The Aurum Inheritance
"Dragons aren't cooperative at the best of times, but if you want to see them at their worst, I mean their absolute, eye-scratching, back-stabbing worst, you want to be there when they read out a will." The old elf lawyer chuckled and leaned back in his wingback chair "Oh there are a dozen tales I could tell you, cousins spitting fire, brothers and sisters all but tearing each other apart over a chest of gold, but the worst infighting I ever saw, the very pinnacle of avaricious spite was when that twisted old lizard Aurum died."
"I think I heard about that." the elf's companion was young mostly by comparison, and somewhat rounder now he'd mostly given up the life of a sword for hire "Was he the one that got run through by that wandering knight?"
"That was the story, though no knight ever did come forward to confirm it. I know there were some folks who never did quite believe it, said anyone could have used a lance if the beast was asleep first."
"Not anyone." the swordsman corrected "It would take strength to drive the shaft in far enough to hit any useful organs."
"I bow to your superior knowledge." The elf nodded as though this confirmed something he had long suspected "But what no one denied is that Aurum was dead, and to the best of anyone's knowledge he had left no will."
The swordsman frowned in puzzlement "That isn't what I heard. Wasn't there a mistress or some such, claimed he'd written one in her favour?"
"Eventually there was, I'll grant you, but I'm speaking now of the weeks and months immediately after the old miser died and at that time there was no whisper of such a thing. No, nor anyone who thought it likely either." the elf explained "It was widely rumoured that Aurum had made a pact with the Reaper herself that he might never die a natural death, and it was certainly known that he had taken measures to ensure that he had no heirs that might challenge him for his gold. As best the records show he ate at least a dozen younglings that might have been his."
"A gruesome business."
"Indeed, and one that caused no small amount of legal wrangling during his lifetime, other dragons claiming he'd wrongly disposed of their offspring. In point of fact there were two cases still being tried at the time of his death. An added complication you understand, none of the claimants to his fortune wanted a single gold piece to be paid out in compensation you can be sure of that." the lawyer chuckled nastily "They were prepared to pay quite highly to see that it didn't happen too, far more than the compensation would have been worth."
The swordsman narrowed his eyes at that but his companion was too intent on telling his tale to notice.
The elf continued "There were quite a mess of claimants in the beginning, an assortment of nieces and nephews for the most part and Aurum's one surviving sister, whom he was known to have been on good terms with and who would likely have taken the largest share had she not mysteriously fallen ill and died herself before the claim could be settled."
"It was suspected, certainly, but never proved." the elf lawyer stared into the fire, his mind far away, or rather long ago "After that, things became nasty. One by one each of the surviving claimants realised that if one of the others could be blamed for the murder, if murder it was, they would forfeit their share, leaving more for the rest of them. Accusations flew thick and fast, evidence was brought forward and decried as fake. There were injuries and freak illnesses, and with each new incident, there would be a culprit sought, who would then deny the claim and point the finger elsewhere or else back at the injured party, saying that the injury was faked to cast the blame at them." he sighed a little wistfully "It was a time of plenty for those of us called upon to represent the various factions."
Again the swordsman frowned, finding the lawyers glee more than a little distasteful.
"Then, as you say, this supposed mistress came forward, claiming that there was a will, not that she could produce it of course." the old elf shook his head regretfully "It rather spoiled the game. Faced with a common foe Aurum's various surviving relatives joined forces, settling their differences so as to get their claws on a share of the gold before this fabled will could come to light."
"I heard she claimed that you were the one who drew up the will." the swordsman spoke casually, a little too casually.
The old elf looked at his companion, suspicion crossing his features for the first time "Now where could you possibly have heard that?"
The swordsman didn't answer the question "Is it true?"
"That was indeed her claim." the elf lawyer agreed "Though there was never a scrap of proof, and waiting so long to come forward did little for her plausibility either."
"I imagine if the will had existed, you and your fellow lawyers would have made rather less gold." the swordsman suggested.
"Quite likely, quite likely. I imagine the will would have been contested, of course, but agreement would surely have been reached sooner." the elf frowned "I do wonder where you heard that detail however. You can't have heard it from her, she's long dead."The swordsman rose to his feet and drew his sword "True, but her child is not. Her child, Aurum's child is very much alive." the elf lawyer barely had time to realise he was in danger before his head tumbled to the ground. The swordsman looked down at it with something approaching regret "There's more than one way to get gold out of a dragon."