If this text is in your hands, dear reader, it is because Edward Wilson, “Edward the Red” is dead. Those who frequent or hear tales from the poorer quarters of London will no doubt know of this man by reputation, if not acquaintance. He cut an eerie and an imposing figure: dressed in finer clothing than most of the company he kept, all crimson red, excepting the black gloves and boots he always wore, the low, wide brimmed black hat on his head, the voluminous black cloak and the slatted, skull-like ivory mask that left his stark, red-rimmed eyes couched in shadow. He could be found, most nights, in the rougher taverns of old London, plying his trade as a gambler against those who had the nerve to sit at a table with him. There was no game he did not play with consummate skill, and he won more often than not. The rare loser who had the nerve to accuse him of cheating was like as not to end his evening lifeless in a pool of his own blood: Edward’s sword and pistol were renowned bringers of death.
But who was this man, Edward Wilson? Rumors, which buzzed about him like flies, said that he had returned to England after spending years in a French prison, where he contracted smallpox, which left his body monstrously scarred. Others sad that he had been burned in a fire, perhaps in one of Paris’ many riots, and jailed afterward without treatment so that his body was a mass of revolting scar tissue caused both by burns and the horrible infections that must have followed. Still others hinted that his red eyes, evil demeanor, skill in gaming, and unnatural dueling abilities could only come from one source: the devil himself – he was a demon on leave from Hell to spread vile things upon the earth. All of these were, as rumors always are, false. Now that I am dead, you shall have the truth in my own words. I, dear reader, am Edward the Red, and this is my tale.
I was not born the Edward “the Red” Wilson that history will remember: the legendary gambler and duelist. My Christian name is Nigel Basset. I am the second son of Lord William Basset, a distinguished nobleman of considerable wealth and power. I was raised as a nobleman: educated at home by private tutors in the essentials of our culture and the important languages of Europe and taught to behave like a proper gentleman]. While I could not expect to inherit my father’s land or title, I looked forward to a life of ease – a stint at university and perhaps a career as a barrister or a physician.
Then, my older brother Henry returned from university in Austria. Ever the priggish and arrogant boy, he had matured into a coldhearted and unscrupulous young man. He strode through the door, handed me his bags, and stalked through the manor as though he were already its owner, my father’s still-beating heart merely a temporary inconvenience. If I had known, rather than merely suspected, his intentions, I would have cut him down then and there.
At first Henry seemed content to play the role of the debauched Lord-to-be. He threw lavish parties once a fortnight, and was ever surrounded by kowtowing sycophants and money-grubbing gutter trash. He offended many, and fought duels almost weekly. Bodies piled up, and Henry acquired a reputation as a slayer of impetuous men. Those who challenged him died; those who spoke against him disappeared. In time, the wise came to overlook Henry’s many indiscretions and treat him with the brand of respect that is due only to tyrants and murderers.
Henry’s drinking, whoring and gambling habits were legend throughout London. Despite an outrageous allowance, he owed money to every lowlife crime lord in the city. In time my father, disgusted by Henry’s excesses, reduced his allowance from outrageous to merely excessive. It was then that Henry, through subtle arts of poison, murdered our father in haste to obtain his birthright. That he took, leaving me with a comparatively paltry inheritance of a modest townhouse and a few thousand pounds in investments and sureties. Even that Henry conspired out of spite to take from me, first by force of law, then failing in that, by attempted thievery and murder. It is only by honing my wits and my skill with the sword and pistol that I survived as long as I did. But one winter’s night, Henry’s evil star flared into flame and consumed me.
Weary of being frustrated in his attempts to reclaim my small portion of the family riches, Henry, who was becoming a prominent figure in the underworld by this time, decided to make an example of me. In the dark of night, he sent men to my townhouse and put it to the torch while I slept inside. Nigel Bassett, awakened too late by the smell of smoke and the roaring flames, died in hideous agony that night. From the ashes, Edward the Red was born.
A dear friend of mine at court, Lady Catherine La Blanche, somehow learned of Henry’s plan to destroy me. She rushed to my home to find it already burned near to the ground. As she tells the story, she was turning to go when I staggered out the front door, a naked, smoking, walking corpse. She and the men she had brought to help her wrapped my tortured body in sheets and bore it secretly away. Another body, I have never known whose, was found in the ashes of my home and buried as mine while I was carried away to France, where Catherine’s family lived. There, she saw to it that I received the best care available. Three agonizing years later I was able to stand an walk on my own. After two more, I could hold a sword and fight again. I spent two years training under French fencing masters and practicing with the pistol. After seven years in all I returned to London under the name of Edward Wilson: a name Catherine had given when she brought me to her allies in France.
My goal in London was ever plain to me: to slay Henry. Henry, naturally endowed with ruthlessness and bloodlust, had always been my better with sword and pistol. I understood this plainly, having seen him fight on many occasions, always killing quickly and cleanly and never taking a scratch. I resolved that I would best him at his own game – become a master of blade and bullet unmatched in all England. I devoted myself to nothing else for five years.
By day I trained with the best fencing and shooting instructors money could buy. By night I drank, gambled dueled and brawled in the very cutthroat dives where Henry recruited his thugs and assassins. The gutters of London ran with the blood of those foolish enough to oppose me. In time, common thugs and street trash were replaced with professional duelists, drawn to test my reputation. They, too, found me more than they bargained for – an agent of murderous power fueled by treachery. After the years of horrible pain I have endured, I fear neither death nor any man. With my hatred of Henry burning in my heart, I kill without remorse.
In the years since my father’s death, I have killed over one hundred men in duels – perhaps twice again as many in ambushes and brawls. I am known throughout England as Edward the Red, and feared by nearly all.
Still, Henry, with his connections and resources, lies beyond the reach of my wrath. None from my former life know me and this life I lead has frozen my heart and given me a dim view of humankind, so that to me all men seem to me like vipers. Is it the hatred in my red-rimmed eyes, the dispassion in my disfigured visage, that leads men and women alike to regard me with fear? Or is it my reputation as a remorseless slayer of men? I must find a way to regain my heart (Romantic Goal), to regain the trust of the noble class, especially those close to Henry (Social Goal), and at the same time hone my skills to a razor sharpness, the better to bury steel or lead in Henry’s heart, avenge my father’s death (Professional Goal). I will do it, or die in the attempt.