Thursday, August 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment
(This is a chapter from the forthcoming Houses of the Blooded Companion: a potpourri of alternate and additional rules, a veiled House and some other goodies. I’ll be releasing additional chapters in the future with the eventual release of the book/pdf. Enjoy!)
Fortunes & Downfalls
Fortunes & Downfalls are particular advantages and disadvantages you can purchase for your ven at character creation. Generally, you cannot purchase them after character creation, but your Narrator may allow exceptions to this rule.
Each Fortune costs your character two free points. Likewise, each Downfall gives you one more free point at character creation. You cannot take more than five points of Downfalls.
The Fortunes and Downfalls are listed here in alphabetical order. Some have prerequisites that must be met before you can purchase them. We’ll list the Fortunes first and then list the Downfalls.
Because Fortunes are not Aspects, the bonuses they provide do not count as Aspects for the purpose of the “one Aspect per risk” rule.
Fortunes (Cost 2 Points Each)
A Heart of Revenge
You gain two bonus dice whenever attempting to fulfill a Revenge. Also, any Revenge you enter gains an additional rank.
A Heart of Romance
You gain two bonus dice whenever attempting to fulfill a Romance. Also, any Romance you enter gains an additional rank.
You have a particular knack for speaking to ven who are of a greater social rank. Gain one bonus die for every rank the other ven has greater than your own.
Air of Authority
You gain one bonus die on any intimidation risk. You gain two bonus dice if you are an Elk.
You have an old sword passed down from your forefathers. It was made with a technique long lost to current knowledge. It is not sorcery, so it does not bestow Doom. it is considered a fine weapon and you gain two bonus dice on any risk involving your weapon.
You may add the rank of your highest injury to your attack roll
You see very well in the dark and are not hindered in any way by dim light.
Coronets Do Not Impress Me
Spend a Style Point to cancel any additional dice gained by rank in a Beauty risk against you.
You begin the game with two Provinces instead of only one and gain the title “Count” or “Countess.”
You always gain one bonus die in seduction attempts. If you are a Fox, you gain two bonus dice.
You always gain one bonus die in duels. If you are a Wolf, you gain two bonus dice.
You have oracular dreams. Whenever you sleep, roll a d6. If you roll a 5 or a 6, you may state one truth about the following day.
You always gain one bonus die when using a bow. If you are a Falcon, you gain two bonus dice.
You are easily recognized by others and gain some advantage for your recognition. Gain 2d on any risk when your target knows who you are.
You heal faster than others. At the end of the day, any rank 5 Injury heals down to rank 4. At the end of the Season, all Injuries heal one rank automatically.
You are the presumptive heir of your family.
You always gain one bonus die when trying to deceive another character. If you are a Serpent, you gain two bonus dice.
You have a small gang of personal guard that are entirely loyal to you. They count as one rank of Personal Guard who may not be bribed or stolen from you.
Spend a Style Point to give a bonus die to another character if they are attempting to help you with a risk and they do not have the appropriate Aspect or Virtue.
Pick a Virtue. Once per game, you may spend a Style Point before making a contested risk against another character using that Virtue. That character does not get to roll dice and your TN is 10.
You gain two bonus dice when hunting.
I’m No Tool
You always gain one bonus die when using a tool against another character using a weapon. If you are a Bear, you gain two bonus dice.
Spend a Style Point. You may move through a room without being noticed by any other character. You may not touch anything—including opening doors—but if you do, no-one will notice you.
Every Season you gain one bonus Season Action.
You are bigger than most ven, standing at least a head taller. Gain +1d on any intimidation rolls and +1d on any Strength risks involving lifting, pushing or pulling.
After you have rolled dice in a risk, you may spend a Style Point to re-roll any die that rolled a 1. You may spend up to three Style per roll.
Gain one bonus die for any risk while inside your own Castle or on your own lands.
You have a keen insight into the hearts of animals. Gain two bonus dice on any risk involving the beasts of the field.
Pain is My Enemy
You may spend a Style Point to ignore the effects of a single Injury.
Once per game, you may spend a Style Point to add one more die to your House’s Virtue when making a risk with that Virtue.
For some reason, you have managed to maintain your reputation in ven society. If you say it is so, other ven believe your sincerity. Gain two bonus dice on any attempt to prove your sincerity.
Gain two bonus dice on any risk involving an improvised weapon. Gain one bonus die in any risk involving unarmed brawling.
There’s just something unnatural about you. Other ven find it difficult to trust you, but at the same time, they don’t want to cross you. If you are involved in any contested risk, other ven do not get to re-roll sixes unless you say so.
You are smaller than most ven, standing at least a head smaller. You gain two bonus dice on initiative but any Injury you take automatically gains one additional rank.
Gain two bonus dice on any sorcery risk involving knowledge, identifying artifacts, sorcerer-king history, etc.
Touched by the Suaven
You gain an additional Blessing from a specific Suaven. You also gain one bonus die/Devotion rank to all Beauty risks against those with the same Devotion.
Gain a Style Point whenever you convince another ven to turn against someone he trusts.
It is a ven word that means, “a sense of things.” You have a keen sense of danger. Your character cannot be ambushed.
Gain two bonus dice when dealing with the veth.
Downfalls (+1 Free Point Each)
A Bear’s Trust (2 Points for Bear)
You want to trust those who call you “friend.” There must be someone out there who is worthy of your trust. There must be someone. When another calls you friend and asks for your trust, you must spend 3 Style or trust them.
You have no lands, no titles and no vassals. Just skip that entire part of character creation. Not only that, but most nobles will see you as a risk and won’t want to assign land to you based on your lack of… well, just the fact that you’re a bastard.
You were either blinded or born blind. Either way, you can’t see. This is a tag other characters can use for two bonus dice for just about any risk against you. Not only that, but you suffer all the narrative penalties as well.
You are addicted to poisons. Begin the game with addiction rank 5. You may only lower your addiction to rank 3.
The word “traitor” has been permanently branded on your forehead. It may be tagged for 2 bonus dice when you try to convince another to enter an agreement with you.
There is one thing in the world for which you have no Courage. A particular fear that you cannot overcome. For that kind of risk, your Courage is always rank zero.
Curse of the Sorcerer-Kings (2 Points for Serpent)
Whenever making a risk, if you roll a six, you must re-roll it and accept the new roll.
Your reputation has been permanently damaged by a history of lies. When making a risk to convince another of your sincerity, you may not spend Style to re-roll sixes.
You were born with a defect that has marked you for life. Other ven fear touching you.
You have committed a crime so grave, your own House has disowned you. If any member of your House wishes to speak to you in public, they must spend a Style Point to do so.
Begin the game with a Solace Aspect. Also, whenever you move from a one Season to another (Spring character to Summer character, for example), gain an additional Solace Aspect.
You were just born… insufficient. You are less. Diminished. Lower one Virtue by one rank.
Lust of the Fox (2 Points for Fox)
The nobility have a particular notoriety for their sexual appetites, but even other ven consider your appetites excessive. When facing a seduction risk, you may not re-roll sixes.
Marked by the Storm (2 Points for Falcon)
The Storm knows your Name. At the beginning of each game, the Narrator rolls a die. If that die comes up 5 or 6, the Storm will make an appearance that game.
