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Curious Curios | Late Afternoon, Thursday 22nd


Charles Audley
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MARE'S NEST ANTIQUES AND CURIOSITIES

The Mare's Nest is full of possibilities. Dimly lit, crowded - is that half-seen item an antique valuable beyond measure or what is politely termed 'a collectable'?

Shelves and tables overflow with items - fine furniture stands cheek by jowl with dubious marriages of timber oddments which nevertheless may really be the clothes press of Old King Ned - King Hal's grandsire that was.

Mr Otway, the gentle greybeard proprietor, filled his speech with 'in the style of', 'reputed to be' and, daringly, ‘from the school of'. Buy it because you enjoy it, not for it's value, would be his advice - were he asked for it.

 

 Gems among the current stock include:

A mirror, small and exquisite, the soft old glass reflecting with a gentle lustre. Set in a frame of Persian make, red lacquer and tiny pieces of mirror-glass scattered across it like shining foam on a blood-red sea.

A small portrait, Holbein-style, of a young blonde girl, 17, perhaps, her blue eyes wistful as she holds a white rose in one hand and, unusually for the time, holds a ribbon tied around the neck of a lamb in the other. Her gown is a rich blue brocade, so life-like you can hear it rustle. Sadly, the lady's name is lost to us.

An exquisite little table - it's modern, make not mistake - but truly a thing of beauty. Boulle inlay on rosewood.

Small enamelled brooch - King Richard's cap badge, lost and found in Bosworth field. Or so it is said.

An emerald and gold cross allegedly found after the wreck of a Spanish ship in the New World some 70 years ago. It's provenance may be dodgy but it's value is clear. 9 Fine large emeralds set in high grade gold, with a golden chain. A Papist ornament? Perhaps - but it can always be refashioned.

 

 

Charles had always had a liking for curios. Aesthetics were all well and good, and undeniably important, but an object with a story and a feeling of the exotic or the historic to it... Ah, that was satisfying on an almost spiritual level. He even enjoyed shopping for them, for it was always an entertaining challenge of wits and charisma to avoid being cheated.

He had to remind himself of that as he stared at the small brooch purporting to be Richard III's cap badge. There was a family connection to Bosworth which made the item doubly tempting — one of his ancestors had fought for Henry not-yet-then VII, and established himself at court through the signal achievement of not dying when the last Yorkist King of England had launched his final, doomed charge. It seemed to Charles an excellent piece of serendipitous fortune to find a relic of the battle here.

"Assuming, of course, that it is what it is claimed to be," he murmured, and straightened up, moving on with expertly feigned nonchalance. The brooch still sang to him, of course, but he would make his mind up one way or the other while perusing the rest of the Mare's Nest stock.

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Godwin Otway was deliberate in his Business and so had kept a watchful eye over the Gentleman - for clearly he was that - who was slowly circumnvagating the interior of his shop.

He had noticed his interest in that brooch and knew that a sale or even several might well be within his grasp. There was no rush after all.

As the Gentleman moved on and was able to look not at what just rests on the top but also beneath and alongside as well as above he might discover

a curved dagger from far off Persia inlaid with cabochon rubies with a fine chain of gold

freshwater pearl earring set in gold said to have been worn by the great Sir Francis Drake himself

a small miniature of a pretty young girl circled by diamonds

a frágil lace collar worn by James the First

a small leather bound book edged in gold and the inside filled with beautiful manuscript of Bible stories 

a set of pale blue porcelain tea bowls inside a traveling case from China's Imperial Court

A feather light finely woven shawl in a pale pink that might have graced a woman of the Hareem in India

a series of etchings of various insects and botanicals done by the Flemish man Karel van Mallery and quite a collectors item much sought after 

a black jet and pearl rosary said to have been used by Mary, Queen of Scots 

a Japan Work Powder Box square in design with blue swirls and a lid rimmed with gold

These were but many treasure that might be found.

on a wall rested a Rapier - a double-edged blade with an accurate point with an elaborate guard for the hand. The guards are of steel and engraved with a scroll pattern in a gold design. The blade bears the Maker's mark from Spain. It will measure 35.5 inches long; width of blade is 0.8 inches; thickness of the blade is 0.2 inches with a weight of 3 pounds. A Spanish Noblemen was its last owner and he, sadly, stabbed thru the heart in a forbidden duel. Weather over an insult or a Lady was never known. But the rapier itself is superb and any 'swordsman' would see its value.

