The Kingdom of Woodlands is at the end of a 10-year war, which resulted in the formation of a new social class called the heroes. People are vying for power in the new regime.
In this chapter, Golzar, leader of a hero company, is trying to learn the local religious traditions from Priest Rose, leader of the temple in a nearby district called Rosaheim. Later, she encounters the actress Miriam, who had been the one to motivate her mission to reform the Guild Constitution. She realises (even more than before) that Miriam and the theatre are going through a hard time.
The next day, Bryn awakes early to follow Golzar to the palace, where she is meant to be meeting with the Queen in a secret location. On the way, they encounter a hero picking a fight with an old serf. Golzar decides to intervene.
A flock of
geese had taken flight outside the tower. It was a scattered, panicked flight.
Golzar saw the carriages that had sped into the front garden of the tower.
Those had likely spooked the geese, and now they flew to escape without a
cast dark petals of shadows all about the corridor.
sometimes, about how geese flew with such organisation in the wild. Then
there were the domestic geese, which exploded into flustered honking at the
slightest disturbance. What a difference, she thought,
didn’t seem the kind of person to think about geese. She walked at a stroll,
along the insides of the corridor, seemingly unbothered by the commotion
people revere the Goddess.” The priest enunciated the word ‘revere’. “We have
done so through tradition for hundreds, hundreds of years.”
excuse me, Master . . . “ Golzar said, cringing. “What exactly is meant by
Down below, in
the gardens, a cleric swatted at one of the geese that had remained behind.
Golzar glanced at them for a moment. The cleric’s attention was distracted by a
noise at the gate, and so the geese hopped away and continued to graze on the
looked at her, eyebrows arching high on the woman’s forehead. As though it was
a question she’d not heard before. “Tradition . . . is praying at the altar.
Carving prayers, singing prayers, weaving prayers. Praying before the mask at
“But also basic
courtesy,” she continued innocently. “When a serf bows to his betters . . .
that is also tradition.”
gate, a group of heroes were coming in. Golzar recognised them as being from
the Everpresent, with their mint green uniforms. These were Edmund’s people.
“I see. Thank
paused, crossing over to the edge of the corridor to look down at something
below. Her face wrinkled, for the first time since Golzar had seen her. “Oh
dear,” she said. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but that goose is chewing on the
an eyebrow. So she did think about geese after all, Golzar thought. The
taller woman leaned over the railing, cupping one hand around her mouth.
The cleric who
was swatting the goose whipped around.
creature some barley from the pantry. That should sate him.”
A nod in
response. Golzar heard the cleric’s sandals shuffling against the ground as
they rushed off. It seemed the priest liked animals.
“Ah, don’t mind
me, Councillor,” Priest Rose said, smiling exasperatedly. “The geese here don’t
belong to us, but they’re such remarkable creatures, I can’t help but spoil
them. The High Priestess doesn’t like it, of course, but you won’t tell her,
not.” Golzar watched the priest’s expression intently. “Geese are lovely.”
goodness.” Her smile suddenly turned cynical. “The High Priestess can have her
pets, so I’ll keep these.”
began to walk again, shifting back to the inner half of the corridor. “Come,
let’s move on from here.”
that her Grace Queen Lucretia enjoys the gardens.” Golzar started walking
again, trailing alongside the priest.
“Ah, her Grace!”
Dark grey eyes brightened, became dewy. “Her Grace is a good omen, I say. A
good omen for all of us. When women take the throne, it ushers in a new period
of peace and prosperity by will of the Goddess. When men take the throne, it is
like a soldier taking control of the household.” She shook her head. “They do
nothing but fight.”
rumpled. She felt the absence of the sword hanging from her waist sharply, like
a cold breeze. What would Gerhard be like as a king? Surely no soldier, she
thought. She remembered the day in the cold, when he bowed humbly to the old
man in the village and turned Thornston and herself away from the people.
as well as elsewhere, men are banned from the clergy.”
It was towards
the end of Priest Rose’s grand tour when they discovered the creatures. They
were fat, and large, with little feet that scurried hurriedly all in a line.
yelped when she saw them, and pivoted aside to let them past. They rushed
Golzar instead, some yapping some barking, and all with fluffy light brown
“So these are the High Priestesses’ pets?”
little demons, aren’t they?”
petted the largest one on the head. Cute demons, she thought. She wouldn’t keep
them high up in a tower, though.
At one of the
lowest levels of the Tower, there was a play being staged. A small handful of
younger clerics were watching. Golzar, arms full with a stack of religious
texts Rose had personally lent her, stopped outside the arch to gaze inside
that cramped room.
The handful of
actors stood on either side of the plank, dressed in colourful, puffy costumes.
Cochineal red, a pale blue made from crushed flower petals, and the heroine
with a vivid pink headband they must have bought from Rosaheim.
A piece of blue
cloth draped as the background, and the rickety flotsam as a propped showed
that they were performing ‘Sailor of Zenith’.
Miriam stood on
a wooden plank – barely passing for a raised platform – speaking the lines of
the leading role.
“So this is the
popular craft,” one of the clerics remarked.
crude, isn’t it? That carving is atrocious . . .”
voice swam hot fire. The sword at her belt was a real one, though of cheap
make. It was a slashing sword, so no button at the tip would stop it being
dangerous if Miriam moved the wrong way. The fight scene was well-rehearsed,
though, and each swing was a clear miss that swished fast enough to make a
performative sound of steel cutting the air.
The boy playing
beside Miriam froze convincingly, and then collapsed to the ground, as though
he were wounded. Golzar saw how he tumbled to avoid injuring himself on the way
down. He would make a good swordsman, if he ever gave up the stage. It was not
likely, though, for despite the disparagement of the clerics, those of the
theatre were proud of their line of work.
