Friday, May 27, 2016

Story for the Day: Mr Vostibbens, the Teahouse Cat

Every establishment has its mascot. For the Quarto Cipher, that emblem of pride is Mr Vostibbens, the cat that enjoys plaguing those who have no idea about giving him any notice. Join our Patreon page this weekend, and receive the novella about Mr Vostibbens at the end of the month.

Immune to the grandeur of the gentry gliding by him, Bartleby Crulge sat alone at his table, his nose planted firmly in his book, his brow collapsing over itself, his eye following where his finger led. He scoured the printed lines, unaware of the servant asking him whether he should prefer a cream
slice or a whipped chocolate, and unconsciously waving him off as he tootled to himself, mumbling through a paragraph on bioluminescence.
“As the ship sailed through the waters,” the old man read, hemming and fidgeting with his spectacles, “and as the sun went down, we were greeted with a most intriguing sight: the waves, when agitated, began to glow, at first a pale blue, and then a vibrant glaucous hue—yes, well—“ pausing to sip his tea and perusing the page, “—and I instantly wished to know the phenomenon responsible for this strange and wonderful occurrence. I put an oar in the water and stirred it about, to see whether it was the doing of some schools of small fish, but when I leant over and took the water into my hand, there was nothing but the shimmering incanescence left by the tepid waves—He might have used a more descriptive word there, if he wanted his readers to consider what he found out,” he interrupted himself. “It is probably some microorganism that glows when agitated, like the one that glows on breem when it decays—After taking a sample to my laboratory,” he continued reading, “I soon reasoned that it must be some algae bloom or bacteria causing the glow—Ha! There. Just as I said. A microorganism, but why it should glow only when agitated? Something I shall have to experiment with.“ He padded his pocket, to search for his notebook and his pencil, when he suddenly stopped and glanced over the top of his book to something on the ground. He glowered, and feeling of quiet loathing assailed him. “I refuse to acknowledge you today, Mr Vostibbens.”
He turned back to his book and effected not to look at the ground again. There was a slight jingle, and the empty chair across from his rattled.
“Did you not hear me, Mr. Vostibbens?” he shouted, lowering his book. “I said I refuse to have your nonsense today. No, do not touch the chair or the table. The tea things are here, and I’m sure I don’t care about how curious you are as to what I’m eating. And no you may not look at my plate.”
There was a slight thudding sound, and Bartleby, beginning to hate the world, glared at the far wall and pursed his lips.
“I want none of your presents, Mr. Vostibbens. I have done with your presents, whether they be a mouse or a bird or your lunch or what have you. Go back to your mistress and regurgiate on her train. That should be amusing to you.”
Another jingle, and something vibrated against the old man’s leg.
“No!” he cried, frantically pulling his robe away. “Do not fruzz yourself against me! I am not your frotting piece. I have just had this robe cleaned. I will not pet you and I am not interested in your odd humours. Go to the ladies if you want to be coddled. They are all moggynoggling feliophiists. There,” pointing to a stool by the bar. “There is cushion you can lounge upon and destroy. Go to the counter if you want a treat. I have nothing for you here, and it would give the publican something to do, other than profess his ill and unlearned opinions about railways he knows nothing about.”
There was a silence. The publican, pretending not to have heard the old man’s aspersions, passed a clean rag along the counter, and Bartleby returned to his book, determined to finish his passage on glowing flagella, when there was a slight tug on his robe. He looked down, and sitting beside his chair, in all the certainty of his own self, was a black cat. It twitched its nose and stared up at the old man, its eyes wide and expectant, and pressed its white whiskers against his leg. Bartleby grumbled something about the cat being to go off and lick itself and shifted away, and the cat chirruped and looked offended.     
“Don’t chutter at me, you grizzled three-thurms,” the old man sniffed. “You are a cat. Go wail and wraw like the rest of your spiecies, and do not pretend to imitate animals when speaking to me. Go to the terrace and play in the font, if you need something to do. The water will cool you, and if you try to play with the spout, as you did the last time you harassed those sitting at the terrace, I sincerely hope you fall in it. There will be your punishment for trying to disrupt my reading.”
The cat stared up at him, its eyes violently pleading for his notice, and Bartleby glowered at it over the horizon of his spectacles.
