Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Author:Kate J. Armstrong [Armstrong, Kate J.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Published: 2023-02-27T00:00:00+00:00

The Pontifex folds his hands. They used to be chapped when he served as a pater in Griffin Quarter, fighting the good fight on behalf of the gods, but now they’re soft. He uses a cream made of goat’s milk and estaflower petals to keep them supple. After all, he no longer has to toil for what he wants. He is the voice of the gods, and men like the one currently babbling too loudly are meant to be his will and his justice. But his acolytes don’t always do as they are told.

The audience chamber at Augustain’s church is high ceilinged, richly furnished, and elaborate. The Brethren, his advisers, each sit in a straight-backed, gilded chair. The Pontifex is raised above them all, of course, placed on a dais. He tries not to show his vexation as Brother Dorisall raves on.

“I found them,” Dorisall is saying. His red face paint is smeared—the Pontifex wishes he had cleaned himself up before this unplanned audience. He looks unhinged. “At last, I found them. And now we know the Great Houses have been hiding them all along.”

Witches, he means. The thought sends a thrill through the Pontifex. He has long suspected the Great Houses are keeping sacrilegious secrets, and now he knows it for certain. He longs to leverage their betrayal against the gods to strip some of their power, but this pater has made rather a mess of things . . .

The Pontifex holds up a hand. “I sent you, Brother Dorisall, to find proof of these witches. I see no proof.”

“I saw them do magic, Pontifex. My acolytes can vouch for it.”

His acolytes. The man is getting too big for his robes. “I’m afraid the words of a bunch of overzealous boys and their master are not enough to take to the Table. Their hackles will be up, after what you’ve just done.”

Dorisall scowls, waving at the ceiling to the cells where the Dinatrises and the House Maylon lordling are waiting. “The boy, Teneriffe, will give you answers freely. As for the witch’s family, interrogate them.”

A wave of distaste ripples through the Pontifex. He has never liked Lady Frey Dinatris. A woman should never be the head of any house. But still, she is an influential member of one of Simta’s wealthiest families. He cannot pour a truth potion down her throat without consequences. If only Brother Dorisall understood politics, or discretion.

“I asked you to investigate the rumors quietly.” He draws out the word, making it sharp. “To bring anything you learned to me. Instead, you invaded a Great House mansion without permission, and without any Wardens, and then lost the witches of which you speak.”

Dorisall’s face purples. “I answered Marren’s call.”

“You answered your own call for glory. And in doing so, you have made a mess that I will have to clean up.”

Brother Dorisall’s mouth opens and closes, gawping like a just-caught fish.

The Pontifex stands, his purple robes swishing. The Brethren follow his lead.

“Brothers,” he says, “we must tread carefully now.


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