She could see
it in the line of Miriam’s brow, the quiet dignity as she bowed, even to an
unappreciative audience that was gossiping amongst themselves.
filtered through the door, past Golzar, one by one to begin their carving for
the day. Golzar could smell the sawdust rising from the neighbouring rooms.
One of the things Rose had emphasised were gifts. Golzar’s lip twitched. If
Lucretia weren’t Queen, gifts would be much easier, but what was she supposed
to get someone who could procure anything she wanted at the snap of a finger?
Perhaps there was a simple courtesy gift, customary to give, like the walnuts
for good luck at the house of a noble. For what it was worth, though, Golzar
would have to find out what that gift was.
hadn’t been anyone trying to give King Korvus a gift in her lifetime, so
appropriate gifts for monarchs was not common information.
Golzar turned at the sound of Miriam’s voice, and clear green eyes met hers.
speak outside, if you wish.”
told her anything about the motion. She didn’t have to. She wasn’t obligated to
share any of the Guild’s affairs with an outsider, and perhaps even obligated
to do the opposite and keep it a secret. But looking at Miriam reminded her of
the promise she’d made.
together outside in the corridor. The leaves of an oak tree filled the space
beside them, offering some façade of privacy in the open-air space. Golzar
heard the ceramic tiles clack underneath her as she shifted her feet.
“Any news on
“That kind of
thing . . . isn’t under my jurisdiction, unfortunately.” Golzar raked a hand
through her hair. Miriam watched her intently. “But I hear they are
A young boy
hobbled out of the room, and Golzar recognised him to be the one from the stage.
His face seemed odd and barky. He rubbed one eye, sleepy, and made a gesture to
one end of the corridor, as though he needed to leave. Miriam nodded, and waved
“Let’s speak of
lighter matters. How is your company doing?”
the nervous glance Miriam made in the direction of the boy’s retreating back.
“Is he ill?”
“Been so for a while, Dame.”
There was a low
wall separating the corridor from the tree, one with a flat white top. Golzar
set down her books there, leaving one hand on top of the pile to balance it.
She dug into her pouch. Miriam looked on in silence.
a fistful of copper coins into Miriam’s hand. “Take this. For medicine.”
Golzar!” Miriam clamped her mouth shut again, gaze downcast. “Thank you.”
thought, reaching to catch her pile of books again. The sun shone through the
tall oak tree’s branches, turning a burnished shade. She supposed she could
carve a prayer for Lucretia.
“Sorry, I must
leave you here. I have to get back before dark.”
her eyes misty. “Safe journey to you.”
“You as well,”
The smile fell
from her face when she had turned away. Doubt throbbed in her heart, as she
walked down the tiled path through the gardens and left the High Tower.
It was nearly
dawn when Bryn saw Golzar. She was up early, standing by the doorway to the
halls, and anxiously glancing around. The sky was an indigo stripe, barely
enough light to go riding in.
“Hi. You ready?”
down to their full ensemble of tunic, pants and new leather boots. “Looks it,
acting strangely, they thought. Had been for the past week or so. It wasn’t
like she was hiding something, not more than the usual, but more like she was
nervous in general.
On the way to
the palace, they saw a group of people dressed in heavy tunics. They were
setting up a fair.
Golzar waved at
one of the farmers there, and he waved back, grinning.
these guys?” Bryn whispered.
“Then why are
shrugged. “Why not?”
The leader of
the group stood in the centre, folding her arms. She barked out orders at the
rest of them, something about making sure to set up the tents in the correct
order, not widdershins like they’d accidentally done the last time. “No, I
don’t care if the temple says it’s fine, my Mama’s book always said ‘no
As Golzar and
Bryn were about to carry on journeying, there was the sudden clopping of hooves
behind them. Bryn caught the flutter of mint green and black fabric in the sky.
The Everpresent, or the Mint Butterfly company, was here.
had leaders in the Council had a different air about them. Bryn couldn’t say it
hadn’t affected the Miscreants, too. But Edmund had been a Councillor for a
long time, so his men had the time to adjust to that name and prestige. The one
marching at the forefront was polite enough, giving a shallow bow to the
farmers as they passed, but before long there were loud voices.
picking a fight.
woman from the mass of Everpresent heroes folded her arms. She must have veen
Davis’s superior. “That’s enough.”
got to challenge him to a duel, m’am! You hear what he said?”
say don’t pick up arrows not aimed at you.”
“You women and
your ancients.” Davis hissed.
rolled her eyes. It seemed she would not interfere further.
over to the old farmer. “You’ve got some nerve insulting me to my face!”
All I said was we might need an extra keg for – “
“I’m not a
might have been rude, Bryn thought. But what was an armed man against an
old frail farmer? A menace, he was. Golzar should tell him off and cancel the
duel. She could do that now, couldn’t she?
“Oi, you there!”
Golzar’s voice rang out over the clearing. Bryn turned, eyes wide, to where
Golzar was already dismounting. “Your ego’s really something, if you’re looking
for insults where there are none.”
It had been a
few weeks since Golzar’s last duel. Bryn had almost thought she’d given up on
the duelling entirely, until they woke up this morning to see Golzar’s bastard
sword absent from its usual spot on the sword rack. It was hanging at her belt
now, on her left side, and her hand grazed it as she watched the hero leer at
the man. Bryn blinked in surprise when she let go.
stepping forward, reaching out her hand to take the larger two-handed sword that
the Everpresent leader was offering the farmer.
Golzar!” the woman remarked. “You will duel in his stead?” Murmurs began to
Golzar smiled. “Yes,