"Power, Calimander. True power. Have you ever wondered what that is?"
The boy breathed a laugh, confusion flashing in his eyebrows.
"Power?" His voice was soft over the cacophony of the busy tavern, a few tones higher than you'd expect from a young man in his twenties. "What do you mean?"
Foreley gave him a smile, or something appearing a smile. "Haven't you ever wished you could do something impossible?"
"Come on, Foreley, I have to go back to work, I can't stand here and chat with you all night." Calimander returned the smile, warmer than Foreley's by several degrees. It was true the tavern was loud with business, yet he made no movement to go back to serving beer and liquor. "Are you gonna order? What do you want?" he asked, curiosity lubricating his tone.
"No, I suppose you are not that kind of person…"
"Foreley, come on, just say what you want to say."
"Well, I have just remembered a secret, you see. And it got me to thinking about gods, about the gods, what they mean, what they stand for. Have you ever thought about that?"
"About the gods? Not really. My parents do enough of that for everyone here in the Moonlit, you know?" Another laugh came out, short and mute. "I know you're trying to get me in trouble, Foreley, you have that glint in your eye. You know, my dad is already very suspicious of you, he thinks you want to kidnap me and my sister, do things to us."
Foreley didn't seem to be listening. His eyes had disappeared behind the light reflecting in the small round lenses of his glasses. "Gods are a symbol of power," he went on, as if Calimander hadn't said a word, "and people worship the symbol rather than the power. Because there is no evidence of the gods' power, you see, only of the power of the symbol itself."
"No, I don't see," Calimander said, looking back at the tavern. Four men had sat on the stools by the bar and were looking in his direction with thirsty, annoyed looks on their faces. "Look, Foreley, I really need to go back, I—"
"We ought to challenge that, don't you think?"
"Sure, Foreley. Look, I'll be back when you want to order something."
He left the old man sitting there, pen swirling in his fingers as he gazed infinitely into a fog certainly only he could see, and greeted the four men sitting on the stools. It was beer for all of them.
The night was young still, but the Moonlit Tavern was already packed with half the town. Harvest season always brought in all the field workers, the ploughers, millers, farmers, cattlers, traders, breeders, hunters, and every single one of them thirsty and hungry. The Moonlit was the only tavern in Gloria, and the only place one could have a hot meal and some refreshing brew as reward for a day in the cold, grey weather out in the fields. The rains were about to come in, you could smell it in the air every morning. Harvest season was good for business, but almost at an end.
And that was good news as far as Calimander was concerned. The Moonlit looked its best when it was a refuge of warmth rather than a place for convenience and tepid debauchery. Rare was the day he wouldn't have to clean throw up off some part of the floor, or wipe piss off the rims of the privypots in the privies, or scrub shit off the pots themselves, too often too encrusted for it to feel like anything but pointless exercise. Harvest season was the worst, but then came the rains. After that everyone would mostly stay home, and the Moonlit would become peaceful, quiet, practically empty. Those who visited after the harvest were cleaner and nicer, almost family, like Foreley. Every now and again he would throw the old man a glance and spy him either scribbling down on the worn notebook he brought everywhere with him, or staring off at some invisible, distant wonder in the tavern's ceiling.
"What's he getting you into this time?"
His eyes moved from the glass of beer he was pouring to see his sister pass behind him and reach for a tumbler of whiskey.
"I don't know, the usual," he replied, finishing one glass, pouring another, "Just on and on with his far out questions. Might have another treasure hunt up his sleeve for all I figure."
"I hope not," Cirian said as she poured two thumbs of whiskey into the tumbler. Her hair was a cascade of teal that evening. "A buried box of silverware is not treasure."
Calimander gave a chuckle. "He called it silverwork."
"And ancient. Doesn't mean that's what it was."
"It was fun, though."
"He buried it himself for all we know." And she was out of his sight again.
Another man sat on the last stool and spat out a demand for a shot of sunsweat. Calimander ducked under the counter to retrieve a shot glass, turned around and stretched his arm out to grab the sunsweat bottle from the top shelf, shook it, poured. The man downed it, wheezed as he reeled with the kick, smacked his lips, slammed his hand on the counter and heaved, voiceless, "Another."