Your lands are particularly poor. Every Season, you must spend an additional Season Action to just maintain your lands. If you do not—or cannot—you may take no Season Actions at all.
Pride of the Elk (2 Points for Elk)
You know you are right. How could it be otherwise? In order for your character to admit he is wrong or back down from a position he holds, you must spend three Style Points.
Begin the game with a Scar.
Wrath of the Wolf (2 Points for Wolf)
When others stand in your way, they only show their own arrogance. If someone inhibits you from getting what you want, you must spend 3 Style or attack them.
There is one person in Shanri for whom you would do anything. You trust them with your security, your secrets and even your life. You know they would never betray you. Never.
Thursday, August 25th, 2011 | Uncategorized | No Comments
(This is a chapter from the forthcoming Houses of the Blooded Companion: a potpourri of alternate and additional rules, a veiled House and some other goodies. I’ll be releasing additional chapters in the future with the eventual release of the book/pdf. If these rules seem familiar… they should. I steal from the best, after all. And who better to steal from than myself? Enjoy!)
Intrigues are story hooks you can give your character to get him going right at character creation. Every player chooses a single Intrigue from the list below or even makes up his own (with Narrator approval, of course). This is a story the player wants to unfold for his character as the game progresses.
Intrigues also give each player a bit of “spotlight.” This is a moment in the game that’s devoted to a single character. Everybody else works together to give focus to that character’s story. At the beginning of each game session, the Narrator announces which Intrigue will be active for the evening. This establishes a kind of “spotlight” on that character. Other players should be focused on helping move that character’s Intrigue forward. Anyone who does so receives Style from the Narrator.
Each session of spotlight increases the rank of the Intrigue by one. At the end of each evening, the player receives a number of Style Points equal to the rank of the Intrigue. Finally, when the Intrigue reaches its climax, the character either resolves it successfully or unsuccessfully. Either way, the Intrigue is over and the player can choose a new one.
Listed below are some example Intrigues. This is not an exhaustive list. If you come up with a particular kind of Plot you want to chase, talk to the Narrator.
You are looking for a particular sorcerous artifact. You don’t just want it… you need it. Without the artifact in question, something will go horribly wrong. Perhaps an enemy is holding a loved one and demands the artifact for their return. A castle under a terrible curse. A demanding Count who wants the artifact for his own nefarious reasons. Whatever the reason, it must be yours. No matter the cost.
Someone is blackmailing you. You don’t know who it is, but they’re costing you dearly and that cost is getting higher every Season. You have to find out who it is and eliminate them before the cost breaks you. Or, perhaps you are on the other end of that scheme. You’ve got the dirt on someone and you’re exploiting it for all its worth. Of course, sooner or later, that cost will get too high and your target is going to come looking for Revenge.
For crimes unspeakable, you have been exiled from your House. Members of your House have been ordered to shun you, mock you and perhaps even arrange for your circumstantial death. But the crime you’ve been accused of is as false and it is heinous. You are innocent. And if you can get the evidence, you’ll be cleared of the crime and allowed the proper Revenge against those who framed you. But you need the evidence first…
Someone is looking for you. And if they find you, it won’t be pretty. It’ll be bloody. That’s why you’re living under a false name. Or perhaps you’re living out in the open and someone is anonymously giving your life a ton of grief. On the other hand, perhaps you are looking for someone. Perhaps you are searching for someone to fulfill that burning need for Revenge.
Someone you love has been kidnapped. You must get them back. Or, you’ve kidnapped the love of another and have been gathering payments ever since. Either way, someone has to rescue the victim. If that’s you, you’ll need a lot of help to do it. If you’re the one holding the hostage, you’ll have to be ready for an attack.
You had true love, but something went wrong. Either you or your lover wrecked that perfect love and now, you’ve got nothing but pain. How are you going to heal that pain? Will you heal it with finding a new love or will you seek out blood and Revenge?
You need to get married. You’ve been putting it off, refusing the marriages your parents arranged for you, but time is getting late. You need to get married. Of course, no normal ven will be good enough for you. Your imagination has been contaminated by romantic notions of a perfect mate. Someone who will compliment you in every way.
You’ve heard the rumors of a relic attached to a Suaven you hold in strong Devotion. Gaining the relic could unlock secrets untold. But the risks are great. Danger surrounds the hiding place and you may even need to commit murder to gain it. How far would you go to show your Devotion?
Revenge is always a tricky thing. You may have gotten legal permission for your vrente, but all that means is you won’t face legal consequences for seeking it out. You still need to find a way to put your blade where it belongs: in the heart of the one who deserves it. That little detail is something most ven overlook. How about you? How will you accomplish your Revenge? What troubles do you need to overcome to get satisfaction?
Far less legal than Revenge, Romance contains all its own problems. Jealous spouses, protective siblings and wrathful parents all make dangerous hurdles to overcome. But it’s all worth it, isn’t it? You have fallen in love and you must let her know. You must! Perhaps, just perhaps, she feels the same way. Or, perhaps all your efforts will be in vain. But any price is worth a moment of love. Isn’t it?
You have a rivalry with another ven. Perhaps it is a romantic rivalry or it is based on an injury from the past. Your rival will do anything to trip you up, to embarrass you, to harass you and otherwise make your life miserable. What are you willing to do?
You’ve received a vision from a Suaven. It may be a Suaven you have Devotion for or it may be a Suaven who has cursed you with its wrath. You’ve got a goal and you must fulfill it or face the full wrath of the sleeping ven.
You’ve made a promise that you can’t afford to break. You must keep your promise, regardless of the consequences. Of course, the cost of keeping the promise is just as high as breaking it. You don’t know that yet… but you will. Very soon.
What are you willing to risk? A parcel of land? A night with a lover? You pride? Your dignity? You’ve made a wager with a friend or an enemy or a rival and one of you is going to pay the price. But what kind of wager is it?
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming essay called “The Mystery Cult of Talia” I’m preparing for the Shanri Research Institute. It will be made available in both print and PDF form. I’ll be going through all the ven mystery cults one-by-one, giving as many details we have about their rituals, temples and followers.
(Plus, some game mechanics goodness!)
During this essay, I almost exclusively employ the female gender. This is only because, in the literature, the worshipers of Talia are exclusively female. However, just as I’ve made concessions to women in other areas of ven culture, I felt it would have been hypocritical to not give the same indulgence to men.
So, please assume that when I say “priestess,” I also mean “priest.” When I say “she,” I also mean “he.” In my game, both men and women can revere Talia. This, apparently, is an anthropological inaccuracy that many ven scholars have objected to. I don’t care. They can write their own roleplaying games if they don’t like it.
Like lost mystery cults, we have very little direct evidence of exactly what happened in the Temples of Talia. However, through secondary sources, we have been able to draw what the Shanri Research Institute (SRI) considers a fairly accurate picture of the cult’s most secret ritual.
The story bears resemblances to many others more familiar with anthropologists and historians: a selfless sacrifice, murder and rebirth. Like other mystery cults, the story of Talia’s sacrifice is an initiation ritual designed to provide a sublime experience for initiates into higher esoteric secrets.
The cult of Talia differentiates the devoted. The structure of a temple–and the language used by its priests and priestesses–illustrate these differences clearly.
Every temple must have five isolated areas or “Devotions.” Larger temples–such as the one in the Capital City–have five stories: one for each of the levels of devotion. Other temples–such as those found in smaller cities–have individual rooms set aside for each level of devotion.
