Pierson’s new found enthusiasm seemed to include happily delving into Orrin’s supply of wine, but later, as he and the storyteller traded jokes, puns, stories, and lies, Eris wondered if he was actually hiding behind that smile. But she was tired, weary from trying to look beyond the obvious all the time. She missed her mother’s sweet simple ways, and her mother’s mother’s blunt honesty. Although, as her head began to droop even as Orrin and Pierson found yet another bottle to open, she feared that they had had their secrets too. The marks that united them, the swirls of darker skin, had been an open thing between them, but their meaning was always unspoken. Their name, Atta-Sutith, had been treated as a relic, when it was nothing like the dry and collapsing books Orrin had walked them past in the forbidden room. It was a living thing, a power within her that had reformed her foot, saved Nem, and healed the city-voln child. In near sleep her thoughts began to jumble together. The jokes, puns, stories, and lies bled together as she listened to Orrin and Pierson with half an ear, watched over by a drowsy Nemnir. The jokes, puns, stories and… and…
Nemnir stood slowly, pulled her up from her chair, and carried her out of the room without pausing for permission. Pierson and Orrin watched them go, theatrically shushing each other, and stage whispering to each other about being gentlemen and letting the girl sleep in Orrin’s bed. That was where Nem took her, carefully laying her down and pulling up soft linens to cover her leathers. She muttered some thanks, but found darkness already reaching for her.
The night passed fitfully for Eris. Laughter from the other room calmed over time, but still she stirred occasionally, thinking she still heard voices in the dark. The boy was in her dreams too. His shocked face when she’d pointed to him in the tavern. His deep red hair and green eyes, reminding her too much of her mother’s. His false name, a repeating sound in her head as she tried to reshape it into his true name. Kur. Kur Gyreblack. Kur. A lie. Lies… stories, pun, and jokes, echoing about inside her head long after the men had gone their own way to sleep. Shades of Pierson with her, skilfully bragging about his beautiful and clever ladies to a city-voln who’d only ever seen one woods-voln before, the ragged and sleepy Eris in his chambers. Orrin’s ghost with her, recounting conquests of wit versus wit. The time he’d out-haggled a tradesman for a coat of such finery the other priests had looked poisoned with a greening that had stained their faces that same colour. The time he’d written poetry of such outstanding skill for a lady of dark stormy eyes that she’d welcomed him into her chambers, even as her husband worked in his study just a few doors away. Figures from their tales danced about in her head, all the while she tried to find the Gyreblack boy, and tell him… tell him that the greening that he’d claimed had no signs. No signs at all. An unnatural thing, a confusing thing. Why would a greening have no signs, how would anyone know who had done the killing? How could Lios be a god and a boy? Another confusing thing that had driven Pierson to drink. He drank in her dreams, sitting instead with a dark haired woods-voln man, a shadow she thought she remembered, a figure standing over Harl, his hands on the boy’s shoulders. But not threatening… protecting. She turned, and turned, and drowned in her sheets, waves of dreams crashing over her.
She woke in the early rise of the sun, blinking as she sat up, turning about with her leathers creaking slightly, figuring out where she was. Memory returned and she crept out from the stranger’s bedroom with its piles of discarded clothes and scattered books. She returned to the study where Nem was a large shape longer than the couch that he was lying upon. She found Pierson awkwardly slumped in a highbacked chair, and saw the storyteller sitting at his desk with his feet up on it, arms crossed and deep in sleep. She considered the man, remembering some of his wine –inspired bragging the night before.
She took a step back as one of his eyes suddenly creaked open.
“Morning. Ugh.” The eye closed again as the wine began its revenge. “You couldn’t fetch this idiot a cup of water could you?”
She nodded and found a cup among the mess of his room, filling it up in the water room where a jug was waiting by a washbowl. Still with his feet on his desk and his eyes shut, Orrin gulped it down. They stayed closed even as he whispered to her.
“Your friend Pierson is an old drunk, do you know that? He put away more than half my store from home. I’ll have to write for more.” He paused. “No, no I won’t. I won’t be staying here. Eris, speak on my behalf with your friends.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I want to come with you.” He groaned, and cracked open his eyes, squinting. “This might not be the best time to plead my case; when there’s stale wine on my tongue and I’m unwashed and uncombed… but I can be an asset.” He sat up properly, slowly leaning forward towards her. “I need to come with you; I need to find more stories of the bastard gods. There’s what you know, and what Pierson’s woods-voln ladies know… and other woods-voln if they’ll talk with me rather than fill me with arrows! The few stories I’ve found in Bara are old and stale now, I need more!”
Eris considered him with cool green eyes, assessing his height and muscles. For someone who’d surrounded themselves with broken and dusty books he looked neither himself. “Can you fight?”
He looked up at her where she stood over him. His eyes flicked to where Pierson and Nemnir were beginning to stir. “I… well… I…”
“I’ve never had to, it’s true.”
“Then how exactly are you an asset?”
“She’s got you there.” Pierson was just sitting forward, head resting in his hands. “Fireside tales are well and good but we’re running a firm here. We got dangerous things to do.”
