Bandits and Sneak Thieves
We’d heard in the village about Perain and his band of outlaws, so we were even more diligent in scouting and posting guards. Great fun was had by all, but I was fretting… Were I going to have to hang more people? Would our apprentices have to fight and wound, or kill, bandits? Strangely enough I never worried about whether our people would get wounded or killed themselves; I just couldn’t imagine any bandit having the kind of skills our people have by now. Slings, bows, swords, staffs… And, of course, we had our own army detachment with us.
And then, one morning, when I woke up, my notebook and silverpoint were gone!
And other things were gone as well, all through the camp. Estimated to fit in one largish sack. This time I wasn’t going to be denied, and attached myself to the tracking party, while Captain Ferin took a party to encircle the bandits’ lair (which we could easily find since two of them were gifted, and with the Nameless), and Moyri took the rest to create the impression of an orderly travel column.
It took a bit of effort to find the tracks; there seemed to have been only one thief, with small feet and a very small stride. We could follow the tracks through the forest, until we arrived at a stand-still. No matter how far around we looked, there were no tracks anymore.
We might never have solved the riddle, if we hadn’t heard a smothered giggle over our heads. (Well, that’s not true, but it’s what we told the thief later on.) And Yulao clambered in the tree; dropped a sack for us to catch, and came back with an eight-year old girl.
And sure, the bag contained our stuff; I wouldn’t have thought it worth stealing a notebook, silverpoint, a pair of boots, Roushan’s cosmetics and some other stuff.
Anyway… I took my notebook and silverpoint, opened it and want to start the interrogation.
But I was forestalled. The suspect yelled at me, “Hey, that’s mine! Give it back! I’ve stolen it honestly!”
“Well, no, it’s mine… And I need it, since I’m the Sheriff of Idanyas, and since this is Idanyas now, I’m going to ask you questions, and write down your answers.”
“It’s not fair! I didn’t have one, and then I had one, and now I haven’t got a notebook anymore! You can get another one, you are rich!”
Sigh… “It doesn’t work that way. And now, my fine young suspect, suppose you’d told me your name?”
“I’m Aireyn Erne!”
“What you do…”
“Well, I sneak in and steal stuff, of course, I’m real good at that! Nobody noticed me, your guards can’t guard any good!”
“Yes… And we’ll have Words about that with the people on duty. When did you sneak in?”
“This morning, just before dawn! It’s the best time because everyone wants to go on sleeping and will pull blankets over their heads if they hear something. You did, and you snuggled up to that old woman. Is that your mother?”
“That, Erne, is my wife,” I answered, carefully not adding “and she’s not old”, but “And she is the Baroness of Idanyas.”
“Coo! A baroness! Good thing this isn’t Idanyas then.”
“Well, it is now. And, as I said, I’m the Sheriff, and it’s my job to punish criminals.”
“What are that, criminals?”
“People who steal stuff; take things that they don’t own. Like you.”
That made her pipe down her bluster a bit. “Oh. Are you going to punish me?”
“Possibly. Maybe. Probably. I need to know more about how hardened a criminal you are.”
“Bah, I only take things we don’t have from people who have more than us! That cannot be a… A… A criminal!”
“That most certainly is a crime, Erne. I’ve executed two people, but for things worse than stealing. And I’ve punished a thief by making her come with us and teach everyone.”
“Is she teaching thieving? Is she any good at it? Can I learn from her?”
“Yes, she is… Good at thieving, and good at teaching, and she is teaching thieving. So my people will know more about thieves, to catch the thieves and punish them!”
“Please, miss sheriff,”
“My name is Khushi Cheraim”
“Please, miss sheriff Khushi Cheraim — can you punish me and take me with you? I want to learn from her!”
Well! Eight years old, and determined to become a proper knowledgeable, well-educated thief!
“Maybe,” I answered, “But first we’re going to pay your parents a visit. In fact, I have just learned that they have already been rounded up.”
Because the idea had been to cordon of the bandits’ village, and then have Moryi make her baronial entry, but there were so few bandits, and they seemed so harmless that Ferin had had them arrested, and when Moyri arrived, she had ordered camp and cooking for everyone.
When we arrived with Erne, things had become quiet. Airyn, her husband Perain and their littles, Torin and Ayni were one family; Airyn’s brother Tyan and his husband Rath another. They lived in the same house, split up for the two households. There were some barns, some goats, a donkey… And very little else. A search of their house had found goods that had indubitably been stolen, but at this point, finding the real owners wasn’t going to work.
