Curse of the Crimson Throne

First Knight

Seven Days to the Grave, Interlude

The Pantheon of the Many is one of the largest buildings in Korvosa’s wealthy South Shore district, a wide circular structure capped with an impressive dome. The interior is open and airy, filled with the jumbled murmurs of worshipers and the mingled scent of incense and sacred oils. All along the walls, small niches house shrines to a dozen of Golarion’s deities, each with their own distinctive colors, symbols, and statuary. Here and there, priests and lay pastors tend to the shrines or speak with parishioners.

The shrine to Iomedae the Inheritor is a relatively simple affair, a simple block of white marble recessed into the wall and carved with the goddess’ sword and halo symbol. On either side of the niche, richly painted wooden panels depict the Eleven Acts of Iomedae in meticulous detail. Two standing candelabra illuminate the quiet alcove.

Kneeling before the shrine are two knights of the faith, Ser Arlynn and Ser Irabeth, reciting a soldier’s prayer in unison. As they finish the final lines, both women rise to their feet. They each top six feet in height, but Irabeth is broader in the shoulders and hips, while Arlynn has the long, statuesque build common to the Bekyar people.

“It is beyond strange to find the Inheritor’s shrine sharing a roof with …other gods,” Irabeth grumbles as they walk, glaring across the chamber at the shrine of Urgathoa. “This whole city sets my head head spinning.”

“All part of its charm,” Arlynn says, pausing to help reorient a tipsy adherent of Cayden Cailean.

“No doubt,” Irabeth says. She hunches her shoulders and continues the long walk towards the exit. “But I’m used to having evil at the gates, not seated in the high castle under color of law.”

“Iomedae’s presence in Korvosa is thin on the ground,” Arlynn acknowledges. “In her absence, evil has taken root.”

“I am sure that you will strike the darkness down as fiercely as you did that vile statue,” Irabeth says earnestly. “My eyes are still dazzled from the light of the goddess as she worked through you to cleanse that profane place. It has truly been an honor to aid you in your quest.”

Our quest, Ser Irabeth,” Arlynn frowns. “There is much work still to be done.”

The half-orc shakes her head. “My place is back in Lastwall. We have too few swords to guard our borders as it is, and the hordes of Belkzen are growing bolder by the day.”

“But if Lastwall with its armies has too few guardians, then what of Korvosa?” Arlynn asks. “Were it not for the six of us, the cultists would be crafting newer, deadlier strains of Blood Veil even now. The evil that besets this city is great, and the need for heroes is greater.”

Irabeth casts her gaze down at the tile floor and her clomping metal boots. “My talents are better suited to killing orcs than unraveling conspiracies. I would add little to your cause. I might even hamper it.”

“Do not underestimate yourself, my friend,” Arlynn says, placing a kindly hand on the half-orc’s shoulder. “In a city this bereft of the Inheritor’s justice, a single dedicated person can make a tremendous difference.” She pushes open the Pantheon’s heavy wooden door and steps out into the light. “Let me show you.”

“This is the place you spoke of?” Irabeth asks, gazing up at a three story building, its beige walls contrasting with the red tile roof. Brightly colored paper banners hang from the windows, rustling lazily in the breeze. A cheery sign depicting a smiling child chasing a butterly front hangs between the flags of Korvosa and House Jalento. In gold letters, the sign reads MIDLAND ORPHANAGE.

“When I first came here,” Arlynn explains, “the brickwork was crumbling, the paint was peeling, and half the windows were boarded up.”

The senior paladin pauses under the sign, reaching up to brush her fingertips against one of the flags. “But Lord Jalento owed me a favor for saving his son during the riots, and good came of good. Now, let’s meet the children,” she adds, rapping her knuckles on the heavy red door.

They are welcomed into the foyer by the cheerful young man staffing the front desk, who tells them word has already spread of their defeat of a plague-spreading cult in the sewers. His thanks are interrupted by a squeal of glee from a young Varisian boy, who hollers down the hallway that “Ser Arlynn’s back! And she’s brought a new friend!”

Almost immediately, Arlynn is swarmed by a dozen young orphans, all shouting for attention and reaching in for hugs. Irabeth watches in bemusement, until a five year old Chelish boy approaches her cautiously.

“Are you a good orc?” he asks, halting a few feet away.

Irabeth crouches down on one knee to look the child in the eye and smile. “I’m only half an orc, but I’m all good.”

