Immigrants typically came in by drips and drabs. Caravans were rare, usually no more than three or four over the course of the year. They crossed the wilderness with traveling lanterns, carrying whatever trade goods were valuable enough to justify the dangers and expenses. A caravan needed an engineer to tend the lantern and a glimwarden to keep it fueled, but beyond that there were typically a dozen other people who came along, merchants to sell their goods, laborers to help with the carts, and finally, those looking to make a new life in a new town.
Most of those who came to Light’s Hollow by caravan were poor; if you were rich, there was little reason to leave the comfort of your home and endure hard travel. Some who came were criminals, forced from a hometown whose laws didn’t favor as harsh an exile as was used in Light’s Hollow. As a consequence, immigrants were looked down upon, though perhaps that would have been the case even if they didn’t arrive with implicit stains on their records. Immigrants were, naturally, outsiders to Light’s Hollow, unfamiliar with its customs, with vernaculars and dialects that marked them as foreign. Assimilation happened slowly, but the process was inevitable, and eventually no one would remember that the immigrant hadn’t been there all along.
The refugees from Langust were going to be a different matter entirely. Firstly, there were more than two hundred of them — two hundred and eighty-three, as Philip had taken pains to get an exact count. That was a large enough group that they would be able to sequester themselves from the rest of the town and form a community of their own which would resist assimilation. Worse, it was apparent that they still had a leader, a strong figure who would offer them guidance and solidarity. It might have been one thing if their leader was a kind and gentle man, but it was clear that Diplomat Farrell was neither of those things. He spoke harshly and decisively, with no kind words spared for anyone who he hadn’t come in with. If the refugees were a rotten fruit of a problem, Farrell was the hardened pit at the center.
All in all, Philip was quite pleased. He had been the first to speak with the refugees, and no other authorities besides the deputy glimwarden had shown up for a few hours afterward, which allowed him to take nearly complete ownership of the issue. By the time his father arrived on the scene, Philip had already memorized the names of dozens of people and gotten the lay of their internal organization of power, as well as putting temporary plans in place to provide housing. Temporary plans often became permanent ones, which allowed Philip to impose his will without overstepping his bounds.
“Normally there are families that take in immigrants,” Philip had explained, “There’s a small amount paid by the city to cover any additional expenses of a house guest, just so it won’t be a hardship on the host family. The immigrants are encouraged to find work and move out in their own due time. Unfortunately, that scheme isn’t going to be workable, given how many of you there are.” The immigrants from Langust were a small fraction of what had been there when their lantern failed, but it was the largest single influx of new blood to Light’s Hollow in the last fifty years. “We’ll put as many of you as possible in with those who have room, with priorities given to families, but the rest will have to take shelter in the empty beds at the hospital for now, with the overflow going into city hall.”
Farrell had been clearly displeased about that, but there was really no other option. It was an erosion of Farrell’s power; he had been some kind of leader in his town, taken his people on a long, arduous journey to get here, and now there would be a diaspora, separating the people of Langust from their leader if only for a time. Philip would have planned that out, if he had needed to. Fortunately, Light’s Hollow simply didn’t have the capacity to deal with the refugees, not after the destruction that had happened at Healer’s Lantern only a short while before.
Philip recruited from the townspeople that gathered around, directing runework carts where he could in order to get the message across town as quickly as possible. He had borrowed pen and paper even before the Langustians had come into view, and he filled a number of sheets with a basic census, a list of what the people most needed, and notes about the organization of the people themselves, not just their obvious leader but both the people in Farrell’s orbit and those among them who could be deputized. By the time Philip’s father came, everything important was already in motion.
“You’ve overstepped your bounds,” the mayor whispered with a frown after Philip gave his report. It was a rebuke, but a private one.
“It makes us both look better,” said Philip. “Delegation is an important skill in a leader, you told me that.”
The mayor pursed his lips at that. It wasn’t the first time that Philip had quoted something back at his father, and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Of course, if his father were more cunning, he would have immediately come back with a counterattack, but they had been through enough of this song and dance together to know that Philip would end up winning. Just in case, Philip had laid out his arguments ahead of time; if his father said that it wasn’t actually delegation because it came without any orders or even direct knowledge on the part of his superior, Philip would reply that any hired position implied delegation when unforeseen events arose. That had been one of the strongest arguments his father made for why people were right to not pay attention to policy. In the mayor’s view, the people weren’t electing someone for matters of policy, but instead voting for someone who would engage with policy on their behalf without them having to understand it.
