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game of tears

A Game of Tears — The Final Letter

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 | Research | 1 Comment

Unto the Most Illustrious & Revered Senate:
Greetings in the name of the Suav’en Jonan Drax.

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 must warn you all: this is a cautionary tale told by a man who finds no shame in using words such as “honor” and “duty.” These words were taught to me by the man and woman who raised me. I use them without ridicule or irony. Tomas and Ismene Yvarai were no different than any of you. Indeed, no different than I. My testimony will, I hope, demonstrate this.
Please forgive me by opening with a recounting of my childhood. It will become important as we progress. I shall be as brief as possible.

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.

I was raised without siblings of any sort.
As I grew towards adulthood, a stranger came to visit whose very presence caused even the livestock unrest. Though I did not recognize him, Sophias and Kilim knew who he was. The pause in their eyes confirmed it. He was welcomed with all the hospitality our meager manor could muster, even though his arrival made the household wary and worried.

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.

After returning from a hunting expedition one day, I found Ismene had been by. She left a tenderly worded note, apologizing for her rash words and asking forgiveness. A forgiveness, at the time, I was only too glad to grant. The letter stirred old emotions in my heart. Emotions, I admit now, were never truly dead. A man can deny many things in his life. The love of a woman is something he can deny for only so long. Ismene and I resumed our liaison without my wife’s knowledge. For a month, our dalliance continued. Finally, I told Ismene my wife must know. She agreed. “Love and marriage are siblings who must never meet,” she told me.

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.

Back in the City, Tomas had met a woman: the famous Kassana Valar. I need not repeat her reputation to the esteemed members of the Senate. Her personal Revenges upon those Tomas would consider friends and compatriots is well-known. I know now she kept her identity secret from Tomas for as long as possible–mystery always makes the best bait for the kind of trap she was setting for him–but in the midst of it all, they fell hopelessly and passionately in love. I know many will not believe it, but I tell you know, I recognized the light in his eyes when he spoke of her. As for her, I only met her once and the same light was in her eyes. My heart sang to see them together. I was happy that my adopted brother was in love as I. The only thing that kept my happiness from becoming complete was keeping my promise to his sister not to reveal the truth of our relationship to anyone. I know the Senate enjoys the old adage about secrets being best kept in coffins, but I shall give you a new proverb: a secret is best kept behind a Falcon’s lips.

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.

She told me, “Tomas intends to kill you.”
I could not believe what she was saying. I asked her why my friend and brother would want to kill me.

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.”

She sobbed. “I know. I know, dearest. That is why I swore you to secrecy about us from the start.” She began to weep and sob again and it took many minutes to calm her down enough so she could speak. “I don’t want to play, Shajar,” she told me. “I never have. But Tomas has something I want, I’ll never be happy without it. The only way I can get it is to win this Game.”
And it was at that moment that I first heard a certain sound in her voice. It was at that moment I knew Ismene Yvarai was hiding something from 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.”

She asked me what it was. I looked her in the eyes. “You must promise me, no more killing. Once you get whatever it is you need from Tomas, you’re done. It’s one thing to destroy an Enemy in Revenge, but this sort of cold-blooded murder does not become you, Ismene. You’re better than that.”

With that, she only cried harder. I did get her to promise, though.

And I heard that same sound in her voice again.
I was afraid now. Afraid that the woman I loved had gone completely mad. I was also afraid that she may not be mad and was speaking truth. If it was true, how simple and gullible I was. How these two had used me like a Spear on a Tivalti board. I did not know what to do, but I wanted to stay close to Ismene. I needed to watch her, to make certain her madness would not consume her. She refused to see any Apothecary, saying something about how her mother had died. I feared for the worse.
Ismene insisted I go. She assured me I would not be safe in her castle. And so, to ease her mind, until the close of Autumn, I dressed as a veth and worked for Tomas as a stablehand. I left behind my own valet to watch her and report on what he saw. If the Game was true, I thought the move would be too risky. But Ismene assured me this strategy would work, that Tomas would appreciate the maneuver once he found out. At the time, I did not know how deadly this Game was.
One night, a messenger came to me with a letter from Ismene. In it, she informed me that Baronness Kassana was dead. I was surprised to hear the news, considering I was so close to Tomas when it happened. Ismene told me the Game was over and I was safe to return to her. I was happy simply to be reunited with Ismene, but my happiness was soured by hearing of Kassana’s death. Perhaps this mad Game of theirs was true?
I returned and saw my love had returned to her glorious state. She was dressed in the same gown she wore on the day we met. Her skin smelled so sweet and her kisses on my lips made all my cares and fears evaporate like dew in the afternoon.
I surprised myself by asking her to marry me. She surprised us both by consenting. All that night, I felt I was walking in a dream. My mind only half-thinking. My heart pounding with a power I had never felt before.

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.

That night, lying together for the first time as husband and wife, impulse took ahold of me. I held her in my arms and bent over her until my lips were just brushing her ears. “Tomas,” I whispered.
She said, startled and confused, “Why would you invoke my brother in our wedding bed?”
I smiled. “No. My name. My secret name. It is Tomas.”
She was silent. Strangely silent. I feared I had somehow offended her.
“That is why, I think, your brother and I are so close. We share the same name. It was quite a coincidence when we first met, but as we came closer, I knew it was a sign we would be lifelong friends.”
She said nothing. Only stared at me. Then, she said, “Sleep now, my beloved. I have something I must do.” And she left the bed and walked away.
For the next week, I was in complete, mindless bliss. My happiness with her was overwhelming. I can scarcely recall any of the details. Days later, I woke one night with my head hurting and my stomach wrenching. Something was wrong. I felt poisoned. I found Ismene’s side of our bed was empty and I heard a weeping in the corridor. I crawled from my bed–my limbs limp and weak–and found her wandering naked through the cold castle. She was babbling. Blood and bits of her hair under her fingernails. I think she was in the place where Sua’ven dream, for when she spoke to me, it was in a kind of gibberish dream-speak. I brought her back to the bed and called for the Apothecary. He said giving her a poison to still her mind to sleep was dangerous. I spent all that night holding her in my arms. When she finally came to consciousness, she shoved me away. She was screaming. She ran away from me then, running through the halls of the castle. I spent hours looking for her but never did. Her father’s castle holds many secrets. It still does, I am certain. I have no desire to discover any more of them now.
The next morning was when I found the letters. Letters from all over Shanri. Letters filled with the rumors of an illegitimate child. Letters stained with her blood and her tears. In the morning she was well enough again, and I showed her the letters. She swore to me the rumors were false, that Lady Shara was simply trying to attack her with words since Swords had failed her. Like a faithful lover, I believed her.

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.

When I saw him, my fears for Ismene were eclipsed. I know now that I have never been afraid of any man as I was of Tomas Yvarai that day. At the foot of her gates, he screamed Ismene’s name.
I wanted to go out to meet him, perhaps cool his temper, but Ismene begged me to stay inside. “He will kill you!” she told me. “Please, Shajar! Do not go! He will kill us both!”
I sent out my valet to speak to Tomas. Tomas killed him before the man could say a word. And so, I went into the courtyard behind the safety of her gate and spoke with him.
“Bring out the slut who calls herself my sister,” he commanded me.
I asked him, “What do you want with my wife?”

