A warm spring rain fell beyond the opened windows of Oriv’s makeshift office. When the Entrolusian insurrection had started heating up, Sethbert had insisted that his cousin return to the city states with him. He’d told the Pope he thought it would bolster his people’s morale and possibly quell the fighting, but Oriv suspected it had more to do with keeping him nearby and easier to watch.
So now Oriv-he no longer thought of himself as Pope Resolute-spent his days working at the small desk or making speeches that he did not believe in.
And drinking too much. He stared at the empty cup and reached for the bottle of brandy. Since that winter day when Petronus declared himself, Oriv had found himself drinking more and more. It was an easy snare to fall into. The warm sweet liquor, in sufficient quantities, promised to blur the edges of his memory and take the teeth out of it.
And there was a lot he wanted to forget, to not feel. First and foremost, there was Windwir. From a distance, he’d seen the gravediggers’ camp and the scars in the snow where the filled-in trenches hid the bones of a city. He’d needed to prove to himself that it was really gone. And now, more than that, he wanted to forget it had happened at all.
There was also the war to forget. Because even though on the surface this was called a war between two Popes, at the heart of it he knew it wasn’t. There was one Pope-Petronus-and Oriv knew he could bring the violence to an end quickly by simply bending his knee and accepting Petronus’s authority over him. And yet he wouldn’t. Partially at his cousin’s insistence. Mostly, though, because he did not know how to stop.
But there was even more to forget than these things. There was the deeper truth beneath it all. Oriv could no longer dismiss Rudolfo’s charge: His cousin, Sethbert, had destroyed Windwir.
He’d had his suspicions shortly after reaching Sethbert’s camp seemingly so long ago. He’d overheard bits of conversation between the Overseer and his general Lysias. Grymlis and his Gray Guard had also brought him rumors froy som among the soldiers. And once Petronus left Windwir for the Ninefold Forest Houses, that crafty old fisherman had turned in his shovel for a pen. His tracts and proclamations were riddled with accusations against the Entrolusian Overseer, though always careful not to implicate Oriv.
Those tracts were everywhere in the Named Lands now. Combined with the blockade and the devastated economy, those damning pamphlets fueled the Entrolusian insurrection. Civil war had already swallowed Turam, and even what little remained of the Order was divided. Those of the Androfrancines who had not found their way back to the Papal Summer Palace were now in the Ninefold Forest. And with winter now past, there were rumblings that some of the higher ranking arch-scholars and bishops-men old enough to remember Pope Petronus-were planning a migration eastward.
He filled the cup to the brim, lifted it and tipped it back. It took most of a bottle now for him to forget. Half of another for him to sleep.
Oriv heard a knock at his door, and tried to stand. He swayed on his feet and sat down heavily. “Come in,” he said.
Grymlis pushed open the door. “Excellency, may I have a word?”
The old soldier looked more tired than usual. His eyes were red-rimmed in the flickering lamplight, and his shoulders slouched.
Oriv waved him in. “Grymlis. Come. Sit. Have a drink with me.”
Grymlis walked into the room, pulling the door closed behind him. He sat in the chair across from Oriv, and their eyes met. Oriv looked away, then pointed to the bottle. “Help yourself.”
Grymlis shook his head. “I don’t need it.”
Oriv thought for a moment that the old soldier would suggest that perhaps Pope Resolute didn’t need it, either. He’d certainly been free enough with that opinion in days past. But instead, he watched the old soldier pull a flask from his pocket and pass it across. “Try this,” Grymlis said. “It’s got more kick.”
Oriv accepted it, unscrewed the cap, and sniffed it. “What is it?” “Firespice-a Gypsy brew. Very potent.”
Oriv nodded, took a sip, and felt it burn its way down his throat. He stretched the next sip into a gulp, then screwed the cap back on and held it out to Grymlis.
“Keep it,” he said.
Oriv wasn’t sure why, but the generosity moved him. “Thank you. You’re a uYouidtgood man, Grymlis.” The general shrugged. “I’m not sure about that.” He leaned forward. “But I want to be a better man than
I am. And I want the same for you as well, Oriv.”
