Even after some time had passed, Hardin found that he liked Jan Rosencrantz no better than he had at their first meeting. In fact, he might like the man even less.
It wasn't that he was unpleasant in any terribly obvious way, exactly. He worked with the brethren in their daily tasks, and was extremely respectful towards Sydney. Not patronizingly so - he was not above asking questions, and often did so, not just with Sydney but with anyone. And there were plenty of people for him to ask questions of, thanks to an easy-going demeanor. Many of the brethren took to him easily enough, as he shared their burdens, and Sydney seemed to find him quite interesting besides. That was possibly what irritated Hardin the most - that Sydney seemed intrigued by Rosencrantz, while continuing to be largely indifferent to him. Not that this was the fault of Rosencrantz, but the questions he asked therefore caused Hardin to dislike the man even more.
He'd cornered Hardin in the courtyard a few days after his arrival, intent on getting the whole story. "So - John Hardin, Sydney's second-in-command, the weaponsmaster and tactical advisor," he began, interrupting the exercises Hardin had been doing nightly - watching the cellar was no way to stay active - while watching him with an appraising eye. "It's fortunate for me that Sydney interrupted our little fight, for I've no doubt that you're a very powerful man."
More flattery. Hardin was dubious. "I am what I am, no more and no less. Sydney would be a better judge of such things as power."
"Yes, and he's given you a great deal of responsibility. He wouldn't entrust you with the lives of his followers, were you not worthy. Even if it's true what they say about you being Sydney's favorite lover."
Hardin gave him a sharp look. "No offense meant," Rosencrantz added quickly, holding up his hands in a show of innocence. "I would not judge over such a thing, and as I said, it is apparent that there is more to it than that. More apparent of late, they tell me, for you retain your position even though the two of you have... had some sort of falling-out? The brethren seemed not to know for certain, but they are curious. As am I, as you can see."
"The brethren," Hardin began sternly, "know even less than they believe they do. I would advise you to put no stock in rumors."
"Ah, but rumors often bear a grain of truth," Rosencrantz pointed out. "'Twas rumor that led me to Leá Monde and to Müllenkamp, and I have yet to be disappointed. To my way of thinking, 'tis best to consider rumors as exaggeration until one goes to the source to determine the truth. Which is why I thought to ask you directly."
"There has been no disagreement between Sydney and myself," Hardin said firmly. Then, feeling strangely defensive, he added "But if you must know the truth - yes, we are lovers." He resisted the urge to tell Rosencrantz to go ask Sydney as well if he wanted confirmation, but 'lovers' was not a word Sydney was likely to use even at the best of times.
"Mmm..." Rosencrantz nodded thoughtfully. "I must say, then, that I envy you. Even if not for all of his power, Sydney is a remarkable man. Beautiful, and possessed of a quick wit and a very sharp tongue."
"...Yes." Why was Hardin not the slightest bit surprised that Rosencrantz's tastes might run that way?
"And then there's the other rumor I'd meant to ask you about," Rosencrantz continued, "for there seemed to be some confusion. Some say you have been chosen as Sydney's successor, and others tell me you've clearly denied it."
This again? Hardin shook his head. "Again, you put too much stock in rumors. I could not clearly deny it, for I have never been told that it was not so - but Sydney has never told me that I have any such distinction, and I'm certain he would have told me if it were so." Reasonably certain, anyhow.
"Aha, I see," Rosencrantz said with a nod. "If you say this is how it is, then this is how it is. But out of curiosity, then," he added, tilting his head inquisitively, "has he chosen a successor at all?"
Hardin did not like this line of questioning. "I don't see any need for choosing a successor anytime soon. Did you not know that Sydney is immortal?"
"Of course - that rumor has made its way throughout the land. And as there was truth in this, the most unlikely of rumors, I can't help but wonder about the rest. But you know," he mused, "from what I've heard thus far, there have been others in his position in the past - and yet, where are they now? Though they may once have been immortal, they each passed this immortality on to another and went on to the next world. I would assume that Sydney will one day do the same - but I expect it would be quite rude to ask him personally."
