We took the Black Tower by force, under orders from the King, who had found the Warden to be in gross dereliction of his duty. I know that many had expected me to object, particularly as we rode through the well-tended lands around the Tower, but the last message I had received from my father, couched in his usual terse fashion, said, “Obey the King.” Whatever was going on, my father, the Warden, had made it very clear which side I should be on.
I’d never met my father, that I could remember. He’d sent me away from the Tower at birth to be raised by the nuns of St Steyne’s Abbey. In my miserable teenage years, when I seemed to be the only ensign under the War School’s tutelage who could not offer family hospitality to his or her fellows, I was convinced he’d sent me away because he blamed me for my twin brother’s stillbirth and our mother’s death in childbirth. His hand written notes though, which came with increasing regularity as I grew older, did not convey the loathing I would have expected if that were true.
We met then, for the first time in a chamber at the top of the Tower that occupied half the potential floor space. There were two entrances, the stairs from the lower level and the solid door in the centre of the room’s straight wall. Our sword band took up a semicircular formation and my back was turned on that solid door. I would have recognised the man who’d awaited us in the room even if I hadn’t known who he was. He was an older, male version of me. He had my face, olive skin, brown eyes, slight build and black hair, but he also had broader shoulders, a few more inches’ height and a male version of my nose. He recognised me too, “Roshana, I wish we’d met under better circumstances.”
“Father.” These were not the circumstances for an emotional greeting.
Bandor, one of my sword band, said it, “Rosha, you look just like him.”
“He is my father.”
“No-one looks that much like their father.” That was Tabbart.
I don’t know whether I heard something behind me or whether it was something in my father’s face, but I turned and caught the thing rushing towards me on my sword. We’d served our stretch in the Grimdark and I was still using a blade of blessed steel. The thing, some type of vampire kin by the fangs and hollow cheeks, got half way up my sword before it ceased and I could tilt my blade and let the body slide to the ground.
It was the third person in the room with the same face.
“It used to be your mother.” That was my father speaking behind me. “I could never do that, which is what offended the King when he found out I was maintaining her. She was my twin, you see.” I spun around to face him and he had the entire sword band’s rapt attention. “Of course, I should have destroyed her when she didn’t cease at death and I still have no idea how she got infected. I realised I had to send you away when one of my retainers, in consoling me, said I could try again for a son when you were old enough.” I was holding my breath and my father went on, “Purity of the blood line is all well and good, but our inbreeding cost your brother any chance of living beyond the womb. You should marry out, a Castleran or a Hwani, someone there’s no chance of you being related to.” He added, “And if the King makes you Warden after he executes me, resettle the existing staff elsewhere and bring in new people. My retainers can be very conservative.”