No more questions came though, and that appeared to be that. With the mayor on the scene, Philip’s role was immediately diminished, back down to being an aide. He was, functionally speaking, like a limb that his father could use. The mayor would take most of the credit, even though Philip had made most of the decisions, but that was more or less the life of an aide, even one that was coming to be seen as a sword-wielding hero. His father cast a wide shadow. Still, people would know to come to Philip, and his father would have to defer to Philip’s judgments.
Philip had known about the fall of Langust for more than a week thanks to his radio conversation with a contact in Gossom. That had given him time to prepare by reading up on the laws regarding those that came to Light’s Hollow from elsewhere. He had expected far fewer, perhaps a dozen, but he was nothing if not adaptable. By staying silent, he would seem even more adaptable than he already was; there was always an advantage in seeming to have information before everyone else.
Philip woke early in the morning and after eating a quick breakfast of bread and butter, he headed down to the hospital to see if he could get a conversation with Diplomat Farrell. A proper meeting with the man was well and truly beyond Philip’s role as the mayor’s aide, but a bit of friendly inquiry might blossom into a fuller conversation if done carefully, and the mayor couldn’t fault Philip for that. Philip had taken a document from his office, which he intended to offer to Farrell if at all possible; a drop of blood and a signature would, by the sacred alchemy of bureaucracy, turn any man, woman, or child into a citizen of Light’s Hollow. If asked, Philip would say that he had just brought the paper so that Farrell could look it over, since every refugee would be compelled to sign their own mimeographed copy if they intended to stay.
It was a calculated move. Splitting Farrell from his people would be better accomplished by going to them individually and having them become citizens on their own without his advice or consent. What Philip was instead trying to do was to capture their leader in his own orbit, which was best accomplished through direct diplomacy. Besides that, Philip had a plan that he thought might appeal to Farrell.
He found the older man stretching outside the hospital in the cool morning air, surrounded by what Philip had identified the day before as loyal lackeys. There were no women among them, Philip noticed. Farrell had gotten some sleep and obviously taken a shower; he looked much better than he had the day before, free from the grease and dirt of the road. Strangely, he also looked older, since the grime and obvious exhaustion had hidden some of his features.
“Young Phandrum,” said Diplomat Farrell. “You’ve stopped by to check on us.”
Philip shrugged. “I wanted to make sure that you felt welcomed,” he replied. “Transitions can be delicate things, and accommodations are not what I would have preferred. If Gossom had informed us that you were coming, we might have had the opportunity to prepare proper housing for everyone.” The official line from Gossom, as delivered by their warden, was that they were ill-equipped for so many people and had tried via scheduled radio but gotten no response. For his part, Farrell had seemed to imply that it was exile rather than pragmatism.
“The transition thus far has been handled fine,” Farrell replied with a nod. “We were just now getting ready for some matters of religious import. I’ve noticed that you have no place of worship here.” He quirked an eyebrow, but there was hardly any inflection.
“I believe some members of the community have personal shrines,” said Philip. He didn’t know any of them personally; the practice was virtually non-existent. Everything Philip knew about religion and worship had been learned from reading rather dry, academic books about politics, policy, and history, as religion didn’t really exist within Light’s Hollow.
“We will have to make the construction of a church a priority then,” replied Farrell with a nod. “We’ll build that first, then live within it while other housing is furnished.”
“The issue of what we’re doing in the long term will have to be decided by the city council,” Philip replied. Every spare acre of land within the umbra of the lanterns was already spoken for. “We haven’t formally set a meeting, but I believe all of the principals have been informed of your situation.” The folded paper which would allow Farrell citizenship was sitting in Philip’s pocket; he made a snap decision not to reach for it, though this would have been a decent enough time to segue. “If you’re doing well, I need to return to city hall and prepare for our inevitable meeting.”
Farrell frowned. “I do not much like your arrangement of leaders,” he said. There were some nods from the men around him. “They are disordered. There is no chain of command, no governing structure.”
“The structure is as laid out in our founding documents,” said Philip. “It is not simple, but so far it has proven effective.” That was one lie after another. The city charter didn’t perfectly match up with how the city was actually run, and it had been amended a number of times to make broad changes. Philip had his own thoughts about how effective any of it was, but none he was willing to voice out loud.
“Your father was elected to mayor by people who know nothing of governance,” said Farrell. “There is nothing divine in his selection.”
Philip was poorly trained for such naked hostility. He was used to jabs and barbs, but Farrell was behaving like a drunkard at a party, the type typically escorted out well before the evening was over. Clearly something needed to be said, but Philip had no idea what was appropriate as a response, let alone what would actually help his position. He had hoped to find the Langustians in his debt, but that seemed unlikely with Farrell in the way.
