HIS hands were stained red. Not much in Zoldonmesk was any other color. Not anymore.

It started when the Red Queen drove out the redbloods who came north seeking refuge from their home country’s war. Then came the Rosehearts, her very own elite army drawn from all over the region. Or nation. Could be either, depending on who you were talking to. All they wore was red, head to toe. Some even caked their hair in reddish paste for added effect.

The dyer pulled a large cut of fabric from the final vat and began to wring it out. Red water splashed into the catch-tray he stood in, inundating his shoes. With how much red the Queen required it’d be a miracle if madder root wasn’t driven out of Zoldonmesk, too. So many other shortages had cropped up: grain, ore, even wool was hard to come by. If they ran out of madder, what would she do? Bring the redbloods back?

The dyer wrung the cloth until his strength failed, then he untwisted the fabric and shook it out. He brought it to the clothesline stretched out under a wooden awning behind his storefront. Twenty more red banners just like it awaited his runner, Agrovik, who would deliver it to the banner makers for finishing up. He knew the pattern so well he could have stitched it all himself: Gules, a rose in bloom Sable fimbriated Or. Red, for the Queen. Black, for their blood. Gold, for the Yellow Queen that enabled their freedom.

He took a seat on a stool in the corner of his shop, crossed his arms and legs and leaned his head back against the wall. All this silence was strange. Sure, the streets bustled with shoppers and sellers and runners abundant, but there was an emptiness in the air that made it rather hard to relax. He had no wife, no children, no family anywhere near. The plague a few years back had taken care of all of that. He had nothing else to lose. Yet, he sat there, in his dye shop, doing nothing when he could be out there, in the mud and grit, doing something real to help his countrymen.

But he liked his life here in his little dye shop. It wasn’t so bad making banners for the Red Queen and her Rosehearts, safe within the walls of Igna where there was no blood or mud or gore. He should really count his blessings, he thought. Most weren’t so lucky.

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