“I am not paying you any attention, Mr Vostibbens,” he humphed.
A silence succeeded, and the cat blinked at him.
“All right, I am paying you attention,” Bartleby reluctantly admitted, “but I’m paying you negative attention, which is hardly like paying attention to you at all. And I am not touching you or feeding you. I am only looking at you, which I shall stop doing when you realize I am not interested in being your playfellow. Do not expect me to croosle at you or say how beautiful you are or how nicely you keep yourself. Flattery is an offense against anybody’s reason, and cats are the worst of offenders in that respect.”
The cat, having little idea of flattery and thinking itself very fine, shifted on its haunches and licked its lips.
“Go out there if you want something to eat,” Bartleby cried, stabbing a finger toward the terrace window. “In the garden there is are great number of things you can pounce upon which nobody cares if you kill. You may pretend you are a lion or a tiger or whatever else you think you are when you are hunting. Prove yourself worthy of your mistress and bring her back a sparrow. That ought to teach her to keep you out instead of snudging everyone in here. This is a teahouse, Mr Vostibbens, not a grimsirs’ hutch.”
The old man humphed and returned to his book, and the cat moved closer to his chair, putting its paw on the stretcher and sitting high on its haunches. A short silence followed, and once Bartleby thought the cat had gone, he glanced down only to find Mr Vostibbens gawping up at him with sincere interest.
“What are you doing?” Bartleby hissed, in a thrill of terror. “You cannot lean yourself on a chair whenever you like. This is not your chair—it is my chair—I paid to sit here, so unless you mean to pay for my next dish of biscuits, go away! Go! Get down this moment! And if you dare try to leap up here, I shall swat you with my book.”
The cat craned its neck and canted its head.
“Yes, yes, I see your new collar with the little bell on it. You need not parade yourself about,” Bartleby insisted, waving a hand at the cat. “Well, you might think that bell is for decoration, but it is to let your mistress’s patrons know where you are, that we might ignore you and kick you when you are grown pectulant.” The old man humphed to himself. “Would that you were a dean at the Academy, that we might propel you from this room to the next. What is it? What is that you’ve got on your neck?” looking down and narrowing his gaze. “Is that a cravat? What is this nonsense? Of all the frivolous, cabbobbled—they might as well throw a house out of a window if they are going to dress a cat. A cat has no business wear a cravat or wearing anything! Who draped you all this frippery? I’m sure I don’t care if you like it— fiddle-faddle regalia belongs on nobody! You are respectable by simply being we well-groomed cat. You have no notion of decency! The only decency we can want from you is a clean coat and not to have you rub your backside along the carpet.” He huffed, and his jowls rippled. “A cat in a cravat—Ha! Propriety run mad to dress an animal in anything! Well,” taking up his book, “such good your cravat does you. It hides your white crest, which is your most defining feature. Hang your cravats. Next your mistress will put you in boots and have you trot about like a shod horse.”
The cat turned and brandished its cravat, and the old man glunched and grimaced.
“You may pretend to like your cravat, Mr Vostibbens, but the feline brain cannot distinguish fashion. You can only know that something is on you or something is not on you. You cannot understand lace—yes, I have seen your cravat many times already. You need not climb up again to—no, do not come up here!” he cried, lifting his book as the cat began to climb the chair again. “Get down this moment! It is highly indecorous of dressed cats to jump onto the furnishings—highly indecorous indeed! Floors are for felines, tables and chairs are for sapiens—Don’t purr at me! I am not going to be charmed by your catrattle-- And stop leaning your head against my leg! I am not going to pet you, and that the end of it. I would rather carbonize in a cave than—gah!”
Mr Vostibbens leapt onto Bartleby’s lap, and the old man’s book fluttered  as he failed to protect himself against the cat in the cravat.
“The beast is attacking me!” he cried, crumbling against the wall beside him. “He is preparing to maul me and rend my robe to tatters!”
Nobody was at the trouble of assisting him, and the cat, sitting on its haunches, enthralled itself with Bartleby’s nose hairs and wrapped its tail around its feet.
