“What was I thinking?” Mirren said, hopping up to sit on the counter in what had been Kieran and Kaveri’s foodshop. “I can’t run a business! I’m a dishwasher in a tavern!”
“You are now mistress here,” Tyrel said patiently, perched on one of the stools. Mirren had been wavering between anticipation and anxiety ever since Kaveri had proposed this soon after her return. “Kaveri taught you all the foods this place is known for.”
“And Kieran couldn’t bear to wait any longer, and it would make sense for Kaveri to want to leave Galimont after what happened even though our evidence helped prove who was responsible, and so on and so forth. And people have been seeing you and I spending a lot more time close together lately and are making assumptions, and it’s going to be more comfortable with you and I and Madoc living here, and easier to sneak outside the city on moonbright nights, and so on and so forth.”
“We can still make it a legal marriage if you prefer. Or if your father has second thoughts.”
“My father is still too happy that his one-and-only daughter who’s had poor marriage prospects and a menial job for a long time is past both, he doesn’t care about the technicalities. And I don’t care what anyone else says. Marriage by mutual agreement and public acknowledgement used to be considered legal in Galimont anyway. And it’s just to give people a reason they can understand. That isn’t the part I can’t do. I can’t be responsible for this place alone while you’re very quietly helping Lady Lilura, and Madoc’s tracking down the girls that were kidnapped!”
“You can. Ezkurra agreed to honour the previous arrangement. Kaveri’s other suppliers have as well.”
“For a year.”
“In a year much can change. We cannot stay longer than that.” Lilura would never say it, but Tyrel was too dangerous to have around indefinitely—he’d engineered one overthrow, and though she supported his reasons, how could she ever be certain he wouldn’t do it again? Even a year might be too long for comfort. He’d declined an offered promotion, had gently manoeuvred people he trusted into the positions of Captain and Lieutenants—Ander among the latter—but that wasn’t going to help.
“I know.” He saw her expression turn sad. “I don’t know how I’m going to ever leave Galimont. This is my home.”
“Mirren. Make food. Feed people. Talk to people. No more street-corners. Talk to them here on your own ground. Help them remember life without fear. Help them remember a woman can be strong and independent. Help them heal. Hire someone to help you. Teach her so you can leave it to her. When we go you will know always that you gave your home a greater gift than they will ever know. The world is very big. Even Kieran has not seen everything. And you will not be alone. It will not be so bad.”
The bells on the door chimed, drawing the attention of both; Mirren hastily hopped to the floor, straightening her clothes.
Igon, and Joseb, and Gwilim; with Ander’s new responsibilities, his erstwhile trainee Gwilim had been reassigned to Joseb, and Igon was in line for a promotion and a trainee of his own as Galimont struggled to regain its balance. They greeted Tyrel, and to an observer it probably would have appeared little different from any other day, but Tyrel heard a subtle change in tone, saw a shift in body language, that reminded him of the other reason he needed to leave Galimont.
“What does a man have to do to get some food in this city?” Joseb said cheerfully. “I hear you have stew. And meat pastries. And beer. Enough for three, do you think?”
“I think we can manage that,” Mirren said briskly. “Have a seat.”
“I should go,” Tyrel said. “I have paperwork waiting.”
“Take Ander some pastries,” Mirren said. “He’s too busy to eat properly. Give me a minute.”
Tyrel lingered while she fed the three guardsmen, watching them dig into the food with enough zeal to confirm that she’d learned Kaveri’s recipes well, and waited while she wrapped an assortment of meat pastries in coarse paper for him to take with him.
It was a shame: he’d quite enjoyed their company.
As much from affection and appreciation of her generosity as for show, he gave Mirren a quick kiss—she was taller than he, of course, but what matter?—before leaving.
Ander, as one of the city-wide Watch officers, had an office now near the prison, in the primary wardhouse; it was a detour from his own, but he didn’t mind the extra walk in a good cause.
Guardsmen and office staff hailed him on sight; he gave each a quick smile and returned the greetings, no more. That he’d taken the lead and broken the disheartening deadlock made him too heroic for comfort in the eyes of many in the Watch; to others, though, he was dangerous and unpredictable, and he had no intention of giving the latter weapons to use against the former.
Ander’s door was, as usual, half-open; Tyrel tapped on it, waited to be acknowledged before coming inside. The room wasn’t much larger than it needed to be for a desk, a couple of extra chairs, and a single unit of shelves and drawers; one window showed only a brick wall ten feet or so away, but it was enough to admit some light and air. Tyrel found it comfortable and relaxed, and just right for Ander.
“You sound tired,” he observed, as Ander looked up.
Ander sighed, ran a hand through his hair to push it back from his face. “This isn’t exactly an easy job you dumped on me. And don’t tell me again it wasn’t you. I still won’t believe you. Something smells good.”
“A gift from Mirren.” He set the package down on a small unoccupied section of the desk, where it wouldn’t get grease on everything under it.
“That woman has a huge heart.” Ander dragged it into reach and unwrapped it, grabbed one at random to bite into. “Good cook, too,” he added, mouth still half-full, but he swallowed before adding, “She deserves to be looked after.”
“I think she does better looking after me,” Tyrel chuckled, turning back towards the door.
“When you leave, I mean.”
Tyrel spun back around, found Ander catching an escaping drop of gravy with a finger. The new Lieutenant licked it clean thoughtfully, and said, his tone entirely casual, “You look barely out of your teens, but you have far too much cunning and patience and you’ve been manipulating events ever since you got to Galimont, right in front of a lot of people who are supposed to notice things like that. Now, I see no reason to point out to anybody little things I’ve observed and deduced and conclusions I’ve reached when the ends are exactly what we were trying so hard to achieve with so little success.”
“You would have,” Tyrel said quietly. “It might have taken longer. It might have been less smooth.”
“Maybe. Especially with people like Mirren refusing to just lie down and be walked on. It would be nice to know that whenever you decide to disappear on us the same way you appeared, she’s going to have people watching her back.”
“She will. I promise. We watch out for each other. We have no one else.”
“Even one or two you can count on through anything that comes is more than some people get. Some spend their whole lives looking for one person they can truly trust. Try to hang around long enough for Osann and I to get married, please. She’ll want you both there.” He smiled. “So will I. Get out of here. I’d like to finish this so I can go home tonight. Thank Mirren for me.” He took another bite of pastry, his attention going back to the papers on the desk.
Tyrel sketched a respectful half-bow, though he doubted Ander noticed, and left him to it.
Removing Mirren from Galimont was going to leave Galimont the poorer for it, but at least they were going to be able to move on with the certain knowledge that her beloved city was in excellent hands.
Besides, once Mirren really experienced the world outside Galimont, and realized that she could make herself heard by a much wider audience, well… the world might never be the same for it.
Smiling in amusement, visualizing Mirren in a few of the places they’d been in and heard of, he headed for his own desk and the paperwork that was more bearable with the thought that it wouldn’t be for much longer.
I hope you enjoyed the past few weeks in Galimont! Stay tuned for a 4-post mini-story about Kieran finally making it home, which will be followed by the longest adventure yet! Conspiracies, attempted assassinations, and the reappearance of the cult Neoma escaped from! Thanks for reading so far, and as always, comments and questions are always welcome! ~Steph