I love characters that fit into that kind of "spider" character. They have their hands in everything, manipulating the web of the world around them in a thousand different places through deceit, lies, half-truths, blackmail, threats, torture and murder. They war with the power of their mind, as opposed to the strength of their arm. Andross Guile from Brent Weeks' Lightbringer series comes to mind, as does Matthew Ward's Lord Solomon from Shadow of the Raven.
Matthew (Robert Charles) been kind enough to give us Lord Solomon's introductory scene from Shadow of the Raven. Read on and get to know one of the characters you'll meet in EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: An Anthology of Antagonists.
An Excerpt from Shadow of the Raven by Matthew Ward
"My apologies for being such a neglectful host," the grey man said in a mannered voice. "I'm afraid that another of my guests was quite… demanding... of my attention."
He rinsed his hands in the water and dried them on a cloth. At last taking his eyes off me, he meticulously chased the pinkish rivulets down the length of his thin fingers, making sure every last one was captured in the folds of material. This done, he dropped the cloth into the bowl and retreated to an expansive desk.
The attendant, taking this as his sign to leave, gave his master a small bow and then exited the room through the door by which he had entered. The grey man took a seat behind his desk. I remained standing – no one had thought to supply a chair for me.
"You do know who I am, of course."
I offered a small nod. "I do indeed, Lord Solomon."
I'd met Solomon once before, during the brief and farcical reception that marked the beginning of my ambassadorial career. The Tressian council may have been caught wrong-footed by the Empire's sudden willingness to discuss peace, but they were determined to do things properly, and had greeted me with all the pomp and ceremony an honoured guest could have desired. I'd found the whole thing embarrassing, and not a little distasteful. But then I knew full well – and hated – the circumstances that had brought me there.
It was at the reception, in that whirl of dress uniforms and sparkling jewels, of tasteful entertainment and tasteless urbanity, that I'd first set eyes upon Solomon. Even then, with only the haziest knowledge of his actions and influence to guide me, I'd known this was a man I should on no account ever cross. He'd prowled around that room like a lean grey wolf in a crowd of fat, fluffy sheep. Half the nobles and councillors in that room had been in his direct pay, I knew. Most of the rest had been terrified into compliance by the threats of blackmail and abduction Solomon made as easily as breathing.
Tressia may have been ruled by a council during the day, but at night, and in those dark places where even the righteous dared not tread, Solomon was master.
Of course, I'd since learnt much more about Solomon's deeds; the kidnappings and torture he routinely employed to remove obstacles from his path; the bribes and carefully applied patronage he'd used to seize control of the praetorians – once considered the finest and least corruptible of all Tressia's soldiery.
It was probably little solace to the Tressians that Solomon was a monster entirely of their own creation. Five years earlier, faced with a war that couldn't be won, an increasingly leaderless council, and a populace on the verge of revolt, Solomon had set about addressing the city's problems, one at a time. His trusted lieutenants infiltrated the insurrectionists and, one by one, the most vocal and charismatic of the rebels disappeared. There had been outcry at first, but Solomon had produced correspondence and confessions proving that, to the last man and woman, those who had vanished were traitors in the pay of the Hadari Empire.
Even with such 'proofs', Solomon wouldn't have survived the resulting furore if he hadn't simultaneously struck out against the Hadari army. Even as his thugs were dragging Tressians from their homes, his assassins were at work in distant lands. My brother barely survived one such attack and, over a period of weeks, many advisors and warleaders were slain, wounded, or in fear of their lives. Before Solomon's assassins struck we'd been within six months of wiping Tressia off the map. As it was, the disruption dragged the war on for another five years, until my royal brother's untimely death.
After his assassins had done their work, Solomon sank back into the shadows. He didn't have the knowledge to prosecute a failing war, so he left that to others, though always making certain that those others owed him sufficiently – or feared him sufficiently – to ensure that his plans continued apace. From then on he'd watched the world unfold, prodding the council in the right direction by placing appropriate words in proper ears at the opportune time.
Citizens still vanished, I knew that much from Quintus, but there was nothing to connect Solomon to the disappearances save for his past reputation, and the cold, immutable certainties of those who knew his ways. Without proof, Quintus could do nothing.
Solomon didn't want power for its own sake, for he could have been a tyrant by day as well as night whenever he chose to. That he was playing a game, I didn't doubt, but one with rules that only he knew. Even worse, it appeared that I'd managed to stray onto the board.
Solomon opened a drawer and produced a sheaf of papers. Placing them on the desk, he licked the index finger of his right hand, and flicked through them, one at a time. "You, of course, are Edric Saran: late of the Hadari royal family, former champion to the Golden Court etcetera, etcetera."
It was a statement, rather than a question, so I said nothing, silently wondering which of a dozen unpleasant ways this conversation was likely to go.
"You'll have to bear with me, ambassador. I do like to make sure that the details are correct." Solomon turned another page. "Yes, that's right – you more or less held the Hadari army together five years ago; an impressive feat, all things considered. Most inconvenient."
"A lot of good men helped me." I said coldly, hoping to put him off his stride.
"No doubt, no doubt."
Solomon was politeness itself, a man making seemly discussion with a colleague, but I knew that the thumbscrews would come when they were called for. He looked down and riffled through a few more pages, then traced a few words with an outstretched finger.
"Interesting, I'd not seen this one before. You murdered one of my... associates before he could execute your brother." He gave a dry chuckle and peered at me over the top of his spectacles. "History is such a cruel teacher, but one with a fine sense of irony, don't you agree?"
