Esteemed Coterie,

When I arrived in Orlais, I knew but three things: it is a land of beauty, it is a land of piety, and it is a land of extraordinarily petty nobility. I did not know that this pettiness is exacerbated by the bards, the spies and so-called “pawns” of the aristocracy. Though they claim no real stake in the Great Game (this is what the nobility call the vying for favor that consumes their less than meaningful lives) beyond love of intrigue, the bards play more of a role in keeping the Game alive than their patrons do. It is dangerous to assume that lack of title equates to lack of power.

I came with worse than no knowledge-- I came with false expectations. Even now, having played a bit of the Game—clumsily, I regret to say—I cannot determine that there are any rules beyond “All is fair unless it is against me.” So I arrived in the court of the noble I was to act against—for the sake of anonymity I shall call him “Comte Gédéon”—with the notion that I could successfully tack his death on another through premise of a slight, or greed, or whatever it is that the Orlesians are constantly offing each other for.

I had hoped to sneak in under the guise of a servant, but my clothes would not suffice; even the staff had to be dressed in outfits that could feed Darktown a dozen times over. I coaxed over a serving elf and, in a masterful move, repossessed him of his clothing without spilling a single drop of blood on them. I note this as a show of skill, as it is not for lack of it that I have yet to succeed.

To be a servant in Orlais is to be at best ignored until needed, and at worst spat on and kicked as a way of motivation. That I had simply appeared did not seem to strike anyone as strange. I took this to mean that I was doing my job well, and had given no reason to be noticed; after all, the aristocracy did not see names or faces unless something was unsatisfactory. In hindsight it is more likely that the bard caught my scent immediately, and saw me as an amusing distraction from what he considered the tedious bits of life where he was not collecting information or spreading scandal.

I kept my eyes downcast and went about cleaning and fetching as I was told, all the while seeking a quick and quiet way to accomplish my real task. It was not too taxing to find another to blame. There was a couple that Gédéon was fond of honoring at his lavish dinners; minor nobles (for the remainder to be known as Ser and Lady Clotaire), so to be held in Gédéon’s esteem was quite a social boost. Gédéon, however, made no secret of the reason for his favor; he coveted Lady Clotaire. He let it be known through sly flirtations, through looks just a second too long, through serenades played by his minstrel. Enough to set tongues wagging behind jeweled hands, but not enough to be truly scandalous.

Clotaire seethed over Gédéon’s treatment of his wife, but there was no graceful way for him to refuse. It would simply be a matter of procuring a dagger with Clotaire’s crest to make it unquestionable who killed Gédéon. In truth, I was doing Clotaire a favor; just not in any way he would wish to thank me for.

One night, Clotaire found himself just a bit drowsier than usual, though he recalled drinking no more. He could not seem to put one foot in front of the other and I, being a well-mannered servant, put one arm about his waist and half-carried him out to his carriage. It was simple to undo the silk sash and slip the dagger off and into my sleeve. I bid him a goodnight, turned about---

And found myself facing the minstrel. “Return it,” he demanded, palm open and waiting. I did not deny it; no one has eyes sharper than a minstrel. “My apologies, messere,” I mumbled, playing the repentant servant. He was not convinced. “Steal Clotaire’s dagger. Frame him in Gédéon’s murder. Shoddy.” I could not believe that it had all been unraveled so abruptly. Before I could reply, before I could get rid of him and preserve my dignity, a blade was at my throat, burning from a fire rune. “You cannot walk into the Game. You must be invited,” he informed me coolly. With one swift motion, the knife was slicing through my cheek, up across my nose and over my forehead in a wide gash. The pain was enough that I did not scream before I blacked out.

I woke in a dilapidated inn in a nameless village. My face was swollen from untended burns and cuts, and I could not speak without tearing something open. But the village was abuzz with gossip and, sitting in a shaded tavern corner, I learned much. Clotaire had been murdered, rumors say by an apprentice bard working for a noble I had not even heard of before that day who was trying to frame Gédéon. Clotaire didn’t go down without a fight; he left terrible wounds down the man’s face. Other rumors say Gédéon has a price on this man’s head, and the master bard is seeking his missing apprentice. But these are merely rumors. As I said, I came into the Game with no knowledge of it. Comte Gédéon still lives, it is true, but I have been offered the chance to learn the subtleties that will allow me to work by their rules. I humbly beg for more time; gaining access to the Orlesian aristocracy will greatly benefit the Coterie.

Your servant,

X .