The Chief Magistrate’s chief secretary folded the stack of documents he held, laid them in a pile on his desk, and regarded the sergeant with an expression of patient indulgence.
Tyrel, in one of the chairs on the far side of the desk, looked back with a blandly neutral expression. The visitor chairs were a handspan lower than that of the secretary, and much simpler, almost a mismatch to the elegant desk and the carved chair behind it, the matching shelves for books and loose documents, all wood polished to a high shine; the rugs on the floor were ostentatiously expensive and, to avoid walking on them, one had to circle partway and come at the chairs from an oblique angle. The window directly behind the secretary’s chair cast sunlight over him and forced a visitor to squint.
He’d been more than a little annoyed that Tyrel had simply crossed the rugs—in the dusty boots of a common guardsman!—directly to the chairs and settled himself without a glance at the lush furnishings. Tyrel being shorter than average in Galimont, the chair actually fit him fairly well, and he showed no sign of feeling cowed. He’d managed, somehow, to arrange this appointment for first thing in the morning, when the sun was on the far side of the building—and when the secretary would have preferred to be having tea with his co-workers and discussing the upcoming day.
“All right, between us,” the secretary said. “Don’t you think the Chief Magistrate has better things to take care of than one alleged rape of some lower-city tart who probably sells it after hours anyway?”
“No,” Tyrel said. “I do not. This was an assault on a respectable married woman in front of her husband in her own home and place of business. It was witnessed by four guardsmen directly.”
“They didn’t see the circumstances leading up to it.”
“Are there circumstances that make rape legal? The victim says she was forced. Her husband says she was forced. Both say she was told that if she screamed he would be killed. He was threatened with other severe violence as well. They sell food and beer and nothing else. They are well known in the area and it is a popular place to eat. They are not wealthy but they manage. They pay their city taxes. They stay out of trouble. They are citizens whose property and persons have been violated. We have strong evidence…”
“Funny how the seven other people present at the time managed to see nothing.”
“They are afraid of being involved.”
“That isn’t what the reports say. The reports say, I was eating my supper and minding my own business, other people came and went, then the Watch were there and I was told something had happened. In variations, but essentially the same content each time.”
“They are afraid,” Tyrel repeated. “They had been threatened. They fear harm to themselves or their families if they speak. You know every day people keep silent from fear. You know every day the guilty walk free because of that fear. You know every day the innocent are hurt.”
“Eloquent,” the secretary said dryly. “Especially for a foreigner.”
“I am not trying to be eloquent. I am trying to be clear. They were watching when I arrived. They were watching when the other guardsmen arrived a short time before me. They saw what happened. They are afraid to say what they saw.”
“You got there later than the others. Why was that, again?”
“Ander was my partner before my promotion. We have often eaten there together. It is a good place to relax after work. Joseb eats there at times as well. Recently we took Igon there to celebrate my promotion. He moved not long before to our ward from another. We wanted to show Ander’s new partner Gwilim. I paused to speak to a local woman. I sent the others ahead.”
“And the local woman in question came with you? Why?”
“Gwilim came back to tell me to hurry. He told me why. She suggested that a woman’s presence might be of comfort to the victim. I believe she was correct. She arrived when I did. She saw only what I saw. Joseb and the others had matters in hand by then.”
“They’re foreigners too, are they not? Is that why you’ve taken an interest?”
“I have been a legal citizen of Galimont for over two years. I earned it through service in the Watch. This couple moved here. They bought the shop very soon after. A year later they became legal landowning citizens of Galimont. That they and I came from outside before that does not matter. This is about citizens of Galimont. This incident should be tried by the Chief Magistrate personally. It involves a good working-class couple. Four guardsmen are direct witnesses. It is a straightforward case. The people of the city feel the Chief Magistrate cares only for justice for the wealthy. This could show them otherwise.”
“Hmm, you have a point, there. But it all becomes a waste of His Lordship’s time when the tart, excuse me, the respectable married woman decides that she doesn’t want to discuss it and would rather drop the whole matter.”
“This one will not. Her husband supports her in this. I will stake my job on this. She will not abandon this.”
“Basing your job on how determined a ta… a woman is? Not the wisest plan. All right, I’ll arrange for His Lordship to handle this one personally. It will, however, take longer than it would with a lower magistrate. Over a fortnight, at least.”
“Thank you. It will be worth the wait. I would like to see justice done.” Tyrel rose with none of the awkwardness the visitor chairs normally forced.
“Wouldn’t we all. Send any further documentation, if any, directly to me.”
Tyrel inclined his head. “I will.”
The corridors in this part of the building were broad and well-lit by lamps—not the low-class fish-oil anywhere in this building, but something sweeter-scented. Along the walls were framed paintings of former magistrates and other notable personages of Galimont. Many, Tyrel had noticed before, were women—but not current ones, only at least a generation earlier.
But the Courthouse wasn’t entirely devoid of women, even women with status.
One floor lower, he got fewer odd looks from those he passed; there was more traffic here, and of a greater mix.
A heavyset woman in her late middle years looked up from the documents strewn across her desk as Tyrel entered her office; she smiled, though there was a tired edge to it.
“Her Honour isn’t here at the moment, Tyrel. She’ll be sorry she missed you.”
“A hearing?” Tyrel asked.
“If you can call it that. Mediating a petty squabble, more like. But then, that’s all that turns up on her docket these days no matter how I complain.” Her mobile face twisted in anger. “Lilura has seniority over at least half of the current magistrates. The newest excuse is that they don’t want to stress a woman of her advanced years. That’s even worse than not wanting to offend her womanly sensibilities and the tripe before that about wanting her delicate feminine touch in sensitive matters between neighbours.”
“Advanced years?” Tyrel repeated. “She is strong and healthy in body and mind. She is younger than some of the active male magistrates.”
“You know that, I know that, and I’m sure they know that. It’s another stupid excuse to keep her busy on trivial cases. Probably better than rape cases where everyone knows they’re guilty but the women back down and Her Honour can’t convict them.” She sighed heavily. “You’re young, Tyrel. Galimont is being eaten from inside by some cancer no one can name. Get out of here while you still have a chance to build a life somewhere else.”
Berezi had said that to him a time or two before when he’d stopped by, but rarely with such a fatalistic despair beneath it. Her mistress Lilura was the only magistrate in Galimont Tyrel was absolutely certain wasn’t part of the corruption, though there was a new one, a male of course, that he was looking into. He’d gone to considerable effort to delicately, without inviting accusations of trying to win favours, make friends with Lilura and Berezi—not at all easy, and it had necessitated lurking in fox-form to eavesdrop for hints he could use to arrange “accidental” contact. Worth it, though.
The Chief Magistrate and his toadies had yet to make a serious sustained effort at driving Lilura from her seat, but marginalizing her by forcing on her the petty cases was little better.
Little, but while she held her seat, hope remained, and Tyrel intended to see to it that she continued to do so.
“For now my path lies in Galimont,” he said. “Perhaps an outsider can see something different. Perhaps an outsider can see the beauty of Galimont past the cancer.”
“Perhaps outsiders are mad,” Berezi muttered. “What brings you over here, anyway?”
“A request that the Chief Magistrate see a case personally.”
“You’d get better justice insisting it gets on Her Honour’s list.”
“Yes. But there are reasons to want this visible. Very visible.”
“Well, you won’t get visible here. It’s a wonder anyone can still find this office and see us.”
“Things will change,” Tyrel said gently. Berezi’s husband was a clerk in one of the other wardhouses; her daughter was married to a guardsman in another, and so far had been safe, but her business as a seamstress was hampered by the fears both she and her husband had for her safety. Lilura’s own daughter had married out of Galimont, and Lilura rarely saw her beloved granddaughter but supported her daughter in raising her elsewhere; her son, a physician, was a widower without children, a shame since Tyrel had seen him with children and they adored him, and her own husband was dead. The wrong in Galimont tainted the lives even of those not touched directly by the violence.
“For the worse. Off with you. I have mountains of work to do, and I’m certain you have too. Are you keeping up with the paperwork you have to do now?”
“Yes. Thanks to my excellent teacher.”
“Worth it. We need more like you.” She made a shooing motion.
“I was just about to say the same,” Tyrel chuckled, and went on his way. Back to the wardhouse and the interminable reports and records.
“Why am I not being allowed to give my evidence?”
Tyrel sighed to himself. “Good evening, Mirren.”
Mirren left the doorway next to the wardhouse where she’d been lurking, and faced him directly. “The clerks that came to the foodshop wouldn’t let me tell what I’d seen. I’ve been to the wardhouse three times on different shifts and no one will let me. Why?”
“You saw what I saw. We both arrived late.”
“I helped her afterwards! I can verify that she was raped!”
Tyrel caught her by the arm and drew her to the alley between the wardhouse and the next building, a cobbler.
“The witnesses who keep silent are afraid for a reason. Those poisoning Galimont do not want justice done. They will threaten or remove those who might inconvenience them. Part of the poison lies within the Watch. There is no way to hide your name if you speak. You would be in danger.”
“How does that mean more danger than Kaveri was in, in her own home with her husband right there, doing the same thing she does every day? If I can help make sure they get convicted, then I don’t care. It’s worth it.”
“You make it very difficult to protect you, Mirren.”
“I don’t want to be protected! I want what Galimont is turning into to stop! And that isn’t going to happen unless people are willing to not hide. Maybe it will even help others feel more brave, if someone not a guardsman gives evidence and stands by it. A mere woman, yet.” There was acid in the last few words.
“There is nothing mere about you.” Tyrel was silent for a long moment, thinking, then sighed. “Will you promise me something in return?”
“Until after the trial you will be careful. I would ask you to stay indoors but that is no safer. At least no speaking in public. No drawing attention.”
“Only until after the trial,” she said reluctantly.
“And you allow me to teach you more to defend yourself. Not the version for women some offer as classes. Not the bare basics I taught you before. What to do if your life is truly at risk.”
Mirren’s eyes widened in surprise, but she nodded promptly. “When?”
“I think we shall see if Ezkurra will allow you a day off. I can arrange one.”
“She can find another dishwasher for a day.”
“First, let us see one of the clerks.” He stepped towards the mouth of the alley, and gave her an expectant look.
Mirren smiled and fell in step beside him, back to the wardhouse.