A Light in the Dark
Godfrey slept in Manzik the scribe’s room when there was a knock on the door. Stirring, he got up and grabbed his sword in its scabbard.
“It’s me,” Kamran’s voice spoke.
Letting go of the weapon, Godfrey opened the door to let him in. “How is the situation?”
“The same. There’s no sign that they’re any closer to discovering you than before – or any of us, for that matter.”
“That is reassuring. What about Valash’s wife and son? Are they still being watched?”
“I do not know,” Kamran admitted. “I have not been involved with that.”
“What would you assume?”
Kamran gave a shrug, sitting down. “Hard to tell. The knowledge that a Blade of Ruin is in the city has put the fravashi in an uproar. On one hand, this might make them patient as the desert for rain. On the other hand, they seem eager to punish any rebellion and make a show of force.”
Godfrey sat down on the bed, scratching his cheek. “We’ll be here a while regardless. Let’s wait a bit longer until they grow tired, and then we’ll arrange for Myrod and Zayen to be taken elsewhere.”
“As you say.”
“I’ll go to the shahrban’s offices tomorrow and get documents for them both.” Godfrey patted the deflated coin purse in his belt. “I’ll have little left.”
“I can attempt to bring you more coin,” Kamran suggested.
“If you can. Else I’ll have to steal some,” Godfrey suggested. “Regardless, what other tidings do you bring?”
“Not much. There is talk of Jenaab Sikandar bringing an army to Rund soon, but there has been talk of that for a long while. I and others of my brotherhood are being sent beyond the city later this week to hunt the drylanders.”
“Do you think you can avoid discovering them?”
Kamran looked doubtful. “Maybe. I fear they are too many to hide well.”
“Let us hope for the best. We are slowly strangling the Godking’s armies in Hæthiod. If this can last another two months, our position will be strengthened greatly. Perhaps enough to delay the Godking’s advance another year.”
“Two months is a very long time, Javed.”
“I always aim high,” Godfrey said with a smile. He clasped Kamran’s arm. “Until the morrow comes.”
“Until the morrow comes.”
In the evening just after dusk, Godfrey left the shahrban’s offices in the centre of the city. Safely tugged away inside his clothing, a few documents hid themselves; his coin purse, on the other hand, was empty. Stepping out on the square, he saw people arriving from all directions. He turned his eyes towards the middle and the pyre erected in front of the statue of the Godking. Earlier, it had been empty. Now, a woman stood tied to a stake and gagged. Next to it, a small pedestal was placed; a Servant of the Flame had taken position upon it, so that he was visible to the crowd.
“Behold the blasphemer!” he cried out, gesturing to the woman. “Her sins are many, but chief among them is rebellion against the Godking! In her black heart she plotted treason, and even now she refuses to repent!”
“Blasphemer!” shouted many in the crowd. Those most willing to witness the spectacle had pushed to the front, and they were eagerly watching and shouting their disdain for all to hear.
“Only the divine flames of our Godking may purify her spirit!” His eyes reflected the same fire mentioned in his words and woven into his garments. “Only death may offer her release!”
His words fuelled a frenzy in the crowd. “Death! Death! Death!”
“This woman is Myrod, married to Valash the potter. Never let her name be spoken again! As the flames devour her flesh, may they burn away all memory of her name, her life, and all that she was!”
“Burn! Burn! Burn!”
The priest turned to face Myrod and was given a torch by a soldier. “Even a traitor and blasphemer may serve a purpose. Know that your sacrifice proves our devotion to the Godking. Soon, the god in the mountain shall awaken,” he declared. Raising one fist in the air, he threw the torch onto the pyre. “All for the Godking!”
“All for the Godking!”
Godfrey turned away and left the square. Myrod’s muffled screams followed him for a long while.
The next day at noon, Kamran appeared in Manzik’s room again. “I bring bad tidings.”
“I know. I happened to be present.”
“Death by fire,” Kamran muttered. “Their cruelty knows no bounds.”
“We can do nothing further for her,” Godfrey declared. “The same is not the case for Zayen.”
“I’m not sure. The boy has been taken to the temple. They will make a Servant of him.”
Godfrey exhaled, staring into the air. “I feared as much. He is a bright boy.”
“He is beyond our reach.”
“Not beyond mine.” Godfrey raised his head to look at Kamran. “I will get him.”
“Javed,” Kamran objected, “you always urge us to avoid risk! The fravashi, the Servants – you cannot hope to avoid detection!”