“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.

Tomas Yvarai smiled at me then. I had seen that smile before. A gift he gave to jealous husbands and lovers. I felt my blood freeze in my bones.
“You are going to die, boy,” he told me. “I will find my way into my father’s castle through doors so secret even your… wife… does not know them. And then, I will kill you. But before you do, I will tell you a secret. And that secret will wound you deeper than any Injury my Sword can give you. And then, when you are cold and dead, I will kill your… wife. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Then, he turned and walked away.
I ran up to Ismene and demanded the truth. She just stared at me, her eyes fully mad. I grabbed her by the shoulders and she ripped away from me, using her nails against my skin. She was deep into madness now. There was no rescue for her. I was to lose two wives. My only hope now was to make sure they did not both die to murder.
As night approached, I found my Sword. I also found Ismene there with it. She had regained some of her composure, a pure red gown hung on her slender frame. Her hair was tied up high above her head and she was holding my Sword. “You cannot defeat him,” she said. “You’ve never even fought a duel.”
I took the Sword from her. “I have your love to protect me,” I told her.
Her eyes swelled with tears and I thought she would cry again. But she laughed instead. “Yes,” she said, “you have that. I would murder Tomas a thousand times over to keep you safe. If I thought it would protect you, I would even kill myself. Tomas believed I would kill you to protect… you. He was wrong. There are some loves even the Prince of Rakes cannot understand. Death aplenty to keep you safe, even my own.”
“Hush,” I told her, putting a finger on her lips. “Do not say such things. I love you and could never be happy without you.”
Ismene made a sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. She took my face in both her hands, and pierced me with her gaze “No matter what happens tomorrow or the next day or the next, I want you to remember one thing. Never doubt it, ever. You, Shajar Tomas Thorne, are the only person I have ever truly loved.”
In that moment, staring into her eyes, I could see she was sane. And I knew she was telling the truth. It only lasted that moment, though.
Hours later, Tomas found us, Sword in hand. He said nothing. I drew my own Sword and attempted to parry his first strike. I failed and my blood found the floor. I attempted to parry his second strike. I succeeded, but failed to catch his riposte. Again, I bled.
I failed and failed and failed. He was killing me with tiny cuts. I had seen this before. This was the way he committed murder. He enjoyed it. Every cut reminded me that he could have killed me then. He did not need to say anything. I knew it. Had seen it before. Would never see it again.
As he prepared for the final blow, Ismene screamed his name. Her voice caught his attention for just a moment, and I struck. My blow was weak and poorly aimed and he parried it immediately, but the tip of my blade caught the back of his wrist and ripped flesh. His blood oozed out onto his hand. And Ismene began to laugh. “You lose,” she screeched. “You lose again!”
Tomas kicked me to the ground. The Sword fell from my hand. I could hold it no longer. I was his. I prayed to the Sua’ven for assistance, knowing my doom was only a moment away…
… but it did not come.
My eyes were closed and I opened them. I saw Tomas standing above me looking at the open wound on his wrist. Then, he looked at Ismene. Then, he looked at my blade lying on the ground alone. I did not need to hear what he whispered for I knew the word well enough. My wife, after all, was famous for many reasons.
He grabbed my blade from the ground and turned to Ismene. She screamed. I stumbled, trying to stop him, but my Injuries were to great. He stumbled then, falling to the floor. But he looked up at his sister as she laughed. And then, he grabbed her and they struggled for only a moment. As I watched them, they looked like lovers tumbling together in a violent game, each fighting to top the other. And then Tomas raised the Sword in his hand and thrust it down upon her. I heard the sound of steel and flesh. I heard the sound of the Sword piercing the wood below her body. I saw him put both hands on the blade and push it further down. And I heard Tomas screaming the word “Die!” over and over and over again. Ismene’s hands were at his face, ripping deep into his skin. And then, her hands trembled. And then, as she looked at me with an incomprehensible expression, they fell to her side.
And Tomas fell back. He slumped to the ground. His eyes were nearly dim. His breath was shallow and wheezing. And there, beside his sister, he died.
Her Apothecary treated my wounds. The Injuries Tomas gave me were many, but small, and I recovered quickly. I left the castle behind. Not even the best Swordsmith in all of Shan’ri could repair the damage done to my blade. I do not know what happened to their bodies. I assume the servants burned them, as is our custom. I left them both behind.
I have included with this testimony the entire correspondence between Ismene and Tomas Yvarai. I have read them all, and there is one, terrible conclusion I must draw from them. No doubt it is the same conclusion you shall draw when you have read them all. Some have wondered aloud at their strangely close relationship. Now they may see it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

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.

There are many who would cast judgment on Tomas and Ismene. I say to them that they do not see the walls of their own homes and the blood baked into the mortar which holds them up. Tomas was my friend and Ismene my lover and wife. I loved them both. What drove them to madness was not of their own minds, but an extension of the endless, bloody games the Senators play in that damned dome. I have been both a participant and a victim in those games, nearly driven mad myself. If you seek to find the cause of the Yvarai siblings’ madness, I suggest you might find it in your own hearts.
And now, my testimony has concluded. I intend to wear the black. I also, with the permission of the Senate, wish to no longer be known as Shajar Thorne. I relinquish all my lands and holdings to whomever has the strength to take them. I shall spend the rest of my days fulfilling my father’s blood as a roadman and landless Falcon.

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Game of Tears — Part 40

Friday, October 16th, 2009 | Research | 1 Comment

Really, Tomas.

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 YvaraiShajar 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,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
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.

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Game of Tears — Part 36

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 | Research | 1 Comment

Really, Tomas,

Your last letter was so garbled as to be nearly incoherent. Spattered with ink, the words illegible. Not to mention, the paper positively reeked of brandy. Did you uncork a bottle directly into the inkwell? Or did you simply decide to launder your clothes in alcohol?

To begin with, I am deeply shocked and hurt you would accuse me of murdering Shajar’s wife! How dare you?

I am, of course, willing to be charitable and believe you spoke through a haze of liquor. Why, I only met the woman once! I certainly had no cause to wish her dead. Especially not now, not once I have seen the effect her death has had on my poor Shajar. He is positively inconsolable. Not, I believe, because he loved her (I know he didn’t); but rather, I do believe it’s the first time someone close to him has died. You think I am jealous. But I assure you, I am anything but. To begin with, I am not a jealous woman. Shajar is a dear friend of mine, and we agreed long ago what was between us would not progress any further. Strange, I know, but I am oddly content with it. And so, you see, his marriage was certainly no threat to me.

Perhaps, dear sibling, I am being framed. I have heard rumors Lady Shara still passionately hates me, though she will not attack me up front. She is no doubt the one responsible for the vile rumours circulating about me. I would not put it past her to attempt to implicate me in another’s death.

I need nor want any of your ‘help’. You may not realize this, Tomas, but I am damn near untouchable. The Senate has tried several times to find fault with me. Tried, and failed every single time. Lady Shara has tried to assassinate me, and failed as well. Why? Because I am Ismene Yvarai. I could dance naked through the Senate, waving a blood knife in one hand and my enemy’s severed head in the other. And they would not touch me. I’m that damn good, Tomas. So, no, I don’t need your ‘help.’

And I have absolutely no idea of whom you speak when you demand me to return ‘the boy.’ Surely you do not mean Shajar Thorne, who is a grown man, a widower and free to come and go across Shan’ri as he pleases? If you want him to come to you, you’ll have to charm him away yourself. He may have started out as your ward, but take another look at him, Tomas. He has grown up, and no longer needs you as he once did. Or are you trying to take him away from me just out of spite? Poorly played, brother. If that is the case.

Also, in your drunken stupor, you are confusing my lovers. My poor Falcon died instantly, breaking his neck on the rocky ground beneath the parapet from which you tossed him. The lingering death you are thinking of is a different Falcon, not my first. Your first. Our first. Your wine has begun to affect your memory. Do take care. I have never known you drink quite this much.

Oh.

Oh, dear.

Are you grieving? I have to say, you have always seemed able to hold your liquor before. You rarely, if ever, get this drunk. Has the Green Woman’s death (by your own hand, no less!) so unmanned you that you have crawled into a brandy bottle as a result?

No.

Of course you haven’t.

Because Kassana isn’t dead.

I know she’s not dead, dear brother. Do not waste ink or breath trying to convince me otherwise. I have been keeping a close eye on her. I suspected you might attempt to trick me in hopes of preserving her life. I knew you were capable of it, but I yet hoped you would prove true to me. It seems I have been sadly disappointed. How could you, Tomas?

A clever ruse you pulled, to be sure, but I am cleverer. Far cleverer. Not only have you violated the tenets of our Game, you have LIED to me. I think the green bitch deserves to die screaming for that alone. For driving my dearest brother, the only family I have left in all the world, to betray me.

Throughout our lives, since even before we were born, we have been an inseparable pair. No matter the amount of physical distance dividing us, there were none who could come between Ismene and Tomas Yvarai. Threaten our special bond. Not our parents. Not our lovers. Not anyone. And you, Tomas, have now profoundly violated that bond. Our promises both spoken and unspoken. Had you told me the truth, that you loved Kassana, I would have been merciful. As I wrote in my last letter, I understand what it is to truly love someone. And I understand the utter agony you feel when you are separated from that person. All it would have taken was you offering me the forfeit. The one question you refuse to answer Season after Season, year after year.

But now, Tomas, you have lied to me. You have taken great steps to deceive me. And now, no matter what you offer me or how ardently you beg, Kassana will die. And she will know exactly why she is dying - that you were the one who betrayed her. Even though my hands will be the ones to brew the poison and slip it into her wine, it will be your fault when she dies. Perhaps she might even expire calling your name. I’ll let you know if her last words are of you. Just so you might know the peril of breaking your word to the Mistress of Poisons.

If you didn’t want her to die, you should never have fallen in love with her.

Yours,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
Mistress of Poisons

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Game of Tears — Part 35

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 | Research | No Comments

[editor's note: the letter below is deeply stained with wine making some passages difficult to read. The damaged passages have been translated to the best of our abilities. We've taken small liberties, assuming words and phrases from context. We've marked these passages with parenthesis.]

My Sister,

It is done. She is dead.

Although, it would seem I am not the only one with blood on my hands. I received a letter from Shajar recently. He told me about his wife’s murder. He also told me it was performed with a sorcerous blade and an old, stained strangle cord. Ismene, you must be more careful.

I told him to burn the cord lest it prove sorcerous. In truth, I told him to burn the cord lest he allow one of Jonan Drax’s blasted “knights” to divine whose hands were on it last. Like I said, sister. Careless [sic]

I also told him to send the blade to me. I would deal with it. Again, I find myself covering your sloppy trail. For this, you are in my debt. Do not doubt it or contest it. The boy was ready to bring the dagger to the Senate and what kind of trouble would that make for you and I, do you think?

You even went back to the Castle and allowed these things to remain in his possession! Your wits are no longer with you. I have lost all patience with your pre-occupation with this boy. He was entrusted to me to begin with and he belongs here with me, not with you. Not after what you have done to him.

I begin to suspect your preoccupation with the boy may have more to do with your loins than your brains. Only a woman so enthralled with pleasure acts as you have. You have surrendered all your cunning and all your wisdom to a pair of pretty eyes and a dashing smile.  (You must send him back) to me before you put me in the position I was in before: having to murder one of your lovers that I actually admired. And this one also a Falcon.

You have already put me in the position of having to murder outside the Game once. Do not put me in the position of having to do it again. At least the previous Falcon–who’s death occurred so long ago, the name I cannot even recall now–was a man of courage. When it came time, he did not beg or barter. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me, “Your sister loves me more.”

(As if he would know) my sister’s heart better than my own. I nearly felt pangs of regret when I learned I would have to kill him. I also nearly considered allowing you to win the Game, so great was my admiration for him. Allowing him to escape. It would have been worth it. At least, that’s what I thought.

That’s what I thought until he said, “Your sister loves me more.” And then, I had no qualms about killing him. In fact, it wasn’t until morning that he died. It wasn’t until morning that the last drop of his blood spilled and his eyes rolled back and his breath stopped. He was an honorable man. And for that crime, I murdered him.

[sic] bother [sic] child [sic] wearing the (black)

I realize now I’ve never told you that story. The wine in my head makes me remember and forget. Too much wine. Too much poison in my blood and in my brain. But, yes, that is how your Falcon died. Whatever his name was. And you! You wearing mourning colors for weeks. Never have I been so ashamed of you. Never. Not until now.

Send the boy back to me. Do it or there shall be consequences. I killed her for you. The least you can do is send the boy back.

[unsigned]

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Game of Tears — Part 34

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 | Research | 1 Comment

My friend Tomas,

I must needs beg your forgiveness. You have treated me far better than I deserve, and I fear I have not adequately returned your kindness. I know it has been too long since I last wrote you, and that is the primary slight I have committed. My wife and I had been quite busy establishing our new estates. I thought it prudent to simply return your letters to you, rather than risk their being lost in the hectic shuffle.

It means little now, but I must also offer you an apology for not extending either you or your delightful sister an invitation to my wedding. Ismene’s reaction to hearing that my parents had chosen a wife for me was quite… spectacular. She is a woman of rare and incredible passion. And though she has long been one of the closest friends a man could ever ask for, I feel safe in admitting to you my fear that she might have disrupted the ceremony. Having made that decision, it would have put me in a rather awkward position to have invited you and not Ismene. I hope you will forgive me, for I surely meant no Insult by it.

Though now I must confess it appeared there was little to celebrate that day. We had expected our fortunes to be tied together until Solace came upon us. Yet now I must report the sad death of my wife.

She has been murdered. Most foully and most cruelly. I cannot fathom it, my friend. Perhaps you might be able to offer some advice. I know you have a superior understanding of such things. You have cultivated an insight into the darker motivations of the ven heart than I have cared to.

My wife was the sweetest woman I have ever met, hardly the sort of woman who went about making deadly enemies. She was also quite pretty, though nowhere near as beautiful as Ismene. Ismene carries herself with a certain sort of sensual self-possession few women ever seem to master. Ah, but I am letting thoughts of her distract me!

Though my bride was quite confident herself, she lacked that smoldering inner fire so unique to your sister. I did not think she was a woman who would ever stir a great passion within me (my bride, that is), but I could certainly come to care for her. And, more importantly, we would easily be able to manage our estates together and raise strong daughters and competent sons. I was looking forward to our future prosperity. Isn’t that what a marriage is all about?

She did not deserve what has been done to her. As Ismene might have told you, part of my wife’s lands included an expanse of swamp infested with all manner of abominable ork. As I was chosen theyvestra in this marriage, the responsibility of clearing my wife’s lands of course fell to me. I assembled a group of brave Swordsmen and we ventured into the boggy terrain. We were gone for three weeks. Though we could not exterminate all the orks, we certainly made a significant dent in their population. A wary and well-armed traveler might now cross the swamp in safety.

I rode back to my castle looking forward to a soft bed, sweet brandy and the coming Summer opera Season. I was quite sad to learn that your sister had tried to visit me while I had been away. We had, in fact, just missed each other! She departed the day before I returned home. A wonder we did not meet on the road. She did leave a note for me, which lightened my heart to read. Though your sister might be a woman of rare passion, she is sensible when she has had time to cool off. She expressed happiness for my situation, and asked forgiveness for her outburst upon hearing I was to be married. She also wrote several quite nice things about my wife. Apparently, they had shared several meals during Ismene’s brief stay. I am not sure what to think about that, but Ismene can be quite discreet when she needs to be.

I was pleased to read her note, and immediately dispatched my own roadmen to come find your sister on the highway and beg her to return. If all has gone well, she is on her way here.

My happiness turned sour in my mouth, however, when I entered the chambers I shared with my wife.

She was in her nightclothes, tangled in the bed linen. I could not begin to fathom what I saw. There was blood, so much blood! It soaked her clothes, the sheets, even the mattress. Her hair was matted with the stuff. I ran to her body. There was a dagger rising from her chest. She had been stabbed through the heart. I reached to pull it out, but gasped when I touched it. It was a blood dagger, Tomas!

Who would murder my wife with a blood dagger? As I said before, she was a sweet woman. I cannot imagine her being able to incite such hatred in even the most vengeful of ven.

The entire situation is confusing. Not only was it a blood dagger, but when I examined the weapon from a safe distance, my questions only multiplied. This was not a true weapon that she had been murdered with, the edge was completely wrong. It seemed more a plaything, perhaps something someone might use whilst playing the Game of Knives. Yet someone had turned it into a blood knife, and then murdered my wife with it. Not only that, but she had also been strangled. With a length of dirty white cord. It looked quite old, and crudely made.

I cannot begin to comprehend it.

Does any of this make sense to you? There are rumors that my wife made an Enemy through her marriage to me, but I cannot find any solid proof. You have many more connections to Society than I do. What I have heard speaks of a suitor, upset at losing her to me. But if that is true, why kill her? As long as she brought us no shame, I would have been happy to look the other way when it came to her forming especially close friendships. After all, I am scarcely pure myself, in that respect.

Ismene is on her way here, I am glad to hear it. I could use the presence of a friend tonight. I intend to ask her as well what she thinks of this sad affair. I know her forte is poisons, though, so I do not think she could offer me as much insight as you might. Though, on the topic of your sister… please forgive me, I do not wish to cause offense. But I have heard some disturbing rumours about her. I cannot believe she might ever be capable of what is spoken about her. Please, my friend, reassure me that these are but rumours. They say Lady Shara is behind them, and I well know the enmity between her and Ismene. A word from my closest friend and mentor, and my heart shall be at rest.

I hope to be able to visit you soon. I remember well what you have taught me, and I have already had all my veth killed for allowing a murderer into my home.

Your friend,

Shajar Thorne
Blooded of the Falcon
Baron Teravie

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A Game of Tears — Part 30

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 | Research | No Comments

My Dearest Brother,

Words cannot describe the joy I still feel tonight, even after all our guests have departed and my veth are bleaching their hands raw scrubbing blood off the floor. Our soiree was a complete, inarguable, inimitable success! They shall speak of this night for many Seasons to come. Though we hosted but a single duel, what a duel it was! A dear friend known to write opera from time to time hinted upon leaving that just such a duel might appear in her next great work.

My red dress did not have quite the effect I was hoping for. I think most assumed my intent murderous and so avoided me, when nothing could have been further from the truth!

Poor Yoli. Correct as always, my brother. How did you describe him? “As broken as a porcelain plate dropped onto bricks.” Not too far from the truth, I will admit. But, my beloved sibling, his broken soul was precisely what I found so intoxicating about him. I have invited too many perfectly sane, boring men in my bed. A little madness always spices up an affair. I did hope to catch a taste of his insanity, to unearth what hidden drives might persuade a man to change his Blooding and catch ork babies for sport. Unfortunately, he had his grand demise somewhat too soon. A pinch of madness might be a delectable spice, but too much ruins the whole dish. I would not worry overmuch about what “he” said. Without a doubt, Yoli spoke with our vanquished foe’s voice. Though, truth be told, I do not believe what possessed Yoli to have been a real specter. Simply an echo of the old Count’s rage at his loss and defeat. I understand when our armies had at last battered down the portcullis and he could feel my handiwork burning through his veins, our erstwhile Count ended his own life in precisely the same manner Yoli did. Poor man. I remember the Count as having been quite good with horses, I would have certainly offered him a position tending our stables.

I did manage to attract one dashing young Swordsman, one Lord Oswald. Also wearing the red. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a reputation as a man with a wandering eye. I certainly don’t care about my lovers’ histories before they come to my bed, but they had damn well be faithful to me until I either tire of them or you shuffle them off the mortal coil. No matter. I shall find a new plaything soon enough. I am Ismene Yvarai.

I must admit still being a bit unclear on what precisely led up to the duel between Lord Uval Yvarai and Lord Talon Steele. A mystery for the ages, I believe. I know for truth Lady Irene was grievously wounded, as there was no disguising the copious amount of blood staining an otherwise exquisite gown in a very indiscreet location. The fellow whom she accused of wounding her (with his member!), Lord Davon Steele… well, he might have been capable of inflicting such injury. Not the largest I’ve ever seen, but certainly substantial. Then again, Lady Irene is no blushing virgin, and I doubt it was the largest she’d ever seen either (in fact, if the rumors are true, she enjoyed Lord Voxilaven far before I did, and my darling lost canary would certainly have bested this fellow in that sort of duel. And I had no difficulties with him. You see, dear brother, my habits are good for something after all!)

However, somehow, the Lady Irene was Injured. To all appearances, Lord Davon seemed the one responsible. The Lord claimed a surfeit of passion drove him to it, and deeply regretted harm done to the Lady. Unfortunately, his words came a bit too late, as he spoke before a jury already convened. His passionate defense came not from regret, but a sincere desire to keep his life. That much was obvious. But of course, that, my dear brother, you know already! Or were you simply too dazzled by the luster of your Green Woman’s gown to pay attention to Lord Davon addressing the jury? I must admit, her clothing was quite sumptuous! I shall have to win her tailor to my own estate. He’ll not have work with her for much longer anyway.