As the boy poured, a movement at the edge of his vision caught his eye. Foreley's hand was up, his fingers beckoning. Rolling his eyes, Calimander finished serving the drink, slid it to the man, and returned to Foreley's table.
"You better order now or I won't be talking to you until we close," he threatened with a smile on his face.
"No, I remember, yes." He was looking down at his notes as he spoke. "I ordered three beers, served one after the other as I finished them."
"You ordered? When was this?" The joke was as frequent as Foreley's patronage; he had a funny way of ordering. "All I remember you going on about was the gods."
"Well, just now I did, didn't I?" Foreley's distant smile reappeared as his eyes met Calimander's. "Weren't you eager to do your job? Go on, three beers, one after the other."
When he came to serve the first, Calimander caught a glimpse of teal on the other side of the tavern followed immediately by the clanking of cutlery and the shattering of glass. Wood slammed on wood as someone shot up from their chair.
"You fuckin' idiot!" he heard a man bellow. "You stupid fuckin' weasel, look what you fuckin' did to my shirt, my trousers!"
"I'm so sorry," his sister's voice was mouse-like, tiny whiskers fuzzing with embarrassment, "I'm sorry, I don't know what—I tripped, I think someone tripped me, I—"
He turned in time to see the towering castle of a man shove Cirian out of his way. She disappeared under his arm with the weight of a moth and reappeared with the crashing of a table underneath her.
"Hey!" Calimander shouted, but his mother was at the scene already, daggers flying out of her fierce blue eyes.
"Fuck out," were the only words out of her mouth, spat with so much vigor the man turned his face away as if slapped. The men he was sitting with looked at her, looked at him, then pushed the table away and stood to follow him out, spitting on the floor as they went.
As the last man mumbled a curse and left the tavern, Calimander heard the rasping of contained snickers coming from the table beside where they had sat. He felt his face turn to scorched stone as he realized the disgusting sounds were coming from the Gimm twins. His legs were rushing to them before he could think.
"Can I get you lads anything?" he asked, his voice darkened with anger. "Maybe a swift kick to the teeth? A knuckle to the nose?"
The twins looked up at him in perfect sync. They were skinny as snakes and just as slitherine, their small eyes the same yellowed hazel, small, upturned noses, thin curved lines for lips. Their shaved heads completed the look.
"You can't talk to us like that," piped the one on the left, Denmore or Alec. Calimander could never tell them apart.
"Yeah, we're patrons here, same as everyone else," nodded the other, a reptilian grin slithering on his face. "Treat us with respect."
"You tripped my sister," Calimander said, placing his hands on the table to lean forward.
"Now where's your proof of that?" The one on the left wiped his mouth with the heel of his hand and scowled.
"I don't need proof, I know it was you." His anger was sparking inside him, fanning the flames of fury. "You always get away with your shit but not tonight, Gimm." He looked at one in the eyes then at the other, convinced he was pure menace until their laugh shattered the illusion.
"Which one of us are you talking to?" The one on the right asked, and the one on the left nodded, "Yes, and which one of us tripped your stupid little sister?"
"Both and I don't care!"
He turned around and stood upright as he faced his mother. Her lips were a flat, unamused line.
"Go back to work." Her voice was firm, calling for no response.
Calimander felt his face redden as he responded anyway, "Mother, they—"
"Calimander," she repeated, and he saw the string of impatience burn short in the blue of her eyes.
With a grunt he stomped past her, trying his best to ignore the disgusting sounds the Gimm made as they laughed. The twins were always hounding his sister. At the college their hounding was unceasing; Calimander had seen it with his own eyes. The last time Cirian had come home with tears in her eyes she came reeking of rotten goat's milk, her hair matted with some gross mixture of that, eggs and flour. The first, his sister did not speak for a week. Only the Gimm could get away with such shittery. Their father was a head of the college, and bishop in the Cathedral of Gloria besides. If Calimander's mother even dreamt her children were in trouble with the bishop's boys, the sky might come down under the weight of her wrath. A tavern, she held, was seen poorly enough by the Cathedral as it was.
The day Cirian came home shoeless in the rains the year past was the angriest Calimander had ever felt. That same evening, when the twins paid their regular visit to the Moonlit, he spat in all the drinks he served them, and offered them a few laxative cocktails on the house. They disappeared for the whole remainder of that week, their bowels twisted up something nasty, and Cirian came home smiling for the first time since her lessons had started. It lasted until they recovered. The weight of her misery returned to her shoulders heavier than ever, though whatever they were doing to her now left no traces Calimander could see. He could only wonder what horrible torment they were putting her through.
"Cali, what are you doing?"
Cirian had found him in the kitchen storage, kicking the flour bags. White dust covered the floor and half of his trousers' legs. A pain appeared in his jaw as he realized how hard he was clenching it shut.
"What does it look like I'm doing?"
His sister sighed, her big blue eyes clipping him with annoyance. "I don't know, being weird in the dark. Move out of the way, will you, I need some carrots and onions, the stew is going like mad."
"I'm going like mad."
"I can see that. Move, please."
He moved. "How can you put up with those two? I want to smash their faces in every time I see them walk in here."
"Stop worrying about it, okay? I'm used to them now."
"That just makes me angrier."
"Look, stop thinking about it, alright? They're just stupid and I should be looking where I'm going. I just have to be more careful."
When she left, he kicked the flour bags three, four, five more times before leaving to tend the bar again. Foreley waved at him as soon as he came out.
"What happened to you?" the old man asked after throwing him a distant glance. The equally distant grin returned as he looked back down at his notes.
"Don't worry about it, here's your beer," he replied curtly, turning around to return to his duties as soon as he swapped the empty glass for a full.
"Wouldn't you like to do something about it, Calimander?" But Calimander felt too angry to entertain Foreley any more than his job demanded.
He spent the rest of the night shooting venom out of his eyes in the Gimm twins' direction, wishing he could set fire to their scalp and watch them cry and scream and roll around and stomp each other dead as they tried to put out the flames. It was hard to believe they were studying to become arcrafters in the same college as Cirian. Certainly they had no intention of following in their father's footsteps and becoming the holiest boys in town. Then again, they were adopted, Calimander remembered, and from a different town entirely, one he made a point not to recall.
On the other hand, Petr Gimm was a man respected for his talents. His affinity for the gift was often talked about after sermons, conversations Calimander always found too dull to listen to. It was old person talk. If any of it was to be believed, Bishop Petr Gimm was one of the best things to have happened to Gloria, a great honor to have him, such a distinguished scholar of the Cathedral's doctrines, so humble in his work. The idea the Gimm twins could aspire to be even half the sanctity of their father was nothing short of absurd to Calimander, almost funny.
After all, it was preached to those who would hear it that affinity for the arcane arts was the very gift of the gods. Too often in history did we arrogantly set aside the purpose the gods had for us, and abused the gods' kindness. That was why, according to the Cathedral, the gods had seen it fit to ravish the land with plagues, to starve humanity of its vanity. Millennia were lost to our hubris, and only when the first Cathedral was raised did we truly begin on the path of atonement.
A yawn came up to Calimander's mouth sudden as a burp, so deep and long he shook, his vision blurred with tears. As he winked them away he realized the Gimm twins were gone from their table, and as usual they had left no copper or silver to pay for their food or drink. Calimander felt his jaw clench.
Out of habit he looked over to Foreley, whose eyes were lost in some indefinite point of the carved wooden rafters above him. Hours had certainly passed, yet his second glass of beer still contained at least a quarter of its contents. As if he had read Calimander's mind, the old man, without looking away from whatever he was staring at, grabbed the glass, brought it to his lips and gulped down the remainder of his drink. Cali brought him his third before he had to wave for it.
"Ah, thank you, Calimander," he said with satisfaction, and sipped from his new, full glass. His eyes went over the tavern. "Less busy now, isn't it? Have time for me now?"
"You're usually not this insistent, Foreley." Calimander felt himself smile, an instinct too deeply ingrained in him from serving to translate the anger still rolling around in his stomach. "What do you want me to do this time? Find someone's lost forks? Figure out some old map? Translate some ancient tome for you?"
"You kid but I know full well who figured out the map and read the book I lent you." A husky laugh wheezed out of the old man. His eyes disappeared beneath the glare of his glasses as he looked up at the rafters again. "Cirian is very precious, isn't she? Remarkably young for her talent, and very dedicated for someone her age."
