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…
The moon reigned over a starless night. Blessed with the clarity of its brace, the city of a hundred names, capital of the Imperial order, prepared to enter its sleepless world – a world of debauchery, theft, passion, hedonism and crime.
The gigantic statues of the historical phoenixkings, the illyrian twins Ismair and Asurian valenKel, stood proud on the dragon’s bay, where the city that brought an end to the wars was built, jewel of the first age. Hard to notice, a quiet shadow – an invisible darkness that the virtuous denied, building their wealth out of the nameless sacrifices of the weak – haunted half the city. It wasn’t the city they talked about in the high castles or in the fables, but these were the streets in which walked the man known as Dantena van Torquaz.
His Lordship, Watcher Dantena van Torquaz walked down the Way of the Guard, entering the eleventh district of the Imperial city. He started his descent by avoiding the Barracks, in which the proud City Watch hosted its underpaid soldiers, and he later remembered that if he took the wrong direction he would have drifted into the slums, the ones where the magi who served in the Third Greatwar were left to die, afflicted with an awful addiction to fel beverages. Hopefully, the man in black didn’t commit such a mistake, and left the eleventh district, entering the Narrows, a unsatisfactory urban area, where all the exiles and failures of high society ruled, too lazy to succeed among the highborne.
The Narrows stank. Like every corner of the Imperial City, but worse. Hopeless, lord Torquaz knew it wasn’t the worse out of this shitpile of a city, but he still despised the lack of effort mustered by the Guilds and the Crown to cover the smell. Pointless to complain about the underlying sewers, he had learned his craft well enough to know which battles to pick. Smoke dominated most of the streets, all the drugstores and the taverns which hid apothecaries and brothels were covered by an unhealthy mist. The fallen of the Upper City had found a craft here, and ruled over the beggars, forming syndicates such as the House of Black and Red, or the Greyfallow crime family.
The Narrows stank. Yet, each accursed day of his life, Dantena van Torquaz had to cross them, to join the House of Wanders, a dark mansion that stood over the Hill of Alethor, one of the seven on which the capital had been built. Risking his life by working in these unpleasant areas, Torquaz had to hide his identity as a Watcher, thus covering himself in black clothes, and hiding himself under a hood. All despised the men of his trade. Sadly for Torquaz, he had multiple disadvantages, even in comparison of his unpopular colleagues. Flayed alive during the Greatwar, Torquaz’s entire afternoon had been spent trying to find his way through the dark streets despite his atrocious pain. Indeed, the Night’s Watch of His Majesty didn’t receive the proper funding to assure its staff’ own security.
So, His Excellence, Lord Watcher Dantena van Torquaz, a notorious cripple, had to walk down one of the Empire’s worst slums by himself – hiding his cane under his grey cape -, to join his own headquarters. It took me an entire day… Not that he cared of the apostates or of the criminals his absence let slid by, Torquaz hated to walk, for his leg missed flesh below the knee, and had been entirely flayed – like the rest of his walking corpse. Why am I still alive?
Easy to recognize, the House of Wanders had been built in such a way that it seemed to engulf the entire Narrows into a spider web. Vicious, its pointy structures stabbed the area like daggers, and its black walls highlighted the scarlet windows in which the Watchers lurked. Rumored to have been constructed over an ancient graveyard, the House of Wanders had extended its reach over the last decades, swallowing the last comfortable habitations in the Narrows and turning them into halls of horror. It reminded the wicked that the eyes of the Emperor looked down upon them, a silent machine that never slept nor rested.
Finally reaching the entrance, the iron bars which sealed it opened, triggered by a giant of a man, a monk from the north answering the name of Sandor. Appearing out of his stone hut, the hunchback now blocked the rocky path leading up to the House.
“Milord,’ his lowborn voice answered, spontaneous but still slow. ‘Welcome in the halls of the Watchers. The word of God?”.
A hint of a smile rising under his hood, Dantena van Torquaz looked at this almost folkloric watcher, a dim-witted fool who was raised to serve powerful idiots. His burden so simple it seems boring, and therefore his lifestyle is so tempting. His life has the luxury of utter boredom, and is driven by a stoic rigidity. What a lucky lad. That was before he met Sandor’s gaze, whose wide eyes opened like if he were trapped in a perpetual state of confusion. A halfwit. I am well-aware than knowing too much is the end of happiness, but somehow I don’t want to be a fool like this trash. Indeed, the rythm of his steps was ragged, his back torned into itself.
“Let me through Sandor” Torquaz ordered the hunchback.
“The word of God?” Sandor repeated, his shoulders tightening, a sign of nervous aggressivity that Torquaz knew very well.
Still, the gatekeeper spread his arms open, refusing the exhausted watcher sanctuary.
Is he a halfwit, or is he a genius? The thin line that separates idiocy and brilliance amazes me. He is an utter fool, half-ogre half-hunchback, who refuses me, a senior officer of the Night’s Watch, to enter my own headquarters. This is loyalty. Or is he abusing the little power he has? Acting as a fool is the primary form of cunning.
“The word of Man below” Torquaz excelled in praying cynically. “Blesses you my son.
– Thanks, father” Sandor bowed zealously, opening the way with a graceless arm swing.
Dantena van Torquaz walked up the road the House of Wanders, which stood on the top of Alethor’s Hill, casting his large shadow upon the entrance. Approaching the citadel, he heard Sandor closing the gates in the darkness below.
Advancing with his cane and his sweaty but still living corpse, Torquaz needed to hurry, for he had a long night ahead of him: a meeting with major Sebestian Melogre. And that holy bastard, whose word mattered to the Iron Circle itself, didn’t like to wait. God is an impatient bastard.
Read next chapter here