One of the first thing he would do when young Sir William came back, Pellinore decided as the door porter admitted him into the anteroom of the de Ganis château, was relegate to the younger man all Bors-centered duties. Pellinore really was getting too old for this.
Or so he told himself. And perhaps he was right. Surely the tension that crept over his neck and shoulders couldn’t be a good thing at his age. It so often gave him headaches, and at his age, headaches were a worrisome symptom. Father Hugh had mentioned to him that Lord Lot had often suffered from headaches before his brainstorm, and Pellinore had no wish to put that to the test for himself.
Besides, even if he kept himself as healthy and hearty as he could, at the end of the day, he was an old man and he didn’t want to waste his remaining time dealing with headaches. Or Sir Bors.
Funny how the two should so often prove to be one and the same …
“I’ll tell Albert that you’re here, m’lord,” the door porter murmured, tugging on his forelock as he shuffled into the inner recesses of the château. “Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” And Pellinore sat.
He rolled his shoulders and rubbed the back of his neck. He really ought to stop worrying himself so much. He had only come to ask a routine question of Sir Bors, connected with his duties as Chief Magistrate, and having nothing personal whatsoever at stake. Sir Bors had his faults — Wright knew he had his faults — and so did Pellinore, but at the end of the day they were both loyal servants of the crown. And this was crown business.
The difficulty with that hypothesis, of course, was that when this sort of business cropped up with any of the other lords, they tended to approve his actions immediately, often in a hastily scrawled note on the back of his original missive. Sir Bors, on the other hand, requested a meeting.
Pellinore lifted his head at the butler’s voice and instantly stood. “Is your master ready for me?”
“Yes, of course, my lord, but I do have a quick question …” He sighed.
“There being no lady of the house to offer hospitality — er, that is, for the moment — it falls to me to ask, will you need a bed for the night? It does grow late.” The butler gestured to the reddening light creeping in through the windows.
Wright forbid! “No, no indeed, sir.” I’ll ride home through the pitch black if I have to! “I should not so dream of trespassing on your lord’s hospitality.”
“There’s plenty of room, my lord …”
“That’s as it may be — but I also happen to know there are two very, very young children in this home, and … well … we men with more white hairs in our beards than not need our rest.”
The butler Albert was clean-shaven, but he smirked all the same. “Indeed, my lord. Will you come up, then?”
Ah, up. Sir Bors had stuck his study in the most inconvenient room in the castle — namely, the top floor, near the roof. That sort of place should have been given over to servants’ quarters, but not for Sir Bors. Perhaps he merely did not want guests in the public portions of the house dropping by his study unannounced — or perhaps he did not want to be distracted by the sounds of guests coming and going, the heavy clomping of children’s boots, and all the assorted business of the castle passing by his front door when he was trying to work. Pellinore, who so often would have traded half of his lands for a bit of peace and quiet, could almost sympathize.
But there was always the possibility that Sir Bors had chosen this strange aerie of a study simply to torture old backs like his, and that kept Pellinore’s sympathy firmly in check.
Finally, though, they reached the top of the winding stairs, and Albert knocked at the door. “Enter!” came the voice from within.
“Lord Pellinore to see you, milord,” Albert said as he entered and bowed. Pellinore only inclined his head.
“Ah. Good. Have a seat, my lord.” Sir Bors gestured with his quill to the chair opposite his. “Albert, you may go.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Albert as he crept out. Pellinore, meanwhile, shuffled into the seat without a word.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment,” Sir Bors murmured through his mustache as he continued to write, “I should like to finish this train of thought before we begin.”
“Take your time,” Pellinore forced himself to say. Then he closed his eyes and tried his best to marshal his arguments, the easier to have them to hand when Sir Bors raised an inevitable objection to what should have been a routine request.
A few moments’ scratching and thinking followed on both of their parts before Sir Bors put his pen down and said, “So. You wish to question my serf Simon Chevaux in connection with a crime. Why?”