She sweeps the boy up onto her shoulders and stands up, as his shriek of surprise turns to peals of laughter. Arlynn encourages her admirers to welcome the half-orc and Irabeth proceeds to give a series of piggy back rides as the two paladins tour the facility. After reviewing the kitchens and mess hall, the classrooms, and peeking out into the play yard, Arlynn takes them upstairs to visit the activity room.

“We rescued a good two dozen of these children a few months ago from a vile little crime lord named Gaedren Lamm,” Arlynn says proudly. “My first real victory here in Korvosa. Now look at how they are flourishing.”

The activity room takes up a good quarter of the second floor, its barred windows open to let daylight stream inside. All around, youngsters play amongst themselves using worn and makeshift toys. Others sit at tables or lie of the polished wood floor, scribbling on scratch paper with charcoal sticks or gossiping among each other. A few have their noses buried in dog-eared books from the small set of shelves by the corner. The room has been painted in bright colors, with a mural running along one wall painted and signed by the orphans themselves. The kids cluster in groups largely based on age, the youngest running hither and yon under the watchful gaze of an orphanage attendant, while the older ones play or chat in their own preferred spots.

Irabeth dismounts her last passenger and surveys the room with a skeptical eye. “Some of these ‘children’ would be manning ramparts in Lastwall by now.”

Arlynn follows the half-orc’s gaze to a group of teenagers lounging in the far corner.

“The city provides for orphans until they turn 16,” she explains. “Many who have not found homes do go on to join the Guard.”

“Ser Arlynn, you’re back!” squeals a girl’s voice from the hallway.

A tall young woman with flame red hair and the build of an athlete rushes over to embrace Arlynn in a hug, somehow contorting herself to the bladed points of the paladin’s armor. The Bekyar woman carefully returns the hug.

When it’s done, the girl’s gaze flits over to Irabeth. "And you’ve brought a, uh… Another paladin of the Inheritor! "

The redhead surges forward to seize the half-orc’s hand and shakes it vigorously. “It’s an honor to meet you, Ser! Are you part of Ser Arlynn’s Circle? Are there more paladins coming to Korvosa? Do you need squires? I’ve been practicing sword work in the yard and I’ve studied the Acts every night!”

“I’m not, I mean…” Irabeth stammers, reeling under the onslaught of enthusiasm.

Arlynn steps in to steer the teenager back a few steps from the junior paladin. “Chammady, this is Ser Irabeth of Lastwall, who the goddess guided to Korvosa to help us fight the plague—and perhaps more.”

The Bekyar woman claps the redhead on her back. “Chammady is one of the most dedicated students of Iomedae that I have ever seen. If you do decide to return to Lastwall, Ser Irabeth, perhaps you could accompany Chammady to the seminary in Vigil?”

The girl turns to give Arlynn a fiery look. “But I want to stay in Korvosa, to help you fight injustice and spread the Inheritor’s holy word! I could be your squire, Ser Arlynn. I’ve been practicing my sword craft in the yard every day.”

“She hogs the stick for hours,” another girl calls out from across the activity room.

“I should never have shown you those moves,” Arlynn mutters.

" It’s good for a girl to know how to defend herself," Irabeth says. “You can never tell when danger will threaten.”

“Self-defense is one thing, recklessly seeking danger is another,” Arlynn says. She hunches over to look the teen in her eyes. “I’m proud that you want to follow my footsteps, Chammady, but—”

“But the Inheritor teaches that we must confront evil wherever it shows its face!” the redhead insists. She waves a hand at the barred window. “And there’s so much evil in this city. I’m not the only one who feels this way. We know you’re risking everything to protect Korvosa and we want to help you , too.”

Irabeth chuckles at the youth’s fervor and nods at Arlynn. “It seems that one person has made quite the impression.”

Before Arlynn can answer, the headmistress of the orphanage appears in the doorway. A kind woman in her early sixties, Aula’s normally warm expression has been replaced by a look of concern tinged with outright fear.

“Ser Arlynn, may I have a word, please?” she asks.

The senior paladin quickly strides out into the hall. “Yes, thank you.”

Aula takes the two paladins to her office at the end of the hall. It is a cramped space cluttered with papers and ledgers spilling off of a standing desk and onto every available surface. The walls are crammed with artwork of all kinds, from finger-painting to delicate oil portraits, all of it seemingly done by the orphans. Irabeth manages to snag one of the paintings with her armored elbow as she enters the room, but Arlynn catches it in time. Aula takes the painting from her as she closes the door.

