The Kron Hills were one of the great gnomish homelands in the Flanaess. The noniz, as the human Flan people called them, had called the hills home for as long as the Flan elders could remember. Prospering from the treasures of the oerth, the gnomes had a long and proud history of fighting alongside human and dwarven allies against orcs, ogres and other foul creatures.

The gnomes' capital was the great city of Copper Crossing, located east of the smaller village of Tulvar and almost due south of the human city of Verbobonc. Half of Copper Crossing's sixteen thousand inhabitants were gnomes, with humans and dwarves each forming another quarter of the population. Other communities in the Kron Hills were known for unoerthing precious metals and gems, but Copper Crossing was more known for its vast mines of copper, tin and other more mundane metals. The only precious metal mined in Copper Crossing was copper, and so it provided half the city's name. The other part of the city's name came from its location on the trade routes between the human communities of Dyvers and Verbobonc to the north, the elven land of Celene to the south and the human wretches of the Wild Coast to the east. The combination of trade and mining had made Copper Crossing very prosperous, and its merchants were widely respected in the human and elven lands.

The gnome gem dealer Laessar Bradon was a perfect example of those merchants. He had come to Copper Crossing more than three decades ago to seek his fortune, and over that time become one of Copper Crossing's most prosperous citizens. Laessar did not display his wealth as ostentatiously as some of his rivals, but he wore a silver ring on each hand, and his hair and clothes were perfectly cut and coiffed. He had the quiet confidence of a man who knew he was master of his house, and sometimes of others' houses as well.

Laessar's confidence showed itself in his bearing as his coachman drove him home, the way he strode through the front doors of his manner and how he marched into his study. Looking at his elaborately carved desk, Laessar nodded with satisfaction. His valet Borrus had already set out his correspondence for his review, and set out the wine, fruit and cheese he enjoyed eating while he worked.

Laessar managed to keep his confidence as he shut and locked the study door, and sat down at his desk. Laessar's confidence immediately vanished once he'd sat down, as he put his face in his hands. He sat there for several minutes, and when he raised his face again he looked as though he had aged a hundred years. His hands began to tremble as he opened the first of his letters, even as his shoulders bent.

The first letter was from one of Laessar's friends in the Gentry of Dyvers, assuring him that the permits for his shipment to Willip in Furyondy had already been approved. Once Laessar's goods arrived in Dyvers, they would be on the boat to Willip in less than a day.

The second letter was from one of Laessar's friends in Veluna City, giving Laessar some advice on the market outlook for Baklunish wines. According to Laessar's friend, that the market outlook wasn't as good as most of the speculators were thinking. The friend strongly advised Laessar to minimize his investments in the wines.

The third letter was from one of Copper Crossing's bureaucrats, assuring Laessar that his taxes for the year had been paid in full and that he didn't owe any more money.

For a moment, Laessar seemed to regain his confident manner, as he thought he had no more mail.

Then he remembered that he had a fourth letter.

His hands began to tremble as he opened the letter, and he shuddered as he recognized the handwriting.

The usual collection of goods arrive three days from today, at the Wyvern Location.

These goods must go by the Forgotten Route.

You know, of course, the rewards of success…

…and the penalty of failure.

Tears formed in Laessar's eyes as he buried his face in his hands.

Laessar had given his family and servants strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed when he reviewed his confidence. When he emerged from his study two hours later to eat his supper, he was again projecting his confident, assured manner.

He was the only one who knew it was all a lie.