Well past midnight, outside Galimont, a cross fox ghosted into an abandoned sheep shed with tumbling fieldstone walls and no roof.
“There you are,” Kaveri said, waiting until Tyrel changed before giving him a hug. Elaborate clothing had been abandoned in favour of a drab version of her old loin-cloth and crossed halter-top, but then, all were in similar simple clothing, moonlight-woven to make changing shape easier.
“I hear you got a promotion,” Madoc said, waiting patiently, sitting on the grassy ground in Sanur’s greengold light, next to Kieran.
“Which, in everyday practical terms, means that I get to do shifts in the wardhouse and see every one of the people dragged in and how many get released with hardly any sentence to speak of,” Tyrel sighed, sinking down across from Madoc and Kieran; Kaveri joined them. “If I were doing this job for real, instead of as a means to an end, I’d be screaming mad by now.” It was a relief to be able to use their own language, instead of the one dominant in this area, one that to him sounded harsh and choppy.
“Have we gotten anywhere, in almost four years of this?” Kaveri asked in frustration. “Women are still terrified, just like when we first came through here, only now we know they’re as terrified of simply disappearing as they are of being raped, and that seems to be happening more and more in what should be safe places. Nothing seems to protect them, and gods help anyone who tries to step in. There were at least a dozen women holding their ground in the Watch when we got here, and now there are, what, five in the entire city, all of them officers who don’t patrol the streets? There’s only one female magistrate left. Women are losing their livelihoods and their freedom. When they leave Galimont they do it with very little, and I hate to think what they’re facing in other towns under those conditions. We haven’t even been able to work out how they’re getting women out of a walled city with ‘Rel and Ander and a dozen other guardsmen checking every vehicle they can get access to every time there’s an alert and sometimes at random. What good are we doing?”
“Madoc?” Kieran said. “Any further leads on who is behind this?”
Madoc ran both hands through his hair, looking oddly tired even in the moonlight. “It’s sure not Eleder who’s in charge, he’s just a petty sadist who enjoys watching women cry and men beg. If you knew how many times a day I wish I could gut him right there…”
“Not yet,” Kieran said. “The time will come.”
“Whoever it is, only a very few people ever know. Everything is passed on through the small group directly under him. I’ve only been able to find one possible exception to that, and we’re only going to be able to use it once. It could take years for me to work my way into that inner circle, if ever. But I’ve heard, more than once, that he always personally supervises the execution of anyone who betrays him.”
“So only those about to die see him,” Kieran said.
“Exactly. Obviously, once I get myself killed, I can’t just go back, so it’ll have to be when we don’t need an insider any more.”
“We need to do this right,” Tyrel said. “A whole generation of women are growing up trained to believe that obedience is safety and that they cannot protect themselves. That’s going to have long-term consequences. Soon would be good, but we can’t afford to fail.”
“We will not fail,” Kieran said. “We expected to be here a shorter time. Matters have proved to be more complicated than expected. Having lingered here this long, we will make certain that the delay has not been meaningless, and we will make certain no more women must live in cages and chains. Madoc, what would you have to do in order to be sentenced to death?”
“I think the best way would be to make an attempt on Eleder’s life and fail. That should get me killed fairly promptly. If I succeeded, they’d be more likely to promote me.”
“Good. I imagine you’ll enjoy everything except actually letting him live. Before that, what else might we need you to do?”