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…
A Westerling saying goes: From the Fulgam kingsmen hails the greatest horsemen, but the Torquaz’ Hall gives birth to every horselord.
Once, during the dark century of war, Temeros’s cavalry got decimated by Islanders’ arrows, and its knightly houses fell from grace, with the Fulgam kings bent on conquering the world with a professional army. However, every single Temerian recalls the dazzling charge of the Torquaz’s vanguard, first regiment of cavalry of the Known World.
Even in his Imperial mansion, lord Torquaz had collected the finest breeds of horses, and in the Second Circle suburbs of the Capital City in which the foreign highborne gathered their residences, the Torquaz stables shone, a jewel from a great past.
Nostalgic of what he has lost, Torquaz also regretted that he’ll never ride again, bound to carriages for the rest of his days. His generation – including his brothers and his sister – were the last of the horselords, and even though he had failed the best hopes for his house to conquer the Imperial military, he still believed in Sixtina. Beyond the unconditional love he offered his sister, Dantena van Torquaz would always treasure her, for she represented much more to their family – in the time of greatest need.
Entering the porch, Dantena hurried, closely followed by Florian in his shadow, as they walked surrounded by fertile trees. Bells echoed across the City. Night is falling. Magic was to be interrupted – let it be mana lamps or studies of potions – under the threat of burning at the stake. If one law was enforced across the Four Corners of Civilization, it was the Nightfall Code. From the window of their miniature mansion, Sixtina was gazing at the horizon. Hurrying, Torquaz would spend the night at the Mansion, making sure of his sister’ safety, before designing a plan with every clue at his disposal. After all, Sebastian Melogre had been clear. He had three days. One day he had wasted on a carriage. One night he had spent thinking of a course of action. One day he did interrogate Gamorein at the Gathering, killed two Greyfallows, and confronted a Lord of Shadow, before entering the Alethor Asylum’s twisted darkness, leaving with more than enough to defeat Sinistros. Madga Balgruf had tried to harvest his emotions against him, but instead she had ignited his warrior spirit.
Surrounded by his stables, his green gardens and preparing to meet his sister, the man known as Dantena van Torquaz had a plan.
I know the following, the Sinistros is a magus, who according to the Citadel has been performing experiments on a dozen whores, he’s a magi strong enough in Conjuring to practice the Red Tongue, and he’s a man who knew I would hunt him down. It narrows down my list of suspects to every bastard I’ve met in my past – in Kesh. And more importantly, Rohan, the statesman of a thousand schemes, has promised my house a future if I figured the mystery. The Iron Circle shall give the Night’s Watch no credit, but Rohan has promised me a life.
I just need to know what Sinistros does with his victims, and I’ve got my plan.
Removing his intricate carnival mask, Florian only felt safe in Torquaz’s mansion, where he revealed his long black air and expressionless face, marked below the eye by a thin grey mark, which considerably retracted since he entered Dantena’s household. Once fully devoured by Ghoulscale, the boy had been offered the luxury hidden in lord Torquaz’ apothecary. Only bastards, cripples and broken things could afford Dantena’ sympathy, and he reluctantly accepted orphans as his attendants. In all the darkness I put my hands into, their safety is an affordable weakness.
Among them, awaiting on the porch, stood his secretary, Antoinette, a precious girl he met during the Heretic War, when she was dying and rotting. After a decade of treatment, she had grown into a fair twenty-two year old beauty – who despite her strange way of walking – could have stood a chance in a younger Torquaz’s bed. Commoners often hide treasures in their pureless bloodline. Dressed in a leather robe, she displayed the wealth Torquaz enabled her access to, golden bracelets and ear rings. Her brown eyes – even if not green – had an emerald taint, and hygiene gave her blonde hair a shining elegance. She smiled like a crafty youth, as always trying to charm Torquaz out of sheer playfulness.
“My charming prince, Antoinette laughed, you’ve returned before nightfall. How sweet of you”. She winked at him, biting her lower lip in an adorable fashion, trying to make Torquaz forget how he’s found her. If I was an amoral bastard, I’d take her to my chambers at once, by my sister lives with me. Both girls deserve better. His orphans acted as his assistants in his Night Watch’s office, spreading rumours, stealing, spying, and delivering messages. The only duties he never forces upon them were the ones of flesh and death.
“Unfortunately princess I’ll be one my way before dawn,’ Torquaz switched his attention towards Florian. ‘Lad, go to Clement and see’s taken his medicine. I want his wretched wings retracted by the Winter Solstice.’ Without a word, the boy vanished, running to the stables where Clem, Torquaz’ latest protegé hid, with only horses seemingly understanding the riddles behind his statements. ‘Antoinette, how is Sixtina?”
Stern again, the girl respectfully answered:
“She’s thinking of the Westerlands and refused to ride today. She’s greatly improved, her horsemanship exceeds these Gathering thuggish jousters.
– I don’t want her to surpass jousters,’ Torquaz declared. ‘I want her to be the finest rider of her time, like our lordfather before her. Next time she disobeys to your commands, use everything a Night Watch officer such as yourself has to remind her of House Torquaz’ way.
