Glimwarden, Chapter 5

Philip

Technically speaking, there were no laws against the mayor being a glimwarden. The laws of Light’s Hollow stated that mayoral elections were to be held once every nine years, or in a few other special circumstances. Every citizen in good standing was given the vote, including the engineers and the glimwardens, though they made up just a small fraction of the total population. If Philip became a glimwarden, he could still become the mayor. In fact, there were no prohibitions on the other two elected seats either; the engineers were allowed to elect whoever they liked, and no one was prevented from running for the at-large seat on the basis of profession. Yet the fact that there were no laws on the subject was almost meaningless given the weight of tradition. Through the history of Light’s Hollow, the mayor and at-large member had been from more mundane professions, and the engineers had never elected someone from outside their ranks.

It would be difficult for Philip to become mayor if he were a glimwarden, especially because that would result in two of the four seats on the council being occupied by wardens, which would raise all sorts of questions about the balance of political power. If he were a glimwarden, his only real path to a seat on the city council would be to become the chief glimwarden, which could only be accomplished through seniority — in other words, the death of some twenty people who were more experienced at the job than he was. Becoming a glimwarden was therefore at odds with Philip’s medium-term desires, even before he began to contemplate the risk of death inherent in fighting the darklings day after day.

Philip had decided against becoming a glimwarden after the better part of a day spent in the library at city hall, looking through books detailing the history of Light’s Hollow. The fact that there were no restrictions on the council positions was interesting — he wondered whether Seaborn and Linwell were aware of that — but for the most part he had only convinced himself that he would make life more difficult for himself by winning the competition.

The fact that he had no interest in winning didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to enter. The exact details of the competition were still being worked out, but Philip felt confident that it would be a public affair no matter what rules were in place. By entering, Philip would reinforce his place in the public eye, while at the same time giving him some conceptual distance from his father. Entering to become a glimwarden showed a strong spirit of sacrifice and dedication to the town above and beyond what the average citizen was expected to have, and so long as Philip made a good showing of things, he would be lauded for his dedication. Beyond that, Philip expected that the other entrants would disproportionately be important people close to his own age, which meant that he had a good chance of making allies, or at least strengthening old acquaintances.

Philip decided to begin training. He woke up early in the morning and went for a run, something he hadn’t done for quite some time. As he felt the strain in his legs and a burning in his lungs, he made sure to save enough energy to wave at people as he made his circuit of Light’s Hollow. He stopped at each of the lanterns to catch his breath, not only because he was tired, but because there were always people to talk to. None of the conversations went beyond the surface, of course, it was all empty pleasantries and idle chatter. Philip had been trying to work on his idle chatter.

“It’s shocking to me how many people keep their wandering to the domain of a single lantern,” he said to a baker who was loading his runework cart with bread. “Light’s Hollow is so big, yet some people only shuttle themselves from work to home and back again.”

“Oh I know,” said the baker. “Such a shame. The highlight of my day is in deliveries.”

Philip didn’t actually find it shocking that most people stayed within a mile of their homes. Runework engines were expensive. The carts were reserved almost exclusively for businesses and even then shared between several people. The primary way to travel between lanterns was simply by walking, but that meant nearly an hour’s round trip even at a brisk pace. Each of the outlying lanterns had services and shops for the people that lived there, if not to the extent that those were available near Chancellor’s Lantern. The baker had looked happy though, loading his bread up into the cart, so Philip had said what he thought the baker wanted to hear. He had cast the two of them as conspirators, worldly in a way that others weren’t. For whatever reason, people loved the idea of being set apart from their cohorts.

Philip complimented women on their clothing and showed interest towards farmers growing their crops. Farmers loved to talk about the weather, he’d found, probably because there was rarely anything more exciting going on in the fields. Philip found it easy to talk with people, especially when he could get them to do the bulk of the talking. He didn’t have to feign interest in their topics very often. Most of the time he was holding his tongue, because by the time you’d spoken about the same subject for the fifth time that day, you began to know more than the people you were talking to. It was better to let them talk though. People enjoyed feeling like you were growing wiser for having heard their opinion.