A pity I could not eavesdrop on the jury’s deliberations when they retired to the privacy of their room, I would have loved to know what the Only Honest Man in Shan’ri made of the whole thing. The jury returned a strange verdict - Injury, but no Insult. And you and I know well the limits set upon the duel. True pain inflicted, True Pain received. The Lady Irene easily found her champion in Lord Uval. Did you invite him? You must have, I know I would have done better than to be so gauche as to extend an invitation to one wearing the black. Though perhaps I ought to take credit for Lord Uval after all, seeing as he gave a stunningly good show in the duel. And I understand his wardrobe was the result of writing an unflattering opera about the Emperor. There are worse reasons to take the black.

It took Lord Davon the better part of an hour to find a man willing to stand for him in the duel. The poor dear… despite his victory against you at the Game of Knives, I could tell he probably hadn’t touched a Sword since his Blooding. But somehow, through love or bribery or the Sua’ven only know how, he procured a Wolf champion, one Lord Talon Adrente. Upon which, of course, all the duelists and their champions retired to seek comfort in prayer and perhaps wheedle a last minute gift from Ikhalu.

The duel itself was quite thrilling and bloody. Lord Uval must have received half a dozen cuts and given just as many. The Wolf’s blade slashed his lovely lacy poet’s sleeves to bloody ribbons, though our cousin managed to get in a few good nicks himself. It was quite obvious the men were matched equally in both passion and skill. I found myself on the edge of my seat! I had think hard on who I was hoping would win. It was difficult to work up overmuch sympathy for a man in all black, but his devotion and adoration to Lady Irene was nothing short of inspiring, as was his bladework. I also pitied the poor Lady for all that she had suffered that night, and wished to see justice done to the one who had wrought her ill.

And the end! Ah, dear brother, the end of the duel is what inspired my operatic friend. I have heard some of the rumors about how it ended. Let me set the record straight. No, no one stabbed themselves. And as far as I know, the blades were not poisoned (though even if they were, there would not have been time for poison to take effect). Instead, Lord Uval had pressed the fight so long and hard that he drove his opponent to the edge of the circled ven who watched the duel. And as luck would have it (or perhaps this was Lord Uval’s plan all along), Lord Davon stood but a pace from the clashing blades. As soon as he got within range, Uval whirled on his heel and plunged the blade deep into Davon’s heart!

I was close enough to see the whole thing. The Sword cut into him with such ease, it might have been slicing through butter. Lord Davon looked surprised and scared as blood leaked from between his lips, while more ran down to Uval’s hands. Davon fell to the ground slowly, sliding off Lord Uval’s Sword with the strangest rasping sound I have ever heard. Now I know what steel on bone sounds like in slow motion.

And though he had achieved his goal of vengeance on behalf of Lady Irene, victory came at a terrible cost for Lord Uval. In skewering Lord Davon, Uval had left himself open to Talon. Lord Talon immediately took the opportunity to sink his own blade into Lord Uval, killing him almost instantly. Reaching out to the crowd with a bloodied, shaking hand, Lord Davon gasped out what was either a farewell to his lover or an apology to Lady Irene before expiring. An unorthodox, yet thrilling, end to a rather unorthodox duel. So you see why, even though there was only the one, I still consider the evening to have been a smashing success. The bodies were disposed of as you ordered - Lord Uval shall be given all due honors, whereas Lord Devon was thrown onto a hastily constructed pyre, his end witnessed by only a handful of veth tending the blaze.

If this ever becomes opera, it shall be quite a stirring scene.

Oh, and a little credit, Tomas. it was ridiculously easy to pick your Green Woman, Lady Kassana, out of the throng of simpering little doves. I did not bother marking with whom you spent your time. You are too much the rake. You thrive on any sort of attention. Moving from woman to woman, looking deeply into her eyes, speaking sweetly, treating her as if she is the love of your life. Child’s play for you. No, my brother. Instead, I watched their eyes as you spoke with them - and when you spoke with others. It was too easy. I watched for the woman whose eyes never left you, even when you were done speaking with her. The woman who could easily flirt with other men, but only had fire in her gaze for you. The one whose eyes narrowed when she saw you flirting with the other women. The one who looked at me with fear. You are remarkably talented at hiding your emotions, but unfortunately, the Lady Kassana is not.

Or, rather, her fire burns so hot and so bright for you that it cannot help but shine so visibly. She feels quite passionately about you, this much was easy to determine. The Rake Breaker and the Prince of Rakes, who in all the world would have thought? I can hear the Sua’ven laughing from here. This is how legends are born, my brother. And what a story it might have been! Lady Kassana surrenders her everything to a man who is the epitome of everything she once claimed to despise in your gender. And yet she manages to contain her overwhelming feelings for you with grace and dignity. I admire her, Tomas, I quite honestly am in awe.

I haven’t yet decided how I will murder her.

Poison is my old standby, but is a bit too easy. This must needs be a special death. How many of the women you have taken into your bed could honestly claim to have loved you? Infatuation, flirtation, Romance… but what I saw in Lady Kassana’s eyes. Ah, dear brother, it was true love! I know it well, I do. And so I think Lady Kassana deserves something a little more… elegant. An epic end to an epic love story. I do have that blood knife, which is a tempting thought. But they are dangerous weapons, and I have already been toying with the idea of piercing a different woman’s heart with it (nothing for you to worry about, dear brother, just a personal conflict I find myself unavoidably enmeshed in). Perhaps I shall take a page out of your book, and sneak into her chamber in the middle of the night to put an end to her that way. Perhaps I shall strangle her with the same cord I strangled our mother with. She has a very graceful neck. I would enjoy seeing it crushed beneath my hands.

Or maybe poison is the solution. I would have to come up with the perfect formula for her, though. Something which works slowly but ever so surely. Something to draw her death out. That would be a romantic death, would it not? Her lying abed, coughing her life up in wet, ruddy gobs as her lungs slowly dissolve from poisoned blood, her begging you not to grieve and you begging her to stay strong. I should like to watch that, I think. Maybe if the pain became unbearable enough, she would stare deeply into your eyes, speak of how much she loved you and plead for you to do the merciful thing.

As if you ever had any mercy.

Though the sudden approach has its appeal, too… there one moment, and taken away in the very next heartbeat. Perhaps I might enlist the aid of your little lost lavender plaything. I know you broke her heart, quite ruthlessly. And I wasted a whole evening trying to plan the best way to put an end to her! I have decided for myself to be merciful - as far as I know, you two didn’t have time to consummate your Romance, and so she is of no concern to me and our Game. Or if you did manage consummation in the brief minutes you were not in the room, I feel even worse for the poor girl! Lady Irene gets a better showing from the men she picks.

Besides, I shall enjoy breaking the Rake Breaker. This is a rare challenge, dear brother, and I ought to thank you for it.

Yours in all devotion,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av

P.S. I cannot begin to guess at Shajar’s mind. If you really want to know why he’s returning your letters unopened, go to his lands and ask him. That is, if you can peel him away from his new wife. His parents found him quite a winning match, you ought to at least congratulate him on marrying a rich woman who will no doubt bring him many strong children. He swore his marriage would not interfere with the depth of our friendship, and that he would send for me when he could. Send for me. As if I were a parcel. Or a veth. You begin to understand why I wore red that night, dear brother. Shall we not speak of Shajar again? At least for the next Season or so, as the problem should not take much longer than that to solve. And I would be ever so grateful!

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A Game of Tears, Part 29

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 | Research | No Comments

(from the private journal of Tomas Yvarai)

Her name is Kassana. Kassana. Kassana Valar. “Blessed by the Moon.”

