Chapter 9:

Not Even The Rats

Paladins of the Pickle Goddess

The guest room in Apis’s home turned out to be mostly full of jars of mead. I woke up cramped in there, heart pounding and wondering where I was for a few panicked moments before I remembered. The goddess. The capitol. The fire.

Duran was gone when I turned to check the rest of the room. I shot to my feet in a few seconds, pulling my cloak on and stumbling out into the main room. There I found him, speaking in a low voice to the bees.

I frowned. That wasn’t right.

“What are you doing?” I stayed a respectable distance back, where the hive couldn’t make any sudden movements. I could feel a rumble starting in my belly, but I tried to ignore it. I was low on money and nothing was cheap here, not even an oat-cake.

He said they need to know what’s happening,” said Duran. He blinked over at me, face set stubbornly. “I was telling them we’ll be freeing those letterboys. They’re innocent, aren’t they?”

I sighed. “Duran, I know this isn’t what you came south for. I’m sorry for…” I was sorry for a lot. It was better not to start thinking about it, before my headache got worse. “I know I sprang all of that on you yesterday. But I meant what I said, about being able to find you a new apprenticeship.”

Easier said than done; an apprenticeship like the one he’d had back home, where he had a guaranteed place, was usually decided by the parents long ahead of when a child would be placed. Duran was far too late, looking in a busy city. Still, I might as well try.

“I wouldn’t just go off and study with someone else!” Duran sprang up and started coming towards me, hands out, like I was a feral cat at the temple grounds. “This- this is better than I could have imagined. I just wanted to leave home. But I’ve already seen a temple, a pub, a beehive, and now I’ll get to see a jail!” He paused. “Besides, you’re a goddess, aren’t you?”

You’re a great influence, Elysia. “I’m not a goddess.” One step at a time. “If you want to stay… you will have to learn to cook.”

“Of course!” said Duran, but as he turned back to the bees, I couldn’t hear any mention of oatcakes in his whispers. Only talk of swords, and victory, and justice. I sighed.

The door opened, and Apis stepped in. He was holding a jug of water and what looked like a linen cloth full of buns. “Would you care for something to eat?”

He smiled vaguely at me. I grabbed for a bun. “Thank you,” I managed, halfway through the first one. Once I swallowed, I managed, “Do you know where they’re being kept?”

The city had two main jails. One was for the truly nasty criminals, a ship anchored out at harbor called the Infamy. Word had it that even the rats out there were desperate for shore. There was also a smaller prison, set next to city hall, called Kingshome. I supposed that they could have also been taken to one of a few small cells in guard stations set around the city, but that didn’t seem to match the level of the crime.

Apis held out the buns like a shield. “The Infamy.”

The bun, which had been pillowy-soft and sweet, turned to floury glue in my mouth. “What? They’re boys!”

“Boys that might have killed a Voice,” he said. “They didn’t want anyone to go missing from Kingshome.”

I took another bite and chewed furiously. “How are we meant to go visit them, then?”

“We’ll go to the docks,” said Apis. “I have a friend with a cart. He lets me borrow it for deliveries most days.”

I finished the bun and set it down, considering Apis. “Why?” I managed. “I know this was your home, but… you don’t know me. Not really. Why are you choosing to trust me?”

“The last Voice of Andrena got murdered,” he said, and for the first time he seemed well-rested, a full person, instead of the alternately desperate and anxious men he’d been yesterday. “Seems like bad business these days to pretend.”

When I didn’t respond, he added, “Besides- it’s not like I can make much money with mead, right? Maybe if I bring Andrena’s temple back, we can change some things about this city.” He offered an additional bun. “Keep your strength up,” he said. “You never know.”

“I’ll be sure to keep it in mind,” I said. I straightened my cloak, brushed some invisible dust off, and straightened my shoulders.

I’d set off from home with no ability in cooking all those years ago, and ended up at that inn for decades. People enjoyed my oatcakes. At least one drunk man had cried about them. The pickle goddess had said my pickles didn’t kill me.

If I had managed to make my way through that, becoming the Voice of the Goddess Andrena was completely within my capabilities. Wasn’t it?

If they don’t murder you, that is. I squished the thought like a crawling bug and turned to my companions. Apis was eating his own bun and saying something to the bees. Duran was strapping the sword across his back.

“Don’t take that to the Infamy,” I said. “They’ll think you’re a criminal.”

“No, they won’t!” He said. “I’ll look like a hero!”

I stared across at him. He stared back. “What if we get in a fight?”

I thought about the Voice of Andrena. She had been murdered. I looked to Apis for support, but he was still muttering to the bees.

