At the time, Yindulwer had spent all his life at the Maikrean Imperial Court where his father had been an ambassador. Returning to his father’s native kingdom of Quellama, Yindulwer was a bundle of endless questions. Setting sail aboard a junk they had travelled down the eastern coast more than five hundred miles. Making landfall at Vallenport they had cut inland and travelled a further two hundred miles to reach the city of Janvertree. Between these two great settlements there had only been scattered farmsteads and the occasional hamlet. None of which was enough to satisfy Yindulwer’s curiosity about his new home.
During Yindulwer’s time on the junk he had been allowed to wear the silk and brocade robes common to the imperial court. His father had disapproved but as was always the case had quickly given in to his wife’s insistence. Her argument had been simple if a little frivolous. Her son would dress as according to his rank and while they were on board the junk that rank was the son of a clan princess. Only once they had set foot on Quellamanian soil would Yindulwer be counted the son of Viscount Kwaisolar. Although grateful for his mother’s intervention, Yindulwer had discovered a drawback to this indulgence.
Among the noblemen of Quellama the fashion had been for buckled shoes, stockings and breeches. They wore buttoned jackets, shirts with flared cuffs and cravats intricately knotted. Without the chance on board the junk to practise, Yindulwer had found the sudden transition in wardrobe to be uncomfortable to say the least. The seven days they had spent travelling between Vallenport and Janvertree had been insufficient to break his habitual fidgeting.
When not pulling at his unfamiliar woollen clothes Yindulwer had fussed over his newly cut hair. The Maikrean Empire favoured long hair pulled up into top knots and suitably decorated. The sudden loss of so much hair had left Yindulwer feeling strangely exposed. This notion of vulnerability didn’t help when Yindulwer started to again hear the whispers.
* * * *
Standing outside the Bastion Club’s imposing double doors, Yindulwer no longer had to wonder why such a wealthy group chose to meet within a ruin. It had been easy enough to learn the old tower’s history and significance to the people of Janvertree. It was no great secret though how much was true and how much was exaggerated boast was anyone’s guess. In the end, Yindulwer knew it did not matter. In fact it was probably dangerous for one seeking membership to look too deeply into the club’s myths and legends.
“Don’t you worry my lord, there is no doubt that you will be admitted. They are not such fools as that.” Baron Rosebridge was short and powerfully built but with clear signs of going to seed. The man’s hair, which Yindulwer remembered in years past being a deep vibrant red had faded to a sandy brown flecked with grey. Smiling his appreciation at his sponsor, Yindulwer could not help wondering who the aging baron was actually trying to reassure. Even after all these years the whispers had never fully stopped.
Shifting about within his clothes, Yindulwer had to wonder at the variable speed at which fashion changed. In the decade and more since his arrival in Quellama trousers had become an acceptable part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. However, these were considered inappropriate for formal, evening occasions and Yindulwer was forced to again endure breeches and stockings. Finally settling himself as best he could, Yindulwer waited for things to begin.
The distance between the Bastion and the busy street that ran past it was not great. However, the remains of a curtain wall muted both lamplight and the sounds of traffic. The broken tower itself loomed within the half-light giving Yindulwer the impression of some craggy mountainside. Looking up passed the Bastion’s uneven ramparts, Yindulwer glanced at the starry sky. He had only a moment to give a silent prayer to whichever of the gods were listening before he heard the doors creak open.
The squeak and groan of the large iron hinges did not have the desired effect on Yindulwer. They were supposed to sound ominous but to him it all seemed needlessly theatrical. Despite its outward appearance the Bastion was a well maintained building and Yindulwer knew that included the doors. It made him wonder what was actually making the noise. This thought caused him some amusement as the sound continued a little too long after the doors had stopped.
Suppressing a smile, Yindulwer peered through the doorway and into the darkness beyond. The deep black of the Bastion’s interior made the gloom outside seem almost bright. Its relative strength allowed it to penetrate the dark a few feet revealing some polished marble tiles. Yindulwer thought it rather odd given the effort they had put into the door that they had not made some change to the floor as well. Whatever their think had been, Yindulwer had no more time to dwell on it as Baron Rosebridge led him into the Bastion.
Stepping over the Bastion’s threshold, Yindulwer walked slowly until he was almost completely swallowed up by the darkness. Next to him, Baron Rosebridge stood to attention with all the military bearing of his former career. There was just enough time for the old nobleman to give Yindulwer a reassuring wink before all light was cut off by the doors closing.
