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 Fog lifted naturally, and the Summer Gathering finals prepared to begin. Ready to answer his call, the Citadel provided the man known as Dantena van Torquaz with all he needed to navigate within the City’s daylight organization. Three thousands guardsmen awaited his every order. With that final tool, he would catch Sinistros.
However, lord Torquaz had to let walk free a former friend and cowardly murderer, Lord Captain Arthur Paragon. The price of the Citadel came with the fear he instilled in the disgraced commander. A necessary sacrifice for the greater good. For he knew that bringing down the Lord Captain’s operation wouldn’t disturb the Imperial Order’s corruption. The high command would replace Paragon’s business with another, and lord Torquaz preferred to let one who feared him go unpunished rather than Sinistros. He needed to catch the slayer, and fast, while he could destroy Paragon later. Indeed, he had eternity to do so.
Entering the gradings, lord Torquaz noticed the Thyrians’ absence. Curious… Indeed, yesterday morning their most powerful head of state sponsored the Gathering, while now, he could only spot, in the Red Pavillion’s main balcony the Lord Marshal of the Legion, Wallace. This old man, a relic more than an officer, was probably the most famous battle commander of this age, and one of the world’s glorious Sword Saints. Despite his old age, it was rumoured that his skill with a sword was still unmatched in the current Gathering. In his prime, he has been able to spar par-on-par with Ithildir Merethil himself. More importantly, he had ordered the massacre of Shimeh, 42 years ago. One human purge which caused the loss of the Holy city in the first place. Anyhow, his ‘Butcher of Shimeh’ legend still inspired heinous murders in the West. His presence, iconic, reminded all the invites of the Imperial order’s might. And next to him, stood Saint Rohan, whispering in his ear while drinking his cup of wine.
Looking up at them, lord Torquaz noticed the sun shining on the jester, who seemed to notice. Maybe still hallucinating from last night, Torquaz questioned his senses when he saw Rohan winking at him from afar before turning back and nonchalantly leaving the balcony.
Turning around, lord Torquaz joined the Green Pavillion, catching Gamorein charming a handful of rich merchants, and some City officials. One of them in particular greeted Torquaz with a hateful grin. In wasn’t a surprise when Count Gerart Greyfallow, elder brother of Baron Wilem Greyfallow, approached him. Covered in highborne extravagant attire, the Count had more natural nobility than the Baron. Equally faked, his demeanour wouldn’t impress Torquaz who just smiled at the City’s Echevin.
“Lord Watcher’ he began to speak. ‘My brother, Baron Wilem van Greyfallow sends his regards, and promises to pay his debt next time you sers meet.”
And he walked off.
Unimpressed, Torquaz looked the corrupt Echevin leaving the Pavillion, followed by disguised sellswords. The Baron must have realised I offered him a fake artifact. The fool…
Suddenly, Gamorein jumped in front of Torquaz, bringing the weight of his amulets and gluttony. Smiling like the snake charmer he was, Gamorein started his speech with enthusiasm:
“My, my, is not my dear Dantena van Torquaz. I thought seeing you for the last time wasn’t truly the last. Unfortunately…” He offered his most loving smile.
“Friend, I have no time for this. I need to ask you something.
– It can certainly wait, Gamorein interjected. Maybe you could join me on the balcony…
– Now!” It was a command. The one of the man once known as Warmaster Dantena van Torquaz to the former Lord commander Gamorein Servaal.
Frowning, Gamorein obeyed and politely waved at his guests, promising to return. His parade over, both walked out, joining his office higher in the Green Pavillion.
His office contained what to be expected of Gamorein. Trophies, scrolls, accounts and portraits of heroes. Surprisingly, Gamorein’s most favoured picture, standing in front of his desk, represented Astannir Kingkiller, the first assassin of kings in imperial history. An ancient overlord who slew down the Lord Founder himself. Riding a pale horse, Astannir the Silver Bow seemed majestic, painted in an almost heretic fashion. That was odd, considering that Lord Marshal Wallace’s presence symbolized the might of the Empire. Apart from semi-mythological Crimson King Shand, there currently wasn’t more reviled historical figure than Astannir Kingkiller, equally hated as the Dark Marquis. A thousand years after his death.
Pointing at it, lord Torquaz mocked Gamorein with a grin, awaiting an explanation than never came.
“What do you want, whoreson?” Gamorein asked.
“Where is Norman?”
Gamorein sat on his chair, muttering Edaelesh curses, before saying:
“How do you even know? Does it matter? Well no I suppose. He was arrested yesterday night…
– Arrested? Norman Daegoln?” Dantena refused to believe it. “Impossible… How?
– Men from the White Gold Tower, the Iron Circle has signed the order.
– You mean… the Imperial Guard?
– Saint Rhodes herself proceeded. By Sigmalion, where were you last night?”
“Duty, Torquaz replied. Well, there is only one person who knows where I can find Norman…
– Dantena, the Herald’s voice was different this time. Why do you want to talk to Norman? Don’t you have a slayer to catch?
– The Slayer can only be someone who masters my style. Someone who learned it with me, and there is only two men I can think of. Both of the two could have betrayed us in Shimeh.