“Kamran, you need not concern –”
“Javed,” he repeated, “I know you have powers at your command that confound even a sāyag like me. None other has evaded the fravashi the way you have. But –”
“Kamran.” Now it was Godfrey’s turn to interrupt. “Both his parents are dead because of me. The Servants will beat obedience into the boy until he is a mindless slave.” He turned to look at the closed window as if his eyes could pierce the obstacle to see beyond. “Hundreds have died upon the streets or the altars because the Godking ordered them to die, and because I ordered them to resist.”
“You cannot blame –”
“I can. Every life lost is a burden I must bear, and I do so willingly. But I will not bear more than I must. I will see the boy freed.”
Kamran stared at him, silent for a moment. “What do we do?”
“I will get the boy and hide him here. You must find a way to get him out of the city. Come collect him tonight.”
Kamran let out his breath. “Very well. See you tonight.”
Godfrey dove in between two buildings, looking around. Seeing himself alone, he bent down and tried to pry one of the cobbled stones loose from the ground. It did not move in the least. Frowning, he tried its neighbour with same lack of success. Straightening up, he began stomping on every stone on the path, moving methodically forward. Finally, one of them budged slightly. With patience and long nails, Godfrey slowly made the stone come loose until he could lift it up.
It revealed a hole, from which Godfrey pulled out a simple sack. He dug his hand inside and took out a robe; it was red in colour with patterns of fire woven into the fabric. He dusted it off a few times; it was clearly old and worn. Looking around once more, finding himself still alone, Godfrey began removing his own clothes.
None might enter the temples of the Godking of their own accord, save the priesthood of the Flame and the fravashi. The ordinary citizens were only allowed inside if summoned or dragged inside by the Servants, and few returned. Because of this, most only knew the temples from the outside with the fires burning on either side of the gate. Dressed as a priest and walking with determined steps, Godfrey crossed the square to enter the great house of worship in Rund.
Past the gate, he stood in a long hallway. On either side of him, the mask of the Godking had been carved into the wall to stare down at him. At every pace, another set of masks watched his progression to the end of the passageway, where a large brazier burned. The fire provided plenty of light, but being the only source, it also cast long shadows throughout the space. Moving in this interplay of light and shadow, Godfrey reached the brazier and had to walk either left or right.
Peering in either direction, Godfrey chose left. He immediately ran into one of the Servants. “Who are you?” asked the priest brusquely. “I’ve not seen you before.”
“Indeed, Brother, I am newly arrived from the seventh district. My Keeper sent me here.”
“What for?” The Servant’s eyes glanced over Godfrey with suspicion.
“She thought I had been – remiss in some of my duties. I am to present myself for re-education.”
The priest gave a cruel smile. “Well deserved, no doubt. Your robe is dirty and worn!” His expression turned contemptuous. “Is this how you approach the altar of the Godking?”
Godfrey turned his head down, looking like a shameful dog. “Forgive me, Brother.”
“It is not I that you must beg forgiveness from,” the Servant sneered. “Come with me!” He grabbed hold of Godfrey’s arm and dragged him deeper into the temple.
They ventured through narrow corridors same as before with braziers to summon shadows and the mask of the Godking staring down. At length, they reached the very centre of the building. It was a small room, entirely square. It lay directly beneath the spire that stood the tallest structure in Rund. From every corner hung torches, shining light upon the centre. It contained a stone slab, carved in such a manner to mirror the shape of the room; upon it stood a blood-red statue of the Godking.
“Wait here,” the priest commanded Godfrey. He left the room. A moment later, Godfrey moved to the edge of the door and peered outside. Seeing nobody, he took a step forward; hearing the rustling of robes, he immediately jumped back inside the room and adopted an expression of idleness.
The Servant returned. In one hand, he had a knife and bowl; in the other, he held chains to drag a man with him. The prisoner looked pale to the point of sickly and malnourished. Pulling on the chains in his hand, the priest made the shackled man stumble to the ground.
He held out the knife and bowl to Godfrey. “Let me see you perform the sacrifice,” he demanded with a harsh voice.
Godfrey accepted the tools, staring down. The knife was clean, reflecting the light from the torches. He looked at the prisoner as the light fell upon him. Besides showing the signs of torture, the dancing flames revealed him to be Valash. No sign of recognition suggested that the potter knew his executioner. “Brother, I cannot,” Godfrey began to explain. “I have not cleansed myself in a long time. I am not worthy.”
“Are you serious?” The Servant stared at him with wild eyes.
“I’m afraid so, Brother.”
