Monday, July 2–Wednesday, August 15, 249

Mistress Trout’s Lodgings

Nipcopper Close, Corus

With the queen and her prince reunited, I feel no need to write further of our return home. We did indeed have to take a longer route, on down the Great Road to its meeting with the Great Road East, then east to the palace in Corus. His Majesty and Lord Gershom met us there.

I don’t know what I would have done without Farmer. He and Cassine were good friends to Sabine and me alike. The lad—Prince Gareth—was a comfort, too. His mother graciously let him ride with me for a bit in the afternoons.

Sabine and I didn’t speak to anyone but Farmer about Tunstall. If Gareth spoke to the queen of him, she said naught. That was a great kindness in itself.

The worst on our arrival was having to tell Lord Gershom and Goodwin what Tunstall had done. Even knowing his motive, that he’d wished to be worthy of Lady Sabine, did not make the news easier for my lord and Goodwin.

Sabine’s and my friends in Corus held a farewell to Tunstall once we told them he’d died during our Hunt. If anyone had questions, the grief on Sabine’s face, the chill in Goodwin’s voice, and the shadow over me kept them from asking. The farewell was a lively thing, with many of the city’s Rats and Dogs each relating their own story of Tunstall. I laughed and cried, remembering the partner who had taught me so much while I tried to forget his last acts.

Next to be endured were the trials. It was then that we learned two of the Dog teams assembled after we left Corus had found evidence that Aspen Vale, Queensgrace, Halleburn, and several other great families had taken part in the plot. Individual nobles who had supported the conspiracy were named, as were mages, slave traffickers, and shipping companies. All the realm was ever told was that a plot for treason had been unraveled, and that those involved would be revealed in the lists of those to be executed. The Chambers of Law at the palace were closed to visitors.

Witnesses came from all over Tortall to testify. Listening to them, we learned that all information, weapons, and money that had not gone by mage or messenger bird had gone by slave caravan. We heard that over a hundred palace slaves were part of the plot, bribed with freedom or bound with magic. As I had seen, no one cared about slaves, so they could go everywhere.

A mage disguised as Lazamon’s own apprentice murdered the Mage Chancellor. It was not done with magic, but with a strangler’s cord. Only when Lazamon’s real apprentice went to wake him in the morning was the murder discovered.

Slaves and slave traders gave testimony before and after lords and mages. Dogs and soldiers answered the nine judges’ questions as mages chosen by the head of the Mithran temple and the temple of the Great Goddess weighed the truth of the witnesses’ words. Time and time again Farmer, Sabine, Nomalla, and I were called to tell what we knew.

Even Gareth was called. The poor lad was frightened when his day came. Rather than let him sit in the hold of one of his parents and have a judge claim they told him what to say, they allowed me to stand at his left at his request, so he might hold my hand if he wished it. Achoo stood on his right, while Pounce sat on his lap, his purple eyes veiled to save us all from an accusation of more magecraft. With us to reassure him, Gareth told his tale. It made a number of the great ones who were in attendance blanch as he described the attack on the Summer Palace, his life as a slave, and the murders of the Viper, her slaves, and her guards. His tale took three days, with the judges’ questions.

At the end of Gareth’s testimony, Farmer, Sabine, Pounce, Achoo, and I were granted the honor of escorting His Highness and the queen back to the palace. We were not needed, of course. A tight guard of the King’s Own encircled us all the way to the steps, where we were allowed to kiss the prince’s hand in farewell. Looking sad, he hugged Achoo and Pounce. Then he and his mother walked into the palace.

The trials ended. When they did, the executions began. I attended those of the traitors I had helped to capture. Sabine, Nomalla, and Farmer went with me. When the day was done and the dead were left swinging or smoking, depending upon the magistrates’ judgment, Rosto, Aniki, Kora, and our other friends of the Court of the Rogue would collect us, take us back to the Dancing Dove, and do all in their power to make us feel less like murderers.

I think most of Corus and half of Port Caynn came to the execution of Prince Baird before the palace gates on the fourteenth. It’s not often a king’s son is beheaded for treason to the Crown. It had been decided by the king and the Lord High Magistrate that, since Prince Baird had not led the conspiracy based on the evidence, he would not be forced to endure being hanged, drawn, and quartered, as the other nobles had. Once it was done, his head was placed over the main palace gate as a warning to others with ambition.

I did not attend. I was tired of death.