– Understood, Lord Sergeant,’ Antoinette nodded.
As Torquaz walked inside the mansion, she added, in a playfulness which increasingly disturbed him:
“Can you visit me, my prince. I am lonely in my tower.”
Ignoring her, Torquaz entered his house, crossing his halls and climbing his stairs fairly quickly – the mana potion of earlier still denied him his pain, briefly healing his legs. I should be careful when I die, the mists get more and more difficult to endure.
Opening the door of his office where lord Torquaz knew he’d find her, he prepared to explain his delay.
Every night, Sixtina struggled to find peace, and instead she gazed at the Fog outside. Somehow, the urban myths of soulless creatures wandering in the mists didn’t frightened the young woman. Like every highborne, she had been educated by fine tutors, and like every Torquaz, she had learned to choose what to believe.
Dazzling as Dantena’s female and younger counterpart, she was still dressed in her rider’s attire – a yellow leather uniform, tightened on her hips and well-sculpted legs, a black silk tunic which allegedly hid the sweat, and white boots of the latest fashion, white to remind a Torquaz rider never fell even in training. Resting her elbow on the window, her blonde hair – so blonde it shone like silver under the sun, a golden headband surrendering her head. The Headband of the First Rider. Arleone van Torquaz, my brilliant older brother, wore the crown of horselords before ditching it for the College of Bards.
Another of the family’s treasure rested below the window – Ravenclaw, Torquaz’s old sword. Properly covered in a clean sapphire scabbard, the longsword had been used today – even if Dantena knew her sister lacked the strength to properly use it – so did he.
Closing the door behind him, Torquaz gazed the dark behind. Every night, every house from the High King’s Palace in Temeros to the Free Holds fishermen villages fell in absolute darkness, candles and chimney offering the only lights. It was necessary, for the Fog had a bright light that blinded more than the sun itself. The dark sealed, Torquaz struggled to face the brightness outside, where her sister throned as his treasured queen.
After the fall of the Old Empire, in what imperial scholars called ‘Dark Ages’ but Temerians still dubbed ‘Age of Heroes’, the Lord Founder marched upon his rivals and united the Second Empire – the current Imperial Order, while the rightful heir to the Empire’s, Elric the Ravenking, wondered the land aided by the hedge knight Rhodan as his sworn shield. After they conquered Temeros, Elric founded the House of Fulgam and Rhodan went to the plains of Torquaz, where he, allegedly slain a dragon, and became the First of the Highprinces of Temeros. The Dragonslayer’ sigil paled in our days in front of the Pegasus of Fulgam – itself greatly diminished since these semi-legendary centuries – but its beauty ran in his lineage’s blood.
Sixtina van Torquaz had been called ‘Jewel’, as the fairest woman of each Corner of Civilization – west, east, south and north – held the title. It wasn’t of any practical way use, but this title brought prestige to the highborne’s lineages. In particular, Sixtina didn’t care of such status, being extraordinarily insecure of her own looks – for despite her responsibility as First Rider she was no more, no less, than a teenage girl.
Her green eyes had the shining reflection of an emerald stone, and they fell upon Dantena. She angrily claimed:
“You were suppose to return yesterday night.
– I’ve slept at the House of Wanders, I’m on duty for three days and three nights. Anyhow, you were supposed to practice your horsemanship, yet you haven’t.
– Antoinette told you, hasn’t she?
– And she will again, and I’ve left instruction for her to bind you on that horse by force if need be. I’m unimpressed by your attitude Sixtina.
– I am unimpressed as well. You are supposed to be the Bane of the Forsworn, and yet you are always wining over frivolous matters.
– Careful, I might be a broken and flayed bastard, but I’m still your older brother. Father would be angry if he’d known.
– I’m glad you aren’t Father then.”
Here we go again.
“Listen, Six,’ Dantena interrupted her, ‘I want you to promise me to listen to Antoinette, I am working on a difficult case, and I’ve promised never to lie to you. I’m not entirely sure that your safety is fully insured.”
Suddenly fascinated, she approached her brother with a childish curiosity in her voice:
“Am I in danger? Who did you send to the Ashpit today?
- Sixtina, this is no jest. Also, Antoinette has full authority to use magic upon you for the next few days if you refuse to cooperate, do you understand?”
Frowning, she crossed her arms with insolence. If Dantena’s master-at-arms, old Bromingald, or their father, Lord Sigismund van Torquaz himself, saw her dropping her guard and manners, she might have suffered terrible consequences.
“I leave you be for now, Torquaz said. ‘After tomorrow, I’ll bring you to the finals of the Gathering, what about it?”
Smiling for a second, Sixtina reminded herself of her defiance, before nodding and turning back to the Fog shining through the window:
“Would you ever teach me magic?’ she asked.
‘One day, once you’ve won your first Summer Gathering. So practice, there is no secret. Farewell.”
And he opened back the door, after glancing one last time at his Ravenclaw sword.