I discussed the situation with Moyri, and we agreed in one breath that this wasn’t a matter for condign punishment, though it did call for putting the fear of the Queen in them…
Which I proceeded to do; I read out the laws, or rather, had Erne tell them about the law about stealing, since she had been reading my law book with Rani (no mean feat, since a few weeks ago, Rani couldn’t read beyond her name, and Erne didn’t have her letters beyond her name either) on our way to Erne’s parents.
Well, yes, they shuffled their feet, and were forced to admit that they were robbers. Bandits. Though not murderers, slavers or rapists.
“Well, if that is the case, capital punishment is off the table,” I answered.
“What does ‘capital’ mean?” Airyn asked.
“Off with your had, or hanging, my dear,” I answered.
“We don’t deserve that!” she objected.
“That’s exactly what I just said; you don’t deserve that. But I have to think what we can do with you lot; it’s obvious that you cannot live here as honest people – ”
“But we are honest people! We only steal when we need something!” Perain interrupted.
“And by any chance if that Ishey man appears and seems to know what passers-by have with them, and wants to trade some, say salt, with you for their possessions?”
He spluttered, “How… How did you know?”
“Your daughter spilled the, ahem, beans. So… Where can you go? Why aren’t you living in Tal-Borin, where there are other people and there’s at least enough trade to live?”
“Well, because Rava, she’s the smith, she hates my guts,” Perain answered.
“Well, use your eyes Master,” he retorted.
“Well, yes, sure, you’re with the Nameless -”
“No, you are the one who is with the Nameless!”
Sigh! “Oh, well, let’s just use the names for now, right? To avoid confusion. Perain, I’m going to ask you to come with me for a walk. Airyn, don’t worry, I don’t have designs on his virtue, and I’m not going to kill your husband.”
“Ha, I’ve seen you being kissy with the Baroness — I have no fear!” she riposted. You two are just like my brother and his man!”
“Um… I do like men as much as I like women! But this woman is my wife, and I’m not going to go back on my promises!”
When Perain and I left, Moyri was telling Airyn, Tyan and Rath about our wedding, and about Selday and what we had done there.
“Well, Perain. Let me put down the situation for you… And then make you a proposition, too. Moyri and me, we’re going to make Tal-Borin the northern-most border of Idanyas and -”
“Then I have to leave, being with Archan,” he interrupted me. He’s always doing that! I wouldn’t want to be married to him, it’s highly annoying.
“Don’t interrupt me!” I rejoined, and continued, “me and Moyri don’t come from Idanyas, originally. I’ve been to the Guild School in Turenay, and Moyri has been Commander of the Order of the Sworn in Essle.”
Seeing that this didn’t tell him anything, I had to spend a few rounds round their place explaining all about Essle being a big city with hundreds of thousands of people, about guild schools, and so on.
“So, what I noticed when we arrived here was that all those talented children don’t have masters, don’t learn to master their Gift. And it feels lop-sided. Like you’ve got a village with only women, or a village with only men.
Enter segue into how different peoples see Anshen and Archan; as two faces of one person or as twins and two persons.
“In any case, I believe that it’s bad for a place to have only one or the other; look at what happened to Dol-Rayen when the Hand of Anshen tried to bottle up the place where Archan came into the world.”
“Huh, so that was it?”
“Yes, and if you don’t believe me that Archan is a destructive little liar, look at how terrible the state of the area around Dol-Rayen is in!”
“You say that, my pretty little Sheriff, but wouldn’t fire be as destructive? And Fire is where you find not just Archan, but also that mute boy, Anshen, isn’t it?”
That was a hit, and I needed to think about it.
“Well, yes, sure, anyway… If we expand Idanyas so it includes people who are with Archan, we’re not going to turn those people out — they’ll be protected by Moyri and me, and the army -”
“All five of them?” he said, again not letting me finish.
“All fifty of them, and a hundred more coming!”
And then I told him about how angry the king was about the baby-snatching, and he did see the point.
“But then again, do I have other options than face the wrath of Idanyas?”
“You can stay in the Khas settlements; they don’t care. You could also go north of Tal-Borin, there’s a nice village there, and some of our Ishey want to go there, so you’d have company, there’s an Ishey Temple to the Mother the people in the village use as their laundry/bath house.”
“Huh. I guess we’ll have to think about it.”
“Yes. But one decision has been made for you: you all are coming with us to Tal-Borin, and if you’re not going to stay there, or go North, you will come with us to Hokaji. We will not leave you here!”
And he saw I meant it.
And then we came to my proposition; I wanted him to have a proper journeyman’s duel with Maile.