“We can discuss the merits of different forms of governance at a later date,” said Philip. “I’m fairly widely read on the subject. For now, would it be possible to interview someone about life in Langust? I fear that there are misunderstandings that we could easily avoid if I could offer some advice to the mayor and the other members of the city council.”
Farrell snorted. “Do what you will. I’ll fetch one of the girls for you,” he replied.
Philip was mildly surprised by that. Farrell had spoken with some disparagement towards Warden Myles the day before, seemingly entirely on account of the fact that she was a woman. Perhaps it was some as-yet unrevealed cultural slight for Philip to be speaking to a woman, but the men around Farrell gave no indication that was the case. The day of their arrival hadn’t allowed enough time to get a good understanding of what they actually believed, both because of the other organizational problems to be solved, and because everyone had been exhausted from the twenty mile journey.
A small, mousy girl was eventually brought out from the hospital to accompany Philip back to city hall. He had almost expected someone to come with them as a chaperon, but Farrell had begun speaking to some of the men about what sort of church they were going to build and appeared to have lost interest in Philip. Philip walked with the girl, whose name was Breda, making idle conversation. By the time they arrived at his office, she had loosened up slightly, though she tensed when he pulled out pen and paper from his desk.
“Is this a test?” Breda asked.
“Just an interview,” said Philip. “I’d like to know more about the place that you come from — not the town specifically, but some aspects of its society and culture.”
“Oh,” she said.
Philip could see that this was going to be a struggle if he tried to go too quickly. “Did you go to school?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Breda. She watched as he made a note of that.
“Until what age?” asked Philip.
“Sixteen,” she replied.
“And is that typical for women?” he asked.
“For men and women,” she replied, answering the question that he hadn’t asked.
The questioning continued in that vein for some time, until Breda was simply talking to him rather than answering questions by rote. She described a life that was fairly close to what they had in Light’s Hollow. She marveled at the surfeit of glass on display, and expressed the opinion that the people of Light’s Hollow wore far too much color.
“Color is sacred,” she explained. “The wardens each have a special hue, one which only they can see. Color wasn’t meant to adorn people, but that’s a burden that the wardens bear.” She didn’t seem overly concerned that Philip’s shirt was a light blue though.
Eventually, Philip moved toward the questions that he really cared about.
“How long has the Diplomat held that position?” he asked.
“Oh, ages,” Breda replied. “Since before I was born. Forty years, maybe.” She sat and waited for Philip’s next question, until eventually continuing. “With the Chancellor gone, he’s the only one left that can lead us.”
Philip weighed his next words carefully. “Is there anyone ready and able to take up the mantle?” he asked. It was important not to give insult by suggesting the man’s death.
Breda shook her head. “No one.” She sunk slightly. “We’ve lost everything with the fall of the lantern, and Diplomat Farrell is the only one who can keep everything together.”
“Could he train someone for the position?” asked Philip.
Breda shook her head again. “It’s a calling.” She hesitated. “He’s not very nice, but he says it’s okay if we say that, because he knows it’s true. That doesn’t change the matter of calling.”
Philip moved on to other topics, though there were more depths he wanted to plumb. Diplomat Farrell had no successor, which was a form of strength, in that it made him eminently important for the displaced Langustians. On the other hand, it presented Farrell as a single point of failure through which the community could be broken. Talking to Breda wasn’t going to provide anything more on the subject, since she didn’t appear to know all that much. That meant turning to his supposed purpose of this interview, which was helping to smooth the cultural differences.
“Diplomat Farrell spoke with one of our glimwardens, Warden Myles,” he said. “He intimated that it was impossible for her to be in charge, and while he was right that she wasn’t the chief glimwarden, his assertion seemed unfounded. Why would he think that?”
Breda blushed. “We don’t have … women like that,” she said. “He wasn’t kind about it, but he was right. A woman’s place is not as a leader. Nor as a glimwarden.”
Philip sat back in his chair and regarded her. She shifted in place.
“Why?” he asked. “The people of Light’s Hollow believe otherwise, that should be clear to you.” Linda Linwell had shown up the day before while Philip was helping find everyone a place to stay. She was only there for long enough to make an appearance, but the reception had been decidedly chilly.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” said Breda. “It’s just, you know, there are all these stories about what happens when people try it like that. And … if you’re man and wife, and you have a disagreement, someone has got to be right, don’t they? Men fight with each other all the time, it’s practically endless, and women fight with each other too, but in a marriage that just doesn’t work.”
