Chapter 15:

Temple of Cabellus

Paladins of the Pickle Goddess


The sounds of Flight’s Feast trickled in through the tent. Screaming. Chanting about godkillers. Prayer to the beetle.

The smells filtered through. Dirt, sweat, incense, and sweet honey.

I tried not to itch at my tunic again.

The two priestesses of Andrena we’d come to meet were working on their lace again, eyes intent. They had apparently decided our conversation was done. Whatever being chosen by Marcia meant, it was good enough for them.

“I wanted to ask-”

“You’re here to fix the Spire, then?”

I thought it was Lucia that asked. The clicking of the bobbin was mesmerizing. Back and forth, movement even even as the pattern grew. Another bee was emerging at the corner of the lace, darting into an intricate flower.

Fix it?”

“Of course it needs fixing. They’re all in there panicking. No replacement.” Another click. “We didn’t expect you, of course. Marcia never did like to tell us these things.”

“I’m not the Voice,” I said. Apis and Duran were both silent, watching me as if I was running the entire conversation. I did not like the situation at all. “I’m just- I’ve been sent to find justice.”

Click-Click. “You don’t wish to be the Voice of Andrena?”

“I wasn’t asked to be the Voice of Andrena! She just wanted me to be her-” I paused. Mortal Instrument sounded pretty unfortunately close, actually. “…Her, ah. Investigator.”

The clicking slowed. After a moment, it resumed. Lucia glanced over at me again.

Duran piped up, finally. “We’re here to investigate the temple!”

“He’s the Voice?”

“He’s my apprentice. Apprentice in cookery,” I added, in case they thought I was going to put him into the priesthood. I would be hard-pressed to find someone less suitable.

“Hmmmm.” I thought that was Stella.

Another set of clicking, and she turned around again. She reached for a delicate linen handkerchief and mopped at her forehead, then at the back of her neck where her short hair stuck out in all directions.

“Well,” she said, eventually, “Can’t say we aren’t disappointed. We’re in great need of a Voice. It would be the first year since the founding of the Empire Andrena hasn’t been represented.”

She stared at me for a moment longer. I tried to sit up straighter. I had the strangest feeling I was back in school again, trying to demonstrate my good manners.

“There’s still time.” There was Apis again, ruining it. “We have more than a week for her to go to the Spire. Can we not do both?”

At least it meant Stella glanced away from me. It was almost comical, how her face softened as soon as she looked over at Apis.

“Well,” she said. “I suppose you can. But it would be better to go now, when they’re sequestered. There are many fundamental conversations you’re missing. The question of funding for new temple construction alone- I just know Ursus is going to try and squeeze in on us-”

“Enough about politics,” interrupted Apis. “We wanted to know about the night everything happened.”

“There are many nights.” Lucia had turned back to the bobbin, the thick braid swinging as she moved. “Be specific in which path you take.”

“The night the temple was burned. What happened?” His expression didn’t even change at the correction.

“We were here. The lace has to be made.”

“Lucky we were, too!” Stella leaned forward from where she leaned against the booth’s table. “I’m sure you’ve seen it. Nothing except our figure of Andrena- may her honey ever-flow- survived. I weep for Marcia, really I do, but I wish she could have at least managed a bucket of water on her way out of the world.” She paused. “May her honey ever-flow, too. I hope she’s found her way to the fields of eternal night by now.”

She sighed and mopped at her forehead with the linen again. It was soaked with sweat, so much that it was re-depositing water upon her skin. “Such a pity.”

“That’s what happens when we’re left with so few priestesses! And the ones we have, always the ones not chosen to take the shameless bribes from Teuthida.” There was a hacking noise of Lucia spitting in disgust. “As if we’d ever lower ourselves like that! Back in our day, you know as well as I do, you only went to the temple if you were desperate or properly dedicated. None of this payment nonsense.”

“I won’t have any of it blamed on Candida! She’s a lovely young lady, you know, and always helps me when my knees are giving out.”

“Lovely this, lovely that. She doesn’t live at the temple! Only comes in during her work hours! No wonder someone was able to infiltrate it!”

“She keeps a sharp eye.” Stella ran the linen across her forehead again. “We do have trouble staffing the temple, but she was there that night,” she added. “You ought to just ask her.”

“Ha! Good luck getting anything out of that girl. She’ll ask you to pay her for her time!”

