Gaeren meanders, swaying and stumbling along, through the streets near Tuskendale Castle. One hand is free and the arm goes up and down to help him keep his balance. The other hand clasps a bottle that reflects its amber contents in torchlight. He stumbles to a stop, turns his head, and grins crookedly.
“There you are! I have just finished saying goodbye to the fine folks in the Wench and I knew I should speak to you before going. In case you haven’t heard, I’m off to Varnhold, this little backwater on the far side of Talon Peak. It’s…well, it’s quaint. But the people are good and they need the help, so what can I do?”
He takes a long pull from his bottle. “What can I do? Listen to me. There’s a million bloody things I could do. There’s a country to the northwest of here that calls itself the Realm of the Mammoth Lords – Mammoth Lords! I owe Tangsen a trip to Absalom for proper training and I still have never see the Quantium Golems…”
“But I won’t. I’ll stay and I’ll be in a government and I’ll accede to the wishes of a Duke and a talking sword and all those around me who think it would be good for the realm and good for me and…oh, to hell with all of them! Haven’t they met me? I have a knack for killing things and breaking things. My political upbringing is hardly inspiring and my political philosophy stands against almost everything this tinpot dictatorship has gotten itself up to. And yet…and yet…”
Gaeren sits and leans back against the sculpture of a great furry dog. “My first reaction when he asked was, ‘have you taken leave of your senses?’ After the fight over that damn artifact, he thinks perhaps he’ll gentle me with responsibility. Wouldn’t surprise me if his family-and-home centered Duchess put him up to it. If I hadn’t been reading The Rise and Fall of the Taldane Empire, I probably would have left for Lake Encarthan that very night.”
“Funny thing about the Taldanes – they weren’t always such stuck-up prats. To this day, anyone can become a member of the Senatorial class. Take away the waste of the nobility and it’s really quite meritocratic. Not so far from where we are here – most of your ‘nobles’ are just folk that are willing to make decisions and people follow them. Lem may dress like he’s some sort of national harlequin, but folk listen to him because they know he means what he says. It’s an idea that will, over time, be washed away by noble titles and hereditary tradition until everyone here, like everyone in Taldor, forgets that leaders earn respect.”
“That’s why I can’t be a leader. I’m a drunk and a violent man. If I’m educated, it’s in all the wrong things. But I can make a peace in which leaders can grow and I can keep muttering in their ears about how deeds make men worth following, not bloodlines and births.”
Gaeren stands and climbs onto the pedestal, throwing his arm around the statue of Sasha. “I feel certain that by now you’d be protesting, as your dim and violent mind gains some glimmer of what I’m intimating. After all, we both read King Aspis the Even-Tongued’s On Politics. You, I suspect, got bored after 15 minutes and your mind wandered back to slaughtering infidels. I, however, listened. You infected Lem with your notions of righteousness and service and look how far it has brought him. But I’m not so inspiring as you. I don’t want them to follow me, in example or in law. I want them to think for themselves. So I’ll teach them how.”
His face takes on a bitter cast as he takes another long pull on the Scotch and swings around, hanging on the statue’s neck so he can look in its stone eyes. “Too bad you’re dead and can’t tell them what your meddling brother is up to. I paid close attention to the talk about Noleski Surtova’s visit. When I come riding into Varnhold, they’re going to raise a banner. They’re working on some gigantic one to raise on a new pole some 100 feet high. But over the garrison, they’ll put something far more modest – you probably won’t even notice it at first. Our family crest. Ervel suggested that we invert the traditional Chelaxian colors to show that mine is a cadet house, so it’s Gules, A Sable Raven Volant. Oh, that happens to resemble the old heraldry of House Rogarvia.”
Gaeren grins and leans in on the stature, whispering in its ear. “I’ll keep poking that bloody bear until he can’t take it anymore. I’ll pick a fight with the petty tyrants of the River Kingdoms and call the Mivonians ‘Brevoy Birds’ until they all sing for my blood. And when the people of this land, fighting for themselves, throw them back, they’ll know that the only people worthy to rule them are themselves. You wanted to make a kingdom in your own image, you self-righteous bastard. But you’re dead and I’m here and I’m going to do my damndest to make them a free people.”
He steps down from the pedestal with a stumble and toasts to the statue, emptying the bottle and pitching it aside. “Even if I have to burn it all down to do so.” His hand reaches reflexively for his sword, glaring at the neck of the proud statue, but he turns and stumbles into the night.