Chapter 21:

Northern Delicacies

Paladins of the Pickle Goddess

“The Lighthouse?”

The Voices weren’t in agreement. It was the way they avoided each other’s gaze, the constant shifting. The only steady phase here was the sound of orders going out, the waitress moving through the tea-house. How much time had passed down here?

I could still feel the heat in my face from the argument with Prisca. She was ignoring me steadily now, her head bowed over her pamphlets again. She must have been working to help the protests around the Spire. They had been going strong again today, even as the festival continued.

Marcella, the other female voice, seemed unsure of who to trust. She pulled into herself, eyes darting around and eating biscuits so rapidly that another waitress bowed in to replace the plate. She was only a few years older than Duran. Her nails were bitten to the quick.

Next to her, the Voice of Ludo, god of Chance, didn’t seem worried at all. His brows climbed, slightly enough that it might have been the smoke. “No one mentioned it yet?”

In between Marcella and Prisca, an older man stared at me, thoughtful. His lips stayed closed, concealed by his massive beard. Gaius- the voice of fisherman. The strongest god represented here. If you don’t count Andrena, that is.

It was hardly that serious!”

The outburst wasn’t from any of the voices. I turned, surprised, to stare at Apis. His eyes were locked on the teacup in his hands. He hadn’t actually drank any. “You- you shouldn’t imply anything about the last Voice,” he muttered. He managed to drink some, cheeks red.

“You should imply something about the last Voice,” I said. “In fact, make it a list. All the somethings you can manage.”

“There’s nothing to imply,” snapped Prisca. “We all knew it.” She swiped through another sentence, quill dipping into ink again. “Besides, it’s not as if she wasn’t allowed.” She glanced up. “Unless I forgot something about Andrena?”

“Well- it’s not- she didn’t announce anything. Officially.” said Apis. He coughed.

“You don’t like sailors, is that it?” said Gaius.

“That’s not it at all. I respect the profession completely.”

“So it’s just commoners,” said Marcella. Another biscuit snapped between her teeth. She’d nearly emptied another plate. “You think she should have only selected from the nobility!”

“No! I think she had every right. The Voice was her own woman, and-”

“You didn’t like what he was whispering in her ear,” said Ludo. “Thought he was giving her dangerous inclinations.” He shrugged. “Can’t say you were wrong, looking back on it.”

“No!” Apis put the cup down. “Stop putting words in my mouth!”

I hadn’t seen him this agitated before. The back of his neck was completely flushed now, and he was avoiding eye contact with everyone at the table.

“Why did you dislike him, then?” I said. Who was it, that inhabited the Lighthouse? Some sort of seductive, political monster? Who fished and represented the common people?

Well. Good for her, I supposed.

“I hate fermented shark,” muttered Apis. “Ever since she started with him, it’s all the temple would speak about. Some delicacy of the north. Whenever I visited, she forced me to eat it. Said it was to honor me.” He’d gone a little grey.

I could picture exactly the dish. I hadn’t made it myself, of course- no one asked for that in an inn- but I’d had it a few times, when my family had hosted diplomats in my childhood. The first sign was the stink, coming through the doorway. It would be held on an elaborate tray, chopped up into delicate cubes or, once, shapes of flowers.

I had never quite developed a taste for it, but it was meant to be a great honor to eat it. As such, I’d gotten very good at smiling through the dry heaves. Surprisingly it had served me well even outside of noble life.

The table had gone silent. “You didn’t mind the notions about giving Small Gods a voice on the council?” That came from Ludo.

“They say he used to be a rider for Cabellus, you know. I think he got tired of Marcia not dancing to his tune.” Prisca still wouldn’t look up.

“I heard he only got the position at the light-house because he had connections up high in the government,” added Marcella. “Everyone knows he hardly has the competence to do it himself!”

“Enough!” I held up both hands. “I don’t need to hear any more about this man.” I coughed. “Well, a name would be nice.”

Before anyone could respond, Duran finally processed the conversation. He sat straight up, eyes wide. “Wait. The last Voice. She was- she had a dalliance? She didn’t even marry him?”

I gave him a biscuit, in the hopes he would stop slowing the conversation down. “But-” he frowned. “She was old.”

