Having spent so much time in Hanala, and never venturing beyond its boundaries, Anladet was surprised at how quickly the city turned to farmland. She and Al had walked north for a day and slept in the forest. Though they had grown used to camping, it was quite a jarring experience to sleep on soft, feather-down mattresses and eat rich foods to return to the hard experience of bedrolls and jerky.
They had been quite guarded with what they shared with the Duke and his family. She had appreciated their hospitality, but had worn against the feeling that they were an queer oddity. Al had reveled in it, embellishing their tales with splashes of drama and hyperbole when appropriate He had given Lady Silfa quite a bit of credit with their survival, to which her father couldn’t have been prouder. Anla had agreed politely and succinctly when asked to back Al up with his tales.
Things had been copacetic between them when they left; Al could stop worrying about money, at least for some time, and they managed to pull of an amazing rescue. But Anla could tell he was still a little miffed about certain events. She didn’t regret it, but she did feel some sort of detached remorse, like when a tragedy occurs to a friend and you apologize, even though you weren’t responsible. She felt badly that he had learned a hard lesson, but she wouldn’t repent.
She let him lead, hoping that it would help. Perhaps it did, because they had sat in front of the fire and he asked her, “How does it work exactly? Do you still hear them speak or do you just sense where they were?”
His tone had been neutral. There was no underlying spite, but he also didn’t smile like he normally did. She chose her words carefully, hoping not to upset him. “Somewhere in between. It’s more like I hear them speaking, but not words. It’s more of a feeling than a hearing.”
“Interesting,” he said, poking the fire. “How were you able to locate the lady so well, but not your siblings?”
“In that way, it’s like a scent. The fresher the noise, the sharper it is. I think also it clings to objects, echoing them. They traveled with her through the woods where I heard things more loudly. My siblings were missing before I came into my magic and long after I realized what I could do.” She paused for a moment. “I’m glad you pushed me to leave Hanala. My sister’s voice sounds louder to me, now that we’re moving north. I think I was always torn between going north or south, where I believe my brother is.”
She was a little disappointed when he had nodded and changed the subject. Anla had wanted to talk more about her siblings and only hoped there was some room for change in his attitude.
They had hitched a ride on the back of horse-driven cart returning to Wiyok from the owner’s delivery in Hanala. He was a pleasant man who refused to take any coin from them. “I had a great run,” he said, turning around and fanning his arm into his empty cart. “I sold everything!”
To the man, and later at the inn in Wiyok, they became Mr. and Mrs. Choudril and shared a room. Since they had already shared a tent and felt no awkwardness sleeping next to each other, it felt only frugal not to split up that night. Al had joked about them saving such a small percentage of their total earnings, but remarked that it might add up over the year. “We shouldn’t spend what we have just because we have it.”
Anla would disagree somewhat. She was in a habit of counting every copper and spending it wisely. She also had hundreds of dreams of what she wanted to do with any money she happened to come into. Most were frivolous, and she knew that, but she had always wanted to taste some of the foods she saw people eating or wear some of the nicer ladies’ clothes. She knew that, if it came to it, she would likely spend what they were saving on novelty fruits, like oranges from Genale. And she wouldn’t care what look he gave her when the juices dripped down her chin.
Their breakfast was stalled due to some issue. They waited and ate it before they continue to set out on the King’s Road. The grand highway, only a few paces-wide dirt road through Wiyok, connected Hanala and the great city of New Wextif in the duchy of Courmet. Usually it was well guarded and free of issues. That morning, however, there was some commotion back in the center.
“What is it?” Al asked.
“It’s nothing we need to be worried about,” she said. “A lot of repetition of phrases, meaning they’re gathered for a cause of some sort. Their tone suggests they have achieved it. We might want to leave, though. Things can turn quickly for a mob.”
“And skip some entertainment? I’d at least like to see what it’s about.”
The noise led them to a side street with houses and a few important businesses. It was wide and ended in a square that was filled with townsfolk. In fact, everyone in the town may have been there. Al began meandering through the crowd, trying to get the same view everyone else was trying to get. Anladet gave him a flat, yet amused stare, then hopped up on a cart placed near a bakery. Al took her arm and stood next to her.
They had to crane their necks to see around the curve. Even still, things were far enough away that Al had to dig his nails into his forearm to tap into magic to see what was happening.
A very tall man stood on a scaffold next to two men who appeared to be officials of some kind. Something seemed to be stalling the process. The men kept speaking to one another, shrugging, pointing up. Al almost laughed when he realized the men were too short to put the noose around the criminal’s neck. And he would have, if the poor man wasn’t going to lose his life that day.
“You’re a smart fellow,” someone said to Al from the street. “I can’t see what’s going on from down here.”
Anladet gave Al a side glance, then went back to looking at the gallows. “They’re trying to hang the man, but they can’t reach high enough to put the rope around his neck.”
“Grivven,” Anladet said.
“What, really?” Al focused more on the details. Coarse hair, tattoos on his right cheekbone, several metal loops in his right ear, lanky build with long extremities, pronounced facial features, and, of course, the massive height. “I think you’re right.”
“Don’t matter what he is,” the man on the street says, “he murdered Layrock, the mayor.”
“Really? He seems so calm. He doesn’t look like he has any fight in him.”