“Pathetic.” The priest grabbed the knife with one hand; the other took hold of Valash’s hair, holding his head close to the altar stone. “Watch, you worm.” With a steady hand, he cut the throat of the condemned, spilling his blood. “All for you, my god, my king,” the Servant whispered with half-closed eyes. He ran the flat side of the blade against his cheek, smearing the warm blood against his face. “We beseech you, awaken from your sleep! Lead us, your faithful, we beg.” Taking the bowl from Godfrey, he pulled up the dying victim to increase the bleeding, catching some of the red liquid. Slowly, the priest poured it onto the statue. “All for the Godking!”
“All for the Godking,” Godfrey repeated with less enthusiasm.
No longer enraptured, the Servant turned his head sharply towards Godfrey. “Help me clean this up. Once you are done, I think a night in the tower without food or water will do you good. Tomorrow, when you have had time to reflect upon your many failings, the Keeper will have to decide your fate.”
The tower of the temple contained a spiral staircase, ending in a small room right underneath the roof. It had no windows, only the mask of the Godking etched into the walls. Other than the hatch in the floor, it contained nothing but a small lamp oil burning a fickle flame. In the dark with nothing but the fire to focus on, acolytes of the Flame were sent here to contemplate their weaknesses and prepare them for service in the priesthood. It was also a typical punishment for Servants who had neglected their duties. Few experienced it twice; if punishment were needed more than once, usually only sacrifice upon the altar would suffice.
Staring at the oil lamp, Godfrey sat on the floor. Minutes passed by, one by one, coalescing into hours. It had been early evening when he went inside the temple; it was past midnight when he finally stirred. Blinking repeatedly, he stood up and stretched his body. He opened the hatch and stepped through. There was no guard of any sort. It was unthinkable that any would seek to leave the tower before being permitted; the punishment for this was not in doubt. Undisturbed, Godfrey descended down the staircase.
Reaching the second floor, he left the stairs and began a slow search of the building. These were the living quarters of all residents of the temple, much like the structure of the barracks; creativity was not encouraged among the Godking’s subjects. All regardless of rank or age slept in these halls, twelve beds per room. Godfrey silently passed through each of them until he found his mark. With one hand, he covered Zayen’s mouth; the other shook the boy awake.
Mumbling, Zayen squirmed to be free; his eyes were wide open in fright. “Zayen, it’s me,” Godfrey whispered, leaning closer.
The boy finally became calm, and Godfrey removed his hand. “Uncle,” he whispered.
“Put this on.” Godfrey handed him the tunic hanging by the bed while Zayen got up. “Don’t speak. I’ll explain when we are outside.”
Doing exactly as he was told, Zayen put on the tunic and took Godfrey’s hand. The latter led him out of the hall and back to the staircase; there was only one way in or out of the temple. With hasty steps, they walked through the empty corridors, where light and darkness flickered in constant dance, until they approached the entrance.
A start went through Godfrey just as they entered the last hallway before the exit. In the opposite end, a shadow warrior walked in through the gate. Beneath his mask, his yellow eyes were set on Godfrey.
For a moment, nobody moved. Reacting first, Godfrey picked up Zayen, turned, and bolted. Snarling, the shadow warrior took up pursuit.
With the entrance blocked, Godfrey had no recourse but to flee deeper into the temple. He passed by the altar room, returning to the spiral staircase. He already gasped for breath from sprinting; under his arm, Zayen was crying. Reaching the second floor, a few Servants could be seen sticking their heads out of the halls in search of the commotion. Godfrey continued further up.
He reached the hatch and pushed it open forcefully, breaking the bolt. Once more he was in the upper room inside the spire, surrounded by only walls. At the foot of the stairs, the shadow warrior closed in on his prey.
Holding Zayen back, Godfrey punched straight at a brick in the wall. It flew out. Inserting his hands into the hole, Godfrey pulled back on the remaining stonework. He groaned in exertion as the wall began to crumble. The bricks fell to the ground, widening the gap.
He crouched low to sling Zayen onto his back. “Hold on tight,” he told the boy, placing Zayen’s little arms around his neck. Keeping a firm grip on the boy’s hands, Godfrey took a deep breath and jumped through the hole in the wall.
He landed on the lower roof of the temple, feet flat on the ground. Without hesitation, he took several leaps forward, jumping from the roof to the street below.
Wincing, Godfrey stood up. Turning his head, he saw the shadow warrior standing in the gap newly formed in the spire, returning his stare. With Zayen still on his back, Godfrey disappeared into the city.
Godfrey returned to Manzik’s room that had served as his home in the last few days. Zayen was walking by his side; the boy had not spoken since the temple.
“Take a seat,” Godfrey bade him, gesturing to the bed. “Maybe you should sleep.” Zayen sat down as directed and did nothing further. “Are you thirsty?” Godfrey took a cup and filled it with water before giving it to the boy. He accepted it into his hands, but did nothing else. Staring at him for a moment, Godfrey eventually sat down next to him.
