The Moonsteel Crown (February 2021)

Fings peered across the snow. “You keep banging on how there’s a war coming. Much better chance he’ll get killed if he’s off fighting in it rather than sitting around the Pig making our lives miserable.” Wars were things that happened to other people, as far as Fings was concerned.

“Your wish may be granted. Blackhand wants me to forge a letter from some obscure lord no one’s ever heard of that’ll get your Murdering Bastard into the Emperor’s Guard.”

“You can do that?”

“Of course I can!”

“You going to?”

Seth caught Fings’ eye. When he was quite sure he had it, he dragged it to his tray of sodden pastries and then gave Fings a baleful look. “Blackhand asked nicely. What do you think?”

What he could have been doing – what he should have been doing if his life hadn’t abruptly turned into an ash-heap six months ago – was sitting in the nice warm undercroft of a nice cosy temple in front of a nice hot fire. What he should have been doing was putting his feet up, toasting his toes, sipping warm spiced wine and chewing the fat with other senior novices and junior priests, discussing politics, theology and which of the fat old Lightbringers who lorded it over them was the most likely to drop dead before winter ended. He missed that. Truth be told, he missed that a lot.

“Don’t read the forbidden books.” What do you do? Read the forbidden books. “Don’t sneak into the forbidden crypt.” What do you do? Fuck about in the forbidden crypt. “Definitely don’t go into the forbidden catacombs.” What do you do? Not that they’d caught him on the last one.

Of course, no one had said that all these things were forbidden, exactly. That was the galling part. A novice was simply supposed to know by some trick of divine telepathy, and then be a good little cleric and not do them.

But you did know. You knew perfectly well.

All he’d ever wanted was to serve the Sun. To understand the four Divinities.

Yes, and if you’d managed to do as you were bloody well told for five minutes, maybe that’s exactly what would have happened, eh? What you wanted, you cretin, was a little patience.

The end of a lifetime of dreams. There wasn’t even a shred of injustice to it. Warning after warning and he hadn’t stopped. Didn’t even know why, not really. He just… couldn’t.

“I hope you’re fleecing him,” said Fings.

Across the archery field, Sulfane was running from the stump of a tree. Seth watched as he vaulted onto a low platform and fired at one of the targets. He looked very determined. Dynamic. Intense. All good qualities a soldier was supposed to have, Seth supposed. He wasn’t sure where being as mad as a bag of spiders fitted, whether that was good or bad or whether it simply didn’t matter when you were standing in front of a thousand armoured horses bearing down on you at a gallop. Probably helped, didn’t it?

“I said I hope you’re fleecing him.”

“Blackhand? You must be joking.”

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