For all of his faults, at least Sir Bors was direct. “I explained the note I sent to you that –”
“Your note omitted to mention that my Simon was present at the scene of the crime, or accused by any of the,” he scoffed, “witnesses of having anything to do with its commission. Nor did the accused man name Simon as an accomplice.”
Sir Bors steepled his fingers. “Unless, of course, there is something you neglected to add?”
“I did not ‘neglect’ to add anything. I told you that a known thief and brawler, suspected murderer, and accused rapist was found hiding in the home of your man Simon Ch–”
“Actually,” Sir Bors interrupted, “I took the liberty of questioning the superior of the guard who arrested this … man Clarence of Philippine, and he informed me that your known thief, etc., was found outside my Simon’s home. He could have come from anywhere.”
“And yet, ‘your Simon’ admits that the man Clarence of Philippine was staying in his home just before his arrest, so, my — imprecise diction aside, you must admit that the circumstances do not look good for ‘your Simon’ and that I must question him.”
“In connection with what? This so-called rape?”
Pellinore bit the inside of his lip — he would not give Sir Bors the satisfaction of seeing his temper begin to fray. He would not. “The correct phraseology, my lord, is alleged rape, or in this case, alleged attempted rape.”
“Forgive me, my lord, but I took the liberty of requesting the guards’ report of the whole situation. It looks rather fishy to me. A young woman, no husband, cast off from the protection of her parents –”
“Actually — forgive me — but I must protest. I have actually spoken to the young woman’s father. He assures me that she was not ‘cast off’ as you put it, but instead chose to move out of her own accord.”
Sir Bors shot him a look that started incredulous and moved to dubious. “To be honest, my lord, that sounds worse. What sort of young woman flees her parents’ protection willingly?”
“Well, the sort of young woman who desires to wed, for one. That does involve leaving the protection of her parents.” Like, perhaps, your daughter is about to do in a very few weeks?
“Not so, my good sir. It involves going from one set of protective arms — her parents’ — to her husband’s, without so much as an unsheltered instant along the way.”
It was only his years of legal training that kept Pellinore’s jaw from dropping open. No unsheltered instant? Sir Bors had two daughters in Camford! And while Pellinore was sure they were both behaving themselves very well, he was by no means fool enough to assume they were still sheltered by the parental wings!
“Well, perhaps …” Pellinore murmured, doing his best to smile — and certain that all was coming out was a sickly grimace.
“Was that not what you discovered to be true for your daughter, the Lady Dindrane?” Sir Bors asked, with a light in his eye that aimed to be shrewd and knowing.
The difficulty with that, however, was that he did not know Dindrane. Dindrane may have been protected from physical danger by him when she was young, and by Mordred now, but surely his daughter had ceased to be “sheltered” in most senses of the word the day she had begun to appropriate his desk chair in order to reach the high shelves on the bookcase!
However, he had no wish to make Dindrane’s dealings with Sir Bors difficult, and since she had a son very near in age to Sir Bors’s youngest daughter, there might well be dealings in the future. And there was no hope of dealing with anyone more reasonable, for young Elyan had eaten dinner at Pellinore’s table often enough for Pellinore to quite abandon hopes of reason coming from that quarter. So he made himself take a deep breath and think very carefully before speaking.
“I think, Sir Bors, you underestimate the rigors and hard work that goes into being a successful chatelaine if you truly think that being married will provide any type of ‘shelter’ from the world. Oh, I agree that she would have protection from most physical dangers — but in times of war, if her husband fails, so does she, and she runs a too-real risk of being dealt some of the cruelest fates the world can deal a woman. And that goes double for a peasant woman. Indeed,” Pellinore sighed, “I fear too often, in cases such as this, that the idea that we men can protect our wives, sisters, daughters and mothers is merely a fiction we tell ourselves in order to avoid facing the truth.”
“That there is too often but scant protection to be had.”
“Now, surely, my lord, you jest! Why, if men could not protect their women, surely good wives and daughters would be ravished every day!”
“Sir Bors,” Pellinore murmured, “one cannot spend as much time serving Justice as I have without coming to the unfortunate conclusion that they are.”
