The Taralon Antiques Roadshow

Mike Leatham Entries
1. DIAMOND STYLUS: Used by wizards (and any artisans they employ) in the inscription of magical objects, this steel implement sits as comfortably in the hand as the best engraving tool. It is enchanted in such a way that the hardest surfaces (the facets of gems, the scales and teeth of magical beasts, the sides of mountains) give way beneath its tip as easily as wax; indeed, mages preparing to use it generally practise their intended runes and sigils with ordinary quills on wax tablets.

Its use is expensive, however, as it draws its durability out of diamonds of the highest calibre. If a gem of sufficient quality can be found, it is securely mounted via a brief magical ritual in a setting on the upper tip of the stylus's shaft (as opposed to the lower tip, where the appropriate nib must be mounted to carve the relevant signs and markings.)

Over time, each stroke made by the stylus causes the gem to dwindle in size and carat value, until the diamond vanishes entirely, at which point the tool becomes no more powerful than any other instrument forged from ordinary steel.

2. RAVELLING BASKET: This ordinary-seeming wicker basket was enchanted as a gift from a wandering sorceress to a village herb wife, who nursed her through a fever. If items of damaged fabric (woven or knitted), are placed within it, they slowly unravel, so as to recover the fibres for re-use. The different fibres will be found in loose but untangled coils in the basket a little while later (ranging from hours to days, depending on the size of the item, and the complexity of its construction.)

3. STEVANT'S ASTRASCOPE: The arcane interests of the mage Stevant centred mostly on divination and astrology; in particular, the ways in which shooting stars and comets interrupted the otherwise stately, predictable dance of the heavens. He could spend several nights in a row peering at a celestial wanderer through various optical devices, tracking its movement through the starsigns.

However, inevitably Stevant's absorption in his work would be interrupted, for he was in service to a noble of some strategic importance, and his advice or intervention would be required on this matter or that. And so he would return to his studies, only to find that whatever phenomenon he had been observing had passed out of sight, leaving the data on its metaphysical influences forever incomplete.

Eventually, Stevant grew tired of this. Begging a month's leave from his duties, he sealed himself in his tower with almost half the inventory of a local clockmaker. Four weeks later, he emerged, thinner and greyer but curiously youthful in triumph, as he had created the perfect instrument for his research -- a telescope which could be calibrated by its gears and knobs to view any point in the sky not only as it was now, but as it was even as much as three nights before, or six hours in the future. With the aid of this remarkable device, Stevant could condense several nights' observations into a few minutes, or slow the bright flash of a shooting star by the careful turning of a dial. From that day forth he could meet his obligations to his liege with a light heart, knowing that his own work need not be neglected.

The complex and arcane mechanisms on which the Astrascope is mounted have, sadly, made it impossible to relocate in the years since Stevant's death. Perhaps more significantly, its delicate construction has (to date) prevented the heirs of Stevant's liege from tampering with it, for they would greatly prefer that it could be aimed down at the city below, so as to enable them to view the past and future of their neighbours and rivals.

There are rumours that they may begin experimenting with a series of externally-mounted mirrors to redirect its gaze, but nothing has been confirmed...

4. CLOAK OF DISTRACTION: In the second spring of the reign of Temett the Younger, against the threat of Black Diarved of Hern, the wizard Selmon took a great spool of silk and soaked it, for nine days and nights, in the mist which reigned in that country from dusk 'til dawn. At Midsummer, he dyed it in harebell and gentian beneath cloudless skies, in autumn hung it to dry as light as leaves, and in winter wove it close by candlelight into a length of cloth.

On the first of the new year, he bore his work to a seamstress of reknown, and bade her cut it with shears sharper than hawk's eye, and sew it with cobwebs thinner than shadow's edge into a cloak full and fine and fair. When she had done, he took the cloak and worked it with subtle runes in silver, molten from mirrors set out in the snow to fill themselves with the light of night.

When spring had come again, and Diarved sent his fell armies into the land, by the power of his cloak Selmon slipped before their eyes a dream of their own country, so that, where'er they went, they saw the fields and kin they'd left behind, until in truth they knew not where they stood nor what they did, whether they walked or rode, waked or slept. For nine times nine days and nights he misled them thus, drawing their thoughts ever back to that for which their hearts longed, until they passed once more beyond the borders of the land; where, as one man, they fell to their knees, sick unto death of wandering and hunger. And they cursed the name of Diarved, and would serve him no more.