Today we were summoned to the palace at one hour after noon and warned beforetime to dress in our best. Since our arrival in Corus, I had discovered that Farmer liked expensive clothes. He had money with bankers in Corus, Port Caynn, and Frasrlund, and he liked to spend it. When I returned from an early-morning visit to the bathhouse, I found my man dressed in a pale blue silk tunic and breeches, wearing new sandals.

“I’ll look like a crow next to you,” I said as I took off the clothes I’d worn from the bathhouse.

“I’ve always noticed how glossy crows are,” he said, pointing to the bed. There lay a proper Dog’s uniform, but it was all silk, a dress uniform like the richer Dogs and district commanders had. “Don’t look at me this time,” he said when I glared at him. “That came from Lord Gershom. He said to tell you that your sisters made it with pride.”

I gazed at it, swallowing a lump in my throat. While my sisters had found a way to live with my choice of work, Diona at least never said she was proud of me before. Yet I knew Lord Gershom. He would not have sent that message unless it was true.

I set about doing my hair up in its usual braid, but Farmer would have none of it. He loved to comb my hair almost as much as he loved taking it out of its braid at night. I thought mayhap it was weak of me to enjoy being waited on in such a way, but it was so soothing. Pounce watched, as he always did, and said, You would make a good cat, Beka.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Folk are forever naming me for dogs, remember?” I smiled at Achoo, who dozed under the window. “At least they haven’t found a name for me this time!”

Farmer set down his comb, done with my hair. “Smooth like silk,” he told me, kissing the top of my head. “I added a little, if you don’t mind.” He swung the braid over my shoulder so I could look. He’d replaced my usual spiked strap of leather. I now had a thin silver chain wound in my braid. It was dotted with crystal ovals that flashed a deep blue. “Rainbow moonstones,” he said. “Not incredibly expensive, so don’t scowl at me.”

I loved them. Turn them one way and they were plain white crystal. Turn them another and the blue shot across them. “They’ll clash with my fire opal earrings,” I told him.

Farmer handed me two earrings, also rainbow moonstones. I struggled to lecture him on spending, and gave up. I couldn’t refuse them. They were too lovely. “You’re spoiling me,” I scolded as I hooked them in my ears.

“Good,” he said, taking one of my hands and kissing my palm. I melt when he does that. “I want to spoil you for a very, very long time. And speaking of spending and spoiling, I found a bigger place. It’s just on the edge of Upmarket, so you won’t have far to walk to Jane Street. Will you look at it with me tomorrow?”

“But why don’t you buy it for yourself?” I asked, facing him. “You don’t need me to do that.”

He sat on the bed next to my chair and took my hands. “But, dear one, I don’t want to buy it for myself. I want to marry you and bring you there as my wife.” He kissed my palms. “If you’re worried that I have no work, Gershom has assigned me to the Waterfront District kennel. I’ll bring in a purse of my own.”

I realized the important part of what he had said to me. “Y-you want to g-get m-m-married soon.” My old enemy, my stutter, had come back in force.

“I thought Midwinter would be nice. Or we could do it at All Hallow, and you could invite the god.” He looked like Achoo at her most hopeful, his eyes wide and shining. His hands were warm and firm around mine. This was not like Holborn’s proposal, when he was giddy with victory after a hard hobbling that we’d shared, and we’d swived together like two wild things in a dark alley. This was so different. I’d thought Farmer had reconsidered after that mad time in the dungeon, since he hadn’t spoken of it since. This wasn’t the kind of thing that would burn hot and be gone. “I’m no mage,” I reminded him.

“But you’re calm around mage things, sweetheart,” he said, tugging gently on one of my earrings. “And you have your little oddities. Yesterday you stood in the middle of a dust spinner for half an hour and talked to it. I had to tell folk you were taking a dust bath.”

“A dust bath!” I cried. “Like I was a pigeon, by all the gods!”

Farmer grinned. “I was reading a whilst I waited. It was the quickest explanation that would make them go away.”

Will you just agree to your wedding? Pounce demanded from his napping place on our pillows. The gods have summoned me for my punishment by Midwinter, and I want to be there.

“Your punishment?” we both cried at the same time.

I told you they would get to it, sooner or later, Pounce replied, as if the gods were inviting him to a small supper. It would be far worse had you not saved Gareth’s life and—well, other great things will come of it.

“What other things?” I demanded.

It is forbidden for me to tell, Pounce replied at his smuggest.

I made a rude gesture at him. I would not worry about one of his mysterious hints, not now. “And Sabine or Farmer would have saved Gareth.”