Many temples have an open area for those who are not devoted to Talia. The cult called this area, “The Greeting Room.” Here, the devoted can meet with the uninitiated in a friendly manner. This is also where city officials and nobility may speak with the High Priest or Priestess of the temple without passing through into the Inner Devotions.
The first through third Devotions are isolated with secret passwords and codes to allow entry. Only those who have undergone the proper rituals gain access to these codes. Often, the codes are call and response poems relating to knowledge gained during rituals performed in said Devotion.
For example, in order for a ven to attain the first level of Devotion, he must submit himself to the temple for testing. While we know little about these tests, we do know they required a specific form of dress for the candidate (which possibly included a blindfold) and an elaborate ritual designed to test both the will and endurance of the candidate.
The Priestess of the Yellow Rose was often responsible for testing possible candidates.
Further tests involved more elaborate rituals and, as it turns out, less clothing. This little fun fact will be explained later in the essay.
If a candidate passed the initiation ritual, she gained access to the appropriate Devotion. Further learning and service to the cult allowed advancement and further access to the deeper secrets of the temple. Moving from the First Devotion to the Second and Third required selfless sacrifice to the temple and its clergy but only the truly faithful ever gained access to the Fourth and Fifth Devotion. Those levels belonged to the Priestesses and the High Priestess herself.
You can read about the Priestesses and their roses in the previous blog entry here.
As an example of one of the ritual plays performed in the Temple, we provide here Talia’s Sacrifice. We do not know at which level of Devotion this mystery plays was revealed, but its very nature suggests level three or four.
In this version of the story–we are led to believe there are many; possibly as many as there were temples–Talia is her mother’s Spy Master. A woman of Cunning. She is cold-hearted and calculating, a woman without remorse, mercy or compassion. At least, on the surface. The story reveals that Talia had a lover–an unnamed woman–who was the only ven Talia ever shared her passions and weaknesses.
But an enemy kidnaps the lover and demands ransom. Talia’s mother forbids her from using any resources to bring the lover back and so Talia goes by herself to rescue her. Talia arrives in the home of the enemy to pay the ransom. The enemy declares that only one of them–Talia or the lover–may leave his lands safely. One must remain behind. Talia offers herself in exchange for her lover. The enemy laughs and releases Talia’s lover into the wilds, naked and alone.
This is what ven scholars call “Talia’s First Transformation.” (The first of three.) She has made a selfless sacrifice to save the one she loves the most. She has taken her first step from being the cold-hearted calculating Talia at the beginning of the story to the woman she will become at the end.
The enemy then reveals that he is a secret worshiper of Avhril (the Forbidden Suaven of Pain) and he plans on torturing Talia until she dies. He throws all manner of pain upon Talia and the tortures demonstrated in the play are beyond the abilities of this brief description. (There is a line in the story that I am particularly fond of that mentions, “all his whips and scalds had never tasted blood so sweet.”)
Eventually, Talia calls out for mercy. Her cold heart is broken and she can do nothing but beg for that she never gave her own enemies. This is Talia’s Second Transformation.
In the end, Talia is crucified and left to die. She hangs on the tree for three days (a symbol that should be familiar with every faith), slowly dying from exposure and blood loss.
At the end of the three days, Talia dies.
Midnight of the third day, Talia’s lover returns. She removes Talia’s body from the tree. She tries to restore Talia’s body with a secret ritual, but fails. Then, she tries a second secret and she fails. It is only when she uses the third secret that she restores life to her lover. She whispers a secret word into Talia’s ear and her breath returns to her lungs and her eyes shine with life.
The secret word is one rarely spoken outside the Temple of Talia. In fact, it almost never appears in any other ven literature.
The word is tava. “Please.”
With that word, Talia is completely restored. This, of course, is Talia’s Third Transformation.
What happens next is unknown. Presumably, returns to her mother’s castle. We assume, from there, she plots her Revenge against the unnamed Enemy, but any subsequent stories have been lost. This is where the story of Talia’s Sacrifice ends.
While we do know that initiates who undergo the ritual also undergo Talia’s tortures, it is unclear whether these tortures are literal or metaphorical or both. We do know particular Priestesses take roles during the ritual.
The initiate, of course, plays the role of Talia. She is blindfolded and led about the Inner Chambers by one of the other Priestesses. Scholars agree this is most likely the Priestess of the Yellow Rose. When Talia must speak during the ritual, the Priestess of the Yellow Rose speaks for her. She leads the initiate to different chambers where she encounters the different characters of the mystery play and responds accordingly.
The High Priestess plays the role of Talia’s mother, refusing to allow the initiate to rescue her lover, the Priestess of the Red Rose typically plays the role of the lover and the Priestess of the Black Rose plays the role of the Enemy.
There is some secondary evidence to suggest the tortures listed in the story had, at the very least, real counterparts in the ritual. Some Priestesses boast of “the scars I suffered for Talia” when undergoing the ritual. One scholar suggests that an initiate undergoes the torture until she can take no more and calls out for mercy (something Talia also does in the story). It could be the initiate is actually tortured until she begs for mercy. We will never know for certain.
The crucifixion is also listed as one of the steps in the ritual. Most ven scholars agree this step is a metaphorical one rather than a literal crucifixion. Considering the nature of the cult of Talia, many believe the “crucifixion” is actually a ritual sex act.
Those who gain 4 Devotion or higher to Talia may undertake the ritual of Talia’s Sacrifice as a Season Action. (The ritual requires moths of study and preparation.) The ritual must be performed at a Temple (not a Shrine).
- To pass Talia’s First Transformation, the initiate must make a successful Cunning risk (TN 10).
- To pass Talia’s Second Transformation, the initiate must make a successful Courage risk (TN 15).
- To pass Talia’s Third Transformation, the initiate must make a successful Strength risk (TN 20).
Failure of any risks disqualifies the candidate.
Any wagers gained in the first risk may be held and used as bonus dice in the subsequent risk. For example, if the candidate makes two wagers in the first risk, she may use them as two additional dice in the second risk. Likewise, any wagers used in the second risk may be used as bonus dice in the third risk.
If a candidate fails, she must wait an entire year before trying again.
Success of all three Transformations means the candidate has undergone the same sublime experience as the Sacred Harlot herself. She gains gains…
I think I’ll save that part for later.
Can’t give everything away for free, now can I?
Friday, March 26th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Within the walls of Talia’s Temples, every priest and priestess wears a mask. There are no names. Talia’s devoted call themselves Taliasha or “Lovers.” (The actual word best translates as “lovers of the beloved.”) And each of them wears a rose.
Most Taliasha wear a red rose: a symbol of love and devotion to the Sacred Harlot. Casual visitors to the Temple do not wear roses, but instead, only wear masks.
Those who earn a special distinction wear one of the Beloved Roses. Only one priest and priestess who wears one of these distinct blossoms. The High Priestess of the Temple gives them to those who earn them. Not every Temple has every Rose (note the change in emphasis from rose to Rose) but most have at least one or two. Some Temples are large enough (such as one in the Senate City) to have multiple Talishania: two or three for each color. The Beloved Roses are reserved for the most dedicated, most devoted and most skilled Talishania.
When a ven enters the Temple to revere Talia, he may do so privately or with one of the Talishania. If he wishes to revere Her with a Lover, he enters a small room with many vases. In each vase is a different colored Rose. He picks one of the Roses and is escorted to a private room where he may revere Talia.
The Red Rose
Most Talishania wear the Red Rose. Talia’s Lovers must serve the Temple for many years before the High Priestess will bestow such an honor upon them. It is an indication of faithful service and fidelity to Her and all Her followers. To wear the Red Rose is to be seen by Her. Recognized by Her. “You are one of mine.”
The Blue Rose
Followers of Talia choose the Blue Rose because they desire companionship. Conversation, food and laughter. The Talishania of the Blue Rose are skilled in many Arts and may have conversations on many topics. They are skilled debaters, witty and knowledgeable about the matters of the day. Many Senators come to the Room of the Blue Rose for advice and wisdom.
The Green Rose
When the Talishania of the Green Rose greets the Devoted, she does so with tea and bread and honey. She talks to him and makes him feel welcome. She moves slowly and gently. She whispers softly in his ear. She touches him with fingers that know. She lays him back and caresses his cheek. And when they are done, she washes him and perfumes him and gently reminds him to return to her. She will be waiting for him. Always waiting for him.
The Silver Rose
An old ven legend tells of lovers who embrace under the light of the moon. It is said they go mad with passion, tearing at each other with abandon. Like beasts. Teeth and claws. Love under the moon is dangerous and so is the Room of the Silver Rose. Passions in that Room have no boundary and rules that can only be understood by those playing the game. Victor and defeated. The Talishania of the Silver Rose must learn to be both.
The Black Rose
No one speaks of what happens in the Room of the Black Rose.
The White Rose
Those who wear the White Rose are in remembrance for a love that has been lost. They are not broken-hearted; their lover was taken from them. Robbed of Solace. The Talishania respect those who remember. Lost love is a wound not even Talia can heal.
Sunday, November 1st, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments
A Game of Tears makes two mentions of tivalti. Until recently, most ven scholars had little information on the game, but recent revelations have given us a very good look at what many call “ven chess.”
The game can be recreated with a standard chess board and pieces, but many of the pieces have different names and slightly different moves.
Spear (Pawn): The spear (or spearman) may only move forward but may move one or two spaces. Like the pawn, the Spear may only attack diagonally. The spear may not jump pieces like a knight.
Roadman (Knight): Moves as a knight.
Sword (Bishop): The sword (or swordsman) moves as a bishop.
Lover (Rook): The lover takes the place of the rook. The lover has a very strange move in that it can exchange places with the husband or the wife (see below) once per game. This move is called “the lover’s leap.” The lover may move in any direction but only two spaces.
The Wife & The Husband: At the beginning of the game both players put their respective husband (the King) and wife (the queen) in either the left or right hand and reveal their choices at the same time. The piece in the left hand is the submissive and the piece in the right hand is the dominant. The dominant piece moves like a standard king and the the dominant piece moves in a completely different way. The dominant piece may move as any other piece on the board.
The object of the game is to capture the dominant husband or wife. Not to isolate it (as in regular chess) but to capture it. Once the dominant is captured, the game is over.
If a player moves any piece to the other side of the board, he may exchange that piece for another captured piece.
I am called Shajar Thorne, a Baron of House Falcon.
I write this testimony in response to a request for information regarding Countess Ismene Yvarai and her brother, Count Tomas Yvarai. Although the events occurred almost a year ago to the day, the memories remain sharply clear in my mind. I regret that I am unable to deliver this report in person, but the particulars of it are still too painful for me to speak, and may remain so for quite some time. As the Senate well knows, as a result of these events, I have elected to take the black. My word, therefore, would mean very little when delivered on the Senate floor. I have given this written testimony to a trusted friend, who has promised to read it before the august Senators, omitting nothing.
I grew up in Uliinsher, which borders my current holdings of Teravie. You are likely not familiar with the lands. They are quiet and pastoral. Nothing rare or valuable can be found there, and it lays off the main highways. As a result, it is peaceful, idyllic sort of place. I was raised by two honest and decent ven - Baroness Sophias Thorne and her husband, Baron Kilim Adrente. I realize such virtues are not recognized by many of the Senate, but in the back counties, far from the City, honor and decency are as valuable as steel and iron. There, the Storm rages fiercely, and one learns quickly to unite with your neighbors for survival’s sake. This engenders a strong sense of community I have not encountered in the city, and which may be alien to the city-bred among you.
Shortly after his arrival, I was formally introduced to this man as Baron Tomas Yvarai. I recognized the name. Even in the wilderness of Shan’ri, we had heard of the Prince of Rakes. I wondered what business he had which brought him to our residence. After all, I had no sisters for him to seduce, and Baroness Sophias invested all her energies into her playwriting. We were left alone to talk.
“I owe your parents a debt,” he began. “Especially your father. The particulars are not important, but I pride myself on paying my debts. Even though this debt was incurred before you were born, I will honor it. I have discussed the matter with the Baron and Baronness, and they agree with me. Therefore, I have a proposal for you: while you have no doubt been provided with the best tutors money can buy, there is only so much one can learn here. Come with me, and I shall see to it your education is completed. University, if you’d like. But more important than that, I can teach you secrets books and tutors cannot.”
He must have seen my astonishment, because he laughed then. His laughter was anything but easing to my confusion. Baron Kilim was yvestra to Baroness Sophias, so I did not understand at the time quite how he could have been owed anything - especially by Tomas Yvarai. Though, I assumed, if the debt was older than I, perhaps it was also older than their marriage. And here was Tomas Yvarai himself, in my parlor, offering to take me with him to the city and complete my education! I of course accepted his generous offer, and we were away within the fortnight. It was much, much later when I learned Tomas’ purse paid for my tutors in the country. For many years later, I wondered why. I would soon discover that some questions are best not answered.
I shall not bother with the details of my budding friendship with Tomas. Let it be said he was a true mentor to me. Without his influence, I doubt I would be the man I am today. For better or worse. I have to admit feeling a certain sort of connection to the man, for reasons I shall explain later. We were often taken for relatives while out and about, an assumption I (at the time) took great pride in. It must have been my youthful impetuousness that prompted me to ask about his sister. I kept asking to be introduced to the equally notorious Ismene Yvarai. Tomas, however, warned me away from her every time I asked. “She is a dangerous woman,” he would tell me, “You are intelligent, but that matters little. You are too innocent for the likes of her. She would seize upon your innocence and corrupt it. I would not be doing your parents any favors if I did not keep you from meeting my sister until you are ready.”
Whether he planned it that way or not–and I cannot say anything is coincidence or chance when considering the Yvarai siblings–I finally did meet Ismene Yvarai when Tomas had his now-famous duel with Lady Shara. Her elegance and beauty struck me as soundly as Shara’s Sword struck my friend. And wounded me just as deeply. Though Tomas warned us both away from each other, we could not help ourselves. She was wise and strong, and a thousand other things a man looks for in a woman. All of us have read the same poetry and pillow books. We know who she was. We shall not see a woman like her in a thousand years, no matter how hard House of the Fox may try.