Some of the people he met talked to him about his father and the city council, usually with complaints. The city council’s open meetings had taught Philip to expect as much. The problem was that people didn’t tend to think about the city council unless they wanted something from it, whether that was tax relief, an allocation of permits, or the resolution of some dispute. Few people noticed when things were running smoothly. That was one of the reasons that it was important for those in the city council to be seen out and about. If the people wouldn’t fondly remember maintenance of the status quo, then they needed to remember appearances at festivals, grand speeches, or chance encounters during a morning run.

Politics wasn’t about policy. That had come as something of a disappointment to Philip, who loved policy from an early age. He liked looking at laws and civic codes, not just because they were ordered and precise, but because they were an attempt at bringing explicit language and reasoning to a world that seemed largely dominated by implicit understandings. Laws were the imperfect result of imperfect reasoning, created as compromise between people with different values, but they were at least a noble attempt at bringing the world into a state of order.

Unfortunately, no one cared about policy. The average voter didn’t understand the policies that were in place, nor the candidates’ positions on those policies. As a consequence, there was only a very tenuous feedback mechanism between what the city council did and how the people voted. Other people had noticed this and called elections little more than a popularity contest, but Philip wasn’t quite so cynical as that. He believed that people chose their representatives more on the basis of their personal attributes than on any specific policy. The people wanted an honest, hard-working mayor who listened to his citizens, because they thought that this would have a good outcome. With that said, the ability of the average citizen to determine the personal attributes of any other person (whether running for public office or not) was fairly minimal. It was more important for a political candidate to appear as though they had desirable personal attributes than it was for them to actually have desirable attributes.

This was one of the reasons that Philip disliked democracy. Voting systems resulted in candidates who were maximally good at getting people to vote for them, rather than the best creators of policy. The glimwarden’s system of simply having the longest-lived member speak for their interests was also flawed, but it at least had the benefit of being a decent proxy for experience and expertise. Philip’s preference was for a more absolute rule by a single, highly-competent person. There were problems with that as well, since an absolute ruler wouldn’t necessarily be the best at ruling absolutely, only the best at seizing the power of absolute rule, but that was a problem Philip thought that he could work on.

He mulled it over as he ran. It was nearly eleven when Philip rounded his way toward Singer’s Lantern, the most recent of the seven lanterns and thus the smallest of the outlying settlements. There was a general store, but almost any other service would require a two mile trip to Chancellor’s Lantern. Philip had always imagined that it was the least prestigious of the lanterns to work at. He made a note to himself to find a roundabout way of asking the engineers whether that was true. It was possible that working on the newest lantern was some sort of privilege, in the way that a fresh cut of meat was preferred to one that had been sitting in the butcher’s window for three days.

When he saw Sander Seaborn and Merry Myles walking away from the lantern, he waved and called out to them. These were important people, each in their own way. Merry might be the chief glimwarden some day, which would usher in a new era of the city council. Merry Myles was blunt, same as the elder Seaborn, but a glance at her exposed midriff and twin pistols was enough to know she was no conservative.

“Hello Sander, Miss Myles. Sander, do you have a moment to speak?” asked Philip as he drew near them.

Sander looked to Merry and she shrugged her shoulders.

“I need to find your father anyway,” the glimwarden said. “You did well today.” She gave Philip a small, lazy curtsy that bordered on sarcastic. “Tell the mayor I said hello.” She walked off without standing on ceremony, humming to herself as she left them alone.

“How’s your morning been?” asked Sander.

“Good,” replied Philip. “We haven’t talked much since leaving school.”

“We didn’t talk much in school either,” Sander replied.

“You always had your nose in a book, if I recall correctly,” said Philip with a laugh. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“What did you want to talk about?” asked Sander. He shifted slightly and glanced up at the light on top of Singer’s Lantern. That was often a habit of older people, those who had been through some calamity and needed constant reassurance that the lantern was still working. The alarms would sound if there was ever a problem, and this close to the lantern there would be no missing it.

“They’re going to build an eighth lantern,” said Philip. “They want three more glimwardens to help fuel it, and I was wondering whether you wanted to be one of them.”

“I — yes?” asked Sander.

