I never bumped into Orwan Bullip every decade. But Orwan and I went back a long way. If we’d come from a better background you’d have said we went to school together. In reality we had been schooled together, but we’d learned our harsh lessons as children on the streets of Port Naain. Even then he ran with a group of tough lads who looked to him for leadership. I remember them all, Little Toddy, Dillup, Mad Dog, Niblo, Batt, decent enough lads and worth knowing if you felt you needed friends in a hurry.
But there was a parting of the ways, I drifted into the fringes of respectability and they lingered longer on the boundaries of organised crime. But then Orwan, recoiling from the thought of just becoming another street bully with a few thugs, led them south into Partann. They trailed along as baggage guards for a respectable company, but when the company returned home, they stayed.
I’d remained in touch, albeit inadvertently. If they wanted a message getting through to a parent, then they’d write to me and I would go and read the letter to the aged relative. Occasionally the letters would contain coins, jewellery, or some other small valuable that a dutiful son was sending to his doting mother. Sometimes they appeared in the city, and I would spend an evening drinking with them, listening to their tales and telling them about the doings of people they left behind.
But these visits were never long ones. There was always somebody in authority who would have a list of difficult and embarrassing questions that they felt ought to be answered. In all candour I have often felt that whatever is buried in Partann is best left buried. Still it must be admitted that the judiciary rarely take my opinions into account.
Thus I wasn’t entirely surprised when Orwan Bullip came back to see his sister and her children. He was only expecting to stay a week but four days into his stay he was arrested and then charged with the murder of Neeping Willow. Now I’d heard the tales of Neeping Willow and frankly his death ought to have been a cause of public rejoicing. Certainly a responsible society should have organised a silver collection for those who had rid the world of him. Admittedly Orwan had not killed Neeping Willow from some sense of civic duty (although if I had been called as a witness I would surely have raised the possibility for the jury to consider). Neeping had crossed, double-crossed, and then betrayed Orwan and Orwan rather lost his temper. A frank and open exchange of views ended up with Neeping sprawled dead on the floor of some rustic inn, his sword clasped in his stiffening hand and his wounds in his chest.
Now normally this would be the end of it. But it so happened that Orwan had crossed Lord Kastair of Slipshade Keep. The Kastair’s had been ejected from the keep by brigands greater than they were, and they had retired to Port Naain to plot and dabble in the politics of both Partann and Port Naain. Since then, Lord Kastair had been running a few schemes in Uttermost Partann. Orwan, loyal to his employer at the time, had thwarted them. Lord Kastair saw his chance of vengeance. He laid charges against Orwan and had him arraigned in a Port Naain court. The arraignment turned into a trial and evidence was produced from eyewitnesses that Orwan had struck Neeping down from behind as the other man stooped to give a titbit to a kitten.
Much of the evidence consisted of sworn written dispositions collected from people present. These dispositions formed virtually the entire case for the prosecution. Given some of these dispositions had been sworn by people even I knew to have been dead for twenty years or more when Neeping died, I think everybody felt the case would be thrown out. But;
I sought to remind
In case you forgot
Some judges are blind
Some jailers are not
Orwan was condemned to death, and the question was raised, where was he to be held until he could be led out to execution. The Watch pointed out that they had nothing suitable. (They got a bit sniffy about this, pointing out that an arraignment is not a trial, but precedes by the trial by a period longer than it takes to pick up the pencil you dropped. They explained that this allows others involved in the justice system time to get organised.) Normally the Watch got round the problem of housing contemned criminals by having the guilty party led straight from the court to the place of execution. This has the advantage of reducing the risk of such failures of justice, such as the guilty party being released on appeal. Still here Lord Kastair could step in and assist the authorities. On the excuse that he had the power of low, middle and high justice in Slipshade (a town he had not held for some years) he had built a couple of cells in his cellar. Orwan was incarcerated there.
Little Toddy, Dillup, Mad Dog, and Niblo, (Batt had died in a skirmish some years previously) were determined to stop this and had apparently spent some days trying to work out how to break Orwan out. Their preferred method involved blowing the front door in with blasting wax and charging into the house with drawn swords, cutting down anybody who got in their way. They would then leave on fast horses. I was contacted because they wanted somebody they could trust to hold the horses whilst this desperate undertaking occurred.
I confess that I was somewhat taken aback. It wasn’t that I objected to helping. After all I have known them for a lot of years and I agreed with them that Orwan did not deserve to die for the killing of Neeping. But frankly I had no confidence in their plan. I had no doubt that they could blow the door in. I had confidence in their ability to fight their way in to rescue Orwan. It was the leaving that worried me. To cross the river to go south into Partann you have to take the Roskadil ferry. Pick the wrong time and you’ll have to queue for it. Whilst the argument could be made that your pursuers might be some distance behind you in the queue I’m not sure it held up to close examination. Escaping to the north or east was out, they would soon be found and recaptured. Instead I suggested that I get Orwan out for them.
They were a little disappointed, indeed in discussion it did come out that they had rather been looking forward to six horsemen with drawn swords riding full pelt down Ropewalk. I confess that I was rather touched that they included me in their number for that escapade, and I also confess, a little shamefaced, that it did have its attractions. Still I felt I had a better way.
I approached the Widow Handwill and asked if she could throw an evening entertainment in the next few days. I also asked if she could both invite Madam Kastair to attend as a guest of honour, but also to hire Darstep Balstep to perform. Darstep was the leader of the clan which ejected the Kastairs unceremoniously from Slipshade. Indeed he was Lord of Slipshade Keep until he in turn was ejected. He had made his way to Port Naain and was now a poet (and a good one). One of Madam Kastair’s pleasures was mocking Darstep for how far he had fallen, whilst he, in all candour, gave as good as he got. Both enjoyed it hugely, I suppose it reminded them of the good old days back in Partann. I could not imagine Madam Kastair declining the invitation.
The Widow gave instructions for the event to be held and then asked me exactly what I had in mind. I explained and she made a few useful suggestions of her own.
On the appropriate evening, I opened the proceedings, introduced Darstep and then stepped back out of the limelight. Indeed I quietly made my way downstairs to the kitchen. There I found my four fellow conspirators sitting drinking tea and chatting with the kitchen staff. As inevitably happens at these events, they discovered that some of the ladies had, many years previously, been in service with the mothers of these four ruffians.
Taking Mad Dog with me, I left the other three to their conversations. Mad Dog and I rode to the Kastair residence where Mad Dog hammered on the door demanding admittance. When a uniformed flunky opened the door to ask what we wanted, my companion merely barged past him whilst I followed, helping the flunky back onto his feet, brushing him down and apologising.
In the middle of the hallway, in a voice that had echoed across battlefields, Mad Dog shouted for Lord Kastair, informing him that we had his wife hostage. This was followed by a somewhat heated exchange where threats of terrible vengeance were exchanged, but half an hour later, Lord Kastair had bowed to the inevitable and we led Orwan Bullip to freedom. We then rode (at a sedate pace) back to the house of the Widow Handwill, collected the other three and made our way to the ferry. We arrived, the other five purchased their tickets and walked their horses on board. I waved them off, returned to the affair at the Widow’s and arrived just as the party was breaking up. I bid Lady Kastair good evening as she stepped into her sedan chair and then went inside to help tidy up.
Obviously questions were asked, but even the law was impressed with the Widow Handwill’s statement that had it not been for my defusing of the situation, somebody could have been hurt.
Lady Kastair on the other hand was somewhat bemused by all the fuss, feeling that if you have been held hostage, you really ought to notice.
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