“I don’t think so,” Farmer murmured. “Tunstall would have had him, and killed him, by the time we got there.”

With the good to the realm, my punishment has been reduced to a century away from humans, Pounce said. And I am being allowed to remain for the wedding. So pick a day for it.

“All Hallow?” Farmer asked. “In case your god wants to come? So what if he scares all the guests?”

“All Hallow,” I said.

He kissed me, then drew a breath. “There is one thing,” he said. I waited. With some men it might be a babe born out of wedlock, or debts, or madness in the family. With him I knew better even than to guess. “I don’t want you to take my name,” he said. “I want to take your name.”

“You want to take my name,” I repeated, to be sure. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“I hate Cape for a last name,” he explained. “I took it for a mage name, but it confuses folk and it means nothing, really. Cooper is a good name, even if you aren’t a barrel maker.”

“If Cape wasn’t your last name, what was your real one?” I asked, deathly curious now.

“Ahhhh,” he complained. “Pincas Huckleburr.”

After waiting and picking me up and throwing a cup of water on me didn’t stop my laughter—I could see my big, sleepy-eyed man as one of those burs with the hooks on the end that had to be worked out of clothes—Farmer resorted to wanton kissing. That worked. I am much in favor of wanton kissing and other things.

Eventually, with Pounce to remind us, we finished getting ready for whatever it was we had to do at the palace. When we left Mistress Trout’s, we discovered that horsemen had come for us, with spares for us to ride. Lord Gershom led them.

“You two look very fine,” he said with approval as we mounted up. Then he eyed Farmer’s beaming face and then me, whereupon I blushed and looked down. “Mithros’s spear, what happened?”

Farmer looked at me. Plainly he was leaving me to say what I did, “We’re to be married, my lord, on All Hallow.”

Handshakes would not do for my lord then. We had to dismount, me to be hugged, Farmer to be slapped on the back, then me to be spun around in the air. At last my lord said with alarm, “You’re not quitting me, either of you? You’re too good to go now!”

Farmer and I reassured him that we meant to continue our work without change, as the head of our escort got us back on our horses and on our way to the palace. “This works out well,” Lord Gershom said as we trotted onto the green stretch before the wall. “Farmer will be available for emergencies, and you—”

“Continue in the Lower City, please, my lord,” I said. “I belong there. It’s my home.”

“You could have anything you want,” Lord Gershom said. “From me or Their Majesties. Surely you know that.”

I shook my head. Farmer sighed. “She likes fire opals and Sirajit opals,” he said. “If you are thinking of a gift.”

“I did my duty!” I cried. “That’s good enough. And you and Sabine and Nomalla and Achoo—” I looked at my lord. “If I could be assured that Achoo’s health could be overseen by the city’s best houndsman, that would be wonderful,” I told him. “And if she could have a suitable mate? She is getting old for a first litter, and I promised her.”

Lord Gershom’s mustache twitched downward. I knew he was covering a smile. “So we’ll grant something for the others of your Hunt and Achoo, but naught for yourself. Luckily you have Farmer and me to watch out for you, Beka. I’ve arranged palace places for your brothers and sisters. A royal courier’s place for Nilo, since he is already a palace rider, and situations for your sisters among the queen’s seamstresses. Willes will be a courier for the Lord High Magistrate. And the house that Farmer has looked at thrice already has been purchased in his name. Give the orders for any changes and repairs you wish to my secretary, Farmer. He will see they’re done, and he will give you the papers of ownership. The Crown pays for all, as it pays for the four horses you now own.”

“You think I’ll be doing a lot of riding?” Farmer said wistfully, looking at me.

“You both will be doing a great deal of riding. I’ve already been presented with three requests for your services and Beka’s from lords who have been in attendance at the trials,” Lord Gershom said as we rode through the palace gates. “Be grateful it is not more. I told them Beka would not accept it. They will come to you with other offers, Farmer.”

I looked up at my lord with gratitude. I had my man, Gareth and Sabine were safe, the conspiracy was overthrown. What more could a mot want?

Our escort led us through the main courtyards to the one before the Hall of Crowns, where stable hands in clean garments decorated with a royal badge took our mounts. I began to get very nervous. After we’d dismounted and straightened our clothes, I asked Lord Gershom, “Does Nomalla get a reward?”

“She gets her life,” he said, in that iron way of his that meant she ought to be glad for that much. Given that I’d seen her mother, uncles, aunts, and brothers die for their part in the treason, I thought he might be right. After a moment, he added, “And she gets to work in the service of the Crown, on the Scanran border. She’ll redeem herself there, of that I’m certain.”

