Jaban 15, 1013
“… And the men want me to tell you that there’s been a bat flying around the bars of her cell last night and the night before. I can’t imagine why they think it’s important, but they insisted that I tell you, sir,” Master Tower sighed. “I don’t know what to do about her, sir, and that’s no mistake. I’ve had prisoners who don’t eat once they’re under a sentence of death, but … she hasn’t even been tried yet.”
Will took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had been up to his elbows in the business of Marigold Thatcher since Ada, Corentin and Celeste’s nurse, had nervously knocked on her office door the day before yesterday with her even-more nervous husband in tow. Artyom Orlov had had quite a story to tell — and Will was afraid that his story was only the beginning.
No. He was not afraid. He was determined that Orlov’s story would only be the beginning — of Will’s involvement, that was.
In the meantime, he had to make some reply to Master Tower, so he picked the least problematic element of that statement — from his perspective, at least. “You don’t frequent the brothel, do you?”
“What? No! Of course not!” Master Tower protested — then fixed Will with a suspicious glance, as if he was wondering if Will was a frequent customer there.
“Then you wouldn’t know that one of the … er … workers there is a vampire.”
The color drained out of Master Tower’s face.
“But–but as far as I know, she’s quite harmless if not … provoked,” Will replied. “And even when provoked, she’s more given to threats than actual harm.” The rumors of how she had scared the living daylights out of Sir Mordred had reached even Will’s ears. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, and Jessie was as in the dark as he was. But Will felt himself disinclined to worry until he had something more concrete.
“We have her — her madam under arrest, languishing away in a cell, not eating, barely getting up from her bed,” Master Tower muttered. “If that isn’t provoking, what is?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it,” Will replied. If things went well today, then Will would send Benoic around to the brothel to inform the women there that Marigold would be safe. That ought to keep Mirelle from acting, with any luck.
Master Tower blinked. “I’ve got a vampire flapping around my prison, and you tell me not to worry?”
“It’s …” Will cracked a knuckle. “It’s complicated. But–but I’ve always found that Sims like Marigold, like Mirelle … they tend to be inclined to live and let live as long as you’re willing to do the same. That’s been our experience here in Albion, anyway.”
“Even with Lady Morgause?” asked Master Tower, one eyebrow arching.
Will managed half a smile. “It’s one major case in twenty-odd years. I’d call that a good record.”
“… I suppose,” Master Tower replied. Will supposed that was the closest he would come to saying, If that’s a good record, I’d hate to see what you call a bad one!
“We’d best go up and see to her,” Will answered, starting to mount the stairs. “I have … questions.”
“Are you sure she’ll talk to you, sir?”
Will gulped, glad that Master Tower couldn’t see that. “I–I hope so.” He hadn’t the slightest idea how he would untangle this mess if Marigold wouldn’t cooperate. He had Orlov’s story, and Jessie and Penelope between them had managed to bring to light some … interesting facts. There was also what Widow Thatcher had said about Brother Tuck. Together, that would probably be enough to convince the King, but perhaps not the council. Perhaps not even Lord Pellinore.
One problem at a time, Will, said a voice that sounded like Will’s better sense. Get Marigold’s story first. Then–then worry about the rest of it.
Sound advice. He doubted he would take it.
He knew which cell was Marigold’s immediately upon getting to the top of the stairs. It was the only one with a captain standing outside of it. The captain stood to attention and saluted, his gaze going instantly to Master Tower. “There’s no change, sir.”
Master Tower sighed. But Will had a question. “Have you been watching the prisoner this whole time, captain?”
“Fer me whole shift, m’lord.”
“Through her mealtime?”
“Aye, m’lord. She didn’t eat nothin’.”
“Did she drink anything?”
“Drink anything?” repeated Master Tower, mystified.
“We don’t let our prisoners have drink, sir! M’lord!” the captain protested.
“No–not drink. But water. Ale? Small beer?”
The captain scratched his head. “Water, usually, fer the — the common lot. She drank all that. She drank it right fast.”
“She drank the water?” Master Tower glared. “Why wasn’t I told about this?”
“I–I didn’t think it were important, sir. The important thing is — she ain’t eatin’. She …” The captain looked over his shoulder, into the cell. “She’s givin’ up awful fast, she is. That … usually don’t happen.”
But she’s not giving up — is she? “Let me have a look,” said Will.
“M’lord, ye don’t–”
“I want to.” And with those magic words, the captain gulped, look at Master Tower, shrugged, and stepped out of the way.
Will saw Marigold in the cell, right in easy sight of the door. She was lying on the ground, curled up on herself. He could barely see the rise and fall of her breathing.
All the guards would notice was her breathing and the fact that she wouldn’t even use the bed. They would not, Will thought, notice that Marigold’s head was just in the lone patch of sunlight creeping in from the window. He could see the shadows of the bars over her face and shoulders. He could also see the leaves on her head: dull and falling, wilting even.
