The Knights of Summer

Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying “there are only facts,” I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations…

Friedrich Nietzsche

Massive, the Gathering wasn’t any petty joust from the provinces. Every winter and every summer, the major cities enlisted in the Imperial order celebrated the solstices with great extravagance. Aside from the feasts and parades, tournaments were organized among the guilds to compete with each other on their specific trade, for the greatest exaltation of the crowds. Particularly, martial guilds, during peacetime, became increasingly involved with solstices celebrations, and hosted their own events. Over its long-run, the Gathering was a special tournament taking place in Peythralm, the capital city itself, where the fighters from every corner of the Empire strived to attend, for it provided the best opportunities for careers. Magic having lost its credibility, the Great Orders, among others legendary military organisations, recruited their new members directly from the Gatherings instead of relying on the Universities. Indeed, the Gathering had ignited more than one legend, from legendary Ithildir Merethil to Norman Daegoln. Once, a handsome and dashing young swordsman from the West won three Gatherings in a row, promised to the brightest future. Alas, the young man known as Dantena van Torquaz later lost himself in his own glory and arrogance, eventually being better known as the Unscarred of Shyrpal.

Observing the colossal wooden structures built for the Summer Gathering, lord Torquaz stared particularly violently at the Phoenix broad on the red silk, which reminded every one of its meaning. Unlike the lower pavilions, the biggest one of all, the Red Tower itself, never changes. It reminds thus that its members were and will be for a long time. Designed to receive the high officials, guests from the Gathering itself, kings, dukes and princesses, this magnified balcony opened its doors to the best fighters. Only at ear reached, these gifted fighters were offered career propositions. This is where the future of a warrior is determined. This is where he vows to serve, this is where magic died. The crafts of wonder have become a trade.

Nonchalantly sitting in the Red Pavillion, Imrik of the Rubaron family, head of state of the Principality of Thyria, agitated his cup of wine in a kingsmanesque manner, commenting on the upcoming jousts with a sheer excitation. Lying against his throne, his marvellous younger sister, Erika of Rubaron, the Maid of Thyria, let her hand wander on her brother’s lap, in a typical Thyrian way. Disgusting incestuous brats rule one of the major world powers. Disliking the young duke as much as the rest of the world, Torquaz still appreciated his naive fascination for martial arts. Such passion reminded Torquaz of how it was to be cheered for displaying his skill. If both highborne and beggars shared a burning love for martial arts, there was hope for the warrior’s way to never die. Rising on his face, a hint of a smile illuminated Torquaz’s pale face. Hope? Bah!

Dismissing his weakness, Torquaz focused on his task. Hunting down a slayer, lord Torquaz suspected strangers first, for Gatherings also attracted outlaws unknown to the Capital City’s archives. As a matter of fact, the Sinistros slayer had begun his killing spree in the weeks preceding the Summer solstice. Furthermore, heralds and chroniclers attended the Gathering as well, and these talkative folks held knowledge on the names and whereabouts of many. If there is a place to begin hunting the slayer, the Summer Gathering is the right one. 

Walking among the queued crowed, lord Torquaz ignored the protestations of the people he cut in the line, focusing on the warders that organized the entrance. All around him, the joy and excitement confused themselves with the gambling and the insults. Smells of a hundred realms occupied the heavy air, accompanied by the clamor of thousands of accents. After crossing this human maze, lord Torquaz drifted towards the small streets on the corner next to the entrance, still aware of the secret passages. I know where the best spots are. After all, before being the Gathering’s first sword, I have been a crafty teenager who dreamt of sneaking on the best jousts. Progressing within the streets, Torquaz sniffed the piss’ perfume, also acknowledging the wise men selling drinks and amulets to impatient spectators. Things never really change, do they? Reassured in his routine, Dantena van Torquaz saw the Broken Sword‘s tavern and entered it. Ignoring the innkeeper, he continued on to the kitchens, engulfing in the underground.