A squire in colors and a badge I didn’t recognize came to us and led us through a door in the wing that led to the hall, not into the hall itself. I’d had a glimpse of the hall once, when Gareth was born and named. It was huge, a great chamber terraced in stone for seats, where everyone present could see what took place on the stage. Here our kings were crowned and their children presented to the nobles, mages, religious folk, and guild leaders. Above the seats the doors formed sections of the entire back wall, so they might be folded back and the common folk given a look at the doings of the great. I heard that every time the hall was opened, those whose work it was to guard Their Majesties and their children got headaches.

The squire turned right as we entered the palace. The soldiers standing guard inside the door tried to halt Achoo and Pounce, but Lord Gershom put out his hand. “Where she goes, they go.”

They stared at him, then snapped up into their positions, staring blankly ahead.

I frowned at my lord. “Sir, what is going on?”

Gershom smiled at me. “Beka, I have proceeded along the lines that if I told you more, you would panic and flee.”

I was starting to get a very bad feeling.

“You see?” asked Lord Gershom as if I had spoken. “The less you know, the happier you are. Just remember, when the time comes, how proud your mama would be.”

We entered a room very like that where Sabine and I had been stripped, back at Halleburn. There were screens so folk could change garments privately and actual glass mirrors on the walls.

Sabine was already there in new armor polished to a mirror shine of its own. Her curling hair framed her face. It was braided and ornamented with ruby-headed pins instead of her own spiked strap. She wore ruby earrings, too. She looked at us and smiled wryly. “All done up like Midwinter geese, aren’t we?”

“Beka said yes to a day,” Farmer told her.

The lady’s face filled with cheer. She rose from her chair and, despite her armor, insisted on hugging us both. Then she had to give Achoo a treat and Pounce a pet. “Can I come to the wedding?” she asked. “I promise not to clank.”

“We wouldn’t hold it without you,” Farmer said, and I nodded. I wouldn’t tell any of them yet, but I hoped the lady would be godsmother to our first child.

The door to the chamber opened again, this time to admit Her Majesty and the prince. We all scrambled to kneel before the queen. She took each of our hands and raised us to stand.

Gareth beamed up at me and beckoned. I knelt before him. I think that no one was more surprised than me when he hugged me about the neck. “I miss you,” he whispered in my ear.

I cleared my throat, which tightened up, then returned his clasp. “I miss you,” I replied.

The other door in the chamber, the one which had not opened before, did so now. Yet another squire bowed deep to the queen. She made signs to us about the order in which we were to follow her. The queen entered the hall beyond, followed by Sabine, then Farmer.

I looked out and balked. That was the Hall of Crowns, far worse than the Jane Street magistrate’s courtroom. By the little I could see from where I was, it was jammed full of persons in silks trimmed in gold, silver, and jewels. These were not my sort of folk at all.

Gareth took my hand. “I know,” my little old man told me. “I don’t like it, either. Mama says it helps if I imagine them all in their loincloths.”

The thought horrified me. Folk don’t look nearly as good unclothed as they think they do. “Does it help?” I asked him.

“No, but I tell Mama it does so she can be happy,” he explained.

I couldn’t help it, even though he is our prince. I bent and kissed his head. “You’re a good lad, Gareth the Strong,” I told him.

“You think I’m strong?” he asked.

“I know you are,” I said.

“I learned it from you. Let us show them,” he replied, trapping me neatly. Together, with Achoo beside me and Pounce ahead of us, we walked out onto the great stone stage to stand with Farmer and Sabine. To do so we had to pass behind the royal thrones where the king and queen now sat, and behind my friends. I thought Gareth would sit with his parents, but he shook his head when I asked. “They told me to stay with you.”

Once we had settled in place, the king spoke. “Those of you who attended the recent trials and executions know that a great conspiracy against our throne was uncovered,” said His Majesty. “In this dread time, a small handful of people saved the lives of our person, Her Majesty, and our son. Prince Gareth was kidnapped and made a slave.”

There were shouts of genuine fear and outrage. People called out, “Gods save Your Majesties!” and “Gods save His Highness!”

“We trusted in our old friend Gershom of Haryse, now Count of Yolen,” King Roger continued gravely. “Count Gershom called together a team of Hunters to trail our son’s kidnappers and to bring him home. While other faithful teams from the Provost’s Guard ranged over the realm, gathering facts and arresting those who plotted against our throne, these Hunters found His Highness and returned him to his proper place. Lady Sabine of Macayhill, come to us.”