“Candida’s been sent to our other temple in Northside,” added Stella. She sighed. “All of that extra time for her! She worked so hard to get somewhere to stay in the Temple District. Now look at us.”

She gave me another sharp glance. “Another reason we need representation. We’ll be left without our biggest temple until someone convinces both the Temple and the Law to help us fund it.”

I glanced towards the incense burning at the front of their stall. “You don’t have donations?”

“People donate what they can. Not enough to build a new temple.”

Stella turned back to the bobbin at last. “Good luck,” she said. “Marcia was a strange one, you know. Never did what anyone expected of her. But when it was really important, she was stable as an oak.”

I stood, adjusting the chair so it was more neatly in the corner. My bruised rib was throbbing again. I wished we hadn’t given away that mead. I could use some of it myself.

“Thank you,” I said, even though I wasn’t entirely sure we’d learned anything.

“Tell that girl she needs to live in the temple, already!”

“Peace, Lucia.” Apis bowed to both of them before we left. “I’ll tell her good wishes from both of you and bubbles in her mead evermore.”

“You little sneak. I should have given you to the temple of Cabellus when I had the chance.”

“Blessings upon you too, Lucia.”

He leaned in. Stella kissed him on the cheek, hands busy again. “Be careful. These are dangerous times. Too many guards about.”

“When have I ever gotten in trouble?”

They both glanced towards Duran. Under their stares, he very slowly re-sheathed the sword.

“I just wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be attacked in here,” he said. He kicked at the dirt. “Are you really not going to get another temple?”

“Andrena will provide,” Apis replied, before either woman could get a chance. “Worry is not useful when action can be taken. Allow what you cannot see to grow.”

“Temple of Cabellus,” grouched Lucia at that, but she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek too as we left the booth.

“Are they always like that?” I managed, when we were finally out of earshot.

The crowds had resumed their earlier boisterous chaos, although the sun was now low in the sky and the afternoon heat was thick. I saw someone go by with two candied apples on sticks, a dog darting around his feet; behind him, a woman carried two crying babies. Overhead, every time the breeze came through the bells in their branches rang with a chiming that echoed through the entire festival.

“Quick,” I said, because I wanted to be a little mean. “Duran, what are the top five spices you smell?”

He stopped walking behind me.

“All I smell is dirt!” He sniffed again. “And sweat.”

“Try again,” I said.

I could only smell two. Maybe three, if I counted the honey. The incense used for the beetle was sandalwood and cinnamon. Bark for the beetle to chew on. I would leave the other three spices as a nice little test for Duran.

“Cinnamon?” he managed.

I let him think about it while we walked through a few more blocks of the festival.

“They did seem depressed,” replied Apis, eventually. He had been trudging along next to us, unusually uninterested. “Maybe I should be visiting more often. I’ve been unreliable in my duties-”

I held out a hand. “Five spices.”

“What?”

“Don’t get distracted about your failings, real or not,” I said. “We’re going to go investigate the rest of this injustice. Marcia will be avenged. I think that’s fulfilling your duty to the temple.”

Apis sighed. “They think I’m…” he couldn’t even say the lie. I was impressed he’d managed to hold on this long.

I remembered the rapid-fire questions, the way Lucia had leaned over and delivered judgement and warmth with the same quick venom.

No. It wasn’t surprising he’d told the truth to a stranger before the priestesses.

“Does it matter? They know what matters. We’re finding out about the temple.”

“So you aren’t going to-”

“No,” I said.

Duran turned around. He’d picked up a stick of still-burning incense and was alternately holding it up to his nose, then pulling it away when it became too much and he started coughing. “Sandalwood,” he said. “Sugar- cloves- and maybe cardamom? And anise?”

“One of those is correct.”

I reached out and pulled the incense out of his hand, putting it out. We were within walking distance of the cart, now. “Apis. Do you think we could make it to that temple before nightfall?”

“No need.” Apis was sniffing the air, too, brow furrowed. “I agree. I think it’s cloves.”

“What do you mean, no need?”

“Ah. Well, Candida’s boarding at a women’s house in the Temple District.” He pointed in a vague direction. “They have a curfew at nightfall. She’ll be there by now.”

sheepish
icon-reaction-1
ammonoids
badge-small-silver
Author: