Corthos et al Scene
“Corthos. Corthos!” A hand shook the half-sleeping form of Corthos Tanassen, waking him slowly from his slumber against his writing desk. He waved the hand away, sitting up slowly, eyes blinking blearily. “What is it? Am I dead?” Lena Farrowfell sat across from him, tapping her foot impatiently. “Not yet….but there’s some rumors you ought to hear.” Corthos shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Standing, he crossed to his teapot, setting it on the heat. “What do the rumor mills say? How did the Aldo project go?” Lena smiled slightly. “Thirty two different Aldo Mondragons, crossing every district possible. Not only do the people find him charming, they think he is deceptively spry for an older fellow. A gentleman and a gracious soul. But not everyone is a great fan of his.” The smiled faded. “Corthos, the rumors are that the Delronge have sent out an offer to pay for the silencing of Aldo Mondragon. They intend to try and cut the source of these issues out. We’ve listened to the Jills and the Talons, and the word has been spreading rapidly throughout the bars and taverns. It’s never mentioned as being from the Delronge, but one can presume, given the circumstances.” She swallowed deeply, worry in her eyes. “They are willing to pay for you to be killed or removed from town. The feeling is that if you can pick up a pen, you are still a threat to them, so they intend to make certain you cannot.” Corthos stood, listening impassively as she continued. “So, what we can do is hide you. Spread lies telling people you were seen all over the city, keep the fake Mondragons up to distract them. We can hide and run, but still stay active…”
Corthos raised a hand to stop her as he took his tea kettle off the heat. “I studied Roland Tanassen for years. The man did something people thought impossible. Taking a force of no more than three dozen Tanassen soldiers, he held a city of of thousands in a stalemate with a seiging army – scattering the guards and fighting constantly to keep the city free. And while some may not consider a stalemate a victory, his three dozen held off a foe five times their size for months until reinforcements could be brought in, with almost no casualties. He was told to scatter and run early, and none would have doubted him for it. But he stated he had made a promise to his men – he would be there for them and put them in no more harm than he would himself.” Lena opened her mouth, starting to question what this applied to. “I cannot hide and let others stand in my place. I cannot let the false Aldo’s risk the maiming that is meant for me. But I cannot let these groups of brigands run the city looking for me.” He gestured at a pile of letters on the table. “House Jarvis is open to meeting. House Jhaltero is with us in spirit. If I am killed, it will unleash a storm that Delronge is not prepared for – House Tanassen would not sit still and allow one of their own to have been murdered without reason, Thrune allies or not. The other Aldo’s must not go out in my name until we have this resolved.”
Lena nodded. “But how do we deal with groups of thugs looking for you?” Corthos smiled. “Pour yourself some tea while I gather someone.” Lena crossed to the kettle, pouring two cups and waiting. Several minutes passed before Corthos returned, followed by a rather loud Isabella. Lena covered one ear as Isabella entered, her head turned and yelling some vague challenge at one of her friends. Lena handed a cup to Corthos as he turned to speak to Isabella. “So…I have a little job for you and your people. Isabella leaned back in the chair, grinning. “Got a problem the words won’t fix, huh? Or just letting someone else go up front for you?” Corthos grinned. “Well, I’ve got a few things going on. Lots of sticks in the fire. But the big problem is that House Delrong is getting desperate enough to pay for me getting silenced, apparently.” Isabella raised an eyebrow as she spoke. “I always thought you did a little too much blah blah blah. But not so much that I’d pay for it.” She smiled wide. “So, I’m interested. What’s your plan looking like?” Corthos exchanged a glance with Lena, who still looked slightly worried. “I want you and your friends to find some of these groups. Look to take the job, find out who else has taken it. Then…” He grinned back at her. “Then you do what you do best.”