He used my given name. Oriv chuckled. “We all could do with being better men,” he said.
Grymlis nodded slowly. “We could.” He paused and looked around the room. “Tonight,” he said. “We could be better men tonight.”
Oriv leaned forward. “How?”
“We could leave this city,” Grymlis said. “We could flee to Pylos and denounce Sethbert for the traitorous whore-child he is. We could end this war and go help rebuild what can be rebuilt. Keep the light alive.”
Even as Grymlis said it, Oriv knew it was true. He’d thought the same thing a dozen times in the last few months. Since winter, the war had spread. Everyone had their side and everyone made their warfare in service to their so-called light. But it didn’t take a Pope to figure out that what the New World had fallen into had nothing to do with light and more to do with fear.
He wanted to tell Grymlis that he was right, that they should pack what they could carry and quietly gather the contingent. Sethbert’s men were tied up putting down riots and quelling revolution. They could reach the ruins of Rachyl’s Bridge easily by dawn and trust the rangers to ferry them across.
But instead, he snorted. “And you think Petronus would have us back after this?”
Grymlis shrugged. “Possibly. He was ever a fair man.” He leaned in even closer. “But does it matter? What matters is that we can stop this if we choose to.”
Oriv felt his lower lip shaking. “I’m not sure that I can.”
Now Grymlis was leaning in close enough that he could smell the wine on the old man’s breath. The line of his jaw was strong and his eyes flashed. “Say the word, Excellency, and I will do it for you. I will call my men and we will carry you away from this. You need do nothing but say you wish it.”
But Oriv didn’t say anything. He blinked back the tears and unscrewed the top of the flask and drained it with one long gulp.
Grymlis’s shoulders sagged. He pushed himself up to his feet. “I’ve a bottle in my room,” he said. “I’ll fetch it for you.”
Oriv nodded. urivtch220;I’m sure this will all sort itself out, Grymlis.” Grymlis nodded as well. “I’m sure it will, Excellency.”
He let himself out, and Oriv watched the door close. Already the Firespice was taking the edge off, and he saw the fuzzy underside of forgetfulness. Maybe tomorrow, if he felt better, he would go to Sethbert and suggest another parley. Perhaps they could end the fighting. Perhaps they could become better men.
When Grymlis returned with the bottle, Oriv quickly unstopped it and poured it into his cup. The old general sat across from him and watched him drain it in a long swallow. Then, Grymlis stood and walked behind Oriv to close the room’s open windows one by one.
After, the general went to the door and opened it to let the others in. Oriv looked up at them-four Gray Guard and two Entrolusians he knew he should recognize. They moved into the room quickly as Grymlis shut and locked the door.
“What are you doing?” Oriv demanded, trying to stand but finding that his legs would not carry him. The Gray Guard moved in behind him and held him down in his chair. One of the Entrolusians reached down and took the cup from his hands, placing it on the small table next to the bottle of Firespice. Suddenly, he recognized him. “General Lysias?”
The general said nothing, instead looking to Grymlis. Oriv watched their exchange of glances and tried to stand again. Firm hands held him in place.
“What’s this about?” he asked.
Grymlis took a cloth-wrapped bundle from the other Entrolusian and pulled out a long object that Oriv recognized only too well. “What are you doing?”
Grymlis’s big hand closed over Oriv’s, and now Oriv struggled to keep his white-knuckled grip on the arm of the chair. But the alcohol had numbed him, and Grymlis pried it free easily. Oriv felt the cold wood of the artifact pressed into his hand. He felt the cold iron of the artifact’s barrel pressed into the soft tissue between his chin and his throat.
“What are you doing?” he asked again in a voice that sounded more like a whimper than a demand. Only now he knew exactly what Grymlis was doing, and he twisted and turned in the chair in the hopes that it would somehow be enough.
“I’m protecting the light,” Grymlis said, his voice heavy and hollow despite the hardness in his eyes. “But I-”
And in that moment, Oriv found the forgetfulness that no bottle could ever offer him.