Enjoying a few hours of rest and recuperation before their return to the grim, besieged city of Chendl the party took advantage of the comforts of Leren and Zonkle’s home in Greyhawk City. Cae made some inquiries about purchasing a number of spells and magical items that she had heard about while Rendar and Avras got some much needed sleep. Leren informed Zonkle that they were effectively broke, with all of their profits and much of their capital spent on outfitting Chendl’s defenders with the rare and costly cold iron weapons purchased from the dwarves of Karakast and Dumadan. Much of his own fortune had gone on setting up the Two Coppers Inn in partnership with the missing Terevas Sevensong then wining and dining the likes of Guildmaster Dougal McBain, his fellows in the Brewers and Ostler’s Guild and Guildmaster Ren o’the Star of the Merchants and Traders Union in order to ensure that they did not interfere with the opening of a new inn in Greyhawk territory. Lastly, contributing to the resurrection of Zonkle and the wizardly escort to the temple of Boccob had cost them every last remaining coin in their coffers. And payment from the crown of Furyondy would likely have to wait until the end of the war as Belvor’s own funds were draining fast.
Leren said that he would have to sell the Two Coppers as Terevas owed him 6000 orbs for his half of the business and Leren had no capital to continue on his own. Unless they could get together some gold to purchase beer from inside the city and abroad, and find an able man to run the inn as well, the venture was sunk altogether. On the bright side he would need only a few hundred orbs to get the alchemy and magic shop running again as with he and two able apprentices hard at work that business could look after itself. Zonkle did his best to cough up some gold at this dire news and by the time that the party was ready to leave, Leren’s uncharacteristic solemnity had mysteriously departed and he seemed once again his cheerful and ebullient self.
At last Ringlerun insisted that they return to Chendl as they would be sorely missed in their duties. They returned to the docks, collected Avras’ spear from the watch at the River Gate on the way, and found a clear spot next to a Rhennee barge. Avras was left unsteady when he happened to inhale some pungent smoke wafting out of the cabin of the barge and then Ringlerun teleported the party back to their customary place in the inner city. They then parted ways on their own errands but invariably whether it was Derryian, Redwolf or a Household Guardsman that they encountered, they were informed that it was urgent that they assemble at once and make their way to Sir Harry’s quarters at the Eastern Gatehouse. This was easier said than done as Hadush could not be located, and Avras found himself stuck in the shop of the half-orc’s eccentric friend, Ranjandum the apothecary, who introduced the curious warrior to other fragrant smokes as well as his supply of fine imported dates and figs.
The rest of the Band, less the missing Hadush, collected the befuddled Avras and continued on to the gatehouse. There they found Sir Harry in whispered counsel with Ringlerun. Sir Harry dismissed everybody else in the room save a silent helmed and visored soldier and Ranton the Vengeful. Ranton is a scarred Shield Lander veteran, renowned for leading a small army of vicious, vindictive and dedicated Shield Lander exiles. Ringlerun worked a Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum and the Acting Grand Marshal briefed the party on the state of the city. In short, Chendl was close to collapse. She had too few defenders and too many enemies outside the walls. The rumours that High Priest Patch and Archmage Ormuz were on their way appeared to be true, as the former had been spotted in several engagements in Crystalreach and the latter was known to have situated himself in Crockport. Both appeared to be making their way towards the capital judging by the scrying efforts of Karzalin and Ringlerun. In the opinion of both the knight and the old wizard Chendl could not survive an assault led by the High Priest and the Archmage of the Boneheart. Reinforcements must be had and soon if the capital was to be held.
At this the visored soldier removed his helm and revealed himself to be none other than King Belvor IV himself! New lines of worry creased the Kings face and shadows had gathered under his eyes, the struggle against despair writ large upon his features. For the first time since the Band had made the King’s acquaintance he actually appeared to be a sixty year old man, and a weary one at that. The King voiced his agreement with Sir Harry and Ringlerun, adding that two Furyondian armies were camped less than 100 miles away. A large army of Viscount Luther Derwent of the March was in a stalemate with the enemy at Brancast ford on the Crystal River less than 80 miles to the east. Baron Jemian of Littleberg was less than forty miles away in a fortified position on the road to Worlende but appeared to be unwilling to advance on a greater enemy. He continued that he needed to leave Chendl and whip these two and the rest of his recalcitrant Great Southern Lords into action but if the people were to realise that their King had left the city they would think he was deserting them, causing panic and chaos. This had left the Paladin King with a horrid dilemma. Stand with his people and face certain doom with his city? Or leave to rally support elsewhere and consign his people to hopelessness and despair, followed by a very likely doom?