Indeed the Proprietor was known for his London establishment and this shop in Windsor Town had done very well. He had many connections with several of the larger Trading Houses and so his stock was superior to many of the others' that sprang up on every corner so it seemed all of them eager to cater to those that indulged in the Art of collection 'strange and unusual things' and had the coin to buy.

"If you have a question or are searching for certain things please do ask. I am at your service Sir."

His voice was low and pleasant designed to not be found intrusive or eager for a Sale.

He continued to gently wipe the pure white almost translucent jar that had recently come from the Chinese Imperial Court. It was fragile and exquisitely beautiful.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The rapier was very tempting, a genuinely beautiful work of art. Toledo steel, too, unless he missed his guess. Unfortunately, the blade was too short for Charles — he stood five feet and ten inches, and thus needed a rapier with a blade between three and a half and four feet long, depending on whether one went by the measurements recommended by Thibault or Capo Ferro. Even going by George Silver, who favoured a much shorter blade, the Spanish rapier was lacking at least an inch.

Charles clucked his tongue softly in disappointment and moved on. The curved dagger was worth a second look, he thought (Charles had always loved rubies), as were the the porcelain tea bowls. Those were very elegant, and would make an excellent display piece. He stooped to examine them, humming thoughtfully. 

He looked up at the owner's voice and smiled. "Thank you. Could you tell me anything of the provenance of that dagger, perchance?" It was eastern, Charles thought, from further east than he had ever travelled himself, but he would like to know specifics.

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"Ah that particular object is promised to another and but awaits its delivery."

"But I have something else that might interest  ......"

He carefully set the jar back into a wooden box then for a moment disappeared behind a wall to return with a cloth wrapped bundle. Setting it carefully on the counter top he began to unveil it.

"it is called a "Kard" by description. I have placed it to at least a hundred years  ..... see here  .... but is by definition from Persia or even India."

"An object that is both weapon and tool."

He reached the object and the Gentleman would see a straight dagger some 10 inches in length. Sheathed in a metal case that is studded with gemstones and clearly reflected the wealth and status of it owner.

"The blade is, I believe, of Damascus steel and is designed for precision cutting and thrusting. You can see the intricate scrolling pattern in gold that runs half was across the upper part of the blade just here ......"

"And then extends to the bottom just there."

"The hilt is ivory and has no guard which would have provided for a functional grip."

"Have you an interest than Sir in such objects?"

He could not help seeing the eyepatch and so perhaps concludes it was lost in a Battle.

"I have only a few pieces of such excellent quality here. The shop in London holds more treasures."

"This object came to me by way of a long journey across several Lands. Imagine its Stories  ......"

He would offer it to be examined and held if so wished.

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Charles was a little disappointed to learn that the curved dagger was spoken for, but that disappointment was immediately alleviated as the owner brought out a fresh treasure for his perusal. The 'kard' (not a term Charles had ever heard, at least in the context of weaponry) was beautiful, he would admit. 

"No guard," he murmured. "Turkish swords are the same, but longer and curved. Always struck me as a good way to lose fingers, but perhaps they parry less in the east. May I?"

He took the offered dagger and weighed it in his hand. The ivory grip was a little slender for his hand — he would have to rehilt it if he meant to fight with the blade, but then he would have had to do that anyway, given that Charles would never fight with a blade lacking a guard if he had any choice in the matter — but he liked the feel of the weapon. He would be buying it for display, if he bought it at all, he reminded himself.

"It is exquisitely balanced," he opined, tilting the blade to admire the play of light on the distinctive rippling pattern of Damascus steel, "and I do like that scrollwork..."

He leaned in to examine the blade more closely for signs of use. Even the best steel picked up tiny nicks and scratches in a fight, and Charles was perfectly comfortable admitting to himself that he would value the dagger more highly if he thought it had seen action.

He looked up to answer the shopkeeper's question, smiling thinly.

"I have an interest in elegant things, interesting things, and pretty things. I know a little more about weaponry than I do most other sorts of curio, though, which makes it easier to assess them on such grounds."

He spun the kard around his fingers and returned it to its sheathe.

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He handed it gently to the Gentleman watching as he inspected it.

he is intrigued but I wonder if this temps  ..... he is not yet set on anything for if he was he would have asked specifically for a thing  ......

"Indeed the balance is as you say yet if you look just there .... you will see the slight knick on the outside half way down   ......"

He was nothing if not honest. Reputation after all meant Everything.

