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Authors: Hilari Bell

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“And tomorrow during the day we could talk to this Ginny Weaver's family,” said Michael. “If she was as frail as you say, she might not have been able to fight if someone wanted her dead. There are ways to force someone to drink things. Or befool them into it. And we should talk to the family and friends of the other witness, the one who vanished.”

“Ren Clogger,” said Anna. “He was a tanner, too. But he didn't vanish; he left town. Right after paying off all his gambling debts. He told people he'd finally gotten lucky.”

“If he was a gambler, mayhap he'd have been easy to bribe,” said Michael.

“That's what everyone thought,” said Anna. “Unfortunately.”

A short silence fell, and I pulled my cloak tighter against the chill. “I was thinking about that ledger they planted. It has to have been forged.”

“Of course. I thought…I'd hoped you might know some forgers.”

“And I'm sure they'd be delighted to tell me all about it. What did you think, Anna? That I'd know…wait a minute…Judith said the ledger was found in a secret compartment in Max's study. How many people could have known about that? The compartment, I mean.”

“Quite a few. It wasn't a secret compartment, just a cupboard under the window seat. Anyone who moved the cushion might have seen it. Max never used it.”

“Still, that ledger must have been planted by someone who knows your house. The servants would know?”

“The indoor ones, certainly. They dusted in there. But I can't believe…”

“One of your servants almost has to be involved. Someone had to steal a sample of Max's writing for the forger and plant the ledgers.”

“But I know them, Nonny. They're good people and they were sorry to leave us. They believed Max was innocent.”

“One of them probably knew it for sure.”

“You may be right,” she allowed, but she clearly didn't like it. She clutched her cloak closer, stamping her feet on the cold ground.

“We'll also speak to your old servants,” said Michael thoughtfully. “If one is richer than he should be, or has left town, that might tell us something.”

“I know where most of them went,” Anna said. “But really, anyone who's been in Max's study might know about the window seat.”

“So you'd rather blame a family friend? I suppose—”

“I was talking about Max's business associates,” said Anna with dignity. “Although I don't imagine they'd have any motive.”

“Why stop with friends and associates? You've got a brother who's a known criminal. Or better yet, I think Judith did it. She has access to Max's papers. She'd know about the window seat. And she's smart enough to come up with something this complex. It fits.” I'd have to put that theory to Judith and see what she said.

For just a second Michael took me seriously—a wave of protest swept over his face. Then Anna snorted. “I thought you'd have grown up more than that.” Her tone of big-sisterly rebuke sent me straight back to the nursery. “If you're going to be like this, I'm going to bed. Good night, Master Sevenson. Nonny…it's so
good to have you here.” She hugged me, then turned and went back through the orchard gate.

I was still staring after her when Michael said, “We should go in, too. We've more than enough to do tomorrow.”

He didn't sound enthusiastic about it, and this was the kind of task Michael-the-crazy-knight-errant should have been overjoyed with. I was worried about Michael. He'd been so subdued, almost surly, during dinner. The only time he'd brightened up at all was when we'd started talking about Max's problem. I'd intended to write to Lady Kathryn that he'd turned up safe and sound…but now I wasn't so sure about the sound part. And I had no idea how to help him, either. He was unredeemed. There was nothing I could do to change that, or make it easier.

“Yes,” I said absently. “I suppose…” But the sound of voices and laughter coming down the orchard path was more interesting than what I'd been about to say.

Young Fowler and Lissy looked as if they didn't feel the cold. There was a glow about them that would have made an ice age seem trivial. They wished us both a pleasant night before passing through the gate, and Lissy kissed my cheek, though more shyly than she had this morning.

As they walked off, Fowler put his arm around her shoulders.

“I don't think he had to do that. Do you think he had to do that?”

Michael was staring after them too. “I think,” he said slowly, “that some motives are more complicated than revenge.”

C
HAPTER
5
Michael

I
was still thinking about motives next morning, though not about young Fowler's. Both Fisk and I agreed that that fine, honest, upstanding young man couldn't have had anything to do with framing Max, and I still don't know which of us sounded more sour about it. This troubled me. I didn't want to become so small-spirited as to resent those whose luck in life had been better than mine, and I resolved not to let my misfortunes affect me so.

Besides, helping Fisk's family appeared to be something even an unredeemed man could do. This thought cheered me so much that I didn't resist when Fisk went through my pack this morning and selected one of my better doublets. We had agreed on the need to present a respectable appearance, though all we wanted was ask a few questions. I feared to intrude on
Ginny Weaver's grieving family, and I think Fisk dreaded it too. That was why we went first to the shop owned by Ren Clogger's brother; we'd gotten his name and directions from Master Maxwell at breakfast.

Fisk's eyes were bright as he rapped on the door. Indeed, the farther we got from his family, the more cheerful his manner became. He'd been subdued yesterday—at least, subdued for Fisk—and the pained look that came over his face when the children were first mentioned made me want to bash someone. Probably Master Maxwell, who seemed to have been responsible for Fisk's estrangement from his sisters. But Maxwell had enough trouble already, and knocking him down wouldn't help the small family Fisk so clearly loved.

Fisk knocked again, and when no one answered, he stepped back into the street to peer through the windows of the wheelwright's shop, where we'd been told Master Clogger lived and worked.

“Mayhap he's away,” I said reluctantly, for I'd no desire to confront Mistress Weaver's kin sooner than need be.

“At half past first bell on a workday? I doubt it.”

“First bell?” I asked curiously.

“The work bell. It rang about two hours ago. Surely you heard it.”

I'd been hearing bells since I came into Ruesport but had taken no notice of them. In most cities bells were part of the perpetual din, and every city seems to assign different meanings to them. But before I could ask, Fisk went on, “In Ruesport the guilds ring the work bell for the beginning of the workday, mid-meal, afternoon break, and the workday's end. It gets so you run your life by that bell, even if you don't do shift work.”

I shook my head. “I'd never make a city man. I'd hate to have my time so ruled.”

Fisk laughed. “I know what you mean. They even call the journeymen and apprentices ‘bellmen' here. But it's unlikely that Clogger would be far from his shop this time of day, and even then his workmen should be here.”

A rhythmic thumping sounded from the barrel maker's shop across the street, and I raised my voice. “Mayhap he didn't hear us.”

'Twas all too likely to my mind, for this section of Ruesport was dedicated to the heavier and nosier forms of manufacture, and the pleasant scent of cut lumber overpowered all other odors, though horse manure was a close second.

Fisk seemed less familiar with this neighborhood, which made me aware of how easily he'd guided me
through the other parts of the city. Now he led me through an alley to the back of the building, where we found Master Clogger in his work yard. He was directing two journeymen in fitting a wheel hub onto an axle, obviously in charge, though he wore a leather apron filled with clever tool pockets just like his workmen.

When Fisk said he wished to speak to him about his brother, Master Clogger led us off to a private corner of the yard near a long water trough.

“I'm sorry, but I can't help you. I told Ren a year ago that I'd paid the last I was going to. Whatever he lost you'll have to get it from him. He's a full adult, responsible for his own debts.” Clogger was large, with arms and shoulders like an ox, and he sounded more angry than sorry.

Fisk said hastily, “He doesn't owe us anything. We've never met your brother, Sir, and we don't want money. We just want information.”

Master Clogger thought this over, dipping a kerchief into the trough and wiping his face with cold water. “Why?”

We'd discussed how to answer this question, and Fisk had finally agreed that 'twould be better to tell the truth. But looking at his face now, I saw that resolve waver and cut in swiftly. “We're friends of
Master Maxwell, Sir, and we don't think your brother was paid to lie. We're trying to prove it.”

Clogger's brows shot up. “Who are you two? I didn't think anyone would dare defend Maxwell, after what happened.”

“Fisk is Master Maxwell's brother by marriage, and I—”

“Michael's a knight errant,” Fisk said smoothly. “And I'm his squire.”

Clogger's eyes widened, then narrowed in predictable amusement. I glared at Fisk. What had possessed him to say that? We had agreed to try to appear respectable today.

“A knight errant.” Clogger's lips twitched. “That might account for it, after all. I'm sorry gentlemen, but I still can't help you, for Ren never told me what happened. After I refused to pay any more of his debts, we…we still spoke from time to time, but it was awkward between us.”

Fisk frowned. “Surely he spoke to you about testifying at the murder trial.”

“Hoof and horn, yes! A terrible thing, that killing. The whole town was appalled. Especially Ren, for he knew those men. Not well, not friends or anything, but they were all tanners. That's why he was so sure of their identity, because he knew them.” Clogger's big
jaw firmed. “And debts or no, Ren wouldn't have lied men to the gallows, no matter how much he was paid. He was a gambler and a bad one—not that there's any such thing as a good one. But to give false witness in a hanging case? No, that just wasn't in him.”

“What kind of gambling did he do?” Fisk asked, perching on the edge of the trough. 'Twas a clear indication he intended to spend some time on the conversation. Master Clogger reached around and seated himself on a nearby keg while I leaned against the trough beside Fisk.

“He'd gamble on anything,” Clogger admitted ruefully. “Cards and dice, mostly, but he'd bet on a horse race or a cockfight if it came his way. The sad thing was, he was a good tanner. He made this for me.” He held out the apron he wore, and the craftsmanship, especially in the styling of different pockets for particular tools, was admirable.

“That's his mark, here on the corner,” Clogger went on. “He said the light circle was his good luck, so he put it on top of the dark one. That was Ren all over, a good tanner and a cursed fool. But not a killer, even by lies. I'd stake—” He stopped and shook his head. “I don't wager, not after seeing what happened to Ren. And even though I don't believe he'd do it, I have to admit…”

“You don't know where he got the money?” Fisk asked. “We heard he paid his debts before he left.”

Clogger snorted. “Well, he didn't pay me back, but I suppose that was too much to expect. He did come to say good-bye. Said he'd finally got lucky. He was going to another town, to start fresh. I argued some. You can't run from yourself, and his work was known in Ruesport. But maybe he was right—new friends, friends who don't gamble…I don't know. He said he'd write when he settled, but he's been gone only five months. I might not hear from him for a while yet. That was one of the things that made it look bad, that he left just a few weeks after the hearing. And before you ask, he never said where he was going. I don't think he knew. It'd be just like Ren to get on the first ship he saw and trust to luck.”

“But he did pay off his debts?” I asked.

“I can't swear to it, but no one's come dunning me since he left.” Clogger rose to his feet. “The judicars asked me that, too—where he'd gotten the money. They couldn't find anyone who admitted losing money to Ren, and the whole city knew about the scandal. If it was true, you'd think someone would have come forward. I hope you succeed, Sir Knight, Squire. My brother wasn't an evil man, for all his faults, and if you
clear Maxwell, you'll likely clear Ren's name, too. But I don't know how I can help you—he didn't tell me anything.”

 

We stayed a little longer but learned nothing more except that Ren Clogger had no other family, and, according to the judicary investigators, he'd told his friends nothing that he hadn't told his brother.

“That didn't help much,” I said. We had passed back over the bridge Fisk told me was called Drybridge, although today 'twas icy with the spray that rose from the churning river, and were now in the midst of a big market square, full of bustle and life. A running patterer passed by, his musical singsong informing us that Mara Mitchen had birthed twin boys, the stout ship
Bumblebee
was taking on cargo, and Glover Spices had a sale on nutmeg. Every shop, stand, and barrow was selling juniper and holly, and some had ribbons, candles, and torches as well. Calling Night was only four days away.

“We learned a few things,” said Fisk. “We learned that somebody bribed Ren Clogger for something. I've never met a gambler who won big—or lost big—who wouldn't tell everyone he met each turn of the card or roll of the dice.”

“Hmm. And whatever it was, it happened only weeks after the hearing. But it doesn't add up to much.”

“We've just started. Maybe if we track down whoever planted that forged ledger in Max's study, things will start to add up.” Fisk grinned. “I still think Judith did it.”

“And what motive might she have?” I asked with elaborate patience.

“General meanness. When I was, oh, five or six I think, she put pepper into my custard for almost a week.
Pepper.
And she told me we were economizing on spices and I had to eat it all and not complain or I'd hurt Mama's feelings.”

I laughed. “And what was her motive for that? Or shouldn't I ask?”

Fisk suppressed another grin. “It wasn't my fault. Or at least, it wasn't
deliberate
.”

“I suppose she was bigger than you were, too.”

“She still is,” said Fisk. “Father always said that Anna got his eyes, Judith got his height, and I got…”

“What?”

“His brains,” Fisk finished coolly.

We had passed from the big market square into another square, much smaller. The shops here were older, and the shoppers wore rough, even ragged
clothes. 'Twas only the crossing of one street that made the difference, but I took a closer grip on my purse and Fisk saw it.

“The council's been talking about tearing down the old market for years,” he commented. “They say it'd cut crime in the Oldtown by half, but I think they're being naive. All tearing down this market would do is force the poorer folk to shop in the slums—they're just across Trullsgate Bridge,” he added informatively.

“And Trullsgate Bridge is beyond Trull's Gate?” I was only trying to orient myself, since it seemed we'd be in Ruesport for some time, but Fisk grinned again.

“No, Trullsgate Bridge is by Sutter's Gate.”

I sighed. “When the council pulls down the old market, mayhap they should consider renaming some things.”

“Saying ‘when the council pulls down the old market' is like saying ‘when pigs fly,'” said Fisk. “They've been planning to do it for decades, but the guilds can't agree on what to build in its place. Half want a university and half want a hospital. The whole city is divided into university wishers and hospital wishers, so here the market sits.”

“Which side are you on?” I asked, though I'd already guessed the answer. Fisk's education and love of learning have often surprised me.

But he surprised me again. “Hospital. It'd be more useful to more townsfolk, and the only reason they want a university is because Fallon has one.”

We went up a straight street where the guildhalls were, which for a wonder was actually called Straight Street. Then we passed out of Crowsgate over Newbridge into the spread of shops, work yards, and houses on the other side of the Yare. Ginny Weaver's family dwelled toward the southern end of town, where the buildings began to thin into large gardens and farmed fields. As we approached it was easy to see why, or rather to smell why, for no one wants to live too near a tannery.

Ginny Weaver's daughter, who opened the door to us, didn't seem to be aware of the stench. She was in her thirties, a trim woman with red hair tucked into her cap and flour on her hands and apron.

We apologized for interrupting her baking, and Fisk once again introduced us as knight and squire. I was still wondering what ailed the man when he persuaded Mistress Skinner to let us in, for she seemed to want to settle the matter on the doorstep. Indeed, I think 'twas the interested face of a gray-haired lady peering through a window across the street rather than Fisk that finally convinced her to admit us. Her
husband, Den, was working. The grubby seven-year-old hunched over a slate of staggering sums was Ricky, the wide-eyed toddler clinging to her skirt was Sara, and she asked us to call her Lenna. She didn't introduce the baby in its basket near the stove.

It took some time to convince her to go on working while we talked, but finally we settled at the kitchen table, sipping hot tea in thick mugs, and she went back to mixing dough.

“I don't know what I can tell you. Ma's dead now. So're those men. Like Den says, nothing can change that.” Her eyes filled, and she blinked back the tears. The boy, Ricky, laid down his slate and departed.

“She felt bad about being so sick, what it cost the family. She was a fishmonger. Worked all her life, and she hated using money instead of bringing it in. Den told her not to be silly, she'd done lots for us, but she still hated it.”

“Medicine comes high,” said Fisk. “Especially magica.”

Lenna shook her head. “She said not to waste it on her; she knew she was dying. But sometimes magica was the only thing that could stop the pain. Her guild helped out, and the tanners' too, so we were getting by. It's not like—”

BOOK: Rogue's Home
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