(chapter continued from previous post)
Bewildered people still trailed in from deeper in the building, sent this way, or occasionally escorted this way, by those guardsmen and volunteers who were methodically sweeping the building’s upper floors. Some people had tried to leave and found the main doors inaccessible, and he had no doubt the same had happened at secondary doors. With multiple guardsmen at each door, there should be as near to no chance of anyone escaping as possible.
He went to the nearer of the big courtrooms, told the guards at the door to send anyone else to the other one, and went inside. Rather than the magistrate’s high bench, he used a chair as a step to climb up onto a table.
Attention, he got instantly; quiet in which to speak took longer, but he waited in silence until the shouted demands and questions finally wound down to an agitated impatience.
“There is nothing to fear. The Watch is entrusted with the safety of the citizens of Galimont. That is our first priority. We have been struggling to do so. We were forbidden to investigate the wealthy and powerful of Galimont. We have disobeyed and done so. We have found evidence of serious crime and corruption. Some in high office have betrayed the trust of their people.” A rumbling rippled through his audience, but he’d expected that—who really didn’t believe that those in charge were keeping secrets and working first for themselves?
“That stops today. No more of your sisters and daughters will disappear. No more living in fear of criminals who face no consequences. Those who have protected them will no longer be able to do so. The Watch has moved all over Galimont. The gates are sealed. Safehouses are being raided. Other places of interest to us are being raided. The Watch has no current interest in anyone else. There is no crime in Galimont as terrible as this one. We seek only those who have made Galimont a city of fear. We will send you home as quickly as possible. We need only to be certain that the ones we seek are not set free. They will be held for a fair trial.”
“How can there be a fair trial of the high families?” one man asked.
“There is one magistrate we have good reason to believe is honest,” Tyrel said. “Lady Lilura is now acting Chief Magistrate of Galimont. All evidence will be presented to her. There are others we have little or no evidence against. Those may be found innocent. The Watch will honour her decisions. All will be tried. Rank has protected them for years. It no longer will.”
“This is absolutely outrageous!” bellowed one of the senior magistrates. “How dare you accuse us?”
“Something to hide, Your Honour?” another man asked. Tyrel recognized him as the owner of a small pottery shop—one more of the citizens of Galimont who survived well enough, paid taxes, stayed largely out of trouble. A number of pairs of eyes went in that direction. “Seems to me you should be relieved if other magistrates are corrupt and have been caught. Unless you’re one of them.”
“Of course I want corruption found. But how dare the Watch take it upon themselves to pry into our lives? We enforce the laws!”
“Not very well lately. Sounds like it’s about time someone broke the rules. It would be good to look at my niece without wondering each time whether she’ll vanish before I can see her again, and for my sister to go to the market without wondering if she’s safe doing it.”
The rumbling climbed again, this time louder than before. The magistrate who had spoken up paled.
“We will make sure of that,” Tyrel said. “We can do it only if you work with us. Please. The next few days may be frightening.”
“So have the last few,” one of the Courthouse clerical staff, a middle-aged woman, muttered.
“There must be changes. Regular hearings must wait a little. The Watch will not be able to respond to complaints that are not urgent. I ask you to be patient. It will not last long. Then the citizens of Galimont can begin to learn again what it means to live without fear.”
Someone started to cheer; others picked it up.
Tyrel felt like collapsing in relief. This could have gone very wrong with just a few badly-chosen words; the time he and Kieran and Mirren had spent working on it had obviously paid off.
“So what do you need from us right now?” the middle-aged woman asked, when she could.
“The magistrates and their personal secretaries and several others must be identified and held. Bailiffs, please, begin to show them to the holding cells. It is the clerical staff who can best identify all and make certain none are overlooked. I understand this is a frightening situation for many. I am sorry. We will do our job. We will keep you safe. Please. Remain calm. Let the bailiffs do their job. You will be home with your families for the evening meal. I must explain to those in the other courtroom.”
It went less smoothly there, a particularly belligerent magistrate needing to be removed before Tyrel completed even half his explanation, which made the whole crowd more restive and nervous.
They needed to get the right people isolated and the rest released before the whole situation deteriorated. There were currents of anger and fear and deep resentment that worried him.
One of the senior clerical staff, a mature woman who had seen magistrates and their staff come and go, declared herself responsible for identifying the people Tyrel wanted; not all were in the building, unfortunately, but most were, and she went with a guardsman to look up information on the rest that should make them easy to find.
Only once he’d ordered the doors opened did Tyrel go to Lilura’s office. He knocked on the closed door, the coded rhythm he’d taught Mirren, and said, “It’s Tyrel.”
After a brief pause, Mirren opened the door—keeping herself across the opening until she’d verified that it was him, as instructed. “All sorted out?” she asked, stepping back to let him in and closing the door again.
“A good beginning at least.”
“The Chief Magistrate, Tyrel?” Lilura said. “Truly?”
“Truly,” Tyrel said tiredly. “Beyond all doubt. You have my word.”
“And those poor girls who vanished?”
“We may be able to track some. I suspect some are inside the city. I suspect others are on estates outside the walls. I suspect a few are in cities Galimont trades with. I do not know what condition they will be in if found. Humans can be trained to see themselves as property. They can be trained to devotion to those who hurt them. But we will try. And there will be no more. Your daughter can visit Galimont without fear. But first there is much work still to do. You are now Chief Magistrate. The Watch will follow your orders.”
Lilura shivered. “Where are the others?”
“In the holding cells. The previous Chief Magistrate should be now in the custody of my men. I have no reason to believe Kemen involved. I believe his father is, without Kemen’s knowledge. He is being held only until his father can be captured so he cannot warn him. Haritz I believe guilty of negligence and ignorance but not conspiracy. Others I believe accepted bribes and exchanged favours without asking questions they should have asked. We believe only two other magistrates were actively a part of the crimes within Galimont. All evidence is yours. It is currently in my desk.”
Lilura looked at him quietly for a moment, and Tyrel wondered what she was thinking.
Then she sighed. “This is a mixed gift you’ve dropped in my lap, Tyrel.”
“I know, Your Honour. I am sorry.”
“I want that evidence as quickly as possible.”
“You will have it. You might be safer at home, Your Honour. There is nothing to be done until we finish the arrests. We can find you if we need you.”
“You say you’ll follow my orders, but you’re the one who holds all the power in Galimont right now. And I know when I’ve been dismissed.”
“I do not want power, Your Honour. I want you safe so I can give it to you.”
“You know, I think I actually believe you.”
“You should, Your Honour,” Mirren said.
“Berezi, perhaps it would be best for you to collect your family and stay at my house while things are in turmoil.”
“See Her Honour home safely,” Tyrel told Mirren. “Then come back here. You may identify some we hold.” The dogs would have torn him apart in either form before he could get close enough to the gazebo to see those within it; Kieran had needed to keep his attention largely on the unsettled pack to keep them somewhat cowed and avoid another dominance fight, with no time to spare for close observation of the humans involved. Kaveri would have been sure to make note of them, but she wasn’t yet available. He hoped Mirren would recognize the others present if she saw them.
Mirren nodded. “I will.”
There was still much to do, and despite the early creeping hints of moondark fatigue there was going to be little time for rest. He’d have liked to have Madoc’s familiar presence at his side… but while Mirren was less able to anticipate him than his brother, he had no doubt he could count on her strength and her good sense. And with Galimont turned upside-down, he was probably going to need as much of that as possible in the immediate future.