Philip nodded along. It was only half an explanation, but he supposed that was the best that he would get from someone who had no part in politics herself. There might have been something to the idea that personal relationships worked better if one personal was dominant and the other submissive, in the same way that every council needed a method of resolving ties among its members, but that didn’t quite explain why women should be barred from being glimwardens or political leaders. In any case, a seeming formalization of discrimination was a political tool to be wielded against the refugees and Farrell in particular. Farrell would immediately be at odds with Councilor Linwell, and there went a quarter of the city council’s vote.
Not too much of the morning had passed when Philip returned to the hospital. There he was greeted by the sight of a crowd gathered around Farrell, who was standing on a box and giving what appeared to be an impromptu speech. The displaced people of Langust had gathered around to listen, but there were others as well, the citizens of Light’s Hollow stopping by for a listen. Farrell’s speaking voice was stronger than Philip might have imagined from speaking with the man, and he seemed stronger during the speech than he had in person.
“We have been beaten,” Farrell declared. “We will be stronger for our scars. We have been broken. We will be stronger for having mended. We have been exiled. We will be stronger for our journey.”
It was a speech of martyrdom. Farrell was casting himself and the others as survivors, but more than that, as righteous victims of a cold and uncaring world. Yet the message was not quite one of hope; there were various barbs directed towards Light’s Hollow, some hidden and others nakedly hostile if couched in faint praise or calls to tolerance.
It was in the best interests of the people of Langust to integrate smoothly with the people of Light’s Hollow, since, after all, they were outnumbered thirty to one. Yet they had a community which was large enough that they could potentially keep separate, and that seemed to be Farrell’s intent. His insults against Light’s Hollow served a dual purpose of division; he was marking lines to divide the two sides and driving a wedge between them. Philip made note of those wedges, as they would either be a problem or an opportunity.
First, there was some intimation that the people of Light’s Hollow were soft or decadent in some way. Given how the Langustians dressed, in plain, colorless clothing, Philip could see how that might be a powerful distinction to draw. After all, the Langustians would be hit with it every time they spoke to someone from outside their circle of refugees, and it was an easy way to mark allies. Likewise, some of the more ornate features of Light’s Hollow might attract scorn from men and women who had lost their friends and family to leave their homes behind. Philip himself had often looked at the statues that topped the outer lanterns and thought about what a waste of time and money they had been. He’d walked through Cooper’s Park and Lyman Row and thought about the cost of the land that was used for little more than civic beauty. Cooper’s Park in particular might be cause for controversy once more; every few years someone talked about clearing the trees there and building something practical, but no one ever took that too seriously. The refugees would need houses though, and Diplomat Farrell might use that evergreen issue as a hammer, once he found out about it.
Second, there was an accusation that Light’s Hollow was governed by nothing more than mob rule. Philip had often felt the same, though he had always been alone in that. The people who elected the city council knew nothing of public policy, and in any case didn’t tend to vote in a way that Philip found reasonable. It was far from mob rule though, as elections were infrequent enough that the pressure on the elected officials was less strong than it might have been. And the council was more complex than that, because it split the vote in different ways, and the chief glimwarden was decided by seniority. The process by which Langust had a Diplomat was unclear, but the position appeared to be a religious one, given all of Farrell’s talk of three gods and their divine sanction. Philip found it hard to imagine that the argument would sway anyone, but the intent was clear enough; he was attempting to erode the legitimacy of the leaders of Light’s Hollow.
The third argument was religious, and one which was largely inapt. Farrell spoke more than once about fractured gods, a seeming reference to the nine archetypes which gave the lanterns their names. Yet while Farrell called the people of Light’s Hollow heretics, the truth was simply that no one treated those figures as gods. They were part of the culture, certainly, but they were figures of mythology and the subjects of stories rather than deities for a person to pray to. The nine archetypes had their holidays and ceremonies, but these were more a matter of tradition than anything else. There were no religious leaders like Farrell appeared to be; the closest the town had was the mayor, whose duties at Moon Rise and the Feast of Empty Winter were entirely ceremonial. There were no heretics, merely unbelievers, which Philip was certain was a heresy all its own.
All in all, it was a mixed bag of criticism. The people of Light’s Hollow might take offense, but they didn’t appear to be the primary audience. Farrell was setting the narrative that his own people would be following. Following that speech, his words would hang in their minds whenever they had interactions with the larger community, and while Philip was certain that most of them wouldn’t be infected with the same zeal Farrell had, a strong friction had been introduced between the peoples. No doubt Farrell would be working to inflame the unease in the coming days.
