Kieran and Tyrel waited in a meadow outside Galimont, where they could drink in as much as possible of Talir’s light while they could, knowing that in a very few days there’d be little available, and watch for Sanur’s rising.
“You’re fretting,” Kieran said mildly.
“I’m worried about Mirren. She should never have been pulled into this.”
“Nor should you. Had we not crossed paths, the ghost lord of Banvard would surely have approved of you, and you would by now likely be Chief of Dunnval.”
“And I’d be miserable and still doing things I knew I shouldn’t be doing and giving orders to other people to do things I knew we shouldn’t be doing. That’s different. Mirren has a life here. She used to have a life here, anyway.”
“Yes? And you believe Mirren happy in Galimont?”
Only an idiot would. But it had, nonetheless, been her home and her community, and he knew she loved it deeply despite its flaws. He was sure he’d never loved Dunnval like that. Had been determined to do his best by it regardless of personal cost, but that had been duty, not love. “I know, you think this another lucky chance.”
“I think that there is not so much that is entirely random in the world.”
Sanur, brilliant and full, edged over the hilltops to spill her radiance across the world.
The strengthening light collected in the meadow, coalesced into two separate pools, each of which contracted and condensed down into a human outline.
The intensity of the light faded, leaving both Madoc and Mirren standing in the meadow, both naked—but where Madoc was simply stretching towards Sanur, absorbing the strength in the light, Mirren looked confused and lost.
Tyrel scooped up the cloak he’d woven and scrambled to his feet. “Mirren, it is all right. Coming back is a shock the first time.”
“Who?” Madoc spun around, puzzled. The leather he’d been wearing lately had, of course, been left behind at the scene of his death, but then, being naked between returning and orienting sufficiently to weave clothes wasn’t unusual. “Oh. Have we met?”
“This is Mirren,” Kieran said. “The situation became complicated.”
“Obviously. Wait. You showed up with Tyrel. I think. I had just been hit on the head so I might be wrong.”
“You are not,” Tyrel told him, while draping the cloak around Mirren’s shoulders.
Mirren wrapped her arms around herself tightly. “That was… I was with Kaveri and there were dogs,” she shuddered, “and then it was all just light.”
“The dogs were not part of the plan,” Tyrel said wryly. That wasn’t a death he’d wish on anyone—well, almost anyone—no matter how lethally fast and accurate Kieran could be, and he wished very strongly it hadn’t been the only thing they’d been able to devise on the spot. “We had to improvise. Kieran killed a deer. We left that for the dogs. They saw the dogs with bones the next morning. They saw your clothing torn and bloodied. They did not look closely. They suspected nothing.”
“Kaveri is with Lirit still,” Kieran said. “Your father and uncle and Ezkurra believe you to have gone into hiding because of a threat to your life. You will feel less disoriented in a moment. It will, in time, feel like waking from a deep sleep, no more.”
“Some of us have not reached that point,” Madoc said wryly, stepping into a pair of extremely simple moon-woven trousers and tying them at the sides. “And still find it hard. But it is never harder than the first time.”
Mirren blinked, focusing on him properly, and her eyes widened, then narrowed. “I saw you. You were the one that was…” She trailed off, looking for the right word.
“It was an act,” Tyrel said. “To get Kaveri kidnapped. We needed to see how. Madoc is my brother.”
“Like the rest of us, Madoc has been pretending,” Kieran said. “He has been trying to learn what he can from within. Before news, there is another thing more important.”
“Oh? What?” Mirren asked. “Because I know I’d really like to know what’s going on.”
“We will tell you everything,” Tyrel promised.
“Right now,” Kieran said, “there is something that will make you feel much better. Drink the moonlight.”
“Drink… what…? It’s light,” Mirren said.
“Except to us,” Madoc said. “It can be like water to us.” He cupped a hand to demonstrate—light pooled in it, and he raised it to his lips. “When Sanur is bright you need nothing else. Not even during the day.”
Doubtfully, Mirren cupped her hands together, and watched in amazement as the greengold light gathered within them. She raised them and took a tentative sip, and her eyes closed, a smile replacing much of the nervousness.
“Look at Sanur,” Kieran said softly. “She is your mother. She will not make choices for you. She will not stop you from being hurt. But she will be there always to give you strength and make any hurting end and give you a new chance. She will be there always to love you.”
Her motions slow and dreamy, Mirren obeyed.