“So do I,” said Philip. “I’m going to tell you something that’s not quite public record yet. There’s going to be a competition to determine who the glimwardens are going to be, in order to keep the process as purely objective as possible.” He watched Sander closely. The lack of reaction gave away what Philip had already suspected. This was not new information to him, though Philip hadn’t fully expected that it would be. “I was wondering whether you wanted to be partners.”

“Partners?” asked Sander. “I didn’t think things were so set in stone yet. There are going to be teams?”

“It’s not set in stone,” said Philip. “I doubt that there will be formal teams though, because they’re trying to make sure they have the best individuals.”

“So how would we be partners?” asked Sander. His brow was furrowed.

“There might be some forms of competition that allow for two to work better than one,” said Philip. “It might never come up, but if it does, far better to have someone picked out ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling to find someone, or worse, only realizing after the fact that everyone else picked a partner.”

Sander frowned. “But why do you want to become a glimwarden?” he asked. “Everyone says that you’re going to be the mayor some day.”

This was the question that Philip had been waiting for, one that he knew he would have to answer many times in the coming days. This was an opportunity to practice saying something rehearsed and coming off natural. “Glimwardens have a covenant with this town, one that extends deeper than the covenant of civil service or the mayor’s oath of office. My father helps this town to run properly, as do Miss Linwell and Mister Golland, but the glimwardens are the only ones that put their lives on the line. If I don’t end up being chosen to become a glimwarden, I think I can happily while away my life working at city hall in one capacity or another, but so long as they’re opening up the selection process, I thought I might have a go at the ultimate form of duty.”

“Huh,” said Sander. He slowly began to smile. “I think my dad would like you. But I guess you see him every week at the meetings, don’t you?”

“We haven’t spoken much,” replied Philip. “I’d welcome the chance to sit down with him sometime though.”

“I might be able to arrange that,” said Sander. He scratched his head for a moment. “Okay, team members, I think I’d like that. But why me?”

“There are lots of reasons,” said Philip. “The biggest one is that you have a reputation for having a keen mind, and I think that will be an asset.”

That was a lie. Philip had made an ordering of the reasons to approach Sander Seaborn first. At the top of the list was Sander’s father, the chief glimwarden, who represented one quarter of the city council’s votes and a substantial fraction of its raw physical power. Sander was also widely known to be lacking in wisdom, for all that he was supposed to be intelligent; three failed apprenticeships seemed proof enough of that. That meant Sander would have a real need for a partner, but also that he would be easy to steer.

“So who do you want for our third?” asked Philip.

“Our third?” asked Sander.

“There will be three glimwardens at the end of this,” said Philip. “If two can profit by promising to help each other, so can three. With four we might run into problems, since there would be an incentive for betrayal. Besides that, three is lucky.”

“I don’t even know who else is thinking of entering,” said Sander.

“It’s hard to say at this point,” Philip agreed. “We’ll know more once it’s been formally announced and people start talking. Colin Colsum seems like a certainty though, and I think Benjamin Brecker will probably join in as well. We don’t know what sort of requirements are going to be in place either. Unless your father has said anything about that?”

“No,” said Sander. “I haven’t heard anything. I’ll grill him on it tonight and let you know though. Based on the ages of prior glimwardens at induction, I think they’d probably restrict it to between sixteen and twenty-six, which narrows the field down to sixteen percent of the population. If one in ten of those wanted to be a glimwarden, that’s roughly two hundred people as an upper bound.” Sander rattled this off without a second thought. He looked up to the light on top of Singer’s Lantern again. “I’m getting hungry though, so maybe we can talk later?”

“Do you want to have lunch together?” asked Philip. “We are partners now, after all. I’d pay, if you wanted to eat in town. Otherwise my mom could make us something, if you’re headed in the direction of Chancellor’s.”

Sander hesitated. “Have you ever eaten at the Black Mare?”

