A/N: Last chapter, Golzar received a message from another Guild Council member, Edmund, calling an emergency meeting to resolve the issue of a hero company being held prisoner in another country. In this chapter, she attends said meeting.
On Barrel Street, the old man with the corgis was inspecting the mushrooms. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes grew in abundance throughout Lucrece – some edible, and some poisonous. Golzar watched him watch the little brown beads that snaked a trail between the cobblestones. She then watched him come back to his senses and begin to leave. No corgi left behind.
The Old Quarter of Lucrece was filled with narrow alleyways like this one. Golzar squeezed along the right side of the cobblestone path, careful to duck under eaves and signs that hung from roofs. Around her, the residents were moving about at a slow, hankered pace, plodding through the mid-morning. Most of the work would have been done by dawn, Golzar noted, eyeing the buckets full of cow manure almost neatly scooped and laid out around the legs of an old woman who guarded the farming supplies shop.
At last, she arrived at the small house at the end of the street and knocked on its circular door.
It was Haywood who opened it. His shocking blond hair was just barely combed down, and he scrutinised Golzar with a squint and ruddy cheeks. “Hmph. You’re early enough.”
The house was one owned by a freeperson supporter of the Heroes’ Guild. Golzar nodded to the young woman standing beside Haywood, who was dressed in a rich carmine apron. Soft cheeks blushed.
The space was cramped, as though the woman’s family had fallen on hard times. There was a stone firepit towards the back of the room, and no backroom in sight. Golzar remembered they had usually used the backroom of their supporters’ houses during the war, to avoid suspicion from any of the King’s men who roamed the streets.
As Golzar entered, the woman slipped past her to peek at the streets outside. She seemed mouse-like, turning her head left and right, as though looking for something.
“Worried your colleagues will see us, madame?” Normand said from the round table. He smiled, the edges of his auburn sideburns crinkling upwards. He had a full beard, combed neatly, and a head of hair that distracted from his wrinkled forehead. His complexion was chalky, and it glowed slightly in the light of the small cooking fire the woman had burning.
“N-no, not at all,” the woman squeaked. Golzar winced. Bad enough she had to accommodate all these fools on the regular.
A quiet, low rumble of a voice came from the seat beside Normand. “We won’t be long,” Othmar said. Calm hooded eyes looked evenly at the woman. He had a soft face, his skin mid-brown with a cool undertone. Othmar wasn’t a tall or imposing man, but he certainly had a presence. A necessary one, Golzar thought. He was the only one of the Councillors she could honestly claim to respect.
William cleared his throat. He was sitting at the farthest side of the round table’s edge, as if still looking for a head of the table. His sword was leaning on the wall beside him, whereas the others had left their swords by the door. “Shall we begin?”
Edmund, who was also already seated, tapped his pen meaningfully against the side of the table.
Edmund was completely bald, and his head glowed slightly. His features were smooth despite his age, and his body long and bony.
The woman scurried away to sit in a corner of the room. Freepersons did not usually offer hospitality to heroes like this, and perhaps she was feeling a bit out of her depth. Golzar removed her sword from her belt and placed it in the same stack at the door, before moving to take her seat.
She noticed the seat beside William was empty, but no one was remarking on Ariga’s absence.
“It’s the first time Commander Thomas has done something like this,” William said. “We don’t know all of the specifics.”
Golzar saw Edmund’s gaze move toward a piece of paper kept under his notes. When William glanced at him though, he sharply moved away again, fixing his eyes upon Othmar.
William continued. “We’re not sure if the guards at the border really are to be trusted. It was by their report we learned that a trespass had been committed.”
Othmar frowned. “Do we have any further evidence? I know the information says the trespass happened near the outpost of Tyn.”
“I say they could’ve been mistaken,” Haywood harrumphed. “’S not like that hasn’t happened before with other companies.”
“Or the guards could be lying,” Normand said cheerfully. “I know some outposts give their men a good commission if they catch a couple of unsuspecting foreigners and get them convicted for petty crime.”
In the dimness of the room, Golzar could make out Edmund’s impassive face. She looked at him with just as little emotion. She was thinking hard. Part of her wanted to say ‘leave them’. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for heroes to trespass the Zenithian border, and they’d always bailed them out during the war. Now, they no longer had that as an excuse. It could damage the diplomatic tie between kingdoms if they kept up with old habits.
Golzar fidgeted with the cover of the pouch she had been keeping on her waist since the middle of the war. It was a good make, Zenithian. The company had received it from some of the Zenithian merchantry, which supported the heroes’ rebellion against Korvus during the war. Some of the Councillors’ weapons were also from Zenith. Edmund owned a curved blade, which glinted in the firelight. Though Ariga wasn’t hear, Golzar knew the woman kept her own stash of curved blades to use on horseback skirmishes.
At the same time, Golzar couldn’t keep taking her chances with the Council. She had realised it after talking to Raymond. The memory of the first meeting made her set her jaw in a hard line. The darkness of the room seemed much colder. She couldn’t afford to alienate herself amidst the Guild, with so much of the nobility unwilling to hear heroes as a whole out.
Suddenly, there was a voice from the corner. “With all due respect, Sir Guild Chief . . . The border villages of Zenith have always been on good terms with the Woodlandian Merchants’ Guild,” said the woman in the red apron. “Furthermore, if my sources are correct it was sacred grounds that the Brown Dogs trespassed upon.”
Golzar regarded her from the tail of her vision. She was flushing slightly, but she spoke as though she often spoke up at these meetings. The other Councillors listened attentively, as well. Perhaps she’d been wrong about her initial assessment, Golzar thought.
“The heroes have little to do with the Merchants’ Guild,” William rumbled. When he did, Haywood and the others began nodding. Only Othmar remained silent, still looking at the woman. She smoothed out her apron and looked back at her cooking fire, nudging a coal with a pair of tongs, awkwardly.
It was at this point that Golzar decided to make her move. “Even if they did trespass on sacred grounds,” she begun. “Is it not our responsibility to bring them back and discipline them on our own territory?”
William seemed to contemplate this for a moment, then his face hardened into a grimace. “I would suppose so.”
Golzar let a small smile onto her face. It was a roundabout proposal, she knew it. But her main concern was making whatever they were doing palatable for the people of Zenith. Palatable enough that they’d not only agree to it, but consider it a plus point for themselves.
“What if they refuse?” Othmar said. He adjusted the neck of his black woollen shirt.
“They might wish to have the sovereign of the trespassed area enact the punishment themself.”
“Which would be a problem as well, if we try to bring them back without punishment,” Edmund said, looking up from his parchment. His almond-shaped eyes looked on innocently, unaware of William’s growing frustration beside him. No, Golzar thought. It wasn’t that he wasn’t aware; he just didn’t care.
She saw Edmund’s other hand discreetly push a full cup of tea towards William.
William coughed into his hand and continued. “All in favour of sending a contingent there to negotiate?”
“Aye,” rang a chorus steadily around the table.
“In that case, this meeting’s adjourned.”
One by one, the other Councillors began to leave. Golzar lingered to help push the chairs back into place.
“This house . . . they’re still making designs like these aren’t they?”
The merchant woman smiled at her, cheeks rosy. “Oh, yes. Even in the other quarters.”
It was a design that hadn’t changed in decades. Golzar remembered seeing sketches of these in the cheap copies of books she used to get during the war. Meanwhile, no one kept the designs of swords Golzar remembered from her youth. The seax and the gladius were no more. She only had the bone-handled seax she kept, almost as a souvenir, with her.
Golzar bowed to the woman before she left. The sunlight poured in from the world outside.