If Philip had been playing from a position of strength, perhaps he might have made an impromptu speech of his own. The proper strategy wouldn’t be to counter Farrell’s specific points, but to highlight unity. Their cultures were not vastly different from one another, and from his conversation with Breda Philip imagined that he knew the right place to strike at them. He could give a speech about how all men are born with equality of opportunity, how both societies had rejected castes, slavery, royalty, and other such truly foreign things. They would be citizens, free to make what they wanted of themselves in this new town, barred nothing by virtue of the fact that they were foreign. Of course Philip would choose his words wisely; all men are born equal. That was a distinction that the citizens of Light’s Hollow might not think twice about, but the Langustians would be comforted by it.
But no, Philip was merely the mayor’s aide, and he had been warned once about overstepping his boundaries. Speeches would have to wait until later.
A closed meeting of the city council was called to order late in the day. There had been some discussion about whether or not it should be open to the public, but it had to come together in such a hurry that only the most ardent followers of town politics were likely to show up (the council-botherers, Philip’s father called them). Besides that, there were things to be discussed which weren’t for the general public to hear. Philip might have made the case that even the aides should be left out, so that nothing would leak from the meeting, but of course that would have meant excluding himself.
“There’s not enough money to pay for them,” said Linwell. “In time, they will convert life into labor and labor into money, but they cannot pay for the houses we’ll need to build for them, for the food they’ll eat from our supplies, and for the clothes on their backs. They didn’t come entirely without resources, but taking from them now will just retard their progress towards being productive citizens.”
“And where would the money come from?” asked the mayor. Philip took a brief moment from making his meeting notes to write down a few notes on different taxes, ready to be slipped over to his father at a moment’s notice. In this case, the mayor appeared to be asking with purpose rather than at a loss for what might be done; it was rarely politically expedient to suggest a new tax.
“We should slay them down to the last,” said Golland. He was looking less well than he had at the inquest, and of course the first thing from his lips was insanity. “They suck blood from the teat, their teeth biting into flesh, slain down to the last, that’s the only path for our picaresque little town if we hope to survive these trials.”
The room was silent. If Philip had any faith whatsoever in the city council, it would have been broken by the fact that no one spoke up about what was spilling forth from Gregor Golland’s lips. The truth was, removing him from the council now would throw things further into disarray, and everyone had privately decided that it was better to have a hobbled council than to deal with the Golland problem. He had no power on his own, only a single vote, and since three votes could decide on any matter they were likely to come across, everyone could simply vote against him for the time being. The biggest risk was that he would be unmasked as unhinged before the general public, but apparently that was a risk that the councilors were willing to take. After all, they were surely lining up their excuses, even the chief glimwarden, who was normally above such things.
“Charity,” grumbled Glimwarden Seaborn. “No one likes a tax, but they might give freely of their own accord.”
“No,” said the mayor. “Their man, Farrell, has seen to it that charity will never meet the needs of his people.”
“We could auction off the land for the new lantern,” said Linwell. “We’ve never done a preemptive auction, but now might be the time to start. We would simply tax the auction and have done with it, I think no one could argue with that.”
Philip could certainly have argued with that. The price an auction of the land would bring was more or less static, depending on the actors, which meant that a tax would only change how much of the pie ended up in the city’s coffers. It wasn’t a tax on those paying the auction prices, it was a tax on the people of the city, with the only difference being that it would wear a flimsy disguise. That disguise was all that Linwell was after though, and Philip thought it was sensible, so he said nothing against it.
There followed some squabbling about the exact numbers, which ended as soon as Philip drew forth a series of estimates about how much each refugee would cost the city in the time it took to get them all appropriately settled and working again. He had been the one to take an informal census of the immigrants, and the analysis had been completed before lunch. He’d tried, as best he could, to account for what condition everyone had been in, but there hadn’t been the time to ask everyone what their jobs were, which would have helped to refine the numbers some.
“I don’t suppose you have some gauge of how much the eighth lantern’s land will be worth?” asked Linwell.
“No ma’am,” replied Philip. “It will largely depend on how much money the three largest families have in reserve, and I expect that advanced purchase of land which won’t be available for quite some time will depress the income we might otherwise generate, especially if the auction is held on short notice. I do have a report on the auction that took place when Singer’s Lantern was built, but I don’t have much confidence in using that for predictive power. In any case, I was under the impression that the location for the eighth lantern was still to be decided.” Philip knew damned well that they hadn’t decided, but it paid to be polite.
Linwell rubbed her eyes. “We need more time. Can we divert funds?”