❧❧❧

Philip had, of course, eaten at the Black Mare before. There were perhaps twenty places that served food within Light’s Hollow, and Philip had eaten at all of them. One of the mayor’s duties was to listen to the people, not just those who made appointments with him or showed up to the open sessions of the city council, but those who barely took an interest in governance. Philip’s father made regular trips all around Light’s Hollow, bringing Philip along with a pen and paper to make notes on names and issues. It hadn’t escaped Philip’s notice that this supposed duty (not spelled out anywhere in the city charter) also helped his father’s public image and increased his odds of re-election.

The Black Mare was frequented by a lesser sort of people. Tenant farmers, manual laborers, and contingent workers all tended to congregate here. It was the only tavern next to Challenger’s Lantern — which everyone called Rogue’s Lantern — so it also drew in some of the more well-to-do people who didn’t want to make the trek into town, but by and large it was occupied by the lower classes. Be that as it may, everyone got their vote, no matter how much money they were worth, so the mayor came to visit with Philip in tow.

Melanie rolled her eyes at Sander the moment he walked through the door, which immediately made it clear to Philip why they had walked two miles just for her food. He had never given much thought to Melanie Masters. She was quite poor, she was a distant relation of Linwell, she’d made a fool of herself at the Moon Rise, and she somehow managed to run this tavern entirely on her own. That was all that he knew of her though. He didn’t know what Sander’s interest in her was, but he expected that it was romantic.

“What’s the soup of the day, Melanie?” asked Sander.

“Horse,” said Melanie. “With onion and homemade noodles, plus some herbs and spices.”

“I’ve never had horse before,” said Sander. “Why horse?”

“Colsum’s horse had to be put down yesterday,” said Philip. “I heard about it on my morning run.”

“I was offered a good price on the meat,” said Melanie.

“Is it any good?” asked Sander.

“You claim to love my cooking,” replied Melanie.

“That sounds suspiciously like you’re avoiding my question,” said Sander. He was smiling, but she was not. “Is it any good?”

“It’s a traditional dish,” said Melanie. “When the first settlers founded Light’s Hollow, they had to slaughter a number of the horses and oxen that had pulled their traveling lantern along. They made noodles from the last of the flour they’d brought with them and used spring onions they found near the river.”

“That … is actually still not an answer,” said Sander.

“It’s horse,” said Melanie. “Do you like the taste of horse?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever tasted horse before,” said Sander. “I just wanted to know whether you liked the soup.”

Melanie pinched the bridge of her nose.

“We’ll take two bowls,” said Philip. “And two cups of something to wash it down with, in case our palates aren’t quite refined enough to appreciate a historically significant dish like this. We’ll be at the table in the corner. Sander and I have a few things we need to discuss.” He grabbed Sander’s arm and guided him away. Melanie gave a small sigh of relief that Sander didn’t seem to notice, though if she felt any gratitude toward Philip, he could see no trace of it.

“Are you sure that we want to be eating horse soup?” asked Sander when they sat down.

“It will be a new experience,” said Philip. “There aren’t too many of those to be had in Light’s Hollow.” This was a safe thing to say to Sander, and it happened to also be true. “There are only nine horses left in Light’s Hollow now, if what I’ve been told is true. It might be that in another generation there won’t be any horses left at all. Or maybe they’ll just be inbred.”

“I’m not even sure why we have horses,” said Sander. “Glimwardens can’t take them out, because they’re a liability in a fight against the darklings. The tractors are all runework these days, no smelly animals required. Most of the caravans have runework engines as well, but the ones that don’t have oxen, not horses. The only place a horse excels is in going over rough terrain, but it can’t even be all that rough or the horse will have trouble.”

“No one owns horses because they’re practical,” said Philip. “Do you know who owns those nine remaining horses?”

“Colsum, probably,” said Sander. “If the horse we’re about to eat was his horse, then maybe he has another. I don’t know who else.”

“Colsum, Framing, and Padgecock,” replied Philip. “The three richest families in Light’s Hollow. They own the horses so they can show everyone that they’re rich enough to own horses. In fact, if horses did more than they do now, there would be less point in owning a horse, because it wouldn’t be clear that it was a waste of time and money.”

“That’s stupid,” said Sander. “Why do they need to show everyone that they have money if they have money? If you’d just asked me who the three richest families were I probably would have said Colsum, Framing, and Padgecock.”