“I refer not to times of war, my good man — for of course, soldiers are apt to get away from the control of the best general, and indeed they must have some release from the rigors and deprivation they face, within reason, of course –”
“I refer not to times of war, either,” Pellinore snapped, causing the other man to stare at him in shocked surprise. But it was either that or allow Sir Bors’s words to turn his stomach until it emptied itself of its contents all over Sir Bors’s desk. That would be a pity; it was a nice desk. “I refer to peacetime, and I refer to the actions of monsters like Clarence of Philippine — terrorizing innocent women merely because they are there to be terrorized!”
“Ah, but my Lord Pellinore!” Bors waggled his finger. “You have not proven your point! There is no evidence that this young woman is indeed ‘innocent,’ and a great deal that she isn’t!”
“What, merely because she lives alone?”
“And participates in a lewd profession!”
“Dancing?” Pellinore sputtered.
“She puts her body on display, for men to ogle and leer at. Surely, my lord, wise men such as you and I cannot help but assume that is but a front for another form of … bodily sale. And no woman who participates in that kind of trade can expect to accuse a man of rape and be taken seriously!”
Pellinore stared at the lord across the table for quite a minute before he could find something to say in reply.
“Sir Bors,” he said finally, swallowing, “there is absolutely no cause to make that assumption! You’ve no proof whatsoever!” And I have a great deal of proof to the contrary! he thought, for unfortunately there were too many men in this land and beyond who thought like Sir Bors, and they were perversely likely to be picked as jurymen in a case dealing with an alleged rape.
“There is ample cause to make that assumption. Rape is a serious accusation. Why, if your man Clarence were to be proven guilty of it, he could hang! Is there no cause that merits due diligence more than that which may lead to the ending of a life?”
“Indeed — which is why all men of Albion who are accused of crimes are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. But by your logic, Sir Bors, we would assume all victims guilty of perjury or worse until proven innocent — and where is the justice in that?”
“But is that not what happens in any case?” Sir Bors shrugged.
“No, no, no! If a man, bruised and battered, stumbles to a guard and complains that he has been attacked and robbed by footpads, no guard worth his salt would seriously consider that he had bruised, battered and robbed himself and was making up the story to get attention! If the authorities find the body of a man murdered, no one simply assumes he committed suicide and made the scene look like a murder in order to punish one of his enemies! Yet, by your logic, that is exactly what we should do!”
“Ah, not so!” Sir Bors grinned. “For those men have injuries, damage, evidence to prove that they are victims — whereas your young woman has nothing!”
“Nothing? Her drugged dog is nothing?”
“She could have drugged the dog herself,” Sir Bors shrugged.
“No, sir, she could not have! That dog was expertly drugged! It was up and wagging its tail again in a mere few hours!” Pellinore snarled. “And the symptoms match exactly those of dogs drugged in that string of warehouse robberies along the Port Finessa docks six months ago!”
Pellinore sighed and did his very best not to smack his face with his hand. “Six months ago, four separate warehouses along the docks of Port Finessa were burgled. The modus operandi in each was the same — the guard was hit on the back of the head and stripped of his armor; small, easily portable objects and cash were taken; and the dogs were drugged! In one, the guards found leavings of meat that had been coated with the drug in question. The feel, the look, the smell of it matched exactly a few meat leavings that were left in the young woman’s house!”
“So perhaps she had something to do with the robberies, as well, then.”
Pellinore groaned. “No! There’s not a shred of evidence to tie her to them –”
“The drugged dog –”
“Does not tie her to those crimes for a moment! For goodness’ sake, Sir Bors! By that logic, the top suspects in those robberies should be the other merchants, not thieves!”
“You never can tell what men of base and low degree will do in order to get ahead,” Sir Bors shrugged.
Pellinore considered himself a conservative man at heart, fond of tradition, believing firmly that the world had been ordered the way it had been for a reason. But this … How did Richard Ferreira keep himself from strangling this man over all these years? Indeed, if that case should come up on his docket in the future, Pellinore would be sorely tempted not to issue a summary judgment of “justifiable homicide”!
But for the moment, he would content himself with snarling, “Men like your man Simon, whom I believe may have something to do with those robberies!”
Sir Bor’s jaw fell. “What?”
“We’ve known of Clarence of Philippine for years,” Pellinore admitted. “We’ve been chasing him for years. We know his modus operandi — sudden attacks and robberies by sheer brute force. Not burglaries planned with cunning and finesse! Clarence of Philippine has been branded a thief since he was twelve, but all his experience aside, he couldn’t have planned those crimes if he’d devoted every waking moment since his branding to them!”
“And are you suggesting,” Sir Bors snarled, “that my serf Simon Chevaux had something to do with these crimes?”
“Clarence of Philippine has no brains. When he was caught — witnessed, that is — attempting to commit a crime that, given his past convictions, would trigger the death penalty, where does he run? To your serf! Who most assuredly has brains, given the expert story he gave the guardsman to explain Clarence’s presence at his kitchen table!”
“Is that the best evidence you have against him? That he took pity — oh, aye, wrongly, I’ll admit it! — on a man who had committed many a sin against our Lord Wright, tried to help him, and was cruelly deceived?”
“At the moment, I have no evidence against him — which is why I want to question him! This is a perfect opportunity!”
“To pin some crimes that have clearly baffled your guards onto my man! How do you know that the commissioner of these crimes was not one of your own men, eh? Your one who’s trying to rise above his station, perhaps? He’s doing awfully well for himself. How do you know that he isn’t behind these crimes?”
Pellinore knew because he knew Grady Brogan, and had seen the farm and homestead, had seen the man run his business, had met the whole family. It would take super-Sim strength and endurance to run that shop, manage that family (lazy father, four children under the age of ten, hardworking mother and wife who spent most of their waking hours hard at work), and be an expert thief as soon as the sun went down. Grady was a clever man and a hardworking one, but he did not have the strength of ten Sims.
“There’s no evidence that he –”
“No evidence! Exactly! And there’s no evidence against my man!”
“Association with a known criminal? That isn’t evidence? A comfortable lifestyle with no obvious source of income? That isn’t evidence? Pretty gifts for his betrothed, a new dress for his mother, and an investment in pigs — all, again, without any source of income! — that isn’t evidence?”
“Nothing that would stand in court!”
“If I had something that would stand in court, I would have arrested him and had him on his way there already!”
“So not only do you come in here accusing my man of being a burglar and Wright knows what else, and me of being so poor a lord that I cannot detect and squash those tendencies before they come to your attention, you also announce that you would arrest an innocent man if you had the slightest pretext for thinking him guilty! I like that!” Sir Bors snorted. “And you call yourself a man of justice!”
That did it.
Pellinore flew to his feet. “What, and you think you are?”
“Far better a man of justice than you, apparently!”
“Ha! I like that! After you spent the past half hour disparaging the parents and the honor of some poor girl who had the misfortune to be attacked, you are a man of justice! After you eagerly defend your man without a shred of evidence and accuse mine without a shred of evidence! If you were in charge of justice in this kingdom, sirrah, I daresay my Grady should have been hanged already, and your Simon would still be robbing warehouses left and right, and I daresay Clarence would have raped half the girls in the neighborhood!”
“And now that you are in charge of justice in this kingdom, men are on trial for their lives for crimes that they may not have even committed, peasants reach above their rightful stations and robberies continue apace! I like that!” Sir Bors laughed. “I cannot wait until my cousin’s boy William comes home from Camford and begins to take over the reigns of justice in this country! Perhaps then we shall have some actual justice!”
Pellinore laughed. “Finally, you say something with which I can agree! For I cannot wait until he comes back, either — if only so that I no longer have to suffer fools like you! Good day, Sir Bors!”
And with Sir Bors’s insults still ringing in his ears, Pellinore turned on his heel and marched from the other lord’s study, vowing once again to never come back there again.
And this time, I mean it! Never again! Sir William can have this duty!