The headmistress’ fingers drum nervously against the picture frame. “Arlynn, I’m not sure what to do. A band of Gray Maidens has turned up downstairs demanding that we hand over all the girls who’ve come of age for conscription into their ranks. I’ve heard some frightful things about the Gray Maidens from Sergeant Grau, but they have a royal writ. Is there anything you can do to protect the girls?”

Arlynn frowns, reaching up to rub the holy symbol of Iomedae hanging from her neck as she thinks.

Irabeth lays a hand on her sword hilt and looks to Arlynn. “A few Gray Maidens would pose little threat to the two of us, but a melee could still put the children at risk.”

“Don’t worry about us!” Chammady says, creaking open the door. “We can take care of ourselves!”

Arlynn tugs the door open all the way, causing the youth to tumble into the room. The paladin helps her up, then shakes her head in disappointment. “If you still think violence is the first answer after reading the Acts, you’re clearly not ready for the seminary.”

Eyes downcast, Chammady turns to leave but Arlynn s stops her. The Bekyar woman tugs the sword and halo symbol from her neck and presses it into the teen’s palm. “Now, go gather the other girls your age and then show Ser Irabeth the way to the back gate while I sign a few papers here with Aula.”

“Why?” Chammady asks, clutching the symbol to her chest. "What are you doing?

“You wanted to help me fight evil?” the paladin says forcefully. “The first rule is to follow my orders. Now, go with Ser Irabeth and I’ll meet you by the back gate.”

The girl hesitates for a moment, then snaps a salute and hurries out of the room. Irabeth gives Arlynn a quizzical look, but wordlessly follows after the teenager.

Ten minutes later, more than a dozen teenage girls are gathered by the back gate of the orphanage, whispering to each other and pestering Irabeth as to what is going on. The half-orc ignores them, keeping a wary eye on the building until Arlynn emerges. The senior paladin jogs over to them, a sheaf of papers clutched in one hand.

“Out the gate!” she calls. “Out the gate and away, as quick as you can.”

“It’s locked,” Chammady says, rattling the heavy wooden door.

“Good thing I brought a lockpick,” Irabeth grins, lifting a heavy, armored foot to kick down the gate.

Arlynn leans in front of her and glares over her shoulder. “Aula gave me a key.”

“That works, too,” the half-orc shrugs.

They fling open the gate and hustle the girls out into the alley behind the orphanage, deep in the shadow of the neighboring buildings. After securing the gate, Arlynn turns to face the expectant girls. She holds up the contracts.

“Listen up! As of today, you are no longer wards of the state. You are now each of you duly enlisted members of the Farima household guard. So let’s get moving to my family’s townhouse, lest the Gray Maidens think you’re still open for conscription.”

“Yes!” Chammady says, pumping her fist. The reaction from the others ranges from excitement to trepidation, but they quickly begin moving up the alley towards Citadel Hill. Arlynn hangs at the back, watching the teens proceed and casting the occasional wary glance back over her shoulder.

“Clever plan,” Irabeth says, “taking them into your service before the Maidens could lay claim to them. You saved the day without shedding any blood.”

“Only by making soldiers of them,” Arlynn sighs. “I wanted to protect these girls from a life of violence, not shepherd them into it.”

Irabeth gets a distant look in her hazel eyes as she casts her gaze on the teens. “I don’t know what these orphans’ lives were like before you showed up, but I imagine it was not too different from my own girlhood—full of anger and loneliness and self-pity, ready to lash out at the world.”

The half-orc smiles at her fellow paladin. “But you’ve given them hope for their own lives, and for their city. You haven’t drawn more children into violence, Ser Arlynn. The violence was already here. What you’ve done is recruited more peacemakers to end it.”

Arlynn allows herself a smile. “The Inheritor acts through us when we least suspect it, I suppose.”

“And through you, the goddess has cleared the scales from my eyes,” Irabeth says, stepping in front of the senior paladin and falling to one knee. “I cannot walk away while a despot tortures young women into tools of oppression. It would be my honor, Ser, if you would accept me as the first Knight of your Circle.”

“Ser Irabeth of Lastwall, the honor is mine,” Arlynn says. She holds out a hand to help the junior paladin up. “Now rise, before our charges escape from us.”


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