The lady walked forward as the king stood by his throne and drew his sword. In that great hall there was only silence. “Kneel,” ordered the king, and she obeyed. “Sabine of Macayhill, I create thee Lady of Princehold, that was formerly Queensgrace, with ownership of all its lands and grants,” the king said, his voice ringing everywhere in the chamber. “These lands and grants, together with the title, go to you and your heirs in evidence of the gratitude held by the house of Conté for your service in this dark time.” Sabine looked up at him. I saw her mouth move, but the king only smiled at her. “In addition, I ask you to take charge of the guard assigned to the persons of His Highness Prince Gareth and any other children of the royal family. Will you guard our children, Lord Sabine? Will you protect them as you protected Prince Gareth?”

I heard Gareth whispering, “Please say yes, lady, please, please!”

I don’t know if Sabine heard him, but she nodded to the king. He tapped her shoulders lightly with his sword and said, “Then rise, Sabine of Princehold and Macayhill, Lady Captain of the Household Guard!”

Sabine got to her feet, bowed to the king, then the queen, then Gareth. Shakily, she went to stand at Gareth’s back. I thought my heart would burst, I was so glad for her. She had fought long and hard for the Crown. Now at last she had a post where the best healers would look after her knees, her shoulders, and her back, and Gareth would have a friend he could trust in his guard.

“Farmer—” the king began.

“Cooper,” my man said firmly, walking over to kneel before the king.

“Farmer Cooper, then,” said the king, raising an eyebrow at me. “You did many fine deeds of magic in the Hunt to find our son and keep him alive. You did not accept the post of Chancellor of Mages, which Cassine Catfoot has taken up for the time being. You have accepted only humble work for the Provost’s Guard. Will you agree to help the royal mages screen those mages who come to work in Corus, with a proper gift from the treasury for your aid?”

“I will and I thank you, Sire,” Farmer said.

“Will you accept, with our thanks, this deed to lands, including the property you have recently purchased, for a city block in Corus? Property always helps a man in the world,” the king said, handing Farmer a document with seals on it. “Even more so when he is about to marry.”

I swear I saw the king wink at Farmer.

Farmer stood, did his bows, and looked back to join me, but Lord Gershom gestured for him to stand with Sabine.

Then His Majesty picked up a large document edged in gold, dripping gold seals on ribbons, and faced the hall rather than calling me forward. Gareth, to my surprise, wrapped both hands around my arm and hugged it tight. I knelt beside him, wondering what had him so excited. He latched on to my neck in reply as our hounds and Pounce moved closer to us.

“The third member of this group has asked for very little for herself, and we are told she is uncomfortable before crowds,” said the king. “But I have read her reports.” He took a deep breath. To my shock I realized he was shaking. “We read them, and we asked our son, whose life she saved, what he thought she would like. He said that she wanted the same thing that he did. And when he told us what became of other slaves, of their lives, we found ourselves disgusted. This is not the way people should live, in want and fear. No one deserves to be thrown away as refuse. All are equal in the Black God’s eyes.

“Throughout this, we have seen one thing over and over,” the king told them. “Messages, armed men, and weapons have traveled this land with the slave caravans. Spies disguised as slaves have been found in the great houses of the realm. Our enemies used the slave trade to disguise their activities. Several of those found guilty held shares in the slave trade and used the caravans and their ability to buy and sell slaves to plant enemies everywhere, even here.

“And it was money from the trade that paid for this. The mages came because they had grievances with the Crown. Others came because they were offered the gold that comes from buying and selling men and women. Over and over our son’s kidnappers told him that if he was not good, he would be branded. Anyone who was kind to him was sold or murdered. He was whipped like a slave, slapped like a slave, starved like a slave.”

The queen had her handkerchief out. The room was deathly silent. Looking around, I suddenly realized there were soldiers all along the walls. Where I could see in the crowd, I suddenly found faces I knew from the Afternoon Shift in nearly every district in Corus. They were planted carefully, like seeds—to spy on the audience should they attack Their Majesties even now?