“Who comes here?” The voice was light but strong and to Yindulwer’s surprise one he did not recognise.
“It is I, Baron Rosebridge.”
“We know you, my lord baron. We ask that the other identify himself.”
“I am Viscount Kwaisolar, son of the Earl of Equitain.”
“Welcome, my lord viscount. We have heard much of you but rumour and gossip have no place here. What proof do you offer that you are a virtuous man?” The question was a joke though an unintended one. Among the Bastion Club’s members were some of the worst men Yindulwer knew. It was because of them and those like them that the whispers would never die.
Half-breed; that was probably the politest word Yindulwer’s enemies used. It had been the same in his mother’s country where his somewhat Quellamanian features marked him as different. After being told for so long that he looked too much like the white southern barbarians, Yindulwer had hoped for a warmer welcome from his father’s people. However, to them he looked too much like his mother and thus the enemy. It did not matter to them that there had been no war for over a century or that Maikrean merchants helped to bring them wealth and luxuries. All they had seen was a northern yellow heathen pretending to be one of them and this they could not stand.
Yindulwer could not dwell for long on the prejudice and bigotries of a few. He had friends, he knew, as was shown by the support of Baron Rosebridge and his family. The baron’s sons had been some of the first to accept Yindulwer and for that he would always be grateful. However, it was to another altogether more feminine member of that family that Yindulwer felt the most for. To him she was the perfect rose whose inner beauty was even greater than her outward charms.
Realising that his thoughts had strayed, Yindulwer forced them back to the matter at hand. He had been asked to prove himself but Yindulwer didn’t need to think too hard. It was all part of the ritual and Baron Rosebridge had already provided him with the words to say.
“You denounce rumour and gossip and then ask that I use words to defend myself. Let me be not so constrained. My actions will speak louder and more eloquently of my worth. Have I not impressed you enough? Is that not why you had your brother in arms bring me here? For you already know my worth and my willingness to stand for the virtues of this city.” It was a cumbersome speech and one that Yindulwer had grown sick of after hours of practise. Remembering the words had been easy enough but Yindulwer found they had a tendency to come out petulant. In the end he felt he had succeeded in giving them as much dignity and pose as possible. In any case it seemed that he had satisfied the disembodied voice.
“Conviction and the courage to carry it out are admirable traits. Let them not be corrupted into arrogance and conceit.” As the voice faded, Yindulwer felt hands placed upon his shoulders. As there had been no footsteps he assumed they belonged to Baron Rosebridge and obeyed they gentle downward pressure. Once on his knees, Yindulwer prepared to recite the oath. Few other gentleman’s clubs bothered with such formality but the Bastion had once housed better men seeking the liberation of their city. In memory of their founding ideals every new member swore allegiance to the cause.
“Here in the dark hidden from the sight of friend and foe I make this pledge.” This voice came from right in front of Yindulwer and was much easier to identify. As Baron Rosebridge continued to speak, Yindulwer parroted the words as they completed the oath together. “To stand one among many, adding my strength to the moral defence of our city. To fight alone if needs be and with no thought of reward. To be but another steppingstone on our return to the light. This I swear by Felumi in whose sacred waters we shall cleanse Janvertree.” Speaking the words in earnest tones, Yindulwer felt no conviction in their meaning. He doubted that there had been anyone who had for well over a century. However, it was not just the Bastion Club’s moral decline that had Yindulwer reluctant to take the oath to heart.
Long ago before Quellama was even a kingdom, Yindulwer’s ancestor made a binding promise to a being whose memory did not fade. This ancestor did not only bound himself but all his line to the service of this divine master. With his fate tied so closely to his own god, Yindulwer had nothing left to offer to any other. However, he did not feel any guilt in making his oath to Felumi for though it was in the name of another, Yindulwer intended to keep his word.
Once the oath had been given, Yindulwer felt the same hands that had pushed him down raise him back up. The ritual was over and as if to sign this the hall suddenly became bathed in light. It came from three large chandeliers that hung from the high ceiling and was not particularly strong. However, after so long in the dark, Yindulwer found it dazzling.
Blinking away the pain, Yindulwer took a moment to adjust to the new illumination. By the time he had refocused, Yindulwer found himself surrounded by a whole crowd of club members. All of them beamed at him as they jostled with each other to offer their congratulations. Some like Baron Rosebridge were clearly genuine in their welcome but others had a strained look to their smiles. Making a mental note of each man’s response, Yindulwer knew he would have to remain careful as he continued to make his way through Quellamanian high society.