It was something Hardin had wondered about from time to time, given that he himself was not immortal. If things went on as they were, someday he would die and Sydney would live on. It made him worry, for if it were the other way around - if Sydney died and he must live on without him...
"And granted, I certainly do not know Sydney as you do," Rosencrantz went on to say, "but I was surprised upon meeting him - he looks so much more delicate than I had expected. And I've yet to see him take a meal, and I've found him awake at all hours. I'd wondered if he might be ill..."
In a way, Hardin felt that he should be relieved that there was another who could relate to his own concerns for Sydney's wellbeing. Not this way, however - not when it was a suspicious person who had joined them only a few days past, and particularly when said person had none-too-subtly expressed an interest in Sydney, and then made inquiries as to the nature of their relationship, on top of it. And where, Hardin wondered, was Rosencrantz coming across Sydney 'at all hours'?
"The Dark corrupts the flesh," he stated, repeating an explanation Sydney had given him long ago, "and Sydney handles more than a mortal body could withstand. At times, it still affects him - as he is still a man, with a man's body. If you had thought that such power as his has no price, or that it is something I might covet, you would be wrong."
Rosencrantz raised an eyebrow in surprise, and let out a slightly nervous laugh. "Oh, no - I'd not meant to suggest any such thing, Forgive my questioning, Hardin - I'm afraid I can't help it. 'Tis in my nature to be curious."
"And it is in my nature," Hardin replied, "as well as a part of my duty here, to be suspicious of newcomers who ask an abnormally high number of questions about our doings, and in particular Sydney's. You'll forgive me as well, of course."
"...Mm-hmm..." Rosencrantz did not look at all certain about this, but that was fine with Hardin. "I apologize, then. I will try to rein in my curiosity."
Curiosity... was not in itself a crime, Hardin had to admit. "...As do I apologize, if I have been overzealous. Anything you have any business knowing will be revealed in time, and I suggest that such sensitive questions be directed at Sydney. He is far better equipped to handle them than I, as I am a military leader rather than a spiritual guide." And because Sydney could discern people's motivations without any trouble whatsoever - if Rosencrantz was less innocent in his questioning than he claimed, Sydney would know.
"Yes, I suppose. I feel I've taken too much of your time tonight," Rosencrantz observed, "so I shall be on my way now. I do thank you for answering my questions, impudent as they may have been."
Hardin had replied with simply a nod; the man talked enough for both of them.
Not so much to Hardin, after that conversation, though he continued to be polite when they crossed paths. He merely found others to ask questions of, most of whom were more willing to provide answers. Hardin thought that it was fortunate that none but himself and Sydney knew many of their secrets.
Sydney too spoke to Rosencrantz often and seemingly without much reservation, on the occasions when Hardin happened to spot the two of them together, which were too frequent for his liking. It didn't take long for Hardin to determine that the man had come to them already touched by the Dark, though Hardin still had no idea how; it explained why Sydney spent time with him, alone. When Hardin had first been so touched, unexpectedly, Sydney had set aside much time for intense training in the basics of channeling and controlling the Dark. Leaving one untrained who could wield that power was dangerous, and so Sydney must be doing the same with Rosencrantz. Nothing to be jealous of, certainly nothing to be wary about. Certainly, with his talent, Sydney would have seen any threat in the man's heart long ago and sent him away. That should have been good enough for Hardin.
Somehow, it was not.
Some philosopher had once said that a man's dreams are a mystery even to himself, and that one cannot realize the terror of another's nightmare. Sydney had always found this to be quite true, and it came to mind once again as he pondered the odd tangle of memory and fear and longing. It was a dream of no consequence, one that would vanish upon waking - which would not happen until Sydney released the spell he'd cast - but the Dark now showed it to him, and so he would make use of it the best he could.