“You ferocious beast! Keep your claws away from me! Off my lap, or I shall have you brought to the laboratory for dissection! There are Ballenese vithelists who need new strings for their lutes, and there are no cats in Balletrim for a reason! No, don’t not lean on me! Keep your fangs away! Don’t rub your cheeks against my chest! I don’t want your scent on me anymore than I want imbeciles to breed—no! What is this? What is this?” frantically plucking hairs from his robe. “Look here! You have got your hair all over me! My robe is tarnished—absolutely tarnished! Well, your mistress shall be paying to have it cleaned. I have told her countless times to keep her ferine wildware on a leash or in the garden, but she will let you roam about and assail patron as you please—stop your curmuring. I am not going to touch you. You deficate in bushes and dance about in it, pretending to hide your flith by ruining the plants, and now you’re putting your paws all over me. Well, I’m not going to touch you, and that is all. You might have fleas and ticks and mites and who knows how many other diseases and parasites lurking about. Mr Vostibbens—pff! She should have named you Fleabag Von LouseHouse.”
The cat made a few circuits of Bartleby’s lap, and when the old man felt brave enough to push the cat from him, it lay down across his thighs, curled its tail round to its head, and sighed itself into a gentle sloom.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Story for the Day: The Quarto Cipher

Marridon is well-known for its teahouses, the most famous of them all being the Quarto Cipher, the most popular teahouse in the old quarter. A favourite of both Danaco and Bartleby, the Cipher boasts a library, card rooms, game tables, a comprehensive liquor counter, and quite unfortunately a good portion of the gentry in Marridon:

 The small stone fountain at the centre of Old Marridon grimaced on the smiling scene of Quarto Cipher, a teahouse well fitted up in the furnishings of a thousand years back, offering the promise of polite society, due civilities to esteemed patrons, and the discourge belonging to the more pedantic of Marridon.
the disctrict in the full bloom of morning. The old masonry, weathered and riddled with dark stains, its wreathing grotesques decorated with the parting gifts of the local birds, seemed depressed amidst the vibrant brocades of the surrounding stalls. The grocers called out their seasonal greens, the fruiterer summoned patrons with melon slices and dried apricots, the vinter wheeled his cart along the eastern side of the fountain, where wives were collecting round the butcher’s window in want of fresh cuts, and the fishmongers lined up along the pier adjacent, festooning the rows with boxes of salted ice, presenting the salmon and crabs caught only hours before. Patches of crooked shoppes and gabled houses dotted the region, old fashioned styles were displaying in nearby windows, the milliners and haberdashers draping their models in high-wasted dresses and printed fabrics with beribboned bonnets and pocketed spencers. Old women crambled down the front steps of slanted houses, to feed the various cats prowling the lanes and to tend their gardens, duffers and dobbins raised their flat caps to the drivers of passing drays, the couriers trotted by on horseback and posted across the cobbles, the ceaseless clink of wheels on stone accompanying the clicking of hooves beating along the ground. A few trade frigates relinquished their berths in the nearby port, sloops skimming the water drifted south toward the marina at full sail, merchants flocked toward the trade stand with the ambition of haggling away the rest of the morning, while gulls and gargoyles populating the surrounding roofs, sitting with open mouths, astonished by the clamour of the quarter, expecting to be relieved of the teeming sibilations the next moment. Maids and servants tripped off to market for their employers, the taverns began filling with workmen and businessmen ready for their midday collations, and everyone who was either too old to work or too disagreeable to work with others congregated round the library or in the old teahouses, ancient and mysterious venues where anyone who was ill-disposed for inane conversation, and anyone who was tolerably literate, went to relieve their hearts and minds of various frustrations, went to hear important news, and to quarrel with acquaintances over dry biscuits, small cakes, and a well-brewed leaves-- and sensible of this, and well inclined to hear and see all the openness and artlessness that a meal spent in a teahouse might offer, Danaco walked through the square to the
Being situated nearer to the academic quarter, where the Grand Marridon Library and the Academy sat in quiet mortification of the arts district beside, the Quartro Cipher was exactly the teahouse to suit the captain’s discrimination. It housed a small lending library, boasted of its supernumerary postal services, and invited anyone who was desirous of a small respite by way of a game of Sirs or Crown and Anchor to sit and dine at its tables. Tiered silver treys and porcelain teapots decorated every surface, glass tables and high-backed chairs lingered in every corner, printed wallpaper in the old Adiethian style clung to every room, and placements of well worked lace lay dormant under napkins and finger glasses.  Men hung round the counter deliberating over the morning’s newspaper whilst women sat in the front room with their workbaskets, speaking in quiet consultation with their daughters and friends, the click of their knitting needles combating the crepitations of the small fire. A few silent observers asperged the far corners, watching the goings on of the dining hall with books spread over their laps and teacups in hand, servers went round with their trolleys of biscuits and buns, salvers of cakes and creams were traded between tables, idle gossip was shared behind the dividing panels, and the matron of the place marched between the rows, her ruffled skirts speaking in tremulous sussuration as she tittuped from hall to hall.