"Nothing that would affect its use yet now it is hardly 'perfect'. Perhaps it shows something about its owner as well?"

"Do you know the saying 

       Nothing in Life should be too Perfect

"I think this speaks much for what I do. I have collections from many Lands and places and some are without a blemish"

"Which makes them too precious to be set out thus depriving the owner as well as the viewer the pleasure of it." 

"Like those tea cups you looked at."

"Beautiful in design and yet made for everyday use. One can imagine the owner on their travels and stopping to rest and taking pleasure in drinking for something so beautiful."

"The tea would have tasted so fragrant do you not think?"

To his question the reply came.

"Ah a man of varied interests is one that I much prefer! There are many things to see and to learn about."

"There is never a rush and I would say that you should acquire something after contemplation rather at a first glance."

"I am at your service Sir should you wish for anything."

"May connections are many and varied. I set a fair price. My objects are prized and cherished by a select few."

"Perhaps you might join them."

He was as he always was in his dealings. Upfront and nothing hidden. Well sometimes he did pad a story and invent like a Storyteller but it oft times made for a better Sale.

Yet he sensed that with this particular Gentleman that would not work. 

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Charles bent to examine the indicated knick.

"Edge on edge parry, I think," he opined. "Not ideal, but needs must when steel's out, hmm? In any case, this has seen some real use."

That this pleased him was readily apparent.

He listened politely and appreciatively to the shopkeeper's little speech. It was salesman's patter, of course, but good salesman's patter, and Charles had always enjoyed listening to a good salesman work. This one was passionate, too, or at least convincingly feigned as much, which was even better.

He is not lying, either, at least not overtly or egregiously.

"You mention fair price. What would you consider a fair price for the kard? Or the enamelled brooch that caught my attention when I entered?"

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"Ah ... the brooch  ..."

He moved away and was soon back with that object held gently in his palm.

"Beautiful is it not? And such Luck to actually have one."

"It is Authentic. There are so few of these 'Cap Badges' around anymore. King Richard was vilified by the next Kings - the Tudors - and so nearly anything of association with Richard was destroyed ."

"It is small as you can see perhaps an inch by and inch and silver gilt with enamel and those few scattered uncut stones."

"I have examined and I believe there are three diamond chips, two emerald and two ruby that runs alone the 'ruff' of the boar."

"The pin on the back is also of gold."

"It is a 'White Boar' and was adapted by Richard as King. Called Galtung in Norwegian meaning Boar. The boar Gullinbursi  was hence the old Norse family name of the Royal bloodlines."

" From Rollo of Normandy actually and the man which the Plantagenets claim ancestry."

"Richard handed out thousands of these badges to his followers and retinue of soldiers as well as to his Household."

"Most cap badges were pewter but others, like this, would have been given out to Knights or those of higher, Nobel status."

"This is in such a condition that I would venture to suggest it was well cared for."

"It may have even been carried into that final Battle by its owner and, lucky fellow, lived another day."

"I have heard that there are even some tombs of Knights in Churches all across England that have a 'white boar' effigy on the garments."

"Proving that even in death they were still loyal to the King they once served."

"Afterwards it could hardly be worn again as King Richard died and a Tudor succeeded."

"It has a long history indeed."

"I would say ..... 100 pounds ..... it is a fair and good price."

"For the Kard   ... 90. Given that the blade has a flaw. Small but a flaw nevertheless."

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"It's pretty piece," Charles agreed, "and a most appropriate badge, given how Richard III died."

The last Yorkist king had charged like a boar across Bosworth Field and, like many boars, had come perilously close to killing his Tudor rival before being felled himself.

He listened to the shopkeeper expound on the background of the badge, impressed with the breadth of the man's knowledge.

"An... eclectic lineage, the Plantagenets. They claimed descent from Melusine on the Angevin side, as I recall," he offered, feeling obliged to make a contribution of his own.

The price was really more than fair, to his mind, and so Charles did not even haggle. He had not spent all his winnings from his bet with the Merry Gang yet, and and this was as fine a use for the money as any.

"Done and done," he said immediately. "Will my note of hand suffice? I can have the sum fetched but it will take a little time."

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"It is always such a pleasure to deal with a Gentleman such as yourself Sir."

"Naturally it will suffice. How could it not."

"You have an eye for what you find of interest and also a goodly amount of knowledge to back it all up."

"I should like to think that you will visit now and then particularly my shop in London."

"Will you take these now or prefer to have them delivered? Here or London matters nought."