And after confronting my sister, she is still alive.

Kassana
Kassana
Kassana
Kassana
Kassana

___

My dearest sister,

We have blessed our floor with the blood of the courageous.

With all of our cousins and neighbors gathered, the party celebrating our conquest of the Count was a raging success! The Game of Knives. The Storm. The spectre. We shall be the talk of the Season and many Seasons to come.
Although, you must forgive me for the small bit of fun at had at your expense. I am sure a woman of your cunning, by now, must have realized that I sent a personal invitation to each and every woman on our guest list imploring them to wear a green dress. The burning in your eyes was well-worth any wrath you may throw at me.
Did you find her? With so many dopplegangers, I must admit, even your own impressive skills must have been challenged. I made every effort to divide my attention among my emerald darlings evenly, but your spies may have found her out. May have. Perhaps.
The Storm was a terrible event. How many guests did we lose? Seeing as you remained at the castle after the party, I assume you have made some sort of record, explaining and apologizing to their families? I would hate to be held accountable for their injuries and disappearances. We did offer them hospitality, but one cannot offer hospitality against the Storm.
And where was your young, brave Falcon? I must tell you that my letters to him are returning to me unopened. I planned on chastising him for such impertinence. You haven’t been advising him to ignore me, I hope. Have you?
Have you?
My spies at the party did say they saw you with a woman near the end of the party and that your conversation ended with laughter. Your laughter. My spy told me the sound of it was like feeling an icy spike shove through his heart. I know that laugh well, sister. Can you tell me what brought it to your lips?
And for whom was the red you wore? Certainly not our young mutual friend? Certainly not him. Not after I spent so many letters telling you to stay away from him. It was if you had ignored me completely. I cannot imagine you would do that. Ignore me so ignominiously? With whom have you begun a new Romance, sister?
Or are you afraid to tell me?
I must admit, I have started no new Romance… other than the one I started and ended at the party. You may not have heard the details. I will recount them for you now.
You may recall inviting that actor to our party. Yoli, was his name, I believe. Our young friend was most infatuated with the boy. I can see why. He was handsome and witty and as broken as a porcelain plate dropped to a brick floor. Such pretty young men attract pretty young women. Apparently, the boy went out into the stables to investigate a sound: a voice he heard. When he returned, his face was twisted into a contorted mess I shall honestly never forget. I must admit, I was frozen with terror. I had never seen a spectre before, let alone one possessing a man I had only met earlier in the evening.
When he came into the door, he looked at me and accused me of poisoning him. But the voice was not his own. His voice belonged to the Count. I quickly looked at the other faces. They were too terrified to understand the implications of his words. He pointed at me and said something I do not remember. Then, Yoli regained his own voice and shook his head, as if he had been struck from behind. He then plunged his own dagger into his belly. Blood on our floors.
It was only later, when I retired to my room and looked at my own face in the mirror that I saw what I saw and remembered what he said.
“A mane of cobwebs.” That is what he said.
And my hair now boasts a strain of silver. Not all of it. Just a strain. Although, I suspect that strain will reach further into my scalp and convert the rest of my hairs soon. I must consult a Serpent and discover a way to counteract such a curse.
When Yoli died, the young woman blamed me. She said I was responsible for his death because I had offered him hospitality. I consoled her and acknowledged her grief. And I told her that anything I could do to help ease her pain–anything within my abilities–was at her disposal. The young woman was easy to sway and easier to seduce. Such playthings are far below my skills. But I wanted to know if I could turn a woman from absolute hatred to unquestioning passion.
I did. And all it took was sweet words and a direct gaze into her eyes.
She did your gender no favors in my eyes that night, my sister.
Needless to say, once she was mine, I grew bored with her. Within the hour, I called her back into the ballroom. I held her hand, smiled, and looked into her beautiful eyes.
“You are a slut and a whore,” I told her. “And unworthy of my love.”
And then I arranged for her murder.
Unfortunately, I relied on one of your guardsmen for the job. Not only did he fail to cut the girl’s throat, but also ran away with her. Another enemy I shall have to dispatch when the time allows me.
Of course, the duel brought the aforementioned sacred blood to our floor. A duel for love. A duel of love. I only saw the end result. Perhaps you were there for the build to blades crossing? Could you tell me of it?
There was so much more, my sister. And my moments with you, I must admit, were precious. The most precious. No other woman so commanded my attention as you. You are the light in my darkness. My hearth in winter. The comfort to my pain.
Command me, and I am yours.
As always,
Tomas

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A Game of Tears — Part 28

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments

[ed note: As with the other letters written during the war, this document was severely damaged. An astute reader will no dout notice an abrupt change in tone from the first half to the second half of the letter. This, along with several other contextual clues, leads me to believe this letter may be two separate pieces accidentally conflated into one. However, apart from the shift in tone, I have no other evidence to support this thesis. And if there are two letters, they were written close enough together (from the same bottle of ink, it seems) as to make very little difference. In an attempt to preserve continuity and clarity, I have chosen to present this piece as a single letter, and hope the reader will indulge it's internal idiosyncracies. R.]
My brother,

What have we wrought upon the land?

I apologize for not writing sooner. After the Count’s most recent attempt to assassinate me, the safest thing for me to do is keep moving. I try not to spend more than two nights in the same place, which makes keeping up with my correspondence passingly difficult. I don’t believe I told you about the last attempt. The plan itself was rather clumsy, I feel almost insulted. It involved a poisoned dagger and a poor, doomed, bribed veth. Or perhaps he was blackmailed, I didn’t care to ask. The dirt died quickly on the tip of Shajar’s sword. I had no idea he was so fast! You have trained him well.

In my constant traveling, I have seen things I could not imagine, not in my darkest and most morbid of moods. I have seen the burnt out shell of the count’s old castle, and witnessed the destruction wrought upon his fields and farms. Once-fecund soil has drunk in so much blood that only the meanest scrub grass will now grow there. The veth have tried to plant crops, but too much death has been absorbed into the ground. No life will sprout, and even the hardiest wheat will simply wither without bearing fruit. So many have died by the score, of war and famine and disease, there are not enough of them left to sustain any sort of productive industry. The young men have died of war, their wives have died of grief, and their children and parents have died of starvation.

What use is winning this land for our own if it is no use to us once it is ours? In the last town I stayed at, there was not a single veth left who was strong enough to drive a plow. I can certainly move some veth from my land to this once it is ours, but even my own resources have been sorely depleted by our long struggle. I can ask no more favors from my friends, I have asked too much already.

At least the end is in sight. Despite all our sacrifice and suffering, it is obvious our Count knows he can no longer win. All hope of victory left him after the battle at Aisa’s Ford, when half his men fell dead of the poison before the fighting even started. I think now he seeks only to make sure our victory is as costly as possible, and that winning will give us no peace. It may be working, my brother. I had never thought to have been the instrument of so much death. A pinch of powder in a glass of wine administered to a single target is one thing. But when my spies told me the number estimated to have died from the water we contaminated, I could not imagine being responsible for that many deaths. It is a heavy weight, and keeps me up at night.