The resurrection of Zonkle Knacklesack had provided a new solution. If the Master Illusionist could fashion and maintain a phantasm of the King for as long as a month, Belvor could travel south, raise some reinforcements, break the stalemate at the ford of Brancast and attack the besieging army from the rear. If all went well the siege would break and the enemy would fall back, buying the city precious time to resupply, reorganise and evacuate noncombatants! If the attack did not succeed…. well, the King left that unsaid. All in the room understood the consequences if the King’s gambit failed.
But the plan would hinge on whether Zonkel could pull off the titanic task of maintaining an illusion more or less constantly for an entire month!
With but a few seconds thought Zonkle responded that he could go one better. If given free reign he could in fact fashion not just a phantasm of the King, but a simulacrum of the King! A near-living, breathing, thinking duplicate of the King of Furyondy that could carry out Belvor’s duties and physically interact with the people of Chendl. It would be a trial to control the fake Belvor but he felt confident that he was up to the task. Even Ringlerun was astonished at how far the gnome’s studies had come along in recent months and despite the exorbitant cost of more than 14000 wheatsheaves worth of rare reagents and components, all agreed that this was a good plan. The King in particular seemed pained, as that sort of gold could feed the entire city and the refugees for 3 months! With his usual sardonic air, Rendar shrugged off his magical haversack and produced over 10000 gp of gems. King Belvor was briefly overcome with emotion, then offered the ranger his word that at the war’s end the Crown would repay every last copper common with generous interest besides, and further reward should Rendar wish it. The Simulacrum King plan was on!
Then one final hitch in the plan came to light. Sir Harry’s spy ring had uncovered evidence that the Old One had an agent in the King’s own palace! Who the traitor was had not been discovered yet but any subterfuge would have to survive their scrutiny until the spy could be ferreted out. For the King to suddenly bring a band of adventurers into his inner circle would look suspicious. In order for such a change of guard at the palace, the King explained that honours would need to be heaped upon the party to make it seem like a natural development. Their defeat of Vayne offered a natural pretext for such honours. Zonkel was offered, and accepted, the position of Chief Magical Counselor for All Matters Illusory. Rankin and his men would be made his guard of honour. Avras was offered the station of a gentleman, a position in the King’s Household Regiment, and the promise that any man who called him a bastard from this point on would have to answer to the King himself. Unwilling to make any oaths of fealty, Cae and Rendar demurred any ranks or reward, insisting that they would join any bodyguard assigned to Zonkel instead.
With the matter settled the King replaced his helm and left the room, a simple chagrined soldier seemingly under a shouted reprimand by Sir Harry for failing in some special duty. The knight allowed himself a grin, saying that he “always wanted to tell off a King”, before dismissing the Band back to their respective duties for now. That night Ringlerun secretly teleported to the southern lands to gather the necessary elements for the spell, and Zonkle prepared himself for the trying month ahead as the rest of the party offered what support they could. All but the King’s Generals and Karzalin and his fellow Master Elementalists would be kept in the dark about the plan. Even Sir Derryian was to be told nothing of the subterfuge until the King returned with his relief army.
In a secret chamber at noon of the next day Zonkel began to shape the block of ice that would become the faux-Belvor. Avras, displaying yet another hidden talent, gave the gnome plenty of helpful hints on how to shape the ice the better to make a useful disguise. Exactly what upbringing had the Bastard of Crockport enjoyed to know such useful skills? Finally the body was ready and the spell was cast! King Belvor stared into the eyes of a near perfect replica, and appeared somewhat unsettled. He immediately made sure that the simulacrum understood exactly whom was the King and whom was the copy! He then took took some assistance in removing his custom-made magical full coat of plate, gave over both it and his legendary greatsword, the wondrous Mantor. Finally, most reluctantly, he gave over his crown.
The King then donned a rather more serviceable suit of plate and mail, took up his ancestor’s sword, Bronzeblood, and thanked the Band of Seven Songs for their aid and their discretion once again. He then left by a secret passage with his traveling companion, Ringlerun the Mage.
The “new” king, seemingly quite satisfied with the situation then smiled at the party and said in a dangerously upbeat manner, “ Come, we have a Kingdom to run….”
Will the simulacrum fool the Old One’s spies? Can Sir Harry and the Band of Seven Songs uncover the traitor in their midst? Can Zonkle maintain control over the faux-Belvor or will the new King rule with disastrous results? Can the King return with an army before High Priest Patch and Archmage Ormuz arrive? Can Chendl weather the gathering storm of the fury of the Boneheart?
Find out next week!