The mayor balked at that. “The last time we did something like that, we ended up with a shortfall which this very council was unable to correct for better than a month,” he said. That had been a sore spot discussed often over family dinner, but Philip thought his father was making a mistake in bringing it up now.
“The answer might be a form of bonds,” said Philip. It wasn’t his right to speak, but his father was the only one that looked at him askance. That was a good sign that he’d won a fair amount of respect from the council. “If those interested pay in, we can give them back that money plus interest when the time comes for auction. The city’s balance of funds would remain untouched. The only question is what sort of rate we would have to give them. The impact on auction proceeds wouldn’t be so great, I don’t think.” Anyone who bought a bond would naturally discount it by the time the auction rolled around.
“If your aide would be willing to lead that charge, I would consider the matter settled,” said Linwell. “Chief Seaborn?”
The glimwarden paused for a moment then nodded. No one asked for Golland’s opinion; his attention was focused out the window, and had been while this discussion took place. That was, at any rate, three votes in favor, which was all that were needed. Philip marked this down in his notes, though his father had never technically cast anything that might be considered a vote in its favor.
“We have other matters to discuss,” said the mayor. “We’ll pay for them, but what are we to do with them? Houses will need to be built for them, and by all accounts they’re hostile to the idea of integration and assimilation.”
Philip was fairly confident that no one save Golland would broach the subject of exiling them en masse like Gossom had done. It was an obvious solution to the problem, which would also avoid the issue of paying for the care of nearly three hundred people. There were a fair number of practical considerations, such as the fact that they would need to be sent away with supplies, and the injury that would be done to the reputation of Light’s Hollow, but Philip knew that wasn’t the real reason. The real reason was empathy. The council members would imagine themselves in the shoes of the refugees, turned away to face another dangerous trek through the wilderness to ever-further towns. The council members all saw themselves as good people, that was part of the problem.
Solutions were offered, but Philip could tell that most of them would be ineffectual. Linwell focused too closely on a sort of forcible conversion whereby the Langustians would be taught that their deeply held beliefs were wrong. The mayor spoke of ad hoc integration, as he seemed to hope that immersion was the salve that cured all wounds. Seaborn seemed to believe that the problem would solve itself in some way, so long as it was handled as such problems were normally handled.
“A man’s soul is not sundered from his body save by death,” said Golland during one lull in the conversation. “The soul is permanent, intangible, immutable, unable to change save by contact with the soul of another, so the crux of the conundrum can be clarified as a small egg sitting in a nest, to which the enterprising hater of birds might simply steal the egg away. Why make plans for when the egg hatches, when one might be forced to see what creature lives inside?”
If Philip cared solely for the well-being of Light’s Hollow, he might have agreed. Farrell was clearly an effective politician, whatever else he was, which made him a danger. He would first dig his hooks into his congregation until there was no possibility of their loyalty to Light’s Hollow, then he would seek to expand. Three hundred people weren’t enough to control a town of eleven thousand, but Farrell wouldn’t be limited to just them, not in the long term. Philip was fairly sure that he could use Farrell, he just wasn’t sure entirely how he would do that.
The meeting rambled, with no clear consensus, let alone a proposal that could be brought to a vote. The refugees were a problem, albeit one that could now be paid for, but the solution was entirely unclear. Eventually, the mayor rapped his gavel.
“We need to discuss the matter of sabotage,” he said. “Councilor Linwell, what do you have to report?”
“Nothing,” she replied with a huff. “Examination of the lanterns has shown no visible tampering. With the aid of one of the glimwardens, we did confirm that some of the internal damage had been caused using the bind, but that only confirms a suspicion.”
“My people have been on the lookout,” said Seaborn. “We haven’t seen the shadow of the bind of anyone who wasn’t known to have it. That might not mean anything though.”
“Yet a lantern failure in Langust concurrent with one here means that there is no coincidence,” replied the mayor. “It can only be sabotage.”
“A man might cut a finger from his hand in order to prevent venom from reaching his arm,” said Golland.
“Sabotage without motive,” said Linwell. “We can only keep our eyes open and hope that we spot it before it happens again, if it does. There are no leads to follow, no clues that we’ve missed.”
“We should hold off on the contest,” grumbled Seaborn. “We need more glimwardens, no matter where the threat is coming from. Better to have it done without complications.”
“You wish to use the city’s share,” replied Linwell. “We’ve agreed to our terms on that score. I speak for the runesmiths and they’re unwilling to take such a blow to their professional interests without getting something in return.”
