Out There

Joram frowned faintly as he watched the people moving around in the market square. There had been a time when he’d been able to walk around with them. Then, no one knew him. He was just like anyone else. That wasn’t the case anymore.

Now, he was a member of the High Court. More than that, he was the Head of the High Court, because he’d been serving the longest. Now, everywhere he went, people knew him. He couldn’t go anywhere without an escort.

“I sort of miss it,” he murmured.

“What’s that?”

Joram looked over his shoulder at Cianal and smiled. Nodding at the market square, he said, “Walking around out there, like a normal person.” He turned away from the window and shook his head. “They talk about rank granting duties and privileges. They never mention what it costs.”

Equal Under the Law

Prompt: the esthetic of lostness

“So,” Keenan said, looking at Joram, Aidan and Thom, “that’s where things stand. We know that Lord Haffley killed Cass.”

“But he won’t say who else on either council is part of the splinter movement,” Aidan said, nodding. “It’s not like we can take all the republicans out of public office. They were duly elected, after all.”

“The same is true of the other members of the High Court,” Joram said, shaking his head. “Without any sort of proof showing that a person was involved, our hands are tied.”

Keenan nodded. “We’ll just have to be careful,” he said. “We’ll watch out for laws that might infringe on the rights of citizens who are from other ethnic backgrounds. We’ll keep an eye out for instances when they’re being unfairly excluded.”

“We caught the guy,” Thom said, sounding upset. “So, why does it seem like we’ve lost?”

“Because,” Keenan said, “the fight goes on.” He smiled faintly and said, “But that was just one battle. We haven’t won the war yet, but we’ve made a good start.”

Wandering Thoughts

Prompt: where we will, we’ll roam

“Have they come back with any kind of statement?” Eishi said, looking from Joram to Henry. He released an explosive sigh. “The not knowing is maddening!”

“And scary,” Henry added. He fussed with his overlong sleeves for a moment. “I mean… are the rest of us in any kind of danger?”

Joram sighed and then looked up as the door opened. Barnabas and Amera entered, with Keenan close behind. “Hey,” he said. His greeting was casual, but Joram knew him well enough to see how tense he was.

“What?” Joram said, standing. “What have your people learned, Keenan?”

Keenan grimaced. “We found the man who killed Cassidy, but he’s not talking,” he said. “He doesn’t need to tell us much, though. We know this: Edith and Mari were… pressured to retire when they did. Their lives were threatened. Cassidy might have received the same threats, but that’s not confirmed.”

“Dear Lord,” Joram breathed. “Why? Who?”

“Not sure of the who,” Keenan admitted. “We know why, though.” He shook his head. “A faction within the Republican party – more extreme than most of the members – wants to keep power in the hands of a few. They feel that those few should be racially Shynian and, apperently, they’ll stop at nothing to see that happen.”

“So,” Henry said, his brows furrowing. “Are the rest of us in danger?”

“Our evidence says you aren’t,” Keenan said. “However, I’m still worried enough that I’m going to leave you all under protection a while longer.”

He bowed, then, and slipped out of the room. Joram shook his head and glanced around at his fellows. All of them were deep in thought. The idea that someone would threaten Mari and Edith to retire – that someone would kill Cassidy – over such a petty reason was madness. Joram knew that not all republicans were like that. Barnabas was a republican and had been nothing but kind to them.

“I… can’t focus on work right now,” Joram said, shaking his head. “It’s like my thoughts are a hamster on a wheel. All I can think about is – is Cassidy and Edith and Mari.”

“We’ll convene this afternoon,” Barnabas said, nodding. “I’ll inform the clerks that we’re taking the morning off.” He bowed and slipped out of the room, leaving the rest to their wandering thoughts.

After Two Months

Prompt: Quarter moon better than none

“It’s so very dark,” Joram said, frowning. He looked over his shoulder at Cianal. “It’s never this dark in Himulai.”