I remember the day when our friendship became a Romance, and the day when our Romance became a liaison. The first step was during the long struggle in which they rose to Count and Countess. Under a tree watching the fires from their Enemy’s wine fields burn, she turned to me, her lips so close to mine. I could obey Tomas’ warnings no longer. When the siblings finally succeeded, I was so proud of them both. I felt honored to be included in their small family. It is true that Ismene was the first lover I ever had. It is also true that, our first night together, I wanted to give her the most precious gift I could. I offered to tell her my true name. I thought it would make her happy. She refused to hear it, though. “The only result of telling someone your true name is suffering,” she told me. She also swore me to secrecy regarding our liaison, though at the time refused to tell me why. This also gave me pause - after all, Ismene was anything but shy when it came to her affairs.
As I reached my nineteenth year, my parents reached a decision regarding my marriage. I had avoided the question as long as possible. At first, I was enjoying my time with Tomas too much to wish for the responsibility. Later, I did not want to leave Ismene. Finally, though, I could delay no longer. Sophias and Kilim had secured for me a good match, for which I was a dutifully grateful son. When I told Ismene, however… she was enraged. She felt betrayed. Having never been married herself, she could not understand that a marriage would not have interfered with our bond. The argument caused an emotion to stir in my heart that I had never felt before while in Ismene’s presence. I felt the terrible pangs of fear. Fear for her rage, and fear that I had lost her forever.
But as the months passed with my new wife, I found a kind of happiness I did not expect. She was as I: a child reared in the country, where matters of politics and intrigue are the stuff of literature and history. Those were happy years for me. And although I missed my adventures with Tomas and my nights with Ismene, I found the Courage to put them behind me and accept my new life.
It was only a few days later when I discovered my wife had been murdered. At the time, the violence seemed mindless, and mystified me. Senators, in this matter I admit, I was woefully blind. After reading the letters left behind by the Yvarai siblings, the truth of the matter is clear to me. I should have seen it that day. However, we are always loathe to believe those we love are capable of terrible deeds.
My wife’s murder was the beginning of a long year of tears.
One day, Ismene wrote me in a panic. She urged me to leave my own home and come to hers immediately. When I arrived, I saw her as I had never seen her before. Her hair was uncombed and her face as white as a spectre’s. She was speaking so quickly, I could barely understand her. And then she said something I could comprehend but not fully understand.
Her eyes were mad and red and ragged with tears. “Because we are lovers,” she told me.
“What?” I asked, shocked. “Why? Tomas is a dear friend! He should be glad for our happiness!” I demanded she tell me what had made her so upset, but she refused. I demanded an explanation. She collapsed in my arms then, weeping madly. It was only long minutes later that she spoke. The words still burn in my memory. I shall recount to you now what she told me as accurately as I am able to remember it.
“Ever since my first lover,” she told me, “we have made a… a Game. When I take a lover, Tomas has a Season to kill him. And I, the same for his.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. I began to wonder if true madness had befallen the woman I loved. “Ismene, I have been your lover for much longer than a Season and Tomas has not made any attempt to kill me.”
I took her in my arms. “And so I must hide from Tomas until Autumn passes?” I asked her. “That is easy enough, darling. But I will do it on one condition.”
With that, she only cried harder. I did get her to promise, though.
We were married the next day. I had not even told Sophias and Kilim, who had always severely disapproved of my friendship with Ismene. I told no-one.
It was another night of wandering and gibberish. My fears were forefront in my mind. I got no sleep that night. And the next day, Tomas came to the castle. Swathed in red and yellow.
“Your wife?” he yelled. “Your wife?” He turned his head up to the windows, yelling at Ismene. “You lying harlot! You don’t know! I told you to find out his name. You did not, I know you did not!”
“What has she not told me?” I asked him.
To any who have further doubt, I confronted Sophias Thorne at her home. I demanded she tell me the name she whispered to me at birth. After a long afternoon of questioning, she admitted she could not. She attempted to explain, but I did not need to hear it. I know now the truth about myself, that I have been nothing but a pawn in a blood-soaked game of lust, love, revenge and tears.
Enough with the histrionics.
Your letter is damn near incoherent, I almost didn’t respond. I hardly know what I am responding to.
Accusing me of poisoning you? Of clouding your mind? Hardly. In case you hadn’t noticed, this revenge has been twenty years in coming. I wanted you to feel the pain with every fiber of your being. Cushioning the blow with mind-numbing poisons would have precisely the opposite effect. I’ve no idea who’s been drugging you, but my plan relied on you being sober and perfectly, completely aware of the world around you.
Even now, Tomas, you have not the slightest idea how I have suffered. You have not marked the same day every year with melancholy wondering. You are not seized with worry every time you hear of the Storm wiping out a caravan; or of youngbloods dueling to the death. You do not weep when you hold an infant… even an ork infant. Do you know, though I know a dozen recipes, I have never once taken precaution against conception? The many lovers I have enjoyed, virile men all. And not once has their seed taken root. The poisons may not have accomplished what Father hoped they would, but my womb is blighted nevertheless. There will never be another child for me.
I want to see my son so badly, it hurts. I want to see the man he has become. I want to hold him in my arms again. I want to meet his wife and play with his children. I want to find out which House he has joined (though I cannot imagine him being anything other than a Fox, just like his mother).
There is something else you do not realize. Shajar Thorne loves me. There is not a single thing you could tell him about me to change his heart. Every day I wake next to him, I am surprised again by that fact. I almost regret treating his wife the way I did. It seems so unnecessary in retrospect. Even if you bundled up all the letters I have ever sent you, even if you devised complete and utter fiction and sealed it with my name and gave it to him with a pretty ribbon wrapped round the whole sheaf… yes, Shajar would read them and believe them. And he would still love me.
So tell him, my brother. Tell him everything. Tell him our whole story. Tell him how I earned the title Mistress of Poisons. Tell him I bore a bastard when he was still in swaddling. Tell him how many deaths can be laid at my feet. Tell him just how many men (and women) have come into my bed. Tell him how I murdered our parents. Tell him all that… and he will still love me. Even if you found incontrovertible proof that mine were the hands which ended his wife’s life (an act I still categorically deny), he would still love me.
You wish a token from me, to prove that I am the mistress of my own fate? Prove I am still your sister? Prove I am still Ismene Yvarai? Shajar told me his secret name long ago, the first night we were together. The first time, it turned out, he had ever lain with a woman. He thought the gift of his secret name was appropriate for the occasion.
You don’t understand, Tomas. You never will. With all your threats and bluster. You murdered me twenty years ago, when you killed the man I was going to marry. Yes, I loved him. And was grief-stricken by his loss. But I would have gotten over it. Only I could not. Not when his death also meant the loss of the only person I have ever truly loved. Had my beloved lived, you and I could have been happy. I would have been married. But wasn’t that what we planned all along? Advantageous matches for each of us, working in concert to build up both our fortunes. Sweet Sua’ven, Tomas, I would have been the dominant partner, even!
No, Tomas. You were enraged because what happened was outside your control. You have always sought to control me. If you cannot command something, you destroy it. That is why none of my lovers were ever allowed to live. Because, while you could not control who I invited into my bed, you certainly could see to it that no one stayed very long. That is why you have dangled this name over my head for twenty long & lonely years, making me play your Game and bend to your will.
And that is why I chose Shajar. Even if you had found him, I doubt you would have possessed the nerve to kill him. Not your precious ward and protege. Not an undischarged debt. Not the symbol of your honor.
