The library at the palace
was tucked behind a hill. Golzar made her way down the slope. The azure-painted
doors opened with a creak, as the guard handed her letter of introduction back
to her, only partially skimmed through. She suspected many of the palace staff
could recognise her, what with the endless parades after the final battle. She
also suspected that some staff had been present to see them take down the King
Inside, it was cold. The
stone walls and the location kept the books safe from the heat of the sun.
Occasionally, she would hear the soft sound of librarians padding over the
tiled floor, between the aisles, or perhaps into one of the many backrooms.
Otherwise, silence reigned.
If anyone found out she was
reading books about the Lord Steward, it would surely arouse suspicion. So
Golzar wandered around the stacks herself, looking for titles that would be of
relevance. She found a short history of the Tome region, and a history of the
Tonguard family. With stiff determination, she turned away from the section of
books on various forms of breadmaking in the north of Woodlands. There was no
time for that, right now.
With books piled up so high
she had to tilt her head to see where she was going, Golzar looked for a table
and sat down, ready to play at being a scholar. The first book fell open with a
Candlelight streamed over
the wooden desk, just enough so she could see the words. All the texts on Lord Raymond were recent
ones. The texts on the Tonguard family, however, went back at least half a
century. They also covered a lot of information on rocks and minerals in the
Tome region, and her mind drifted to Bryn momentarily.
Golzar shook her head. She
had to concentrate.
The Tonguards had not been
particularly prominent in Tome before the discovery of coal there. Neither had
they been completely unnoticeable. Raymond Tonguard’s ancestors had been
business people as well as landowners, mostly working in the lumber industry.
Their estate covered plenty of acres – albeit not as much as other noble
families. Golzar paused, momentarily, to examine their coat-of-arms.
Their colours were silver
and shades of grey, accentuating the shape of a one-handed blade, with a
dome-like shape in the background – probably representing a kiln, for burning
charcoal. Nowadays, the family was occupied dominating the coal mining in that
region. She wondered if they would change their coat-of-arms, or if it would be
a gravestone, of sorts, to their former trade.
Or, rather, she thought,
the former trade of the serfs and freepersons who lived on their land.
Midway through another
paragraph, the tapping of her fingers picked up pace. It became erratic. She
turned towards the door. Would Bryn really be okay with this job? They were a
competent scout and spy. They never lingered in one spot more than they needed
to. Yet this was the palace, and if she knew anything about the Queen, it was
that Lucretia was smart and would understand the need for quashing spies where
they came up.
She read further. Yes,
furthermore – Tome was a region rife with rivals and intrigue. The Tonguards
competed with several other families to secure new mining locations, and to
secure contracts with merchants in the southerly areas of Woodlands, including
the capital. She was reading a section on how one of the previous Tonguard
heirs had disposed of a group of spies in their mansion, teeth gritted and a
bead of sweat trickling down her face, when suddenly, she felt a presence in
Rubbing her stiff neck,
Golzar turned around to see a familiar face come in through the door.
It was Ariga. Her eyepatch
swallowed up the right side of her face, in the dimness of candlelight. She was
grinning and chatting with one of the librarians. She was without her carapace
armour, wearing just coral-red tunic and trousers. Ariga had grown her hair out
even longer than before, since the war, and the black, reticulating locks were
carefully braided and held up, with just a few strands framing her face.
Before Ariga noticed her,
Golzar had already turned around and gotten back to her books. She thought of
Gerhard and cursed him in her head. She cursed him for being cryptic and
insufferable, and potentially wheedling her into taking Bryn along for this
The author of the family
history of the Tonguards commented on their impeccable identification with the
industries they profited from, of their business-like efficiency and the
featuring of kilns, hatchets and saws in all of their parades and dinner
hostings. Whenever the strange freeperson families who ran the popularity polls
did another round, the Tonguards fared excellently against other families,
despite being somewhat in the background, without a single warrior or duellist
to their name.
“Councillor.” A hand
descended onto her shoulder, and Golzar held still.
She turned around with a
strained grin. “Councillor.”
Of course, she thought,
Ariga would not only notice her, but also wander up to her and attempt to start
a conversation. Before long, Ariga had sat down at the desk next to Golzar, not
a book in sight – just an all-too-piercing gaze and a curious smile.
When she was younger,
Golzar used to find it strange that Ariga had sustained few scars to the face
in battle. Even Golzar had a large one that cut across her nose. Later, she
found out from Richard’s gossiping that Ariga took especial care to treat wounds
to her face so they wouldn’t scar. Scars were a bad omen, in the fishing
village Ariga came from. A commander could not carry bad omens.
“You seen the popularity
polls?” Golzar said lightly. “We were all going through them last night, all
very surprising shifts in position. And of course, some always do better than
Ariga’s eyes drifted to the
titles of Golzar’s books. Yes, Golzar thought. The Councillor and Vice Chief of
the Guild was buying into her cover-up.