Wilting. Jessie had told Will everything he needed to know about Plantsims over breakfast this morning. It was what Plantsims did when they were in distress. It was not easy to distress a Plantsim, given that they only needed sunlight, water, and love — and Lord knew that the first two were in good supply even to the poor. But how many of the three was Marigold getting here? She was lucky she had been put into a south-facing cell. If her cell had faced north …
Will wouldn’t think of that. He had no idea how he’d go about charging a monk with murder. Attempted murder had been enough of a stretch with Lady Morgause.
“Marigold?” Will asked. “Can you hear me?”
She moaned. Her head lifted a few inches. It fell just as quickly with another moan.
Will turned to Master Tower and the captain. “We need to get her up to the roof. Immediately.”
“The roof?” repeated the captain, the incredulous words slipping out before the brain caught up, to judge by the look on his face.
“Aye. The roof. She needs sunlight, and she needs it now. If you could please …?” Will gestured to the cell door.
Master Tower hurried forward and unlocked it. Then the captain took up one of Marigold’s arms and draped it over his shoulder; Master Tower took the other before Will could step in.
Somehow, the two of them managed to get Marigold up the first set of stairs. The second set was easier. As soon as the sunlight fell on her, Marigold perked up. Will could practically see the leaves on her head grow firmer and stronger. She couldn’t quite get up the stairs on her own power, but with one hand on the wall and the other arm still over the captain’s shoulder, she was able to get to the top.
Once there, she stood firm and unwavering on her own two feet, her face turned to the sun, breathing long and deep.
“How …” murmured the captain.
“Sunlight, water, and love,” Will replied, keeping his voice low. “It’s what they need.”
“Wright Almighty,” replied the captain, making the sign of the plumbbob over himself. Will ignored it. Marigold, luckily, didn’t seem to notice as she took step after shaking step into the sun.
Then, without warning, she turned around. The color was gone from her face again. “Daisy!”
“She’s fine.” Will stepped forward. “She wasn’t taken.”
“Not–not right away. But later?” Marigold’s lip quavered.
“She won’t be,” Will replied. “There are two guards posted outside–your house. And my father gave strict orders to the barracks to give no assistance to Brother Tuck.” If that wasn’t the understatement of the year, Will didn’t know what was. “And — my lady wife set up wards around your house. If Brother Tuck and royal guards get close, she’ll know.” If a Princess telling Brother Tuck and the guards to stay away from the brothel didn’t do the trick, Will didn’t know what would. But hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. It wouldn’t do to tip his hand this early.
He took another step forward. “So … might you be willing to give a statement about what happened on the thirteenth of Jaban?”
Marigold visibly recoiled. “M’lord! Not likely! I ain’t sayin’ the words ter me ye put a noose around me neck!”
“Ye ain’t got no right ter say that!” The captain stepped forward, fist shaking. “Ye’ll answer his lordship’s questions, or else–”
“Or else nothing!” Will snapped. “Mar–er–Goody Thatcher,” Will continued, “I’m trying to help. I’m trying –”
“Ter help?” Her eyes narrowed. “Like Brother Tuck was tryin’ ter help, eh?”
She thought she had nothing to lose. Will reminded himself of that — several times. What reason would she have to cooperate when she thought she was doomed?
So Will took a deep breath and spoke softly. “No. Not like Brother Tuck was trying to help. Quite the opposite.” Before she could scoff, Will added, “He attempted to take an infant off my family’s lands. An infant who could well end up indentured to us someday. Do you think any nobleman is going to stand by and let that happen?”
Marigold blinked. “Perhaps …”
“The answer is no.” It wasn’t the whole answer — it wasn’t half the answer — but it was something Marigold could understand. Something she could believe. “Besides — remember what I did for Thorn. Do you think, after that, I would assist in the unjust prosecution of his mother?”
“Thorn …” Marigold’s tongue nervously darted out and made a pass over her lips. “Thorn hadn’t done nothin’ wrong.”
Her eyes dropped. And then — she swayed. “Goody Thatcher, sit down, please.”
She peeked up at him through her lashes. “A woman like me can’t sit in the presence o’ a nobleman.”
Will’s only reply to that was to plop onto the hard stone floor of the tower. Marigold’s jaw fell — and then she sat down herself.
“Ain’t … ain’t they told ye what I did?” she asked, slowly.
“I’ve had the accounts of a few witnesses,” Will replied. “But why don’t you tell me what happened in your own words?”
“An’ ye’d better answer!” growled the captain.
“Captain, please–not now. I’m not questioning Goody Thatcher as a criminal. I’m questioning her as a … witness.”
“A–a witness? Ter what?”
Will only smiled.
She couldn’t meet that smile; she looked down and started to play with a loose thread on one of her skirts. “I–I blew pollen in the face o’ that–Brother. They told ye that, didn’t they?”
“It was mentioned.”
“They say that’s assaultin’ a churchman …”
Will’s fist clenched. Assaulting a churchman, his arse — as Tom would say. That was a feature of Glasonlander law that Albion could well do without. But that was a case he would have to make to the King, and he couldn’t do that without Marigold’s help. Without it, the best he might be able to do was persuade Lord Pellinore not to prosecute.
As it was … “But it isn’t, is it? Not really.”
“Say that ter the law,” Marigold muttered. “Say that ter the Brother.”
“The law has nothing to do with it. You did him no more harm than you might have if you’d sneezed on him. That’s hardly assault.”
Marigold’s gaze jerked up. “Ain’t so! A–a bit o’ pollen can–”
“It can’t,” Will interrupted. “And unless you want my wife to testify as much at your trial … I’d ask, once again, for you to answer my questions and tell me what happened.”
Jessie wouldn’t like the idea of testifying. She would point out to Will — she already had pointed out to Will — that that silly myth was one of the only protections that Plantsims had. They weren’t like vampires or werewolves, who could, to a certain extent, take care of themselves. But she would do it, on the off-chance that it came to it. She wouldn’t want to see an innocent woman who had only been trying to protect her child prosecuted.
And what was more important was that Marigold had no reason to believe that she wouldn’t. Will could see that by the way she went pale. “What–what d’ye want ter know?”
“What happened. In your own words, please. Master Tower, you brought your stylus and tablet with you, didn’t you?”
Marigold looked nervously at Master Tower fishing those items out. “If I tell ye …”
“This record won’t be used at your trial. I give you my word. Just tell me what happened.”
Marigold paled. But, slowly, haltingly, she told Will what had happened.
It tallied with Orlov’s story exactly, excepting, of course, those parts that Marigold hadn’t been able to see. But there were pieces that Marigold could fill in. She could tell Will, certainly and with no possible doubt, that Daisy was her child. She could confirm that the house was her property, deeded to her by Will’s grandfather. (Will decided he would save questions on exactly how and why that happened for later — hopefully never.) And altogether, that painted a very different tale than the one Brother Tuck would want told.
Will could use that. He would use that.
Marigold’s face suddenly fell. “Oh, Lord. I jest — I jest put me own neck in it, ain’t I?” she whispered.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Ye’re …” She almost smiled. “Ye’ve got me where ye want me, ain’t ye?”
I’ve got somebody where I want him, all right. But not you. “I wouldn’t say that, Goody Thatcher. I swore to you that these words would not be used at your trial. And given what you told me, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t be put on trial.”
“‘Cause a Plantsim can’t expect that much when she assaults a churchman?”
“No. Because you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Marigold looked up. “What?”
“You sneezed on Brother Tuck. That’s the worst anyone could say. Even the King couldn’t call sneezing on him a crime.” Will should know; he’d sneezed on the King a few times when he was younger. “And there were … extenuating circumstances to say the least. Exculpating circumstances is more like it.”
“It means that you haven’t committed a crime that I can see, Goody Thatcher.”
“What? So–so I can go?”
Will winced. “Not … yet.” He’d have to get the charges dropped first. Thank the Lord that Albion didn’t have an ecclesiastical court system. And it never will while I can prevent it. If he managed this right, Brother Tuck need not even hear of Marigold’s release until Will was ready. And when Will was ready, it would be far too late for Brother Tuck to do anything about it.
Besides, Brother Tuck would be too busy trying to save his own hide.
“There are … certain formalities that have to be completed. But you will be treated well while you’re here.” He glared at Master Tower and the captain in equal measure. The captain snorted. Master Tower looked like he didn’t know what to think. “And I will probably have more questions for you before you’re released.”
“I told ye everythin’!”
Not everything. There were certain … preferences she hadn’t told him. But that was only because Will had not asked them. “It’ll help keep Daisy safe, Goody Thatcher. I promise.”
Marigold gasped. But that was the end of her protests. She bowed her head and stared at her skirts.
“So — thank you. Thank you for being so helpful. It will help you. And Daisy. And the rest of your … workers as well. I give you my word.” Will slowly climbed to his feet and dusted off his tunic. “You’ll be out soon. A few days at the most. And you won’t be treated as you were before.” That, too, was a promise.
A promise that, given Master Tower’s black look, Will had perhaps been over-hasty in making. “And — with all due respect, Sir William, how do you expect me to do that?” he hissed. “Do you want me to bring her into my quarters, with my family? Or–”
“I was hoping you would let her stay up here on the roof. Where she could get plenty of sun,” Will interrupted. “The captain was already guarding her, and he can continue to do so. And if you give her an increased water ration instead of a food one, she should be in much better condition than she was. She’ll be fine until she’s released.” It wasn’t giving her love, Will knew that — but perhaps hope would stand in for love.
“And how do you know she will be? She assaulted a churchman!”
“Who broke into her home by force and tried to remove her child.” Will let an arched eyebrow do the talking. “What would you do to a man who tried to do that to you? To your child? I know I’d do a hell of a lot more than just sneeze on him.”
Master Tower paled at the thought — much as Jessie had. At least he didn’t have a wand to reach for.
“But …” he whispered. “He’s still a churchman.”
“He is indeed. But Master Tower, as I think you and I know better than anyone … no one is immune from the laws of Albion. Not even churchmen.”
And especially not Brother Tuck.