The mayor rapped his gavel once. “Glimwarden Seaborn, our course is set in this matter. The long-standing arrangement allows for a diversion of hearts only in time of great peril, which — so far — this is not. You have stated that recovering the ranks could be done without undue stress upon the glimwardens, in keeping with the summary of forces that was given to me by your predecessor six years ago. It is in the public interest to keep the runesmiths from having to seek work elsewhere.”
“It might yet become an emergency,” Seaborn replied. “If things go sour, if the Schism rears its head again …” He folded his arms across his chest. “Fine. Let us have this competition and be done with it.”
The next morning, Philip’s early morning work was interrupted with a knock on his office door. When he opened it, he was mildly surprised to find Melanie Masters standing in front of him, with a girl he didn’t recognize standing off to the side.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Is now a good time for a meeting?” asked Melanie.
“As good as any,” Philip nodded. He went back into his office and gestured toward the two chairs. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” he said to Melanie’s companion.
“I came in with the group from Langust,” the red-headed girl said.
“You directed her to the Black Mare?” asked Melanie. “This is Chloe Masters, Chloe, this is Philip Phandrum.”
Philip was certain that he’d never seen this girl before. She was wearing something of Melanie’s, a high-collared dress with long sleeves and a conservative cut, and it was likely that she would have had a shower or a bath in the interim, but still, Philip would have remembered her, and he would have remembered directing her Melanie’s way. He had asked whether there were any Masters among the refugees, but no one had answered in the affirmative, not even when asked about those who might have met their fate during the lantern failure. He looked Chloe over carefully; there was a steely confidence to her, but she was at the same time avoiding direct eye contact.
“I’m sorry,” said Philip. “That was a hectic day and I spoke with many people.” He held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to formally make your acquaintance.” He watched her relax slightly as she took his hand. She was a liar, certainly, but Philip had ensured that his complicity wouldn’t be explicit. “What brings the two of you here?”
“Chloe has some information about the lantern failure in Langust,” said Melanie. She turned to look at Chloe, as did Philip.
“I am an illuminatrix,” said Chloe. “I came to Langust chasing stories of a bright red suit of armor. I had stolen it for my own when the lantern failed. I turned back to help those in need, which is when I encountered the man responsible. He was far beyond my ability to stop.” Her words were clearly rehearsed, and she spoke them with a steady voice. “The protection of the civilians went poorly. I was attacked by their illuminators. They stopped only when it became clear that any victory would come at a steep cost. I have been helping them ever since. I am prepared to pledge myself to Light’s Hollow for a set period of time in exchange for help.”
For her part, Melanie seemed shocked. Philip only nodded along as he mulled this over. The primary question was how much truth there was in what she was saying; it was almost inconceivable that this description of events didn’t hide something, if any of it was in fact true.
“Where is the armor?” asked Philip.
“I can’t say,” replied Chloe. “It’s power and leverage.”
Philip nodded. That much was obvious. “If you have no loyalty to the Langustians, where does your loyalty lie?” he asked. “Not to us, surely, but you haven’t cut loose from Farrell.”
Chloe opened her mouth to answer, but closed it before any words could come out. She looked to the one window in Philip’s office, as though she might find some answer there. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “I would like for … for the world to be a better place.” She paused, as if about to say something more, but kept her silence instead.
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” asked Melanie.
“I’m sorry,” said Chloe. “The truth is complicated and ugly. It doesn’t come easily.”
Philip was trying to see all the angles and having difficulty. Clearly Chloe couldn’t be trusted, but it was also clear that she was a valuable person to have around. Langust had nine glimwardens before it had fallen, and if she had been telling the truth, she had been able to fight them to a standstill, which meant that either the armor was ungodly powerful or she was singularly capable, perhaps both. Farrell was using the spirit of Langust as implicit leverage, but he had no purchase on her … unless his hooks in her were hidden, which Philip considered unlikely given that Farrell had displayed no power beyond that of rhetoric and loyalty.
This meeting was not something that Philip could negotiate alone, at least not given his rank within the city’s power structure. Yet he knew both the explicit and implicit laws of the city better than anyone, and he alone was best equipped to make a decision on this matter. Chloe Masters would not fit neatly into the systems of power within Light’s Hollow, but no one currently in a position of real power had made a study of the ways and means of power. It therefore would fall to Philip, and if it didn’t, he could count on his father, Seaborn, and Linwell to arrive at a bad solution.
“Can you handle the darklings?” asked Philip.
“Yes,” replied Chloe. She clenched her fist. “Even without wearing the armor. They’re weak in this region.”
“And you can cloak the shadow of the bind to keep yourself from being found out?” asked Philip.
Chloe hesitated. “Yes,” she replied. “Though it leaves me vulnerable to do so.”