And went very still.
Tyrel grinned and got comfortable again on the grass near Kieran.
Madoc stretched lazily and turned his own gaze to Sanur. His outline wavered, melted back into moonlight; the light gathered itself into a different form, faded again, leaving a long-legged bobcat with glowing greengold eyes. He pounced on a stray blowing leaf, then settled into grooming himself, the light dancing over his short dense tawny spotted fur with every motion, making it shimmer.
After so long with limited contact with his brother, the chance to play was irresistable. Only in moonspun clothing, Tyrel untied his belt and changed to fox-form to pounce on Madoc. The bobcat massed half again what he did, but so what? Madoc swatted playfully at him, and it turned into a rough-and-tumble wrestling match with any minor damage inflicted healing immediately.
“Oh,” Mirren said softly, sometime later, then, startled, “Oh! How long have I been standing here?”
Tyrel wriggled free from Madoc and changed back to human, since he was the one Mirren knew best. Madoc sat down to wait, tufted ears swivelling to track everything in the area but greengold gaze fixed on Mirren.
“We all do it,” Tyrel assured her, still sitting on the grass next to Madoc. “One thing more.”
“Look at Sanur and ask her to change you.”
Mirren raised her eyes to Sanur again, and Tyrel heard her murmur, “Please?”
Madoc padded over to pull the pale yellow cloak out of the way and sniff inquisitively at the tabby-striped cat, no more than a third of his size, who stood there now in Sanur’s light.
“A tame cat?” Tyrel asked Kieran curiously. Fox, bobcat, and raccoon were all wild; it hadn’t occurred to him the moons might choose anything domesticated. Not that he had the faintest idea what the word for “domesticated” was in Mirren’s language, since it hadn’t come up.
Slowly, Kieran shook his head. “One of their ancestors, I would say. They live in the wilderness across a vast range, and along its edges are further small cats that have changed to meet the conditions there. They are larger here than further south, and their markings bolder. I think Mirren will be even better than you at stealth in the shadows. Frightening thought, that.”
Madoc coaxed Mirren, one tentative step at a time, into motion; after a moment, Mirren paused to stretch, and Madoc positioned himself where she could see him, demonstrated the thorough stretch a cat could do that made even Tyrel’s fox bones feel strained when he tried to imitate it.
Mirren looked up at Sanur, and a moment later was human-form again. For the first time, Tyrel saw her with very little of the tension of anger and grief that made her look older and harsher than she truly was, and couldn’t stop a smile. Maybe Kieran was right and Mirren really would be happier.
“I feel like I could just run around and play like a kitten all night,” she said, picking up the pale yellow cloak.
“You could,” Kieran said. “Though come moonset you would be unable to change back.”
“I’ll remember that. This isn’t time for fun, though. There are women suffering every day. What’s happening?”
Leave it to Mirren to go from rapture to concern for her people that rapidly.
“Galimont is reaching a crisis,” Tyrel admitted, as Mirren and Madoc, also human again, joined him and Kieran. Madoc, absently, began to weave moonlight into fabric; Tyrel suspected that it was clothing for Mirren, not for himself.
“Madoc arranged to have himself executed so we could learn who is in overall command,” Kieran said. “Did it work, Madoc?”
“Yes. All they did was cut my throat, so they probably are very worried right now. It is the Chief Magistrate. I recognize him from the hearing.”
“I thought it might be,” Tyrel sighed. “It was to his estate Kaveri and Mirren were taken. All his hearings have been cancelled. Officially he had a death threat. He has the Watch looking for threats. He wants reports on each person heard to speak critically of him. Even the most apathetic in the Watch are disturbed. Others begin to feel it.”
“Then what do we do?” Mirren demanded. “Before innocent people get hurt?”
“Those who are confused and afraid,” Kieran said, “will follow orders from anyone who appears to be not confused or afraid. There are many among the Watch who will trust Tyrel even though he is not native to Galimont. Galimont will trust native guardsmen. All the more so when the commands given seem reasonable and restore order and make people feel safe.”
“You’re going to take over Galimont?”
“I do not want Galimont,” Tyrel said seriously. “I could have had power. I discovered I did not want it. Someone needs to stabilize this situation. It could be someone who wants power. Someone who will continue as the Chief Magistrate has done. Or it can be someone who does not want power. Someone who wants innocent people not hurt. People will look to the Watch. The Captain will stand with the Chief Magistrate. His four lieutenants will not act alone. Their reasons are different. But they were not chosen as possible heirs. They were chosen to follow orders.”
