The district around the Cardinal’s palace on Blodsburg had seen many alarms and disturbances in the troubled history of Blodsburg. Having survived processions, parades, riots, and battles, there was little under the Blood Star that surprised or excited the fairly sanguine residents. Even the recent disruptions in the Council and beyond had caused little more than a ripple of comment among the coffee houses, pardoner’s stalls, and street performers.
But today something had disturbed the equilibrium of the great square. The inhabitants could be seen running to and fro, gesturing wildly and relating the news that had excited them so. Pardoners looked about, all thought of hawking their relics forgotten as they listened to the news spread by the passers by. Jugglers stood idly, their bats, knives, and brands held loosely, and a not a busker was playing or singing a note. All of this activity was observed with great interest by three gentlemen taking their ease on the second floor balcony of Grissom’s Coffee House.
All three were dressed in civilian clothing. At their sides were the swords fashionable at the time, but worn comfortably, like a familiar tool rather than the awkward but required accessory they were to some. One who knew to look would note a similar athletic discipline to their posture that, despite their differences of physique, clearly marked them as military men.
One, a large man, stout in every way, leaned incautiously over the rail, craning his neck to observe the crowds below. One hand toyed idly with his luxuriant moustache, and a satisfied grin played across his face. “I must say Aramis, you were quite right in saying there would be some entertainment to be had here today.” His gaze swept across the square once more, then he returned to his seat. “I do hope there is a riot.”
“Especially as we are no longer responsible for this district Porthos?” said the one he had addressed as Aramis, a thin, dark eyed man.
“Especially. It would be a pleasure to watch Rochefort’s men caught out by the mob.” He smiled and pointed to two men in the uniform of the Cardinal’s Guard below. They were clearly arguing about what to do about all of the excitement, “it seems that they’re shockingly unprepared.”
“If one were to be charitable,” observed the third man, “he might note that they have only just been given beating order.”
“One might, Athos,” Porthos replied, “had that lout D’Estang not been so shockingly uncharitable in ordering us from his district.”
“A just observation, Porthos, though surely you have heard men say, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’.” Athos looked grave. His face was much more lined than his companion’s, and, to the point that he was often mistaken as an uncle or other older relation. Porthos seemed confused by the archaic phrasing, and Aramis said, “Ill on him who thinks ill.” With a slight slight shake of his head. But Porthos didn’t notice, his attention having been distracted by a new sight at the edge of the square. “I do say, that is quite a remarkable rock there.”
The other two rose, and made noises of affirmation, for they saw at the entrance to the great square a significant rock being bornes in on the shoulder of a man who stood head and shoulders above the tallest of the crowd. “Is he some sort of Ogryn to bear such a great weight, do you think?” Porthos asked.
“I think not,” Athos said as he too leaned out over the rail, “consider the symmetry of form, and how gracefully he moves despite his burden.” He turned back to Aramis, “I must assume that this is your surprise?”
Aramis smiled and executed a small bow to his two companions before joining them at the rail. “It is, my friends.” He took a sip from his cup of coffee then continued, “And if you observe, our giant friend is not alone.” And indeed he was correct, as behind the rock bearing giant came a procession of other giants bearing banners, incense burners, and reliquaries.
“Those are the biggest priests I have ever seen. If you are to achieve your goal of becoming a priest you’d need to put on a few pounds to join their order.” “And more than a few inches,” Athos said quietly, “But Aramis, I would not be wrong were I to say that those are no priests.”
“You would be far from wrong, my insightful friend.”
“Well what in the Eye are they then,” Porthos said in an irritated tone.
Aramis clapped his big friend on the shoulder and said, “may I present to you Hector, Centurio Cohors Tertius Miles Rufus Astartes.”
“The Hector?” Porthos asked?
“The Hector.” Aramis said.
“Like the statue?”
“Like the statue.”
Porthos completely dropped during the exchange, and his hand was further from his moustache than it had been since the first fuzz sprouted on his lip.
Athos leaned out again, narrowing his eyes, “Its not a very good likeness.” He said.
“Pardon,” said Aramis.
“The statue,” he replied, “But I must ask what brings the hero of the Battle of the Traitor’s Gate back to the scene of his last victory on Blodsburg, particularly carrying a quite massive block of stone on his shoulder?”
“Ah,” said Aramis, leaning out, “Our hero, the saviour of Blodsburg, returns in the role of the penitent, bearing a block of stone carved from the foundation of the Chapterhouse his brethren have raised on the Ignatius Moon.”
“And of course I should have expected that,” said Porthos, shaking his head in wonder, “But why as a penitent? Doesn’t the usual run of conquering heroes get a parade and what not around here?”
