(chapter continued from previous post)
Mirren, sniffling, dragged herself up to an awkward sitting position. “Tyrel told me this was going to happen. But they usually kidnap girls that are marriage-age. Not married women. Or women past the age any man’ll marry them.” She gave Kaveri a faint smile. “I guess refusing to be quiet really upset someone.”
“Yes, it did,” Kaveri agreed. “Did they go looking for you?”
“No, it’s my own fault. Ezkurra asked me to come see if you had any pastries she could have, it was a busy morning and she needed something while we made more food. There was a delivery wagon outside your place. Beer barrels. But you get yours from us and I knew there wasn’t any today, so when I saw a couple of men take a barrel inside, I wanted to see what was going on.”
“Beer barrels. Full ones come in. Empty ones go out. No one looks twice. It would not occur to anyone to tell the Watch they saw a delivery wagon.” Kaveri bent her head to sniff at herself. Probably her missing clothing had absorbed the worst of the scent, and serving it periodically through the day did leave a trace of it… but yes, her skin did have a stronger hint of beer than it should have. “You came in yourself? You did not think to summon a guardsman? Or call for help? There have been off-duty guardsmen near my home at all times.” Where, for that matter, had the current guardsman been? She hoped he wasn’t injured. More still, she hoped he hadn’t compromised himself and sold her out.
“I know, I recognized them. But I didn’t see anyone around. I didn’t really think, anyway, I just had to check it out. When I got inside, you were unconscious and there were two men shoving you into the barrel I saw them bring in. I didn’t realize there was a third one until someone grabbed me from behind. I didn’t even get a chance to use everything Tyrel’s spent so much time teaching me about defending myself.” Mirren sighed. “It was a stupid thing to do. I’m always doing stupid things.”
“No,” Kaveri said gently. “You are always doing brave things. It is not your fault that in Galimont they are currently so nearly the same for a woman. Not all the world is like that.”
“Maybe not wherever you’re from.” Mirren frowned. “You don’t normally talk much, so I never noticed before. Your accent sounds a lot like Tyrel’s.”
Intelligent and perceptive as well as courageous. As out of place in current Galimont as a raven in a flock of hens.
If Kaveri told and they were overheard, it would jeopardize everything. Madoc might not see whoever was in charge, they might try some exotic way to kill her or Madoc or both that might actually succeed—there were deaths that lay outside the promise Valeyan had made to Neoma and her descendants.
But Mirren was terrified, though doing her best not to give in to it. A brief, if rather unsteady, investigation suggested that the walls were sturdy ones, quite possibly meant to contain the screams of hysterical women. And who was going to bother listening?
“Can you move? Come lean against me. We can keep warmer. I will tell you a secret story. Some things I cannot say yet. It would be very bad if any overhear. I will tell what I can. About a girl from a tribe that lives within a vast Forest. And why I know Tyrel will find us.”
There was one interruption. A large man who might have been one of the two who had carried them here opened the door; with barely time for Kaveri to identify what rested on the floor beside him as two large wooden pails, he picked up each pail in turn and tossed the rather cold water within over them. Muttering something that sounded like, “Stinking bitches,” he closed and locked the door and they were alone again.
“I wanted water,” Kaveri said breathlessly. The shock had been distinctly unpleasant, but the lingering water was actually refreshing. She licked what she could off her own skin, sucked what little she could from her hair, but she wasn’t desperate enough to try licking it off the floor itself. Mirren, uncertain, imitated her. “If they have any use for us they will have to give us water soon. If they wished us dead I think they would have killed us by now. I have heard nothing of women found tortured to death as examples. I do not think they will start now.”
“I hope not,” Mirren said quietly.
“Tyrel and Kieran must wait for dark to track us. But they will.” She was much less concerned for herself than for Mirren, and hoped Tyrel and Kieran could track them before anything worse happened.
Mirren leaned against her again, Kaveri’s arm around her shoulders, and Kaveri went back to her story, keeping her voice low, only a murmur near Mirren’s attentive ear. She told her own history, and that after moonrise they could change shape.
Other things she left out: what those other shapes were, though she mentioned Tyrel’s canine sense of smell; where Tyrel’s brother currently was, though she thought she saw Mirren’s eyes narrow and suspected she’d figured it out; that moonlight healed and that death by anything of earth meant a visit to one’s moon; that they would stay forever their current apparent ages. Those things, she thought it best not to say even quietly.
And, with time still slow and heavy, she spun it out to describe the plague-stricken village, and Umako’s beautiful valley-garden, and other things they’d seen in the decade since they’d left Dunnval: fabulous buildings, a waterfall so high the water seemed to fall from the clouds above, people who were wonderful and people who weren’t.
“You just travel around making the world better,” Mirren said softly.
“No. We travel towards Kieran’s home. We are not so far from it. It lies within the mountains north and west of here. We began to see signs of wrongness and hear tales some way before we reached Galimont. We could not simply travel through. We were here. To do nothing would be wrong. So we stopped. We created roles. We thought it would not take long. We have tried to find answers. We could not. We do not wish to give up. So we will force answers. Now we know how they bring women outside the walls. Livery colours may help. Tyrel and Kieran will find where we are. Then we will know who owns this land. Tyrel’s brother will soon know who is in charge overall.”
“Then what? Killing whoever is in charge will just mean a new leader steps in.”
“We will strip this bare into the light. We will make sure there is nowhere left to hide. Then people like you and Ander can succeed. It will still be work. But no longer impossible.” That was Kieran’s estimate of the situation, at least, and Kaveri was inclined to trust his experience. They couldn’t safely leave a complete power vacuum, but they could subtly guide the filling of said vacuum. Even if it meant staying even longer. Restless as Kieran was, they’d taken a kind of responsibility for Galimont, and couldn’t leave this half-finished.
“It’s going to take centuries to fix the damage.”
“No, not that long. But decades, yes. It will take time for everyone to learn again to feel safe. If it heals wrong women in Galimont might be taught for generations to obey to stay safe.”
“Not if I have any say in it,” Mirren muttered. “You’re going to leave afterwards, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“We’ll stay as long as we must. But Kieran’s home is no more than two months away. Likely less. We may find answers about ourselves there that we can find nowhere else. We cannot rebuild Galimont. The people of Galimont must do that. We can only help a little on our way through.”
“Four years is a long stopover to help strangers.”
“We saw a wrongness. Kieran hates chains and cages. When I was a thrall I saw terrible things done to women. Tyrel and his brother protected me. None of us could protect others. Now we can.”
“I wish I could.” Mirren was silent for a moment. “When I was seventeen, the boy who had been courting me asked me to marry him. I was so excited. My parents both approved, his parents approved. While plans were being made, he convinced me one night to have sex with him. He told me a lot of things, like that he loved me and waiting was torture. For something like a fortnight that continued. Then he refused to marry me because I wasn’t modest or decent.”
Kaveri tightened her arm around her, waited for her to finish.
(chapter continued next post!)