“That why you’ve adopted twelve lost city-voln lads?” Asked Orrin with a smirk. “Isn’t that the case? I remember you blabbing something about that last night. So, then what’s one more lost city-voln?”
“They were going to work for Jerekyn, earn their way back to Tralis…” Began Eris.
“And that’s not going to work out. Not now your friend has put a hole in Jerekyn. Look, maybe I don’t know my way about a roarer, or a bow, or whatever. But I work hard… when I want to.” He looked up at Eris with pleading eyes, and she in turn looked to Pierson and Nem for guidance. Pierson shrugged as Nemnir suddenly walked closer with his sword in his hand. Orrin stood quickly in fear, beginning to stutter a pleasantry, but the mountain-voln merely handed the large sword to him. The younger man was muscled, but no mountain-voln, and the weight of it pulled him down. He struggled mightily to lift it and give it back to Nem.
“I think that means Nem wants you to join us.” Said Eris. “Or maybe he just wants a hand carrying his gear.”
“Good mountain-voln, if you could help?!” He struggled with the sword until Nem took it back. He staggered as the mountain-voln clapped him on the shoulder before he headed to the water room.
Orrin looked relieved, then looked about the room. “Do you want to stay here for some time? I can keep up the pretence of classes and prayers; have food delivered to my rooms when you are hidden away. No one will know you are all here.”
Pierson slowly got to his feet, groaning. “Not sure what choice we have. Not even sure we can get out of Bara with Jerekyn on our tails! He’s bound to have city guards in his pay. By the bastard gods!” He exclaimed and rubbed his face.
Orrin laughed. “Oh that’s simple!” he groaned at his own loudness. “The god’s tunnels. They weave under the city…. and out of it.”
Pierson stared at him. “You couldn’t have mentioned that when we were down there?!”
“And miss out on a chance for a delightful evening with such interesting company?”
Eris frowned. “And the chance to convince us to take you with us?”
“You are as sharp as you are pretty, Eris.”
Nem had returned, and gave a warning rumble at Orrin’s flattery. He backed away from Eris. “You can all wash and ready yourselves for the day. I have some things I need to gather!”
He seemed to shake off his wine-head, and darted about the room gathering far more books than he should want to carry in the woods. After a cautionary word from Pierson, Orrin settled instead on a few smaller handwritten journals, the scroll, and more practical and personal items.
Eris left the men to their preparations and washed herself as best she could in the basin in the water room, away behind a closed door. As she undressed, part by part, and cleansed herself where she could, she thought on her night’s jumbled dreams. The boy, the lying Gyreblack. They’d be returning to the woods, and he’d still be here in the city… if he’d gotten away from Jerekyn’s men that was. The thought of one of those thugs taking him out cheered her not at all, even if that’s what she had demanded in exchange for giving herself over to Jerekyn’s service. She wanted to find him herself and…
She cut off that thought as someone knocked on the door. Orrin. “I’ve had pastries brought up from the kitchens while I had Pierson and Nem hide together in my room” He laughed at that thought. “The pastry maids here are geniuses, you must have some. The crust cakes in particular are very fine!”
“I’ll be out in a moment.” She quickly retied her leathers, and re-joined them about the low table. Orrin was right about the pastries, but her thoughts in the water room made even their sweetness sour. Pierson watched her carefully, and did so for much of the rest of the day as they waited for the temple to quieten and their chance to leave to arrive. Eventually, when Pierson had almost been driven to wine again by all the waiting, Orrin at last announced it was safe to leave. Eris had been a bag of jittering nerves herself for hours and was glad to be finally creeping along the corridors of the temple a wary hand on the hilt of her dagger. But soon enough they were back in the library and Orrin was using a large iron key to take them into the forbidden room, and leading them to the tunnels’ entrance beneath the watch of the baleful eye of Lios.
They came to the bottom of the climb, and Orrin relit the torch. Again their eyes were drawn to the shapes of the bastard gods on the walls, and Eris watched Nem and Pierson marking them off again, counting in their heads. Eris had another plan. This time she touched a few fingers to each of them as she passed them, reaching out to both sides of the tunnel to make physical contact. For some reason she felt as if touching them would root them there long enough for her to count them right. She hung back to do it, letting the others walk ahead, just in case Orrin thought it was some kind of sacrilege.
One, two, three, four. She felt the dryness of the walls, a falling dust drifting from them and swirling on the flagstones below. Her fingers were soon dusted as well, and she stopped to rub her fingertips together, feeling the soft slickness made by the powder. In a sudden movement she tasted it, licking quickly with the tip of her tongue, just as she had done the ghostblight greened arrowhead that’d pierced Nemnir. The taste was acrid; a high piercing taste that made the small light of Orrin’s departing torch flare as her eyes widened. She licked again, and then moved closer to one of the walls to inhale the dust deeply.
“Eris?” Pierson’s voice came from a hundred years away as Eris fell into the past, watching as the gods danced on the walls and shook coloured powders from the simple lines that made their arms. The colours swirled about her and she breathed them in, not caring that she was falling. She only saw the gods twisting about her, and the boy, the Gyreblack boy, now just within the reach of her dagger.