“More street lights there,” Cianal said. He looked up at the sky and smiled. “It could be worse, though. At least there’s a sliver of moon to shed some light on us.”

Joram looked up at the sky and frowned. It had been the same when Cassidy had died – just a sliver of moon hung in the sky. It had been two months ago. How many more such nights would come and go before her killer was brought to justice?

What is home?

Prompt: curse of the gypsy blood

Joram lifted his head off Cianal’s chest and looked at him. “Do you ever think of settling down?” he said, tilting his head to one side.

Cianal frowned. “Whatever do you mean?” he asked, shaking his head. “I’m settled well enough. I live with you, don’t I?”

“You travel back and forth with me,” Joram said. His gaze drifted to the window. For a moment, he watched the scenery in silence. “We spend half our time at one home and half our time at the other. The constant traveling back and forth doesn’t bother you?”

“Not at all,” Cianal said, laughing. He shrugged and shook his head. “I think I’d get bored staying in one city all the time. Much more fun this way.” He looked intently at Joram, “Does it bother you?”

Joram smiled. “My home is wherever you are,” he said, his voice faint.

Going Home

Prompt: Two ways of getting home

“So,” Joram said, as soon as the last of them had filed into the antechamber. “We’re off for the holiday?”

“Two weeks of free time,” Barnabas agreed. He looked at Eishi and frowned. “This is your home region.”

“It is,” he agreed. “I have a house just twenty minutes walk from here.” His brows furrowed and he said, “You all have longer treks, in order to go home, though. Is that right?”

“I’m taking the train,” Joram said, nodding. He looked at Amera and said, “You’re going with us, right?”

She nodded. Turning to Henry, she tilted her head to one side. “How are you getting home for the holiday, Henry?” she asked, frowning.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he admitted. His brows furrowed and he said, “I can’t drive, so that leaves taking the train or a boat.”

“I don’t trust the train,” Barnabas said, shaking his head firmly. He looked horrified for a moment and added, “The stories you hear about what can happen… I’m driving home.”

Henry frowned and shook his head. “I’ll decide tomorrow,” he said.

Paying Due Diligence

Prompt: all cities were the same

“Murdered?” Keenan said, his voice soft. He looked from Bertram to Joram and back again. “What team was assigned to the investigation?”

“None, yet,” Bertram said, shaking his head. “Thom’s team is gathering what evidence there is. At the moment, the directors felt it could remain in the hands of a forensics team.”

Keenan’s brows twitched and he bit his lip, a clear sign he was fighting the urge to turn the air blue with curses. “Right,” he said, at last. “I’m assigning Danny’s team to assist them.”

“Haruko’s not going to like it,” Bertram said.

Cursing, Keenan flopped into his chair. “I don’t much care what he likes. I’m the Grand High Commander of Intelligence, aren’t I? That means I can override whatever any of the directors might want.”

“Are you sure that’s necessary, Keenan?” Joram asked, his brows furrowing. “I… don’t want to stir up trouble for you.”

Shaking his head, Keenan said, “It’s not because of you, Jorey. It’s this: until we know if this was a random attack, an attack specifically on Cass or a political assassination, there’s no way to know if the rest of you are safe. Many hands make light work.”

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” Bertram quipped, earning a glare. He shrugged. “Just saying… throwing more agents at a problem might not solve it faster.”

“If they’ve got different focuses it does,” Keenan replied. He looked at Joram and smiled. “No reason to panic yet. All cities have their crazies and that may be what this was. I just want to be sure.”

“I appreciate your diligence,” Joram said, giving him a wan smile. They’d all sleep easier knowing that Keenan had his best people on the case.

A Wandering Oak

Prompt: No time for spreadin’ roots

“What’s wrong with it?” Amera asked, frowning at the tree. It’s branches were nearly naked. Only a few leaves hung from the ends. It looked weak and sick. She looked at Joram and scowled. “Not enough sun?”