Yet in the end Selmon's craft served him too well, for the longing of Diarved's heart was that he should have Temett's throne, and the influence of the cloak kept that ambition ablaze in his mind. For this, and for the loss of his armies, and for many more mischances, the wroth of Diarved against Selmon grew dire indeed. At last Selmon fell to Diarved's malice, and for long years thereafter the Hernish wore the cloak as sign of his triumph. He wove into it many secrets of his art, 'tis said, and this may be so, for it has survived where he has not.

5. THE GUARDIAN OF THE HOUSE: Just inside the door of a dim, sweet-smelling cabinetmaker's shop, there hangs from the ceiling a strange thing, half lantern and half windchime.

The lamp housing resembles nothing so much as an exotic pavilion from a distant realm. Its frame is about 14" tall, and 8" square, fashioned from dark, finely-grained wood, inlaid and fitted with polished brass in strange rhythmic designs. Most of each side is taken up by the pavilion's 'windows,' glazed in thin panes of ivory and horn, which appear creamy white at a distance, but under close observation are veined with emerald and gold and indigo. Through them a faint, unsteady luminescence can be seen, like a large candleflame flickering in a slight breeze, or perhaps a cloud of fireflies. The lantern is, if nothing else, an advertisement that at some point in the past this house could boast a craftsperson of superlative ability.

Below the lantern, a dozen wooden chimes hang in a ring: flat plates, about one and a quarter inches wide and something less than a quarter of an inch thick; varying from four inches to a foot in length. They are marked with odd symbols. If you were to ask the mistress of the shop what they mean, she would smile in that polite way that all her folk have, foreigners wherever they go, and never forgetting it for a moment. She would say she is not sure.

She would not tell you that her family retains the significance of at least seven of the chimes, and that those seven indicate folly, deceit, love, news, alliance, advantage, and danger. She and the members of her house are careful not to draw attention to the fact that, each time one of them finishes a round of the endless dusting and polishing of the shop's wares, the last object to receive their attentions is invariably the lantern. They wipe it carefully, with a soft cloth, and end by tracing some corner of it with a fingertip, as though it were a touchstone, or a pet, or a painted icon of a patron saint. (Nor will she mention that no one has ever had to relight the lamp, or trim its wick, or add fuel to it; or that in fact there is no way to open it at all.)

The caretaker then invariably goes over to the stool in the farthest corner, and is ostensibly absorbed for an hour or two in solemn study of the sacred tome, which all their kind revere, and for which they have suffered so much. But he or she will glance up each time a visitor enters or departs, for then the chimes will sound, as though stirred in the wake of the door (though if it is only a member of the house who has crossed the threshold, the chimes sway but little, never enough to set each other ringing.)

The shop mistress will certainly never tell you that, one by one, in order of the strength of their relevance, depending on what the visitor brings to the future of the house, the chimes which have rung will turn-- that, with a faint gleam, they present their glyphs to the gaze of the watcher. The chimes which have rung the loudest will show themselves first, and those which have been quieter last. Sometimes one of the unknown chimes will be moved; one, they think, may indicate general calamity, like fire or plague, but they thank Divine Providence each day that they have had insufficient evidence for certainty.

Least of all would the shop mistress convey that, when the watcher's hour is done, the watcher will go back to one of the workbenches in the great studio behind the shop, and open a small, unremarkable chapbook. In that book each watcher records the names of those who have visited, and what the lantern has revealed of them.

For once the shop is closed, and supper and the evening's devotions are complete, the mistress will go and peruse that book, and sift the sigils' meanings with what she knows of the city around her, and judge how best to deal with you and her other visitors in the days to come. The lantern and its chimes has kept her house safe for generations, in a world often cruel to their kind; and so long as they do not betray it, they believe, it shall not betray them.

6. THE FOUNT OF THE STORM KING'S DAUGHTER: In one of the southern coastal cities of the realm, whose ancient terraced neighbourhoods are set into their steep hillsides one almost atop the next, there is a tiny half circle of courtyard which clings to its cliff wall like the bottom half of an oyster shell. It is enclosed in a gracious arc of marble, and the view of the sea is pleasantly framed by small potted trees, carefully tended.