"If she's your favorite why is it always me you come to with errands?" The question came out wrong, more bitter than funny, and Cali tried uselessly to push back the redness of embarrassment.
Foreley did not notice. "She's an alumni of the college, Calimander. The Cathedral wouldn't see it kindly if they were to know I had approached her directly for this little… research."
"Research? Right. I'm your little test rat."
The old man let out a short laugh that could have been a cough.
"You know Cirian gets involved anyway. She likes the riddles, figuring out the puzzles you give me. The silverware disappointed us both, though."
"It was ancient silverwork, and yes, she's very bright. But it's you who will help her get places, Calimander, I remember it now. Won't you?"
He shrugged. "I guess. I am her brother. That's my job."
"You look over her, don't you? The spat with the Gimm twins… they're a handful, those two, even in class. I must admit I don't see what interests them in the study of the gift. They don't seem to care about its history or its properties or how to tame it, focus it. All they seem to care about is small weavings and inklings of curses, being nuisances around the campus, creating their own little brand of chaos. Inspiring, if not for their complete lack of ambition."
"Listen, Calimander, have you thought about what I asked you earlier? About power?"
The memory of the Cathedral slid up to him, the long prayer benches, the towering white arches over the altar, the faded black of the bishop's robes. "More or less," he replied without conviction.
"There is somewhere I'd like you to go in exactly three days, at dawn. Your sister will come with you, no doubt, but it's your friend who will know the place."
"Gil?" The surprise in his voice felt disarming.
"Yes, yes, Afergil, I remember now. You will go up the hill to the north, through the meadows. There's a place the townsfolk call the Sit up there." Foreley turned to him and seized his wrist, holding it tight. The suddenty of the movement made Cali flinch. "Now listen to me, it's very important that you are there before dawn, so that you are certainly there when the sun comes rising, do you understand? You do understand, don't you?"
He nodded, wanting to break free of the old man's grip. He let go before Calimander could pull away to jot something quick on his notebook.
"Good," he said without looking up. "Yes, you'll be there, I remember. Three days, four nights from now, counting this one. One, another, the third and the one after, that's when—"
"Yes, Foreley, I know how to count days." He took his wrist in his hand, rubbed it. There was no smile he could offer the old man, but the professor grinned distantly all the same.
"Sure, of course." He picked up his glass of beer and began chugging it all down. He slammed it on the table once he was finished and stood. "Here's a silver and I want no change. Share the tip with your sister, won't you?" Swirling his black, weathered cloak over his small, bony shoulders, Foreley took the hat from the chair beside him, put it on, tipped it at Calimander and left the Moonlit Tavern.
Feeling an unfamiliar hesitance drawing circles in his gut, Cali looked down at the silver the old man had pressed into his hand. It was warm and very clean, as if it had left the mold just a few minutes ago. He placed it over his thumb, flicked it into the air and caught it, slid it into his pocket. Professors from the college were served free of charge whenever they came in, but Foreley was the only one who came to the Moonlit and he always insisted on paying anyway. The silver was all his and Cirian's.
"So, what was it Foreley wanted?" his sister asked him later, as they began washing the remainder of that night's dishes and cups. Her hair was up in a blue bun now, any previous shade of green gone. "I saw you talking to him before we closed up. Did he say anything interesting?"
It took some effort to recall, the memory foggy and difficult to piece together as he collected what he found of it in his mind. "You know, I think I was too angry to really pay attention."
"Cali, you have to stop thinking about the Gimm."
"I mean, I did. Foreley snapped me out of it, he grabbed me and everything." He chewed his lip as he put more force into rubbing the dry porridge off a plate. "He gave us a silver for his drinks."
"He told me to split it with you. You can have it if you want. I think he must have felt bad about the silverware."
"I don't care about the silver or the silverwork. What did he want? That's what I'm curious about!" Cirian's voice tinned with poorly disguised enthusiasm.
Hearing it, Cali gave her a teasing smile. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we had just unearthed some of Foreley's funky cutlery which was of no interest to you at all."
She shook her head and rinsed a handful of forks before placing them in a metal container to dry. "I never said that… It was kind of fun."
"Well, I can't really remember most of what he said." He scratched his forehead with a wet thumbnail, leaving a cloud of soap over his eyebrow. Cirian laughed when she saw. "What?" he asked, grinning and oblivious, "I really can't."
"Nothing," she replied between giggles. "Just try, Cali."
He was silent for a while, and stacked up the plates he had finished as he thought.
"He mentioned Gil, I think. He asked us to go… sit?"
"He asked us to go sit with Gil?" Cirian cocked a thin eyebrow at him.
"Something like that. Look, maybe I'll remember more later. Can't you use your little gifts to finish this up for us?"
"Mom will be pissed if I do that," she sighed. "She says hard work is meant to be humbling, not easy."
Cali brought his wet hands up to his face and breathed a frustrated sigh into them. When he brought them back down into the sink, the cloud of soap was gone. "I hate this. Why does she always have us do the dishes?"
"Because she has to clean outside," his sister began responding, "and make preparations for tomorrow, and count the stock in our storage, count the coin we made, check the barrels, replace the empty ones, count those too…"
"Alright, alright, stop, I get that she can't do it, but what about dad?"
Cirian shook her head, placed all the cups and mugs she finished rinsing on a dish rack, put that on a drying shelf behind her. "Cali, dad is the cook. He's been cooking all night. Stop whining, alright? Tonight wasn't terrible; we've had way worse nights. You can tell the harvest is ending."
He made himself look at the pile on unwashed dishes, knives, forks, cups, mugs, trays, pots, pans and correspondent tops and forced himself to admit she was right. The pile had been at least twice that size the previous night, and the night before that Calimander had to come in halfway into the night to wash all of it as they ran out of plates and cutlery to offer the immense tides of service.
Defeated, he sighed and returned his hands to the sink full of water. "Fine, but you're magicking the shit out of the privypots. There's nothing humble about that."
His sister gave him a smile that meant she would.
They finished by the time the first moon was halfway across the clear night sky, beaming pale silver light all over Gloria. The silkflame lamps were nearly useless against such overwhelming brightness, standing grimly in their black skeletal legs as they cast their platinum glow on the streets leading away from the Moonlit. Everything was quiet. Dim, orange candlelight spilled lazily from some of the windows of the homes near the tavern. Fingers of grey smoke, made almost white by the moon, snaked up into the sky from chimneys here and there. The cobblestone of the streets turned to milk in the moonlight, giving Calimander the impression the floor was liquid as he sat on the steps at the back. Cirian sat next to him, waiting for their parents with her nose in a book as she did every night.
"How can you study all day, work all night, and still have the head to read after it all?" he asked her, a proud smile appearing on his face. Her dedication to the college was something he couldn't help but admire.
"I'm trying to read," Cirian replied. She was interrupted by a yawn before she continued, "I'm not managing too well. I've been stuck on the same paragraph for the past five minutes…"
"Leave it for tomorrow then, little sister. You need your bed, not a book. All that knowledge won't run from you, I promise."
"Yes, I need my bed, I agree. But until we get home…" Another yawn crawled out of her as her eyes returned to the book.
Cali sighed, shaking his head, though his smile did not come undone. "What are you even reading at this hour?"
She left a finger marking the page she was reading as she closed it and turned the cover to him.
"Leaf, Root & Stem: the Alchemic Properties of Plants, a Comprehensive Encyclopedia, Volume II," he read aloud. When he was done she went back to reading. "Volume two? You've read the first volume?" When she nodded absent-mindedly, his mouth opened in astonishment.
The door opened behind them and Calimander turned around to see his father coming out. Vander Silward was a big man in his fifties now, though the big green eyes siding his flat, broad nose radiated abounding youth. The ever-present smile beneath the wagon full of ginger and black hair that was his moustache, along with the ever-present pipe of chewleaf, only added to the optimism he inspired. Looking at him now, Calimander couldn't help but smile back as he stood.
"Your mother will be here soon," his father said, his pipe held in place between his teeth. He sucked on it once, twice, then added, "She's just finishing counting tonight's coin."
Though Calimander had grown to be taller than his mother, his father stood taller than him still at least another head. When he placed a big, heavy hand on his head and ruffled his hair, Cali felt like a boy of seven all over again.