"You can rest assured that they will be handled with upmost care by me personally."

He let his mind wander at the thought of him being a returning customer and of certain other things that might tempt.

He was after all a procurer of Fine Things and as for his other side business, well, that was a dark side that few knew about.

Yet it could be said that BOTH sides turned a profit.

Very good ones indeed.

 

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"I shall certainly look in when I have the chance. My tastes are wide-ranging and not precisely... conventional, but your inventory seems like to satisfy them," Charles said agreeably as he settled payment. He would too. The shopkeeper's inventory was exotic and varied and the man himself dealt as honestly and fairly as one could expect a trader in curios to deal, which was to say neither his lies nor his prices were outrageous or insulting. He was a good salesman too, and knowledgeable about his stock, and Charles appreciated both.

"They are relatively small items. I shall take both now, if that is convenient for you."

He offered the shopkeeper his hand.

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His smile was one of sincerity.

"Good. Good."

He nodded as he shook his hand.

"I shall be happy to assist you any time."

"Very well. I shall be but a moment and see that they are secured for you to take."

He gave a small bow and was gone taking the two treasure with him.

Shortly thereafter he returned and carefully handed them over to the Gentleman.

He would see him out without any fuss.

Later he would send a man in his employ to seek out any information as to who he actually was. And of more import what he might know of himself.

He had to be cautious after all and separate the Collector from any adversary who had ideas to interfere or catch a quick profit.

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The inventory of these kind of shops was such that most people would think most of it junk, but the occasional item a treasure. They'd simply vary in opinion on which item was the treasure. 

Judging by the discrete hand shake happening someone had already found a treasure. Douglas left the two men to it, idly perusing the trinkets and so one displayed about the store. The portrait surrounded by diamonds was intriguing; who was she? The pearl earring was... curious. Just the one. But the thing that caught Douglas's eye was the fine rapier hanging on the wall. The scrollwork on the gilded steel was quite beautiful, whilst the blade itself was clearly well made and entirely practical. The Spanish were some of the best sword makers in the known world. 

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The entrance of another was well timed. Business was concluded and he called out

"Welcome Sir. What might I assist you with?"

He saw the direction the Gentleman looked and added

"Ah. A fine eye you have indeed."

"Tis fortunate that the blade's length was not right for another but for you ....... perhaps?"

He would wait patiently occupied with the white vase again in his endless polishings.

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The shop keeper followed Douglas's gaze to the blade on the wall, flattering Douglas's taste in a typical manner. Of course he wanted to make a sale. But if the blade was too short for Chatham then it was far too short for Douglas, who was outlandishly tall. Additionally it had a right-handed guard, and Douglas wore his rapier at his right hip for a left-hand draw; the big Scotsman was sinister.

"Haps ye kin tell me whit the blade is doin' in a Curio shop?" * Douglas suggested as he examined the maker's stamp closely. After all, it was a modern blade, not some antique. There had to be a story behind it or the man surely would not have considered it worth stocking. The mark was one he recognised; very nice indeed. It was certainly tempting. 

"May I?" He asked, reaching towards the blade with - for anyone paying attention at home - his right hand.

Subtitles
* "Perhaps you can tell me what the blade is doing in a Curio shop?"

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He had seen at once that this very tall man would have no use for it either but the pitch was made all the same.

Ah a Scotsman. A rarity to be sure.

"Certainty ..... Allow me."

He carefully took it down and laid it on the counter. He noted too that it was his right hand not the left that reached out despite him clearly being left-handed.

"This is but a smaller business to the one I have in London. But the stock is excellent and so it does well amongst those that are around."

"Then blades mark is Spanish and authentic. I can say with certainty that the last owner was indeed a Spanish nobleman. Killed in a duel that was forbidden."

"Stabbed thru his heart. One can only wonder at the reasons behind such a thing. Perhaps the Love of a beautiful woman or something more dark and sinister   ...."

"Alas that will never be known."

"The blade is too short for you.You might be able to re-fashion for a better fit - for your left hand I mean."

"But that would entail adding steel to its length and could possible end badly if not done by a Master."

"Please feel free to look about   ..... simply ask about anything and I shall try my best to be helpful."

"If you are a collector of special things then I might be able to procure it from my Connections."

He would answer any question he might have regarding the Rapier and then take a step back allowing the Gentleman to look at his own pace."

