Ten Gold Cups
The Queen's Thief series (c) Megan Whalen Turner.
"Oh, please let there be nothing wrong. Let this be a mistake. Let me look like a fool, but keep him safe, ten gold cups on your altar if he is safe."
Till the day he met the gods themselves, Costis would never truly figure out if he completely regretted his hasty prayer or not. But whatever his feelings, he had spoken to no one about it. The only other person who knew was the king.
That is, until the day he told Aris, in a moment of quiet admission, that he'd been given permission to go to Philia's temple the next day to make his offerings. When Aris asked for the cause of this sudden religious fervour, Costis explained as succinctly as he could.
He should have known no amount of brevity would stop the waves of laughter crashing out of the other guard's mouth, unabated even by a cuff to the back of his head. It was a good five minutes before Aris calmed down, and he grinningly asked which rich uncle had died. Costis replied the royal treasurer was no relative.
To his credit, Aris just arched an eyebrow. "I assume this is by virtue of the king."
"He thought it best to thank Philia too," said Costis. He met Aris's eyes and they both smirked. Goddess of mercy or no, she was still a deity. The gods were known to bless and curse their mortals at the same time. Their king was the indisputable epitome of both in one body.
Leaning back into his chair, Aris contemplated his wine. "You'll be gone half the day then."
"Provided nothing untoward happens."
Aris smiled amusedly. "Untoward? You're more hopeful than I thought, Costis."
With a heartfelt, justified sigh, Costis still managed a wry smile. Maybe, if he continuously prayed for mercy all the way from his quarters to the temple grounds tomorrow, His Majesty would let him go and return without giving him an inclination to strangle the king he'd vowed unending devotion to.
He reached Philia's temple by late morning, relieved at the absence of a large crowd. A message sent to the head priest a day earlier ensured Costis a private moment as he took out the cups, carefully concealed under cloth and food in his bag. Through the corner of his eyes, he saw the priest repressing a smile, trying to maintain a suitably sombre expression. He had plenty to be happy about though considering what Costis was carefully arranging on the stone altar before Philia's statue.
Any questions of why Their Majesties would send a single person to make such a lofty offering were wiped clean away by the sight of the cups, neatly placed in two rows of five. Elaborate engravings and figures in beaten gold gleamed in the morning light, shining in through the openings and windows of the temple. Just one row would have bought enough land for three large families and their subsequent descendants. If the families were particularly hardworking, it could probably stretch all the way to the time of their great, great grandchildren. With such riches glistening across his sight, Costis remembered the temptation to be frugal.
A second later, the king's face in the gardens flashed through his mind's eye, as though Philia was sending a timely reminder about the disadvantages of thrift in this circumstance. Once again, ten full size cups were worth their while.
Glancing at the polished, passive eyes of the goddess, Costis drew in a breath and released it. Then he bowed his head, whispering his supplications.
"For your compassion in the gardens, goddess Philia, here are your ten gold cups as you deserve. Please protect Her Majesty, without whom this country cannot stand. Watch over His Majesty, even if he is exceedingly difficult and more pig headed than the largest boar in all Attolia."
Costis hesitated a moment, resisting an urge to look around. There was no human possibility that the king would hear this. He was back at the palace, where he ought to be. With luck, the royal pain in the posterior was upsetting less people than his guards could restrain.
He paused for another instant, feeling ridiculous. Even the gods themselves would have said that was an impossibility.
"And if you would," murmured Costis fervently, "Keep us safe from insanity at his hands, o merciful goddess."
Ending his concise but sincere prayers, he looked up and nodded at the priest. The priest finally broke into an approving smile. He was sure the goddess would be very pleased at the royal offerings. Costis briefly concurred and made a polite exit.
As he headed back to the palace, he reflected that Philia had been contented enough to keep the king alive.
Hopefully, she would be as satisfied to remember the latter part of Costis's prayer as well.
By evening, Costis had returned to the palace. He made his way to his chambers after dinner, tired from the trip and after hearing mess hall gossip, wearied even more by the daily news of his king and queen and their ever-continuing dance of politics.
Without looking, he settled onto his bed, closing his eyes as he hit the mattress. He sat up again with a frown and turned around. There on his pillow was a foreign piece of paper, folded in half. Costis could already guess its sender as he reached for it.
One glimpse of the square handwriting inside made him groan softly. Much as his loyalty belonged to the king, His Majesty's notes always sent foreboding feelings down Costis' spine, a sensation he had never grown to appreciate or even get used to.
This one was no different. Tomorrow, he was to accompany the king to after-breakfast talks with several barons. Only two names were given but Costis knew well they weren't particularly known for their love of the queen. One could only imagine their feelings about her royal husband. Suggested by Captain Teleus, Costis's illustrious presence – he could already hear the dry tone of the king's voice – was probably to keep him from taking to the crenellations soon after.
Despite the implications of a complicated day ahead, the young soldier snorted. He'd sooner tie the king down to a chair before letting His Majesty skip over uncertain death with a wineskin for company again.
Then, Costis's eyes reached the last part of the message. His mouth reacted by letting out a choked curse. He'd been assured he'd go alone.
Right on cue, a familiar refrain echoed in his head – "I lied."
One more thing: Philia would probably appreciate a bit more originality next time. "Pig headed" is overused.
Clearly, Costis thought with a glower as he repressed thoughts of wringing the king's neck, he hadn't prayed enough this morning.
A/N: I had been aiming for a drabble.
I've tried very hard to avoid writing Eugenides in a dialogue – I'd be flayed alive if I tried to make him talk. I don't know if he really did spy on Costis or if he just guessed – very accurately – what the guy was praying for. My money's on the latter but I know as much as you do.
We all know this already but it bears repeating: Costis's life just sucks.