“I have heard,” Athos replied absently, his gaze traveling over a crowd that had quieted and now stood riveted by the procession, “that he was gravely wounded when he slew the Daemon Prince Perdita on Hibernia.”
“Who, Hector?” Porthos said eyes locked on to the giant, “I don’t believe it for a minute. He slew a hundred traitors in the Battle of the Great Bridge, and cast a Bloodthirster back into the warp. What would a Daemon Prince be to the likes of him?”
“What can mere humans such as us say,” Aramis interjected.
Aramis and Porthos continued to watch the procession, but Athos’ keen eye fixed on another figure, that of a young man dressed in a provincial manner who stood gazing at the magnificent gate to the Cardinal’s Cathedral, obviously oblivious to the procession which, clearly destined for the same destination, would overrun the young man. He looked quickly down, and saw that the two Cardinal’s guards were also oblivious to this turn of events, their gaze captured by the grave procession. “Pardon me, my friends,” he said, “I believe we must act quickly or there will be an unfortunate incident.”
Athos pointed at the young man, and his companion’s gaze followed his gesture. They instantly saw the danger, and leaving the balcony they hurried down the stairs, barely pausing as they cast a few coins for their coffee to Monsieur Grissom in passing. Out in the square they found their way impeded by the crowds.
But Porthos was not deterred, and the other two naturally fell in behind him as he pushed his way thorough the crowd, occasionally assisted by their shoulders providing additional impetus to him from the rear.
Such was the force of their passage that when they finally broke free of the crowd they stumbled forward several paces, finding themselves face to back with the young man, and face to sternum with Hector. Despite their explosive appearance on the scene, their instincts were strong, and all three immediately essayed a bow to Hector. “Pardon us, my lord,” Athos said, “But we were just about to remove this young gentleman from your path.”
“Who would remove me?” said the young man, whirling about on his heel. A long sword hung by his side much like theirs, and he had a confident gaze that didn’t betray the first hint of dismay as he had to look up and up to see the face of Hector and the mighty granite block he bore.
“We would, Athos replied, “that this procession might continue.”
“I do believe this procession could continue of they would beg my pardon, in which case I would gladly stand aside.”
Porthos leaned close, “Do you have any idea who… what… he is.”
“I can see he is very tall, but as we have not been introduced I am afraid I have no idea who he is.”
Hector finally spoke, “I will not ask you pardon.” His voice was deep and quiet, and a grimace crossed his face as the block shifted slightly. A grey robed marine raised his hand briefly, but let it settle back to his side, shaking his head as Hector said, “Stand aside whelp.”
“On my honour, I cannot, for my father has bid be submit to no man but the Emperor, the Cardinal, and Captain Treville of the Councillar Guard.” To the young man’s credit it did appear to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis that he was completely unafraid. Porthos put this down to great courage, Aramis to great stupidity, but Athos, perhaps the most perceptive of them all, observed a deep strain of nobility beneath the common clothes the young man wore that could accept no insult.
“Yet I shall pass,” Hector said, taking a step forward.
Before anything else could happen, Porthos stepped to the young man’s side, “I must tell you that he bears sacred relics to the Cardinal, and it would not be too great a stain on your honour were you to let him pass.”
“I thank you for your advice, friend, but surely you can see that a young man who has yet to establish his reputation cannot afford such a stain. Sir,” he said to Hector, “under normal circumstances I would challenge you immediately, given the stated importance of your task I will agree to let you pass, but you must meet me for honour to be satisfied.”
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis were stunned into silence.
On the other hand, the scowl disappeared from Hector’s face, replaced with what could only be considered a smirk, “You’re challenging me?”
“I am sir.”
“And you are serious?”
Hector laughed, “Very well then, I accept. Meet me at the Traitor’s Gate at noon tomorrow. Now, if you will stand aside?”
“Most certainly,” the young man said, stepping aside, “until tomorrow sir.”
The procession continued past, and only when it was well out of earshot did anyone speak.
“Gentlemen,” the young man said, “as I have no friends in this city, could I impose on one of you to be my second in this matter?”
Athos said, “While I would be honoured to accept, I am afraid that is not possible, as we have not been introduced.”
“I beg your pardon, my name is D’Artagnan.”
“My pleasure, D’Artagnan, I am Athos, and these are my companions Aramis and Porthos.
But I must ask again, do you know whom you have challenged to a duel?”
“I am afraid not, as he has rudely not introduced himself.”
“Some might think,” Porthos said, “that he needed no introduction.”
“Yet clearly he did, and as you clearly know who he is, could I impose on you tell me who I am to fight?”
“Hector!” The three said at once.
D’Artagnan’s eyes widened. “The Hector?”
“The Hector!” they choroused.
“Oh my,” D’Artagnan said, “I always thought he’d be taller.”
Korvus 02:31, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran