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Authors: Hilari Bell

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BOOK: Rogue's Home
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“And Ginny Weaver,” I said softly, remembering her courage and goodwill.

“And Max,” said Fisk. “Rats.”

“What? What's wrong now?” I demanded.

“Well, nothing's wrong exactly. But this means Judith really didn't do it.”

I couldn't help but laugh.

I
t was dawn before Michael and I finished telling Sheriff Potter all we'd done and learned. We left Worthington and the ledgers in his hands, and he'd already sent one of the honest deputies to roust a couple of judicary auditors out of bed to start considering the official charges, so essentially it was all over except for the shouting. Though I expected lots of shouting. I was looking forward to it.

We escorted Nettie's Ma back to the marish, since she declined to stay the night at Max's. Daybreak streaked the frozen sky when Michael and I finally made it home to bed, but I made up for that by sleeping past noon.

I rapped on Michael's door on my way downstairs, but his room was empty. He'd probably been up at the crack of midmorning.

My sisters were still in the dining room when I came down, though the table was covered with lists and dress patterns instead of mid-meal. They jumped up and kissed me—or at least Anna and Lissy did, and Judith's rare smile was the equivalent.

Then they hustled into the kitchen and brought back food, sweeping aside the plans for Lissy's wedding. The first thing she'd done, after Potter told them Worthington had confessed, was to ask if she could marry Tristram Fowler. Max, either stunned by his good fortune or more aware of the situation than I'd thought, consented immediately. I must say they weren't making much progress with the wedding plans; the lists of people to invite, menus for the feast, even the all-important wedding dress, were pushed aside while I ate and my sisters exclaimed over Worthington's villainy.

Anna and Lissy were completely shocked, and even Judith admitted she'd never suspected him. I'd have rubbed that in, but I hadn't suspected him either. Ordinarily that wouldn't have stopped me from bragging, but today I simply felt too good.

Michael had gone off on some errand. He was safe now, for the story had spread through town like wild-fire. Max was holding court in his study, receiving the congratulations and apologies of all his acquaintances
and Anna said he wanted to speak to me when it was convenient.

Now was good. I waited until the current caller left and went in, noting that the front door was manned by a strange servant, probably on loan from one of the neighbors.

“What happened to Trimmer?” I asked as I came into the study and took a seat by Max's desk. The furnishings were still a bit sparse, but the joyous relief on Max's face would have made Nettie's Ma's hut look like a palace.

Even the shadow that slipped over his face at my question couldn't banish his happiness. “Rob Potter arrested him. I've been talking to some of my friends in the judicary, and while I won't, of course, be allowed to hear the case against Ben or any of his accomplices, they said they'd listen to my recommendation when Trimmer is sentenced. They let the victims speak, sometimes, though they don't often take their advice. Oh, I'm to have my job back as soon as it can be arranged. I'm a judicar again.” He puffed up like pigeon with the pride of it.

“What will you advise in Trimmer's case?” I already knew—Merciful Max was too happy to want to punish anyone.

“I'll recommend that he be required to pay back the
bribe, and the usual ten percent plus court fees. No payment in blood, for he shed no blood. He claims that all he wanted was enough money to escape his wife, and that I can well believe. But giving up the bribe will leave him bankrupt. Since no one here will hire them, the Trimmers will be forced to leave together, and I have no doubt she'll see to any additional punishment he might deserve. Speaking of deserving”—embarrassed color flooded his face—“I have to thank you, most profound—”

“Never mind that,” I said. I was in a merciful mood myself this morning. “What about Worthington? I'd have sworn he was thinking up some scheme. Why did he confess?”

Max snorted. “That was his scheme. And it worked, too. He offered to give a full confession, naming all his accomplices, if the judicary would agree not to demand life as his repayment.”

“What? They agreed to that? He murdered two people!
Four
if you count the old men who died in the fire.”

“That wasn't forgotten. But it's easier to do your judging if you have a full confession—then you can be certain of guilt.” Max's mouth twisted. Anna had told me he cried this morning, when Potter assured him that the men he'd hanged really were guilty. That
Worthington himself had composed Ginny Weaver's “suicide note” for the forger. He wasn't crying now, but he looked uncomfortable again. “I really do thank—”

“You already did. Are you telling me they're going to let him
off
?”

“Oh no. The judicary promised him life, but they refused to abjure any other form of payment in blood—and murder can be repaid no other way. His fortune is forfeit. And whatever state he leaves this town in, he'll bear the mark of an unredeemed man on his wrists. I'm not at all certain asking to keep his life was the wisest thing to do.”

A cold chill passed over my flesh. At least Michael could work, even if some people cheated him when they learned he was unredeemed. But Worthington would be a maimed beggar, driven from town to town, for even the Beggars' Guild won't permit an unredeemed man to work their pitch. “He'll survive,” I said. “He's too smart to die. But you're right—it may not have been the wisest choice.”

Max's mouth curved down, and I remembered that he'd once considered Worthington a friend. “He showed a ruthless streak in some of his business dealings, but I didn't think…The worst of it, to my mind, is that he seems to feel so little remorse. He said Ginny
Weaver was dying anyway, and in so much pain that her death was a mercy. Clogger was a gambler, drowning in debt, of no use to anyone. The old men were accidents, not his fault, and he harmed me as little as possible. And your friend was unredeemed. Indeed, he can't be charged for trying to frame Sevenson, though the arsons are on his account. The city council will use the court's share of Worthington's fortune to lay more fire pipe.”

I like irony too. “What happens to the rest of his money?”

“Most will go to his victims' heirs, though that's at the judicars' discretion. In fact, some say that since Den Skinner felt Worthington's original ‘bribe' to Ginny Weaver was sufficient payment, the court will leave it at that. Clogger's heirs, and the old rope makers, will get a great deal.”

I really do like irony, and we smiled at each other, for once in perfect accord.

“I'll get some too,” Max went on briskly. “Nine months' back pay will almost recoup my loss on those cargo ships.”

“Plus ten percent,” I said.

“And the owner of the brothel that burned will be able to rebuild. Oh, did you know Worthington chose Thrope's home as his second target just to make him
more angry with Master Sevenson?”

“I guessed it. And because he had access to the key. I suppose Thrope gets reimbursed too, plus ten percent?”

“As is proper,” said Max primly. But he didn't look happy about it.

“The Ropers' Guild will get the most,” Max continued. “It'll take time, but once Worthington's ships return and those loans are repaid, their charity fund is going to be full. The accountants say his fortune will be almost gone once the financial debts are paid. The blood debts…let's just say I'm glad I won't be ruling on this case. And it's because of you, Fisk, that I'll be ruling on other cases in the future. Speaking of which, have you thought about your future?”

“Not lately.” I blinked at the sudden turn of subject. “I've been busy.”

“Just so.” Max straightened a pile of paper on his desk. It had looked quite tidy before. “Well, I have thought about it, for you and Sevenson both. I know you share your father's turn for scholarship, and I have several friends on the faculty of Fallon's university. I might be able—”

“No.”

“But why not? You could be well settled in a respectable career. As for Sevenson, a nobleman's son
must have some experience in estate management. His being unredeemed is…unfortunate, but I think I could arrange a post. You could—”

“No,” I repeated. I wasn't sure if the emotion tightening my gut was amusement or fury, but it was a struggle to sound civil. “We can take care of ourselves.”

“But I too owe a debt.” Max realized he was fidgeting and let go of the papers. “Don't stop me. I see now that I was wrong to ask you to leave before. That I misjudged you. That's a hard thing”—he smiled fleetingly—“for a judicar to say. Now I owe you my return to my profession, my reputation, my…my peace of mind.”

So why did he sound like someone trying to cozen a tax collector? “Max, you don't have to—”

“Yes, I do. You need to hear this, and to know that I know it. Because…” He took a deep breath. “Because that's what makes it so difficult for me to ask you to leave.”

Long seconds of disbelief beat past before I got my voice working. “What?”

“I'm sorrier than you'll ever know.” Max's face was scarlet, but his expression was unyielding. “But I realized this morning, talking to the townsmen, that it will take time for this incident to fade from people's minds. It may be years before I'm wholly trusted again, and I
can't afford a…I can't afford any kind of scandal or disrepute. Councilman Sawyer made it clear that even without your friend he—”

“We rescued you.” I was standing, staring down at him. “We risked our lives to restore your poxy, precious reputation, Michael no less than me, and you're
kicking us out
?”

Max's eyes dropped. “My offer is still open. The university. And you might be able to return someday. Or for special occasions. You could come back for Lissy's wedding.”

“When pigs fly,” I snarled. I don't remember whether or not I slammed the door, but I took the steps two at a time and burst through Michael's door without knocking.

“Pack. We're leaving.”

He had his purse out on the bed and was counting his money, something he almost never did. Now he dropped the pitiful handful of coins and stared at me in astonishment.

“Why? Has Potter—”

“It's nothing to do with Potter. Or the girls.” Max hadn't told them his little plan. I hoped they gave him a world of grief. For years. Judith, at least, was capable of it.

I told Michael what Max had said and watched his
expression change from astonishment to sympathy. Unfortunately, the sympathy wasn't for me.

“'Twould be terrible to care so much what others think that you'd wrong a kinsman for it. His conscience will punish him for years to come.”

“I'd rather see him punished with a horsewhip!”

I yanked Michael's pack from under the bed and discovered that we'd been here such a short time that he hadn't unpacked much. Just a few days. Just long enough to see my sisters grown, to meet Becca and Thomas, to walk the streets and remember…

“Come on. You can help me pack.”

I'd hardly unpacked more than Michael and was stuffing in the last of the shirts when a soft tap sounded on the door.

I didn't want to talk to my sisters.

My hand closed on Michael's arm to silence him just as he called, “Come in.” But it was Sheriff Potter's shrewd face that appeared in the doorway.

“The servant said you two were up here. Though it looks”—he eyed our bags—“as if my errand was unnecessary.”

I stared at him in amazed fury. “Don't tell me you were going to throw us out too? That fits. That's just perfect. Come on, Michael.”

But Michael caught my arm, stopping my angry exit.

“A moment, Sheriff. It seems to me we've done naught but good for this town and its folk. Why cast us out?”

Michael's voice was a lot milder than mine would have been. Milder than his would have been when he first came to Ruesport. I think Potter noticed the change too, for he studied Michael's face as he replied.

“You're right, Sir Michael. You and Fisk have done nothing but good in this town, and as its sheriff, I thank you. But I pride myself that I'm a pretty good judge of character.”

I opened my mouth, trying to think of a properly cutting reply, and Michael gripped my arm harder.

“You think us villains?” he asked curiously. “Despite all that's passed?”

“On the contrary,” said Potter. “I think you're good men. Most of the time, at least.” His gaze had drifted to me, curse him. “But I also think that you and your squire are trouble on two legs, and I'd rather have you out of my town before the next batch starts. Am I wrong?”

Given the amount of trouble Michael had dragged me into over the last few months, it was a hard point to argue, but I'd be hanged if I'd agree.

“Jack Bannister once told me that a good deed will get you a stiffer sentence than most crimes, and I see
he was right.” I picked up my pack and left, my exit somewhat marred by the fact that Michael chose to walk down the stairs with the sheriff.

I caught bits of their conversation—it sounded like Potter was making Michael a gift of something he'd intended to buy, and it was in the stable. Whatever it was. Michael was pleased, but my faint curiosity evaporated as we reached the bottom of the staircase and heard the angry voices in the study.

Angry female voices. Max had told the girls. I still didn't want to talk to them. I grabbed Michael's arm and pulled him toward the door, which the wooden-faced manservant opened for us.

I swept us rapidly through the yard. The sun had come out, and though the untouched snow was still pristine, the places where folk walked were ankle deep in slushy muck. It would be ice by nightfall, and I hoped we'd find someplace to sleep by then. A barn loft, by the look of Michael's purse.

I flung open the stable door and stamped in, then turned to flee as a brindled shadow leapt for my throat. Muddy paws printed my doublet, and a wide pink tongue swiped my face before the mutt hurled itself on Michael with a husky, voiceless rasp that identified it all too clearly. Even when I'm angry I'm not stupid.

BOOK: Rogue's Home
4.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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