That doesn’t typically stop people,” I said.

Duran stared at the pattern of the biscuit in his hand, which looked like it had been stamped with a biscuit maker (it depicted the old symbol of the empire, which may or may not have been treason) as if it had the answers. I turned back to the table before he could ask any additional questions.

“Amatus,” said Gaius. He leaned forward and took another sip of his tea. His eyes were still in that considering gaze, never leaving me. I tried not to squirm. Why do you care? I hoped he didn’t mind that Apis had just insulted pickled shark. Did sharks fall under the reign of his god? “Never caught his last name. If you can’t find him, ask for the lighthouse-keeper. We’ve only got the two. He’s the old one.”

Well. I felt a brief wave of insult in the spirit of the last Voice. “Surely he isn’t that bad.”

The dead silence after that comment spoke for me. “We had another question,” I said. “If you’re still willing to help.”

“Sure,” said Prisca. “We already risked ourselves speaking to you. What’s another few comments, dragging us in further? You won’t turn us in, will you? Surely-”

“We’ll answer.” Ludo leaned forward. “Make it quick. I have business elsewhere.”

Somehow I hadn’t considered they had anything else to do. I watched them, around the table, and decided they were probably lying and simply sick of me. They had other topics to discuss, like how to foment disorder and what they disliked about the Spire.

That was fine by me. I wasn’t part of this group by any standard.


“Yes?” Ludo’s expression was still unmoving.

“Where do they get their uniforms,” I said. “Clean them. Keep them. That sort of thing.”

“That’s easy.” That was from Marcella. She spoke even as the others turned to her, giving her disapproving looks. She dipped a biscuit into tea, hand trembling. “They’re supplied out of the Laundresses guild building in Central.”

“Really?” I frowned. “I thought-” The Laundresses were a terrifying force. One of the strongest guilds around. Just to join as a member, you had to have serious bona-fides. Seniority from near-infancy. Not to mention hands of steel. After the Weeks of Stink (actually the fifteen days of stink) when they had refused to wash any of the Lawmaker’s clothing, everyone had quietly accepted the guild was here to stay.

Personally, I thought the lawmakers should have simply washed their own clothes. But that was why I didn’t have the sort of mind suitable for leadership.

“Well,” I finally said, “I didn’t think they officially aligned themselves with any gods.” That was the quickest way to get yourself dismissed from guildship. The guilds were meant to be neutral. If they were found to be god-aligned, they would be considered a type of priest. This would mean any of their workers would be re-classified under the temple, and subsequently forced to deal with double the paperwork. As this was a fate worse than death, no one would chance it.

“They don’t.” Gaius lifted one brow. When I stared back, he shrugged. “Someone has to deliver the laundry.”


I stared at the tea in my hand, at the teahouse beyond. I had thought I was approaching this mystery with all of my knowledge. The straightforward competence I’d developed. Well, somewhat. At least in the inn I’d learned how to get work done without worrying about who knew who, and what was working with what. It was all about how to get my work done the fastest.

Yet as soon as I’d come back to the Capital, I’d lost all that. Here I was again, assuming everything was political.

Once again, it was the simplest answer. Who else would deliver the laundry?

You’re a cook, Elysia. Think like it.

I put down the tea and stood up, pushing the chair back. “Thank you for your time,” I said. “If there’s anything else you need-”

“Yes.” Prisca said. “I need quite a bit from you. First, challenge-”

“Anything else. Other than that,” I said. “Let me know. I’m sure among you, you’d find me.”

I suddenly missed the staff I’d brought. I’d left it behind in Apis’s rooms. If I’d been the old Elysia, I never would have. What was I thinking, relying on Duran to defend me? He was a reedy fourteen year old.

That did it. After we finished in this district, we’d go straight back to Uptown so I could get that staff back.

If I had to drub every suspicious character from here to the Southern District, I would. I’d already allowed myself to get too distracted here.

“Where next?” Apis stuck close to my side as we climbed up the stairs and into the light again, finally free of that miserable smoke from Decimus’s pipe.

I coughed, clearing my throat and trying to step away from his hopeful stare. “Where else? We’re seeing if that lighthouse-keeper actually set her on fire.”