I had always thought myself strong in the face of killing. I murdered my own parents, with my own hands. I played our private Game will a deadly skill, of which I have always been rightly proud. Yet now I am haunted by the faces of the nameless dead. I suppose that is why I have such difficulty. It is easy to kill someone you know and hate. But this sort of mass murder is just so… impersonal. I didn’t particularly hate any of the men who succumbed to the powder I made for you, they were just unfortunate enough to be working for the wrong man. An accident of fate, with no more meaning nor motive beyond that.

And as each one of mine dies, I find my fury at the Count grows. My veth have done nothing to offend him except being mine. I can almost forgive him for attempting to have me killed. It is a more honest way of setting disputes, I think, than bidding strangers murder each other and whoever ends with the fewest deaths is the victor. Sometimes, I think -

[incomprehensible]

Ah, but I am getting too sentimental. Forget what I wrote, dear brother. At long last, we have achieved the dreams we treasured as children. While I might wish dearly someone had warned me of the cost before we set down this road, I would do nothing differently. We deserve this. We have earned it.

Shajar has been of immeasurable comfort during this time. I cannot begin to describe the depth of our friendship. It is strange - he is so much younger than I, and yet I find myself being the one to turn to him for advice and guidance. He is possessed of a wisdom beyond his years. I wish I had his talent, of seeing the good in everyone. You might as well give up asking for him to return to you. Shajar knows he may come or go as he pleases, and he chooses to remain with me. I will not force him to do what he does not wish to do. If you can persuade him to leave me for your side, I shall not stand in his way. But, dear brother, you must persuade him first. Besides, travel is too dangerous durng this time of war.

[incomprehensible]

And I want to make one thing explicitly, abundantly clear. What you wrote in your last letter was not just shocking, it was utterly insulting, patently ridiculous and completely untrue. I did not, nor have I any intention of, writing a letter to his parents attempting to begin marital negotiations between the two of us. Anything you have heard to the contrary is an absolute and utter lie, no doubt perpetrated by the Count in a desperate attempt to discredit me. Shajar is a very dear friend, perhaps one of the dearest I have ever had (except of course for you, my best beloved brother). But I would not think of trying to marry him. Especially not now, when I am about to become a Countess and he is barely a Baron. We should be too wildly mismatched to be an effective partnership.

Not to mention, it would be unforgivably gauche of me to begin betrothal discussions on my own behalf. Such things ought rightly be done by one’s parents, and mine are sadly deceased and unable to perform such a service for me.

Lastly, you know my thoughts on marriage. I could never be a submissive partner. From what the rumors tell me, Shajar’s parents would never allow him to become ytola, either.

Besides, my reputation is well known to the both of them. Shajar tells me his parents are already looking for a bride for him, among the Mwrrs or Adrentes to balance out his Falcon blood. The thought of their only son marrying an intemperate woman with a lifetime of scandal behind her would no doubt send them into fits.

Having cleared up THAT particular issue, perhaps we might turn our thoughts to securing our victory? My spies tell me the Count is attempting quite the ruse. He is having a veth dress in his clothes (can you imagine!) and travel in his coach to his manor in Diavale. The journey shall be quite public. Not a parade, but certainly not in utter secrecy, especially since the road to Diavale passes close to my own lands - in fact, the vineyards burnt several years ago by Lady Shara. He hopes to distract us with a decoy while he travels in the opposite direction, towards the ports wheere he hopes to make good his escape by ship. Whether he sails in flight or to an ally to beg for more troops, I cannot say.

Part of me wishes to let him go, claim his lands and be done with it. However, letting him live is a risk we may no longer take. There is always the chance he will show up with another army at his back, or that we might bite into the wrong morsel and have all our hard work come to naught.

It seems as though there is only one thing left to do, and then it is finished. Shall we meet at the ports, ready to make an end to this after several long years? I am tired of all the killing. Just one more death, the death we have been working towards for so long, and our shared desires shall finally be realized.

I shall see you soon, Tomas.

Until then I remain,

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av (for now)

P.S. The rumors of marriage between Shajar and I are forgiveable. Annoying, but forgiveable. However, if you ever DARE imply Shajar might father a bastard on me again, I will kill you. I am not threatening you. I am simply stating fact. A fact which you, of all people, ought to have known without being told. I have already heard a few disturbing rumors coming from the capital. I can forgive what I have heard so far as nothing more malicious than mere attempts by my enemies to ruin my character, but it had damn well better stop. And it had damn well better not be you behind them. I’ll be charitable and assume it was some tactless attempt to discover if he and I had grown intimate since my last letter. Well, darling brother, until you tell me what’s going on with you and your Green Woman, I shan’t reveal a bit of what’s between Shajar and I.

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A Game of Tears — Part 27

Monday, July 27th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments

[trans. note: many letters from this particular time period, estimated to last approximately one year, are either lost or indecipherable. Given that these letters are written during a fairly chaotic period of Tomas and Ismene's life, this is somewhat understandable. Rachel and I are doing our best, but unfortunately, the next batch of letters will be fragmented and sporadic. We briefly considered not even publishing this segment; however, after long discussion decided we owed it to our readers to do our best with what we had. We hope you enjoy Part 2 of A Game of Tears.]

My dearest sister,

Once again, I find myself opening a letter with concerns for Shajar. When he refused my orders to stay here, despite my threats of abandoning his tutelage, I knew his boldness would put him in danger. But I never expected him to try confronting the Count himself. Last time I wrote to you, I hoped his bravado would have been tempered by his failure to defeat the Count’s swordsman, but it seems, his injuries only stiffened his resolve. Finding himself at the point of certain death was not enough for him, so he thought to throw himself upon it. Word got back to me swiftly–seeing the boy’s life is in my charge–and now I find myself writing to you, hoping to find him still alive.

And I write to you now from the battlefield. Here, through the fire and smoke, I can see the walls of his castle. My own men were insufficient for such a siege, but I have managed to find allies in the capital; although it took a great deal of promising to make them crawl out of the corners. I have two hundred men marching on the Count’s northern borders while my own men are currently poisoning his castle’s water supply. After all these months–nearly two years–it is nearly finished. He hides in his castle like the turtle in his shell. He forgets that I can simply flip him over and eat out his belly while he flounders on his back.

It has been almost one hundred years since these lands have seen such bloodshed. An open war. That is what we caused, my sister. An open war. If only you could see it.

The jackals sit on the borders of the lands, waiting to pick up the scraps. In the west, Duke Venel sits with his seven hundred men. I can see them on my hilltop here. I will require a miracle to put him off the scent of blood. I may need you here, sister. Your history with his son will make things much easier, I suspect.

Your last letter inquired on my progress with the Jade Lady. As I told you before, there is no progress until all this blood is settled. Her own husband, I am told, argues against me in the capital. I think he begins to suspect our “friendship.” At least, that is what the Lady told him we held. The irony is thick, my sister, for that is exactly what we have. She has refused any advances from me, and in her one moment of weakness, I found myself refusing her.

Ah, but I have not told you of that moment, have I? Let me tell you a story.

It was shortly after my recovery from Shara’s duel. I was feeling well enough to walk about the grounds, albeit with the assistance of a cane. My butler announced her arrival and I granted her my hospitality. I saw her walk into the garden carrying a bundle tied up with a handkerchief. She insisted we have lunch in the garden, revealing meat, cheese, fruits, bread and a baked pie. How could I refuse?

