter, where did the brick walls at both ends of the alley come from…and uh-oh, when did the fog roll in?
Anatoli soon strolls up a drainpipe to the rooftop highway leaving two wimpering thugs strung upside down by ropes in the alley having confirmed that someone fitting the description of Charles Ferdinand the IV’s head purser hired them to run off all the business from the Whispering Willow. Definitely a rat.
A few days later Charles is back in the coffee house conducting his morning business. Louise Avignon, one of the primary wine importers and a very important member of the guild enters accompanied by a man dressed in the kilts of the western tribes. They join Charles at his table, as Louise has an appointment with Charles to discuss a wine contract this morning. After a time, conversation at the table turns to the visitor, Ahmed, who has traveled far to Greyhawk to obtain rare art for trade back in his homeland. Ahmed raves over a particularly talented artist he found in the bazaar who makes enchanted paintings. Normally such works are extremely high priced, but this simple yet talented old woman is selling them for a much more reasonable fee. Louise agrees, as he has seen the artists’ works displayed in several of his client’s villas, this Mother Felpina Delver.
The next day Charles and his guard/no-neck thug are perusing the bazaar, searching for Mother’s tent. They find her rag-tag tent consisting of old oriental rugs sewn together in a remote corner. She waddles out with the help of her cane, a mass of wrinkles, a long crook nose, and eyes hidden under the shadow of the kerchief on her head. She is the vision of a stooped crone, coming barely past 4 feet tall. In the front part of the booth are displayed small desk paintings only. These show promise in style. However, these simply won’t do. Charles Ferdinand the IV must have a painting befitting his stature as an up and coming merchant. Showing him the paintings in the rear of the tent still doesn’t satisfy him. While much grander, Charles then insists on commissioning an original portrait, of course featuring himself prominently. Mother tries to refuse. She doesn’t normally work on commission. Charles insists and thunks down a pouch of silver and gold coins that he assures her will be more than adequate.
The next day Mother is led into the garden behind his villa for his session. Of all the tasteless scenes, he insists on being sketched shirtless riding a horse (Putin did it better). Mother closes her sketchbook at the end, waddling to the door and murmuring that she will do her best to do him justice very, very soon…
(two weeks later)
A long line of guests is pulling up in carriages in front of the Ferdinand mansion, everyone in the latest costume. Entering the ornate marble rotunda, guests are greeted by a massive covered portrait, the unveiling of which is the centerpiece of the night’s festivities. Many of ther Merchants Guild are here, including Anatoli. All of the festivities are over the top, and it is obvious that Charles wants to make an impression.
As the dancing winds down, ended by the call of the town crier who Charles has hired for the night, the guests gather for a speech by the host. Being relatively new to Greyhawk he has been anxious to seek to learn more about his new city. In his search, he has found a remarkable undiscovered talent and enchantress he says, one Mother Felpina Delver. With the unveiling there is polite applause followed by the press of guests to get a closer look.
The painting is centered around a shirtless muscular Charles obviously as a youth seated bareback atop a roan charger, leaping across a brook deep within an ancient forest. Moss covered boulders line the stream, and the depth of the old growth forest fades off into the murk.
The comments range from “Snicker, really, shirtless…as if he has a six pack like that” to " Now why did they mess up a perfectly good painting with the shirtless gent in it". The consensus whispers between guests by the end of the night is that while the subject of the commissioned painting is in bad taste, the remainder of the painting really is quite remarkable. The entire painting has a 3-D effect, the coat of the roan shines as if in sun, and the brook glistens and occasionally moves if watched closely. Many take note of the name and vow to search the artist out.
Shift to a couple of nights later. The party debris has all been cleaned up. It’s 4 am, and the mansion is dark and quiet. The portrait now hangs in Charles’ office behind his massive gold-inlaid desk. Had anyone been there and looking closely, they may have noticed a small glimmer of movement. Something comes, walking through the woods in the painting behind the horse-riding Charles. A small figure, dark and shadowy in the moonlight steps from behind the horse, and climbs out of the painting.
Pausing and making zero noise, the small figure almost hides behind the molecules in the air, scanning for trouble. He works his way around the room, never touching the floor, hanging from one surface or another. He expertly examines another small painting on the wall, then pulls it aside smirking at how obvious somebody would put a wall safe behind a painting. Thirty seconds later the safe is examined, traps disarmed, and door sprung. Surprisingly it’s a cheap model.
Inside the safe he rummages and pockets a large bag of gold coins, a small purse of very valuable gems, and a bundle of papers (including property deeds). A strange little box at the back catches his attention. It doesn’t test as trapped, so he carefully opens it. Within sits a small lump of obsidian black rock pulsing with interspersed veins of red. The veins begin to glow, and the temperature begins to drop in the room. Looking round, a darkness starts to coalesce a few feet away and a whisper is heard “Master Ferdinand what is thy bidding?” However the figure doesn’t wait around to see the form fully materialize. He’s casting a spell and quickly clamoring up into the painting and into the forest.
Many miles away a duplicate of the portrait hangs in a brightly lit room of unique construction. Spacious in size, there are no apparent exits. The walls are covered by numerous paintings large and small, floor to ceiling. Several comfortable chairs sit in the center facing the various walls. Many of the paintings are covered with thick oilcloth tarps.
The small dark figure comes running through the woods and climbs down from this second painting. Panting he quickly reaches up and drops a tarp over the painting. Relaxing and taking off his gloves he forgets that he tucked the box into his belt in haste. With a chime from his backpack he’s alerted to a visitor. With an audible pop a dark form materializes in the room’s corner.
“You thiefling are not my master. I will have your soul as payment” says the small demon, advancing menacingly.
There most certainly was an ‘Eeep’ uttered, and what followed was a blur of actions. An elephant appeared in the room trumpeting and engaging the demon. The gnomish figure disappeared from view, just as a series of lights exploded all around the demon. Fighting furiously back and forth the elephant and demon wreck many portraits from the walls. Backed into a corner the demon raises up in size to strike when suddenly its roar turns to a cry. A shortsword and dagger appear sticking it through. As it drops forward dead it disappears in a flash of brimstone.
Panting, Anatoli opens the box, pours the stone on the floor, and asks the elephant “Would you please?” The stone is crushed under a massive foot and disappears in another puff. Slumping to the floor he pulls off his mask and wipes the sweat from his bro, arm over the elephants trunk.
Having surveyed the items brought back and safely tucking them away (while a certain elephant picked up the broken paintings), he turns to depart. “I really do need to get this place lead lined.” Wandering over to a small portrait at eye level, a scene of a comfortable chair before a hearth, he again casts the spell and step up and into the scene, headed for home.
(A week later)
Charles Ferdinand the IV sits forlornly before a magistrate sentenced with consorting with demons within the city limits and not registering as an agent of a foreign power. Based on documents written in his own hand and delivered anonymously, it became obvious that his quick rise to power and fortune was backed by his family in the Hold of the Sea Princes in an attempt to destabilize Greyhawk’s markets. He had been using the demon bound to him by his family to gain information and intimidate.
Seemingly unnoticed on the other side of town at the Whispering Willow Sarah is once again moving her belongings into the inn. Kegs are being wheeled in, a full staff is prepping a feast, and a block party thrown by the Roughriders promises to go late into the wee hours. There sits a contented gnome sipping a beer and taking it all in…