"Did a good job tonight, I heard," his father was saying. "Those privypots were sparkling, huh? Who're you trying to impress?"
Calimander laughed. "Cirian helped me."
"I'm sure she did." Vander threw his daughter a look, noticed she was reading with her eyes half-shut and chuckled. "Yes, I get the feeling you wouldn't know what to do with yourself without her."
"Hey," he moved his father's hand away. "Yeah, I would…"
"Don't worry, Calimander," Vander's laugh was breathy and genuine as he winked, "It's my secret too."
"Secrets? In our family?"
Allis Silward was a shard of ice in the night. Thin and tall, her blue eyes spoke better and faster than any words ever could, a talent she often took advantage of. She kept her long, ginger hair braided over one shoulder, where her slender neck held up her gaunt, high-cheeked face. Her mouth, a small flat line beneath her narrow nose, gave away no glimpse of how she felt except perhaps mildly annoyed, though Calimander was convinced that was simply the look she had come into the world with.
"I would hope they are the Cathedratic kind of secrets," she finished saying as she stepped down past them.
"They are," Vander said, winking at Cali before following.
"Was tonight good, mother?" Cirian asked, placing a bookmark on her book and sliding it into her leather backpack.
"Decent," Allis said. "It would be better if your brother didn't try to start fights with the patronage."
Calimander felt the smile on his face twist and give place to a scowl. "The Gimm tripped Cirian."
"The Gimm are troublesome boys, yes," his mother interrupted Cirian without looking back at them. "That does not give you room to harass them."
"I wasn't harassing them, I was—"
"Accusing them of something you did not see them do." She turned her face just enough to look at him. It surprised him to see an understanding shade of blue in her eyes in place of a sharp glare. "I know you think you were protecting your sister, Calimander, but the Moonlit is not the place for confrontation. Your sister must know the patronage, and when the Gimm are around that means we must be careful and watchful."
"You told that big farmer to fuck off," Calimander grunted, crossing his arms. "The only reason I can't do it to the Gimm is because they're the bishop's pretend-sons."
Allis stopped abruptly at that, causing Calimander to almost slam into her.
"They are his godsgiven sons, Calimander. You will take that back."
She had not turned to speak, sparking the anger inside of him alive again.
"How many godsgiven children does Petr Gimm have? Four, five? How many godsgiven children can one bishop have under the gods' eyes exactly? Surely there's some kind of rule for that."
"Calimander, I will not have you speak of the bishop with such disrespect. Apologize this instant."
"For what? Asking questions?"
A heavy hand sat on his shoulder and squeezed, not hard enough to hurt him but firmly enough to restrain the compulsion he felt to keep going. He looked back at his father, who was giving him a stern, disapproving look, white smoke leaving his nostrils.
"Three," came the answer, though not from his mother. Cirian was looking down at the cobblestone, her thumbs hooked around the straps of her backpack. The blue of her eyes was a cool sea of distance. "Bishop Gimm has three godsgiven children, and a bishop can have as many as he is willing so long as he shows without a doubt that he can provide for them. It is the same for everyone. Every person is equal under the Cathedral."
"You don't have to respond to your brother's idiocy, Cirian," his mother said, her voice as tender as ice could be. "But there are your answers, Calimander. Now apologize for your disrespect."
He felt another firm squeeze on his shoulder and his heart clenched with frustration. Why did his father always side with his mother? How was treating him like this not unfair, even under Cathedratic principles? A sigh formed in his lungs and left them, heavy with frustrated resignation.
"I'm sorry," he muttered under his breath.
"Good," his mother said, and resumed her walk home. "Tomorrow you will apologize to the bishop himself, and I will hear of it. If I don't, you can stay home tomorrow night. We don't need any more heresy at the Moonlit than we already subject ourselves to."
Calimander pushed down the protests forming in his throat with a dry swallow. It was no use trying to argue. It was his mother who saw not working as a flaw of character, not him. If that was his punishment for not apologizing to the bishop for something he would never even learn had happened, then so be it. Not scraping shit off of privypots for one night would be just fine as far as he was concerned.