I once chose lovers by their cunning. By their hardiness. Those I thought could thwart you without killing you. I only regret the solution took so long. To choose a lover you would refuse to kill.
Well, I play the Game no longer, Tomas. Tell me what I want to know, or be forsworn. What means more to you: pride or honor?
And if I learn my son has died sometime during the past twenty years… it won’t matter how it happened. Plague, Storm, revenge or romance. If he died without ever getting to see his true mother, if he died without me ever getting to see him again… I will use every resource at my command against you, and you will wish I had stopped at Kassana.
Yours with all filial affection,
Blooded of the Fox
Mistress of Poisons
P.S. I counted three times to make sure I was accurate. You’ve taken two more lovers into your bed than I have. Who’s the harlot & the slut, then?
P.P.S. Shajar has asked me to marry him.
Thursday, October 15th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments
It is with a careful and steady hand that I write to you now. Careful, steady and sober. I have ordered my cellar be locked and remained in my rooms. I have used the two weeks you have given me to discover Shajar’s location to purge the poison from my veins. Yes, all the poisons. Even the ones you have secreted into my system without my knowledge.
Oh, what a clever and resourceful slut you are! Poisoning my wine. So slowly. How many years now has it been? Filling my mind with clouds. It was only your most recent letter that alerted me. You should know now that my addiction to your potent potables has been cured. You have turned my most precious weapon–my mind–into a weapon of your own. You cannot rely upon it as an advantage any longer.
My faithful spies in our father’s castle have reported the truth of what you wrote. Her body has been returned to me, as you wished. Her broken body. I caressed her hair one last time before I set her to the pyre. Her lips were too rotten for a final kiss. Another insult you have compiled upon the injury you have delivered.
Two weeks was what you gave me. It has been four. And yes, you have won, little slut. You have won. And in return, I shall tell you what you want. But only at the end. I shall make you wait for your victory. As long as I can. For you have committed many sins, my sister. Many sins. And for those sins you have committed, you shall pay dearly. I shall return the injury you have given me. But I shall not stop there. No, I shall deliver an injury to you that is far deeper than any you could ever have given me. You shall pay the price for murdering my happiness. You shall pay the dearest price of all.
But to draw out the anticipation of your final victory, I shall first list the insults and injuries you have bestowed upon me. And then, the Revenge.
Oh, yes, harlot. Do not think that you have the final victory here. No. I laugh now. Can you see my hand trembling? Can you? Can you see how my body can barely control itself for the black irony that makes me laugh? Sister, I have been saving this for you. A seed I planted so long ago in preparation for such a day. Such a day as this. That seed has grown into a beautiful blood red rose with such wicked thorns…
But I must not allow myself to become distracted. I must not allow myself to draw this out as far as I can.
Your first insult, you cowardly trollop, was slutting with that Falcon (who’s name shall never pass my lips). We made a promise to each other when we were young. We bled on it. Before we even knew sorcery, we bled on it. We swore we would belong to each other. And you gave up your flower to that imbecile. That cretin. That dandy know-nothing. You fell for his pretty promises and his flashing eyes and his smile. Did you think I did not know? Did you think you could keep any secret from me? I knew. Yes, I knew. And I waited for you to make a mistake so I could find you there. Naked. Helpless. So I could watch you beg at my feet for his life and I could steal it from you. To punish you for being so stupid.
Yes, it was a punishment. But it was also to make you strong. My own little bit of alchemy, there. Transforming my sister from the whimpering girl she was into the woman she is now. That was my first act. I repaid your treachery with a gift. Always has been my way. Repay your little sins with great gifts.
It was I who made you strong. It was I who burned your weakness from your blood. It was I who transformed you into the woman you are now. The only woman worthy of my devotion. Or, so I thought. Or, so I thought.
All the strength I gave you. But you still cling to your weakness. Ah, but we shall discuss that in a moment, shall we not?
You see, I like to test the things I create. You are my very own creature, and so, I chose to test you. To see if you were truly worthy of my love. And I have found my creation to be… wanting.
You lack the Courage to face an enemy face-to-face.
You lack the Cunning to see the trap I laid out for you.
You lack the Wisdom necessary to know the simplicity of avoiding it.
You lack, sister. You lack.
Your second insult was compounded by an injury that can only be healed in one way. You have murdered my happiness, slut. After I begged. After I pleaded. You murdered her. And for that, I shall return the favor in kind.
Shajar will be murdered.
But it will not be my hand that pulls the knife. Oh, no. Dearest, sweetest, most delectable slut…
… it shall be yours.
You will murder him. You will murder him to spare him the pain I shall give him. You will murder him to keep his ears from hearing what I have to tell him. You will murder him to protect him. And do you know why, my pathetic, love-struck sister?
Oh, how I urged you not to bring him into our Game! How I pleaded! Knowing you could not resist that which was denied to you. All I needed to do was say, “Leave this one alone,” and with the certainty of Seasons, you leapt upon him. Spread your legs for him.
You are as pathetic as you are predictable.
You may have seduced him, but not completely. Not yet. How do I know this? Ahah. My hand trembles again. Trembles with the delight of knowing I have beaten you, Ismene.
Do what you always do, slut. Pry from him his most private secret. Ask him to tell you his secret name.
And then, Ismene Yvarai, you will know my Revenge.
With deepest sincerity,
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments
My Beloved Brother,
I write this letter to you from the small room atop the eastern tower in our parents’ manor. At this moment, I am sitting on a cushion with a writing board on my lap. There is ink to my right and clean paper to my left. A glass of wine sits in front of me. The chill Autumn wind blows through my hair. I hope to finish before the sun has fully set, for it seems appropriate to write you this letter from this battlement.
Do you know what I would see if I stood up and peered out over the crenelations? No? Of course you don’t. But you are afraid. I can taste your fear from here, carried on the wind. How long has it been since you last saw your dearest Kassana? Your beloved Green Woman? Your true love? A few days? A week? A fortnight? Has it been a month since you last heard her voice, smelled her scent, felt her skin beneath your fingers?
Did you really think you could deceive me again, Tomas?
You poor, besotted fool.
I intercepted your last letter, telling Kassana where to hide from me. Yes, my dearest, best beloved brother. Once I had the letter, it was easy enough to send along one of my own. I invited Kassana to meet at our parents’ old manor. In your name, of course. Sealed with your initials.
She came. Of course she came. She was as smitten with you as you are with her.
Oh, dear me, did I perhaps reveal too much in my choice of verb tense?
Forgive me, Tomas. This letter is so much fun to write. More than I thought it would be. I feel positively giddy! I hope my hand does not tremble too much and spill ink all over this fine white paper. Though I race against the setting sun to complete this letter, I still want to draw it out as long as possible. To enjoy this feeling. Vrentae.
I think the good lady was rather surprised to see me here and not you. But I assured her you were nevertheless on your way, unfortunately delayed by your “ward”. Kassana was a bit nervous at first. But you know me, Tomas. I quickly put her at ease. We had the most delightful tea together. She could not stop talking about you. I was content to simply sit back and watch her carefully catalog all your virtues. Oh, yes, Tomas. If I had not already known, I would have learned it then. Your Green Woman was desperately, hopelessly in love with you. And you obviously returned her ardor tenfold. A hundredfold. A thousandfold.
