Anomen tried to keep the horror from his face as he struggled with Surayah’s revelation. “The two men who killed my sister were serving Yusef the entire time I was courting you? And you did not tell me?” He fought hard against the building rage in his heart.
“I told you, I did not realize until just before our marriage.”
“Anomen,” Donalus said, the warning in his voice unmistakable.
“They were part of his personal bodyguard.”
The priest’s eyes lost focus as he remembered. “There was a pair of guards who would give each other looks and smirk at me whenever Yusef made his snide remarks. I assumed they were laughing at my servile position but they knew… they knew…”
He looked at the others and saw them staring at him in varying degrees of wariness and anxiety. Anomen took a deep breath. “Surayah, I want you to give Lieutenant Aegisfield as complete a description of those two men as you can. There still might be a chance of obtaining justice for my sister.”
High Watcher Oisig said softly, “Then you will be content to leave it to the law?”
“I will not repeat my sins, sir. I give you my word, in Helm’s name.” He looked down at himself, still wrapped in a blood-stained blanket and wearing only trousers. “If you please, would you take Surayah up to your office to discuss this? I need to wash and dress.”
“Would you like me to stay?” Sir Donalus said.
“Thank you, but I would prefer to be alone. I need time to collect myself.”
“Is that wise?” Aegisfield said bluntly.
Donalus gave him a hard look. “Anomen will not break an oath to Helm.”
After the others had gone, the priest’s pretended calm broke, and he began to weep. “Moira… all that time, your killers were within my reach and I never knew. I thought Father… I was sure he lied to me.” The redness of rage descended over him, and he fought against it. “I gave my word. I cannot, will not disregard the law. Not again.”
But so much anger could not be contained. With a scream of fury he charged one of the practice dummies. He slammed his fists into it again and again until straw began flying from splits in the cloth. The sturdy foundation broke, and the dummy crashed to the floor.
Even that did not slow Anomen. He dropped to his knees and drove blow after blow into the pulverized mess. Tears streaming down his face, the only coherent words that emerged from his lips were, “Moira… my sister…”
At last there was nothing left but torn cloth and splintered wood, the air around him thick with the dusty remnants of the straw stuffing. He continued to pound his fists into the rags, snarling and growling with rage, heedless of the hard floor beneath.
Suddenly hands grasped his wrists. “Watcher Anomen, you are hurting yourself.”
Startled, he blinked through his tear-fogged eyes to see Jules kneeling beside him. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were covered with blood. The shame of being caught in such a condition by a student, one of those for whom he was supposed to set an example, overwhelmed him. Anomen lowered his head with a groan of anguish. But the interruption could not completely stem the flow of grief. Anomen sagged back in a sitting position and buried his face in his hands, unable to stop sobbing in rage and pain.
He felt a hand very lightly touch his back, then pull back. Then the hand hesitantly came to rest on his shoulder. I must stop this. Such behavior is unacceptable. I am no longer a child to run to an adult for comfort. It is my duty to be the one these young people can turn to in times of need. How can they trust me to counsel them if I cannot control my own emotions?
After a long moment to compose himself, he said, “I am sorry you had to see that. A student should not… I apologize for not keeping to the high standards that a teacher must uphold. But I have just learned the truth of my sister’s death and I… could not remain calm.”
Then something unexpected and, to Anomen, rather wondrous happened. Jules smiled at him.
“Don’t apologize, Watcher. You just gave me the first bit of hope I’ve had since I came to the temple.”
The younger priest carefully brushed away the bits of straw and fabric from Anomen’s raw, bleeding knuckles, then cast a healing spell while his teacher stared at him in bemusement. When the spell was complete, Anomen said, “I am afraid I do not understand.”
“You never knew my brother, but Reynald… when I was growing up he seemed to be everything that a paladin should be. And then he got tangled up with that woman, and it destroyed him. I was furious about what happened afterwards. His fall, his ejection from the Radiant Heart, the humiliation. Then joining Anarg and getting killed. I had to do something to, to put things right.”
“By becoming a priest?”
“The High Watcher, he… he asked if I became a priest and joined the Order, did I feel I could somehow prove them wrong about my brother. I denied it, but he was right. That’s what I thought.”
“Forgive me for asking, but were you not Tormish before your brother’s tragedy?”
“I couldn’t… I just couldn’t pray to Torm, not after Reynald’s death. Even though deep down I knew it wasn’t Torm’s fault, it just… hurt too much.”
“How did you find your way to Helm?”
“I stopped going to the classes at Torm’s church because everyone stared at me. And there was no one I felt I could turn to. Our parents died when I was very young, so it had just been Reynald and me for years. I didn’t know what I should do. I found a position as a very junior scribe at a counting house, but something seemed… missing. I had no aim, no drive towards anything beyond my next meal.”
“There were no sympathetic priests or paladins willing to guide you?”
“I’m sure some would have helped, but I couldn’t face them. I started wandering the temple district in my free time. I’m not sure why, since seeing Torm’s church always made me think of Reynald. But one day I was sitting on a bench, enjoying the sunshine, when I looked up at the symbol of Helm over the door of the temple. It… it was like it was staring straight at me. Straight through me. I told myself I was silly, it was just a stone carving. But I could not shake that feeling, that Helm was watching me. So I went inside.”
Jules looked at the floor, his eyes sad. “I started studying the books in the public reading room. I kept coming back, day after day. And the more I read, the more Helm’s temple felt… right. Like it was a place where I could belong. It felt good. But I was scared, too. I couldn’t be a paladin like my brother, I knew that. I just don’t have it in me. But even being a priest seemed so far out of my reach. If someone as good and kind and decent as Reynald could fall, then how could I possibly succeed?”
“Every person meets challenges differently. You are not your brother,” Anomen said gently.
“I tried to tell myself that. But then you were assigned as my teacher, and it all seemed so useless.”
“Because I heard the whispers, about how you had a horrible temper and could fly into violent rages. But all I saw was a patient teacher, even with Bardola and Trace. And with me. I thought if that is what passed for unstable among Helmites, then I was doomed.”
Anomen winced. “If you had asked, I could have told you something of my past. Then perhaps you would have seen sooner that the rumors about me are… well, I cannot say that all of them are truthful, but most are at least founded in truth.”
The younger man reddened slightly. “I thought about that, but you seemed so… in control of yourself. I didn’t think you would understand.”
With a shake of his head and a low chuckle, Anomen said ruefully, “Ah, lad. The control you felt you saw is just a thin veneer that I can only maintain by living my life almost entirely within the church, and even that after years of building self-discipline.” He ran his hand through the straw fragments and let them trickle through his fingers. “When I was your age this would almost certainly have been a living target, and the blood on my hands not my own. But I am afraid a deeper discussion will have to wait for another time. I need to dress and go to High Watcher Oisig’s office.”
“I’ll help you.”
While Anomen washed, Jules diligently moved around the changing room, gathering dry towels and laying out the parts of Anomen’s armor in a careful array. As the novice assisted in fastening the straps, Anomen was determined to keep the pain from his face. Once I helped knights into their armor in just this manner, ever the dutiful squire. If I had not been such a fool, I might be a knight with squires of my own by now. I could have sponsored young people like Jules into the Order. Helm, I pray his feet walk a more sensible path than mine.
He thanked Jules for the aid, then made his way to the High Watcher’s office. When he reached the door, he heard raised voices within. Anomen knocked, but no one seemed to hear so he opened it to see a strange scene before him.
Surayah was sobbing onto Lady Relsia’s shoulder. The older woman was trying to comfort her, as was Lady Maria. In another part of the room, Aegisfield and another officer seemed to be in a shouting match with Sir Keldorn, Sir Frochian, High Watcher Oisig and Sir Donalus.
All stopped and turned to stare at him. “Sirs?” Anomen asked timidly.
“Oh, Anomen,” Surayah wailed. “They do not believe me.”
With gritted teeth, Frochian growled, “These fools seem to think your wife created the story of overhearing her father out of whole cloth.”