Isabelle popped a small flame in her hand as he spoke, idly playing with it before closing her fist to end it. “You mean you want us to knock off the competition? Before they can knock you off?” Corthos nodded. “That’s pretty risky.” Lena started to speak in defense of the plan, but was cut off quickly by Isabella laughing. “I’m in. As long as it sticks in the craw of nobility. I mean, you passed out gold in the slums. I owe you at least one favor. And I like it – they expect defense, you hit with offense. Max is right, you are a bit crazy.” She stood up, sticking out her hand for him to shake. Corthos took it in his and shook firmly. “Your crew can keep what they get. Try to limit killing. Make sure that they realize it’s dangerous to go after Mondragon.” Quint nodded quickly. “We’ll make chasing Mondragon seem as dangerous as chasing a real dragon in this city.” Lena watched Isabella leave the room, her yelling heard as she gathered her troops in the hall. “Corthos…are you certain of this? We can still hide you.”
He laughed. “No, you couldn’t. I don’t hide well. I don’t stay quiet. I’ve written letter after letter, dozens of communications in the last week. They can’t be blatant while I’m this visible. And I trust that Isabelle can knock sense into any of the groups that they are paying for now. But I need you to stay aware – they will be watching my every move. They will be trying to dig up any information they can on me. That’s where you and your girls come in. In four nights time, you will accompany me to meet Baroness Jarvis, and we will attempt to turn this fight into a second level. Jheltaro wants to stand to the side, so be it. Damn them for their inaction. We need to win at least one House.” Lena pursed her lips as she re-read the letters on the desk. “It’s not….I mean, it’s not a no. Jheltaro speaks in riddles and double-talk, except for where he expresses his sympathies. It’s unlike him to even respond if he doesn’t have a vested interest. He might come around yet, don’t write them off.” Corthos grunted as he sat at the desk again.
“I’ll keep an ear out. We’ll do everything we can. But please…be careful.” Lena stepped out of the doorway, wondering what she had gotten herself into. Corthos sat at the desk, thinking deeply. His thoughts bounced between the people in his plans, and he felt the heavy burden of each pair of eyes on him, watching his every move. He pushed forward slowly, fingers wrapping around his quill, the air in the room suddenly feeling very heavy and smothering. His normally steady hand shook and trembled as he touched the pen to paper, his mind racing. The wrong words, the wrong actions – now they meant so much more than his own shame. If he was wrong, they could be hung as traitors to the crown, down to the last. His writing became a series of scratching lines, devoid of the normal grace in his form.
Dearest Eliza -
You always told me that the world was mine to shape. That if you knew one thing from Opera, it was that the world itself was malleable, and that you could bend and shape it with the right words. I am gripped now by fear, by anxiety that refuses to release me. I am followed by people younger than Guinevere, people who have never studied war or politics, and preparing to fight a titan – a poisonous, horned giant that looms over this city in spirit if not presence. How I wish I had you to turn to for advice now, for calm and for reassurance. I cannot allow myself to fail them as I failed you. The burden would be far too great for me to ever bear, not in a thousand lifetimes.
But I doubt myself. I have never been a man that thought beyond tomorrow, but now I find myself playing a game that requires me to be further ahead of myself than I have ever been. Do you remember when you tried to teach me to play Journey of Magi? I could never think more than three steps ahead, and now I find myself trying to predict the moves of some of the craftiest players in this game. I will try to do you proud, however. You told me that the only purpose in life was to improve the world around you, and that is what I aim to do.
Not a day goes by that I do not regret writing the play that brought my fame and your misfortune. But I refuse to let the lessons you taught me die with you. If you hear me beyond the veil, stand by me in my times of weakness. I do not know if I am making the correct actions – only that I am making the ones that I feel in my convictions are correct.
As always, I miss you terribly.
He quietly lifted the letter, folding it and sealing it, setting it aside in a small lockbox, lowering his head for a moment in a silent prayer. Then, with the feeling of eyes on him, he lifted the pen once more. This time, it came down in a firm and confident stroke, the pace rapidly picking up. He refused to fail again. He refused to let Eliza down twice. Even if it took him to the brink.