“You are looking healthy enough,” she told me.

“Another week,” I said. “And I may be ready to ride.”

She blushed a little. I drank the wine she brought, spiced with healing herbs.

“Am I so obvious?” I asked her.

“Predictable,” she told me. “Predictable.” She paused and cut some bread.

I smiled. “Would you prefer me to be mysterious?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “No,” she said. And then she began to speak again, and my ears distinctly heard her begin to say, “I love you just the way…”

She stopped. Her hand, on the knife, cutting an apple, slipped just a little and she stabbed the tip of her finger. She cursed and dabbed at it with a handkerchief.

“How stupid of me,” she said.

“For what you did or what you said?” I asked.

She did not look at me then. She only said

[sic]

consequences

[sic]

possible future.”

She drank the wine again, deeper than before. “Forgive me,” she said.

I nodded and took her bleeding hand. “There is nothing to forgive.”

Although, you must forgive me, sister, for sounding like a hero from one of your beloved pillow books. The Lady was mine. In my hands. Willing. Wanton, even. And could not find it in my heart to take her. Something overcame me. An emotion I have never felt before.

Pity.

And so, as

[sic]

Your brother, who loves you,

Tomas

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A Game of Tears — Part 26

Saturday, July 18th, 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments

[trans. note: many letters from this particular time period, estimated to last approximately one year, are either lost or indecipherable. Given that these letters are written during a fairly chaotic period of Tomas and Ismene's life, this is somewhat understandable. John and I are doing our best, but unfortunately, the next batch of letters will be fragmented and sporadic. We briefly considered not even publishing this segment; however, after long discussion decided we owed it to our readers to do our best with what we had. We hope you enjoy Part 2 of A Game of Tears.]

My Dear Tomas,

This letter shall arrive with as many of my own personal guard as I am currently able to muster. The guards shall be lightly armed, as I doubt they will be required to engage in much combat during their journey - this has not, after all, yet escalated to that sort of conflict. At least, if we have both been circumspect enough, our Count is unaware that we have already escalated it to that sort of conflict. And that is the important thing. My guardsmen are there simply to protect what I wrote to you earlier about. They have successfully found in the ancient puzzle-house hidden deep within my swamp. The house was not easy to find, even more difficult to access and nearly impossible to navigate. But, dear brother, I was correct. You mocked me (lightly, yes, but I still read the mocking tone in your words), thinking it was a fool’s errand. My confidence was not ill-placed. The relics I were sure would be there, the artifacts of our Count’s favorite Sua’ven, were indeed hidden in the house. We even found more than expected. Not only did we find the two mirrors, the pendant and the statue, I also found a leather folio full of loosely bound manuscript. It appears to be written in cipher. I am currently hard at work trying to decrypt it, for I am sure there are useful secrets within.

It was a terrific maze! The house appeared to be three stories from the outside, and one would think a cellar would be nearly impossible to construct in a swamp. But, as these things so often are, it was much larger on the inside than the outside, and three levels of cellars and subcellars. Stairs filled almost every spare inch of space, or so it seemed. Some of the furniture had rotted away to splinters and dusty cobwebs, but some pieces gleamed as if they had been put together yesterday. The relics were hidden in an attic, though the keys to the chest which contained them were in one of the cellars. I shan’t bore you with the details, but I can say with all surety that going from attic to cellar and back again in a puzzle house was one of the more thrilling experiences of my life!

Retrieving these items was quite an expensive errand. Not only the difficulties and cost of preparing and mounting an expedition into the deepest reaches of the swamp, but the dangers of both land and house. I lost several competent attendants to traps set in the house, and Shan’ri claimed my navigator on the way back. The unfortunate soul fell out of the boat and into the open mouth of a great, monstrous beast which was nothing but jaws, stomach and tail. We managed to spear it, though too late for it’s poor victim. I have enclosed one of it’s teeth with the rest of the package. Not as anything I find particularly useful, but it is a curiosity. Perhaps you might give it to the Green Woman, she seems the sort who would appreciate such a gift.

The Captain of my guard is the man entrusted with this letter, the relics and a few other choice items. My Captain is quite good at what he does, and is the only veth currently in my employ whom I allow to carry a sword. Among the other items he carries, one is a small vial sealed with red wax. He has been instructed to hand this over to you personally. Within the vial is one of those substances I am so well known for brewing. Do be careful with it! I have made it quite potent. Should you accidentally get any on your hands, make sure you wash them thoroughly with hot water and strong soap before eating or touching your face.

I know your plan did not call for the use of poison just yet, but I had thought it would be better to have some on hand in case the opportunity arose. It is quite likely that our good Count knows we are up to something without knowing the full extent of our activities, and so I would not be surprised to discover he has increased the already stringent security surrounding him. Getting poison to him would be even more difficult that poisoning Lady Shara. But, as Father used to say, the Sua’ven favor the bold and the prepared. And considering we are attempting to use artifacts of the Sua’ven against our own Count, we could use as much of their support as they are willing to give.

Also… I know I promised I would not ask again, but it is difficult for me to refrain. Is it truly necessary to put Shajar in harm’s way by bringing him with you? I know you believe it is useful for him to earn the necessary experience, but I can teach him so much more if he is with me. You believe I intend to seduce him, but I do not know how many times I might swear that is not my intention before you believe me.

There are many reasons I will not touch the young man, not in the least because I am still attached to that Bear. Had I known we would have called a truce in the Game for the duration of our struggle against the Count, I certainly would have been a little choosier about a bedmate. He’s not awful, but he’s convinced that I am in dire peril. To protect me, he insists on being by my side as often as possible. I cannot even drink a glass of wine drawn from my own cellar without him insisting on taking the first taste. It’s a bit sweet, but even the best honey becomes cloying after putting too much in your tea. He also tries to write me poetry, which I suppose is flattering it it’s own way. Unfortunately, all he writes is simply doggerel. It’s terrible! It’s worse than terrible, but if I act anything less than perfectly pleased with it, he will sulk for days. And he doesn’t even have the decency to go sulk in another room! Even though he persists in acting like an upbraided child, he still follows me from room to room.

But I digress. My whole point is that it would be terribly impolite of me to attempt to seduce Shajar while my Bear is still in residence. And while he is a bit annoying, he’s not gotten to the point where I wish to send him away. Besides, if you will not send me my good friend Lord Thorne, who else could possibly keep me company except the Bear? Why, if Shajar were here, I could easily pick a fight with my Bear and have him sulking his way back home. So you see, dear brother, letting Shajar come stay here is even more of a favor to me! At least when he writes poetry, it’s not patently awful. He says his family is Thorne as far back as the records go, but I insist he must have at least a few drops of Fox blood in him.

And as a last bid - Shajar is incredibly bright. I have no doubt that with him assisting me, we can quickly and easily decrypt the manuscript I found within the house. I cannot ask my Bear, for he is neither intelligent enough nor trustworthy enough to be involved in this project. But I think we might both be able to trust Shajar. At the very least, you know I shan’t be hiding any of the folio’s secrets from you, not with Shajar to tell you exactly everything he reads and learns.

And with that, dear Tomas, I must get back to my manuscript. Soon, victory shall be ours.

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av

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Slumming, Part 2

Slumming, Part 1

Visions of the Ven

Game Design Video: Update

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