“Must have bled out when he killed Layrock. Mebbe he only had one evil in him.”
Al looked ahead at the grivven. His hands were tied behind his back and his feet weighted down. Still, he didn’t seem nervous. He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t trying to escape, he wasn’t shouting. In fact, he looked somewhat amused in a contemplative way. What would a guilty man feel? Would he go out peacefully, knowing he did it? Or would he pretend he was innocent and yell until he was hoarse?
Never mind a man, what would a grivven do? Al recalled what little they presented in school, which were distilled from sailor’s tales, which he took with a grain of salt. Usually reserved and peaceful, grivvens were friendly to the point of being docile, overly so. The report from the contingency group from Gheny noted that the grivvens they met were almost nonchalant at their arrival. The men had walked amongst their people with an acceptance that was immediate and systemic. No one had treated the delegates with fear or confusion or even wariness. They were no different to them than the large, domesticated rodents that walked the streets.
Alpine didn’t feel right about this. He tapped the man’s shoulder. “How did Layrock die?”
The man winced in thought, fanning his head with his straw hat. “Stabbed, I think.”
“In his house. His body is still there, if you wanna look.”
“No, I mean where on his person…hmm,” Al said, pausing to think. “Why is his body still in his house?”
The man looked annoyed. “Mebbe ’cause he died this morning.”
It took Alpine a moment to process the inference. “So, the mayor’s body was found this morning. When did the accused get to have his trial?”
“He didn’t get…” the man started, then realized why Al was asking those questions. It was too late to shut up about it. Al was already jumping down from the cart and shoving his way forward through the crowd.
“Wait!” he said, running up the stairs. “Wait a minute!” By the time he reached the scaffold, one of the men was climbing a stepladder someone had brought them.
“Get down!” one of them shouted to Al over the noise of the crowd. “You can’t be up here!”
“Yes I can! Did this man receive a trial?”
“What does it matter? Someone killed the mayor an’ we have a witness who saw it happen.”
“That’s not a trial!” Alpine said. By that point, the crowd was quieting down to hear what the new person on the gallows was saying. “That’s an accusation! This man is on Gheny soil and is afforded a fair trial if accused of a crime.”
The crowd started to boo. They had wanted to see a hanging that day and Al was stalling the proceedings. Savages, he thought, forgetting that he had wanted the same ten minutes prior.
Justice was blind and it was also bloodthirsty and ravenous.
“Listen to me!” he yelled at the crowd. “If it was you standing up here, you would want the same! You wouldn’t want to be executed without a fair trial!”
The crowd was getting rowdier, angrier. They started throwing things onto the gallows, looking Al in the eyes and yelling so loudly spittle was flying. He eyed Anladet quickly. She shook her head, then put her hands together as if she were praying.
“Uvarna!” he yelled. He saw the effect immediately. Maybe a third of the crowd that had been yelling stopped, put down their hands, and waited to hear what he said. “You may not want to give this man a fair trial, but Uvarna demands it for all men! There’s no telling if She will let this infraction go or if She’ll punish your town. I say it’s safer, and fairer, to give this man what our goddess of law wants.”
Al looked over at the two men sharing the platform with him. One was angry, but seemingly impotent in his rage. The other seemed more exasperated, removing his wide-brimmed hat and wiping his forehead with a kerchief. Al looked back at Anladet, who was smiling.
“And I suppose you’re a lawyer, with your fancy words and know-how,” a voice from the crowd said.
Al hadn’t thought far enough ahead. He had intended on stepping away when the trial began, maybe watching it or maybe not. It hadn’t occurred to him that the poor grivven was going to need a lawyer. And since no one had stepped forward before, either they weren’t here or they wouldn’t now that the crowd was upset.
“Yes, I am,” he said after a deep breath. “I’ll take his case.”
At this many members of the crowd groaned and began walking away.
“Just you?” asked the man in the hat.
“No, I have my…wife,” he said. It was easier to continue the lie. “She’s near the corner there and…” Anladet was furiously shaking her head.
“Bring the little lady up, then. We’ll put you all in the wagon and bring you to Carvek.”
“What? We’re not going to Hanala?”
“No,” the man responded, smiling at Al’s reaction. “Why, you know folk in Hanala?”
“I just assumed that you were under the city’s jurisdiction.”
“Naw, the city takes care of the city. We’re not the city. We’re under the county of Carvek.”
Alpine made his way down the stairs to the wagon people were hauling from some back street. It was too bad. In the worst case scenario, Al could have used his favor from the Duke to free the grivven.
The wagon was hitched up to two horses. It was a wooden box with metal bars across the side and door windows.
“What kind of people have a wagon like this ready and available?” he asked Anladet when she reached him.
“The same kind of people who have a permanent gallows?” she answered.
The grivven was put in first. He had some difficulty managing to get up the short staircase while his wrists were tied behind his back. “Could we release my client from his bonds? We can re-shackle him later, when we leave the wagon.”
The angry man from the gallows glared at him, but pulled out a knife from his belt and cut through the rope. The grivven nodded his thanks to the man before entering the wagon.
Alpine hopped up first, to help Anladet up. They sat on the two benches while the grivven sat on the floor in the front. “Away we go,” he muttered as the door was shut and barred with a chain.