Various topics were banded between the patrons; the front room being a well-read compilation, those who made up the various stools and chairs spoke primarily of Marridon’s scholarly and scientific advances, and the great debate for the morning was the new railway, the tracks being just laid and riveted along the outskirts of the capital. The railway had been in development for several years, and now, with the approval of the king and his Chambers, the system was to be put in place at the centre of  every municipality, providing work and a living wage to those in desperate want of it, and promising transportation for those who lived beyond the borders of the major towns. As the final judiciary authority on any communal subject, the whole of the front room was in agreement as to the significance of the Marridon railway for the kingdom: trade would be facilitated, stock would be shipped without delay, and anyone who was in want of the views around Bannantyne or the hunting grounds near the western woods could easily be in those parts of the country in good time.  The various prices of tickets were talked of, some complaining of there being something to purchase at all considering the railway was being built with public taxes, and others perfectly resigned to pay whatever price was named for the chance of riding such a marvel of modern science. There was some disparity in the crowd with regard to the positions of the railway stations: Owyain and Llangollyn, being the situated close to Balletrim, were talked of as not being allowed to have any stops on the mainline—one at the races in the western part of the capital would be the closest stop to the northeastern border—as not to give any Balletrim insurgence an advantage, should there a rebellion in that part of the country, and the poorer municipalities like Alys, where all the miners in the kingdom naturally resided, would not be receiving a station in their part of the country either. It seemed as though those who mined the coal required for the running of the engine and those who were in need of the railway most were being denied its use, and while all must agree that this prejudice of districts and boarders was hardly fair, this part of the discussion was soon lost under the clamour of an old man, sitting at the far corner of the room, whose voice carried over all the rest, that the first station to be completed was to be in Old Marridon. Some argued for and some against this being a possibility, others simply sat in silence and watched the debate with sagacious smiles, but the general consensus amongst those involved in the now heated disputation was that regardless of the great industrial production which was to bring about a better means of transportation for everyone, it must be unwelcome in this part of the kingdom. Let the northeast have their station—let Upper and Lower Alys have a station each—only let them take the station scheduled for Old Marridon and let them never bring it back. It was not that a scientific wonder was unwelcome in the district—it would certainly be well-received by those who lived elsewhere and wished to visit the district oftener—but for those in the teahouse, a large station, with a shelter and a towering roof, should obstruct the view from the sitting window to the sea, the locomotive should bring about a noise nobody wanted, and the smell of it, the thick smoke billowing out from its stack, the black brume spreading over the port was sure to be the ruin of all Old Marridon’s equanimity. It might bring in more visitors from the country, but what were visitors when the quarter’s own citizens should be grossly incommoded? The station would be a hovel for odd comers and goers, a breeding ground for questionable activity—the district should not be sacrificed for the sake of a few divagating holidaymakers-- and where would be the good of playing host to a new mode of transportation when ships and legs had done very well for everyone else in the quarter? A railway was a novelty, a conveyance that was rather an abomination than a triumph. It was a wonder in every way, a wonder and a convenience, many in the front room of the teahouse believed, Old Marridon could do without, but while everyone was asserting and offering their opinions on the subject, one voice in the mingle of professions spoke was louder and more vehement than the rest:
“A locomotive is precisely what Marridon needs,” the voice rapsed.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Story for the Day: Adiethian Gold - Part 2

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Danaco held the earring up and followed the bend of the light around its curves. “Both my parents should have raved over such a piece-- my father especially. He was a great admirer of the Empire Era like myself, and I feel it abominable that he should not be here to revel in its beauties. Do you
think it blasphemous to wear her and parade her about? She is an unrivaled dearling, to be sure, but I should feel myself a beast for locking her away in my gallery. I am all envy as a lover, and I should like to have her always under my regard.”