The king unrolled his document. “As of the first day of October, all slave traders will leave Tortall. From that time forward, there will be no selling of slaves within our borders unless the sale is to reunite families and has been approved by a Crown magistrate. All slaves may buy their freedom, as has been the custom, or they may remain with their owners until their deaths. No owner may cast a slave out. All slaves who choose to remain slaves must be cared for during their lifetimes. Those families who have made income from the trade may negotiate with the Crown for loans depending on their plans for a new trade. And as of the spring equinox, 250, no child under the age of ten may be a slave. Owners must find a trade for these young slaves to learn or face a visit from the Crown’s representatives. In time, as older slaves go to the Black God, we will have no slaves in Tortall.” He lowered the document. “Some of you will feel unfairly punished for the misdeeds of others. The Crown is not trying to beggar you. We will do what we can to help. But the keeping of slaves beggars many lesser nobles and well-to-do tradesmen. We do not have the great farms of Maren and Carthak where they may work. Many evils take place under the canopy of slavery, including the banditry and piracy that plague our mountains and seas. This trade may go elsewhere. Let other monarchs deal with its mischief. I hope they can protect their children from it. Prince Gareth, and Rebakah Cooper!”

I jumped, I was so startled. Gareth steadied me as I got to my feet. He whispered, “You’re far better for me to think of than loincloths.”

I bent to straighten my boot and whisper, “Thank you—I don’t think.”

He giggled. He actually giggled.

A squire stood beside the king with a quill pen and an ink bottle. Another had brought forward a small table to set before him. Next to the queen stood the Lord High Magistrate.

“We sign this proclamation of the end of slavery in this realm,” King Roger announced. He dipped the quill in the ink and signed his name at the bottom. “And now Prince Gareth, who is a clever lad and already knows how to write, will sign as witness.” He dipped the quill again and offered it to his son. Gravely Gareth took it and signed his name, one letter at a time. I leaned on Achoo, barely able to stand, I was so nervous. I was also awed by Gareth. I didn’t know any other four-year-olds who could write. He’s going to be something when he is king.

“And for my second witness, Rebakah Cooper,” announced the king. He dipped the quill in the ink and offered it to me. “It is she who found His Highness among his kidnappers and brought him out of captivity.”

I thought I was going to faint. Then Gareth said, “Loincloths.” His father looked at him oddly, but it woke me up. I smiled at him and carefully wrote my name below his.

Then came fiddly parts with wax seals and the Lord High Magistrate wielding the Crown stamp. Gareth and I stepped back with Achoo. Pounce settled on my feet as soon as I was in place. He purred and purred, which kept me from throwing up or falling. I could see scowls on many faces, too many. This wouldn’t go down well.

And yet—“We did it, Beka!” Gareth whispered as the king was talking about heralds to ride throughout the land with copies for the lords and the guilds, and copies to be read in the streets. “We did it! We got Papa to end slavery!”

I could have told him that his father couldn’t have done it without the outrage from the plot against the royal family. I even could have said his papa had a real fight ahead of him. Nobles didn’t give up money so easily. In the Lower City there would be some parents with something to say to me, and it would not be “The Gentle Mother prays for you.” How could they make extra coin if they couldn’t sell their children?

I felt Farmer’s big hands settle on my shoulders, steadying me, as I began to grin. There it was, and I would never forget it. This king, and his son, had stopped the sale of children. That was something for one Dog to be part of, wasn’t it?

His Majesty had finished. He and the queen were rising to the reluctant cheers of the crowd. Too many, I’d wager, were counting the cost to their purses.

Then I saw Holborn’s old partner stand, his fist in the air. “Cooper the Mastiff!” he cried. “Cooper the Mastiff!”

In pairs and groups the Dogs tucked into the great hall got to their feet. “Mastiff!” they shouted. “Cooper the Mastiff!”

Other people stood, their fists in the air, shouting, “Mastiff! Mastiff!”

Their Majesties glanced at me. “You have a new nickname,” His Majesty said with a grin. “And well deserved.” I bowed and said nothing. The king knew my nickname!

Gareth came to me and took my hand. Now most of them were chanting the name. Farmer took my free hand and kissed it. “Courage, dearest,” he murmured in my ear. “It will die down—in a year or three.”

“I hope so,” I told Farmer, turning my face up toward his. “Elsewise you’ll have one wrinkly wife. Have you ever seen a mastiff?”

The shouting continued even after we’d left that stage. As we returned home, we were surrounded by folk crying the name. Even Rosto used it, jokingly, when all of us came together for supper that evening.

It wasn’t until Pounce, Achoo, and I were alone in my room tonight after Farmer went for a walk that I had a chance to finish this journal. I will keep no more after this. Reports I will write, but no private journal. What kind of hobbling could I do that is greater? It is better that I stop now, so my descendants will have only great things to read of me.

And the slaves will be free, all of them, by my grandchildren’s time. That is better even than any hobbling.

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