Part 1: The Sentence
It was supposed to be a simple job.
"Gaven Morren, late of Calisapas, you have been charged and found guilty under Miirian law of the following crimes..."
I loathe courtrooms. They're all the same, no matter where you go. The crowd chatters in the background, waiting to see the accused become the condemned. Rouge-powdered barristers sit around trying to look like pillars of law and justice, rather than the blood-sucking ticks everyone knows they are. The Magistrate booms on and on, reading my criminal litany back at me, trying to be impressive. I'm not impressed. I'm tired, hungry, and in chains.
Just one simple job. Get in to the lair of one of the city's noble houses, steal something another noble house wanted, maybe pocket a little extra on the side, and then I'd have enough to pay off Longshankes and return home. That's all it would have taken. But my idiot partner botched the whole thing. He carried a lit candle on the job. When the guards got close and I blew it out so we wouldn't get seen, he started shrieking. You'd have thought I'd stabbed him. The guards didn't have any trouble finding us.
Now I'm up on charges for unlawful entry, theft, and apparently attempted murder. I don't know where in the Dragon's boiling belly they came up with that charge...I gave up as soon as we were surrounded. Dragon take that idiot. Take him and swallow him to the boiling belly.
The Magistrate is glaring at me. “Gaven Morren, your crimes demand redress.”
Oh, here we go.
“By the mercy of the court, you are offered the choice of these fates.”
“One, you may pay the wronged party, House Von Hastur, a fine of 2000 gold aecus.”
If I had that kind of coin, I could return to Calisapas, pay off Longshankes, and still have enough left to clothe and feed myself for a year.
“Second, if you are unable to pay the fine, you may accept a term of indentured servitude for a period of five years.”
Indentured service is a polite name for slavery. No thank you.
“And third, because your crimes have offended not only the law of Miir, but the Shadows themselves, you may accept Exile for seven nights.”
“What's this exile?” I ask. I must be misunderstanding the term. I thought exile meant the same thing as banishment. If I were being banished, why would it only be for a week?
There's a chorus of gasping and whispering from the crowd behind me. The Magistrate seems taken aback by the question. Even the barristers have stopped smiling. One touches a bronze disk on a chain around his neck, then makes a flicking gesture three times as if shaking something away from him.
Finally, the Magistrate clears his throat and says, “From midnight until dawn, you would be stripped of all arms, armor, and illumination. You would then be cast out into the streets, there to face the judgment of The Shadows. Should you survive, you would then be held in the debtor's jail until the next midnight, where the process would continue until all seven nights have passed.”
I've been in town a week. I've never seen a city shut down so fast at nightfall as Miir. Even the City Watch doesn't venture out past the curfew. I'd be free to pick the city clean! I've heard that Miirians are supposed to be afraid of their own shadows, but this...this can't be real, can it? I wonder what the catch is, but there is no way I'm getting a better deal than this.
“I'll take it, then,” I say, trying not to grin at my good fortune.
Those whispers suddenly stop. “Are you...certain of that?” he gulps, as if it were an offer made in jest, not something to be seriously considered.
It could be a trick, a convenient way to dispose of troublemakers under the pretext of justice. I've seen it happen that way before. But what do I have to lose? It's either pay an exorbitant fee, slave to death in a mine, or get the chance to run around the city for a week unhindered, and, if worst comes to worst, make a dash for the Cobwebs and vanish into the slums.
“Yes. I'm certain. I'll take exile.”
The Magistrate gives me one final, hard look. “Think carefully. Are you very certain of this choice?”
Now I'm getting irritated. The fat little man in greasy brown robes doesn't think I'm serious? I can play whatever game this is. “Yes. I said I choose exile. Or is this some kind of joke you often play on your condemned?”
The fat man's face turns florid. “Very well,” he growls, “Let it be recorded that Gaven Morren, late of Calisapas, has of his own free will chosen to tempt the judgment of The Shadows through Exile. May they have mercy on his soul. Take him away!”
The Shadows. How dramatic. I try to look properly frightened as the guards haul me out of the courtroom, but I'm grinning as they return me to my cell to await nightfall.
While I wait, I plan. They won't let me run loose in the Bastion where all the nobles dwell, and I doubt they'd turn me loose in the Cobwebs where I could just flee the city. That means the Pen, the section of the city that sits between the two walls. Lots of merchants and artisans there. Good places to hit for things that sell quickly. Might even get a few coins or cheap jewelry if I'm lucky.
Two guards arrive, one large and shaped like a barrel, one lean for a guard, scarcely larger than I am. The larger one seems nervous about something. He keeps looking over his shoulder every couple of minutes. Each of them has a candle stuck on their helmet, like a miner's light.
We pass the Bastion wall and I'm shoved through the gates. They shut with a menacing boom. The night closes in around me.
Suddenly, I'm not feeling so good about this.