He'd been carefully testing Rosencrantz and his strange invulnerability over the past weeks, under the guise of testing what he already knew of the Dark - which was more than he should have known, by far, which was also worrisome. There were places within the city where Sydney's power could overwhelm the other man's barriers, which was useful enough to know... and Sydney's research showed that it could simply be a very rare gift, the talent to render oneself immune to the Dark. This meant that in all likelihood, the subject had to will it to shield him - which in turn meant that at certain times, such as when the subject was asleep, he was unable to guard himself. It was not so useful, reading a man's heart while he dreamt, but Sydney had to see if it could be done. He had not been disappointed.
In the cacophony of image and sound and feel and shape, Sydney caught a glimpse of a man, dressed in the armor of one of the cardinal's knights. Grasping hold of this thread, he followed it deeper through the chaos, to a memory. Yes, Rosencrantz had spent time among the Blades, though he was not one of them - they had met largely in taverns and alleyways, exchanging information for information. Tied to that memory was another, descending a staircase into an empty room, holding a newly bloodied sword. He drew the blade across his own palm, lifted his hand high, and felt something descending upon him. That something, seen in Rosencrantz's memory, had been unfamiliar and frightening - but was quite familiar to Sydney, who had first felt it when he was a small child.
Then there was another memory - a man with a stern, disapproving face. Affiliated with... Parliament, from the emblem upon his shoulder. For some reason, Sydney could feel the Dark beginning to laugh silently in delight...
There was another emblem, one which Sydney did not recognize, but before long the memory tumbled back further, this time to a field by a stream on a clear day. It would have seemed a scene from a child's tale, so idyllic it was, had it not been for the corpses that lay at the foot of a nearby tree. There was another man present...
And the Dark, which had been dancing and whirling, seemed to erupt with excitement.
Wide-eyed, Sydney let go at once, unwilling to risk losing control of the Dark, and stared at the sleeping man before him as the Dark gamboled merrily about them both. He had indeed been able to read Rosencrantz's heart as he slept, and had managed to find morsels of the truth. In that regard, he'd found precisely what he wanted.
What he had not expected to find, however, was this.
While he stood there, pondering, he unexpectedly saw Rosencrantz stir; in his surprise he'd forgotten that the spell keeping him asleep had been broken. There was not much he could do, not so quickly...
Dark eyes opened, and Rosencrantz blinked, bringing Sydney into focus. In the moment before he was self-aware enough to close off his heart again, Sydney felt his fear, his surprise, and...
Rosencrantz smiled, very slowly, as he looked up at Sydney. "My, my... I know I should not jump to conclusions, but I must say - if you were looking to find some company for the night..."
"Let us not get ahead of ourselves," Sydney replied, smiling back slightly. Of course he'd prepared an excuse, just in case. "It is a clear night over Leá Monde - I'd thought to show you something, if you happened to be awake. I apologize for disturbing you."
"You've disturbed nothing - I'd not managed to find a dream yet." Rosencrantz sat up, pushing aside the sheets. "What is it that you wanted to show me?"
"Patience, Rosencrantz. I'd like to see if you can search it out on your own..." So the Dark did indeed affect him while he was asleep or otherwise was not capable of consciously blocking it, Sydney thought, reviewing it in his head.
The memories told Sydney that Rosencrantz almost certainly had been telling him the truth, or something close to it, at their first meeting, even though he had strengthened himself against the Dark - which implied either that Rosencrantz believed Sydney could read his heart regardless, or that he was uncertain. Either way, there was something he wanted to hide. Just as Sydney had thought, he was right not to trust Rosencrantz with much, for he'd played the double agent before, and may do so again. In fact, that gave Sydney an interesting idea...
Most interesting of all, Sydney had learned with certainty that Rosencrantz was not the one the Dark had chosen - but that Rosencrantz knew the man of whom he dreamed.