If I had been a parent, maybe I would know how to deal with this. As it was, I was dealing with a fourteen year old on my own. I thought it over, and sighed. He already had the sword. How could it go wrong that quickly? He might even learn a lesson about escalating situations.

“Fine,” I said. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Great!” He beamed at me. “I promise I won’t.”

I instantly regretted it, but it was too late to say. Apis was already ushering us out of his apartment. Downstairs, the cart was so broken down I actually mis-took it for a pile of broken crates. It was only when Apis began tying it to a horse that I realized what he was doing.

“No,” I said. “That can’t possibly be safe.”

I stepped back as he smiled at me. I was beginning to fear that smile. That smile said, I grew up in the good will of a goddess, and now I don’t believe in consequences. The temple burning might have been the first time he’d encountered an obstacle he truly couldn’t overcome with sheer force of will.

Then I remembered the failures to get a brewing license, the threats to remove him from his home. He had encountered obstacles. He simply didn’t allow them to compress his optimism for long enough to remember his own mortality.

“You need to understand,” I negotiated. “I enjoy living.”

Before I could finish my argument, Duran was on the cart. As he settled in, it let out one long, loud squeal, like a pig before the slaughter. A splinter had cracked off.

In the dirt below, it left such uneven ruts it looked like a drunken horse had been pulling at it. I kicked at a dying weed.

Apis gave me another mild smile. “It’s sure to be faster,” he said. “Besides, there’s nothing to be worried about. I’ve delivered mead all over the city with this. Surely it can’t be that dangerous.”

The horse it was strapped to didn’t look very enthusiastic either. She was an old mare chewing at the side of a boot that neighed in complaint as Apis climbed upon her back and I settled in the back of the cart next to Duran. He peered over at me, grinning. “Have you been?” He said.

“To the Infamy?” I said. I gripped both sides of the cart. I had to focus on seeming confident, I decided. I had gotten through learning to cook that way. Maybe being a Voice would be that way, too. “No. But I’ve-” I paused. What would the Voice say? “I’ve been on something very much like it,” I said.

I had been on a boat once. That was almost the same.

Apis drove like a born-capitolite, which was to say, he drove like everyone else belonged in a ditch. We took turns at high speed, squealing all the way. We skidded over a bump and I watched one of the wheels half-fall off the axle, only for the cart to thump solidly down and the wheel to fall back in place. When we finally got close to the harbor, though, we came to a dead stop.

Apis leaned back on the horse and sighed. “Everyone’s trying to see the Infamy, it seems.”

I steadied myself with one hand on Duran’s shoulder and pushed myself upwards, standing.

The great road that ran down to the harbor was clogged up, horse to horse, one great stink. I could hear the braying and chatter of people all the way back to where we were, complaining and laughing and craning their heads. There was no movement, save for a slight chatter midway through where a woman was walking through, selling meat buns.

It wasn’t just the volume of people trying to see the Infamy. I could see the faint haze of uniforms through the traffic. Green and gray, for the Spire and the hand of the Law. The guards of the capitol.

I sat down and crossed my arms, thinking. “They’ve got a blockade,” I said.

“You think that’s why they’re out?” Said Apis. “Sometimes they just have guards anyway. The Infamy, well-”

I should have known it wouldn’t be this easy. I leaned forward and pressed my hands into a prayer. Andrena, anything?

Duran stood up, shaking the cart. “Do you think I could cut our way through?” he said.

“Under no circumstance,” I said, still in the praying position, “Are you going to cut your way through.”

“I just think it would speed things up,” he said. “You know, so we can get on with being heroes.”

“I think a fundamental aspect of heroism,” said Apis, “Is not slicing everyone you meet with a sword.”

There was a long and disbelieving silence, punctuated by the braying of donkeys and quarreling over the price of meat buns. The woman was moving closer. I could smell the buns. I took advantage of the silence to pray again. Really, I thought. Anything. Just a small bit of inspiration.

“How would you know,” demanded Duran. “It’s not like you’re a hero! You’re just a- a- a worker!” he paused. “Well, you’re all right, I suppose. But I do want to use my sword.”

I put my hands down. From the mouths of babes. “Apis. Have you delivered to the prison before?”

He snorted. “The Infamy doesn’t want mead. That’s above me. Besides, they aren’t exactly helping the prisoners.”

“They have to let some carts through,” I said. “Workers and such.” There were a few buildings trapped beyond the blockade, although it was mostly warehouses and a few shuttered bars.

“…I suppose,” He said, frowning.

“Right,” I said. “Turn around.”