Chapter 20:

Chamomile Candor

Paladins of the Pickle Goddess


Duran glanced over at me, eyes wide. I took stock of the rest of the tea-house. We weren’t anything notable, stood as we were next to the large table. Just another set of patrons. Apis coughed slightly in the haze of smoke coming from the pipe, the surface of the table polished. The woman hunched over the table continued scribbling, not looking up as she wrote. The stack of papers next to her grew taller as she added another piece to the pile.

At the end of the room, a cup clinked.

I nodded slightly. Duran sat first, dragging out a chair with a screech of wood along the floor.

Only when we were all seated did the man place his pipe back in his mouth and lean forward to un-stack a few more cups, placing them down and pouring out tea in a steady stream. He didn’t bother to speak. The others still paid us no mind.

“Are you the Voices?” I asked.

“I’ve always liked this blend,” said the man. He slid over the cup. It nearly tipped, reaching me, yet at the very last second it hit a ripple in the wood. I watched the pale surface undulate, nearly over-tipping the rim before finally recovering. Only once it was still did I reach for the cup. “Grown here, unlike most. You’re familiar with it?”

Of course I was.

“Who doesn’t know Chamomile?”

Not my favorite, as it happened. I wanted flavor, not just some leaves left in water until they lost all personality. I still raised the cup to my lips, let the tea burn my tongue before lowering it again.

“Decimus,” said the man with dark hair. He tapped his pipe again, settling the leaf. No one else was smoking in here, and the smoke made my throat heavy. It was rude, these days, to fill a place with smoke. Especially one with so few windows. “Most know me as Ludo, though.”

This was the man that had dealt with the alter? I watched him thoughtfully. One of the most powerful Small Gods. Gambling, chance. He didn’t look particularly lucky.

“I thought everyone was locked in the Spire for contemplation.” A few of the more minor Voices. Those were who I had been trying to speak to. The larger gods, they should all be vying for power right now- trying to get a better place in the Spire.

“Ha.” The woman writing scribbled something else down. “As if we’d participate in that farce.”

Another scribbling movement. She didn’t attempt to explain further.

“As if you were invited,” said the old man. His voice was low, grumbling. He glanced over at me. “Some of us are in the Spire, yes. But not all.”

“We don’t want to get burned,” snapped the young woman. She broke a biscuit in half and dipped it into the tea, then bit it again with her back teeth. Crumbs scattered all across the table. She was in constant movement.

I didn’t know enough about the small gods. I glanced across. “You are…”

“Gaius,” said the bearded man first. “Voice of Pisces.”

I had to double-blink at that. Next to the god of the harvest, Pisces was one of the greatest of the Small Gods- God of Fisherman. For him to be here, there was something large afoot.

He must have been the one to send Decimus to guard the alter after it first burned. I glanced between them, but they didn’t behave as though one gave the other orders. In fact, they were both staring at me intently.

Take those eyes away. I’m nothing special. I cleared my throat. “A pleasure.”

“Marcella. Voice of Lepus.” The girl was chewing on the biscuit more fiercely. I didn’t recognize the name. One of the small small gods, then.

Apis leaned in. “Prey animals,” he said. “For every hunter, there is the hunted.”

I glanced between Marcella and Gaius. They seemed to be getting along well enough. Perhaps she didn’t represent the fish.

The woman with the long braid down her back still didn’t look up. “Everyone’s introduced themselves,” said Marcella. “Do you mind?”

She finally looked up. She had a lovely face, round and smooth, although she was perhaps a little older than me. Now that she was no longer covering the paper, I could see what she had been writing. It was a hand-written pamphlet.

THE LAW IS LYING TO YOU!

They will kill the gods- who else will they destroy?

DEMAND HONESTY!

THE SPIRE MUST BE CRACKED!

At my gaze, she covered the paper with an arm. I watched the ink smear as she began to speak. “Prisca. I am the Voice of Carmen.” Her eyes flared with what might have been impatience. “She represents song, verse, beauty in word. Not that many appreciate her these days.”

“My pleasure,” I said. Before I could continue, she was speaking again.

“You, of course, are Andrena’s helper.” Her voice was dripping with disdain. “We are wasting time speaking to you. Your time would be better spent inside the Spire, forcing Cabellus to admit to his collusion with the law.”

I can’t explain why I glanced over at Apis first. These were his people, of a fashion. I was panicked. Yet his face was just as blank.

