A/N - Last chapter, Bryn gave Golzar some information on the Lord Steward, Raymond, whom she intends to petition for a meeting to discuss her alteration to the Heroes' Guild constitution. In this chapter, Golzar goes to see some of the Miscreants who were injured in the final battle. She also receives the time and place for that meeting.
She ventured out of the
small, dark room in the afternoon to check on those still in the infirmary. The
old doctor they had hired from the neighbouring village nodded at her and smiled. The amber light of the falling sun streamed in through
the many windows in the corridor.
A musty scent wafted out as
she opened the wooden door – the smell of herbs, with a touch of honey.
Sleeping mats were arranged in two neat rows in that large and echoing hall,
about half of them occupied.
Someone in the mat closest
to her sat up, slowly. “Commander!” he exclaimed in a raspy voice. “Where have
“Shuffling papers.” Golzar
rubbed the back of her aching neck with one hand.
The first person started a
chain-effect across the room’s occupants. Those who could sit up did so
immediately; those who could not raised a bandaged hand in greeting. Golzar
responded, grinning. Despite their injuries, there was a bit of relief, a bit
of cheer even in her heart, being able to see the men again.
A couple of them were playing
a game of dice in the corner, their elbows bent as they leaned attentively over
the little wooden bowl. Distractions were always welcome, so long as people did
not go too far.
Golzar stopped at one of
the empty mats, one with bloodstains, that had been clearly occupied until
recently. The man in the mat next to it was curled on his side, not looking at
the vacancy. He looked up at Golzar, a sad smile on his face.
“It was yesterday,” he
explained. “Frederic had the fever, and then . . . “
With a solemn nod, Golzar
put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll bury him properly. At the Guild.”
He nodded, blinking back
tears. “’S alright. We knew he wasn’t going to make it. He even asked to get
the barstool carved the other day, the idiot.”
During the war, Gerhard had
collected a list of last wishes. The rampaging bunch of teenagers had put in an
assortment of strange things. Frederic’s frog-shaped barstool was one of them,
after his nickname among the new recruits.
After assuring him that
Frederic would have that wish fulfilled, Golzar began to head out. Before she
could put one foot in the corridor, however, a whirlwind blazed past her.
Golzar whipped around, to see Tanya standing in the doorway behind her,
panting, a large grin on her face. She was wearing a loose linen dress over a pair
of trousers, her hair let down in two plaits, instead of pinned up, the way it
usually was when she had to wear a helmet.
She recovered quickly, and
folded her arms in a business-like fashion. “Bryn says you owe us something.”
“Ah. Yes.” Golzar couldn’t
help but smile. What brats she had landed herself with, she thought fondly. “I
Tanya nodded. “If anyone
asks, I asked for candy apples. Don’t worry about the other two. Candy apples
are better than beer any day, yep.”
Then she fixed Golzar with
a pleading look. “It’s too bad you missed it, though. We had such a great time!
David showed us one of the games they played in the marketplace, and the
village children were there, and then Richard got hit in the face with a pig’s
bladder, and then Bryn – “
“Bryn came with you?”
Tanya’s eyes glittered.
“Yeah! I didn’t think they’d say yes, but they did. I think it’s the first time
they spent their wages anywhere.”
Golzar scoffed. “Bryn
spends their wages on fancy rocks, if they can help it.”
Something seemed to click
in Tanya’s mind. “Oh, so that’s what that was.”
Golzar raised an eyebrow at
the girl. Taking that as an invitation, Tanya went on.
“I saw Bryn go to one of
the stalls on the outskirts of the market. The very end, almost reaching the
river back home! They got a blue and green rock from there.”
There were many stalls in
Lucrece, Golzar remembered, that catered to a variety of practices and
superstitions. Briefly, she wondered if that was what Bryn was doing. Being
superstitious. It didn’t sound like them, but people tended to behave strangely
when living in a new city.
Reluctantly, Golzar headed
back into her quarters. A cloud of dust arose as she walked in. Before sending
that petition, she had rarely been in here, always sleeping and eating outside
with the rest of the troops. It was no wonder that they all noticed her absence
these past few days.
