A/N: Last chapter, Golzar and Bryn went to the palace to do some spying on Raymond, in preparation for Golzar’s meeting with him. This chapter, they return home. Golzar then meets with Raymond later in the week.
Along the path back to the Halls, there was a stretch of lonely forest. The trees made it so the wind could not carry their voices over the hill, and shrouded their cloak-clad figures, and their horses, giving a sense of privacy and security.
“I see,” Golzar said, when Bryn relayed the information. “He and Redvine are at odds. It’s not surprising, I suppose. The Redvines are a much older and established family than the Tonguards, and yet look who is playing Lord Steward . . . “
Bryn had briefly gone over the affair with the dyes, but they weren’t much of an expert on colours themself, so they figured it hadn’t been important. They didn’t want to lead Golzar on a line of thought that did not encompass all the information they had, however. “They were saying something ‘bout dyes and colours. Lavender, periwinkle . . . “
Golzar frowned. She put a hand on her chin. “Oh. And the Redvines are traditionally the point of contact for anything dye-related, too.”
“Don’t suppose there was anything else, then. Sorry.” Bryn shrugged. They searched Golzar’s expression.
“Did everything go smoothly, Bryn?” Golzar said, somewhat quietly, though Bryn suspected an outsider would not have noticed the difference. “Nobody spotted you?”
Golzar sighed with relief. “Good. Sorry for the trouble.”
It was very strange, Bryn thought, for a commander to be apologising for giving a subordinate orders, what more if the subordinate followed them to the exact detail. They would have spent the rest of the walk back in silence, if not for Golzar switching the topic when they arrived at the bed of dandelions that marked the midway point.
“Tanya said you found some fluorite at one the marketplace stalls.”
Bryn’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh? Teeny, huh?” They supposed the kid had been curious as to what they had swapped out three sizeable pieces of quartz for.
Golzar hummed in confirmation. “Whatever did you get it for?”
“Well. Uh, I didn’t have any in my collection, ya’ know? Thought it would balance out a bit.” Bryn said. Silently, they snuck a hand into their purse, where they kept the fluorite still. Its rough edges were painful to touch, but strangely soothing. They didn’t trust leaving it under the floorboards in the Halls, where someone might find it and mistake it for a piece of candy. Yes, Bryn remembered with a grimace, something like that had happened before. Though they didn’t much have to worry about thievery amongst the Miscreants – though some certainly stole from careless nobles during the war – stupidity was not out of the picture.
Golzar laughed. “I guess even you get tired of having nothing but quartz to look at all day.”
“Quartz comes in all shapes an’ sizes.” Bryn insisted. “That’s why I keep so many. It’s just . . . “
They felt again around the edges of the fluorite. The thing was, it was just that they had remembered something they had heard from a priest once about fluorite. Namely, that it had certain properties. Good properties, that could help whoever possessed it. Every crystal did. If there was something one needed, something one couldn’t necessarily solve on one’s own, having such a crystal could help.
Schooling their voice into its usual flat tone, Bryn looked into Golzar’s curious eyes. “It’s just that I heard green and purple are popular colours this season. ‘Cause of this rock. So I wanted to see what the fuss was about.”
Golzar smiled, but the knit of her eyebrows showed she wasn’t convinced. “Sure.” But she didn’t bring it up again.
Bryn finally set the fluorite down and removed their hand from their purse. Fluorite was for clarity. And a sense of purpose.
A few days later, and Bryn’s spying and Golzar’s planning all came to a head.
The meeting was not to take place in the building that flanked the chamber of letters used by the temples and the High Priestess, the secular chamber of letters that was dark but dry, with just candles illuminating the work of the scribes. Instead, it was to take place in the Lord Steward’s office, where the light flooded in through the too-long windows, around which the newly arranged stones were still rough, unhewn.
And Golzar hated it. She shifted uncomfortably, lying on her side on the long cool bench. She could feel the curvature of the carvings cutting into her skin. What a dirty trick, she thought jokingly, to use psychological warfare against an innocent petitioner. On the wall opposite her hung the coat-of-arms of the Tonguard family, somewhat discreet side-by-side with the Queen’s periwinkle standard. But the sword and dome were recognisable nonetheless.
Lord Raymond, when he arrived, reclined on the opposite bench, stripping off the red mantle and leaving just the official blue silk robes.
Golzar felt as though they were in a tapestry or painting – an old one, the sort they displayed on the walls of great estates or castle forts to show how ancient the place was.
The white glare doused Raymond, forming a horizon line around his form. Golzar blinked painfully. She could recognise that shade of blue – it was even deeper than what some of the nobles she had seen wore at formal events – it was ultramarine, a dye made from crushed lapis lazuli. Expensive taste.
The petition she had sent lay in a neat square between them in the place of a negotiating table. Rose patterns that were etched into the tiled floor surrounded the paper, as if a prison, a prison of dull greens and too-bright reds.
“We – “ Golzar began, “ – we believe that in a time of peace, the Guild constitution needs to adapt. Therefore, it would be to her Grace’s great graciousness if she would support us in making this amendment to the following.”
Golzar stretched her arm across to hand him a copy of the motion, with the old constitution written above it.
Raymond lifted the paper to his eye level, inspected it, and then swiftly returned it to her.