Emerging into the Gathering’s training rooms, lord Torquaz bore a smug and satisfied smile, the pain in his leg contained by his glorious memories.

Wandering into the training rooms, Torquaz lingered in his thoughts. Knowing perfectly well that reminiscing would never bring him any good, a part of his mind wanted the disgraced swordsman to remember. Do I even care about catching Sinistros the Slayer? I suppose I shall face consequences if I don’t. Why do I care about this life? Seeing the dummies, the training swords, the rapiers and the axes made him bleed more than his flayed skin. Letting his hand reach his chest, he tightened his grip on his cape, questioning his reason for surviving. I want to see the world burn. I want to kill that man. But how can I strive for these meaningless goals? It is so weak that all meaning vanishes when I remember the reality of the sword. 

Hearing a familiar lullaby, Torquaz let himself carried in the rooms. Why? Don’t be surprise if you suffer so much, lord Torquaz. A part of you likes the pain, it reminds of you of what it felt to be cut by a sword. Entering a private cell, Torquaz saw the sunlight from outside shining on a young man whose back faced him, a white wolfdog joyfully barking at his side as he trained. Unlike most fighters, this lad had a slim built, dry muscles and strong arms. Swinging his blade at the dummy, he was entirely focused on his exercise. Surprisingly, his technique seemed fairly advanced for a boy of his age, his strikes driven by a youthful passion Torquaz knew well. The same power inspired a boy I once knew, a boy who always trained alongside his wolfdog puppy, my beloved Crook. 

Suddenly, the boy’ shoulders tensed, switching his stances as he stepped back, positioning his feet to swiftly face a busted Torquaz. He’s fast, but not half as fast as I was at his age. Unlike the younger Torquaz, this boy wasn’t nobility, his brown eyes and shaggy hair betraying his origins. At first reading hostility in the lad’s eyes, Torquaz granted the boy a forced smile, witnessing him relaxed instantly. Covered in sweat, the youth seemed surprised to see Torquaz in these rooms. A repulsive and gloomy rogue with fancy clothes is not a usual customer in such halls. 

“Can I help you, ser?’ the boy asked, a strong accent from the Forestlands countryside making him difficult to understand.

‘- You may actually. Also know that I am no knight’, Torquaz replied friendly as possible.

‘- Oh,’ he smiled in turn. ‘What can I do for you?’ he paused before observing Torquaz, and hesitantly added: ‘milord.”

Poor child must think of me as a potential sponsor…

 “What style are you practicing here?’ Torquaz convinced himself to ask.

‘- Oh… This is the Wolf style, milord’ Torquaz sympathized with the lad’s enthusiasm who explained the obvious. ‘It consists in an aggressive swordplay based on stepping and fast assaults. Only an advanced practitioner allows himself to use lethal moves…

– Are you an apprentice, or a initiated?’ Torquaz questioned, aware that this boy couldn’t be a master yet.

‘I am an apprentice to ser Melrag of the Forest, milord. I also belong to his house as squire’, the boy answered. Interesting, he mentions being a swordsman before being part of the chivalric system. “I am Borothar of the Forest, milord.’

A boy says his name before being asked. A boy is rude, or could he be confident? 

“Well, young Borothar of the Forest, I wish you good fortune in the wars ahead of you,’ Torquaz smiled before turning back. ‘If you keep practicing hard you might actually become something. Send my regards to that old Melrag.

– You know of my master?’ the youth asked valiantly.

‘- Yes. I defeated him in the quarters finals some time ago.”

Walking away, Torquaz heard the dog bark for a handful of seconds before Borothar added, a respectful tone echoing in his words:

“Thank you, lord Torquaz. Good fortune in your own wars as well.’

Interrupting his walk for a brief instant, Torquaz realized that some remembered, before he chose to ignore the voices in his head and walked off to the corridors, searching for the Green Pavillion.

Lord Torquaz had a slayer to catch.

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