                “By all means, Captain, I think it would only be right that you wear it. That piece has not been worn by someone in nearly two thousand years. I am sure it would like to be worn again. An item as specialized and as lovely as that wants exhibition.”
                “With her master’s blessing, sir,” said Danaco, canting his head and moving his hair to the side, “I cannot do wrong.”
He pulled his lobe and felt for one of the unoccupied holes, and with precision, he slipped the pin of the earring through his ear and fastened the clasp. He turned about in quest of a mirror, but remembering where he was and the unlikliness of anything like a mirror being about, he went to the window and admired his reflection in the glass. He reveled in himself, enjoying how lovely the golden loop looked against his dark mane, and he lavished his new prize with all the commendations that her age and uncommonness earned. “Only look how beautifully she dangles,” he exclaimed, oscillating and watching the earring return the motion. “How she brightens by hair and eyes. Does no she look well, sir? I must thank you for permitting me the charge of her. Her merits are endless, and while I still do feel a sense of grief in coming away with her, my guilt in the rescue is already waning.”
“I am very glad of it, Captain.” said the wizard, smiling.
“But will not your sons grieve over the loss in their inheritance? Will not they notice that she has fled the collection?”
“In truth, Captain,” said the wizard, turning aside, “my sons have not been introduced to every piece in my great number. They each have their favourite items, and those are the ones they shall inherit, but I as a rabid collector, eager to gain ahold of anything that might belong to our once-great empire, I keep many pieces that no one but those who have a real love for the period would appreciate. You will wear that piece and exhibit it as should be done, and the next time I require your services, Captain, I might have another trinket for you by way of payment.”
“My good friend,” said the captain impressively, “I cannot in good conscience take another piece from you, though I may wish to do with all my might. I would give my life to preserve such an incomparable collection, but I am no wizard. Your people know best how to use and care for these exquisite items. An earring from the Empire is a donation, I grant you, and I have enough admiration in my heart for every treasure, but you know the secret to every precious piece, and whilst I might know the history to a great number of them, I have no insight in their magical secrets. Does this earring have any magical properties?”
“None that I can detect, Captain.”
Danaco’s brows arched, and he looked suspicious. “She is not broken, I trust?”
“No, Captain,” the wizard laughed. “As far as I can tell, that earring never had any magical properties from the first. It is as plain as day.”
“Do you hear him, my little moppit?” Danaco whispered to the earring. “Do you hear how he talks of you? Yes, how despicable it is, saying that you are plain. You could never be thought of as plain—a man is a dizzard who could dare think so. What does he deserve, my pet? Tell me, and I shall do it. Should he be hung by his beard, or shall I tie him to the gables by his robes?”
“If you begin to take orders from an earring, Captain, I should begin to wonder.”
“Then perhaps she is magical after all. Did not the Grand Magus in Marridon encapsulate the spirits of wayward students into gems?”
“Oh, that is little more than a story, Captain,” the wizard replied, laughing heartily. “There is no spell or ritual in all the Adiethian volumes that could bind a soul to anything.”
“There is shame,” said Danaco, in a careless tone. “I should have delighted in knowing that any one of your artifacts might house the spirits of my enemies, that I might put them in a dismal prison and take them out and look at them whenever I should like to punish them.”
“If you can discover a method for binding a living thing to an inanimate object, Captain, I charge you with all my soul to return here immediately and show me your findings.”
“That you might use them on me by way of retaliation for turning this demure little trinket,” said Danaco, fondling his earring,“into gazingstock?”
The wizard shrugged. “An ancient earring, like a lady, must be brought forward sometime. It is up to her whether she decides to accept all the attention she receives.” He rubbed his brow and looked pained. “I am so very pleased I never had daughters. My darling wife always wanted a girl to complement our sons, but I could not endure the idea of someone’s being to court her. I am a selfish old man, as you know, Captain, and I should have liked to keep a doting daughter at home, where I could always be assured of her comfort and safety. Boys will do anything once or twice to spite their own intelligence, but girls are sweet and docile creatures. My wife was a gentle woman, and had we a daughter anything like what she was, I should have walked the kingdom over to get her the flower she wanted. Our sons are like how I was when I was young, willful and determined, and it is difficult enough for me to think of them being so far off, but I could not bear to have a sweet and amiable girl be flung into the hardships of life. Do not mistake me, Captain. I do not mean to say that girls cannot take care of themselves, which of course they can. It is simply---“ He stopped and relapsed into reverie, a pining sigh ebbing out of the dry cracks in his lips. “It is only the wish to keep any woman I love from harm that makes me anxious for their wellbeing. My wife was not a well woman after our youngest son was born, and nothing I could do could cure her, a compunction that besieges me even now.”