“How do you-”

“You think we get no news? You’ve been spreading it all over the city.” Her voice was dripping in resentment. “You came to speak with us last. As always. As everyone. Yet we are the ones in danger.”

“Andrena’s temple was burned! She was the one killed!” Well, her voice was killed. I still thought she was being rather unfair.

“Our altar was burned, too. Yet we are the ones arrested and hunted. Celeres has done nothing and yet she must run.” The quill in her hand bent under the pressure before Gaius, reaching over, forced her to put it down on the table.

“We’re all distressed,” he said.

“You’re afraid to go into the spire,” I said, still angry. “Yet you want me to go in? The last Voice of Andrena got burned. Even if I was- which I’m not!- you think I should just throw myself in?” Every time I said the denial, it sounded weaker. The voices didn’t even respond this time.

“You have a sword.” Marcella was twitching. “You could-”

“We encourage nothing.” Ludo tapped out the pipe. I was holding back a mighty sneeze. It felt like I was back in the inn, rude patrons and all. “Although some of us would like you to represent us in the Spire. You have a week left. Plenty of time.”

“You would say that.” Prisca glared at Ludo, then grabbed the quill and peeled her arm off of the smeared pamphlet.

“If you’re so angry at Andrena, why are you writing pamphlets about her?”

“No one will listen to pamphlets about Celeres!” Her writing was making jabs and holes in the parchment. “I do what I must.”

Celeres seemed like she was very popular, if she already had altars in temples for the major gods. Likely many people would support a movement for her safety. I didn’t mention my thoughts on the matter.

“Let’s start over.” I coughed. “I’m trying to find out what happened. The truth. If the Voice of Cabellus is responsible, don’t you want me to have all the evidence before I pursue him? I can go to the Spire and find him guilty.”

“You need no further evidence. His element is fire. Everything has burned. He’s putting his name on it. He knows no one will convict him. The entire city is in his pocket!” That was from Prisca.

I glanced at the rest of the table. Ludo said nothing. Marcella took another loud bite of her biscuit.

Only Gaius responded. “Nothing wrong with learning more,” he said. “It will all point back to him. The stronger the evidence, the less they can doubt. He was awful bold to take a stab at Andrena.”

“You’re getting old and lazy,” snarled Prisca. “You only want to eat your anchovies and nap.”

“Let her ask her questions. She will learn what she must.”

I looked between the two of them.

“Please,” said Duran. “Miss Elysia is scary. She’ll never let someone get away if they did something. Back at the Inn, she once-”

I reached out a hand. He didn’t need to keep going. “That was one time.”

“He’s right,” said Apis. “I watched her yell at the guards on the Infamy, just to try and find some missing boys. She would never let the Voice of Cabellus get away with such a crime, if he is guilty.”

“That was an extenuating circumstance.”

The table had all turned to look at me. “You’ll truly fight for Andrena?” said Prisca. “For all of us?”

“We were trying to save Letterboys on the Infamy,” said Duran, earnestly. “Miss Elysia cares about Celeres, too.”

The most generous reading of events possible, from Duran’s mouth. I tried to cover my surprise.

“I was brought here to bring justice. If you don’t wish to help, then you don’t need to. But I don’t enjoy you accusing me of ignoring my duty.” She’s right, though, isn’t she? All I wanted to do was ignore this mission. Here were people who really cared, who had known the Voice of Andrena. Next to me was Apis, who had been raised by her. Who was I? Just a woman who had eaten a bad pickle. I swallowed. The only way out was through.

I glanced towards the sword at Duran’s side. It didn’t seem like much, if I ended up having to fight the Voice of Cabellus. He was a god of war, after all.

“I believe her.” Decimus seemed like he’d believe most anything. “Andrena’s always seemed like a clever goddess. The last Voice knew how the dice were rolling.”

“Thank you.” I tightened my hands on the teacup. “On the day that everything happened…did she say anything? Seem as though she was worried?”

“There isn’t much to say,” said Decimus. “We were deciding who to send and who to keep from the Spire. The Voice of Andrena wasn’t with us. Not for long, anyway.”

“She wasn’t?” I frowned. “I thought she visited frequently.”

“She came to Northside, yes, but she only came to the Temple to say hello. Based on the timing, she was out at the lighthouse when the altar burst into flame.”

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