Posted by Darth Krzysztof
He looks like any other man, but he talks like a prince.
Bex closed the door behind her and crossed the vast chamber to the Prince’s desk, bootheels echoing on flagstone. He rose out of the overstuffed chair to offer her a solid handshake, then sat back down, waving her toward the other chair, which groaned and wobbled beneath her.
The desk and chairs were the chamber’s sole decorations. Some castles hung tapestries to hide the bare stone walls, or placed suits of armor on stands, but the Prince was a practical man with a war to win. No time for distractions, Bex thought. And no need. The desk was neat… tidy, even, without a scroll or map out of place.
Prince Oargev ir’Wynarn reached for a bottle of whiskey, then offered her a drink; when she politely refused, he poured one for himself, drank it, and poured another. The brown of the whiskey matched his eyes; its smoothness touched his voice. “I’m glad you’re here, Bex,” he said. Then: “Should I call you Bex?”
“Please. That is my name – my real one, I mean. ‘Rebexa Chandler’ is just the name I use with this.” She briefly waved her right hand over the face she wore. She’d come up with that name on the fly, and had never been happy with it… “This is who I am most of the time.”
The Prince nodded, taking a sip. “But you can look like anyone.”
“Yes. I mean, I’d have to get a good look at someone to fool the people she knows. The longer I watch, the better I can get her down. And I can only get so small or so big. Otherwise… yes, pretty much anyone.” My handwriting’s always the same, too, but a magician never reveals all her secrets.
“Why look like this, then? Given the chance, most women I’ve known would choose to be gorgeous. I don’t mean to insult you,” he added quickly.
Bex raised her hand in a calming gesture, smiling. “No, it’s all right. Most of the time I prefer to avoid attention. Looking ordinary is the best way to be left alone.” She’d tried to make Rebexa “cute,” at least, but the blonde’s face still wasn’t to everyone’s tastes. “I have to say, though, that I appreciate your… understanding. Not everyone’s so gracious when they find out they have a changeling working for them.”
“As it happens, I may have need of a changeling.” Was that need more pressing than the words suggested? Bex couldn’t say. The Prince was hard to read, especially for a man so young – only a year or two older than Bex, she thought. “But I don’t know much about your kind. The last conversation I had with someone I knew to be a changeling took place over the point of a knife. Needless to say, that left me with more questions than answers.”
“I have no doubt.” And you’ve got to be able to trust this changeling with whatever mission you have in mind. “If you wish me to answer those questions, I’m at your service.”
“Very good.” Prince Oargev made himself more comfortable. “Can you be forced back to your true form? Do you have such a thing as a true form?”
“I do. And I can’t be, not unless I’m killed. My mother taught me to hold my appearance, even while I sleep. She taught me everything I know about our people.”
“She is also a changeling, then?”
“She was.” Bex closed her eyes for a moment. “She’s dead. I think.”
“You don’t know?”
She took a deep breath. “My father found out what we were, and we were forced to flee our home. We got separated. I haven’t seen her since.”
“I see,” the Prince said, nodding slightly. “How long ago was that?”
“Three years.” It seemed like so much longer.
“You’ve looked for her?”
Bex nodded. “Never found anything, though. Even word of her death would give me some closure, at least. But it’s like she disappeared.” She thought that her mother might have taken what she’d learned back to the people who’d hired her to infiltrate House Phiarlan in the first place, but Mother never spoke of such things…
Oargev steepled his fingers. “You said that your father found out what you were. He isn’t a changeling, then?”
“No. He’s an elf, of House Phiarlan.” I might as well put everything on the table. She quickly added, “But I have no loyalty to them, or to any House. And no other family. I serve Cyre, Your Grace.”
He winced. “Please, don’t. Even I can’t count how many people would have to die before the throne would be mine. Just call me Oargev.”
“As you wish.” Not sure I can do that, but I’ll try.
Bex braced for more questions about her loyalty, but the Prince asked, “So changelings can mate with other races.”
“Yes.” How she dreaded this topic… “Amongst ourselves, we breed true, but take a lover of a different race, and the offspring’s of that race about half the time.”
“I see.” Oargev scratched his stubbly chin; either he was bad at growing beards, or simply had no time to shave. He took another sip of his drink. “So there are male and female changelings.”
“Well, sure. We come into that in our adolescence, same as you.” From what Mother had said, changelings were more ambiguous before their teenage years, but the effect was the same.
“But you can appear as male?”
“Oh, I can be male. Or hermaphroditic, or even sexless.” He finds that weird, Bex thought. They usually do. ”But male urges are weird and overpowering to me. It’s not something I enjoy.”
“But if that’s what I need you to do…”
“Then I’ll do it, of course. Who did you need me to be?” Traveler, please don’t let this be about mating.
“You, Your – Sir?” It was all too much for Bex; sensing that, the Prince offered her the whiskey again. This time, she accepted. It burned like sweet fire going down. “You want me to be you?” she asked, the very words ringing like sour notes in her ears.
“I’ve been called to Sharn,” Oargev said. I guess ‘Sir’ isn’t too formal for him. “A Brelish dignitary wants an armistice with Cyre, and they want me to bring the offer to the Queen. But our agents believe that there’ll be an attempt on my life while I’m there.”
“You want to use me as bait,” she said, trying not to sound concerned.
“Yes. I’ve hand-picked a team to watch your back, though. They’ll protect you from any assassins… and, with any luck, you’ll find out who is behind this plot.”
“Are you sure there is a plot? Sir?”
“No,” he said. “But I can’t afford to ignore the possibility. And if the armistice offer is legitimate, I have to pursue it. Have you been to Sharn before?”
“Once or twice. With the Carnival of Shadows, in my youth.” She barely remembered anything of the city’s towering spires, but it was better than nothing, she supposed. “When are you leaving?”
“First thing tomorrow morning. I have business to finish here first – too much business. You can follow me today, try to ‘get me down,’ as you say.” He almost smiled. “If you’re up to it.”
“It’s dangerous.” He topped off her drink, then his own. “And if you don’t think you can handle it, I still have time to pursue the other ideas my advisors gave me.”
There’s a lot riding on this, Bex. “No. That won’t be necessary. You can count on me, Sir.”
“That’s what I like to hear. All right, let’s get started.”
“I think that went well,” the Prince said as he offered Bex a drink.
The changeling accepted it gratefully, knocking it back in one gulp. “She was on to me, Sir.”
“Of course she was. But you kept her guessing for two, maybe three minutes. And if you can convince the Queen that you might be me, then you can certainly fool them in Sharn.”
The Queen. Oargev had me lying to Queen Dannel! She had never felt so far out of her depth. The Prince was right, though; if Her Majesty didn’t recognize an impostor on the spot, this plan had a chance. “Thank you, Sir.”
Oargev nodded. “You should get some sleep. You’ll meet your team first thing in the morning.”
“Three of them I’ve actually met before.” Bex ran her fingers down the scroll nearest her on the desk. The two warforged, Relic and Rocky, had been there when she’d killed Throliel; Rocky had even forgiven her for her part in sabotaging House Cannith’s negotiations in Thrane. And Arturo was the closest thing she had to a friend in this world. “I don’t know the kalashtar or the dragonmarked man, though.”
“They both come highly recommended.”
Bex shook her head apologetically. “I know. I’m just…”
“You’ll do fine, Bex. Go home.” As the changeling got up, Oargev added, “You might want to put on a different face, though.”
Bex was still masquerading as the Prince. She made an awkward farewell, then made her way back to the linen closet where she’d stowed her bag of holding. No lock on the door, she thought as she closed it behind her. Move fast.
She shifted back into Rebexa’s form; this smaller frame made sliding out of the Prince’s clothes that much easier. She crammed the royal outfit into her bag, knowing there’d be time to press it later. I’ll have to get my own smallclothes, though… Wouldn’t do for the Prince to get caught in a woman’s underthings. Bex pulled her tight black clothes on, slipped into her boots, and placed the little iron rings through her earlobes and lower lip.
She called her leather armor from its extradimensional space. The wizard who invented this deserves a sainthood, Bex thought as the armor reappeared around her body. It takes all day to put this stuff on the old-fashioned way.
She drew her knife from the bag, a carver’s claw which Arturo had fashioned into a magic dagger for her. The familiar weight reminded her, as it always did, of her years pursuing Throliel Phiarlan. Though she still lived with the scars and the humiliation of their first encounter, Bex found their final battle far more haunting. Don’t get caught up in the past, Bex, she told herself as she fastened the knife to her belt. You’re needed in the present.
She slung the bag over her shoulder; even packed full of clothes, it never weighed more than a pound. Reaching into it, she drew out a bundle of red velvet cloth, which she unwrapped to reveal a simple mirror of black iron. The face had cracked into three pieces, but the frame still held them in place. Bex held the mirror up to examine her face – Rebexa’s face.
You’re Rebexa Chandler, Bex told herself, a Cyran sellsword, born in Metrol in 976. Your mother, Tessana, makes candles; your father Jorlan did, too, until he went off to war, then to jail for desertion. He still swears he’s innocent, but you’ve never found any proof. And your little sister Bexana has the talent to be a wizard, if your family can ever afford to find her a master…
But that’s why you turned to a life of crime, isn’t it? There was never enough gold to go around, then the Long Knives started shaking Mother down for protection… throwing in with them seemed like the only way to get them off her back. How old were you when you started setting up the marks for the cutpurses? Eight? So long ago, it’s all a blur. It was a good ride, while it lasted… maybe someday you can catch up to Kensleigh, pay him back for when he ditched you during the emerald heist. Those stones were the most beautiful thing you ever saw, and you didn’t end up with a single one.
But the war never left time for such concerns. You signed up at sixteen before they could conscript you, saw some action with Cyre’s scouts in Thrane. You were promoted after your best friend Yanis (as brave a ranger as ever walked the earth) died in your arms in the Burnt Wood, decorated when your unit was ambushed on the banks of the Thrane River, leaving you as the sole survivor… You even fended off that rabble of dinosaur-riding halfling mercenaries on the road to Aruldusk.
In spite of everything you saw, you were dead-set on reenlisting, until you met Egrin. He was beautiful, an eladrin worker of magic… you became a sellsword to be with him, and he taught you his language, among so many, many things… In the end, Phyxis gave up her claim to him – Egrin belonged with you, and all three of you knew it. He even asked you to marry him, just before he disappeared. Someone kidnapped him, you’re sure of it, but whom?
Bex put on the face, and the life that went with it, as easily as she put on the clothes, and much more quickly. Her life as Saeruil Phiarlan had been a lie made real; this, at least, was a lie she’d written for herself. Every day she added more to the tapestry, finding new ways to build on her previous work, never unraveling what had come before.
It was like this for all of her personas, but Rebexa was easily Bex’s favorite – the one she wore the most often, the one whose heart was closest to her own. And the lies were true for Rebexa; Bex’s mother had demanded this conviction from her, and it gave her the foundation she needed to hide in plain sight.
You’re Rebexa Chandler. You have a husky voice and an informal manner of speech. You drink, but never to excess; you flirt, but nothing ever comes of it. You don’t like bullies. All you ever wanted was a little action, and enough money to get by… and now your Prince and your country are counting on you.
She wrapped the velvet around the mirror and stowed it in her bag of holding before stepping out of the linen closet.
Better get some sleep, then. Big day tomorrow.