“But… but why?”
Keldorn snarled in disgust. “They think she is trying to justify Yusef’s death. As if self-defense were not sufficient cause.”
The officer with Lieutenant Aegisfield turned to glare at Anomen. “I find it completely plausible that she could be forced to say such things by a man with a desire to excuse his past crimes and advance the position of his House.”
“Plausible my arse!” Donalus snapped.
“Language, Sir Donalus,” Oisig muttered. “There are ladies present.”
“He’s right, Oisig,” Lady Maria snarled. “That is the biggest wagon load of horseshit I have ever heard!”
Trying to keep his face from showing his boggled reaction to Lady Maria’s words, Anomen said, “Sir, I no longer have any connection to Lord Cor’s House. And I have no desire to attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Surely you have spoken to Lieutenant Aegisfield, Officer…?”
The man drew himself up and said coldly, “Deputy Inspector Tandir. I serve Chief Inspector Brega directly. And yes, Aegisfield has told me all I need to know.”
“Then you will look into my sister’s death?”
“Of course not! I will not waste the time of our guardsmen chasing the fantasies of hysterical women. You should both feel fortunate that the lieutenant has convinced me not to charge the two of you with murder.”
Anomen felt his temper rising once more, but forced it down. “My wife is not a liar.” He looked over at Sir Frochian. “When I was a squire, it was my understanding that those who could not obtain justice from the city could turn to the Order. Is that still true?”
“The Council has always been delighted to accept our aid, since it does not come out of their coffers.”
“Then I formally request that the Order of the Radiant Heart investigate the death of my sister, Moira Delryn, since the authorities refuse to do so.”
“I forbid it!” Tandir snarled. “Magistrate Bylanna Ianulin will not tolerate any interference in the business of the city.”
Aegisfield frowned. “The magistrate has always been grateful for the help of the Order, and the Tyrran church.”
“The Delryn girl was killed by common robbers. The case was settled years ago.”
Suddenly Anomen had a flash of recognition. Pleading with the magistrate. Begging that some action be taken. A man leaning over to whisper in her ear and hand her a stack of papers. After a moment’s glance at them, Bylanna had declared there was nothing to be done. A man who had worn clothes which were expensive and new. This man.
A cold ball formed in the pit of Anomen’s stomach. Keeping his voice steady, he said, “Nevertheless, Deputy Inspector, I will not withdraw my request to the Order. I cannot ignore any chance of obtaining justice for my sister.”
“If you pursue this, you will regret it.” Tandir stomped out of Oisig’s office, a frowning Aegisfield at his heels.
Sir Frochian shook his head. “That was odd. The Athkatlan guard is usually thrilled to palm cases off on us.”
Anomen said softly, “I suspect he does not want the murder examined too closely. Someone might discover that an official was bribed to ignore evidence.” He looked at Sir Keldorn. “As you and Tendel once reminded me, justice in Athkatla can be bought and sold.”
Keldorn’s eyes widened. “So you think...”
“Nothing that I can prove,” Anomen replied firmly.
“I think it would be safest if the two of you do not go home tonight,” Sir Frochian said. “We do not know if some of Yusef’s guards might try to exact revenge.”
“But the servants are there. I don’t want any harm coming to Karima or the others,” Surayah said.
“I will make sure your house is guarded. But I think it best if you are well away.”
“Thank you, Sir Frochian. We appreciate your generosity.” Anomen turned to Sir Keldorn. “When Saerk was killed, the Farrahd house was looted. Would you see to hiring guards so that it does not occur again? I do not wish to leave my wife’s side.”
“Hire guards? Nonsense. It will provide training for some of the squires, especially if there is an attack. Leave it to me, lad.”
“Thank you. I think we should go before word spreads of this.”
Surayah looked down and tearfully said, “Oh, Lady Relsia. You gave me this pretty dress when I lived with you, and now it is ruined.”
Relsia took her hand and patted it. “Do not worry, dear. If there is one thing a paladin’s wife knows how to do, it is removing bloodstains.”