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Regardless of the fact that the blade was conventionally far too short for the Scotsman it had clearly captured his interest, and he listened as the purveyor described it's history. "Int'restin'. D'ye happen tae ken the name o' the previous owner?"* He asked, curious. If not, Douglas might well be able to find out. After all, how many Spanish noblemen had come to the English court, only to be stabbed through the heart in a duel? Perhaps not the best of omens, that the man had been stabbed through the heart, but they all had to end some way and at least it was quick. Douglas had seen far worse in war.

Moving respectfully so that the man need not fear for his wares, Douglas again reached for the sword with his right hand, grasping the hilt and lifting it from the counter. It was easy to see from the way the guard wrapped around the hilt that it could not be grasped by the other hand save but very awkwardly. He turned the blade this way and that, feeling it's balance, which was very fine, save that it was indeed far too short for Douglas. Well, too short for a main weapon. 

He laid the sword carefully back onto the counter and fixed it's purveyor with a thoughtful look. "Tell me laddie, hae ye e'er seen a man ficht case?"** 

(OOC: 'Case' refers to fighting with the same weapon in both hands, usually either 'case of swords' or sometimes 'case of daggers'.)

Subtitles
* "Interesting. Do you happen to know the name of the previous owner?"
** "Tell me man, have you ever seen a man fight case?"

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It took him a few seconds to decipher the wording for the accent was strong ......

"Are you asking about "parrying daggers" perhaps?" 

"A dagger used with either a sword or rapier in the dominate hand and the dagger in the other?"

"Well to be honest it is not often that a 'set' is discovered and then made for sale."

"I do have several Rondel Daggers but they are single items  ......

He turned to his left and went to a case that was filled with assorted boxes and took one from the middle shelf.

Setting it on the counter he removed the lid to reveal a sheathed dagger.

He carefully took it from there and set it down. 

"It is a long, thick-spined and wickedly pointed fighting knife. As you can see."

"Optimized for penetrating thick clothing, forcing open chain mail links or being thrust through the joints in plate armor."

"The blade is steel some 12-16" in length. It would have been worn on a belt on the right side. It has a disc style guard and pommel which would help facilitate a rapid draw under combat conditions."

Are you familiar then with such weaponry?"

"I have been searching for years for a copy of Ridolfo Capo Ferro's teachings on the subject of fighting. I saw one in Sienna many years ago but sadly someone else acquired it."

There was a touch of wistfulness in his voice.

"It is an elegant manifesto of fighting style that requires both significant skill and grace."

"Not Fashionable now days as it was a hundred years ago and more."

"But any man that can master it will benefit his fighting prowess to no end."

"This was owned by someone of a high status - the hand carved grip and components in dark walnut with brass detailing."

"If you look here  ..... you can see that the tip of the blade has been reenforced  ......."

"But it is the sheath itself that gives us the clue as to the owner. A man of some wealth I suspect."

"Spanish leather smooth as glass. Embedded with scroll work in gold and sadly, only a few of the original uncut stones remain, but you can see they are Ruby."

"Would be easy to match I should think."

"Please  ....."

He offered the Gentleman to take it up and study if he so wished.

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The purveyor of the store unfortunately misunderstood him. He clearly handled weapons regularly - the rondel dagger he brought out for Douglas to view was as beautiful as it was deadly - and he knew their history, but not their use. 

"Nae laddie, case o' swords. Like sae."* He drew the longer, plainer weapon at his hip with his left hand, then picked up the shorter Spanish sword again with his right, assuming a guard with the main sword held low and the offhand held high, both points aimed at the gentleman of the store. Lest the man think he was being threatened Douglas lowered the points after the merest moment, laid the Spanish sword once more on the counter and sheathed his own sword. The foreign blade had felt good in his hand. 

Most great sword masters held that the best defensive array was sword and buckler, whilst the best offensive was sword and dagger, the short dagger able to attack up close and cover holes in the larger blade's defence. The problem with case of swords was that it left that close range more open, whilst being twice as offensive at distance; a smaller offhand sword countered that issue somewhat. "Ye weel nae find that in Capo Ferro, but Di Grassi an' Sutor both speak on't as a natural progression fer the fencer wha is capable wi' thair sword in either hand."** He explained. As a natural left hander, Douglas had been forced to practice both. And whilst it might not give much any real advantage against a single opponent, when facing more than one, fighting case could really even the odds. 

Subtitles
* "No man, case of swords, like so."
** "You will not find that in Capo Ferro, but Di Grassi and Sutor both speak on it as a natural progression for the fencer who is capable with their sword in either hand."

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