“Hold on now!” Orrin said, slowly backing away from Pierson, hands held in a gesture of peace. “You promised! Please… Hear me out!”
Pierson stopped stalking towards him and looked about again. Eris followed his eyes, taking in the same rickety shelves that he saw, overflowing with unfurling scrolls like banners, and stacked high with books that were dropping pages like leaves onto the heavily dusty floor. Footprints in that dust showed her that this room had been in use before they’d arrived, but only by one person since all the steps seemed to be of the same size. Down the way, past the shelves, she could see that there was only one door allowing them out, and the hatch that they’d come through was nearly up against the back wall of this cool dark room.
“Oh, this better be good.” Said Pierson, folding his arms, his golden robes rustling as he did.
The younger man smiled ruefully. “You remind me of one of one of my teachers here.”
Pierson looked down at his robe, dirtied as it was and frowned. “So you’re training for the priesthood. Well, you wouldn’t be the first to go through all that and come out on the other side as something else. You seem to have got there sooner than some, I suppose.”
“It’s this archive that’s to blame. I was assigned just to help in the library, but the librarian, Blessed Garill, was getting older and blinder. So he gave me all his duties, and all of his keys. I found this locked archive not long after. Prohibited texts, kept away from innocent eyes.” He smirked. “I read what I could, most of its falling apart. Come though, we should get to my chambers. They’re not far and you can rest, eat, and bathe there.” He looked eager, but Pierson was still cautious.
“We’ll be seen.”
“It’s deep in the night. There’s no one about. You must remember who well priests like their sleep.”
Pierson stared at the man. “How did you know I was once a real priest? Ah, Estille told you that as well? Aint she just the little storyteller herself. Pillow talk was it?”
Orrin looked uncomfortable.
“If we come with you, how do we know we can trust you?” Eris asked quickly. “You fooled us into some game below, and saved your silly neck. Don’t you ever just tell the bloody truth?”
Orrin looked down at her, matching his slate grey eyes with her angry green ones. “I am pleased to have finally met a real woods-voln and learnt for myself how even their words are piercing sharp! Eris, I swear to you this, I only serve the bastard gods, whatever serving them actually means! But I knew, as soon as saw you – a woods-voln in Bara! – as soon as I heard that you knew their stories and that you were a true healer, I knew that you must have been sent by them to me. So that I could help you!”
Eris looked at him sceptically. But his face was earnest in the red light of the torch. “We’ll come with you for now.”
“Good. There are things I need to show you! But first, we should go.”
He led them down the stacks of forbidden texts, before then sneaking a look beyond the door he unlocked from the inside. He drew them on behind him through a fine vaulted hall filled with more elaborate shelves and better cared for books. Eris heard Pierson grumbling as he read titles in passing, muttering about something or another under his breath. Desks were piled over with papers, and Eris stifled a giggle as she saw Pierson tip one or two of the mountains over, letting paper flutter chaotically to the floor. Sometimes he’d knock at an ink pot with the back of a hand so that it spilled and flooded carefully illuminated pages with black or blue. Orrin saw what he was doing but said nothing. He merely led them on quickly to the great doors of the library. Beyond them was another torch lit corridor, which Orrin seemed to know well, and soon they were outside a plain wooden door, one among many. He unlocked it and ushered them in, still carefully scouting the shadows of the halls for watching eyes.
Inside was a large study with other doors leading off from it. Much like the ones in the library the finely crafted desk was overflowing with books and scrolls, although, Eris’ sharp eyes noticed a fine layer of dust on them. Pierson walked in and picked up a large brown and gold volume, rubbing his fingers together once he also saw the dust.
“The ‘Light of Lios’.” Pierson said simply. Orrin was locking the door behind them, watched by a stern Nemnir. He looked up at the mountain-voln, and almost audibly gulped.
“Yes. Of course. Not one of my favourite books, but here we are.” Orrin gestured towards one of the doors. “Please, there’s a water room in there, and the door beside it leads to my bed chamber. Pierson, help yourself to whatever clothes will fit, so replace that robe that fits you so ill.”
Eris looked at the robe in confusion, it seemed the right size to her.
“Apologies. I have nothing that will fit you good Nemnir. An old shirt might make a dress for you Eris, but you’re probably best off in your leathers-”
“You talk a lot.” Eris said bluntly, making both Pierson and Nem laugh as they checked out the rest of the room.
“True. There’s a reason why my tongue has been put to work by the bastard gods, to tell their stories.” He went to a cupboard and brought out platters with bread and cheese, a green glass bottle surrounded by woven wicker, and a covered glazed jug of water. “Please, eat. Drink. Or wash. As you wish.”
Nemnir took off his great sword and his hide shield before collapsing onto a low couch, swamping it, and grabbed a hunk of bread to eat. Pierson disappeared into the other rooms, reappearing while Eris was still just standing and considering the storyteller with an arched eyebrow in the face of his friendly smiles. Pierson was now wearing a tunic over leathers.