His head was still boiling with powerless anger when they got home, and it remained that way the whole time it took him to go upstairs, undress, put on his night clothes and prepare to go to sleep. He was going over how stupid this whole night had been when three soft knocks came at the door. The rhythm was a code he had with Cirian. He felt curiosity relax his face as he said, "Come in."
Cirian slid into his bedroom noiselessly, closing the door behind her very carefully. She was in her sleeping clothes as well, and from the way she was moving it was clear she had already given their mother the impression she was asleep. A smile came on Calimander's face.
"Getting yourself into trouble, little sister?" he teased.
Cirian gave him a look full with annoyance. "You're the one getting me in trouble," she hissed. "I've asked you time and time again to drop the Gimm shit."
"Whoa, don't let mother hear you curse, or she'll have you apologizing to the bishop for that too."
"It's not funny," she protested as he chuckled. "You're such an idiot, Calimander. Why do you have to make things so difficult all the time?"
The smile on his face slowly evaporated. His full name on Cirian's tongue always sounded alien, uncanny. "You're making me feel like I should apologize to you too."
"You should!" She shot a look at the shut door behind her, realizing she had spoken louder than she had meant to. When no movement was heard outside, she turned back to him. "You keep thinking you're protecting me but you're just making it worse. You're not at the college with me, and that's where they always find me and tease me about you! Do you know how many times I've heard, 'this one is for your dolt of a brother'?"
A pebble formed in Calimander's throat, infecting the back of his tongue with a disgusting taste. "They're bullying you because of me?"
"Who knows!" She threw her arms up in the air, let them drop beside her, then padded over to his bedside and sat next to him. "I don't know why they do it. I don't think they need a reason, they just like to feel power over someone. But you giving them actual reasons does not help."
He didn't know what to say to that. Up to that point he thought he hated the Gimm twins more than he hated anybody and anything, but only then did the full dimension of the feeling begin to unfurl its massive wings inside him.
"Look, it doesn't matter, okay? That's not why I came here." When he didn't say anything, Cirian went on, "Apologize to Bishop Gimm, alright?"
The request snapped him out of his hate-fuelled trance. "What? Why? What for?"
"Because I'm asking you. Please?"
"Why are you asking me, though? If I don't go work tomorrow night all the better, I can just go and hang out with Gil, I don't care."
"Ugh, you're so selfish sometimes, Calimander."
"How is that selfish?"
"Who's going to be working at the Moonlit if you're not there? Who's going to have to work twice as much simply because you decided to be a headstrong idiot about something that doesn't even matter?"
"It's precisely because it doesn't matter that I don't care to do it!" But his sister's point was solid enough and continuing the argument made him feel like the petty, selfish idiot his mother thought he was.
"If it doesn't matter then just do it! What do you have to lose? The bishop will think you an honest boy, mom won't be angry at you anymore, and you'll be able to help me not die tomorrow night. If it's half as full as it was today and I'm the only one helping I'll definitely die. And if the Gimm twins come again and you're not there… Don't make things more difficult than they are, Cali. Please?"
He nodded wordlessly, reluctantly. It did not please his pride but he also did not want to imagine what the Gimm would do if he wasn't at the Moonlit to watch them. It was bad enough that they used Cirian as a proxy for how they felt about him. Something needed to be done about that.
"Maybe Gil will have some idea…" he muttered without realizing.
Cirian furrowed her eyebrows at him. "What?"
"Nothing," he said, looking up at her. "I'm sorry for making things difficult, I don't mean to."
She hugged him then, tight, and he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing back.
"I worry about you, you know?"
"I'll apologize to the bishop, alright? You don't have to worry about that."
She broke the embrace and planted a soft kiss on his cheek, then stood up and padded over to the door. Before she made her silent way back out, she threw him a smile, to which he responded with his own and a wink.
When he was alone, the rage flared up in him. He would have razed Gloria to the ground right then if he could, burned it all in the flames of his fury, and he would have started with the Gimm. The twins first, of course, then Petr Gimm and the rest of his stupid godsgiven children, then the fucking Cathedral, the Moonlit and everything else. What was this place to him anyway? Everyone and their gods could go die in a blazing pit for all he cared.
He fell asleep thinking of what Afergil would say of the whole thing, and dreamt of laughing at the ashes of the twins' bones.