“What does Farrell know about the suit of armor?” asked Philip.
“I stole it from his house,” said Chloe. “He has girls close to my size who I assume were meant to wear it in times of need.”
“The citizens of Langust don’t know that?” asked Philip.
“No,” said Chloe. “Just Farrell and the girls. Those that survived, anyway.”
Philip frowned. “But they aren’t glimwardens?” he asked. “Hidden ones, like yourself?”
Chloe shook her head. “Farrell wouldn’t have allowed that. It gives too much power.” Philip waited for her to continue, which she did reluctantly. “It’s simple for an illuminator to kill someone without the bind. There are a hundred attacks that the common person has no defense against, and the armor only protects against perhaps twenty of them. His girls would have stepped into the armor knowing how easily they could be put down. The armor is a razor that Farrell didn’t want to cut himself on.”
“Alright,” said Philip. He sat back in his chair. “Here are the problems, as I see them. First, you stole something of value from Langust which arguably contributed to the fall of their town. Light’s Hollow traditionally refuses to arbitrate for crimes which happened in other towns, but Farrell and his people aren’t going to like it.”
“Second, you’re a glimwarden,” Philip continued. “You’re going to be asked to pledge yourself to Light’s Hollow as soon as any of our own glimwardens know that you exist.”
“I’ll make the pledge,” said Chloe.
Philip shook his head. “You’ve already earned their mistrust,” he said. “You should have revealed yourself as soon as you set foot in protection of our lanterns. Warden Myles challenged you and you refused.”
“I needed to see what sort of place Light’s Hollow was first,” said Chloe. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I needed to hide the armor so it wouldn’t be stolen from me. I’m coming to you now because I’ve done what I needed to be done.”
“I understand. You’ve been through a lot,” said Philip. “I’m only trying to outline the problems that you now face, not suggesting that you should have done differently given the information available to you.” Philip backed off. She was valuable; it was important to stay in her good graces. “These problems have solutions. Our glimwardens will forgive and forget so long as you help collect hearts. Would you be willing to do that?”
“Third,” Philip continued. “You have information about the man who sabotaged Langust’s lantern. We suffered a similar act of sabotage not long ago. The question of motive is going to be on everyone’s lips.” He looked to Melanie. “Had word of that reached you?”
“Sabotage?” asked Melanie. “Someone deliberately turned off Healer’s Lantern?” Her face was pale. It was no particular surprise to Philip that she was out of her depth. “Who … who would do something like that?”
“Vicissitude,” said Chloe. “That was the only thing he said.”
“It’s a philosophical stance,” said Melanie, after it was clear that Chloe wasn’t going to say anything more on the matter. Her reticence was starting to annoy Philip. “It means strength through trials. Apparently someone thinks that creating destruction is a way of helping people.”
Philip had come across the term before in his reading, buried in a few books imported from far away. It had long been one of the lenses he used to look at the world. Locks were built to be strong enough to deter the average thief, which meant that better thieves would beget better locks. Monopolies on goods and services tended to be bad for consumers because competition spurred greatness. There was little doubt in Philip’s mind that the defenses of Light’s Hollow would become stronger following the lantern failure at Healer’s. Of course vicissitude was nearly unworkable as a political philosophy, and it broke down as soon as anyone began to take it too seriously, but Philip had a certain respect for it.
“It’s not much to go on,” said Philip. He had been idly making notes as they spoke, in the same way he recorded meeting minutes for the council, his pen moving almost automatically to capture his thoughts. He looked down at these now to make sure there was nothing he was forgetting. There were more questions to ask Chloe, certainly, but she had already withdrawn. “Chloe, how would you like to proceed?” Philip asked. “I can represent you and maintain your anonymity until an agreement is reached, if you would like.”
“You’d do that?” asked Chloe, looking up to meet his eyes. There was, for a brief moment, a look of relief. “What’s in it for you?”
“I think it would go more smoothly with me speaking on your behalf,” said Philip. “I know the people that will need to be brought on board for you to transition into a productive member of the community. I know the personalities involved.”
“You gain power, in other words,” said Chloe. Melanie frowned at that, but said nothing.
“Everyone gains,” said Philip. “That’s the ideal end of any political arrangement.” This was a bald lie, but it was the sort that was expected of any politician; the ideal end varied depending on the politician, but was almost never about mutual benefit.
“I have a condition,” said Chloe. “At some point we need to find the people responsible for these attacks and bring them to justice. I can’t do it alone. When the time comes, I’m going to call on you for help.” A fire had returned to her eyes.
Philip held out his hand. “Then we have a deal,” he replied.