“Well, there have been plans, of course.” He said quickly, and Golzar was not even sure if he had read all the way through.
Golzar felt her jaw clamp shut. Thoughts shot through her mind. She had to convince him otherwise.
“Nothing concrete yet.” His brown eyes shone and became piercing in the light. “You know how it is, with all the rebuilding efforts since the chaos, the wartime pillaging.”
“Pillaging?” Golzar might have laughed at her own incredulous tone, if she were not still hooked on what Raymond had – perhaps – implied. Reading between the lines was one of her greatest skills, and ‘consolidate’ sounded a lot like a takeover just there. Of course, she knew there had been pillaging.
She had punished a lot of the culprits personally.
Raymond remained cool as ice. “I’ve been informed to tell you, and the other new chevaliers. There’s no reason why the freepersons among you cannot continue to work as administrators and townsguard leaders for her Grace. It’s a rare opportunity, one only afforded by this war.”
Golzar gritted her teeth, but kept her face carefully blank. The question remained unspoken: what about the serfs?
“My lord,” she said, schooling her tone back to a neutral tone. “As with any other guild, the Heroes’ Guild best deals punishment to those that break their own constitution. It seems there would be more sense in changing this constitution to fit the needs of the new era, than to put the Guild in her Grace’s already-full hands.”
Raymond gave an ill-concealed sneer on his pallid beige face.
“We will see what we can do.” He rested his elbow on the bench. “The Queen does have a busy schedule.”
When Golzar was ushered out of the premises, she had the sinking feeling that it had not gone well at all.
Gerhard found the new training grounds too big for his liking. There seemed to be no point in using the large grey expanses to train maneuvers, when any new conflict they would fight in the near future would take place within the cramped walls of the city. He readjusted his grip on his cane, and nodded for Tanya to keep walking ahead.
To keep walking away from Golzar, on the far side of the grounds, who was currently punching a training dummy with her bare fists.
He sighed. Old habits die hard, he thought, and despite his earlier commitment that no, he was not getting involved in this, Gerhard began making his way over to the set of squat training dummies under the shade of an alcove.
Over his shoulder, he shouted. “Start with fifty practice swings!”
Tanya assented, loudly, and Gerhard returned his attention to where Golzar had stopped punching.
Golzar still wasn’t looking at him. She glared straight ahead. When Robert emerged from the door carrying a stack of bowls, he withered under the anger unintentionally directed his way, and immediately ducked back inside again.
“Sorry!” Golzar called after him, but he had already decided it was not a good time to do the dishes.
Gerhard watched silently, giving her a few moments to calm down. It was so quiet, this hour of the day, with the pale dappling light coming in petal-like circles on the straw bodies of the training dummies. If he focused hard enough, he could even here the murmur of the river behind the compound, where Robert had been intending to wash.
“Let me guess, meeting with the moneybags?” Gerhard said, leaning casually onto his walking stick.
Golzar barked a harsh laugh. “Moneybags? More like sacks of nonsense words.”
She turned around. Her gaze was calm. Perhaps she hadn’t been as angry as Gerhard had thought. She seemed resigned, even with a smile playing at her lips. “Sorry, that was a bad joke. I’ve given all my funniness to Bob over here,” she said, giving the training dummy a pat.
Gerhard watched a stray piece of straw fall from the bundle that made up the dummy’s torso. He tightened his grip on his walking stick. “Come. Let’s go see Tanya.”
The kid was on her fifteenth swing. Gerhard watched as she moved quickly, as though with one of those light, needle-like blades the nobility used in their duels, only that this wooden sword was modelled after a claymore.
He glanced at Golzar out of the corner of his eye. “So what happened?”
“No dice.” She shrugged. “He said they’d think about it, and I didn’t receive a letter or appointment after that.”
Gerhard tutted his tongue. “Ah. That’s no good . . . “
Come to think of it, he had a similar experience at the palace the other day. He remembered it with a wince.
He had been walking to the royal library, where it was inconveniently tucked away under a hill. Despite the gentle incline, his right hip was throbbing with pain by the time he had made his way to the front door. The guards let him in after he had shown his identification. When he tried to get a record from the archives though, the librarians shooed him out.
“Sir, you don’t have the appropriate pass to use this section,” they had said.
He sighed. “Ah . . . and I still need to get those family records for the guest list, too.”
Golzar frowned. She folded her arms, sighing. She continued watching Tanya practice, though her mind was clearly elsewhere, as she made no comment when Tanya executed a particularly fine and precise swing.
“Tanya,” Gerhard called out, and the girl whipped her head around to look at him. He walked towards where a couple more wooden swords were leaned against a raised platform and picked out a thinner, leaner blade. “Use this.”
Tanya accepted the practice sword and resumed the remaining ten swings. She was much faster than before – the blade whizzed through the air, making a faint whistling noise when she brought it down.
Throughout, Golzar watched, silent, thoughtful. She folded her arms, one hand resting under her chin.
Gerhard moved over to Tanya as she got into one of her stances. He put a hand on her elbow, gently guiding the angle of her arms to better suit the weight of the new blade. He was so absorbed in the task of correcting, he only barely heard Golzar mutter a farewell.
When he turned, Golzar was already striding back towards the door Robert had come out of earlier.