The prayer mask was leaned
against the side of her bed. It was just about the right size for her – she
knew most flimsy Woodlandian masks were more like blindfolds with holes than
they were masks – and so she had made sure to treasure the one she had since
birth. It was an old walnut, with a butterfly-esque shape that was cracked
quite terribly down the middle. But Golzar had managed to repair it with a bit
of sticky gum from a village they had passed through during the war. She ran
her hands over its familiar, cool surface, before holding it up to the
She put the mask on.
Frederic “Frogger” had been
a hero with the Grey Hound company for a long time. He was one of those
original few who had been following Gerhard, even before Golzar had joined the
ragtag band. Golzar wasn’t always sure she believed it, how human beings became
eternal masks after death. Indelible imprints for their progeny to step into,
like filling in a pair of shoes, so the dead would never die. But she could
pray for it, for Frederic.
Quietly, she muttered under
her breath, asking the Goddess to let her slip into her role for just a moment
– “ . . . the greatest mask, any creature can afford, is yours, we feel the
imprint of your life in the shape of the air and the oceans . . .” – so she
would craft that indelible mask.
Golzar blew out one of the
candles. The remaining lights illuminated both sides of the cracked mask as she
pulled it off. Thin rivulets of bark on one side, carefully stripped with a
carving knife, and a smooth shell-like surface on the other side.
On her desk, there were a
few other objects. One was a bit of amber resin – nothing special, as it could
be found nearby trees in a lot of areas of Woodlands – but the edges worn
smooth showed it was often held in a hand, and perhaps a clenched fist. The
other was carefully wrapped in a piece of velvet. Golzar reached out and
The glass ornament dangled
from her hand on a hemp string. It looked like an embiggened tear drop,
especially with the spot of light that glowed within it. She’d not worn the
necklace since she joined the war, in fear of breaking it, instead carrying ti
around with her in a cushioned portion of her pack.
Breaking it was less of a
concern now. She slipped the necklace around her neck, tucking the ornament
into her shirt, so no one could see it.
It was just then that
Gerhard knocked on the door. Golzar smiled, turning around. “It’s not locked!”
Gerhard pushed his way in
with one shoulder. “Why isn’t it locked?! Golzar, you know you have highly
classified documents in here with you – “
documents – “ she pointed at herself with a thumb “ – and a gargoyle to guard
them. Don’t get your knickers in a twist when your knickers don’t need
twisting, as my brother used to say.”
The door thumped a few
times in rapid succession, as Gerhard tried to nudge it shut with a bent knee.
When it finally stayed closed, he turned to Golzar again.
“Well, unless you’ve been
lying to me all this time, you’re an only child,” he rolled his eyes. “So we
don’t need to listen to what your ‘brother’ thinks about all this.”
Golzar fixed him with an
intense stare – and then ever so subtly stuck out her tongue at him.
Gerhard sighed and pulled
at his shirt collar. He was wearing one of his usual tunics, with a belt that
had one of the Miscreants’ alternative insignia inscribed upon it. Animal
motifs were not popular everywhere in Woodlands – especially not in the lumber
villages, where trees reigned supreme – and so Golzar figured it was a good
move. “Just like you to kill the mood, when I’m here about serious business.”
He took out a letter with a
distinctive rose red seal. “The Lord Steward responded to your petition.”
Golzar’s gaze drifted to
the seal, regarding the petaled pattern carefully. She couldn’t believe it. No,
she could, only that it was such an abrupt situation, her mind had yet to
“No need to be nervous,”
Gerhard said gently.
“I’m not.” With just her
fingertips, she unfurled the letter awkwardly. The writing was small and close
together, spelling out a date and time, the place where they were meant to meet
– the Lord Steward’s chambers in the House of Periwinkles.
Before the silence got to
thick, Gerhard huffed. “I almost missed this one, you know? Thought the
‘steward’ was ‘Stewart’ and the gardener was sending you a letter. Lucky for
“Hmm.” The calligraphy on
the front page was ornate, difficult to read. But she had trained many years on
the covers of ancient texts.
She would have to get some
more information on this Lord Raymond. Bryn had told her of his goings to the
taverns, but she would need something more substantial than that. There would
be people around the palace she could ask. Maybe something in the records kept
in the royal library, which she had always wanted to see regardless . . .
“I’ll have my afternoon cut
out for me,” she said, finally. “He has me booked for the end of the week.”
“And Bryn?” Gerhard’s eyes
glinted in the candlelight.
Golzar sighed. “What about
Her gaze was hard as she
looked at Gerhard’s expectant face. He hovered by the chair, like the shadow of
some long-necked bird. Discomfort twinged in her belly. She could ask him to
leave off, and he would, she knew, but at the same time, she knew she couldn’t
bear the look on his face if she dismissed him so off-handedly. She groaned.
“Haven’t you had enough playing the dame school teacher? We’re not two kids who
have a hard time getting along. They were just here to see me a couple of days
ago. We get along great, now go back to your cooking.”
When Gerhard refused to
budge, Golzar let out another long-suffering sigh. “You know they disagree with
this whole plan, right? They don’t want any part of it, right? How can I ask
them to get their hands dirty, when they’ve already given me something on Lord
Raymond just to humor me?”
Something twisted in her
gut. “I don’t want to burden them.”
A thoughtful silence
elapsed. Golzar felt as though she was handing that silence over to Gerhard,
hoping he would process it somehow and come up with an answer, like he used to,
during the war. The thought of it irritated her. Before she could speak up
again to dismiss him, Gerhard finally opened his mouth.
“I suppose you’re right.
But what they think is a burden today may not be the same tomorrow.”
Golzar looked up at him,
blinking. She could feel her brows drawing, as she struggled to figure out what
“Anyway,” Gerhard said,
“I’ll be out of your hair – “
With a glance towards him,
Golzar asked a question she had been waiting to ask. “Why did you change your
Now Gerhard looked just as
confused as she felt. “What costume?”
“You know, the one you wear
while pretending to be everyone’s mother.” She gestured towards all of what Gerhard
was wearing, from the faded tan tunic to the new belt to the leather boots. He
had yet to exchange them for sandals as was the city’s style, she noticed. If
Gerhard wanted to drive her nuts with his cryptic statements, he could very
well handle going nuts himself, in her opinion.
Gerhard sputtered. “It’s
normal for most people to change what they wear once in a while! We’re not all
like you, trying to act like a Robinhood character, only wearing one outfit all
“Besides,” he whispered. “It’s
inauspicious to wear animal motifs within Lucrece, and since we live within the
city’s borders . . . “
Golzar thumped her hand on
the table. “I knew it! You and your superstitions!” Folding her arms, she
turned her head exaggeratedly away from him. “Shame, thought you were watching
the popularity polls for once.”
Gerhard tutted his tongue.
“Goddess, no. Those give me indigestion.”
He picked up his walking
stick, much more gracefully than he had been doing in the past month, and
opened the door again. With one last look back at Golzar, he took his first
step outside. “Well. I’ll be off then.”
“Leave the door open. I’m
leaving soon.” Golzar said from the desk.
She heard him hum in
affirmation, heard his footsteps disappear down the corridor. A small trickle
of light came into the room from outside. The glass pendant lay cool against
her chest. Golzar turned back to the letter, palming it ponderously, before tucking
it into the drawer. She grimaced when she realised she really was taking Bryn with her, after all.
The hills rolled upwards in
a gentle wave. Bryn could see how the sage green met the warm grey colours of
the palace’s outermost buildings, and how the path upwards snaked this way and
that, fitting the natural curvature of the terrain. Sea breeze blew across the
tops of those hills, and even from down below, Bryn caught a whiff of salt.
Beside them, Golzar stood
unpacking her horse. “Remember the plan? If you need me, I’ll be in the
library. If you get caught, say you were finding your way to the library. Don’t
be a hero.”