“I understand you, my friend,” said the captain, in a softened voice. “My mother also had a poor constitution and was called on to quit our family when I was just entering into my prime of life.”
“A cruel trick of life, Captain,” the wizard mused, “to make us love so much.”
“I agree with you there, my friend. By Myrellenos, my mother was a wondrous creature. I shall never forget her—indeed, I cannot when I have so many of her qualities. She taught me how to be a gentleman and gave me a fondness for tea, which is really the same thing. She made me Marridonian, in short, when my father would have had me for his side. I am unforgivably Lucentian in many respects. My admiration for gold and objects of enormous implied value is a fault of heritage I cannot refute.”
“If by heritage, Captain, you mean by our cultural custom of being desciples of Our Great Lady, then I think it is in the providence of any devoted son of Myrellenos to harbour a love for objects that remind us of a time when She walked among us.”
“Quite so, my friend.”
They shared a most amiable smile, and when Danaco had marveled a little more at the trinkets and furnishings of the house, he took his leave, promising to take up no more of the old man’s time, for “I should stay here indefinitely, had I no crew to command. I should gawp at your great managerie until you were tired.”
“I am old, Captain,” said the wizard, in a wearied manner, “ and being old have been perpetually tired since the age of sixty. But if you must leave, do not make yourself a stranger. Come and see my collection whenever you like it.”
“I think you might have more tea in your house, if you mean to have me stay for more than five minutes. It is scandalous for a Marridonian not to have any tea in his house, sir. How comes this about? has someone stolen your tea box from you, or was there an embargo on the leaves from Livanon? Tell me truly.”
“I have no answer for you, Captain, other than I simply cannot be harassed to stock something I do not drink myself. Wizards are sad fellows. We never have company, even among our own set, and, like having tea always at hand, we never do what is good for us.”
“But you are a decent breed, and propriety commands that you keep at least one box of tea for eventualities. Do not your sons have tea when they are to visit you, sir?”
“I am afraid, Captain,” said the wizard, in a mortified voice, “in that respect, they are very much like their father. Tea takes time to make properly, and wizards simply do not have a moment to spare for what is trivial.”
“By Myrellenos—trivial?” Danaco exclaimed, holding his hand to his breast. “You injure me, sir, with such aspersions. All my Marridonian feelings are offended. My Lucentian feelings too, if you mean to include coffee in your ideas on what is trivial.”
“I am sorry, Captain,” the wizard laughed. “I did not mean to disappoint you, but so must every wizard disappoint those who seek his company. We are only good for charms and potions when we grow too old to longer understand the new ways of the world.”
“I believe that is the way of old men in general, my friend. And when I am old and nobody shall want me, I charge you to find me out, that we might deliciate in being horridly fusty and complain of many things in life we no longer have any patience for.”
The wizard declared he should like that of all things, and with a pat on the back and a hardy shake of the hand, they left the house together, the wizard to begin his day of hawking his wares—or sitting behind his stall, unnoticed by the odd comers and goers—and Danaco to visit a local teahouse, to have his Marridonian spirits nourished by their signature service and by the starts and sussurations of curmudgeonly old men, who usually monopolized every traditional teahouse around this time.   

Friday, May 6, 2016

Story for the Day: Adiethian Gold

Adieth was the predeceasing Empire that gave rise to Marridon. It was a glorious kingdom on the Easter Continent that died out after the Great War. Many Adiethians who abandoned their god quit the continent and traveled west across the sea, and when they landed, they established Marridon, or Marradryn as it is known in Old Common, the land of the godless. They began their journey into the wonders of science and left behind all notion of magic, but the treasures they brought with them from the East endure in the houses of those who still keep to the old ways. Adiethian gold is said to have magical properties, though the scientifically inclined cannot find any proof of this. The amber tinged gold is purported to bring luck to those who keep it with them at all times. Perhaps that is why Danaco's luck never seems to run out.

