In the wee hours before dawn, Aetref rose, saddled Mazy, and went to Ruski. The sun had not yet risen when horse hooves thudded on the lane again. Because I thought Aetref would work the boat that day, I flew out to see why he’d returned, but it wasn’t the minstrel. A tall woman rode a bay horse and carried an unstrung bow and a quiver of arrows on her back. Her hair was short and ruffled as a mad hen’s feathers. She looped her horse’s reins on a thorny branch of the rose bush beside the door and knocked with a mission. Gem opened, a lamp in one hand.
“Warden Kane,” she said. “Aetref told me what happened. I’d like to talk to Bragi.”
“Warden, good morning.” Gem bobbed his head. “Come in. I’ll wake him. Do you need to talk to Tanuvia?”
“I want to talk to Bragi first and then the raven.”
In the Commonweal, there were no kings or queens, no bureaucrats, and no nation. Only culture bound the people in a region known as the Commonweal, and they called themselves Goodfolk. Villages elected a warden by friendly consensus. Together, warden and townsfolk chose a council to advise her—the warden was always a woman. These facts were in my database, but I’d never met one of the wardens.
Nor had I seen a single man or woman in the Commonweal wield a weapon deadlier than a fist. I was shocked this warden came armed. When Gem stepped aside, she leaned forward to clear her bow through the door, and Gem noted the weapon with lowered brows.
“I’ll wake him.”
“No need, Gem!” Bragi called from his bedroom. “Bring her in!”
Bragi was in bed, but hauled himself up to sit against his headboard. Gem ushered in the warden and offered a chair, but she preferred to stand. With a wave, she indicated the bow, and Gem looked askance, clearly troubled by the weapon.
“Bragi, I’m Warden Kane. I’m sorry we’ve never met. I knew of you and your daughter. I should have come out here years ago. I hope you’ll forgive me. I may be able to help now.”
“No need for apologies, Warden. We’ve done alright. Tanuvia works hard. She’s taken good care of us since Tanniel died.
Warden Kane looked respectfully past the man’s lifeless legs and met his gaze. “I’m sorry for Tanuvia. You have any aid I can lend, starting with punishing the man responsible. It’s never happened since I was sworn. I hoped it never would, but this is why I was chosen. I’ll do what’s necessary. This man won’t be allowed to repeat this crime upon Tanuvia or any other victim.”
“Thank you, Warden.” Tears sprang to Bragi’s eyes. “I’m scared he could return. He could kill her next time!”
“You’re not alone,” she said. “Not anymore. Aetref has told me, but I must be sure before I act. That’s why I’m here. I want to ask a few questions. Are you willing?”
“I can’t promise Tanuvia will, but I’ll tell you anything I know.”
“Did you see who it was, Bragi? Before or after?”
“I didn’t know it happened. She told me she was hurt in a fall in the barn.”
“Tanuvia didn’t tell you?”
“Nai. She came from the barn yesterday morning, bloody and filthy. I bound her head, but she was hurt worse than I could tend, too hurt to help herself.”
“What about this raven? Muninn? Can it talk to me?”
I was perched on the headboard near Bragi’s shoulder. I can talk to you. I saw what happened.
She stared a moment, studying me in silence that grew awkward. “I’m not sure what to do about a raven as witness.”
I’ll tell you what I saw, and you can decide what it’s worth.
She cleared her throat. “That’ll do.”
I was with Tanuvia, slipping through the barn door as she opened it. The man leaped on her, threw her to the ground, pulled off her clothes, turned Tanuvia to her stomach and raped her. He hit her multiple times, and she scratched him once. She never had a chance.
“You knew the man?”
I had seen Grantham twice before. He came the night before he raped her. He wanted her to go to the woods with him, but she refused. She told him she wasn’t interested, and he didn’t like it. He said he would come back soon, and he did—that next morning.
“Where did she scratch him?”
Down his throat, four long scratches that bled.
The warden sighed. “I should have accepted that chair.”
“I can get it,” Gem said.
“Nai. I won’t rest until this grave deed is done.” She looked at me again. “Thank you, Muninn. I believe you.” She lowered her eyes to Bragi, whose head had dropped back on the pillow during my recount. His arms had fallen as limp as his legs.
“Bragi,” she started. “This will be set right. I’d like to look at Tanuvia. I won’t wake her if she’s asleep. I know she needs rest, but I want to see her injuries.”
Bragi stared at the ceiling where lamplight cast shadows. A ghost spoke with his voice. “Do what you must, Warden. If it helps protect her from this man, then you have my blessing.”
“It will help her and anyone else he might have attacked in the future.”
Carrying the lamp, Gem led the warden through the dark cottage to Tanuvia’s door, and I followed. Silently, the Warden stepped to Tanuvia’s side, and Gem held the lamp to light the bruise on the young woman’s face. Gem pointed out the distinct pattern on her wrist, Grantham’s fingers as he gripped Tanuvia with a strength from which she could not break free. Even now, he held her with fear and pain. The warden looked away. When she left the room, her eyes were moist but her jaw grimly set.
“She’s so small,” the warden said.
Gem shut Tanuvia’s door. “She’s tough.”
“But he might have killed her. I won’t let him have a second chance.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll assemble my council, tell them what I know, and inform them of my decision. There won’t be any debate. Afterward, I’ll go to Grantham’s home, and he will die. His property and all assets are forfeit to Tanuvia. I’ll have his things sold. If he’s not there, if he ran, we’ll send messages to surrounding towns. I’ll let you know what has happened. Bragi and Tanuvia need to be safe in their own home, and I’ll be sure they are.”
“I’ll stay here until I know. He could be angry if he thinks Tanuvia told someone.”
“Thank god and goddess that raven saw it. Tanuvia might never have told her father. Grantham could have gotten away with it.”
“Thank you, Warden. I know this isn’t easy.”
“It’s not, but I knew when I accepted the position that there was a chance I would use this bow. I swore an oath to the people of Ruski.”
Warden Kane thanked Gem and encouraged him to send for her if there was anything Bragi and Tanuvia needed. She retrieved the reins of her horse, and we heard her ride out. Presumably, to kill a man.