History of the Citadel, part 2 - JED

The long-awaited last episode of the previous series dealing with the history of a hand from the game "Citadels."

        This time, the  focus was on the hand of one of the other two players.

The True History of the Fourth Citadel

As revealed through the death bed reminiscence of a Craius Kio Navigus

Told to his Chief Manservant Guelus Su-Regequas

 

“Things were not so different when I was a boy, Guelus Su-Regequas”

 

“As you say, Praetor”

 

“You do not believe me?”

 

“You are wise Praetor, in both natural ability and with the weight of years, it would bode me little well to question what you say.”

 

“It would also do you little well, because as your Master I could order your head lopped from your shoulders at a whim.”

 

“Indisbutably true Praetor, though I have never known you to be a bilious or choleric man. Your temper is widely considered to be quite calm and even.”

 

“Ah. But I am old and senile and you do not know what that I might go mad at some slight insult.”

 

“….”

 

“You do not speak Guelus.”

 

“No Praetor, there are times when a loose tongue in one’s mouth may mean a tight noose around one’s neck.”

 

“This is not such a time my friend. I am dying and I would speak the truth to a man I respect. I care not a whit for your station. I simply want to talk with you.”

 

“…then no Praetor, I do not believe you. Though I am but half your age, even I can remember how different things were in my youth. I can recall the glory of the mounted knights, the cheer of the crowds at the breach of the North Wall. The scent of garlands and spice and the bloom of wealth and hope. The glory of the Imperatorial family. Now they are dust and we are led by the eleventh generation of a family of fools, whose principal claim to fame is that they can pull mange-bitten rabbits from out their caps. Our air stinks of combustion and rot from paddlewheel cars and tavern refuse. The great glories of Janeus are our easily accessible whores and our affordable beer. No Praetor, I do not believe you.”

 

 “…really? Are you certain Guelus? Are you sure what you remember is what was there?”

 

“I apologize, Praetor, for my rashness. I did not mean to offend. It is only that I am saddened and dismayed by the state to which we have fallen. We were castle builders sir. Rulers of the Shattered Rose. The Northmen were our miners, the Carren our artists, the Sonnen a faint and disturbing memory of men in dresses. And now we are here, our University an empty hulk, our watchtowers corroding skeletons, our castle a storehouse for the trading posts and taverns, our palace a brothel of pointless fancy. I serve at your manor, not only because you own me sir, but also because there is no other place of honor in the land.”

 

“You are too harsh, Gueleus, by half and half again. In my nose, the air is not so different now from what it once was, though I too can smell the burning vitriol and the rancid puke. Perhaps it has always been this way. Or perhaps it never was this way. I do not know anymore.”

 

“Lean toward me if you can Praetor…yes, good, drink deep sir, the soup will help your congestion.”

 

“Hahm! Oh…that is hot. Burns the tongue, but I swear it is good just to feel a pain different from that pain which I have grown accustomed to.”

 

“As you say, sir.”

 

“Yes. As I say. As I said it. As I willed it to be…I can tell you the truth of the White Men Guelus.”

 

“Sir?”

 

“The White Men; the ghosts and shadows that people chatter about in the streets. I am not so deaf that I can’t hear the gossip. They talk of images of men that walk through walls, leaving stone brittle as balsa wood, that pass through children and leave their hair gray and their minds askew. I know what they are, and where they come from. I brought them here.”

 

“You…you are confused, Master. Perhaps I should leave, and let you rest now.”

 

“If you walk out this door Guelus, before I have dismissed you, I will call the guard and have them skewer you from the rafters and your screams will last two days and nights before you die.”

 

“…sir.”

 

“I am old. I am wise, but I am not such a nice man, not such a kind man as the city thinks me to be. I have had to make sacrifices in my life to get what I wanted, to get what I needed. Those sacrifices were not always my own. You are my friend Guelus, and I will have you listen to me now, because I want someone to know the truth. If you leave you are no friend, and so I will not weep when I order your death.”

 

“As you will it sir.”

 

“Then sit. Do not make me waste breath.

 

“I am older than you know, in fact I was almost forty when the Adder of Oppugno claimed the Primacy. He changed the Praetoriate, changed our mission, changed our…goals. We had been a simple, if elaborate and anciently trained guard of the Primate. He wanted a strike force, a secret cadre that would work outside the bounds of the Senate. He killed or tortured all of us who raised even a word against him. I did not protest. In fact, I helped him achieve his goals. Because they furthered my goals.

