Tyrel glanced up at the lowering sun. Two days, with scant sleep the night Sanur was full or the night after, and he was feeling it. Two days, and a lot accomplished, but even more yet to do.
He’d summoned everyone attached to his own wardhouse and convinced them that Galimont’s best interests lay in him taking charge; the handful whose loyalty he doubted were being watched, but there was little they could do to interfere. That had been followed by very quiet meetings with those sergeants of nearby wardhouses he believed were trustworthy, to win them over—less straightforward, for the most part, but the other three sergeants in his own wardhouse had backed him up, and it was conceded that someone needed to lead and he was provisionally acceptable. That was, after all, exactly what he’d been working to establish all this time. Citizens had volunteered, quietly, which was for the most part Mirren and Kieran’s doing, and added to the numbers available.
Through it all, Tyrel had made sure that only his family knew his plans. This strike had to be everywhere at once, allowing no time for warning, no time for flight. He’d given specific orders only at the last minute, as he’d sent each group off to their goal, and hadn’t told each group about exactly what the rest were doing.
Tebald, the senior sergeant at Tyrel’s wardhouse, had enough men to barricade all the gates in the walls of Galimont, stopping all traffic in or out completely.
Joseb and Igon and half a dozen others were encircling the Chief Magistrate’s relatively modest city residence, ready to pounce. Tyrel had confided in Joseb that he had evidence the Chief Magistrate had been behind Kaveri’s kidnapping; he had no fear that anyone would escape that building.
Though Tyrel would have liked to have Ander beside him, or at least on the far side of the Courthouse from him, he’d sent Ander and Gwilim with one of the remaining sergeants and half the remaining guardsmen and volunteers of his own ward outside Galimont to the Chief Magistrate’s estate. Kieran, not by accident, was among the citizen volunteers assisting.
Other wardhouses, along with straining to keep peace within their own wards and Tyrel’s in the currently volatile atmosphere pervading the city, were closing in on the safehouses no one had been able to track down, using the directions and details Madoc had given Tyrel.
And Tyrel, with guardsmen and volunteers, including several Watch staff who normally worked only in the wardhouse, had the Courthouse with its maze of administrative offices and courtrooms surrounded.
High up in the Courthouse belltower, a honey-haired human figure in a raspberry Watch tunic waved to him.
Tyrel closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then waved back. The figure vanished.
Tyrel didn’t wait; he crossed the street to the main doors of the Courthouse.
Heartbeats later, the bell began to toll—slow and dull at first, but gaining momentum and volume, echoing over the city. Normally, a warning to the population to withdraw inside the walls; this time, a signal to attack.
Very much as he’d expected, it stirred the Courthouse into an immediate frenzy. The guardsmen and volunteers who had followed Tyrel blocked the main doors, and those on the other sides of the building had the minor entrances closed off, keeping anyone from leaving, but those within didn’t know that yet. Other guardsmen spread out, following orders to sweep the entire building and bring downstairs anyone who hadn’t been roused by the bell.
“Attention, please,” Tyrel shouted, judging pitch and timing to be heard past the bell. “I need everyone to gather in the largest courtrooms immediately. Do not go back to get anything. Move to the courtrooms. Now.”
“This is unacceptable,” said a man in the dark brocaded robes of a magistrate, anger clouding his aristocratic features. “How dare you?”
“You are in danger, Your Honour. You need to go now.”
“Danger from what? From whom?”
“That will be made clear.” Though the magistrate was more than a handspan taller than him and of considerably higher rank, Tyrel met his gaze steadily and refused to look away. “Go. Now.”
The magistrate tried to stand his ground, but after a moment his eyes flicked to the side and down; he turned away, grumbling dire threats about good explanations.
“All will be made clear,” Tyrel repeated. Though the magistrate wouldn’t much like it when it was: Tyrel had reason to believe that one had accepted substantial bribes to overlook some irregularities and to adjust his verdicts and sentences, though he probably wasn’t directly involved or aware of the full depth of the corruption. As near as Tyrel could determine, he’d never troubled himself to ask, content to accept the bribes.
Many of those being corralled were simply citizens who were here to see one bureaucratic office or another, or because they were involved in a civil suit, a few because they were involved in a criminal case. They were, largely, too used to listening to the Watch and too confused and uncertain to question.
The rest were Courthouse staff—clerical types, for the most part, the kind who kept track of births and deaths and the thousand other things that were recorded in between in a city, as well as those who processed civil litigation and criminal cases, and the personal secretaries of the magistrates. They were indignant about not being permitted to go back upstairs to retrieve or secure anything, though they were assured that the Watch were throughout the building and no one would be able to steal or spy on anything.