“One school of thought would be that you only know that because they display their wealth with things like horses,” said Philip.

“Why is that even important?” asked Sander. “If they’ve got money, why do they need to tell people that they have money? They already have to show their money when they buy things, which is the whole point of having money.”

“People treat you differently when they know that you have money,” said Philip. He gave Sander a genuine smile. He’d had these conversations with his father, but those had been solemn affairs between teacher and student. Sander seemed to think that this problem was a stupid one that he could solve in a few hours thought. “If a man knows that you have money, he’ll treat you better even if you’re not paying him anything, both for positive reasons, like him wanting money from you, or negative reasons, like him thinking that you could use your money in retribution against him.”

While Sander was pondering that, Melanie arrived with two bowls of soup and two glasses of chilled wormwood tea. When she set them on the table, Sander gave her a wide smile, which she responded to with a roll of her eyes. Sander didn’t seem remotely fazed by this.

“Horse,” said Sander, looking down at his soup. “To historical curiosities?”

“To partnership,” said Philip. “And to trying new things.”

Philip was feeling good about himself. His relationship with Sander was progressing nicely, which meant that entering into the glimwarden competition was paying dividends already. Philip’s past experience was that he did better the less time he spent with people, so he began making a list of excuses in preparation for when it came time to say his goodbyes. He took his first spoonful of soup just slightly after Sander. Sander’s expression was one of puzzlement, so Philip followed suit, trying to look thoughtful.

“She’s covering up the flavor of the horse,” said Sander. “This is my first time having horse, but I still don’t know what the meat tastes like.”

“The soup tastes like onions and herbs,” agreed Philip. He found it easy to agree with people, even if he didn’t agree with them. It wasn’t hard to find both the positive and negative in most things. Philip was always ready with a compliment, if that was what was warranted.

“It’s good though,” said Sander. He turned around, toward where Melanie was reading a book at the counter. “It’s good!”

Melanie looked up briefly and gave them the smallest smile she could manage. It faded away as soon as she returned her gaze to her book.

“How long have you and Melanie been friends?” asked Philip as he took another bite of his soup. It was far from the best thing he’d ever eaten, but it was at least novel. He was skeptical about Melanie’s claim that this was a historical dish, since early documents from the founders were quite rare and didn’t, to his knowledge, include any recipes.

“I haven’t known her long,” said Sander. He’d lowered his voice slightly and leaned in closer to Philip. “I mean, I didn’t really pay attention to her when we were in school. It was just me, Richard, and Wallace, I didn’t really spend time with anyone else.” He frowned and paused for a moment. Philip made note of the weak spot. “Most people like to talk a lot, but Mel is content to stay silent most of the time. She likes reading books more than she likes people.”

“Why is that, do you think?” asked Philip.

“I don’t know,” said Sander. “I’m trying to figure it out, because I think she’s worth figuring out. She showed up to the Moon Rise in a white dress, with every type of flower in her hair. I think it was one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen. It was like that feeling of seeing stars in the sky on a cloudless night, that expansive emotion that comes from a world that’s larger than you could ever comprehend. Like she was lifting me up into the air by my bones.” He glanced over at Melanie, who was still reading her book.

Philip had no idea what sort of response was warranted. He didn’t even really know what message Sander was trying to communicate. Philip’s experience with people was mostly with their exteriors, the things they said in public and the thoughts they would share with a stranger. Sander seemed to have just revealed part of his interior, without forethought, vulnerability, or shame.

The Moon Rise was always a month after graduation, when the girls of Light’s Hollow had found an apprenticeship or settled into unskilled labor of some kind. It was a celebration of the last night of girlhood and the transition to being a woman. There were usually around seventy girls taking part in the Moon Rise, but there were more than a thousand people in attendance.

Philip had been there, as was traditional for the male counterparts of the graduating class. He had been to every Moon Rise since he was little, and didn’t find much that was new or different about this one. Each girl wore a dress in a single color, with something of a pecking order to who wore which colors. There was meaning conveyed in the solid blue that Sonia wore, or in the deep purple dress of Claudia’s that trailed nearly to the floor. Philip understood little of it, but for once he wasn’t expected to.