At the base of the rear wall of the courtyard is a little pool, not very broad but surprisingly deep. It is edged with decorative tiles and fed by a sweet-sounding cascade from a little half-basin fountain set into the wall just overhead. Above these, a stone panel carved in bas-relief depicts a maiden whose hair billows about her, as though she were underwater. A great pearl hangs on a chain about her throat. Her hands are raised to cup her mouth, and her lips are parted slightly, as though she is trying to make her voice heard. She gazes straight out toward the horizon.

The folk of that neighbourhood, for whom the maintenance of that little courtyard is a matter of pride, tell a story about that fountain.

They say that, many years ago, one of the Storm King's daughters angered him, by raising her voice in protest at the sinking of yet another vessel. She had been observing mortals, and had spoken with some few, and come to admire those who passed their short lives honourably. Enraged, the Storm King forbade her ever to raise her voice above the surface again, and clapped a pearl chain about her neck, by which he should instantly know if ever she broke his ban. Then he boiled the seas into a raging tempest, and sent her tumbling cruelly before it for many a league before dashing her onto a small isle-- where, he thought, no man should tempt her sympathies, and she could learn to repent her disrespect in solitude.

Yet, as there are many gods, and they weave fate from many strands, so no god may know all that fate will bring to pass. And that same storm which drove the Storm King's daughter into exile wrecked upon her prison a ship from that city, carrying one of its young lords. None but he survived the wreck, and he was wandering the shore, grieving his lost comrades and cursing the skies, when he came upon her, tangled in seaweed, bleeding and unconscious, stretched out on the sand. He nursed her back to health, learning to read her eyes and gestures when he found she could not speak, and she helped him to cobble together a crude raft, with a scrap of sail; and when the time came for him to attempt the completion of his voyage, she went with him, and by her influence brought them safely to his home.

His family welcomed her for his sake, and for her own good nature, though they wondered at her silence, and for a season or so they were seldom apart, save when the business of the city took him from her. Then she would wander the city and the hills above it. Once on her ramblings she came upon a little thicket clinging to the cliffside, with a view of the city below and the sea beyond, his world and hers at once. Moreover, there was within it a little springfed pool. Delighted by its sweet water, she brought him to see it, and thereafter they spent many an hour in its pleasant shelter, soothed by each other's company. He was enchanted by the murmur of the spring, little knowing that whenever she was there alone she would slip into the pool and sing out her love for him, letting the spring carry to his ear what she could not.

In time, alas, the Storm King remembered his erring daughter, and sent a flock of gulls to find and fetch her. One of them spied her in the glade's pool, awaiting her beloved, and winged down to announce her recall. Heartsick, she signalled her acceptance, and bade it carry word of it to her father. In the hour or two before the sun set, she sang into the waters of the pool a last song, a song to last, to remind her lover ever of the sweetness of their time together. Then she made her way down to the shore, and began her journey home, into a new kind of exile.

The gull, not weighed down in its journey by grief, reached the Storm King in good time, and relayed its message, as well as the circumstances in which the message was received. Furious that his daughter should have obeyed the strictures of his edict and not its spirit, he sent a tidal wave toward that city, intending that it should be crushed beneath the waters, and all trace of it washed away. Yet, for that she had delayed to leave what message of farewell she could, his daughter was only a few hours from shore when the storm surge passed her.

Horrified, she let loose a great cry of anguished rage, filled with all the pent-up frustration of her months of silence, and with all the wrath her father had engendered in her, and with all the longing she had to warn her beloved.

And thus it was that, as the young lord waited in bewilderment and fear for his lover, in the glade where he had left her only that morning, the little spring of sweet fresh water began to gurgle and choke and boil, and gave forth an eerie moan, which was the scream of the Storm King's daughter, finding its way across leagues of ocean and under the earth to his ears. Salt spray, with its scent, filled the thicket, and the lord who had spent so much of his time at sea turned automatically to check the horizon. And from his viewpoint high above the city, he could see what no-one else had noticed yet: a wall of immense blackness rapidly consuming the stars along the horizon.

He raced down into the streets to the temple district, and cast off rank and outer robes to help the acolytes pull the great storm bell. By his authority and warning, the citizens and sailors were able to escape up onto the headlands above their homes, and though the storm wrought terrible damage to the city, few lives were lost.

And ever since, say the folk who look after the fountain and its courtyard, whenever a great storm approaches from the sea, the fountain's sweet murmur of fresh water will be interrupted by steam and strange groans, and gouts of hot salt water-- the tears and agitation, they say, of the Storm King's daughter.