It was a simple provocation, but no less skilfully judged and delivered for all that. With those words, my nervous apprehension of the last few hours boiled away beneath rising anger. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to hurl myself across that desk and choke the life out of the thin, evil monster who sat in front of me.
Gritting my teeth, I forced the anger down. I'd not make it within three feet of the desk before one of the concealed watchers put a crossbow bolt in my back. Even if I did get my manacled hands around Solomon's throat, there'd be no escape for me afterwards.
Solomon leaned back in his chair and watched me with amusement. "I'm sorry, that's still a sore subject, I see."
It was all an act, I was sure, and my reaction would doubtless be recorded in the file with everything else. Edric Saran: reacts violently when reminded of his brother's death. I wasn't surprised Solomon had a file on me. He probably had a file on everyone he'd ever met; he certainly had one on everyone who'd ever stood in his way, and I qualified on both counts.
"And how is your uncle, the newly invested Emperor?" Solomon doubtless knew the answer better than I did.
"I believe that his majesty, Eirac the First, is flourishing." I struggled for a neutral tone. "I can't be certain. We've been out of contact of late." I could play at insincere politeness as well as Solomon could.
"It is such a shame when families fall out." Solomon toyed with his amulet. "But I didn't invite you here to prattle about such matters, pleasant as the reminiscences may be. No."
He rose and walked towards me, hands clasped behind his back. "I think we can help each other. Oh, don't look at me like that. Is it so impossible that we might have mutual interests or, at least, convergent ones?"
"Yes," I replied flatly.
Solomon wagged a finger. "Ah, but we did, not so long ago, though I'll allow that those were most unusual circumstances." He didn't elaborate, but he didn't need to. It was even true, after a fashion. He bunched his knuckles, touched them to his lips and sighed. "I concede, we are not friends, nor are we ever likely to be. But that doesn't mean we can't co-operate when..."
I was tired of the game. "What do you want, Solomon?"
His eyes narrowed, the bonhomie momentarily evaporating before my twin discourtesies of breaking his flow and ignoring his title. But then the mask flowed effortlessly back into place.
"There is a project of mine, some small work I've been pursuing for a number of years. It is about to come to fruition. But I have encountered something of a setback." He paced back and forth, occasionally turning towards me as if he thought I wasn't paying attention. "One of the key elements has been stolen from my associates, and I would dearly love to retrieve it."
"What does this have to do with me?"
"It has come to my notice that you have, quite recently, fallen into bad company. I do understand. You're far from home, lost and thoroughly unpopular with everyone around you. And then a pretty girl approaches you, weaves you a tale of murder and injustice. All she wants is for you to help her when no one else will, an appeal that goes straight to everything honourable and decent in your heart. And so you, quite without meaning to..." He came to an abrupt halt, and spread his palms wide.
"Fall into bad company?" I finished.
"Precisely." He leaned in close. "Arianwyn Kallindri has been lying to you from the moment you met. Worse, she's just a lost little girl meddling in matters she doesn't understand." He took a deep breath. "I'm a reasonable man..."
It was funny how so many reasonable men had to clarify their nature to the poor, confused souls they kidnapped.
"...I know she took the portalstone fragment from Dalrand's study. I just want to know where she's hidden it."
My brow furrowed. Portalstone? Did he mean the chunk of watchstone that was at this moment still sitting in my pocket? Despite the seriousness of the situation, I almost laughed. The great and terrible Lord Solomon had been woefully let down by his minions. I hadn't even tried to conceal the fragment. If they'd searched me at all thoroughly, instead of simply taking my weapons, they'd surely have found it.
"How do you know she doesn't have it on her person?" I asked.
"There was some commotion by the river this morning, I understand," Solomon said. "Miss Kallindri was unconscious for some time, and you were distracted. It was laughably easy to have her searched. The same held true of her house, once that ridiculous... retainer of hers had left to join you."
I wondered briefly who had been Solomon's catspaw. Again my thoughts drifted back to Constans. Solomon's dismissal of him had been curiously heavy-handed. To throw off my suspicions? It wouldn't really matter unless I managed to escape my current predicament.
"I just want the fragment returned," Solomon said. "I give you my word no harm will come to her."
This was getting increasingly odd. If he was so concerned about Arianwyn's actions, why was she not here instead of me? Especially if he knew where she lived.
Then, in a flash, I had it. "You're afraid of her."
He frowned. "Nonsense."
"Then why haven't you got her in one of your dungeons, peeling the flesh from her bones until she talks?"
"Even I have limits. She has allies on the council, allies I do not wish to provoke." I had to give him that. Torture was nothing if not provocative. "That's why I wanted to give you this chance to be reasonable, to help me without need for unpleasantness."
"And if I refuse your generous offer?"
"Then I'll learn everything you know, inch by painful inch. Every man has his breaking point, and that yours will come far more swiftly than you think. I'd rather not resort to such methods, but I will do so without hesitation if you force my hand." He shook his head. "There is much at stake."
I weighed my options. They were, as far as I could tell, incredibly poor. I could refuse cooperation and end my days in the dungeons. They'd find the fragment long before I died, of course, as my clothes would be the first layer stripped from me. I could throw in my lot with Solomon, but even as the possibility formed in my mind I realised I could no more do that than shrug off my manacles and fly around the room. That left precisely one option, an option that was, at best, a delaying tactic. It would have to do.
"You win," I said bitterly."I'll take you to where it's hidden."
If you'd like to see more of Lord Solomon, head on over to our Kickstarter page and back EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: An Anthology of Antagonists.
You can also purchase Shadow of the Raven over on Matt's website.