“Not the clothes that I’d expect from a priest in training.” He said, looking down at his borrowed outfit.
“But perfect for a storyteller mixing with rogues.” Orrin said pointedly. He was eating as well, sitting back in a high back wooden chair, but he suddenly put his plate down, heading over towards a wall hanging. The quality embroidery showed a young boy in golden armour marching at the head of a great army. Lios himself, Eris assumed, perhaps from when he subdued the Delvenight pass, or when he drove back the wild men of the East. She wasn’t certain, her mother had never told her many of those kinds of stories. Orrin pulled it back without any reverence to reveal the plain stones of the wall. He worked at one, pushing and pulling it until it came out and revealed a small dark space behind it.
“Here. This is what I wanted you to see.” He came back to them with a scroll, aged and cracked. “I found this when I was exploring the archive. It’s maybe not much in itself, well, let me show you.” He came and stood by Eris and unrolled it. She looked at the ink squiggles on its length and shared her confusion with him.
“I can’t read.”
“Oh! My apologies. It’s a list. Some scholar once attempted to write a list of woods-voln greenings and their symptoms.”
Pierson came closer to look. “Attavine, fluid builds in the lungs. Vasitegloom, blindness and an ache of the head that kills with pain… there’s not many here.”
“True. But they are not in fact the most exciting thing about the scroll-” He went to turn it over, but Pierson stopped him.
Eris flinched a little at the name. The boy. That damned boy!
“Yes, I said I had come across the name before. Although, this scholar could not find a description of its symptoms and signs…”
“No. You’re wrong. That’s not what he’s written. Look, it’s not all that clear but here.” Pierson pointed. “‘No signs’! No signs it says!”
Eris remembered the odd question Pierson had asked, so very long ago it seemed now. He’d wondered if there could be a greening that kills without giving clue that a poison was even used: a greening without signs. Pierson stared at the list and spoke the name again, “Gyreblack”
“No one makes Gyreblack anymore, Pierson. The knowledge of that greening died out years back; my mother said it was so. Even if the boy claimed to be some ‘Kur Gyreblack’, he aint! He can’t be!”
Orrin was watching them, his storyteller’s curiosity focussed on them both, but he still seemed excited about something else.
“Please, look here too.” He turned the scroll about finally, and showed them the wax seal that had once kept the scroll rolled up. Frayed lengths of older looking parchment hung from where they’d been pressed underneath the brown gold wax. “This is not unusual, the reuse of older parchment for decoration, the words are normally faded and unimportant.” He raised one of the lengths towards Pierson. “But this is not much older than the scroll, its faded ink is of an age with the greenings list.”
Pierson squinted. “The writing’s small. It’s a line from the Light of Lios isn’t it? The part about who followed him in the beginning. When he was a boy… not even as old as you Eris.”
“Read it carefully.” Said Orrin, nervous energy making his movements jittery.
Pierson looked closer. “And with the archers, the swordsmen, and the great healers there was also a boy in training and service… oh.” The rogue paled, “No, that’s not right. That’s not what we’re taught. They followed him. He led them across the world, and… no, no he fucking didn’t. He never did. How old is this?!”
“As best I can tell… older than the first version we have of the Light of Lios that’s under lock and key in Liosinium. The parchment is chalky, the result of a way of making it that was replaced by the method used in the making of the Light of Lios.”
“So this… might be the truth of Lios?”
“One of them, maybe.” Whispered Orrin conspiratorally.
“I don’t understand. Does it matter if he followed or if he led? He’s still a god-king, isn’t he?” asked Eris.
Orrin smiled gently, “You think like a woods-voln whose been brought up on stories of the bastard gods. Gods who follow, who weep, who love. Who are imperfect and cursed. Your friend Pierson and I, and even Nem, who’d be interested if he hadn’t sated himself on my wine, have been told of a golden boy in golden armour who conquered the world by leading great heroes into battle!” he gestured at the wall hanging of Lios and his army. “He still leads. The front still eats up our people. But if he was just a boy, then what of the god?”
“Well, he’s still immortal.” Said Eris.
“I’ve never seen him in person, have you?”
Eris looked from Pierson to Orrin and back again. She knew this was a dangerous blasphemy, beyond even Pierson’s rejection of the king who’d sent him to kill and maim in his army years back. Pierson looked sick, and Orrin was too ablaze with his own faith in the bastard gods to see the effect his words had had on him. Eris touched Pierson’s arm.
“It wasn’t a world that was good. The one where he was what you thought he was. This world is the right and good one, even if it’s spinning at the moment.”
Pierson smiled wanly. “You clever, sharp tongued, woods-voln. You’re right of course. Fuck Lios!”
Eris smiled back. “Right!”