“They told me my parents are dead.”
Godfrey swallowed. “Yes.”
“That they were traitors to the Godking.” Tears began to fill the boy’s eyes.
Godfrey placed one arm around Zayen’s shoulders. “Your mother and father were good people. Never doubt that. They did not deserve what happened to them.”
“Then why did it happen?”
Godfrey licked his lips. “The Godking rules your people, Zayen, but he is not a good or kind ruler. Nor is he a god, regardless of what he pretends.”
“How can that be? At the temple, the Servants told me how he created the world and gave us life.”
“Those are lies, Zayen, all lies. Nothing that the Servants have told you is true.”
“But if he’s not a god, then why does he have all the temples? They said my father – my father was sacrificed…” the boy lost his voice. “Couldn’t you have saved him? Or my mother?”
Godfrey swallowed. “I wanted to. But if I had intervened to save your parents, I would not have been able to save you, my boy. They would have known to watch you.”
“I wish you had saved them,” Zayen declared through tears. “I wish they had given me to the Godking instead of them.”
Godfrey pulled him closer, letting the boy cry against the Servant’s robe that he still wore. “No, boy, none should be given to that monster. The Godking is no god, but he is a tyrant. His rule is close to absolute, and he kills without mercy to keep it so. He deserves only our deepest contempt.”
“I don’t understand anything,” Zayen sobbed.
Godfrey stroke the boy’s hair. “Long ago, more years than I care to think, your people were free, Zayen. They worshipped truth and lived in peace. But a great enemy came to them, seducing them. He turned truth into lies and stole the fire, making it his symbol.” Sorrow filled his voice as he spoke. “He has remade your people in his image, causing untold agony in the process.”
“Why?” asked Zayen with a distorted voice.
Godfrey stared into the air. “A lust for power, I fear.”
“Why did my mother and father go against him? Why did they have to –” his voice broke off again.
“Because under his rule, people will continue to die. His hunger for sacrifice can never be satisfied. There will never be peace until he is gone.”
“How can that ever happen? He rules the world!”
“No, boy, that is what he wants you to think. Beyond the borders of his lands, there are people fighting him openly. The world is far bigger than what they preach in the temples.”
“The Servants mentioned that,” Zayen assented with a nod. He had pulled back a little, and he cried less. “That the enemies of the Godking live at the ends of the world. They are savage people, eating their children and living in filth.”
“Nothing more than lies,” Godfrey assured him. “Granted, some of them could use more regular bathing,” he continued with a wry smile. “But they are good people, living free from the tyranny of the Godking. One day, so shall your people as well.”
“Uncle, I have another question.”
“Why do you keep saying ‘your people’?” Zayen asked.
After a moment, Godfrey gave a smile. “Good question.”
“You’re not my uncle, are you?”
“I am not. But I wish I were.”
“Me too.” The boy finally drank from the cup of water he had been holding.
There was a soft knock on the door. “It’s me.”
Giving Zayen’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, Godfrey stood up and opened the door. Kamran walked in. Seeing the blackboot, Zayen gave a shriek and dropped his cup.
“Zayen, it’s fine,” Godfrey hurried to say, moving back to the boy. “This is Kamran. He is a friend.”
“He’s a sāyag,” the boy mumbled with wide eyes.
“He is, and one of my dearest friends,” Godfrey told him. “Every day, he risks his life fighting the Godking, just like your parents did.”
Approaching cautiously, Kamran knelt by the bed. “Well met, Zayen. I am sorry about what happened to your mother and father.”
The boy gave no reply to this.
“I am going to take you away from this city. We’ll find a place for you far from here, where the Servants will never get to you. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“You will have to trust me and do exactly as I say. Can you do that?” asked Kamran.
Zayen looked at Godfrey, who nodded. “Yes,” he mumbled.
“Good. We should not linger,” Kamran declared.
“One moment.” Godfrey opened one of the drawers in the room and pulled out a folded document. “This may help. It has the boy’s description, but the name is left blank. It has already been signed by the shahrban.”
Kamran stuffed the paper inside his clothing. “It’ll be many days before I return. I am to scout the hills for at least a week.”
“Understood. I will be here on your return, most likely. One more thing.” From another drawer, Godfrey pulled out the wooden horse that he had given Zayen upon his first arrival. “This is yours.” With a mute expression, the boy accepted the figurine.
Kamran stuck out his hand towards Zayen; hesitantly, the boy took hold of it. “Don’t worry,” Kamran said. “You’re safe with me.” He looked up at Godfrey. “Until the morrow comes.”
Godfrey watched the pair depart. “Until then.”