 

“Under the assassin I led the Praetoriate to prevent the rise of the Northmen. We rallied noblers and commoners alike, led them into hate and anger, led them to mistrust and bigotry. To the people, like you, it was a righteous cause, the destruction of an abomination. To the Adder it was only a way to call out the thief king of the North, to bring him into the open and in so doing paint a target on his chest. With the Thief King dead the Adder saw his own light in ascension, his own wealth…he was a simple man.

 

“To me, it was a step in bringing about the fall of the Adder, the rise of the Dragon of Imperator, and through the Dragon the destruction of that Temple. It was all only a way to shape time, to keep things out of balance, to keep them in flux. I needed that, you see.

 

“I needed the world to shift like sand so that I could stay alive, so that I could make it last. I wanted the world to remain unsettled, so that my own life could be extended. You look aghast, but I ask you, are you really shocked? Do you think I was above reproach, or above human fear? Did you think I was always what you see before you now?”

 

“…I…do not know what you are telling me, sir.”

 

“I am old. Old as the beginning. I was there when the compass shattered, there when this game began. In truth, I began it. I was the first ruler, the one that founded the line of the Eagle. The Regis Aquila.”

 

“That was near on a thousand years ago, Lord. Your fever must be getting higher.”

 

“It is, yes. And I will die soon. But I will die after living 976 years. I shattered the rose, I brought it down around all of our ears, and I did it only because I didn’t want to die. But I see you still do not understand. You don’t see the game I was playing do you?”

 

“No…sir.”

 

“It is simple really. There can be no peace. There can be no stasis, no resolution. As long as there is conflict, as long as there is flux, I am bound to live, because I am the central flaw in the Rose. I created the schism and it sustains me yet. But soon there will be a new Emperor, a new ruler, and then the game ends. With the game, so do I. I am afraid.”

 

“...I am uncertain what to say to you sir.”

 

“You should be. There has never been a moment such as this before. I have never confessed my crimes or my intent, never explained the rules, never explained the White Men. How would you know what to do? We break new ground tonight.”

 

“Then you are telling me sir that you machinated all this time, you worked to prevent the Reunion?”

 

“Yes. I did it through theft, and blood, and violence, and rape and pain. Through gifts, and generosity and love. I used every tool to stay my death. Would you not have done the same if you had known how? If you had seen the great game board stretched out before you, all those you knew and met, only pieces upon it? You would have.”

 

“I do not know that sir, it seems a horrible nightmare sort of dream you are having.”

 

“That may well be. It has seemed that way to me too, for many years now. But I would do it again, had I not failed now, had it not been inevitable that someday I would fail.”

 

“I had the Dog King build his University and let it teach men from Carren, dreaming that they would one day breed magicians and battle wagons to scorch the earth and beat back the other Compass Points. I put the weak and facile Lilac King on our thrown, and helped the Thief of the North to rob him blind, weakening this land and strengthening theirs. And I did the same for the Fish King too. I built and broke and lied and stole. All to save my life. And in so doing I called out the White Men.”

 

“And what are they then, sir? How do these fairy tales fit into your delusion?”

 

“I am not deluded, steward, though you may wish that I was. I may wish that I was too. The White Men are the echoes of possible stories, possible moves, possible endings. They are what could have been, and now that the ending is coming, they rise through the floors of the earth, to wander the world of my creating and to watch me fade. They are shadows of the things that could have been and could be, cast back and forth in time, and they are here to watch me die.”

 

“It is a very self-absorbed world that you have made sir. A place that seems to resolve around you alone. Is it sensible to believe yourself such a center in this world.”

 

“No. I am no real center. I am only a piece that tried to play the game with the players. I saw the work of the four gods, and I had the hubris to try myself against them. But in the end, I am only a piece, like you and all the rest of us, and I am about to be swept from the board.”

 

“Is that why you tell me this then? Because it doesn’t matter now? Because you are about to die?”

 

“We all die Guelus. My death is special only to myself, even though I have moved so much to stay it. I tell you now, only because I soon will not have any voice to speak it, and no ears to here me. I tell you now because you are my friend, and I would have an honest man know the truth.”

 

“….”

 

“That is all, I suppose. The sins accounted for in sum, if not in instance. I do not think I care to recall the details anyway.”

 

“As you wish it, sir. Perhaps you will sleep now.”

 

“Perhaps. You may go Guelus.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Sir?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“If what you say is true, and you die with the coming peace, and if all of this has been a game, if the White Men are ghosts, and us all just pawns…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Does the game…does the land…do we...survive this end? What will happen to us when your light goes out? When peace comes will we continue?”

 

“…I do not know. But I hope so. I hope there will be another round. I don’t know why, but I do.”