“I have never been surrounded by such peers. I am really quite oppressed,” Danaco breathed,
in a thrill of ecstasy, giving each item around him its due consideration. “Absolutely exquisite. I would give worlds to take these stunning ornaments off your hands. Were I a wizard, I should find a spell to translocation your sitting room entire on my ship. Do make me your heir-at-law, that I might be so fortunate as to be a caretaker of these beautiful treasures.”
“Point of fact, Captain,” said the wizard, his beard curling in a grin.
He reached toward one of the adjacent shelves, and from one of the higher ledges, he pulled down a small box, unfurnished and unremarkable, held together with a velvet band. The velvet was pulled aside, the box was placed on the table and was opened, and with a demure inflection, the wizard turned it toward the captain, watching and waiting for his reaction with private delight.
“Something by way of a reward for your services, Captain,” said the wizard, rocking on his toes. “I know your love for the Empire Era and how much respect you have for Adiethian culture of our forebears. I believe that whomever the lady was who possessed this treasure should like very much for you to have it.”
Danaco peered into the box, and nestled in the folds of gossamer packing was a golden earring, its wide band well burnished, its loop smooth and perfectly worked. It sat in a triumph of golden complacence, its arch begging to be touched. A hand unconsciously extended toward it, but Danaco’s mind soon roused from the charm of being allowed to see such an enthralling piece, and he took his hand from the box.
“Surely, Master Wizard,” he exclaimed, his hand on his chest, “you cannot mean to give this to me.”
“I believe I do, Captain.”
“Indeed, you cannot mean it. It is a prize from your most venerated collection!”
“One that you should have, Captain,” the wizard professed. “It is one of a set, and the second one was never found. It does have tremendous value, of course, but I should rather have both together, if I can.” He carefully took the earring from the box and held it up to the light. “Real Adiethian gold, Captain,” he whispered, in a tone of wonder. “No wooden inlay, no false clasps, you see— only solid gold, and quite heavy really for such a thin hoop.”
He weighed the earring in his hand and gave it over to Danaco, who welcomed it with the affection of a true disciple, his eyes wide, his aspect rapt in tremulous fascination.
“Oh, is not she lovely!” Danaco avowed, holding the earring by its clasp. “Only look how she pageants herself! That aurulent tinge is absolutely -- have you ever seen such an colour, sir? Oh, she is radient! I am absolutely dissipated, my friend. Even cradling her in my hand gives me such pleasure unconscionable. But, surely, sir, you ought to keep her. She is your rightful property. She has been with you this long while. I should be taking a daughter from you—and she has so many friends here--”
“I insist, Captain,” said the wizard, putting a hand on Danaco’s shoulder. “You know how to care for precious things better than anybody, and I have no doubt that you will give this piece an exemplary home.”
Danaco pressed the earring to his cheek and fondled it. “You will tease me,” he purred, nuzzling it. “But she is worth a monstrous large fortune, sir.”
“One I know you don’t care for, Captain. All your interest is honouring and preserving our national history, and as you make your life one of travel, Captain, perhaps her pair will eventually find you. You have the Luck of Myrellenos with you, and an earring like that is of little use to me sitting here alone.”
Danaco playfully hushed him. “How you injure her feelings, master wizard! He did not really mean it, my beautiful bauble,” he murmured, caressing the earring. “There are many antique friends aboard my ship you might sit down to tea with. How eager they shall be to have a dalliance with you, my cosset, but you must be a lady and never mind them. They can never equal your splendour. Suppose, sir, I never do find her pair, sir. She shall be a widow forever.”
“She will have you for company, Captain, and I have no qualms about your keeping her safe. Please do take it and say no more about it. I cannot thank you enough for returning my staff. Indeed, an earring, even one from the Empire Era, seems a mere trifle compared to the importance of this piece,” said the wizard, holding it up to the light.“It is the prize of my collection, and one I should never be without, if I could somehow forgo the nonsense of aging, as you do, Captain, but I do little these days other than sell my potions and get on with dying.”

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