Joram shook his head. “It’s a wandering oak,” he said. He pointed as the tree shifted and swayed for a moment. Then, it tugged up its roots and moved across the garden to another location.

Henry shook his head. “Foolish tree,” he called. “Ya ain’t never gonna get better ‘less you stay someplace a day or so. Pickin’ up and movin’ don’t give ya no time ta spread yer roots!” He looked back at the other judges and blinked. “What?”

“You… your accent was rather thick just then, Henry,” Barnabas said. He smiled. “I don’t believe I’d heard it so pronounced until just then.”

Grinning, Henry said, “I try and watch how I speak when I’m with y’all or in court. That there tree don’t care ‘bout grammar and such like, though.”

Eishi shook his head slightly. “I think your accent is charming, Henry,” he said, smiling. “I believe the others will agree with me when I say: you don’t have to watch your speech on our account.”

“He’s right, Henry,” Joram agreed. “Just be yourself. We won’t judge you for it.”

“Thank’e,” Henry said, beaming at them.

Sending Out Shoots

Prompt: The Open Road, The Bitter Song, The Heavy Load

“You grew up in a wayside tavern?” Barnabas said, arching an eyebrow at Eishi. He took a sip of his wine and shook his head. “What was that like?”

“Well,” Eishi said, scowling, “People would stop and rest from the road. They’d bring news from other parts of the land, as well as music or arts that we’d never seen before. All in all, it was rather pleasant.”

“It must have been hard during the Occupation,” Joram said, frowning. “I’ve heard that the Berklians would demand free lodgings if they passed by such places close to evening.”

“They did,” Eishi confirmed. “Lodgings, drink, food… Whatever they wanted they took and we were meant to bow and scrape and thank them for their thieving.” He shook his head. “That was part of the reason my parents wanted me educated. They saved every bit of coin they could and held it aside, for my future education.”

“They wanted a different life for you,” Amera said. A faint smile touched her lips. “I bet they’re glad they made that choice now.”

Eishi smiled wanly. “I’d like to think so,” he said. “They… aren’t around anymore. My mother took sick and my father died in a fire.” For a moment, he looked troubled. Then, he seemed to shake dark thoughts away and he smiled. “My inheritance was enough to get me away from that little wayside tavern – let me see the wide world I’d always only heard of before.”

“Like a plant sending out shoots,” Henry said, grinning brightly. Even if the parent plant dies, the little ones live on, sometimes under better conditions than the parent did.” For a moment, everyone stared at him.

“You,” Barnabas murmured, “will never cease to amaze me.”

Hurry up and Wait

Prompt: Escape all that waiting and staying

“Is it always like this?” Barnabas asked, looking at the others. Joram frowned slightly, so he said, “Hurry up to get here at a certain time and then wait for them to be ready for us.”

Joram shrugged. “I think it’s that way for all large bureaucracies,” he said. “What do they say in the military? Hurry up and wait?” He chuckled softly at his joke and shrugged. Then, his brows furrowed. “Who’s leading us today?”

Henry grinned. “You are,” he said.

Grimacing, Joram sighed. “Feels like it’s always my turn,” he said.

Barnabas spread his hands. “At least once a week,” he said. Joram, he had realized after the first few days, was almost painfully shy. He was an excellent judge of character and he knew the laws well. Both of those traits served him well as a member of the High Court.

That each of them took a day each week to lead the court was the only thing that seemed to bother him. It forced him to speak for the court. Public speaking was his single weak point. Shy as he was, it was difficult for him to talk with those he knew. Addressing a crowd was almost painful.

Barnabas frowned. Perhaps that was why they were waiting. Perhaps they were hoping that, by giving Joram a few extra minutes to collect himself.

Joram sighed. “Enough with just standing here and waiting,” he said. Drawing back the curtain that separated the five judges from the main part of courtroom, he nodded. Then, they were introduced by the Bailiff and he stepped out into the open. The others formed in pairs behind him, following him into the court.

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