Melanie had come late, wearing a white dress. Almost every time Philip had seen her before or since, she’d worn her hair in a tight braid that was pinned up, but on Moon Rise she had it down and flowing freely. Her black hair reached the small of her back. Woven into it were fresh flowers of nearly every color. On one of the nights when Light’s Hollow was most steeped in tradition, Melanie Masters had chosen to be completely unorthodox. People stopped talking to stare at her, and whispered conversations followed in her wake. She ignored the looks and the murmured conversation, spoke to no one, and only stayed long enough to take part in the firelight dance. There was considerable gossip about it after the fact, but that had faded away within a few weeks when nothing more came of it.

That left Philip with the question of what Sander was talking about. There was no good way to ask though, not without exposing himself as ignorant of the message. Philip guessed that this was something romantic, or at least close to that. Certainly Melanie had the kind of features that Philip recognized others would find attractive. Yet he’d never heard the language Sander had used before, which meant that he couldn’t be sure what Sander was trying to say.

Philip tried to formulate some response that would be appropriate but found himself lacking words. He was saved from uttering something inelegant when an alarm started blaring in the distance.

The lanterns had lights atop them to indicate that they were burning. If the lantern failed, electricity would fail as well, and the lantern’s light would go out. That system had been in place since the first traveling lantern had come to a stop not far from where Chancellor’s lantern now stood. Yet a simple light wasn’t enough in a town as large as Light’s Hollow, not when people might spend their whole day indoors and out of view of the lantern. The decision had therefore been made to update the system and attach speakers to the lanterns which would let out a loud droning sound whenever the electricity went out. Philip wasn’t entirely sure how they worked, since he would have assumed that electricity was required in order to provide power to the speakers, but apparently the engineers had worked something out. Once or twice a year, one of the alarms would go off without cause, and at the start of every season all the alarms sounded off one by one to make sure that they still worked and that everyone knew what they sounded like. It was a keening wail that rose in pitch until it steadied itself into a droning noise in the background.

“Healer’s Lantern,” said Sander. He was twisted around in his seat. “I have to go take care of it.”

“Let the wardens deal with it,” said Melanie. She was looking at their table, not in the direction of the alarm.

“I’m in the Auxiliary now,” Sander replied. He stood up from the table and fished some coins from out of his pocket, which he hurriedly put down on the table without counting them. By Philip’s estimation, Sander was grossly overpaying for the meal. He also seemed to have forgotten that Philip had offered to cover it. “I have to go.”

Philip had decided long ago that if there was ever an alarm, he would go running headlong toward it in order to help out in any way that he could. The people of Light’s Hollow valued heroism, even if it was ineffectual. Alarm malfunctions were more common than actual problems. Actual problems tended to be fixed quickly, only rarely dragging out for more than half an hour. If Philip heard the alarm and went running, most of the time he would get the credit for quick thinking and heroic spirit without actually having to do anything.

Of course, the other side of his strategy was that sometimes Philip would be running toward actual danger. He would be weaker than the glimwardens, naturally, but also weaker than every member of the Auxiliary. It was also highly unlikely that he would have a weapon of any kind. Philip didn’t mind that too much though. Fighting the darklings was dangerous, but there were other things he could do, like helping with evacuation or assisting with lantern repairs, both of which came with far less danger. If it came to it, Philip had some basic ability to defend himself from the darklings. Coming out of an emergency with a serious wound would only serve to highlight Philip’s heroism. As for death … well, Philip didn’t really fear death. He felt the same way about death as he felt about the darklings. He quietly acknowledged that death was a bad thing, but he felt nothing like what other people described when they talked about not wanting to die.

“I’m coming with,” said Philip. He’d expected either Sander or Melanie to object, but neither of them did; Sander was too focused on the emergency, while Melanie was too focused on Sander. “Do you have any weapons?” Philip asked Melanie.

She nodded behind to one wall, where two swords were crossed. They were one of the only things that spoke to finery in the entire tavern. Sander ran over to them and pulled them both from their slots, handing one to Philip. Philip took it like he knew what to do with it and followed Sander out the door.

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

One thought on “Glimwarden, Chapter 5”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.