– Obviously you suspect Norman ‘Silvertongue’ Daegoln, Gamorein laughed. He was one of the few better swordsmen than you, back then. The other one was…
– Yes. The Kingslayer.
– Good luck in the wars to come, my friend.”
Torquaz didn’t laugh. When Gamorein realized what he had done, Torquaz’s face tensed, and his words didn’t filter his rage:
“I will find the traitor. You cannot imagine what I have designed for him.
– Dantena, no one even knows who is the Kingslayer. This guy… He’s a legend. A real one, like in the stories. The kings say to the princes>
Rule wisely my son, for even kings fear the Assassin of Kings. The greatest killing machine the Third Age has ever seen. The prophesied illyran disaster. The Slayer of Thorgrim and the Hundred Kings. The Kingslayer will find you!
<Come on, don’t get carried away by vengeance. You can find better excuse.
– I call it purpose. Unlike you and Paragon, I don’t come up with excuses for what he have done. What I live, is the price for our sins. Now, go to hell Gamorein. You and the others.”
And Dantena van Torquaz realized he had seized Gamorein’s collar. Dropping him back to his desk, he left.
Leaving the Pavillion, Dantena dared to gaze upon the finals. Raging in the arena, Ser Melrag of the Forest, his former rival, was fighting a spearman… Wielding a Ravenclaw spear. Looking at his moves, Dantena glanced at a near-mirrored image of what he used to be: quick, acrobatic, and accurate.
Falling back, Melrag ate the dirt, covered in blood. Standing above him, a jester of a man dressed with Dantena’s former Gathering attire. They – the mob, the lords, the sponsors, the wenches, the squires, the Empire – yelled his name:
“Bryce! Bryce! Bryce!”
This was the contestant Gamorein described yesterday. The second coming of Dantena van Torquaz… The latest First Sword and an expert of the Ravenclaw Style, ser Bryce van Hollmajgen. A golden boy from the Westerlands who made fortune in the Imperial City… It seemed like a retelling of Dantena van Torquaz’s life. Almost too good to be true…
Looking at that usurper, Dantena recalled the investigation he had made upon the lad named Bryce Holljmagen. His legend was forged, just like his replica of Dantena’s spear. His real identity was Brian Greyfallow, son of Gerart Greyfallow, nephew of the Baron and heir of the entire organization. However, like every youth his age, he aspired to greatness and his last ambition had been to receive a First Sword to challenge the Empire. As a member of His Majesty’s Night Watch, lord Torquaz already knew everything. However, his order considered the Greyfallows’ status as informants, and therefore chose to close its eye on Brian. What was a joke from the underworld in a corrupt empire?
However, lord Torquaz had an uneasy feeling. It had to be him. Brian Greyfallow had to be the Sinistros. Yet, somehow, lord Torquaz knew he wasn’t.
I can destroy this brat, even now… Seeing that handsome youth receiving his triumph with an insolent confidence reminded him of his worth. And the Sinistros Slayer had defeated him. Only a handful in the Imperial Order could.
Silvertongue Norman was one of them.
He needed to find a member of the Imperial Guard to do enter the White Gold Tower. The key to the Sinistros witch-hunt lied there. And the identity of the man who destroyed his life. He needed to find…
A voice rang behind him.
“After all these years, you still know nothing, my little Dantena…”
Shifting his attention to his back, he saw Saint Rohan, imperial jester today and the voice behind Emperor Thorgrim yesterday, walking towards him, his pale blonde hair snapping under a breeze.
“Want a pipe?”
Both men in the shadows had vanished ever deeper in the arcane of the Empire. Both sitting inside His Majesty’s Own Carriage, they sat in a heavy silence. Only the jester seemed relaxed, adjusting his gesture to his happy mask.
Finally, Saint Rohan broke the silence:
“You want Norman Daegoln.”
It wasn’t a question. Lying being foolish, lord Torquaz nodded, nothing could be hiding from the Jester.
“You think he will unlock the truth behind Shimeh, and carve the path towards the Kingslayer. It matters to you. To me as well. It matters to the Emperor. Therefore, I want you to understand the offer I have given you yesterday. Catch the Sinistros before Sunrise, and your sister shall receive all the support from His Majesty to ensure the future of your house, as for you milord, you shall be restored as a Highborne with full Imperial recognition and the rights it implies. You will join His Majesty’s Wit, working as my field operative. Fail to accomplish this mission and House Torquaz joins the ashes of history.”
Even though Rohan’s face was jovial as ever, his lips formed nothing like a smile.
“Here is your stop,” Rohan said. “I have summoned the officers you’ll need.”
Dropped in front of a dozen of men, all lieutenants from the Citadels and officers of the Night Watch lining up in a dark alley, lord Torquaz glanced at the carriage vanishing in the maze of the City. In front of them, Antoinette stood, having prepared what he had expected of her. Multiple chests lied on carriages pulled by strong horses. Horseshit followed them. It stank.
Looking at his hands, lord Torquaz realized he was covered in sweat. Fear? No, it was worse. It was the pure Thrill. For once, the man known as Dantena van Torquaz heard his heart beat under the rhythm of life and death. He was alive.