Ariga huffed. “Don’t tell
me, the leader of the Grey Hound company’s looking to compete with noble
families in these polls. I get it, we could all use more donations from the
populace, but have you heard of something called realism?”
Rolling her eyes, Golzar
went on. “Haven’t you heard of learning from the best?” she said, though there
was a drip of irony to it.
The next text she pulled
out was even illuminated using Tonguard colours – no doubt expensive and
difficult to produce. As she read, Ariga looked away, seeming to watch the
other library-goers with quiet interest.
The author of the text
called the Tonguards impeccable geniuses. All the lords of the Tonguard house
had intelligent eyes, he said. Intelligent eyes framed by a bone structure
resembling that of the greatest temple carvings. Intelligent eyes either so
blue or so copper that the brightest of dyes could not match – oh, brother,
Golzar thought. She shelved the copy. At least, she figured, it was good to see
what charm points the Tonguards had for their groupies and loyalists – who
clearly were not strictly attracted to them due to their prestige and power
“Hmm. The courier from the
polling guilds came late yesterday,” Ariga remarked, as she leaned back in her
chair. Her hair fell over the back of the chair, dangling casually. With one
hand she played with the collar of her tunic – a simple garment dyed in coral
This was awkward, Golzar
thought. Awkward, awkward, awkward. Awkward and also awkwardly tense.
“Traffic, probably.” Golzar
found herself responding in the way she hoped the average capital-goer would.
“Or a secret lover.”
Outside, there began the gentle
thrum of a drizzle hitting the ground. The sound was muffled slightly by the
thick walls of the library, but whatever little they heard echoed throughout
the cave-like structure. She might have been imagining it, but Golzar thought
the colour of the light in the room cooled by a shade, as if influenced by a
“Or rain.” Ariga nodded.
“One of those things.”
Hoping the conversation was
over then, Golzar pretended to skim another line of text. Really she was
thinking back to Gerhard’s meeting with her the other day, partly wishing she
had thrown a rag at him, or something else equally unpleasant to make up for
his penchant for speaking vaguely at crucial times. Really, she thought, one
would think someone who regularly went down to the exact number of teaspoons of
how he had made their breakfast stew would know how to be clear.
At the same time, she
affirmed, clenching her teeth, that she would not have agreed to ask Bryn for
help if he had phrased it any other way.
Beside her, Ariga shifted.
She was about to get up and leave. Golzar frowned. Ariga had not read a single
thing. The large booming voice, now quietened to a low hum, suddenly spoke. “You
are . . . surprisingly good at small talk, Golzar. Perhaps you’ll last longer
than I expected.”
Golzar kept her face
carefully neutral. Ariga gave her an irreverent pat on the arm. “Anyway, I must
go. Good luck with the Lord Steward.”
Golzar froze. A cynical
smile, her lip twitching, crept across her face. Ariga knew. Of course Ariga
knew the whole time. She raked one hand through her hair, lowering her chin to
the table. Silently, she cursed all the cryptic people in her life. Silently,
she worried about Bryn.
The House of Periwinkles
was in the midst of redecorating. Bryn weaved past the artisans and
craftspeople who moved in droves discussing matters of symbolism, egg-and-spear
motifs, and how much dye was appropriate for each section of the building.
Walking along the side of
the corridor, they could hear the quiet taps of their feet against the floor.
As it always did, while they were out gathering information, even these soft
noises rang in their head like thunder.
Lord Raymond was standing
at a door. He looked ready to go inside for a meeting. Every so often, he tilted
his head to look past the low barriers that separated the corridor from the
courtyard, checking for the light of the sky. His carefully arranged auburn
hair barely swayed with each movement.
He cast a long shadow,
which Bryn hid under, pretending to be waiting for someone to come out from the
Bryn had already thought of
what to say, should Raymond question them. Bryn was on the way to the library,
and had gotten lost. Bryn was looking for one of the Queen’s servants, a
friend, hoping for directions. With a roll of the eyes, they remembered
When a stout older man
stopped to chat with Raymond, Bryn was all ears.
“Lord Redvine, I’m sure
your decorators are doing splendid work.” Raymond spoke in a smooth, but clipped
tenor, as if he clearly had better things to do. As light breeze ruffled the
rose red mantle secured around his shoulders.
Lord Redvine, still
smiling, and clad in a paler shade of red, answered. “My artisans were
recommended by her Grace herself. I appreciate your appraisal of her Majesty’s
Something about that
comment made Raymond tense up. It was an odd look, for someone tall and
broad-shouldered. “The dyes were hand-picked by our special council, yes.
Lavender for prosperity and peace. And to complement the periwinkle.”
Bryn observed the tension
between the two men silently. How interesting, they thought to themself.