The Rake Breaker and Prince of Rakes. What a pair. You really would have been worthy of being immortalized in opera.
I invited Kassana to take a stroll with me. Almost immediately, she remembered what you no doubt warned her of and was back on her guard. Then she realized I am Mistress of Poisons. I could see her quickly going over the tea in her head, wondering if I had fed her some deadly thing. I doubt poison would have worked if I had used it. You know all my favorites. I imagine you have been teaching Kassana how to build up her resistance to them. A good, if unnecessary, strategy.
There was no polite way for her to refuse my company. So she came with me. We walked. We talked.
“Tomas has told me of your… Game,” she said haltingly.
“Has he?” I responded.
She nodded. “I… that is, you should know we’ve never….” She blushed. But oh, Tomas. I could hear the lie in her voice! I know it well. After all, it’s the same tone I use every time I’ve told you Shajar and I are not lovers (he’s in hiding, by the way. I made sure to tell him in person why he ought to fear you. Technically, we have been lovers since before his wedding. Which means I’ve won the Game already. But I shall be charitable. Autumn ends in two weeks. Good luck. Two weeks, and then you are mine, your forfeit is mine and your knowledge is mine. Ah, but I digress horribly! Back to my penultimate conversation with Lady Rake Breaker).
I laughed off her discomfort. “Well, then, there’s nothing to worry about!”
At this, she smiled. Poor fool, she actually believed me. I decided to embellish a little bit. “To be perfectly honest, I believe I would be incapable of playing the Game with you, Lady Kassana. Not only as I have come to think of you as a dear, close friend, but also because you make my brother so happy. The Sua’ven know we both have had so little happiness in our lives. I can see the love in your eyes, hear the love in his voice. I, too, love my brother. Nothing in nearly two decades has pleased me more than knowing he has fallen in love, and with a woman like you. You are surely worthy of each other.”
I suppose I should not have been surprised Kassana believed me. After all, I was telling the truth. Mostly. At least about the important parts. About you. Mostly.
She was quiet as we ascended the east steps, but eventually broke the silence to ask me, “Why?”
“Why what?” I returned her question with a raised eyebrow.
“Why do you and Tomas play this… Game?”
I sighed. “It’s a long story. But I suppose you deserve to know. Has he not told you already?”
She shook her head.
“Very well, then. Many, many years ago,” I began, scarcely believing I was about to reveal the entire story to someone else, to this woman of all the women in Shan’ri, “I fell in love.” I sighed again, remembering my first.
“He was a Falcon. And, oh, how beautiful he was! His mother had dealings with my father, the nature of which I never fully understood. But it meant she came often to visit us, bringing her favorite son with her at times. I never noticed him until I was in my first flush of womanhood. Then I began to notice… things. Things a woman notices about a man. The way his arms looked, as if cut by a lathe. His shining dark hair, hanging halfway down his back, wondering what it would be like to run my fingers through it. The way my heart skipped a beat whenever he fixed his deep green eyes on mine.”
Kassana had the most moonstruck expression on her face, and I knew she was thinking of you. I continued.
“The warmth of his hand as it held mine. It was not long before we professed our love. We swore eternal devotion to each other. Tomas… I think Tomas knew something was between the Falcon and I. I should have told him, but I did not. This was a woman’s secret. I wanted to tell him in my own time. Every time he asked, I simply laughed it off and downplayed the entire Romance.
“Had it stayed a Romance, we might have been able to find some form of happiness. But we were young and foolish and passionate. Not yet hard and cynical. It became… it became a liaison.”
What a demure woman you chose! She actually blushed when I used that word! I ignored her and continued. I had begun telling a story I never told another living soul. Not even Shajar. And I would not stop till it was done. Yes, Tomas. All of it.
“Our secret liaison continued for… oh, less than a full Season. The happiest Season of my life, truth be told. But then came a day when our secret could stay secret no longer.”
“Did Tomas find you out?” she asked.
“Eventually. I had something very important to discuss with my beloved, so took him to my private tower. I thought no one would discover us, that we would have privacy. Of course, my lover was quite passionate back then. He insisted on a coupling before hearing what I needed to tell him. And, silly me, I consented. That is how my brother came upon us, in flagrante delicto. Or nearly so. He was… furious. You have not seen him lose his temper the way I have. He was somehow convinced I had been spoiled, that this man was taking advantage of me. And, I believe, he was also deeply hurt by the fact I had not confided any of this to him. He grabbed my naked Falcon by the throat, dragged him to the window and held him out the window.”
Her eyes had gone wide. She did not want to believe you capable of such things. But it gets worse, doesn’t it; Tomas?
“I screamed and pleaded with Tomas to let him go. But Tomas refused, only saying how he had been deceived, how his sister had been defiled. I believe he was even crying when he said such things. My Falcon flailed helplessly. He tried to speak in his own defense, but Tomas had his hand firmly around my lover’s windpipe. It was enough of a struggle simply for him to breathe.
Tomas demanded to know if I was still intact or if this man had “ruined” me. I tried to tell him I was still marriageable, that my prospects had not been irredeemably destroyed by youthful ardor. But of course, though we had not been fully coupled when Tomas came upon us, neither of us was clothed and even a blind veth could see where our liaison would have eventually gone had we not been interrupted. Tomas knew I was lying, knew I would lie before he even asked the question.
‘Tell me!’ he demanded, yelling at me, ‘Tell me one reason, one good reason, Ismene, why I should let this trash live. He has ruined you and made you weak.’
“I was on my knees, wrapped in a thin linen sheet, begging Tomas not to kill him. I was apologizing profusely for keeping this secret from him, imploring him to be merciful. I told him what I hoped would persuade my brother to pity. I told him I loved my Falcon.
‘You were supposed to love me!’ he screamed in return.
Tomas’ hands grew tighter around his prey’s throat. ‘You have one chance, Ismene. Tell me why I should let this man live when he has come between us and weakened your spirit so.’
I took a deep breath and said-”
I took a deep breath. And then I said it. Oh, yes, my dearest brother. I opened my mouth, and I said it. It.
“‘Because I am carrying his child.’
My Falcon’s eyes went wide. I had not had a chance to tell him yet. He redoubled his efforts to get loose of Tomas. But it was too late. I could see something go out of my brother in that instant. Some part of him hardened beyond recovering. I had said the very wrong thing. My poor wingless Falcon, aided by my brother, flew out the window and broke himself on the ground below.”
Kassana was staring at me, dumbstruck. Horrorstruck.
“Ismene,” she whispered, “I had no idea…”
I shook my head.
“It was almost twenty years ago. What came after was far worse.” I stopped, reliving the horror for the first time in years.
“My father was furious when he found out what Tomas had done. He had known about the pregnancy already, of course, as had my beloved’s mother. We had devised a plan to save our names and fortunes. My fallen Falcon and I would have been married quickly and quietly to avoid scandal. I would have retreated from society for several Seasons, afterward emerging with an infant of vague age. But of course, my intended had been cruelly murdered by a jealous brother who thought he owned my secrets. No vean would marry me now, not if I was mother to another man’s child. I understand Father even went so far as to stab Tomas one night, trying to teach him a lesson about precisely whose property I was.
