Council of Thieves
My father taught me chess at the age of five. He taught me to study the board, to study the man, to see fifteen moves ahead, to cut off avenues of attack, to eliminate threats before they are born, to lure your opponent in, and to make him destroy himself. He wasn’t teaching me a game; he was teaching me his trade. My father was an assassin, like his father before him, and his father back generations innumerable.
A Blood Oath
Legend has it that in the days long past, before Cheliax, before even the Taldan Empire, my family lived in a village in the wilderness. One night we were raided by a horde of marauding bandits. The hovels were set aflame, and men bled in the streets. When all seemed lost, Raynard Gaspare, a noble and valiant lord of the lands, rode down with a host of able-bodied knights and drove the marauders off. However, during the chaos of battle, Raynard was struck by the blade of the head bandit, and fell from his horse. His knights surrounded their fallen lord and tried to rouse him, but he lay still. My ancestor Robert Arroway, a chemist by trade, was called to treat Raynard, and immediately he recognized the effects of Deathblade, a foul poison that threatened Raynard’s life. Robert ran back into his burning hut and fetched an antitoxin for his savior. Upon receiving the tonic, Raynard awoke and laid his eyes upon my ancestor.
“Who are you?” Raynard asked, “What has happened?”
“I am your servant, my lord,” Robert replied. “And I have paid back a debt.”
Raynard and Robert clasped hands in friendship. On that night, Raynard sword an oath that the Arroway clan would remain under his protection until his line ended. Robert swore a blood oath as well, to serve House Gaspare in whatever manner he could until released.
The Silver Chalice
Raynard appointed Robert his personal physician. And for many generations a Gaspare would always have an Arroway close at hand to treat maladies and illnesses. Raynard’s progeny grew in influence and import, and more lands came under their protection. But as their power grew, so did their peril. And one day, Lord Arryn Gaspare summoned William Arroway to his chamber and asked a question.
“William, your ancestor Robert was skilled at identifying poisons, was he not?” Arryn asked.
“Why yes, my lord,” replied William. “If not, neither of us would be where we are today.”
“Has the study of poisons and toxins continued in the Arroway’s service to my family?”
“Yes, my lord. If, Aroden forbid, someone should poison a member of my lord’s household, we could have a manner of minutes to diagnose the poison and administer an antidote…”
“Yes, yes, William, that is what I thought. Do you know of a lethal poison that could be slipped into food or drink? One which would take affect minutes, perhaps even hours after ingestion?”
“I know of many my lord, but Lich Dust is especially effective. In large doses, it will kill instantly, but based on the subjects weight and age, a small dose can sit for hours before causing any harm.”
“Lich Dust you say…” Arryn grew contemplative. “Can you procure some, secretly?”
“T’would be difficult my lord, but possible. May I ask why?”
“You are sworn to my service, William. And though your family has served us well as physicians these past few years, the needs of House Gaspare are changing. Lord Ridden has ever been an ally and close friend to us, but he grows old and frail, and has no heir. Were he to pass, House Gaspare would be the natural choice to step in as protectorate of his lands. However, Ridden has taken a new wife, and may yet produce a son. I cannot allow that to happen.”
“I understand. I shall do what my lord commands.”
Lord Ridden visited Gaspare Manor several weeks later. On the evening of his third night as host, Arryn Gaspare visited Lord Ridden in his chambers accompanied by a servant, bearing a bottle of wine and two chalices, one gold and one silver. The next morning, Lord Ridden’s servant could not rouse him. William Arroway was called and declared the cause of death to be old age…
House Gaspare now wields great influence in Cheliax. They have a reputation of being cautious, prudent, and, in all matters, incredibly fortunate. Whenever a gang of bandits threatens Gaspare’s lands, their leader’s throat is slit in the night, and the remaining rogues massacre each other trying to divvy up his share of the loot. Whenever a farmer rouses his neighbors into frenzy over taxes or conscription, his wife is taken ill, and he is forced to return home. In all things, House Gaspare is fortunate…
My First Mission
My father was Oswald, royal assassin to Lord Heinrich Gaspare, and I was his apprentice. My father taught me poisons, the crossbow, and the knife. He taught me six ways to kill a man before he realizes anyone else is in the room. And above all else, he taught me to trust no one.
For my first true mission as an assassin, my father and I were sent with Elnan Gaspare, Lord Gaspare’s son and heir, to dine with Lord Oakwynn and his two sons at their manor. Officially, Elnan was visiting to bid good tidings to Oakwynn’s eldest son, Petyr, on his name-day. Unofficially, Lord Gaspare had grown apprehensive of Petyr Oakwynn’s brash and aggressive nature, and bade my father and I to guarantee that the younger son, Petros, would succeed his father. So, disguised as Elnan’s footman, I ingratiated myself with Oakwynn’s servants, flirted with the kitchen-maids, gossiped with the guards, and, before the great feast, slipped into the kitchens and laced Petyr’s goblet with a miniscule dose of the Purple Pesh, a poison which would sink into Petyr’s muscles and slowly rob him of his strength. Whether Petyr outlived his father or not, he would pose no threat to House Gaspare.
My task complete, I was dispatched back to Gaspare’s manor to report on the plan, while my father remained behind to see it through. At the feast, he took his place behind Elnan as the wine was poured and Lord Oakwynn rose to make a toast. But before any could drink, Elnan rose and spoke:
“My lord, I bid you to stop. I cannot perpetuate this ruse any further.”
“What is the meaning of this?” said Lord Oakwynn. “Of what ruse do you speak?”
“Lord Oakwynn, I fear I have come to you under false pretenses. My father bade me come here not to dine with your son but to kill him. This man,” Elnan said pointing at my father “is an assassin and he has poisoned your sons goblet.”
“My lord, what madness has taken you,” my father said. “I am but a simple house-servant, I have served you and your family faithfully for years.”
“Speak not Oswald, your lies wound me as much as my father’s treachery. Lord Oakwynn, I beg you, slap this man in irons.”
“Peace,” spoke Oakwynn. “Elnan, your father and I have been allies since our youth. We bear no ill will toward each other. Your words do not ring true in my heart.”
“Listen to Lord Oakwynn, master,” Oswald pleaded. “Surely this is just some jest.”
“It is no jest Oswald. And if I must prove it myself, I shall.”
At this, Elnan lunged and grabbed Petyr’s chalice.
“Elnan! No!” Petyr exclaimed. “I will not have you sacrifice your life for mine.”
“And I will not let my father play dice with death.”
“If it must be done, let the accused drink,” Petros pleaded.
And all eyes in the banquet hall turned to Oswald Arroway. My father’s first lesson to me was “Never take the cup of your enemy”. I don’t know why he did. Perhaps he thought he could resist the insidious poison, perhaps he thought he was bound by Robert Arroway’s blood oath, but he took Petyr’s goblet and downed the wine with nary a hesitation. And his tongue swelled, his lips turned purple, and his eyes bulged, and he fell to the ground dead.
I heard the tale at a tavern on the road to Gaspare Manor. My father taught me poisons well; Purple Pesh would not have killed him in such a manor. Only one poison could: Lich Dust.
I was a pawn. Despite all my father’s lessons, I had been played from the beginning. Elnan has united several houses together; he seeks to topple his father and claim his title and his lands. But he could not have done it alone. Someone had to tell Elnan of his father’s plot. Someone had to switch the poison in the goblets. And this was not just an attack on Lord Gaspare; there’s a reason that the conspirators chose Lich Dust.
I need answers. I won’t be a pawn again.