One more week until Widows of the Empire comes out! Here’s a second excerpt, in which Belwyn, stuck in exile in Annanais, finally receives a particularly stubborn caller.
That the Temple of Rend meant something to Belwyn didn’t mean she had an idea of what this particular acolyte wanted with her. She’d made the gesture to rebuild the temple in Cye after the explosion that led her to Cotber and started her examination of Port Ambs. Hagan had made all the arrangements and Belwyn hadn’t given it much thought. It had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, a decision made in the wake of sorrow washing over her for people who had lost a place where they could worship. Just because she didn’t need such a space didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the loss.
She wracked her brain, trying to remember if the temple had reached out to her. Maybe they had contact with Hagan, but she couldn’t conjure any memory of meeting with them. She hadn’t expected to, but why not? It would have been impolite not to acknowledge their benefactor. What if they didn’t know? Belwyn couldn’t remember telling Hagan to make the donation anonymously, but she might have. If that was the case, how would any acolyte know about her role?
She was sitting in the courtyard, after lunch, when Neven approached.
“It’s time, Lady,” Neven said, gesturing toward the formal receiving room.
Belwyn followed, pushing down a lump in her throat. A guard, one of Brixton’s men, opened the door for them. Neven waved Belwyn through, then followed behind her.
There were three people waiting for them in the room. Two were Brixton’s guards, who were making a display of their rifles, holding them in their hands, ready for action. They looked menacing, not the generally easygoing men who rarely did anything with their guns but sling them over their shoulders. In between them stood a man in a long, grey robe, complete with a hood that partially hid his face. Belwyn could see just a scrap of a beard poking out from underneath. He was hunched and looked frail, particularly between the two guards.
“Is this necessary?” she asked Neven, while gesturing toward the guards. “This is a man of the gods, after all. Can we not treat him with some dignity?”
Neven gave a signal and the two guards shouldered their rifles and left the room. “It was merely a precaution, Lady.”
After the guards left, Belwyn gestured for the man to sit on one of the stuffed chairs by the window, which he did slowly, shuffling with short steps. Belwyn sat down across from him while Neven took up her place a few feet away. Either she, or one of her underlings, had to be close enough during meetings to make sure no one told Belwyn something inappropriate.
“Lady Belwyn,” the acolyte said with a slight bow, his voice rough and low.
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir, since I do not know your name,” she said.
“You may call me Gendil, Lady, if it pleases.”
She smiled. “I once had a horse named Gendil. I was very fond of him.”
“A favorable coincidence, Lady.”
The was an uncomfortable silence. “What is it I can do for you, Gendil? I understand you come from the Temple of Rend in Cye. Is that right?”
“That is why I am here, Lady,” he said, “but I am not from the temple in Cye.” He paused, glancing over at Neven.
Belwyn followed his gaze, sensing an opportunity. “Is there a problem with Neven?”
“I’ve spoken with her many times,” Gendil said, “but what I have to say is only for your ears, Lady.”
Belwyn turned to Neven. “I think you can see that there is no risk or danger here, Neven. Can you leave us alone for five minutes?”
“You know I can’t, Lady,” Neven said.
“Your people have made exceptions before,” Belwyn said. It wasn’t strictly true. She’d managed to get her handlers out of the room for moments here and there, but never this blatantly. She hoped the thought would throw Neven off her guard just enough.
“Not with my permission,” she said.
Belwyn shrugged. “Regardless, nothing untoward has come of it. You can keep Britxon’s men on the other side of the door, for all I care, but surely five minutes to indulge this gentleman isn’t too much to ask.”
Gendil shifted in his seat toward Neven, like the effort of doing so was almost too much for him to bear. “Madam, if I may. What I wish to discuss with Lady Belwyn is of a sacred nature. The rules of my order emphasize confidentiality in personal interactions. I understand if you must be present, but do know that it will be an imposition upon my faith.”
Belwyn looked at Neven with pleading eyes. Gendil’s evocation of religious dogma made her skin crawl, but the idea that he wanted to talk to her alone was intriguing. Not to mention, the sooner Neven left the room, the sooner she could be done with this. After all, the man had appeared for two weeks straight and was unlikely to take “no” for an answer. “Five minutes?”
Neven looked like she was going to fire off a cable to Chakat about this, to try and get out of this assignment. But Belwyn had seen that look before, a look of resignation. “Very well. I wouldn’t want to interfere with a religious exercise. I’ll be back in three minutes.”
Belwyn waited for the door to be securely shut behind Neven before saying, “Thank you for coming to see me, Gendil, but I have to warn you, I’ve never had much use for the gods.”
Gendil straightened and pulled back the hood of his robe. “How could I ever forget that, Lady.”
It took her a moment, but once she studied the eyes, she knew. Belwyn put her hands over her mouth to contain the scream of excitement that welled inside her. She took a deep breath, then whispered, “Hagan!”
He nodded. “Yes, Lady.”