“Tyrel! Are you behind this? What is going on?” A woman half a head shorter than Mirren, though still taller than Tyrel, her body full-figured with a lengthy life of physical ease and two children, her largely grey hair in a sober braid coiled into a crown, strode through the milling mass of bodies. Normally her brocaded robes would have prompted all to move aside; even in the midst of chaos, that and sheer presence made some do so anyway.
“I am sorry, Your Honour. There is danger. Our job is to protect. Please let us do so.”
She regarded him narrowly for a moment, arms crossed, fingers drumming a rhythm. “What do you need?”
“Everyone gathered in the largest courtrooms immediately. Except you, Your Honour. I need you to stay near me. Someone I trust is looking for you. She will see you back to your office. She can explain there.” Having to single Lilura out publicly as different wasn’t something he’d wanted at all; Mirren, having rung the bell, was probably at Lilura’s second-floor office by now. Galimont would suffer less if familiar established structures remained intact, which meant there needed to be a new Chief Magistrate. He was almost certain of the youngest and newest magistrate, but he had no doubts at all about Lilura, and she had the seniority as well to be a plausible and respectable Chief Magistrate. “Please, Your Honour, trust what she says and let her protect you.”
“I don’t like secrecy.”
“Sometimes a little secrecy is necessary for a short time.” He saw honey-coloured hair and a raspberry tunic on the stairs, raised a hand and waved; Mirren waved back, began to work her way towards them. “We will explain everything to everyone. I would like you safe to hear it.”
“I was under the impression there were no women currently active in the Watch outside the wardhouses.”
“In this Mirren is acting for me. That I trust her absolutely is of more importance than the nature of her usual job. She is very brave and very honest and has risked her own safety before to help Galimont.” The restive sound of the people being herded, with as much tact and care as possible but nonetheless firmly, into the two largest courtrooms was much stronger than he’d have liked. The bailiffs, whose job it was to keep the peace within the building, were belligerent and rebellious; worryingly, that was beginning to give others ideas. This could go very bad very quickly if any significant number chose to fight back against Tyrel’s limited force. He’d chosen those who would be working within the Courthouse carefully, wanting the calmest and the least likely to help a confrontation escalate, but that might not be enough.
“You’re asking for a great deal of trust, Tyrel.”
“I know, Your Honour.” He needed to stay close enough to ensure her safety until Mirren was close enough to do so, but really, he didn’t have time for explanations right now. Two guardsmen together had subdued a particularly aggressive bailiff, but from here Tyrel could see two more bailiffs who had just noticed that and were moving in that direction.
Lilura saw it, too.
“Bailiffs!” she shouted, above the uproar. After a lifetime of dealing with the public, often in heightened states of excitement, she knew how to project her voice. “Kindly assist the Watch in your shared duty! We need everyone in the courtrooms immediately!”
A couple of the bailiffs looked disappointed and still rebellious; there were, Tyrel knew, a couple of old outstanding grudges between the Watch who worked on the streets and the bailiffs who took control of captives while they were at the Courthouse, and quite possibly they’d seen a chance to settle it. But the orders of a magistrate quelled most and set them to helping rather than obstructing.
“Thank you,” Tyrel said, with quite sincere gratitude.
“A riot will help no one.” She surveyed Mirren as she finally made it through the press of bodies to them. “And you’re to be my guardian, hm?”
“Lady Lilura, this is Mirren,” Tyrel said. “I promise you, she would give her own life to keep you safe if necessary.”
Lilura’s eyebrows rose and her forehead furrowed. “I devoutly hope that isn’t going to become relevant.”
“I hope so as well, Your Honour. Please listen to her.” He knew Mirren had been out of the city the past two nights, spending the time with Madoc. Under Sanur’s bright light, injuries would have healed as rapidly as they could be inflicted, and he had no doubt Madoc had made use of that while teaching Mirren. Nor did he have any doubt that Mirren was sufficiently determined to accept that without resentment. With Madoc’s lessons, his own, Mirren’s resolve, and the subtle advantage Sanur’s phase would grant her even in the day, he wouldn’t have cared to try to attack Lilura past her.
“Please, Your Honour, let’s go back to your office,” Mirren urged. “I’ll tell you everything once we’re there.”
Lilura nodded, once. “There’s a back stairway I suspect we’ll find much less crowded. Tyrel, don’t prove me wrong.”
“I truly hope I do not.” He stayed near to watch their backs until they were out of the densest crowd, which was finally thinning noticeably, then gave Mirren a quick wave and turned back to his other task.
(chapter continued next post!)