“Father fed me poisons after the murder, trying to rid my body of the baby. He even snuck up behind me once and pushed me down the stairs. All that did was break my leg. It was too late, the child was too much in me. And, oh, I wanted this baby. It was mine, and no one could take my own flesh and blood away from me. I resisted the poisons and kept my baby alive inside me through sheer force of will. Tomas was… I believe he regretted what he had done, his role in this whole mess. He was the only person, the only person there for me during this terrible time. Sometimes, though it would cause him to spend the entire night screaming in agony, he would drink the poison himself to deceive our father and thereby spare me. He saved my baby’s life, I am certain. My father forced me to dress all in black, a symbol of my shame. No one would speak to me. Tomas alone had a kind word for me. Tomas alone gave me love.
“I delivered my baby early. It was a difficult labor. Father had brought in a midwife sworn to secrecy, but it was still hard. It took me two days to give birth… and at the end of it, I had the most beautiful son a mother could ask for. The midwife cleaned him as I panted in the bloody bed, wrapped him in a soft chamois blanket and handed him to me. Oh, he was gorgeous! He had his father’s eyes and my hands. I thought I even saw a little of Tomas in him, as well.
‘You must name him,’ she told me. ‘The secret name.’
“I nodded, and thought for several heartbeats, just looking down into my son’s newborn eyes. I have never, Kassana, ever felt a love that strong or pure. I speak of having known true love once in my life. Many assume it was with a liaison, perhaps with the one who was my baby’s father. No. The only time I have ever known true love was holding my son in my arms. Tired, sweating, bleeding, weak, crying from the emotions which overwhelmed me, but the happiest I have ever been or ever will be again.
“I raised his ear to my lips, and, as all mothers do, whispered his secret name.
“And as soon as I had, the midwife grabbed him out of my arms. I screamed, but she stepped away from me. ‘You are not fit to be a mother, slut,’ she said. ‘Your father has ensured he will go to parents who are capable of love.’
“I screamed again, tried to get up, tried grab my son away from her. But I was too weak, my leg still Injured. I fell to the ground in a tangle of bloody sheets. I ordered the veth to detain her, but they dared not. She walked out of the room, and that is the last I ever saw of my son.
“And now, Kassana, you know why I play the Game of Tears with Tomas.”
I turned to face her. Her cheeks were streaked with weeping. Strange. My eyes were dry. I suppose I spent all my tears years ago. Can you believe it, Tomas? I thought I would die with this secret. Yet I actually told another living, breathing ven about my son.
“Ismene, I never….” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t understand. Your story is sad, but why does it explain why you play the Game?”
“Oh,” I laughed. A bit too brassy, I thought, but Kassana seemed not to notice. “I forgot that last part. You see, it was Tomas who delivered my son to his adoptive parents. He knows my son’s given name, the name all the rest of the world knows him by. Tomas also knows the names of the ven who adopted him. All I live for, Kassana, is a chance to see my son again. To see what sort of man he has grown into. I know only his secret name, but Tomas knows his public name. Tomas made it clear long ago there was only one way I would ever learn that name. To play the Game of Tears, and to win. So I play. For almost twenty long years, I have played. And, I confess, not without some degree of pleasure on my part. But now, my current lover is in hiding. A few more weeks, the Season ends and victory shall be mine.”
Kassana could only stare at me. You had never told her about me, had you? I suppose again, I should thank you for keeping another of my secrets.
“So after you win, will you still play?” she asked. Hope glimmered in her eyes.
“I am done with death,” I answered her. “Two more weeks, and it will all be over.”
And, oh, she sighed with relief just then! Poor dear.
I looked around me, and laughed. “Why, the strangest thing! We’re here!”
Kassana looked puzzled. No matter, the stupid cow was standing right where I needed her to be standing. Everything else was just drama from here on out.
“We’re in the exact same room where Tomas killed my Falcon!”
I think she must have heard the coldness in my voice, for she tried to flee then. But I was too quick. And if I am to tell the whole story, I had also slipped a numbing agent in her tea. Not enough to kill her, but enough to throw her balance off. I wager you had never thought to inure her to that kind of poison. I had played out this scene in my head a hundred times, and it would have all been ruined if Kassana escaped. I like to hedge my bets.
Just like you, Tomas, I grabbed her by the throat and held her out the window. Just like my Falcon, she struggled to draw breath. I could see the fear in her eyes. The awful, sinking realization that she had been played from the start. Of course she had. She might have been the Rake Breaker, but I am Ismene Yvarai.
I bent her over the parapet. My lips were as close to her ear as they once were to my long lost son.
“I swore to Ikhalu that one day, my brother would suffer as I have suffered. Yet I could never inflict my pain on him. There was never a way to hurt him that deeply. But you, my dearest Kassana, you are that way. He loves you as he has never loved anyone. Taking you away from him is the only way to complete my revenge. And now you know all my secrets but one. Here it is: Ever since that black day when my first love fell as you are about to fall, I have hated Tomas Yvarai.”
And with that, one small push and she was out the window! Flying with no wings, screaming curses at me until the most satisfying wet thunk I have ever heard. I leaned out the window to look. There she was, broken and sprawled on the cold, hard ground, blood seeping out from her. Most definitely dead.
I went over to the small cabinet that is even now still there. I took out the wine I had been saving for this day, poured myself a glass, and began composing this letter.
Two weeks, Tomas.
Yours with all filial affection,
Blooded of the Fox
Mistress of Poisons
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments
I remember the Falcon now. I remember throwing him from the walls of father’s castle. I remember you begging me, pleading with me to spare his life. I remember how pathetic you looked on your knees, tears streaming down your face. How weak. How helpless. And how I despised him for making you so wretched. Like an alchemist performing his trick in reverse, transforming something so sublime into something so vulgar. You truly loved him, didn’t you? Clinging to my surcoat, you offered me anything if I would spare him from our Game.
And I had you, then. In that moment, you truly would have done anything. Given in to any command. And you would have done it without any hesitation or regret because you knew that act would have saved his life. Would have saved your happiness with him.
I had you.
No act would have been too demeaning. No act would have been too profane. And you know exactly how many vulgarities and profanities my imagination can summon. Anything for love. The love of your precious Falcon.
I had you.
You. Proud Ismene Yvarai, begging at my feet. The woman who makes men beg. She who has tamed a thousand hearts with only a glance and ten thousand more with only the promise of a touch. You offered me anything, then. On your knees before me. Snot and tears on your face. Disgraceful. Disgraced. Humbled. And with your surrender before me, do you remember what I asked? Do you remember?
On your knees, looking up at me, I asked, “Are you still a virgin?”
And that is when you lied to me. And that was when I knew he had to die. Because you lied to me. He made you lie to me.
And so I threw him from the walls of father’s castle. I watched him plummet and I watched his body break below. And I remembered your lie. Your deceitfulness. Your treachery.
Yes, Ismene. I have lied to you. I have performed the very same treason you accuse me of, now. And I do so because I suffer from the same pain.
Here I am, at your knees, with tears in my eyes. I cling to your dress with weak, trembling fingers. My head bowed with shame, I admit, I am weak. I am helpless. I cannot live without her.
I hope you remember the moment when you knelt before me. And I hope you remember my cruelty. I hope you remember it because I want you to remember the pain of asking such a thing.
I am asking for your mercy which I know is still in your heart. I will offer you anything to spare her.
Please, my sister. I plead. I beg. Please. Let her live. It is such a little thing.
Please. Let her live.