“‘Rel is very good at taking charge,” Madoc said. “Partly training. Partly natural ability.” He frowned. “I do not like it when I cannot be at your back. There is always someone who believes they should be the one giving orders.”
“I think you might be noticed,” Tyrel said, with a grin at his brother. “I do not like it either. I have not liked it the past four years. But Ander will watch my back for now.”
“Is he the one who is fast with a club?” Madoc rubbed the back of his skull ruefully.
“That was Joseb. He likes Kaveri.”
“I got that impression. Will I be any further use? Realistically?”
Tyrel frowned, sifting through options. “We arrest the Chief Magistrate and all else concerned. All as quickly as possible. We could miss some.”
“I have not met everyone.”
“More than any guardsman.” This discussion would have been much faster in their own language, but that would leave Mirren out. “I think we will need you.”
“I know who all the worst bully-boys in town are,” Mirren said. “The ones no one would ever consider trusting because they’ve done so many terrible things. You aren’t one of them. At least, you weren’t until the thing with Kaveri, that upset a lot of people.” Her forehead furrowed. “She’s not going to be able to come back openly, is she?”
“Lirit is not full for another six nights,” Kieran said. “An explanation for where she has been for a fortnight may be difficult, though perhaps Tyrel can arrange to find her in confinement somewhere.”
“What if Madoc rescued her? And both went to ground somewhere until hearing it’s safe? Either tell the truth that it was faked, and Madoc got her away after she was kidnapped but before anyone could hurt her, or tell them it was because of regrets. They’ll both be hard for people to believe, regrets would be harder to believe than faking it. But if Kaveri insists that you kept her safe, and you’re also helping to find people who have hurt others, then most people will be willing to give you a chance.”
“That could work,” Tyrel said slowly. “You will have to say that you lied about Kaveri being raped.”
“I can do that.” Mirren shrugged. “There are going to be people who won’t want to listen to you because you aren’t from Galimont. But there are people who will, and lots of them were born in Galimont, and if people that people know are backing you up…”
“Like me, like Ander and Joseb and at least half a score of others in the Watch, and there are people who aren’t in the Watch who will. I think Ezkurra and her family will. My father and my uncle will believe me and they’ll help. This won’t be for a few more days, but you’re planning to start doing things in the morning, right? By then people will have gotten used to the idea of believing what you tell them.”
“I will not be able to be beside you always,” Madoc said thoughtfully, “but I can at least be near.”
“I will keep you in sight so I can watch you,” Tyrel laughed. It was a risk, people might choose to believe that he had set this up as a power grab… but there would be people thinking that no matter what he did. And having Madoc nearby after four years of limited contact would be immensely comforting: they hadn’t been apart that much ever before in their lives, and it felt like missing part of himself.
“We need to have all the details straight though,” Madoc said, flashing Tyrel a grin. “If I’m staying out of sight for a few days, I want to be back on four feet before moonset. The night Lirit is full, you two will have no moon at all. I think you will have no time for walks outside the city between now and then.” His eyes went to Mirren. “The day Talir is dark, Tyrel and Kieran both will be very tired and will need to sleep a lot. For perhaps three days before and again after, they will need to sleep and eat as much as a human does. Between now and then, they will need some but less. While Sanur is bright you do not need to sleep or to eat. That will be passing when Lirit rises full but you will still need little for a few days more. Then Kaveri and I will be with you. Kaveri will be at the height of her cycle more than long enough for Talir to come back around. By then you and I will be into Sanur’s dark.”
Mirren nodded, her forehead creased with concentration. “There’s always someone in the upper part of the cycle.”
“Almost always,” Kieran agreed. “Once each year, almost, our three moons are all full the same night. On either side of that, all three are dark within a few days. Those times take a little planning. Other than that, there are few times through the year that all are near dark at once, and only briefly.”
“This is complicated. I’m not used to paying much attention to the moons, I live in a city.”
“It will become much more so if the other two moonladies choose to involve themselves with our line. You will get used to it and in time it will need no thought. Madoc is right, Tyrel and I will have some difficulty the day Lirit is full, but I do not think Galimont can wait long. We will work around it, and that will be easier with your help. So. What is the official story?”