(chapter continued from previous post)
Mirren crossed her arms and glowered at the bystanders. “Call yourselves men, the lot of you? When you had numbers on your side, and you just stood by and let these animals hurt the woman who makes meals for you?” Not one of them could meet her eyes, though a couple tried.
“Mirren,” Tyrel said quietly. “That is not why you said you wished to come.” He surveyed the room, while Mirren coloured perceptibly and hastened to the woman huddled against her husband. “Ander, the door, no one in or out. Joseb, bind that one before he recovers. And the other as well. Igon, find someone to send with a message for the wagon and both clerks immediately. Gwilim, watch our witnesses. No one is to discuss this.” He crossed the room to the couple without pausing for even a heartbeat to see that the other four guards would obey. “Perhaps Mirren can help Kaveri get cleaned up?”
Kaveri, still shaking but her sobs quieter, arms wrapped across her body, let Mirren slip an arm around her shoulders and urge her away, around the counter and into the back part of the building. Her husband watched her until they were out of sight behind the curtains, then his attention went to Madoc, and his expression turned from loving anxiety to pure venom.
“I don’t suppose you’d just wander back outside for a few minutes, Tyrel,” Joseb muttered, prodding now-bound Madoc with a foot. Madoc jerked away with a low grunt, suggesting some force behind it. “Be a shame if they tried to escape and we had to kill one or two.”
Tyrel sighed. “And be no better than them? Alive, Joseb.”
“We certainly have witnesses this time,” Ander pointed out, stationing himself at the door as Igon disappeared through it.
“If anyone has the balls to tell the tale and stick to it,” Joseb said, but under his breath. He checked that Eleder was firmly bound, shoved him onto a chair, and growled, “Don’t move.” Roughly, he hauled a still-unsteady Madoc to his feet and dumped him onto another.
“When the clerks arrive,” Tyrel said, both to the foodshop’s master and to the stunned witnesses, “they will wish to speak to each of you alone about what you saw. They will write it down, with your name. It will be used as evidence for the magistrate. No one save the clerks and the magistrate and his assistants will see what is written or your names. You do not need to be at the hearing but it will give it much more weight if you are. That means a better chance of fair punishment for what you know they did.”
“For them to be punished,” Kaveri’s husband said, “I would do much worse. In our homeland, I would be within my rights to kill anyone laying hands on my wife.”
“This is not your homeland,” Tyrel said calmly. “There will be no killing. I hope there will be enough evidence to lead to legal punishment. Galimont’s prison makes inmates work hard and live under harsh conditions. There are more than four cells empty. The outer ward for those awaiting hearings is better but still unpleasant. They will not be able to escape. The guardsmen there often feel frustrated and often express it on prisoners.” His gaze flicked to Bihar, who had seated himself in a chair uninvited and unassisted, though with hands still bound, and to Eleder, who had not resisted at all and retained his faint smirk. “Arrogant ones especially.”
“We won’t be there long,” Eleder said.
“Oh, this time I think you will,” Joseb said. “Three full guardsmen caught you in the act. As long as the lady herself doesn’t back down, you’re screwed.”
“She will not,” her husband said. “Women here hold their honour more lightly than ours.”
“Once she calms down,” Eleder said, “she’ll remember that it was all her idea and there was no crime. Except the Watch intruding on the party.”
It took both Tyrel and Joseb to keep Kaveri’s husband from going after Eleder, and not easily.
“Not another word,” Tyrel told Eleder. “I will have you gagged.”
Silence fell, so absolute that the faint sounds of water splashing and the murmur of female voices were audible. Tyrel positioned himself leaning against the counter where he could keep an attentive eye on the entire room; Joseb relocated all four prisoners to chairs as far as possible from the witnesses, four in a row all facing towards the wall, and stationed himself to watch them, one hand toying with the truncheon at his belt.
Igon returned, more than slightly out of breath, and Ander allowed him inside, closed the door firmly again. “I went myself to make sure the message got there right. They were harnessing the mule team when I left so they should be right behind me.”
Tyrel nodded. “Good. Once they arrive, you and Joseb can escort these to the prison, then look elsewhere for your meal. I will stay. Ander…”
“Staying, of course,” Ander said amiably. “You need someone else here, and it’s good experience for Gwilim.”
“There is food here,” Kaveri’s husband pointed out. “The stew and pottage and bread can be eaten tomorrow, but the pastries are best eaten the day they’re made, and we will not be serving anyone else today. Please. As our thanks for your excellent timing. And our apology for those inconvenienced by this.”
Tyrel regarded him thoughtfully, then nodded. “Thank you.”
He didn’t linger to warm them, only brought out the two large covered trays still two-thirds full of the day’s offerings. The witnesses, who were beginning to stir resentfully, quieted somewhat, each with a pastry. In coarse paper, he wrapped up two generous bundles and deftly tied them with heavy string, leaving a loop for a handle on each, and set them aside for Joseb and Igon; none of the guardsmen, though, made any move towards the food.
Clattering hooves and the rumbling of metal-bound wheels outside heralded the arrival of the wagon; in a brief flurry of activity, the four prisoners were transferred to it, with Joseb and Igon—and the wrapped pastries—in attendance, and a pair of clerks, each with a leather satchel, took their place inside. Briskly, each took over a table, far enough from each other to be able to hear clearly, and efficiently set out the necessary writing supplies. One, his thinning hair heavily-silvered light brown, what had once probably been an athletic body now running to extra weight but his pronounced limp might have something to do with that, said, “First.” The other, younger and thin to the point of gauntness, simply waited.
Tyrel caught the eye of Kaveri’s husband and nodded to the elder of the two clerks.
While the two clerks began gathering accounts, Tyrel circled over to stand beside Ander. Gwilim edged over in their direction.
“We need to protect them,” Tyrel said, his voice low.
Ander nodded, his casual stance and easygoing expression never changing as he observed the room. “I know. Quietly and unofficially. No one noticing, and without scaring off their business. If they have any customers left, after this. If anyone finds out you’re involved there’ll be trouble. I’ll take care of it.”
“Why?” Gwilim asked, though he had the sense to keep his voice down.
“Half the witnesses,” Ander said, “are insisting right now that they saw nothing or noticed nothing, so they can stay uninvolved. The rest will be at the wardhouse within a day or so demanding to change their stories. There will be no reports except ours. That’s more than enough to convict all four, it’s too much evidence to dismiss, and we might be able to get decent sentences at least for the worst two. But that’s happened before, and they’ve gotten away free because the victim abruptly decided that she just wanted to pretend it never happened.”
“The magistrates are pretty hard on women who’ve been raped,” Gwilim said.
“Before it gets to that point. Could be they just don’t want to face that. But I think we’d best make sure that there’s no outside influence involved. But Tyrel knows nothing about it because an officer being involved makes it official and draws attention and it would be overstepping his authority.” He glanced at Tyrel, and smiled. “Promotions have their disadvantages.”
“Yes,” Tyrel said. “But advantages as well. Perhaps we can achieve something this time.”