“Golz’, I don’t think
either of us could stop being what the Queen knighted us as being. That’s the
real treason here, if anything.”
“You know what I mean.
Don’t try to make puns, it doesn’t suit you.” With a huff, Golzar heaved the last
item, a small new canvas sack, over her shoulder.
“Puns don’t suit anyone,
they just happen.” Bryn chuckled. They pulled out a piece of dried fruit from
their purse. Tanya had cajoled them into buying a packet of the things from the
market the other day, claiming Bryn did nothing else with their wages anyway.
Of course, that wasn’t strictly true, but Bryn had acquiesced. The
snack tasted tart, like apple and a little bit of mint, perhaps, and Bryn chewed on
it thoughtfully as they watched the slopes of the palace buildings from afar.
Nearly all of Lucrece was
built of stone. They remembered having a hard time getting used to it, the
first few times they had come here. It was a far cry from even the mansions of
the noble estates in other parts of the country, which tended to be wooden,
just with more craftsmanship than the average serf’s hut or freeperson’s
The palace was stone as
well, but of the sort of stone that gently gleamed in the sunlight. Some of the
buildings had been there since before King Korvus, which meant they could have
been made of rich, imported rocks and bricks. Bryn thought they saw terra cotta
in one of the courtyard walls, and the decorative stones in the doors were
definitely quartz. Bryn had a similar chunk of stone in one of their
collections, which they had lovingly polished to the same shine that these
palace rocks had.
Behind them, the granite of
the road from the southwest seemed an entirely different world.
When Bryn snapped out of
their architectural ponderings, they turned to find Golzar staring at them
thoughtfully. She gave a mirthful quirk of the lips. “Recognise any of those?”
she jerked her head in the direction of the decorative stones.
Bryn shrugged. “Some.
Others must be foreign, though,” they said, drawing ther mouth into a line.
“But we’re not here for sightseeing, are we?”
Golzar let out a laugh.
“Nope. Come on, let’s go on.”
They left the horses with
the palace caretaker, a balding old man with a closed-off face – a face that
asked no questions. The large dome-shaped buildings rose like hills of their
own over the horizon as they climbed the winding path upwards.
The quiet of the hillside
disappeared after they passed through the palace gates. As Bryn nudged past the
guards and their purple standards, they were barraged with a clamour of senses.
Groups of visitors,
merchants, officials were marching in and out of the myriad of high arching
doors across the palace courtyard. The statue of the Mask-faced Goddess in the
centre seemed almost stately and pallid in comparison to the bright golden capes
of the Lions, who were following behind their leader Thornston hurriedly
towards one of the doors. Bryn almost bumped into a buzz of heavy, spiked
voices – officials from the Queen’s court, dressed in blue and silver robes.
Before they knew it, Golzar
had a hand pressed against their back, steering them carefully toward the side
of the wall. She looked like she was about to say something – and Bryn was
ready to retort, too – but at the last second, she averted her eyes.
“It’s more crowded than the
last time, huh?” Golzar remarked non-commitally. Bryn narrowed their eyes at
Lord Raymond would be
amidst such a crowd, and Bryn would be a fool to assume Golzar had not
Golzar began to walk at a
steady pace, circling the courtyard. Behind her, Bryn followed, eyes trained on
the centre. The noble-born officials moved in a straight line. When they
clashed with Thornston’s group, Thornston backed off, bowed hastily, and curved
around them. Each group trickled away into opposite gates.
A line of merchants was
queued up to a large office. They were dressed in tan tunics, some with
vermillion or brown cloaks and coats. Between these freepersons, a handful of
serfs weaved back and forth. It was loud.
By the time Bryn caught
sight of Lord Raymond, they were already halfway across the courtyard from
where they had begun. Bryn paused behind a row of potted plants. They watched
the man enter the gate marked with a circular stone tile, with the shape of a
periwinkle blooming across it.
Golzar tapped their arm: a
signal that it was time for them to part ways.
Without looking back, Bryn
followed the Lord Steward into the royal residency.